How many times have you made the commitment to start eating healthy and lose the excess fat? And how many times were you close to succumbing to the temptation of eating those tasty pizza leftovers, the chocolate bar in the fridge or the chips?
Every day you make a promise to yourself that you’ll start the day with a healthy salad filled with all kinds of vegetables coupled with a lean slice of chicken or beef with some peppers and tomatoes added. And then you get that familiar feeling of wanting to stuff your face with a nice burger and some ice cream.
You say to yourself that it will only be just a few bites, you’ll label it as the cheat meal since you’ve already read that cheat meals give you a much-needed break if your diet is to succeed in the long-term.
However, once you finish that third bite, all hell breaks loose, commitment and discipline go out the window, your mind just goes numb as you indulge in the heavenly deliciousness of the juicy burger meat, the crispy fries and the refreshing coolness of your ice cream. And then 10 minutes pass, you being stuffed with food to your throat and feeling sorry for yourself again, tempted by the some of the most addictive foods in existence.
Numerous studies have shown that addiction to food is a real phenomenon that will not only make you obese and extremely unhealthy, but it will also re-wire your brain in the same way that drug or alcohol addiction does. That’s why pathological eating disorders are much more complicated to explain and the lack of will or self-control aren’t the only reasons why you cannot stop them.
Some recent research has come up with a list of some of the most addictive foods and has started investigating what is it in them that contributes to eating obsessively. One of the most important discoveries was that a person was not given access to an addictive food, that person who would lack the self-control to avoid binding would be very unlikely to develop a food addiction.
The first measure of precaution would be to avoid what nutritionists call “trigger” foods. The second measure is to already eat a diet filled with healthy and satiating foods as alternative options. We will now explain the mechanisms of food addiction followed by a list of the 10 most addicting foods coupled with 10 healthy alternatives.
The mechanism of food addiction
Neurophysiological addiction research has shown that addictive compounds share the same three characteristics:
1. The food is not in its naturally found state. On the contrary, it has been processed or changed in some manner which increases their damaging potential. Good examples would be grapes which are transformed into wine or poppies which are used to make opium. There is a similar process happening with the foods we eat by them going through different stages of refinement which increases their addictive potential.
For example, some foods are a natural source of sugar like grains and fruits and some of the fat like seeds and nuts. It’s interesting to point out that both fat and sugar can rarely be found in the same food in their natural state. The majority of the tastiest processed foods were made with the intention to contain big amounts of both sugar and fat and they are made in a very refined state I the form of high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated vegetable oil.
2. They have bigger concentrations of the compound that cause the addiction than they would otherwise have in their natural state. This fact raises their damaging potential. Water, for example, has no damaging characteristics, while beer that has five percent alcohol has a bigger potential to cause harm.
Liquor that has higher amounts of alcohol in the range of 30-70 percent has a higher potential to cause addiction than beer. You have the same situation with foods that were processed. Adding these compounds like fats and carbs in the refinement process raises the normal concentrations one would otherwise find in fruits and vegetables when eaten whole.
3. They have been modified specifically to raise the speed with which the addictive compound is absorbed into the bloodstream. A coca leaf when chewed raw has a very small addictive potential. When you process it in a very concentrated dose which can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, you get cocaine, which as we all know is extremely addictive.
When you compare foods in their natural state with foods that were processed, you can see that the latter are quickly absorbed and have higher chances to cause sugar spikes in your blood. The reason we mention this is because there is a strong relation between increased glucose levels and the activating of areas in your brain that are connected to addiction symptoms.
Essential compounds of every addictive food go through the refinement process which rids the food out of the protein, water, and its fiber, which normally decrease the rate at which sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Changes in the brain
Every time you eat a highly addictive food, the sugar spikes in your blood give you a good feeling, like a kid who’s eaten an entire box of candy is experiencing a ‘sugar high’. Those physiological effects aren’t the only ones. Your brain has receptors to opioids and dopamine which when activated provide a feeling of well-being in the same manner that drugs and alcohol do.
Studies done on rodents have shown that when you are binging on sugary foods dopamine levels increase instead of experiencing a gradual decrease. These increases happening over time are the main sign of addictive compounds. Furthermore, when you’re overeating foods rich in fat, you avoid withdrawals common to opiate-like substances, occurring in response to eating foods that have high amounts of sugar but have no fat. That’s why nutritionists believe that foods that have large amounts of both sugar and fat influence the opioid system in our brain to make the same foods even more addictive than they already are.
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