With estimates that approximately 75 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese by 2020, one likely cause of this rampant obesity is rising food addiction. Emerging scientific studies have shown, that certain foods and beverages, or even images of certain foods, can elicit changes in the brain that resemble those seen in drug addicts.
A recent study in Canada found that 5.4 percent of adults (6.7% in females) in the general population exhibited signs of food addiction and these individuals were more likely to be obese (11.7 (kg) heavier), 4.6 BMI units higher and had higher body fat percentages (8.2% more body fat and 8.5% more trunk fat) .
Ice cream: Full of fat, calories, sugar, and often the addictive high-fructose corn syrup, ice cream can be difficult to portion. Incase, if you do want to have the ice cream, consider the lower-fat and lower-calorie ice cream at the store. If you want to skip the ice cream, go for Greek yogurt and fruit, or frozen grapes, or frozen bananas.
Chocolate: Chocolate took most Western nations by storm, and looking at it today, it’s easy to think you know why. It has all the necessary components. It’s sweet and fatty and the perfect dessert. People point to phenylethylamine (PEA), the so-called “love chemical” that people produce when they’re in love or feeling especially happy and excited. Researchers point out that PEA breaks down to quickly in the body to actually affect the way that people act, and that other food, like cheese, contains more PEA anyway. A more likely story is the cannabinoids that chocolate contains. These chemicals, related to the THC found in marijuana, trigger anandamide, known as the “bliss molecule.” This triggers a high of happiness and well-being that a lot of people feel after eating chocolate. Researchers point out that most people would have to eat pounds of chocolate to get the same high as they would from pot. Chocolate also contains theobromine, a compound similar to the caffeine that gets people addicted to coffee.
Soda with Caffeine: Soda’s combination of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, with caffeine, is the perfect addictive recipe. The caffeine goes directly into your bloodstream and blocks adenosine receptors, stimulating the adrenal gland to produce the flight or fight chemical adrenaline, which gives people a feeling of energy. In so many words, the body is being forced into an unnatural state that often leaves it exhausted later. And it’s easy to forget when you’re drinking a coke that you’re drinking tons of calories and sugar too. Only one can of Coke has 11 teaspoons of sugar. Acidic soda can also eat up and erode teeth enamel.
White Bread: Any processed and high-glycemic carbohydrates, like white bread, burger, is hard to stop eating and make us crave more. One study shows people who consume more nutrient dense, low-glycemic carbs are less likely to overeat. Examples of lower-glycemic foods are most fruit, beans, and whole grains, which release glucose more slowly into the bloodstream, and helps to balance blood sugar and fat storage.
Processed Baked Goods: Studies show an ingredient in many baked goods, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, can actually cause reactions similar to those made by drug abuse. When a sweet craving hits, opt for a more nutrient-dense snack like berries or another fruit with some cinnamon on top of oatmeal. Preparing homemade baked goods and snacks using natural ingredients like applesauce and whole grain flour can add nutritional benefits to you diet and potentially alleviate sugar cravings.
Chips: Potato chips are high in salt and fat. When we bite into a greasy, fatty potato chip, our nerve endings send signals, which travel up to the pleasure center — the hypothalamus — of our brains. We eventually overload the pleasure center, and crash. Then, we want more, more, more. Even the “healthier” chips, like baked veggie chips, are usually high in fat.
French Fries: One study reveals that sodium intake creates sensitivity to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s pleasure centers. There is actually a connection between salt and addiction-related pathways in the brain.
Processed Meat: Cold cuts like ham and bologna, hot dogs, bacon, and sausage are all jam-packed with salt, fat and also various preservatives and chemicals like sodium nitrates. Specifically, hot dogs and sausage can contain up to 23 grams of fat. Consider fresh meats, like skinless poultry and roast beef instead.
Cheese: As far back as the 1980′s researchers have known that cheese contains trace amounts of morphine. Seriously. In 1981, Eli Hazum and his colleagues at Wellcome Research Laboratories reported traces of the chemical morphine, a highly addictive opiate. It turns out that morphine is found in cow milk and human, purportedly to ensure offspring will bond very strongly with their mothers and get all the nutrients they need to grow. Researchers also discovered the protein casein, which breaks into casomorphins when it is digested and also produces opiate effects. In cheese, casein is concentrated, and so is the level of casomorphins, so the pleasurable effect is greater. Neal Barnard, MD said, “Since cheese is processed to express out all the liquid, it’s an incredibly concentrated source of casomorphins—you might call it dairy crack.”
Gum: The varieties high in sugar present in gum, have been shown to ease anxiety, stress and discomfort. Another reason for its addictive quality may lie in the reason why you are chewing in the first place. If you are chewing so you don’t eat an unhealthy dish or smoke a cigarette, you’re using the gum as a placeholder for another addiction. To avoid jaw issues, chew slowly and avoid high-sugar brands.
Our modern food environment has been beneficial in many ways, but we must also consider the risks associated with quick fix (e.g., cheap and calorically-dense) foods. Many modern-day foods consist of a combination of ingredients that change the brain in ways that subsequently promote more consumption, fueling our obesity epidemic. If certain foods, or their particular ingredients, are in any way addictive, we need to take this concept seriously. We have much more than weight to lose if we don’t.