Is Cooked Food Addictive?

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Is Cooked Food Addictive?

 

There is no doubt that one of the most controversial questions in the raw food world is whether cooked food is addictive or not.

Most people who eat a 100% raw diet, or close to that, usually admit that they believe that cooked food (and even some raw foods) are addictive in the same way that other substances can be.  They talk openly about their struggles with giving up cooked food.  Many struggled for a long time before finally getting on a 100% raw path long term.  Often, they will not eat any cooked food as they know that it will lead them back to eating a lot of cooked food again.

However, many other people laugh at the notion that cooked food is addictive.  They may counter that if bread is addictive then fruit is addictive too.  That we have a drive to eat and that their preference for keeping cooked food in their diet is nothing to do with addiction but instead it is a choice they are making.

Of course, it is impossible to really assess this properly by just taking stories and personal experiences into account.  What does and examination of the research around this topic suggest?

Let’s take a look in this article and see what conclusions we can come to.

 

What is the definition of Addicted?

 

So that we start off on the right foot.  Let’s be clear on what addiction actually means.  Here are some definitions:

Dictionary.com, Oxford Dictionary

physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance.

Merriam Webster

– having a compulsive physiological need for a habit forming substance (such as a drug)

Wikipedia (American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD* )

– Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences

 

We can also talk about addiction in an informal way.  A person can be “addicted” to going to the gym, or “addicted” to running but these are more informal ways of using the word not intended to actually suggest the person has a true addiction.

So is food truly addictive like a drug or is it more likely that we simply love eating and are enthusiastic about anything we eat to the point of it looking like an addiction?

 

Can Food Be Addictive?

 

We commonly talk about people being addicted to food. We use words like “chocoholic”. Even in advertising we hear phrases like “once you pop, you just can’t stop”.  Let’s look further into this:

Some researchers suggest that food is not addictive, the act of eating is addictive

This article, VIEW HERE, suggests that food is NOT addictive:

“Food is not addictive … but eating is: Gorging is psychological compulsion, say experts,” the Mail Online reports. The news follows an article in which scientists argue that – unlike drug addiction – there is little evidence that people become addicted to the substances in certain foods.

Researchers argue that instead of thinking of certain types of food as addictive, it would be more useful to talk of a behavioural addiction to the process of eating and the “reward” associated with it.”

It is clear that not all scientists agree with the notion that food is addictive.  But when we look further into this it seems like the evidence in favour of the idea of food addiction is overwhelming.

 

Some Of The Largest Reference Websites In The World Support The Theory Of Food Addiction: WebMD, Healthline, Wikipedia

 

WebMD on Food Addictions

 

Full article: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/mental-health-food-addiction#1

Researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Science & Policy have developed a questionnaire to identify people with food addictions. Here’s a sample of questions that can help determine if you have a food addiction. Do these actions apply to you? Do you:

  • End up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods
  • Keep eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry
  • Eat to the point of feeling ill
  • Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods
  • When certain foods aren’t available, go out of your way to obtain them

 

The questionnaire also asks about the impact of your relationship with food on your personal life. Ask yourself if these situations apply to you:

  • You eat certain foods so often or in such large amounts that you start eating food instead of working, spending time with the family, or doing recreational activities.
  • You avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating.
  • You have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and eating.”

 

Healthline

Full article: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-overcome-food-addiction#section1
 
“The truth is… the effects of certain foods on the brain can lead to downright addiction.
Food addiction is a very serious problem and one of the main reasons some people just can’t control themselves around certain foods, no matter how hard they try.

What Is Food Addiction?

Food addiction is, quite simply, being addicted to junk food in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs.
It involves the same areas in the brain, the same neurotransmitters and many of the symptoms are identical (1).
Food addiction is a relatively new (and controversial) term and there are no good statistics available on how common it is.

How This Works

Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the “reward” centers in the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine (2). The foods that seem to be the most problematic include typical “junk foods,” as well as foods that contain either sugar or wheat, or both.

Food addiction is not about a lack of willpower or anything like that, it is caused by the intense dopamine signal “hijacking” the biochemistry of the brain . There are many studies that support the fact that food addiction is a real problem.”
 

Addiction And Eating Disorder Sites

 

What do organisations involved in treating addiction have to say about food addiction?

 

Eating Disorder Hope.com
 
https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/food-addiction
 
“However, for many individuals, food can become as addictive as drugs are to a substance abuser.”

