There’s been a lot of talk about whether foods can be addictive or not.  In truth, there are a group of foods, called “ultra-processed industrial formulations” that have been engineered in the nutrition lab and that contain high amounts of fats, sugar and salt.  These foods can lead to eating behaviors that are addictive.  Studies show that 50% of the American diet consists of these ultra-processed food-like substances and that these foods are a cause of increases in weight, diabetes, heart disease and other medical problems.  If you have binge eating, emotional eating or food addiction, you are more vulnerable to being “hooked” by these industrial formulations.

1. What are the top 5 foods that are considered “industrial formulations?”

2. How is food changed to make it more addictive?

3. Is it true that sugar is highly addictive?


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Hi everyone. It’s Dr. Carolyn bringing you Episode Number 85: How Our Food Has Been Engineered To Be Addictive. So we’ve talked about food addiction quite a lot, but I haven’t really talked as much about the science behind food addiction, the evil geniuses in the food labs who are making all those addictive foods that we love. So stay tuned for that and also want to just. Before I forget to tell you that we have a book sweepstakes coming on, and if you check out the show notes, you’ll see a link to the sweepstakes that you can enter to win a free copy of my book, The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook. Stay tuned.

Okay, let’s get down to it. We’re going to be talking a lot today about what food, what makes food addictive. So I know everybody’s talking about being a food addict, a chocaholic a sugar addict in particular sugar addiction has a lot of converts who cut back on sugar or try to eliminate it entirely from their diets. Well, but you know, we know that with drugs of abuse, you can eliminate them. You can be abstinent from them, but you can’t be abstinent from food. Now, obviously sugar is not a necessary substance. It doesn’t have any particular nutritional value. So, and there are other things as well that probably you know, if they were left out of our died, wouldn’t be the end of the world. However, we’re going to talk more about why certain foods may tend to present as “addictive”. And what I, what I really want to get across today is I think this is important is to help you be able to evaluate some of these claims that come across in magazines and other people’s podcasts and so on and to be able to ask yourself, are these claims really true? And if I’m not sure they’re true. How do I learn more about that. So how do I think about it? And that’s what I want to help you understand? How do you think about it?

So there’s been a lot of recent work on food use disorders, including food addiction that have demonstrated that the same brain pathways that are part of what makes drugs of abuse addictive like cocaine and alcohol. Also have some modulation of how much we eat or what we eat and that the body’s regulation of food intake involves, it’s really complex. It’s not just a simple thing cause it involves hormones there, you know, there are different hormones that affect appetite, for example, as well as, you know, the dopamine reward center, which we talked about in previous podcast, but there’s, and then there’s relatively new research that I want to just, here’s one of the things you questions you can ask when you’re evaluating things. This research has only been done in animals, and it does indicate that rats can become addicted to certain foods that men and women may respond differently to external food cues. Like if you see what that means is if you see a picture of a milkshake that may make you salivate and start wanting to drink a milkshake, if that’s something you enjoy. And also that some of these problems with food actually began before birth, where perhaps you had a mother who was either malnourished or eating foods that were low in, in nutrition, like junk foods or fast foods. And that can impact a child’s later risk for diabetes and high cholesterol and also, may impact their, their size.

So under some circumstances, we do know that sugar can have effects similar to drugs of abuse, like cocaine, rats, show signs of dopamine being released in the brain and opioid centers in the brain also being triggered, but only when they’re given intermittent access to sugar. So what does that mean? It’s pretty much the same as what happens in humans, where you say I’m going to cut out all sugar and you do that for X period of time. And then at some point you just can’t have, you can’t do it anymore. And then you go and you binge on it. So what they have done in the studies is that they, in one group of rats, they gave sugar on for one hour on days, 1 and 21 of the of the study. So they only had sugar twice on days, 1 and 21, but they got to eat as much as they wanted for an hour. And then the other group. Got to eat as much sugar as they want it all the time. And then finally there was the group that was given sugar and then it was taken away and it was given again and it was taken away. So the rats who became addicted to sugar are the ones where they were restricted for meeting it and then they would binge on it. So it was the intermittent access to sugar that cause the addiction. So that’s really the same thing I’ve said, many times, which is restriction leads to bingeing. So whenever you have feeling of deprivation, I can have the sugar it’s not good for me, I’m not supposed to eat it, I got a whole back. You know, all of those, all of those thoughts that we put into it, whether it’s sugar or it’s, you know, chips or whatever your particular food fix is then almost inevitably it will lead to benching. So that’s just important to know. And, we’re going to talk more about that in a minute.

