Why does food that is bad for us, taste so good?  We’ve all heard or said this question before, so here’s the answer… Addiction.

(And for the record, there are plenty of foods that are good for you and taste fantastic!)

Addiction is a strong word

Through my background in psychology, education and as a mum, I have observed for many years (in my own children and others) how reactions to food additives closely resemble those seen in drug or alcohol addictions.  Whilst a loaded term that elicits rather serious connotations, I find the word addiction best fits when addressing the moods and behaviours certain foods elicit – namely processed, additive laden foods.  And it seems that science is now starting to come on board.

Over the last 5 years there has been increased reporting on research which supports a connection between processed foods and the addictive neurochemical responses they elicit.  Exactly what these responses are attributed to – is it the additives, the sugar, the fats? – is still up for question or further research, but I have no doubts it’s only a matter of time before future research supports what I’ve been witnessing for years.  Especially with research already showing additives 586 (4-hexyl resorcinol) and 310 (propyl gallate) have estrogen mimicking properties, it’s not a stretch to imagine other additives eliciting hormone-stimulating effects.

So what exactly do I mean when I say additives are addictive? 

First, let’s get a little science-y…

In terms of neurochemistry, I’m talking about the stimulating properties of certain food ingredients causing a release of the hormones or neurotransmitters/chemicals in our bodies and brains that are specifically related to our feelings and behaviours.

Stick with me here…

Additives in foods artificially stimulate dopamine, which is a pleasure neurotransmitter – ie: a chemical created inside us that helps us feel good and happy.  This is especially true of the additives that are concentrated processed chemicals created to mimic natural food components.

What’s that mean in plain English you ask?

Put simply, when you eat foods with additives, you get an artificially created ‘good’ feeling. Hence the quotation marks around ‘good’ – it’s not a natural good feeling, and it’s not all that ‘good’ for you!


How does this lead to addiction?


Dopamine is the neurotransmitter (chemical) connected to addiction.  Once you get a pleasurable feeling from dopamine, you want more.  So begins the craving.  You want to feel ‘good’ again, so you want more of the food (with additives) that brings the ‘good’ feeling.


And just like any other addiction, combined with these cravings are all the associated lows in between the highs – sadness/depression, anger/frustration, impatience, inability to see logic or reason, etc.  The food that brings the ‘good’ feeling is seen as the way out of these lows, despite also being the cause of the lows!

Plus, the amount of pleasure you feel from dopamine decreases as you get used to it, so each time you eat food with additives, you need more dopamine to get the same feeling of pleasure.  This means you have to keep increasing the amount of foods/additives you eat (or the number of times you eat them) to get more dopamine released in your body and have the same level of ‘high’ or ‘good’ feeling.

Why is the addiction cycle such a bad thing?



Constant stimulation with additive laden processed foods desensitizes the brain and body messages, which leads to cravings and increased consumption of these foods to maintain a constant state of pleasure.

In other words, this additive-addiction cycle stops you seeing reason or listening to the pure messages in your body and brain (ie you have blinkers on) and can only see one out – which is to eat more of the processed foods.  And since the effects of dopamine and additives can take up to 3 days or more to disappear, it can quickly become a vicious cycle.

This is how our bad habits and patterns are formed with foods that are ‘bad’ for us but seem to taste so ‘good’.

The additive-addiction cycle can lead to any number of repercussions, from simple (yet annoying) nagging, to overeating and obesity.  Combine these additive-addiction feelings and behaviours with the onslaught of marketing and advertising of processed products akin to brainwashing (especially to susceptible and malleable easily influenced little minds), and you have one rather hefty serious concoction.

Let’s put this into perspective…

Why is it so important to understand this additive-addiction cycle?

If you know the basics of addictive behavior, it’s easier to understand the reasons children with food sensitivities behave the way they do, and therefore it’s easier to make changes.

How does this additive-addiction cycle affect our kids?

The beginningadd3

Imagine a pure baby’s body that has only ever consumed organic, chemical free food from it’s mother (ideal world I know – bear with me here).  It’s amazingly clever body would get messages requesting particular nutrients it needs eg: I need some vitamin C so I feel like some broccoli. This may seem far fetched, but all you need to do is think about a pregnant lady’s cravings… it’s a message straight from that pure little being requesting a particular nutrient or food to help it’s little body and brain grow.

The high

So then this pure little being becomes a toddler and starts eating foods with foreign additives.  And despite not needing them or even knowing what they are, the toddler gets a ‘high’ from the food additives – similar to a drug.

