Charlie from Lost. The gang from Trainspotting. Even Iron Man Tony Stark—TV and the movies are filled with memorable addicts. But we’ve never seen one sneaking Peanut M&Ms.
Yet sugar can be addictive, too.
As much as we need to food to survive and thrive—if you’re not careful, it’s easy to get “hooked” on the ones that can cloud your brain, raise your blood sugar and pack on the pounds, according to the new book, Zero Sugar Diet. An easy way to break bad habits is to study this list of what we deem to be some of the MOST addicting foods—and start eliminating them from your diet whenever you can! And if after you’re through reading, you still feel like you need some additional pointers, don’t miss these 24 Ways to Flatten Your Belly in 24 Hours.
“Processed foods, like pizza, trigger a response in our brain that causes us to overeat on a regular basis. The more we eat these kind of foods, the more our body craves it,” explains Lisa Dwoskin, life coach, personal trainer and fitness expert. “Research has found that blood vessels restrict, and tissues become inflamed. Blood pressure is also affected, damaging free radicals heighten and insulin levels can surge or drop quite rapidly when overheating unhealthy amounts of this type of food.”
Eat This Instead: Look for unprocessed foods packed with fiber and grains.
Not only are dairy products tough to quit, they also lead to what Tania Van Pelt, author of The Ageless Diet, describes as “inflammAGING” a.k.a chronic inflammation that ages you. “It’s relatively easy to get the creamy mouthfeel and rich taste that dairy imparts from plant based foods,” she suggests.
Eat This Instead: “Hummus or guacamole are great—or cashew milk is a creamy and delicious way to get a little sweetness in your life without sugar or inflammation.”
Sugar is so addictive that it has the ability to stimulate your pleasure centers just like alcohol and cocaine. “Our brains are hardwired to seek out this kind of dopamine reward, so reaching for sugar is an easy way to regularly satisfy that fix, explains Dan DeFigio, nutrition expert and author of Beating Sugar Addiction For Dummies. If you’re hooked, the good news is that it’s not impossible to wean yourself off. DeFigio suggests going for a few fresh strawberries or a piece of dark chocolate for dessert, eliminating sweetened drinks and fruit juice by drinking water or tea instead and using stevia or xylitol instead of sugar or agave in your coffee or tea.
Diet soda is a slippery slope. “People get hooked on the fizziness while the artificial sweeteners added can disrupt the hormones that regulate appetite, so you crave more food,” explains DeFigio. “Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Our taste buds get desensitized to sweet tastes, so over time we need to experience sweeter and sweeter substances in order to experience a ‘sweet’ sensation.” So how can you kick it if you’re always looking for a fix?
Eat This Instead: “Try mineral water flavored with fresh citrus. You’ll get the fizz from the carbonated water, and a delicious and chemical-free flavor from lime, lemon, or orange.”
It’s the high salt content that make chips so intensely satisfying to your taste buds. “But they’re addictive to many since craving salt can be a sign of adrenal fatigue and the need for electrolytes,” explains Jackie Arnett Elnahar RD, Esq. “The high proportion of fat to calories in chips is also highly satisfying since the calories are rich and feel instantly gratifying.” Not to mention that chips are an easy and convenient snack to grab and go—adding to its addictive quality.
Eat This Instead: A good alternative would be to start buying chips made with veggies and superfoods.
Orville Redenbacher Butter Microwave Popcorn has 30 grams of fat which equals 45% of your daily recommended intake and 15 grams of which are saturated fat that equals 75% of your daily recommended intake and 650mg of sodium which is 28% of the daily recommended intake. “Junk foods like that are filled with a combination of the types of ingredients our brain gets most excited about; salt, sugar, and fat,” explains Rebecca Lewis, Registered Dietitian at HelloFresh. “Moreover, junk food tricks our brain into thinking we are getting food filled with nutrition – but then these foods don’t fill us up. Essentially, these foods are calorically dense, but lack actual nutrition – therefore you have to eat more and more of the food before your brain gets the message that you are actually full.”
