Eating is a pleasure, both for the body and for the mind. When we eat, some brain chemical reactions unleash, related to pleasure and reward systems; so, sometimes, some foods can cause an addiction.
However, this does not happen with all the foods. Some of them, due to their composition and their particular characteristics, make the person more susceptible to become addicted. In this article, we will go over the most addictive foods that exist.
Of course. Even though it's a relatively new term, food addiction can become an eating disorder such as bulimia or binge eating disorder. In all of them, the person intakes food in a compulsive and unhealthy way.
This addiction to food is usually related to junk food and processed foods with high levels of fat. A person can be addicted to this kind of food in the same way as to any other kind of thing.
This happens because it involves the same areas of the brain, the same neurotransmitter and in all of them the symptoms of the addictions are very similar.
Processed and junk food exerts a potent effect on the brain's reward centers, within which dopamine is the primary and crucial neurotransmitter.
This means that food addiction is not a matter of psychological weakness or lack of will. It is a severe addiction in which the person can lose control over their acts, all this because of the brain's chemical reactions
As we have already said, some foods are closely related to this kind of addiction. Junk food, industry processed food or food rich in fats, such as pizza or hamburgers, are usually the main objective of this addiction.
Today, we are surrounded by a wide variety of foods that can become potentially addictive if we deliberately include them in our diet.
Fast food and processed food companies are aware of this; they only want consumers to buy their products, without caring whether it is harmful to their health.
The best way of avoiding this addiction is not consuming these products, and, for this, we need to be well informed. In the following lines, we highlight seven examples of foods or group of foods that can be addictive and, as a consequence, harmful to health.
Most of the industrial and processed snacks are the paradigmatic example of addictive foods. These snacks contain a significant number of carbohydrates, and they are generally made with excess sugar, fat or salt, which makes them tempting and irresistible to eat.
Among the group of processed snacks, crisps, which we can buy in all kind of shops and supermarkets, are the ones that have a higher rate of addiction. However, the excessive consumption of any type of snacks can also lead to physical diseases, such as obesity or cholesterol, among others.
There are a great variety of fatty foods that are highly addictive for people. Among the most popular ones, we have pizza, roast chicken, chips, bacon, cheeseburgers, kebabs, cheese, and eggs.
All these foods are dangerous because they have high levels of fat, especially pizza or hamburgers from fast food (junk food) restaurants.
It has been proven that junk food generates an addiction in our brain, similar to the one people have for drugs.
While nuts are beneficial to your health and provide a large number of essential nutrients, when processed by adding oils and high amounts of salt, they can be harmful to your health and generate an addiction.
Sunflower seeds are probably the most addictive nuts due to their salty taste. At present, all kinds of seeds are marketed with an added flavor that makes them even more addictive.
In addition to the fat content, the sugar in certain foods also plays an essential addictive role. Among the main sweet or sugary foods that cause this problem are: cakes and pastries in general, chocolate and derivatives, biscuits of all kinds, industrial pastries and energy bars.
If we think about the sweet food par excellence, it is chocolate. Nearly any kind of food made with chocolate can cause addiction due to the pleasant taste, the sugar and generally the number of artificial elements that are added to it in its refining process.
Soft drinks and carbonated drinks are one of the most addictive foods that exist. These kinds of drinks are made with a high amount of artificially added elements and a lot of sugar.
Popcorn deserves a distinctive section as it is not considered a nut or cereal. In addition, they also have strong addictive potential, and although its consumption is usually only limited to the cinema and other shows, the invention of microwave popcorn has made people consume them more often.
We've all experienced the addiction that these small grains of corn cause when we can't stop eating them. Their salty and characteristic flavor and the ease with which you can eat them are some of the reasons they are so addictive. Nowadays, you can buy them with different flavors and colorants, so people buy them.
Ice-cream is always addictive, not only in summer. Again, sugar, chocolate, and in general creamy and oversweet flavors are responsible for the addictive phenomenon.
Malenka R.C., Nestler E.J. & Hyman S.E. (2009). Chapter 15: Reinforcement and Addictive Disorders. In Sydor A, Brown RY. Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical. pp. 364–365, 375.
Monteiro, C. A., Moubarak, J. C., Cannon, G. & Popkin, B. (2013). Ultra-processed products are becoming dominant in the global food system. Obesity Reviews. 14: 21–28.