We all know what it’s like to have a food we love so much – we just can’t seem to separate ourselves from it. When you were a kid, you probably ate it as often as possible and thought about it when you didn’t have it.
And now as an adult, maybe you still have that lingering feeling in the back of your head any time you see it, telling you: buy me…eat me! Except, as an adult, you might be able to have it around as much as you like, without that wise parent telling you how bad of an idea it is to keep eating it.
But for many people, it gets worse. Sometimes, it gets much worse, becoming a full on food addiction, something suffered by up to 20 percent of the population.
But it isn’t just any food that can cause a particular food addiction. No, that takes a special kind of food, one much more likely to cause addiction than others.
Thanks to the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), we have a way of breaking this down and more easily understanding it. It’s the most commonly used tool in assessing food addiction.
A study from the University of Michigan asked participants to assess their food habits using the YFAS, ranking foods between 1 and 7 on their resistability (1 being the easiest, 7 being the hardest).
So, to learn what foods to eat with the most caution, let’s take a look at the 13 most addictive foods there are based on the YFAS.
13. Rolls (2.73)
Sometimes carbs are the key to happiness at mealtimes, and that is absolutely the case when it comes to dinner rolls. This bread product is addictive because bread is addictive.
This sort of bread product is a refined carbohydrate, having been stripped of many important nutrients and fibers, reducing it to being mostly just a lot of sugar molecules linked together. These sugars enter the bloodstream quickly, giving you a huge sugar boost – even more quickly than table sugar.
That’s why when you’re chowing down over the holidays, you’ll more than likely run into a gigantic tower of dinner rolls beckoning you over to them the way the Sirens lured Odysseus.
12. Fried Chicken (2.97)
For a lot of people, especially those who grew up in the South, fried chicken is as good as any drug. Both fatty, salted, and breaded, our bodies and brains can’t help but demand more of the stuff.
Al Jefferson, a professional basketball player in the NBA, had never been the skinniest of athletes, but this year he lost an incredible 20 pounds over the summer after cutting his addiction to fried chicken. I’m not joking.
11. Bacon (3.03)
A lot of people, especially Americans over the past few years, refuse to listen to a negative word about bacon. I get it, bacon tastes amazing.
But don’t be fooled – the reason you keep coming back to bacon isn’t because it’s wholesome, it’s because of how addictive it is.
Bacon is one of the fattiest foods imaginable, with about 40 percent saturated fat in every strip, 68 percent of its calories come from fat, and each ounce contains an unnerving 30 milligrams of cholesterol. And of course, people pour salt all over it too.
Without drastic change to American diets, bacon will probably maintain its status as one of the most popular foods around – now found in breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
10. Cheese (3.22)
While cheese does have its health benefits, it also can be seriously addictive.
Scientists blame its addictive quality on a chemical found in dairy products called casein that is responsible for triggering the brain’s opioid receptors.
Why else do you think people are so in love with the stuff, adding it on top of their pastas, or covering certain “pies” with it that we’ll talk about later?
The worst offenders when it comes to cheese are the highly processed kinds, often called ‘plastic cheese.’ These are usually the brightly colored, melty kinds that are drizzled over other foods, often marketed to children.
9. Cake (3.26)
Something tells me you’re already fully aware of how addictive cake can be. Not only is it essentially pure sugar, it’s often covered with even more sugary frostings and toppings.
Every time you go to a birthday celebration or any sort of special occasion, even at work, there will often be a few different kinds of cakes to choose from. And people just can’t bear to see someone at the party without a slice of cake, so you may even be coerced into eating it.
And after you have that one slice, you might hear someone call out, “Anyone want another slice of cake?” Odds are, you won’t be able to stop yourself from going back for more.
8. Soda (3.29)
It’s no secret these days that soda is demonstrably terrible for your health. Not only does it provide you with very little nutrients, it can also contain a jaw-dropping 35 grams of sugar per 12 ounce can.
Thanks to their copious amounts of caffeine, even diet sodas can be super addictive.
Once hooked on caffeine, you can suffer symptoms of withdrawal like sluggishness, headaches, and emotional distress. So in order to combat this, soda addicts may drink one first thing in the morning, then at every meal and between meals as a monstrously high calorie and sugar snack.
Instead of treating soda the way it should be treated (the same way as you would a candy bar), it’s seen as something to quench your thirst or help you swallow your food.
7. Cheeseburgers (3.51)
Some people see a cheeseburger and delight in the fact that they’re getting all their basic food groups. If there are lots of vegetables on the sandwich itself, they may even say they feel like they’re eating a salad!
But cheeseburgers are a heavy combination of high fat, high salt, and refined carbohydrates. That’s what makes them so ridiculously addictive and hard to deny.
