Ask anyone what their favorite food is and they can name at least one food off the top of their head. For me, it’s dark chocolate. And peanut butter. And potato chips. (See what I mean?) There are lots of reasons we may love these foods, but sometimes it’s the result of ingredients that affect our brain chemistry, rather than just appeal to our taste buds.
Caffeine has addictive properties, sending us into withdrawal symptoms if we don’t get our fix. If you can’t put down that bag of Doritos, it’s because MSG is added to heighten the flavor, making us want more, more, more. A study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine found that artificial sweeteners actually encourage the brain to request more sugar. Foods like oysters, chocolate, or chili peppers are purported to have chemicals that trigger an aphrodisiac effect.
When I wrote my plant-based diet post, I mentioned that I’d read that the casein in cheese supposedly makes it addictive. A few days later I came across a study about addictive foods. Researchers found that highly processed foods are more likely to induce addictive eating behavior–much like how drug addiction works–when they contain a combination of refined grains, sugars, and fats.
Even though I wasn’t able to find research that found casein to be addictive, ice cream, pizza, cheeseburgers, and cheese were in the top 20 of foods that people found addictively irresistible. Chocolate was number one, but unlike my love of dark chocolate, it was milk chocolate in the study which had people craving more. And not surprisingly, because it contains casein as well as refined sugars. So if you find you just can’t stop eating something, maybe there’s more to it than just a lack of willpower.