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5 foods that are actually addictive — and how to avoid them

by Keri Glassman, R.D. / / Source: TODAY

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Ever blame going for another scoop of ice cream on your “addiction?” You’re not alone and you just may be correct in where you’re pointing that finger. Though most recent scientific literature finds that an "addiction to sugar" doesn't occur in the exact same ways as addiction to drugs, there are some striking similarities.

Animal studies have found that eating sugar can cause changes in the brain that also occur with addictive drugs, including changes in dopamine release. But, it’s not just sugar that may be the cause of that dependency of yours — fat, salt and highly processed foods may also be the culprit. These five foods (and those in the same family) may be causing your addiction:

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1. Red candy fish

Researchers agree that high-sugar foods can stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do, inducing behaviors that resemble addiction. The sugar “highs” and “lows” you may experience (after your 4 p.m. trip to the office pantry) are consistent with sugar “dependency.” Dependency is defined as a relationship between conditions.

In this case, your body gets accustomed to being fueled with a high level of sugar, so when you consume less, you feel out of sorts — which causes you to return to the vending machine. Also, changes in blood sugar can disrupt sleep, cause increased calorie consumption, and lead to fatigue. Hmmm… No wonder you’re not making it to the 6 a.m. workout class. Your first step to avoiding the sugar cravings may be to a eat high-protein breakfast.

2. Cookies

Sugar often comes with its BFF, fat. While fat alone has not been found to be addicting, fat and sugar together may have a hold over you. Some research has shown that highly processed foods may share characteristics with the behaviors associated with drug abuse and thus, linked with food addiction. So it might actually be the cookies' fault if you're taking down a whole sleeve of them while watching Ray Donovan.

If you’re mindlessly eating in front of the TV, make it something nutrient-dense that you can eat a lot of such as these chips.

3. Pepperoni pizza

Eating just one cookie can be tough, but eating just one slice of pizza might be even harder. Science has shown that high salt foods may be addictive as well. Foods like pizza and chips may stimulate opiate and dopamine receptors in the brain's reward and pleasure center, causing you to actually crave it when you go without. No wonder Friday night pizza became a thing.

Salt has also been found to stimulate your appetite, which promotes overeating, it’s not just that the pizza tastes so good. Pizza also contains fat and sugar, making it a recipe for, well you know, three more slices. If you’re going to have pizza, make sure you have it on a day where you’ve eaten consistently throughout the day (so you’re not famished), skip the processed meats and top it with veggies and finally pair it with a big veggie salad to help fill you up.

4. Salted caramel ice cream

Uber palatable due to its high levels of fat, ice cream also contains sugar and even salt. The body gets accustomed to being fueled with high amounts of sugar, so when you consume less, you feel out of sorts. Make a lower sugar smoothie instead of ice cream which is balanced with healthy fats and a little protein to keep you satiated and satisfied after one serving.

5. Sweet potato fries

Even when you think you’re making a healthier choice, you're likely to overindulge on this salty treat. You're always craving more after you finish a handful. If you’re ordering sweet potato fries as a side to your burger at the diner, they are likely fried in the same unhealthy oils and tossed in the same amount of salt as traditional spuds. Skip the excess fat and sodium by making them at home.

For more tips on how to live a nutritious life, follow Keri on Instagram @nutritiouslifeofficial.

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