Fries, funnel cakes, cheeseburgers, and candy, why are they so addictive? If you have ever craved these foods you may wonder just that when you try to stop eating it. Some people do not consider junk food as something that you can be addicted to, but the truth is that many people do crave junk food like others crave cigarettes or cocaine. After a while, the habitual eating of sugary, salty, fat filled junk food can be quite addictive. Sugar, fat and salt are the tri-fecta of why it’s so hard to let the “good” stuff go and stop eating junk food all together. There are studies on the subject as well:
“This exciting new study was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since drug addiction and obesity are major national problems, researchers set out to see if brain changes that take place in drug addiction were present in the obese. Prior studies have shown that both drug addiction and obesity were associated with a dysfunction in the brain’s reward system. The more you indulge in drugs or sugary-fatty foods, the higher your reward threshold and the more you want. It becomes an vicious cycle of trying to curb a craving that can never be fully satisfied.” – WebMd
Sugar can be just like a drug for many people. It’s a concentrated chemical substance that is refined in a similar way that cocaine and other drugs are refined. Like other known drugs, sugar helps to increase the dopamine found in the brain. This is the feel good chemical that hits brain receptors and will make you feel good. Thus, the “sugar high” effect is a real chemical reaction in the body that affects not only the brain but also your blood sugar. Often times, just like regular drugs, to get the next high you will have to eat more sugar as the brain gets used to the same amount of sugar and the high is less. High sugar consumption in a person can mimic the brain’s opiate system. Each human has a natural opiate system that can be triggered with high amounts of sugar or with drugs such as morphine and heroin. This trigger creates pleasure which in turn can lead to addiction and even sugar withdrawals. Limiting the sugar that you eat and switching natural sugars like fruit is highly important to avoid any type of addiction to sugar. Breaking existing addiction to sugar can be hard but it’s possible.
Fat is something that you wouldn’t think that people would get addicted to when you first hear the word. However, fat in foods can be just as addictive as sugar and salt and can lead to many problems. Fat addiction is much like sugar addiction in the way that the brain reacts to fat. Eating high fat foods over stimulates the brain receptors that are responsible for releasing dopamine. This dopamine release triggers a feeling of goodness or a high such that people want to eat it more. We are talking about saturated fat and trans-fat in things like chips, fried foods, foods with butter added, fast food, prepackaged meals, baked goods (used to keep them moist), microwave popcorn and cheese.
Salt is important in the human body but over-consumption of salt can lead to many problems. Salt can be highly addictive and anyone who sits down at the table can find themselves reaching for the salt shaker in order to salt their food. It’s very accessible and many just think of it as a harmless seasoning. That is until they get a diagnosis of high blood pressure or hypertension (both very common in the Black community). Salt does the same thing to the dopamine receptors in the brain. There are even studies out there that have shown that salt in a small form can help to cure depression due to this release of feel good chemicals. However, having too much salt can lead to a very bad addiction as well as many health problems. Finding alternatives for flavor is key to letting go of salt. Food can taste very bland to many people without salt so you’ll need to find other herbs and salt-free seasonings to take its place.
Many junk foods have all three ingredients in them, salt, fat and sugar. Combined together this makes for one very addictive class of food that you want to avoid.
By eating junk food you put yourself at risk for many different health problems including obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, and neurological disorders. If you find yourself addicted to junk foods, do your research and work to get free of the compelling need to eat these foods. Like any other addiction, it will take time for your body to get accustomed to eating a different diet and you have to WANT to change.
Breaking up with an addictive junk food menu can be hard and many people find that they will feel bad for the first few days, much like an addiction to anything else. Switching to healthy foods and steering clear of all the bad foods will help ease this process. It will be well worth it in the end. You will be healthier and have a less risk for common, food-related health problems that affect so many people.