You probably already know that fast food isn’t one of the healthiest food options, considering it’s usually processed, high in calories, and often fried (we’re looking at you, french fries and onion rings). Despite knowing its unhealthy aspects, it may feel nearly impossible to turn down your favorite fast-food spot as you’re driving by… and that’s not entirely your fault.
Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, reveals in his book Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions that fast-food can be just as addictive as heroin. If you’re wondering how this is possible, Moss breaks it down: While heroin relies on morphine to draw out the addictive nature of the drug, fast-food turns to simpler elements like fat, salt, and sugar, all of which have the same impact on us once we take a bite. (Related: 17 Seriously Scary Side Effects of Eating Fast Food)
The reason for this is that these components—fat, sugar, and salt— trigger that same dopamine release in our brains that morphine does. As the New York Post reports, Moss notes in his book that, “[Dopamine] is a tool for our survival. We need to eat in order to live, and dopamine is there to motivate us to eat.” So, this is what might make it so difficult for your brain to turn away the fast food you know and love.
Moss also highlights that food manufacturers may be using this addictive property in fast food to their advantage. They use a nearly undetectable, highly processed starch derivative called Maltodextrin, which has the same addictive properties of sugar (it just doesn’t taste sweet). It’s foods with these types of processed starches that can shoot your glucose levels up, then almost immediately go back down, which “prods the brain into making more dopamine that calls upon us to look for more food,” writes Moss.
And so begins the endless cycle of searching for food that has the same impact on the body. This is why you may begin to crave those same unhealthy fast-food meals over and over—you may truly be addicted to the effect the food has on you.
For more, beware of this ugly sign you’re eating too much fast food, according to science.