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Last updated July 22, 2016 (originally published July 22, 2014)

By Nels Seifert, Contributing Columnist and Susan Callahan,
Health Editor

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors, Registered Nurses, Certified trainers and other
members of our Editorial Board.]









As anyone who has ever tried to get their fill of Chinese take-
out food has discovered, you can never get enough. Why is
it that some foods --- those Lays Potato chips, those Krispy
Creme donuts, those McDonald fries, certain take-out
foods--- have the mysterious power to leave us wanting
more and more?  Why are some foods addictive? And, what
can we do to resist the addictive power of these foods?


The Reward-Pleasure Cycle Can be Manipulated

Feeling hungry is natural –if your body really needs food.
Before the advent of mass food production, we humans used
to exist in a near-perfect balance with our food supply.

In the centuries prior to the 20th century when food was in
adequate supply only in the lucky few countries such as
Great Britain and parts of the then-new world such as the
US, food was almost 100% whole , meaning it was not
processed, and we ate when we actually needed food.

The two World Wars changed all that, ushering in packaged
foods needed to satisfy millions of troops on the move.  A
whole industry of “quick” and “handy” foods like Spam and
canned sausages and the like was borne. Handy pick me up
drinks like Coca-cola were invented.

Now  food literally is everywhere.  Need a quick bite? You
can find it in grocery stores, order it online, find it in vending
machines.  Now, many of us eat not when we’re hungry but
when we want a “pick me up” or  out of just plain boredom.
And that sets us up for one of the most powerful cycles of
chemistry in our body.

Why Some Foods Are Really More Like Drugs

All well-prepared food is pleasurable.  It’s supposed to taste
good, right?  When we experience pleasure by eating whole
foods, our bodies register that pleasure and as we continue
to finish the meal that pleasure trips a wire that signals that
we are satisfied.

That trip wire is the key.  Tasty foods activate the
“mesocorticolimbic reward circuits of the brain’, releasing
pleasure-giving chemicals such as the aptly named
“dopamine” and hormones including naturally occurring
“opiates”, according to a 2013 study from Dr. Caroline Davis
of York University in Canada.  Hmmmm, dopamine and
opiates –sounds like a recipe for addiction.

Where are the government watchdogs in all of this? Are we
at the mercy of endless addictive additives and untethered
marketing behemoths?   

The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was
the brain child of FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and
required all food to have a label outlining the contents by
1994. This allows consumers to see what chemicals and
nutrients are in the foods that they eat, but who is really
checking how these ingredients affect overall health and
nutrition?  Here, we are more or less on our own. We ought  
to read labels but few of us take the time. I am guilty of this
as well, checking my food labels for vitamin and calorie
content, paying no attention to scientific names like high-
fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, aspartame,
sucralose, or casein.

Oreo Cookies –As Addictive as Cocaine?

Many people have no idea what they are eating and how the
chemicals that are often times strategically put in food can be
addictive and also harmful.

A 2013 study conducted by neuroscientist Joseph Schroder
and his team at Connecticut College found it plausible that
Oreo cookies may be more addictive than cocaine or heroin.  
The study was on lab rats, not humans, and the results need
to be replicated by other studies but, still, the findings are
pretty startling.

What this study shows is that, if the right additives and
ingredients  are present, food can be highly addictive . Your
brain may be telling your stomach to cry wolf in order to
release pleasure-inducing chemicals like dopamine or to
produce adrenaline, boosting craving and reward functions.  

Food addiction and the overwhelming urge to satisfy your
hunger is connected with the addictive behavior center of
the brain called the "Nucleus Accumbens". This part of the
human brain is also intertwined with being drawn into
addictive behavior and seeking to trigger the pleasure
receptors that drugs, gambling, and as you will see below,
the food you eat daily.


[Editor's Note:

Some scientists have taken issue with the characterization of
Oreo cookies or any food as "addictive". One such scientist is
Edythe London of UCLA who notes that Oreo cookies are
pleasurable so, yes, they stimulate the same centers of the
brain that cocaine does but we need further studies that
show how hard rats or humans will "work" to get Oreos
before we can say they are addictive. We know, for example,
that some people addicted to cocaine will risk and lose jobs,
relationships and even their liberty from jail in order to
satisfy their need for cocaine. The same can't be said fro
Oreo cookies.]


Here are our top 7 most addictive foods:




























1.        
High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Of all the foods or food
ingredients that can make you hungry, the “champion” is
fructose. Why is fructose more dangerous to your plans to
fit into those skinny jeans than any other food, including
sugar?

The secret to the potency of fructose lies in something called
the “leptin response”.  After you eat anything, your body
releases a compound called leptin. Leptin tells your brain that
you are full, your hunger is satisfied.  

Fructose has the opposite effect. Fructose actually inhibits ---
blocks  ---  the release of leptin.

As a result, after you eat a food containing fructose, you
actually get hungrier. As that 2013 study we mentioned
earlier by Prefossor Caroline Davis of York University in
Canada observed” [fructose]blunts leptin signaling, thereby
promoting sensations of hunger…”

If hunger is a fire, food is supposed to quench it.  However,
if you eat fructose, you don’t quench that fire of hunger---
you pour gasoline on it.

Fructose is added as a sugar to almost all processed foods in
the U.S.,  the UK, Canada and around the world.  You’ll find
it in regular (non-diet) sodas, crunchy snacks, cookies,  
breads, even some soups and so-called “natural” foods.

The consensus that fructose is addictive is gaining
momentum.

A study conducted by Dr. Frencesco Leri, Associate Professor
of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the
University of Guelph was presented at the 2013 Canadian
Neuroscience Meeting and discussed the highly addictive
nature of high-fructose corn syrup.

