By Jane Barthelemy. If you’ve ever found yourself in a habitual relationship with cookies, energy bars, or chips, you recognize that strange appeal that makes you always want more. It’s all about momentary joy, and a specific neurological response purposely created to charm you into buying it. Countless studies show that certain foods stimulate the same brain pleasure centers as cocaine and hard drugs. This is a multi-billion dollar business, and we as consumers must make a choice between momentary joy vs. long-term health. These foods function in the neurological system like hard drugs – they create a pleasant response, a strong reward sensation which connects to our behavior and eating habits. That wonderful scintillating feeling makes us want to repeat what led to it, no matter how fleeting or damaging to our health it might be. This article outlines the most addictive foods, and how to free yourself of addictive relationships. The top 7 addictive foods are:
- White Bread, Pasta, Potatoes, and Rice
- Sugar in all its forms
- Sweets, Energy Bars, Oreos, Donuts, Cupcakes, Muffins, Cake, Cookies
- Chips and Processed Salty Snacks
- Flavor Enhancing Excito-Toxins: MSG and Aspartame
- Coffee & Caffeinated Beverages
White Bread, Pasta, Potatoes, and Rice
Millions of us crave white bread and pasta. A recent study in brain imaging revealed that after eating processed carbs like white bread, pasta, rice, baked goods and other starches, the brain centers register pleasure just like someone on cocaine or heroin. A recent New York Times article shows that eating bread or pasta raises dopamine levels, triggering a spike in a pleasant feeling of reward, which then fades, fueling addiction. The Paleo diet is grain-free, and has lots of ideas for living without bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice.
Sugar in all its forms
Sugar addiction is already hard-wired in human pleasure centers. Sugar is said to be more addictive than heroine. It stimulates the brain’s reward centers through the neurotransmitter dopamine exactly like other addictive drugs. When we eat sugar, it enters the bloodstream immediately, which stimulates the pancreas to release insulin, to convert the sugar into energy, giving us a pleasant “sugar high”. But insulin surges lead to fat storage, which lead to weight gain. And sugar creates a long-term metabolic imbalance in the body, causing or exacerbating most of our common modern diseases such as diabetes, metabolic disorder, obesity, arthritis, and heart disease. A Princeton University study that measured the effects of sugar withdrawal in rats noted that the rodents showed symptoms of anxiety, chattering teeth, and the shakes when deprived of sugar.
We’re not just talking cane sugar here. All sweeteners that affect blood sugar or insulin response have the same addictive effect in the body. Even so-called healthy sweeteners work in the same way, such as Coconut Sugar, Agave Nectar, Maple Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, and Molasses.
Sweets, Energy Bars, Oreos, Donuts, Cupcakes, Muffins, Cake, Cookies
Our favorite decadent treats are in this category. All forms of processed carbs and sugars have the same self-perpetuating cycle in the body – Dunkin’ Donuts, Chocolate Cake, and all the rest.
If you feel crummy after overdoing it on cheese nachos or tacos, remember that it’s not only a lack of willpower on your part. It’s also a true chemical response in your body from an addictive substance. A big part of the appeal of cheese is that it is high in both salt and fat, two of our favorite trigger flavors.
Chips and Processed Salty Snacks
Salty is one of the basic tastes perceived by our taste buds. Salt triggers a physical response in the body, and when it is coupled with fat and an appealing “crunch”, many people find it irresistible. There is a physical and a psychological component to every addiction. You crave salt in your diet because it tastes good, and that pleasurable feeling triggers the reward center in your brain, making it hard to control your salt consumption, so you want more. Those pretzels are appealing, and the salty mixed nuts are hard to resist. However eating too much salt can block your body’s ability to get rid of the excess. Your kidneys are responsible to maintain the sodium balance in your body, sending excess salt through your urine. If they can’t keep up, your salt habit may lead to weight gain, bloating, potassium deficiency, water retention, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
Coffee & Caffeinated Beverages
If you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages, you probably won’t argue that caffeine is addictive. The more caffeine you drink, the more likely you’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Caffeine is a stimulant, so you feel more energized. But alas, that energetic buzz is a lie. What you’ve done is to squeeze every last drop of Qi or vital energy out of your Kidneys. This leads to kidney depletion, lower libido, and always needing more coffee to get the same “up” feeling. I can tell you from personal experience that caffeine withdrawal symptoms may start a few hours after your last cup of Joe, and they can last for weeks, until you finally free yourself of the habit.
This is a multi-billion dollar business, and we as consumers must make a choice between momentary joy vs. long-term health.
Flavor Enhancing Excito-Toxins:
Excito-toxins are substances that excite brain cells or neurons to the point of exhaustion, causing damage and degeneration of the spinal cord and the brain. MSG, or mono sodium glutamate is used in many processed foods. Made from processed free glutamic acid by fermenting with genetically modified bacteria, it excites the brain centers related to taste. MSG has been linked to brain lesions, migraines, nerve degeneration, endocrine disorders, retinal damage, and obesity. Unfortunately MSG is difficult to detect, as it can be listed under 100 other names like Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Soy Protein Isolate, Yeast Extract, or “Natural flavors”. Another excite-toxin, Aspartame, commercially known as Nutrasweet, Spoonful, or Equal, contains the neurotoxins methanol and aspartic acid. Methanol can cause blindness and cellular destruction in the brain and spinal cord, particularly the optic nerves. Aspartic acid produces cellular excitation, brain cell damage, and affects nerve development in infants. The more you eat of these addictive excite-toxins, the more you want.