Food addiction can be recognizable by numerous signs and symptoms. The following are possible symptoms of food addiction:
 
1. Gorging in more food than one can physically tolerate
2. Eating to the point of feeling ill
3. Going out of your way to obtain certain foods
4. Continuing to eat certain foods even if no longer hungry
5. Eating in secret, isolation
6. Avoiding social interactions, relationships, or functions to spend time eating certain foods.
7. Difficulty function in a career or job due to decreased efficiency
8. Spending significant amount of money on buying certain foods for bingeing purposes
9. Decreased energy, chronic fatigue
10. Difficulty concentrating
11. Sleep disorders, such as insomnia or oversleeping
12. Restlessness
13. Irritability
14. Headaches
15. Digestive disorders
16. Suicidal ideations

UKAT – UK Addiction Treatment Centres

Food Addiction


 
Binge eating disorder is a medically recognised disorder that is characterised by excessive eating over long periods of time.
A person who suffers from the disorder will typically demonstrate the following symptoms:
 
1. Compulsions to eat when not physically hungry
2. Routinely eating past the point of feeling full
3. Routinely eating more quickly than others
4. A tendency to try and keep eating habits a secret
5. Feelings of guilt after eating episodes
6. Persistent feelings that one is abnormal
7. Persistent feelings that food is taking over one’s life
8. Routinely attempting to compensate for overeating through dieting or purging.
 
There is no doubt that food addiction is a serious problem that can lead to physical and mental issues. Not treating the addiction only makes matters worse. A person who is struggling with food to any extent, whether through bingeing or compulsive eating, needs to seek out treatment right away.
 
How Food Addiction Is Treated
 
Although food addiction, as exemplified by conditions such as binge eating syndrome and compulsive eating, does share many similarities with other kinds of addictions, it has one characteristic that makes it unique: human beings cannot live without food. We can live without drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, and so many other things; stop eating and you will die of starvation. Therefore, abstinence is not a cure.
 
The goal of food addiction treatment is to identify what causes compulsive thoughts and behaviours so that these can be managed. Some of the more common triggers of food addiction are:

  • underlying emotional stress
  • poor self-image
  • more and stronger cravings for food
  • a need for comfort that only food can provide
  • an inability to say no to food when entertaining or being entertained.

 
 

Articles In The Media

 
The Guardian- Food Addiction: Does It Really Exist?

 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/aug/20/food-addiction-exist-fat-sugar

Rats can’t resist junk food

About a decade ago, a group of American psychiatrists studying obesity decided to look into whether some people’s anecdotal claims of food addiction could be proven. They devised a series of studies in which rats were offered highly palatable sugary or fatty food (they had the option of their regular healthy food, too, but that didn’t get a look-in).

Nicole Avena was one of the researchers: “We found signs of tolerance, withdrawal, craving and measurable changes in neural chemicals such as dopamine and opioid release,” she says. In short, it looked very much as though the animals were addicted to a drug, even tolerating “foot shock” (running over an electric grid) to get their fix.
 
There have been surveys on the foods people say they find addictive. Many of the human studies into food addiction have been based around the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a questionnaire used to determine whether someone could be classified as a food addict. One of its questions is about which foods the subject finds most problematic, and Ashley Gearhardt, the co-creator of the scale, has shared the top 10 nasties.

Top 10 Most Addictive Foods

 

From 10 to 1 in a survey these were found to the foods people perceived as most addictive:

 – White Bread, Donuts, Pasta, Cake, Cookies, Chocolate, French Fries, Candy, Ice Cream

Notice that all of these foods are cooked or processed foods.  Most have either additional sugar, salt or oil making these foods highly palatable. 

 
What constitutes addiction anyway?

 

“This is a subject of ongoing debate. Avena and colleagues used the diagnosis criteria in the standard American guide for psychiatrists, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This stipulates that three of the following must have applied to an individual over the past year to qualify them as addicts:
 
• Tolerance
• Withdrawal
• The substance is often taken in larger amounts than intended.
• A persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down substance use.
• A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance.
• Important activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.
• Substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.”

 
The Extraordinary Science Of Addictive Eating – New York Times

 

This article talks more about the things that food companies are doing to make foods more addictive to consumers.  This is includes creating flavours that hit the ideal “bliss point” but without being so focused on one flavour that the brain is triggered to stop eating.



Moskowitz’s path to mastering the bliss point began in earnest not at Harvard but a few months after graduation, 16 miles from Cambridge, in the town of Natick, where the U.S. Army hired him to work in its research labs.  The military has long been in a peculiar bind when it comes to food: how to get soldiers to eat more rations when they are in the field. They know that over time, soldiers would gradually find their meals-ready-to-eat so boring that they would toss them away, half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. But what was causing this M.R.E.-fatigue was a mystery.

“So I started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring,” Moskowitz said. The answers he got were inconsistent. “They liked flavorful foods like turkey tetrazzini, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they’d had enough.”
 