Dr. Leri found that foods containing high levels of high-
fructose corn syrup were more addictive than foods with
lesser levels. During the experiment, the subject rats were
far more motivated to work if the reward was food with
high-fructose corn syrup.   

And you wonder why you keep returning again and again to
that vending machine loaded with fructose-rich snacks?  

2.        
Sugar. Sugar is one of the most addictive food
ingredients on the planet. However natural, sweet, and
delicious it is, it can cause you to eat more and more.

The addictive properties of sugar have been scientifically
verified in many studies. One of the more recent ones was a
2013 study conducted by Dr. David Ludwig and his
colleagues at Harvard University.

Dr. Ludwig´s research found that the high glycemic index of
sugar causes the brain to release pleasure inducing
chemicals like “dopamine”.  Dopamine triggers a craving that
makes you to want more sugar in order to continually repeat
the craving reward and stimulate your pleasure receptors.
The release of pleasure inducing chemicals like dopamine is
what drives addictive behavior, whether it’s gambling, drugs,
alcohol, or the sugar you consume daily.

3.        
Carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are second to
sugar  in the category of “high glycemic index” foods.  They
overstimulate the reward-pleasure centers of your brain.
Carbohydrates and sugar are very similar in that they both
boost blood sugar for a short period, “sugar rush,” leading
to a long sugar withdrawal “crash” after. During the crash ,
two things happen. First, you  feel more hunger. Second,
your hunger drives you to seek more pleasure ---hence you
reach for another donut.

The research conducted by Dr. David Ludwig and his
colleagues at Harvard University, published in the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition (June 2013), connects
carbohydrates with addictive behavior. Dr. Ludwig also
noted in his study that, “These findings suggest that limiting
high-glycemic index carbohydrates like white bread and
potatoes could help obese individuals reduce cravings and
control the urge to overeat."

4.       
 Salt. Salt has been linked to several heart problems
like high blood pressure and heart disease, but it can also
have a connection with wanting to eat more foods
containing high volumes of salt. Adding more salt to food
has become a common and accepted practice in cooking,
with salt on the table for every meal, in addition to the salt
added during the preparation your meal. However, it’s
important to remember that food contains the natural
sodium the body needs and adding more is unnecessary.

Once you begin adding salt to your food, you essentially
weaken your taste buds and food without salt becomes
bland and you crave more salt to get those taste buds
flowing again. This creates a vicious cycle of adding more
and more salt, and over time you can´t eat food without it.

A study conducted by Professor Derek Denton of the
University of Melbourne showed that the craving for salt
triggered mental neural organization related to addictive
components associated with cocaine and other narcotics.
The study was published in Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences (June 2011) and outlines the addictive
correlation of salt and why people need it so badly with
every meal.

5.        
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). The health and
nutrition community has investigated and discussed MSG a
great deal. MSG is the answer to the age-od question"Why is
it that you're hungry 30 minutes after eating Chinese take-
out?"

MSG has been linked to several health problems such as
obesity, food addiction, migraines, and other neurological
conditions. Dr. J.F. Morrison and his colleagues at UAE
University published, Sensory And Autonomic Nerve Changes
In The Msg-Treated Rat : A Model Of Type II Diabetes
(2007), concluding that MSG increases levels of pleasure
inducing chemicals in their research rats. MSG is a
neurotoxin, “excitotoxin” that triggers an increase in
adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine which increases the
food craving response after you eat food containing MSG,
like Chinese for example. We want to eat more MSG whether
we are hungry or not, because of the neurological changes it
causes in our brains.

6.        
Casein. When you eat fast food from any of the
various fast food chains America has to offer, you
unknowingly, and now knowingly eat casein. Casein has
been nicknamed the “nicotine of fast food” and the refined
version has calcium hydrogenphosphate added to milk for
the ultimate pleasure receptor milkshake.

Da-Wen Sun, a professor of Food and Biosystems
Engineering at the National University of Ireland, Dublin, is
the author of the book, Handbook of Frozen Processing and
Packaging (2005) and notes the dru- like affect casein has
on the brain.
Casein causes a breakdown of proteins that makes the
additive in fast foods more addictive and leaves you wanting
more.

Beware of those fries, milkshakes, and buns the next time
you are in the drive-thru.

7.        
Artificial Sweeteners. Last but not least, you may
want to rethink those artificial sweeteners you guiltlessly put
in your morning coffee or tea, thinking it’s a great alternative
to natural sugar.

Aspartame and Sucralose, two main ingredients found in
Nutrasweet, Splenda, and Equal are chemically developed
and can often be up to 200 times sweeter than natural sugar
and have been noted for the cause of various health
problems. Did you hear that --- they're up to 200 times
sweeter than sugar. That means they can literally overwhelm
your
taste buds.

The chemicals themselves are not addictive, but the hyper-
sweet nature of artificial sweeteners is what drives us to
want more. Research conducted by Dr. Qing Yang, Professor
of Molecular, Cellular, and Development Biology at Yale
University, found that replacing natural sugar with artificial
sweeteners does not trick your brain into thinking it's
consuming real sugar.

Your brain still knows that it is being shorted sugar. The
natural sugar deficiency causes your brain to crave food with
a high calorie count to balance the pleasure receptors that
are triggered with natural sugar.

Dr. Yang´s research, Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial
Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings, was
published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (2010)
and discusses his findings in greater detail.

It’s important to understand what is in your food and how
those ingredients affect your nutrition and health.

Understanding the chemicals that are produced by certain
ingredients can help curb overeating and could give you a
boost in your diet that you may have been working toward
or needing.

Look at the food packaging and labels and do your research
about what is going in your body and keep yourself and
your family healthy in the process by educating them on the
importance of eating real food not packaged food-like
products.


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Salty foods and refined carbs can trigger
the release of pleasure-giving chemicals
that make you want to eat more.
As addictive as cocaine?