I’m constantly discovering new favourite foods, snacks and candies, while frequently and casually throwing out the phrase “this is SO addictive!”, or another common one, “is there crack in this?”
The word addictive is thrown around casually, but it’s serious business. Are these foods really addictive? What’s a regular craving versus an actual addiction related craving when it comes to food?
When something is truly addictive it tends to lead to us overeating, and we’re often quick to blame our own will power. For example, myself and Rice Krispie Squares? I don’t even stand a fighting chance.
Certain foods actually contain a chemical called exorphins. These are like the opposite of endorphins, which come from the inside and are the source of feelings like that “runner’s high”.
Exorphins come from external sources, like our diets, while still providing the same feel-good satisfaction. These chemicals are powerful. To give you some perspective, drugs used to block their actions are the same as ones used to treat heroin addiction. So if you’ve ever said that a particular food is like crack, you aren’t that far off.
There are certain foods with higher levels of exorphins, many of them are what we crave and associate as comfort foods, and now I know why.
One word. Cheese. Cow dairy contains exorphins and actually bind to morphine receptor sites in the brain. These are especially concentrated in cheese, which we probably all figured… because cheese.
Or more specifically, gluten. I don’t know how many of you have tried going gluten-free but it’s a challenge, and was a short lived one for me. Gluten containing foods have five known “gluten exorphins”, which exert this opioid effect, activating pleasure and reward centers in the brain. Many people who have given up gluten find they have less food cravings and have lost weight. But must suffer sad snacks for a while.
No surprise here, coffee is well known for its addictiveness. Beyond the caffeine we already know and love, it also contains something called cafestol, found in both regular and decaf coffee. The morphine like effect is potent, so even decaf coffee can become / remain just as addictive.
Epicatechin is the natural flavonol in cocoa beans doing most of the work in all the dark chocolate research. It’s been studied to protect the heart and is increasingly being added into supplements. So I guess this is actually a good one! While a little bit of dark chocolate might be good for you, it sadly doesn’t mean a lot is, too. Studies using the opioid-blocking drug naloxone, have been shown to reduce chocolate cravings, suggesting that part of the reason we love chocolate so much has to do with the opioid response in the brain. Obviously.
Fructose is widely found in packaged foods and is prominent in the American diet. It increases brain levels of endogenous morphine and stimulates the hedonic pathway, like booze! This is why it creates habits and dependancies.
If cravings or overeating is an issue, try removing these foods from your diet for 4 weeks to reset your system, or at least avoid as much as possible. It
might will totally suck at first, but afterwards you’ll find you have less cravings. Also, now you know these cravings are not always about a will power battle, there is often a real, physiological explanation for them. So don’t feel so bad.