Food Is a Drug


There is no getting around the fact that we must eat to survive. That said, society has come a long way from the days of hunter-gatherers that foraged for fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and meat. Now, most of our food comes to our tables via giant food manufactures. Even worse, the most affordable foods are generally the least healthy and addictive.

Food is a type of drug. Most experts agree food can be addictive. With millions of Americans obese and overweight, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Webster defines drugs as a substance that causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness. We think of drugs as prescriptions, medications, and illegal substances more than cheeseburgers. Salt, sugar, and fat are considered addictive and meet the criteria for addiction.

The Director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, said, “our brains are hardwired to respond positively to foods that have a high content of fat or sugar.” Volkow went on to say, “there is an addictive element to foods, especially high-fat, high-sugar foods that drives people to overeat.”

The NIH defines overweight as an individual whose weight is higher than average for their height, based on the Body Mass Index (BMI). According to the CDC, in the U.S., there are currently;

Not every person struggling with weight or obesity has an eating disorder or a food addiction. For some, it is a lack of physical activity, genetic or medical issue. In addition, certain medications, such as insulin for diabetes, can lead to weight gain.

  • The drug of choice for tens of millions of overweight and obese people is food.

With so much at stake for public health, many health care professionals and nutritional experts are pointing the finger at big food manufacturers. Of course, all of them are aware of the addictive nature of salt, sugar, and fat. However, many might be surprised to learn the food industry knows of the addictive properties of ultra-processed foods.

review of the book “Salt Sugar & Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” The book proclaims the processed food manufacturers rely on salt, sugar, and fat to override self-control with foods perfectly engineered to compel overconsumption.

These added ingredients light up areas of the brain associated with pleasure in the same way as drugs—they impact the brain in the same way as heroin, cocaine, or MDMA.

Like other drugs, including alcohol, can use food without abusing it.

However, there is one huge difference between food and other drugs. Humans must eat regularly. Our brains send hunger impulses, letting us know it’s time to eat. No one can abstain from eating for too long.

On the other hand, ingesting these addictive substances affects many people like alcohol or other drugs. The first bite of sugar, salt, fat creates a craving. Unintentional bingeing is just one of the many common factors food and drug abuse have in common.

Some people can’t stop consuming cookies, ice cream, nuts, or chips once they get started.

For some folks, one cupcake is too many, and hundreds not enough.

Whenever a person eats a product containing sugar, fat, or salt, release a surge of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure in the brain.

Several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, cannabinoids, opioids, and serotonin, are implicated in food’s rewarding effects. People often use food for similar reasons as they do drugs;

  • Entertainment
  • Distraction
  • Gratification
  • Loneliness
  • Comfort
  • Self-medication
  • Reward

For those with dependency-type personalities, controlling food consumption is like asking an alcoholic to take one drink. If they are genuinely alcoholic, it will be impossible for them not to binge or get drunk. The same holds for people with food issues.

  • Cheese is pure fat and contains casein. Casein is addictive, triggering the brain’s opioid receptors.
  • Every year the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese.
  • Almost 85 million Americans (37%) eat fast food every day.
  • Most fast-food chains use plenty of cheese.

Using addictive ingredients in consumables is nothing new. Coca-Cola got its name for it containing cocaine and cola (kola nuts), which contain caffeine.

A recent Penn State statement explained one possible explanation for overeating is that processed foods have high sugar, fat, and salt concentrations. They are all addictive.

Our list of the top 10 most addictive foods as;

  1. Nuts
  2. Chips
  3. Cookies
  4. Cheese
  5. Ice cream
  6. Chocolate
  7. candy
  8. Popcorn
  9. Dried fruit
  10. Peanut butter

How often do you eat more unhealthy food even when you’re no longer hungry?

It may seem odd to pair substance abuse with food as a drug, but it’s not a stretch. Both conditions involve the release of dopamine in the brain. People sometimes trade one addiction for another.

The NIH states, “a high proportion (up to approximately 10%) of under normal, or overweight individuals can also be classified as food addicted.”

Unfortunately, processed foods are likely to impact more impoverished communities that eat more fast food significantly. Other organizations are not immune either. The time-saving ease of processed food can affect anyone.

infographic food is a drug