Why we can’t get enough
What is it about the three Cs: Chocolate, cheese and chips? For some reason, we can never get enough of them. But wanting to chow on a particular food is one thing, being addicted to it is another. Fact is, you can become addicted to a certain food, and you can blame your brain’s response to it. That’s because certain foods elicit a release of dopamine in the brain, which can lead to more cravings for that particular treat, especially when it comes to foods that are high in sugar, salt and/or fat. Addictive foods are ones that hit your brain right in its pleasure centre, ostensibly telling you that you need more, more, more.
“When this pleasure/reward centre is stimulated, the brain starts secreting dopamine and other chemicals that make us enjoy the experience even more,” says registered dietitian Ashvini Mashru. “Because your brain loves the sensation caused by that dopamine release, it seeks more of it by creating cravings, that if listened to can cause a vicious cycle of addiction.”
Chocoholics take note
That bowl of Smarties sitting on your colleague’s desk is a delicious temptation, a crunchy chocolatey treat that’s hard to resist. What we know is that chocolate is one of the most addictive foods around because it binds to the same pleasure centres in the brain as alcohol and certain drugs, according to a 2011 study conducted by Drexel University. It also boasts a nice ‘mouth feel’, which stimulates oxytocin production, another feel-good hormone, according to Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. “Over time, our brains start looking for that dopamine hit, and every time we eat chocolate, it reinforces that ‘wiring,’” he says.
More cheese please
If you’ve hovered over a cheese platter and piled up the cubes, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s not just you. Cheese, which is generally high in fat and cholesterol, also contains a substance called casomorphin that binds to the opioid or feel-good receptors in the brain. “Casomorphins attach to neurotransmitters in our brains and release dopamine, feel-good chemicals, that often lead us to wanting more,” says Dr Neal Barnard, author of The Cheese Trap. “While cheese does have its health benefits, it also can be seriously addictive.”