And, like most fast foods, they’re usually made of highly processed ingredients that are full of trans fats, which can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
6. French Fries (3.60)
Remember how I said earlier that carbs were the key to happiness in meals? This is never more obvious than when it comes to French fries, one of the most indulged upon foods in American history.
They’re typically crisp, fresh, hot, and salty, a combination that tells the tongue, the brain, and the body that you should eat them as often as possible. These little potato sticks are a comfort food, and every time you go through the line in a restaurant and see them on the menu, you may find the urge to order them as a side to your entrée irresistible.
5. Ice Cream (3.68)
Thanks to how simple it can be to make, ice cream may have been around as far back as the second century B.C.E..
Only four ingredients go into its creation – milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring. And everyone capable of processing dairy has likely had their bouts of addiction to ice cream.
The cravings for ice cream can be insatiable – that’s why the best answer to avoiding it is to stop buying it.
People walk through the grocery stores and see the colorful packaging ice cream comes in and think, “Yes, it’d be nice to have some ice cream around for special occasions.”
And before they know what they’re doing, they find themselves sitting on the kitchen floor with a huge spoon shoveling the whole carton into their mouths in a sugar-fueled daze.
4. Cookies (3.71)
Cookies are one of the first things you imagine when thinking of unhealthy snacks. And there’s little question why – no one eats cookies for health reasons.
Cookies, like cakes, are pure sugar with sugar on top. The cookie itself, the pastry, is nothing but super refined carbohydrate, and rarely will you find an addition to the cookie that makes it any better, aside from the occasional nut.
A recent study actually compared the effects of Oreo cookies and cocaine/morphine on rats and found that the rodents responded similarly to each. I can’t say I’m shocked.
3. Chips (3.73)
When it comes to chips, the main factor here (as with some of the others on this list) is salt. While salt occurs naturally in foods, we have a tendency to dump more of it on top to make them slightly more palatable.
And, like with fats and sugars, your body can become psychologically and physiologically dependent on salt. That whole, “Bet you can’t eat just one!” idea associated with chips makes a whole lot more sense when viewed through this lens.
Think hard…have you ever eaten an entire bag of chips in one sitting? Your body didn’t really need that, but was tricked by the mixture of salt, fat, and sugar on every chip.
2. Chocolate (3.73)
If you’re a big fan of chocolate, you might jokingly refer to yourself as a “chocoholic.”
Sadly, chocolate addiction is no laughing matter. Coming in at number 2 on our list, chocolate is one dangerous snack to repeatedly indulge in.
Because of its high sugar content, chocolate has been enjoyed since its discovery by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, who made a drink from the beans of the cocoa tree.
Since then, it’s been developed into a mind-boggling array of treats and can be found in just about every store in the United States.
1. Pizza (4.01)
Think back to last weekend. Did you have a slice of pizza?
Above all others, pizza most often ensnares us, fooling us into eating it, slice after slice. It’s no wonder so many children (and adults) list it among their favorite foods.
Thanks to its regular inclusion of breading, cheese, sauce, and various unhealthy toppings, pizza has an artificially elevated quantity of fat, sugar, and salt. This perfect storm of sensation to the body and brain make pizza the most addictive food around.
What Makes These Foods So Addictive?
It isn’t just that you love the way they taste – there can also be some major chemical factors going on in your body and brain that keep you coming back for more.
As I’ve discussed in the past, processed foods (especially the ones that are super fatty or full of added sugar) are doing a lot of damage to your overall well-being, and are also incredibly addictive. A lot of this has to do with the way they’re deliberately engineered to be hyperpalatable.
They aren’t just regular foods at this point, they’re surpassing all the reward properties of traditional foods and hitting your brain right in the pleasure center, telling you: you need more of this.
When this pleasure/reward center is stimulated, the brain starts secreting dopamine and other chemicals that make us enjoy the experience even more – and this junk food releases far more dopamine than unprocessed foods.
Because your brain loves the sensation caused by dopamine release, it then seeks more of it by creating cravings, desires that if listened to can cause a vicious cycle of addiction.
This list was full of some pretty obvious food items, but that underlies the issue itself. These foods are so common because so many people are so easily addicted to them. And even though the vast majority of us are fully aware of the negative consequences of eating these foods, we still choose to indulge in them more often than we care to admit.
Food addiction is a very serious thing. It can be as hard to shake as any other addiction, including hard drugs. If you want to find out how you can learn to eliminate your food addictions, check out this blog post.
But now that we’ve identified the most addictive foods ever, hopefully you’ll find it easier to keep track of how often you eat them. Maybe you’ll even strengthen the important ability of saying no to your unhealthy desires.
What are your food addictions and guilty pleasures? Share your response in the comments below!
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