Are There Addictive Foods?

There are indeed addictive foods due to their high fat and sugar content. In addition, there are other addictive substances in food. Learn more here!
Are There Addictive Foods?

Last update: 19 January, 2021

Have you ever tried to stop eating a bag of potato chips but couldn’t? Do you know why this happens? There are indeed addictive foods, and they’re usually not the healthiest.

In this article, we’ll tell you what these foods are and what happens to us when we eat them. Then, you can be aware of any dangers that eating them might entail.

Keep reading to find out!

What are addictive foods?

Different studies have shown that foods rich in fat and refined sugars can have a drug-like effect on the body. These foods are more likely to trigger addictive biological and behavioral responses due to their abnormally high reward levels.

How do addictive foods work?

Addictive foods are rarely found in their natural state. For example, there are natural foods that contain sugar, like fruits, or foods that naturally contain fat, like nuts. However, sugar and fat are rarely found in the same food naturally.

Therefore, ultra-processed foods have added sugar, trans fats, flours, and refined oils. This way, they taste better and are more addictive.

Normally, the more of an addictive agent a food has, the more addictive it is. For example:

  • Water has little or no potential for addiction.
  • Beer, which contains on average 5% ethanol, is more likely to be addictive.
  • Liquor contains a higher dose of ethanol, between 20 and 75%, so it’s more likely to be more addictive than beer.
A beer being poured.

Another factor to take into account is that ultra-processed foods are more likely to cause a spike in blood sugar than natural foods. This is important because there’s a known link between glucose levels and the activation of areas of the brain related to addiction.

For example, the sugar in highly processed, high-glycemic food, such as a milk chocolate bar, will be absorbed more quickly into the body than the natural sugars in a banana. This is because the banana is unprocessed. Also, while it contains sugar, it has fiber, protein, and water, which slows the rate of sugar entering the bloodstream.

What foods are addicting?

As we have said before, ultra-processed foods are the most addictive due to their ingredients. However, there are some exceptions to low-processed foods that can also cause addiction. This is because of a specific ingredient in the food.

Addictive foods: Ultra-processed foods

In a study published in Plos One, the most addicting foods were:

  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • French fries
  • Pizza
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Buttered popcorn
  • Cheeseburgers

Surely, just reading it makes your mouth water, since they contain a lot of calories, fats, and sugars, and are very tasty. Also, monosodium glutamate is added to many of these foods.

Monosodium glutamate is a common additive in the food industry. It appears that glutamate may influence the hypothalamic regulation of appetite. In other words, it makes us eat more food than we need.

Cocoa

Milk chocolate can be addictive because of its fat and sugar content, but what about pure cocoa? Cocoa contains anandamide, a substance that binds to cannabinoid receptors. 

Also, some observations show that women are drawn to chocolate because of a hormone-dependent cycle. Many women experience food cravings for sweets and chocolate, especially around menstruation.

Cocoa beans and powder.

Cheese

Can’t stop eating cheese? Well, there are indeed substances in cheese that are addictive and soothing, as shown in this article.

Cheese, through its fermentation, heat treatment, or enzymatic hydrolysis, contains a high amount of proteins derived from milk.

For example, this includes caseins, which can produce peptides with opioid effects. These peptides can cross the blood-brain barrier, bind to opioid receptors, and cause analgesic and calming effects on the nervous system.

There are lots of opioid peptides that come from milk proteins. However, the ones that are most associated with cheese addiction are those in the beta-casomorphin group.

Coffee

More than an addiction to coffee, you can experience a dependency. In fact, caffeine is chemically very similar to another molecule in the brain, adenosine, although they have different functions.

Adenosine fits into an appropriate receptor and creates a feeling of tiredness in the body. Caffeine is so structurally similar to adenosine that it can slip into the brain receptors, blocking adenosine from attaching.

A person who consumes a lot of coffee and suddenly stops drinking it will feel mentally confused and may experience a headache. In fact, this reaction occurs because the brain chemistry changes after prolonged exposure to caffeine.

There are addictive foods

Within our diets, some foods can cause a certain addiction. Above all, simple sugars and trans fats have this capacity and are also harmful to health.

For this reason, it’s important to limit your intake.

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  • DiNicolantonio JJ., O’Keefe JH., Wilson WL., Sugar addiction: is it real? a narrative review. Br J Sports Med, 2018. 52 (14): 910-913.
  • Schulte, E. M., Avena, N. M., & Gearhardt, A. N. (2015). Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load. PloS one10(2), e0117959. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117959
  • Arısoy, S., Çoban, I., & Üstün-Aytekin, Ö. (2019). Food-Derived Opioids: Production and the Effects of Opioids on Human Health. In From Conventional to Innovative Approaches for Pain Treatment. IntechOpen.