This contradiction is known as “sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

 

Wikipedia- Article: FOOD ADDICTION

 

As we have seen, Wikipedia can often be innacurate with it’s information or biased.  We always must use it as just one source and not the be all and end all.  The sources used in this article seem to be very strong which is why we share it here:

 

“Food addiction” refers to compulsive overeaters who engage in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating (binge eating). The term binge eating means eating an unhealthy amount of food while feeling that one’s sense of control has been lost.[8] People who engage in binge eating may feel frenzied, and consume a large number of calories before stopping. Food binges may be followed by feelings of guilt and depression;[9] for example, some will cancel their plans for the next day because they “feel fat.” Binge eating also has implications on physical health, due to excessive intake of fats and sugars, which can cause numerous health problems.

Can Fruits And Vegetables Be Addictive?

 

It appears that we are pulling together evidence to show that food can be addictive.  When we look closer into that we see that the foods that are found to be addictive are exclusively processed and cooked foods.  But are fruits and vegetables also addictive?

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied addictive-like eating in 518 participants . They used the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) as a reference. This is the most commonly used tool to assess food addiction. All participants got a list of 35 foods, both processed and unprocessed.

They rated how likely they were to experience problems with each of the 35 foods, on a scale from 1 (not at all addictive) to 7 (extremely addictive). In this study, 7–10% of participants were diagnosed with full-blown food addiction.

What’s more, 92% of participants had addictive-like eating behavior towards some foods. They repeatedly had the desire to quit eating them, but were unable to. Below, you’ll see the results about which foods were the most and least addictive.

 

18 most addictive foods and 17 least addictive

 

Pizza (4.01) , Chocolate (3.73), Chips (3.73), Cookies (3.71), Ice cream (3.68), French fries (3.60), Cheeseburgers (3.51), Soda (not diet) (3.29), Cake (3.26), Cheese (3.22), Bacon (3.03), Fried chicken (2.97), Rolls (plain) (2.73), Popcorn (buttered) (2.64), Breakfast cereal (2.59), Gummy candy (2.57), Steak (2.54), Muffins (2.50)

Once again we see a strong showing for cooked and processed foods.  Animal products are among the most addictive also.  However, we see no sign of fruit or vegetables in the most addictive group.

 

17 Least Addictive

 

Cucumbers (1.53), Carrots (1.60), Beans (no sauce) (1.63), Apples (1.66), Brown rice (1.74), Broccoli (1.74), Bananas (1.77)
Salmon (1.84), Corn (no butter or salt) (1.87), Strawberries (1.88), Granola bar (1.93), Water (1.94), Crackers (plain) (2.07)
Pretzels (2.13), Chicken breast (2.16), Eggs (2.18), Nuts (2.47)

We see clearly that the raw fruits and vegetables are all in the top 10 least addictive foods.  The results here are a little confusing however.  Water, for example, is showing as more addictive than crackers or pretzels!  Some whole foods that are usually cooked are showing in the top 10 least addictive also.  Salmon is showing as less addictive than Strawberries!

Broadly, the pattern we see here is that the raw fruits and vegetables are among the least addictive foods.  Of the most addictive foods, cooked and processed foods make up the entire list.

 

The Opinions Of Vegan Doctors

 

Many vegans and raw vegans respect the advice of some of the well known vegan doctors. Whether these doctors can be truly said to be experts in nutrition is debatable but their opinion is influential in vegan circles.  What do they have to say?

 

Dr Joel Kahn

 

Dr Joel Kahn is a cardiologist from the USA.  Known as “America’s Healthy Heart Doc” he has been treating patients with a plant based diet for many years.  In this article he wrote about animal products, sugar and fat as being addictive but also believe that wheat and rice have addictive properties:

6 Foods That Behave Like Addictive Drugs In Your Body

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14423/6-foods-that-behave-like-addictive-drugs-in-your-body.html

Dairy– No food group has been studied more for opioid activity than dairy, particularly milk and cheese. The protein in dairy, casein, is digested into smaller peptides and there are a family of active agents called casomorphins. The desire for cheese can be blocked by the same medicines used to reverse drug overdoses in emergency rooms!

Meat- The blood in meat contains albumin, hemoglobin and gamma globulin and all of these chemicals activate opioid receptors. When meat eaters were treated with a drug used to block opiate receptors, ham consumption fell by 10%, salami by 25% and tuna by 50%!

Wheat and rice– Gliadin is a protein in wheat that has opiate activity and is sometimes referred to as gliadorphin. There is also a protein in rice that produces similar effects. If you can’t stop reaching for the bread bowl, it’s most likely because of this feel-good chemical trap.

