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What Makes Junk Food So Addictive? (Plus Types Of Foods That Can Be Very Addictive)

Food shopping can sometimes feel like a real challenge with all the potato chips, ice cream, and other junk food on store shelves. These foods can have a high level of control over people’s appetites and senses. But, why is junk food so addictive?

man eating junk food

Read below to learn more about why junk food and other processed foods from food companies can infiltrate your diet.

What Is Junk Food, Exactly?

Everyone has their own unique diet and opinions on what is healthy. But junk food is just that: food that offers zero health benefits. “Junk food” is a term used for food that…

  • Does not contain many healthy nutrients essential for a well-balanced diet.
  • Generally contains man-made ingredients that are not natural
  • Is high in empty calories.1

Note: Some natural foods are treated with additives and artificial ingredients that turn them into processed foods. For example, potato chips are made from potatoes. But, they are fried and refined with artificial ingredients, which turns them into junk food.

Signs That Something Is Junk Food

couple shopping It can be tough to make food choices that are good for you. Food giants put processed food in packaging that evokes happiness and health.2

However, a lot of this food is not actually good for you. That’s why it’s so important to identify and consider everything before it goes into your shopping cart.

There are a few telltale signs that something is junk food:

  • The food is in packaging and covered with claims like “simple” and “natural.”3
  • It has a long list of artificial ingredients.
  • It is high in sodium and sugar.
  • It contains very little nutritional value.
  • It is made from a natural ingredient that is highly processed with lots of additives.4

Common Ultra-Processed Foods

Processed food comes in all shapes and sizes. Some things that you might not necessarily think of as processed may sometimes have a long list of unhealthy ingredients.

Here are some popular food items that are processed with additives and sugars:highly processed meats

  • White bread
  • Processed meats, like salami or bacon
  • Fruit juice
  • Food with added ingredients for flavor, like salad dressing
  • Frozen foods, such as pizza
  • Vegetable oil
  • Ready-to-eat meals, like granola bars5

Why Are People Addicted To Eating Junk Food?

It’s pretty uncommon for someone to sit on the couch to binge on a big bowl of raw broccoli. That’s most likely because natural and healthy foods don’t create the same chemical reaction in the human brain that junk food does.

donuts and coffee empty calories conceptYour brain is wired to reward you for eating. It does this by releasing dopamine which makes you feel pleasure and happiness. So, when you eat something, your brain gives you a little shot of dopamine to signal that you did something good.6

Some foods release more dopamine than others. The reason that people can become addicted to junk food is that it releases more dopamine than natural, whole foods. So, junk food actually makes you feel good, despite the fact that it’s bad for you.7 This reaction then incentivizes you to keep eating unhealthy foods and can even lead to a junk food addiction.8

Sugar is the perfect example. It has a very distinct and powerful reaction on the human mind. Sugar releases lots of dopamine which causes the sensation of pleasure. Research suggests that this high level of satisfaction may then result in humans demonstrating addictive eating habits with sugary foods.9

Junk Food And Your Health

Eating some cookies or a small handful of potato chips every now and then probably isn’t the end of the world. But when foods that are high in fat and sugar become a regular part of your diet, they can have a negative effect on your health.

A lot of research is now dedicated to understanding the role that junk foods with high caloric density and sugar levels have on people’s health.

Nearly 71% of Americans now suffer from obesity. It’s believed that much of that problem stems from diets high in sugar, fat, refined ingredients, and processed foods.10

Evidence suggests that limiting refined sugars and processed ingredients may help with weight control. That’s because whole grains, compared to refined grains, have less of an effect on blood sugar levels. You digest whole grains more slowly, which may help keep you fuller for longer periods of time.11

Cutting down on junk food and eating more whole, natural foods may help you lose weight, give you more energy throughout the day and support heart health.12

Get Hooked On Health

family together making healthy foodFood options abound at the supermarket. The modern food industry offers you lots of choices, but oftentimes, those food choices aren’t good for you. So, it’s up to you to do the research and make the right choices for your health.

With a little vigilance and determination, you can make processed and junk foods a smaller part of your diet. Limiting the amount of sugar, fat, and calories in your diet takes some work, but doing so can be great for your health.

Talk to your doctor to get the best, most qualified advice on which foods are best for you. Everyone has different health considerations, so you want to design a diet that supplies you with the best nutrients and vitamins for your body.

Every bite counts, so chew responsibly.

Learn More:


How To Make Yourself Crave Healthy Foods

What Foods Might Be Making You Bloated?

What are Whole Foods?