What’s Not Addictive?
Two foods I do not consider addictive are Fats and Chocolate, two of our most beloved flavors. Although these can be abused, they are not essentially addictive. For example, your favorite dark chocolate bar may spike your blood sugar, and that is definitely addictive. However it’s not the chocolate’s fault. Nope, it’s the sugar. The food industry has discovered our 3 favorite triggers: Fat, Salt, and Sugar, that in combination make absolutely anything taste irresistibly yummy. This may explain in part your addiction to salty foods such as Cheetos or sweet treats like Oreo Cookies.
Chinese Medicine Says “NO” to all 7 Addictive Foods.
In Chinese Medicine foods 1 thru 6 are said to cause a condition called “dampness” or congestion. Dampness happens when the whole body gets clogged up. Slow digestion, sagging lymph system (that’s the clear fluid between the cells), heavy nervous system, brain fog – you know the feeling. Dampness isn’t just congested sinuses. Dampness means general sludge. Think of a damp moldy basement. Dampness is hard to eliminate from the body once it is there. The main entry point for dampness is through your mouth, or the foods you eat. Coffee and Caffeine do not cause dampness directly, although they are an important a part of the pathological cycle of sugar addiction and adrenal fatigue, therefore they are not recommended in Chinese Medicine.
Food remedies for dry dampness include rye, amaranth, adzuki beans, celery, lettuce, pumpkin, scallion, alfalfa, turnip, white pepper. Bitter foods have draining properties such as kale, mustard greens, dandelion greens, parsley, citrus peels, radish, kohlrabi, asparagus, and broccoli.
12 Secrets to Kick Food Addiction
- Substitute healthy alternatives. If you have a weakness for sweets like I do, check out my book Paleo Desserts, 125 Delicious Everyday Favorites, Gluten and Grain-free. Instead of addictive sweeteners, try natural chicory root sweetener Just Like Sugar Table Top, or Monk Fruit Sweetener PureLo, both available online. Instead of white bread, make your own grain-free Irish Soda Bread or Artisan Olive Bread recipes on this website. Skip the chips and make yourself some healthy crisped nuts to chomp on. Instead of addictive coffee, try my chicory-dandelion coffee – a yummy brew that’s great to start the day, or a warming afternoon treat. Oh, and instead of store-bought cheese, check out my most popular web recipe – Vegan Parmesan Cheese!
- Delay the reward. Say to yourself: “Sure, you can have that Chocolate Ding Dong cake, but just wait a few minutes or an hour until you finish the….” Your mind will find other things to do and the craving will subside or may even disappear. Or when you pass StarBucks, say. “Yes, pretty soon you can have that Double Espresso Caramel Frappuccino”, but first let’s take that walk.” Later on perhaps it won’t seem so pressing.
- Distract the mind. Get up and change your surroundings. Go talk to a friend and ask for help to re-direct your mind to other things. Go for a walk. Do the stairs – yes, the real stairs. Go to the library. Sign up for a pottery-making class. Do Yoga in the middle of your office for 10 minutes while everyone watches. Play a joke on a co-worker. Have some fun!
- Recognize the addiction – Notice where you feel it in your body. In a terribly vile way, try to see the deeper humor and enjoy the predicament of being physically habituated on a substance. How would you describe your physical sensations? What are your emotional feelings? Instead of buying that energy bar, whip out your diary, and write a paragraph about determination on your journey to freedom.
- Say the Self-Respect Mantra “I love and respect myself so much that I wish to keep my body and mind clear. I refuse to succumb to marketing manipulation, with foods which seem to give me a temporary lift, but soon cause me to feel crummy, shameful, heavy, depressed, clogged, overweight, and wanting more. I am free and beautiful and I will not be controlled by food technocrats who stop at nothing for money and control. I firmly choose to manifest my destiny as a healthy human being, which means keeping my body and home free of all addictive foods.” Or make up your own mantra…
- Plan ahead for healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. Eat every 3-4 hours and have some protein with each snack or meal (lean animal protein, nuts, seeds, or beans). Smoothies can be a quick and easy meal. Make them exciting and different every time.
- Shop when you’re feeling strong, and never shop hungry. Observe your shopping habits. Use a shopping list and notice if anything strange tries to jump into your cart.
- Eat a nutritious breakfast with some protein like eggs, protein shake, or nut butter. Studies repeatedly show that eating a healthy breakfast helps control weight gain.
- Avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime. This helps to stabilize metabolism and balance blood sugar.
- Exercise or take a walk after every meal for 20 minutes each day. This will help to kick addiction and get rid of damp stagnation.
- Reduce mealtime stress by eating in a calm way and paying attention to your food also supports digestion and helps reduce dampness.
- Eat a toxin-free diet. Excito-toxins such as MSG and aspartame are known to cause you to want more and more. MSG is often labeled “Natural flavors”. Just skip these. They are true poisons.
“We can alter the default conditions in the environment that foster and promote addictive behavior. It’s simply a matter of public and political will. If we don’t, we will face an ongoing epidemic of obesity and illness across the nation.”
Dr. Mark Hyman