It’s no secret that one of the biggest public health concerns facing the world today is society’s addiction to “junk” foods. It turns out that the word “addiction” really is the most accurate way to describe the problem, as some of the ingredients in fast food and processed food are actually just as addictive, if not more addictive, than some illegal drugs. That’s not to say that they’re more dangerous, as obesity is probably preferred over the alternative of a life debilitating heroin addiction, but chemically the addictions behave the same way in the brain. With that said, we spoke to Per Wickstrom at Best Drug Rehab in Manistee, Michigan to discuss some foods that are just as addictive is illicit drugs:
Studies have shown that people who are predisposed to addiction are more likely to become addicted to foods that contain sugar because the ubiquitous sweetener acts on the same brain centers involved in cocaine and heroin addiction. At Best Drug Rehab we’ve see several cases where the addicts had to cut out sugar consumption before they were able to conquer their addiction without relapsing for an extended period of time.
2. Monosodium Glutamate
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a taste-enhancing amino acid that can be found in a variety of junk foods from beef jerkies to potato chips. Studies have shown that MSG activates the pleasure centers in the brain, thereby leading to addiction and cravings. This explains why so many people have a hard time resisting a bag of chips when they’re on a diet. It’s also tough to avoid this ingredient in processed foods because it is not required to be put on the label and it can be derived from a number of other ingredients.
3. Processed Wheat
A number of health experts believe wheat to be addictive because it contains exogenous opioid peptides, which are also referred to as exorphins, or “endogenous morphine.” Other substances that interact with the same receptors include cocaine, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Thus, it is possible that wheat might be just as addictive as those substances, but people don’t tend to vilify wheat because it also has properties that can make it beneficial. Still, the addictive properties are there and should be mentioned.
4. Trans Fats
There’s evidence to suggest that trans fats are psychologically addictive because we become accustomed to consuming them in so many different kinds of foods, despite the fact that they exist in very few places in nature. Trans fats are considered man made because they are produced when liquid oils are converted into solid fats by manufacturers using a process known as hydrogenation.
Recent studies have proven that salt also stimulates the same areas of the brain as some of the other ingredients we mentioned on this list. That explains why salty foods are so addictive, because our brains are predisposed to becoming addicted to sodium. This might have something to do with the fact that sodium is a necessary electrolyte in our diets, so we probably developed a biological craving for it at some point in our evolution as a species.
Recognizing and Addressing Food Addictions
The best way to recognize whether you have a food addiction is to stop eating the food in question for a few days and see how you feel. If you find yourself having frequent cravings, feeling depressed, or showing other signs of withdrawal, chances are you’ve become addicted to that particular food or ingredient.