Could You be Addicted to Eating Ultra-Processed Food?

Could You be Addicted to Eating Ultra-Processed Food?


Studies suggest that food addiction is akin to nicotine and alcohol addictions. If you think you’re addicted to ultra-processed food, here’s what you can do about it

Satisfying our food cravings every now and then could have a more detrimental impact on our well-being than even we might understand. We already know that an unhealthy diet negatively affects our mental health, but according to the latest studies on the topic, an unhealthy diet could also be indicative of a food addiction. That’s because a high intake of ultra-processed food can cause biological and behavioral responses similar to what happens when imbibing other addictive substances like alcohol, drugs, and nicotine.

RELATED: Will Your High-Cholesterol Diet Result in Heart Disease?

Here, we give the lowdown on what exactly an addiction to ultra-processed food means and what you can do to mitigate it.

Setting the record straight

food addiction to ultra-processed food

Just so we’re clear, not every processed food is automatically unhealthy. In fact, there are four groups, according to the NOVA Food Classification system. The first group refers to unprocessed or minimally processed foods, the second group refers to processed culinary ingredients, the third group refers to processed foods, and the fourth group refers to ultra-processed foods.

It is the fourth group that is most associated with triggering addictive responses since they are high in refined carbohydrates and added fats, with the largest potential for harmful health outcomes. To be more precise, ultra-processed food is industrially produced; think of instant meals, fast food, ice cream, pastries, sports drinks, carbonated soft drinks, distilled spirits, and the like.

ultra-processed food addiction

RELATED: Are You Eating Enough Dietary Fiber?

The relationship between ultra-processed food and food addiction mainly lies in its impact on our dopamine receptors and the resulting withdrawal-like symptoms that influence our cravings and impulsive behaviors. This is particularly concerning when you consider just how much ultra-processed food there is in our food supply. In light of the uptick in binge-type eating disorders, obesity, and diet-related diseases in the past few decades, researchers have begun to call this an addiction epidemic.

What you can do

We’re not here to feed into the fear-mongering that goes into the conversations around nutrition. What typically gets demonized by media and marketing is the only food that the vast majority of people can afford. And while you may be experiencing the telltale signs of highs and crashes from eating ultra-processed food, it’s not an automatic cause for concern if you have a balanced diet.

unprocessed and minimally processed food

RELATED: The Daily Nutrients You Need, According to a Nutritionist

Some significant strategies to mitigate the downsides of eating your favorite instant snacks include cooking homemade meals as much as possible, checking food labels, and eating more whole foods like the ones mentioned in the first group of the NOVA Food Classification system. Besides having a balanced diet, it is important to get healthier dopamine highs by exercising, meditating, spending time with loved ones, and making time for hobbies that interest you.

Order your print copy of this month's MEGA Magazine:
Download this month's MEGA digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]