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Science Behind Junk Food Addiction

Updated: Jul 10, 2021

It’s lunch hour, I’m driving and my stomach is growling. After going past the McDonald’s “Golden Arches”, it seemed like I heard a voice telling me to come back. “I want to eat healthy.” “Today is the day I will eliminate junk food.” “This is the last day I will eat candy and fried food.” Does this sound like you? You have the DESIRE to eat healthy, but the thought of fries and cheeseburgers from your favorite burger joint lures you in. Why? Is it satisfying? Does it feed more than your appetite?

Craving junk food is more than filling the stomach. Did you know it can come from an addiction? What’s the science behind it?

I already know that junk food is not good for me. However, what I didn’t know was addictive ingredients are inside these foods. This almost seems deceptive to the consumer.

The Brain Connection

Years ago, I found out that the brain is tied to millions of nerves in the gut. Gut microbiome or gut flora helps control messages sent to the brain. According to Dr. Ruairi Robertson of Healthline, some people with various psychological disorders have different species of bacteria in the guts, when compared to healthy people. Gut microbiome can also affect brain health.

Do you ever notice that certain foods make you more sleepy than other foods? I conducted a two-day survey, consisting of individuals divided into two groups. Group one ate fried, high-carb and sugar-filled meals (i.e. fries; hamburgers; ice cream) and group two ate a vegan diet with no sugar (i.e. salads; brown rice; vegetables). On day three, the results were reviewed. The vegan diet group stated that they had energy and their mental focus was clear. Group one wanted more of the same diet, complained of indigestion, feeling sleepy after meals and less focused on their job.

It seems that eating lighter, healthier foods equals a focused, healthy mind and better digestion.

Gut Health

Do you ever wonder what a consistent diet of junk food does to the gut?  According to Dr. Tim Spector of King’s College of London, the good bacteria needed in the gut is, greatly, affected by junk food.  Professor Spector conducted studies on the gut with 10 days of a fast-food-only diet.  This consisted of hamburgers, chips, chicken nuggets and Coca Cola.  At the start of the study, the individual had 3,500 bacterial species in their gut.  Once on the diet, they lost 1,300 bacterial species and their gut was dominated by bad bacteria (Bacteroidetes). 

In simpler terms, fast food can get rid of the good bacteria that’s needed in your gut for proper digestion and overall health.

Professor Spector also found that a diet of junk food contributes toward digestive issues or disease (i.e. inflammatory bowel disease; colon cancer; irritable bowel syndrome; gas; bloating).

The Addiction

Now let’s look at the addictive agents. Researchers have found that that junk food triggers the same actions in our brain as do cigarettes, cocaine, nicotine, morphine, and alcohol. Did you know that the protein, Casein, is often referred to as the “nicotine of fast food?.” It’s found in cheese. Could this be why some people feel that they need to eat cheese every day? Did you know that Casein is found in french fries, buns, milkshakes, creamy salad dressings, whipped toppings and sausages?

I believe warning labels need to be added to restaurant menus. I would like to know if certain foods have addictive agents in them, before making a purchase. Would this, negatively, affect their profit? Maybe that is why many of us don’t know about the addictive ingredients in junk food?

According to Dr. Benjamin Wood of The Good Gut, the food industries use flavoring agents like MSG to trigger neurotransmitters that make you feel happy. The result is being addicted to that food. MSG is one of those players. MSG is monosodium glutamate, which is formed of concentrated salts and many restaurants use it as a flavoring agent. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) usually marks it safe. This is something to watch out for.

Health Issues

When eaten on a regular basis, fast food addictions can cause the following health problems:

  • Fatigue

  • High cholesterol levels

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Liver problems

  • Kidney problems

  • Heart disease risks

  • Impaired cognitive functioning

I believe that everything is in moderation. On occasion, some french fries can’t hurt. However, I want to live a long time and if the end result from junk food is poor health, then it can wait. (click here to see my blog post on yummy vegan recipes and their benefits).

How can I stop?

If you feel that you eat too much junk food, there is help. Here are a few tips on how you can eliminate fast food addiction:

  • Pack healthy meals and snacks. Keeping a healthy meal or snack around is a good way to decrease the amount of fast food you consume.

  • Please stop drinking soda. It’s loaded with sugar and addictive, agents.

  • Try to drive a different route while you’re out. Sometimes just driving past your favorite, fast food joint is enough to make you pull over.

  • Make a list of the advantages of eliminating fast food versus the negatives. Sometimes seeing the list makes the difference and can encourage you to reach your goal.

Since your body does need a certain healthy amount each day, don’t completely cut out sugar, fat, and salt from your diet, but do consume in moderation and in a healthy way (diverse and natural). Always remember to consult with your doctor about diet changes.

Do you think you have an addiction to junk food? Has anyone ever told you about the addictive, ingredients they have and how they affect the body? Let me know your thoughts or experiences.

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