So now about five years ago, nutrition scientists actually did a study that showed that. And this is, was shocking to me. I don’t know if it will be shocking to you, but it showed that half, literally half of all the foods eaten by Americans fall into the category of what I call food-like substances. In other words, half the food we eat is so highly processed that the scientist call those foods, industrial formulations. I just want to say that one more time. Industrial formulations. In other words, not food. What I call food-like substances, what the scientists called industrial formulations, because they’re ultra highly processed. And these foods again have large amounts of sugar, salt, oils, fats, and other additives. Now these industrial formulations are linked to numerous health problems. So oftentimes, you know, we’re scientists are looking and they say, Oh, it’s your weight that’s causing, you know, diabetes or hypertension, but probably, more than likely if you look a little deeper, it’s the diet, these industrial formulations are definitely have been linked to increases in weight to diabetes, heart disease, and other medical problems. So, okay, so you can say, well, it’s the weight that is causing the problem, but it’s the eating of these industrial formulations that can cause the weight gain. So we’ve got to go deeper and not just look at the surface. So eating these ultra processed food like substances lead to increases in weight, diabetes, heart disease, and other medical problems. Well, why do we keep eating these? If we know that they cause health issues. I mean, you know, the weight loss industry is a $65 billion industry. So people are willing to go on diet after diet, after diet in order to get healthy, but not willing to change the foods that they eat. Well, of course, these foods really have been scientifically engineered to taste good. They have all the good stuff that our bodies like that our brains likes sugar, fat and salt, and often these foods can be cheaper to buy. So that’s another reason why we keep eating them, but there’s more to it. And there’s really two sides to this story.

So I want to talk about a debate that happened between experts, nutrition experts on whether these same foods that we’re talking about provoked addiction like eating behavior. That’s addictive, like eating behavior. That means when you start eating them, you can’t stop. And all the other things that are related to addiction. So one of the experts was a person by the name of Dr. Gearhart and she’s actually a professor at the university of Michigan, which is my Alma mater. Go blue. And she found that these ultra processed industrial formulations were more likely to lead to addictive, like eating behaviors, such as intense cravings, a loss of control when you’re eating them inability to cut back despite experiencing harmful consequences and a strong desire to stop eating them.

So just think of I mean, many of you listening have had the experience of or having the experience right now in your life of, you know, just being feeling you’re addicted to sweets or you’re addicted to chips or whatever, and, and that those foods lead to intense cravings ond once you start eating them, you end up eating the whole bag and it also, you know, you try so hard to cut back because you know that they’re not good for you and yet you can’t and you do have a strong desire to stop eating them. So that’s what, what Dr. Gearhart is calling addictive like eating behaviors. So Dr. Gearhart’s research listed the following foods as causing as industrial formulations that can cause addictive, like eating behavior. Okay. Get ready. First of all, is pizza. Oh my goodness. Chocolate. Wow. Even worse, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, and cheeseburgers. Those are at the top of the list. Now she has she’s thought through this very well and she’s, I’m going to tell you what she says as to why these foods cause addictive, like eating behavior.

First of all. The foods in and of the are the parts of these foods in and of themselves are not bad. Just like cocaine and cigarettes they come from nature. You know, potato chips come from potatoes, ice cream comes from dairy plus a lot of other stuff, you know, but you get my point, they come from natural products, but then secondly, these natural products. So then stripped of all the components that would make them. Slowly absorbed into the bloodstream. That’s fiber, water and protein. Why is that important? Well, when anything is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, it does cause that spike in dopamine, but then within a short period of time, It causes a crash in blood sugar, which then makes you want to crave it more, makes you want to eat it again. After being stripped of fiber, water and protein, they are then processed even more into products that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and that again, enhances their ability to light up the dopamine reward center that regulates reward, emotion, pleasure, and eating and motivation to eat. And then finally, just as menthol helps to mask the bitter flavor of nicotine, the final step in this creation of not food, but industrial formulations is the addition of other additives. Which helps to hook us even more like changing the texture or the mouth feel, you know, I’m thinking for example, of McDonald’s chicken nuggets and those are, you know, at least the last time I ate them, which was quite a while ago, there was a big thing about how they aren’t pieces of chicken. What they do is take chicken and process it into kind of a squishy thing that almost tastes like, tastes has the texture and mouthfeel of chicken, and then they just, you know, bake it or fry it or whatever they do to it. But it’s, it’s really kind of a, not a powder, It’s not a liquid, it’s sort of a, you know, glutinous substance, that approximates chicken. So when you think about that, you know, obviously, these ultra processed foods are causing problems because they do create that addictive, like eating behavior.

The other thing about them is that, you know, the, this combination of fats with carbohydrates, like you see with French fries, I hate to say it, it’s not found in foods in nature. You know, and that’s another way that these industrial formulations pack, a punch, many foods found in nature are rich in either fats or carbohydrates, but not in both. Okay. I hope that was clear to you.