Eat This Instead: Instead, fill up on whole foods (fruits/veggies, whole grains, lean meats) FIRST, before indulging in junk foods. Once your brain gets the proper signals that you are full, the cravings for anything else will begin to disappear!
“French fries are highly processed, filled with fat and starch, and are highly addictive leading to people to eat more French fries than they planned on,” explains Cara Walsh, R.D. of Medifast California.
Eat This Instead: “If it’s the crunchiness of french fries that you’re craving, make homemade kale chips with coconut-oil cooking spray, pepper, rosemary, and garlic powder as a healthy alternative. The baked kale will give you the crunchiness that you’re craving.” For more ways to beat the bloat, don’t miss these 25 Best Foods That Beat Bloating.
“Food with refined sugar is the most addictive,” explains Deanna Latson, co-founder and chief product officer of ARIIX, an international opportunity company that promotes healthy, toxic-free living. “Sugar increases the toxic load on the liver and causes inflammation in the arteries, basically ‘stressing’ the body out.”
Eat This Instead: Alternatives? Latso recommends Stevia as it can also be used in baking/cooking. As far as a snack or food replacement, low-glycemic fruit like berries are a great alternative to refined-sugar filled sweets.
You can basically think of the breakfast treat as a gateway drug with 35 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams coming from sugar. “The world health organization recommends that we have only 25g of sugar over the course of an entire day,” says Catherine Gordon, A.C.E. Certified Nutrition Specialist. “To make matters worse, those grams of sugar are from just one tart. Pop-tarts are packaged two to a pouch, and most people will eat both, pushing the sugar count to a whopping 30 grams.” That “hit” of sugar combined with ingredients such as enriched wheat flour, artificial colors, and flavors can trigger a dopamine surge that causes the person who eats it to be on a craving roller coaster for the rest of the day. “Plus this ‘treat’ only contains two grams of protein, and less than a gram of fiber, making it highly unlikely to satisfy even the smallest appetite.”
Cheese contains a substance called casomorphins which may play a role in why people just love their cheese. You see, casomorphins are known for having an opioid effect—meaning you get so addicted you go into withdrawal without it! “Plus, cheese is a source of fat and sodium that along with sugar makes the trifecta that most people crave and get ‘addicted’ to,’ says Jill Nussinow, MS, RDN. “A slightly better alternative is non-dairy cheese but it, too, tends to be high in fat and sodium.” So what to do?
Eat This Instead: Limit how much cheese you have and how often you have it. “But if the craving gets really bad and too hard to handle, switching to vegan cheese will likely change things for those who crave as it tastes different, tends to be expensive and it’s much more difficult to find.”
With a donut, you have all the worst things in nutrition rolled into one. “It’s made with flour which causes addiction due to the wheat content and the fact it’s essentially sugar to the body,” says personal trainer and nutritionist Jamie Logie. “They are deep fried usually in a trans fat based oil and then the glaze on top is pure sugar which is addicting enough on its own.” When you combine all these things you have a product you just want to keep eating but never fills you up due to its lack of nutrients—plus it contains a ton of calories while massively spiking your blood sugar resulting in a crash and then cravings for more and more.
Eat This Instead: “A good alternative to doughnuts are cookies made with almond flour and coconut flour. They have some more nutrients and will keep your blood sugar lower.”
PEANUT BUTTER M&Ms
Foods that have high content of sugar, fat, and calories have been shown to activate the brain’s pleasure centers. “And foods with high sugar content have been shown to affect the brain in a similar way to drugs like cocaine that are highly addictive,” explains Lisa Mikus, RD, CNSC, CDN, Registered Dietitian at Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services and Co-Author of Everyday Diabetes Meals – Cooking for One or Two.
Eat This Instead: “Reach for Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups instead. They’re pre-portioned and will still satisfy that same salty/sweet craving without the risk of mindlessly grabbing handfuls of M&Ms.”
“Ice cream contains a high fat and high sugar content—two huge factors that make a food ‘addicting,’” explains Mikus. So how do you break your nightly habit?