Sugar and fat- Headlines worldwide last fall reported on a study in rats showing a preference for Oreo cookies, used for their high sugar and fat content, that was similar to providing the rats cocaine and morphine. Actually, prior studies in humans had already shown the opioid like effects of mixing sugar and fat (think: donut) that could be reversed with narcotic blockers.

 

Dr Michael Greger (NutritionFacts.org)

 

Many vegans look to Dr Michael Greger as the font of all wisdom when it comes to what is healthy to eat.  In a number of articles he has confronted the idea of food addiction: 

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-sugary-foods-addictive/

“Evidence from PET scans suggests brain activity changes from the overconsumption of sugar may parallel that of drug addiction. Diminished “pleasure center” dopamine pathway sensitivity in obese individuals may be analogous to that found in cocaine addicts and alcoholics.”

Circuits In Human Obesity and Addiction

“A reduction in dopamine receptors is associated with addictive behaviour irrespective of whether it is due to food or to addictive drugs. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter primarily involved in the pleasure and reward centre in our brain helping to motivate our drive for things like food, water and sex.

It was healthy and adaptive for our primate brains to drive us to eat that banana when there wasn’t much food around but now (with modern processed foods) this adaptation has become a dangerous liability.”

Can One Become A Sugar Addict?

https://nutritionfacts.org/2014/10/23/can-one-become-a-sugar-addict/

Are Fatty Foods Addictive?

“People who regularly eat ice cream—sugar and fat—have a deadened dopamine response in their brains to drinking a milkshake. It’s like when drug abusers have to use more and more to get the same high. “Frequent [ice cream] consumption…is related to a reduction in reward-region responsivity in humans”—they’re talking about the pleasure center—”paralleling the tolerance observed in drug addiction.” Once we’ve so dulled our dopamine response, we may subsequently overeat “in an effort to achieve the degree of satisfaction experienced previously, which contributes to unhealthy weight gain.”

Consumption of a calorie-dense diet compared to the same number calories in a calorie-dilute diet leads to that numbing of the dopamine response. It’s like the difference between cocaine and crack. Same stuff chemically, but by smoking crack cocaine, we can deliver a higher dose quicker to our brain.

Rather than taking drugs, though, we can prevent the deadening of our pleasure center in the first place by sticking to foods that are naturally calorically dilute—like whole plant foods. This can help bring back our dopamine sensitivity, such that we can again derive the same pleasure from the simplest of foods.

Dr Neal Barnard

 

Dr Neal Barnard is known for his work with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and also his book on reversing diabetes with a plant based diet.  He has written a book on addictive foods:

Breaking The Food Seduction

In this book he claims that sugar, chocolate, meat and cheese release opiates in the brain.  You can view a presenation on this below:

PCRM addictive foods

Sugar, chocolate, and meat trigger the release of opiates within the brain. Researchers have proven that foods have opiate effects by using an opiate-blocking medicine called naloxone. Cheese produces mild opiates called casomorphins, as it digests.

These drug-like effects of foods help explain why we get “hooked” on some foods and not others.
Certain good habits help us reduce the lure of “addicting” foods. Having a healthy breakfast, getting plenty of sleep, physical exercise, and other steps can really help.

https://www.pcrm.org/health/healthcare-professionals/nutritioncurriculum/nutrition-curriculum-session-8-addictive-foods

From these examples, we can see that these respected vegan physicians believe that food addiction is a real issue.  They suggest sticking to whole foods which are less addictive.  Obviously, fruits and vegetables are a part of that.  Joel Kahn goes a step forward and offers evidence to show that even cooked whole foods like wheat and rice can be addictive.

Conclusions

1. The science tends to suggest that Food Addiction is a real concern
2. The consumption of certain foods can trigger the brain’s reward centres in an unhealthy way leading to an addiction to that food.
3. The most addictive foods tend to be processed and cooked foods, often with the addition of salt, sugar and oil
4. Fruits and vegetables tend to be rated among the least addictive foods.

 

The Symptoms Of Food Addiction

 

Though the science on which foods are addictive is not fully settled we can look at our own behaviour to see if we have the symptoms of food addiction. If you have experienced any of the following symptoms you may have a food addiction:

1. End up eating more than planned when you start eating certain foods
2. Keep eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry or eat to the point of feeling ill
3. When certain foods aren’t available, go out of your way to obtain them
4. You eat certain foods so often or in such large amounts that you start eating food instead of working, spending time with the family, or doing recreational activities.
5. You avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating.
6. You have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and eating.
7. Routinely eating more quickly than others
8. A tendency to try and keep eating habits a secret
9. Feelings of guilt after eating episodes
10. Routinely attempting to compensate for overeating through dieting or purging.
11. When you give in and start eating a food you were craving, you often find yourself eating much more than you intended to.
12. You sometimes make excuses in your head about why you should eat something that you are craving

 

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