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Globalization and urbanization have caused lifestyle changes that have affected how we eat. Today, fast food is an increasingly common way to get food because people hardly have time to prepare their meals. But why is fast food Addictive?

Fast food can become addictive and detrimental to your health due to the ingredients and the high chemical component used when preparing them. Let’s take a look at what junk food is and it affects our health.

Why is Fast Food Addictive?

Many people have asked why a supposedly harmless plate of burger or chicken can keep them coming back to the same place? So let us check some of the reasons for getting addicted to fast food.

Time factor

Urban life is characterized by ‘busyness’ and trying to keep up with the trends at work often leaves people with little time to cook in their homes.  Instead of going through the stressful minutes and hours of cooking, many individuals prefer to get the same food in a public restaurant in less than 5 minutes. 

Taste

Great taste is another important reason why people opt for fast food every time. Generally, the more effort and ingredients you devote to cooking, the better the taste. Restaurants and fast food places know this fact and have used it to their advantage. 

They increase stimulating ingredients such as sugar, salt, and fat in food to make them more pleasurable, leading to addiction. Food addiction has the same effects on the brain’s reward center as hard drugs. Eating junk foods releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which activates receptors in the brain’s reward center and strengthens the food’s satisfying experience. 

Convenience

The name fast food comes from the fact that you can order and get your food in a few seconds, and you can easily find them in strategic locations within your vicinity.  This convenience makes it easy for people to depend mainly on junk meals.

The affordability and availability of any item have always contributed to a spike in its addiction. According to a 2020 study, food choices are more driven by impulse control than rational thinking or consideration. 

Attractiveness

The attractive packaging of fast food sways people. Most restaurants employ professional chefs who understand how to make food appealing. It is why you see a giant poster of food simmering, and you immediately feel like having a taste. 

Besides, have you ever asked yourself why most fast food outlets use attractive colors such as red and yellow in their brand logo? While the yellow color makes us feel comfortable, red makes us excited, which triggers our metabolism to make us feel hungry and impulsive. 

Advertisement

Advertising plays a significant role in food addiction. In 2020, McDonald invested 654.7 million U.S. dollars for advertising globally. Similarly, other restaurants like Dominos have increased their advertisement budget. That goes to say that advertising plays a huge role in food addiction. 

According to a study, advertising of foods and beverages sends food consumption cues such as images of people eating, chewing or crunchy sound effects, and snacking. Ultimately, these elements send a message to the brain to try the food out. 

Addictive ingredients

Some ingredients can be addictive by acting on your brain to trigger addiction and overeating. Most restaurants use a highly processed starch derivative called maltodextrin, a substance with addictive properties similar to sugar. 

Maltodextrin is a food filler or thickener used to increase the volume of processed or packaged foods. Although maltodextrin is a safe food additive, it contains a glycemic index (GI) which causes your glucose levels to shoot up. As a result, it nudges the brain to produce more dopamine, causing you to crave that particular food more.

Chemicals in Fast Food That Make It Addictive 

There are certain chemical compounds in fast food ingredients that make it taste better but can be addictive. They include:

Sugar, fat, and salt

On the surface, these trios seem harmless but contribute mainly to the additive agents found in fast food and junk. These ingredients are highly processed to form high fructose corn syrup and solid fat, leading to weight gain. What they do is stimulate the pleasurable part of the brain. As you take more of them, your brain adjusts and releases less dopamine. 

Combining the three additives in one meal or food keeps you coming back for more. Even if it is causing you harm, you find it challenging to stop it.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a flavoring agent. It is a form of concentrated salt used in foods to enhance the flavor of packaged and processed foods. Like maltodextrin, MSG is a safe food additive according to the Food and Drug Administration. Still, several reports of MSG side effects include sweating, headache, itching, migraines, chest pain, nausea, hives, asthma, heart irregularities, seizures, migraines, and fatigue, have been reported.

MSG affordability makes it easy for some food industries to use it as a flavor enhancer to cover up for the low cost. Also, the flavoring agent may interfere with appetite suppression and cause you to feel hungry even after eating a large meal.

Casein

Casein is the addictive property in cheese and naturally occurs in milk, but it is transformed into a refined and concentrated form in eateries. Typical food containing concentrated casein includes milkshakes, baked goods, desserts, and cheese products.

The following junk contains addictive food additives that make people take more than necessary amounts of:  

1. Soda

Cocaine was initially used in Coca-Cola until it was stopped in the early 1900s.  Cocaine is produced from coca leaves today, although it’s mostly for medical use. However, a small amount is still being used today in soda drinks, and this can cause a physical dependency.

2. Coffee

Caffeine, like the ingredients in Coca-Cola, started as a medicinal supplement. Its presence in coffee is well known; while it is not entirely addictive, it can produce withdrawal symptoms when intake is cut or stopped entirely.

3. Chocolate

Chocolate can be suiting after a stressful day, and that is because it contains sugar, caffeine, and anandamide – a chemical component that gives its suiting feeling after indulging. This feeling doesn’t last long, creating a desire to eat more while chasing the high.

4. Sugar

Sugar is already well known as one of the most addictive additives in fast foods in existence. That’s why it can be hard to resist that second donut or another ice cream pop. Research has shown that sugar can substitute an addictive drug like cocaine offering rewarding and attractive properties.

Conclusion

If you’ve ever asked what makes fast food addictive, we believe your question has been answered. Fast food tends to be high in ingredients that are not only addictive but introduce harmful chemicals to your body when consumed.  

While not all menu items or food outlets provide these unhealthy foods, most do, or this is so for most of the food they sell. Therefore, identifying and limiting junk foods that contain some of the addictive substances listed here is vital to maintaining good health. Suppose you suspect you have a fast food addiction; you can talk to a doctor or a nutritionist at National Coronavirus Hotline, who will talk and walk with you to help you get over it.


Jennifer Billings is the Medical Editor at Medicwell. She has 13 years of experience in internal medicine with a demonstrated history of working in the medical practice industry, both inpatient and outpatient urgent care. She has been published on Medicwell Blog, Medium.com, and is a regular contributor at MedCity News, Physician Family, and Psychology Today.