Eat This Instead: “Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars are made with nonfat milk and Greek yogurt and most flavors are around 100 calories. It offers a sweet and creamy flavor that will satisfy that ice-cream craving without the risk of finishing off a pint.”
Especially the sugary ones that your kids beg you for. “It has refined flour and sugar which are not only addictive but make you want to eat more since they don’t contain any real nutrition,” says Logie. “Your body didn’t get the nutrients it believed it should have so you continue to be hungry. And at the same time you just consumed a lot of sugar and it’s why you don’t feel satisfied and tend to have two or three bowls at a time.”
Eat This Instead: A great replacement in the morning is to make your own granola with organic oats, nuts, seeds, raw shredded coconut, chia seeds, some dried fruit and cocoa powder OR make a hot cereal out of oats, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, etc. “That can be a good way to get that warm cereal feeling—and you can use a bit of raw honey on top to sweeten it.”
All sugars are bad, and to your body, sugar is sugar in ALL forms. But fructose stands out as one of the worst, according to says Dr. Daryl Gioffre, certified raw food chef and alkaline diet expert. “For years, agave was touted as a healthy sweetener—and still is to some extent—because it comes in the form of a plant, but don’t be fooled by this because it is 90% fructose.” Unlike glucose that can be metabolized anywhere in your body, fructose must be shuttled directly to your liver to be broken down. It is very toxic, and because of this, the liver must stop whatever it is doing to deal with the fructose. “Fructose is converted to fat in the body more easily than any other sugar. Worst yet, this form of sugar is immediately converted to fat in your body, more easily than any other sugar. Out of all the sugars, it is perhaps the most addicting due to the fact that once consumed, it spikes the insulin levels in your body.” Other sweeteners you should consume in moderation include honey (55% fructose) and coconut sugar/nectar (40% fructose).
Eat This Instead: “Your best choice would be organic stevia and Lo Han (Monk Fruit), both very sweet that have no effect on your insulin levels.”
When you eat bread, bagels, or pasta, you are eating carbohydrates which is another way of saying that you’re eating sugar. “Eating carbs produces a natural, physical high caused by the release of dopamine. The human body loves that happy feeling, and starts craving more of it. As with all sugar, it also will cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels, increasing insulin sensitivity, and leaving you craving more,” explains Gioffre. “Wheat also has a direct effect on the opiate receptors in your brain. But different from most opiates, wheat stimulates your hunger center. It contains a protein called gliadin which is a very strong appetite stimulant, which is also a big contributor to leaky gut in your digestive tract.” Have you ever noticed that when you try to cut anything with wheat out of the diet, you can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Eat This Instead: “As you transition off wheat, I recommend using sprouted breads in its place, and when making pasta, go for zoodles (zucchini noodles) or kelp noodles, a much better option. Also, you want to add healthy alkaline fats like avocados, coconut oil, chia, hemp, and flax seeds, raw nut butters, and plenty of dark green leafy vegetables.”
COFFEE AND CAFFEINE
If you’re a coffee drinker, then you probably won’t argue that caffeine is addictive—and there are studies that say that caffeine is good for you. “But, the fact is this—when you consume caffeine, you crave it more, and it is an adrenal and liver suppressor,” says Gioffre. “ The more coffee and caffeine you drink, the more likely you will suffer from withdrawal symptoms once the coffee is removed. And I’m not just talking about coffee here – you can also find caffeine in green tea, matcha tea, energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, and yes, even decaffeinated coffee which has 8-12 mg per cup.” If you’re looking to come off coffee, it’s best to help the detoxification process with lots of water with lemon.
Eat This Instead: Gioffre recommends making a Detox Tea in its place. “This tea is detoxing, energizing, tastes yummy, and fulfills your morning ritual. Heat up a pot of boiling water. While heating, dice a 1-inch piece of organic turmeric and ginger. Once boiling, remove pot from heat, and add the turmeric and ginger, as well as a pinch of black pepper. The black pepper increases the potency of the turmeric by 2,000%. Pour into a cup, add a slice of fresh lemon juice, and enjoy. Any leftovers, place in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and drink later as a cold detox iced tea.”