Food addiction: The 10 most addictive foods

Last week, we talked about how a bad diet plans could be ineffective and even end up making you fat. One of the main reasons for this is the extremely addictive nature of today’s most popular food items. Food addiction is characterized by the inability we have to stop consuming some foods even when we don’t really want them. Today, we take a look at the most addictive food items, what causes food addiction and how to get over it.

A substance is addictive because it creates pleasure. As we consume more of it we create a habit and we create a dependency on it  as our sole source of pleasure. However over time it’s not the pleasure that drives us to consume more of this substance, but the discomfort caused by its absence. This is when we can say we are truly addicted to it.
When we think about addictive substances what it comes into our mind are drugs. However food can be very addictive as well. Besides behavioral studies other hard core science supports this claim. Consumption of addictive food correlates with increased brain activity in regions associated with rewards and a surge in Dopamine levels. This is very similar to brain activity during other addictive disorders. However, not all foods are addictive, only those that meet specific characteristics. Let’s have a look.

The 10 most addictive foods

Here’s the list of foods that create the most addiction as per this recent study:
the top 10 most addictive food
It’s interesting to note that the list does not contain any food available in nature nor products that are minimally processed by cooking or grinding. All items on this list are significantly altered through flavors and additives to acquire their addictive potential. This is why real foods, the ones on which we have lived through most of history (fruit, vegetables, tubers, meat, eggs, seafood, mushrooms and edible seeds) are not addictive.
One of the primary issue here is that we tend to consider an apple, a lettuce and meat to be in the same category as a cake or pizza. The former ones are food, the latter ones are highly processed products designed to activate reward sensors in our neuronal circuit. In simple words, when you eat real food, you feed your body. Eating processed food is not about feeding but to get a shoot of instant gratification similar to coffee, beer or smoking.

Characteristics of food that create addiction

  • They have high amounts of one or more substances that induce your brain to continuously consume it. Basically sugars, fats, salt, sweet, glutamate or just high caloric density.
  • The food is altered so that potentially addictive substances are rapidly absorbed. For example, a banana contains sugar, but it also contains fiber, protein and water thus reducing the speed by which sugar is absorbed making it less addictive. This is why refined products have a greater addictive potential.
  • A secondary gain while consuming the food. The food industry’s inherent objective is to make money. So they are experts on boosting consumption. Their marketing and branding tries to make consumption of their products generate social value. That’s why kids think it’s cooler to eat a Snickers bar compared to an apple.

What happens when you are addicted?

  • Any addiction overshadows the natural rewards. This makes us less sensitive to natural pleasures such as of eating when hungry, drinking while thirsty, social contact, sunbathing or even appreciating a good landscape. We live to please that one obsessive craving.
  • We seek comfort for anything in that food. When you have a problem, you eat an ice cream to feel happy instead of doing what is required to overcome it.
  • We lose the feeling of real hunger and stop hearing the good things that our body asks us to do.
  • We become slaves of “food”. Here’s something that happened to one of my patients: He felt calmer if he had ice-cream in the fridge. So he asked his parents to lock the fridge and hide the keys to prevent him from “accidentally sleepwalking” to eat the ice-cream.

Getting over food addiction

Start classifying everything as either a real food or a drug. In fact, I would go one step further. Only organic meat should be classified as meat. The super fillet should be classified as a chemical considering the list of ingredients (pesticides, flavor). Once you can confidently differentiate real food from the rest, decide how much flexibility to allow to each of them. I would recommend a frequency of once a week.
As with any addiction, it requires great willpower to let go of some food items. I see this everyday in my clinic. But once you are over it, you recover a taste for real food. You get back your freedom to eat only when (and what) your body asks you to.
You’ll stop hearing those voices in your head asking you grab a chocolate bar. You enter a new life. Of freedom. Of happiness.

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