This was easily seen when my son was a toddler and had food colouring, he turned into a crazy banshee that ran wild for a while – a bit like the Tasmanian devil in those cartoons!

Remember, many food additives are banned in foods for babies, so they’re not exposed to them very much until they start eating solids in their toddler years… Not coincidentally aligning with the well-known ‘terrible twos’ (but that’s a discussion for another day!).

The curve

Now imagine a bell curve, where the child has just hit that high point from the food additives, and is now heading back down the curve…. Sometimes further down than the starting point.

Feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, teary at the drop of a hat, overly emotional at trivial things, and defiant, argumentative behaviours all start to emerge.


The cravingadd4

As with any addiction, when you hit this low point, the immediate reaction is… How do I get back to that great high feeling? It’s sure far better than this state of being!

And so this toddler’s confused little body body says… I must need more of this unknown thing that makes me feel ‘good’ (the additive-laden food)

Consequently, the child begins nagging… Can I have another lollie… Can I have some more tomato sauce…I want… Just one more… I’ll still eat my dinner… etc etc

The craving has kicked in, and getting ‘more’ is seen as the only out.

Mixed messagesadd5

Remember, it’s largely a chemical and psychological craving, and thus it’s a mixed or incorrect message from the body about what it wants – note I say wants, not needs.  The body is confused – which means the child doesn’t know what’s right or wrong anymore… hence questions such as “Why do foods that are bad for us taste so good?” emerge.  We’ve lost the ability to get pure messages and know what our body really needs and what is really good for us.  Just like a drug addiction, where nothing else is seen as a way to feel better, only the drug.


Interestingly, high amounts of sugar can lead to similarly addictive effects (although often the unwanted behavioural symptoms are from the additives, not the sugar).  The addictive cycle this time is caused by a spike in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of dopamine and a ‘rush’ secretion of insulin to drop the blood sugar levels… a rapid drop in blood sugar levels then leads to an increased appetite and cravings, so more sugar is ‘wanted’ and if eaten, repeats the cycle, but at a new/higher level of insulin secretion to combat the old threshold.  This time messing with not only your dopamine levels but your insulin levels too…  And when you consider the fact that most additive laden foods also contain high sugar content ingredients, you get a combination effect on the addiction cycle.

Too much science talk?  Keep an eye on my website and pinterest pages for a visual illustration of this nasty additive-addiction connection in the form of an infographic to help balance it out and consolidate the concept…Coming soon!

What next?

Knowing what to do about the additive-addiction cycle is a meaty topic and brings up another loaded term – ‘detoxification’ (or ‘detox’ as the movie stars would say :-))

To break the additive-addiction cycle, the first step is to detox your child, then, along with improved food education, break the habits formed by the additive laden foods, to bring about a change in tastes and eating habits.  

It all sounds rather serious when you put it in such a sentence… however that doesn’t mean the solution can’t be fun!  It all comes down to choices.

We can choose to sit and focus on the negative nancy aspects of this scenario – our children are eating chemical cocktails that are messing with their pure little bodies and minds and it can lead to all sorts of medical and psychological issues…  OR

We can jump on the journey to change lane with full throttle commitment and gusto, and embrace the new steps towards a happier, healthier lifestyle.  It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a piece of chocolate or a lollie every now and again.  It just means we have to choose the right lollie or chocolate, without additives, and maintain balance in our lifestyle and eating habits.

To best start on this road and break old habits, stay tuned for my next blog all about how to understand the process of detoxing your kids’  body of additives.

Until then, let me know what you think about the addiction-additive cycle.  Do you notice addictive behaviours within yourself or your family when it comes to certain foods?  Share your story with me by commenting below, emailing here or hop on facebook and post a message.  I’d love to hear your story and help you start the change to additive free living without additive addictions!

Loren x

PS I’m not a research expert in the field and not purporting my use of the term addiction to be fact or medically proven.  However, I believe we don’t always need scientific proof for something to be real and true to our inner beings.  Intuition, energy and many spiritual elements of life attest to this e.g.: meditation, breathing, alternative therapies etc.  And in the long run, I don’t really need to know exactly what affect the specific component of an additive or processed food is likely to show on a molecular level… All I am concerned about are the positive effects I see from eliminating additives and processed foods – unwanted feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms are no longer present, just calm happy beings! 

If you’re into research and want to know more, here are some online sources I’ve read on this topic:

Source 1  Source 2  Source 3  Source 4  Source 5  Source 6  Source 7  Source 8  Source 9Source 10  Source 11