Are All Foods Addictive?
Addiction to broccoli, for example, is highly unlikely. Unless, of course, it's covered with butter and cheese. The neurotransmitter theory is applicable once again. Remember that serotonin's function is to promote a sense of peace and well-being, decrease anxiety, and bring about an upbeat mood.
Serotonin is also involved in eating behavior and provides one of the signals that tells the body to stop eating when it's had enough. If a person is low on serotonin, that person might eat a whole coconut cream pie without getting a “Stop, you've gone too far!” message. It has long been noted that an individual with a food addiction may very well have a malfunction in her serotonin system. This can get complicated, but basically, carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates such as white sugar and white flour, trigger the release of serotonin.
Additionally, tryptophan, an amino acid and a natural precursor to the release of serotonin, is necessary for serotonin to be made available at the nerve ending site. This system of serotonin production through the precursor action of tryptophan and certain foods is involved in food addiction.
Tryptophan is found naturally in turkey and milk. One example of a food that combines sugars with the tryptophan found in milk is, of course, ice cream. Ice cream is often a temptation that is hard for a food addict to resist.
What foods tend to trigger real cravings?
The three basic food types that people most often crave are fat, salt, and sugar. This fact is taken advantage of in the snack aisles in grocery stores and convenience food marts. Those aisles are loaded with soda, chips, cookies, and candy, not celery sticks, carrots, and apples.
The Power of Sugar
Sugar affects much more than just your weight. The following degenerative diseases are directly or indirectly caused by regular sugar consumption: hypoglycemia, chronic constipation, intestinal gas, asthma, osteoporosis, obesity, tooth decay, diabetes, chronic stomach upset, arthritis, headaches, heart disease, chronic Candida infections, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Individuals with a sugar addiction experience withdrawal symptoms when cut off from refined sugars, including anxiety, irritability, anger, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of being overwhelmed. You will likely recognize that many of these symptoms of withdrawal are similar to other addictive substances already discussed.
Increased opiate (endorphin) and dopamine responses seem to be implicated in the dependent reaction of the body to sugar. Again, this is quite similar to the body's response to other substances of addiction. The pleasure pathway is also at work with sugar.
Not Chocolate, Too!
Is chocolate really addictive? There is some evidence that it may be. All commercially made chocolate products contain significant amounts of sugar. However, the addictive nature of chocolate goes beyond the sugar ingredient alone. Chocolate is also known to stimulate the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones found naturally in our bodies and provide us with feelings of pleasure and well-being. Chocolate also contains tryptophan. Tryptophan, the amino acid that stimulates the release of serotonin in the brain, can also produce feelings of elation.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of additive sugar daily. This is over and above sugar that is naturally occurring in foods. The USDA's recommendation is that an individual consume no more than 10 additional teaspoons of sugar daily. These excessive amounts of sugar are difficult for the body to handle and take a toll on one's health.
The premenstrual cravings for chocolate that some women experience may be related to a deficiency in magnesium that can contribute to premenstrual tension. Pregnant women experiencing mild anemia may benefit from chocolate's iron content. In addition, cocoa beans contain flavonoids, a natural antioxidant.
These flavonoids also work to limit plaque buildup in our blood vessels by limiting the oxidation of cholesterol. Chocolate increases nitric oxide levels, which helps to relax the inner wall of our blood vessels and thus improves circulation. As it turns out, there are actually many potential benefits to chocolate as well as the addictive qualities. Moderation is the key.