But let’s now go to the other side of the story. And this is German researcher, Dr. Hebah Bran, and he disputes the notion that any food can be addictive. His point is that unlike drugs of abuse, cocaine, alcohol, heroin, if you eat these ultra processed foods, it doesn’t really cause an altered state of mind. You know, it doesn’t make you high. This is what he says. He also states that there’s no one compound in these ultra processed foods that can be singled out as addictive. Unlike, for example, nicotine in cigarettes, you know, it’s nicotine, that’s the addictive component of cigarettes, but in these ultra processed foods, there’s, I mean, If it’s pizza, is it the crust? Is it, I mean, is it the dough? Is it the pepperoni? What, what of those is causing the addictive, like eating behavior? He goes on to point out that even though 50% of America’s food intake is from these industrially. I mean, these are like sciences experiments, really industrially, concocted food-like substances. The studies show that there are many factors, And I do agree with him here, there are many factors that determine whether people become addicted and that includes, genetics, family history. The we’ve talked about exposure to trauma, their environment, and their socioeconomic background. So it’s not the food itself that, addicts makes you feel have addictive, like eating behaviors. It’s a combination of all of these different things. He also really points out, I think a good point, which is that, you know, the food industry and the beverage industry spend an enormous amount of money on advertising. These particularly these low nutritional foods. I mean, you don’t see any advertising for apples or pears or, you know, even any more for chicken or beef hardly. I guess occasionally do, but, but you see a lot for children’s sweet cereals and you know, Tostito’s and all of those other things, right. So he, he feels that that advertising definitely has an influence on making people want to try all of these new foods, try all of these new concoctions.

Okay. Well, how do you know if you have eating like addictive behaviors, or if you have food addiction, we’re here, here are eight of the symptoms. Number one, you have frequent cravings for specific foods, even if you’re full, even if you just ate a nice nutritious meal. Number two, starting to eat one of the foods you crave, you often eat much more than you attend, intend to do. Number three, sometimes eat that craved food or what I call your food fix to the point of being stuffed and uncomfortably fall. Number four, there’s a lot of guilt after eating specific foods. Number five, sometimes you make excuses about why you respond to a food craving and why that’s a good idea. Number six repeatedly, but unsuccessfully trying to quit eating certain foods or setting rules for when eating them as allowed such as, you know, having cheat days or I can only eat cookies on Mondays and Fridays or whatever rules you have. Number seven often hiding the fact that you’re eating those foods you crave those, uh, ultra processed foods and number eight, feeling unable to control the consumption of those foods, which then leads eventually to physical harm.

So, what does this all mean? Well, as you know, I’ve, I’ve spoken about food addiction many times in my views really fall in between these two experts. So here are my takeaways, Dr. Carolyn’s takeaways. There are only four, so not hard to remember. Number one. Not everything we call food is really food. Real food is in its natural naked state. So I always advise, eat fresh and naked. You don’t have to be naked, but your food should be naked. Number two, it’s very important to be aware that certain “foods are really engineered to trap us into cravings and obsessions”. So just consider that, just be aware that these ultra processed foods have been scientifically engineered to hook us. So be careful when, when you’re eating those consider eating less of them or not even trying new products you see on TV that are obviously ultra ultra processed. after all they’re not food now. Does that mean you have to cut out all treats? Does that mean everything is bad? No, but we do know that ultra processed foods are harmful for your health. Number three, some people are much more vulnerable to being hooked by these “foods”, and that includes people who have a history of addiction, a history of childhood trauma, having an eating disorder or struggling with food and body image issues. So just know yourself and respect your vulnerability to these products. And finally, number four, stay aware of emotional triggers and recognize that certain emotions or stressful situations may make you even more vulnerable to these foods. So you need to prepare if you’re going to have a stressful day and you know it, or if you had a stressful day on the way home. Try to use, uh, you know, cheerleading, the cheerleading skill to remind yourself, Hey, I’m just feeling a lot of stress. I’m not really hungry. So the, you know, when you’re lonely, that may be another trigger, angry or tired. All of those can be triggers for overeating.

So I hope this has been helpful in, you know, giving you a little bit more clarity on yes, there are plenty of foods that have been engineered scientifically engineered to hook us and, and, and lead to obsessions, but not everybody is going to be hooked and you need to know if you’re one of those vulnerable people who’s more vulnerable to being hooked. So if you’re interested in learning more about food addiction, be sure and look in the show notes and enter the book sweepstakes to win a copy of the food addiction recovery workbook. So that’ll be in the show notes. And also just a reminder, please give me a, well, please give me five stars for my well, whatever just review the podcast, whatever you feel is appropriate, um, and share the podcast so that I can, uh, you can help me get more listeners. Finally, if you’re struggling with food addiction and you you’re ready to get some help, please look in the show notes for the link to schedule a free consult to see if the anchor program is right for you.

Well, thanks for listening to how our food is engineered to be addictive. I hope it gives you a little bit more in-depth insight into what’s being done to foods and to which foods are really dangerous for hooking us into having addiction like eating behaviors. And that’s those ultra processed foods that are you know what I call food-like substances. I know they’ve talked in the past about, you know, nutritionists always say eat on the outer, the outer rims of the grocery store because all the processed foods are in the middle isles. So that’s one way to look at it, but, you know, I think the most important thing is just to know yourself and to make decisions based on your knowledge of your own vulnerabilities. I hope this was helpful and I look forward to talking with you in two weeks and the upcoming podcast podcast, number 86 is going to be on. Let me tell you, The Ultimate Guide to Emotional Eating, The Ultimate Guide to Emotional Eating, that’s podcast number 86. Coming up soon.