A study had participants sample foods and rank them from most addictive to least addictive. I bet you can guess some of the foods that are highly addictive, but what do those foods have in common that makes us crave them?
In this post, I share the list of most and least addictive foods as well as insights that reveal the lethal combination of ingredients that make certain foods irresistible.
Top 5 Most Addictive Foods
- Ice cream
Top 5 Least Addictive Foods
- Brown rice (no sauce)
- Beans (no sauce)
- Cucumbers (no dip)
The Most and Least Addictive Foods: [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- A list of the most addictive foods and the least addictive foods.
- The three things that, when combined, are very addictive.
- Whether or not you’re more susceptible to food addiction.
Two groups of people were asked to rate 35 foods to determine which of the foods were most associated with addictive-like eating behaviors (1).
One group was asked to rate the foods by how likely they were to experience problems with a food. This included things like not wanting to stop eating it and an inability to cut down despite the desire to do so.
Full List of Most Addictive Foods
The first group named these 10 foods as the most addictive:
- ice cream
- French fries
- regular soda
(The other group came up with a very similar ranking when they compared each food.)
The list above has very few surprises, but what is it about these foods that make so many of us feel out of control when we eat them?
What Makes a Food Addictive?
Highly Processed Foods = Addiction
When we look closely at that list of addictive foods, we see that nine of the top ten are processed foods.
As stated by the research team, “highly processed foods, compared to naturally occurring foods, are more likely to induce a blood sugar spike. This is important because there is a known link between glucose levels and activation of areas of the brain that are involved with addiction”
The previously mentioned study used the Glycemic Load because it also takes into account the grams of refined carbohydrates contained in the food.
Glycemic Load Chart
- A low GL is between 1 and 10.
- A moderate GL is 11 to 19.
- A high GL is 20 or higher.
When we look at the foods on the list, we see that 8 out of the 10 most addictive foods have a moderate or high Glycemic Load.
Fast Absorbing Foods = Addiction
Processing or refining a food strips out the fiber, protein, and water. This increases the rate that refined foods are absorbed into your system.
The research team theorized that quick absorption combined with the spike in blood sugar has a lot to do with the addictive nature of a food.
Full List of Least Addictive Foods
This theory holds true if we take a look at the foods that were ranked the least addictive:
- corn (with no butter or salt)
- plain brown rice (with no sauce)
- beans (with no sauce)
- cucumbers (with no dip)
These less-addictive foods are whole foods that have not been processed. Eight out of ten of them have a glycemic load under ten, which is a low score.
Does the Fat Content of the Food Matter?
Many of the least addictive foods had extra descriptive words like no butter, no sauce, and no dip. While it might be more palatable to eat cucumbers with dip and corn with butter, the research team felt that the addition of fat to these foods would bump them up on the addictive scale.
Dietary fat does not spike your blood sugar or absorb quickly into your system, as we see with refined carbs and processed foods.
The fat content of a food did not seem to be the highest addictive factor. If we look at the chart, however, we see that the more addictive foods that are listed at the top tend to be higher in fat than the foods that come in at the bottom.
The Lethal Combination for Addiction
High-fat foods have a combination of addictive elements:
- They are processed.
- They have a high Glycemic Load.
- They contain fat.
Could this be the lethal combination that makes a food irresistible?
Society has sayings that most of us can relate to like, “You can’t eat just one potato chip.” This is because chips have the trifecta of fat, refined carbs, and a substantial glycemic load.
Are You Susceptible to Food Addiction?
There’s more to this story. Before the test, participants were asked to complete the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), which is a questionnaire used to determine their level of food addiction symptoms.
Those who rated high on the scale were more apt to report foods as addictive, showing that some of us may be more susceptible to food addiction than others.
According to the research team, individuals who scored high on the scale “reported increased difficulty with foods containing rapidly absorbed refined carbohydrates, which produce a large blood sugar spike.”
There was also an interesting difference between men and women that surfaced. “The current study found that men reported more problems with unprocessed foods (e.g., steak, cheese) than women, which suggests that men may experience problematic eating behavior with a wider range of foods.”
Takeaway About Addictive Foods
There are two takeaways from this study.
- Takeaway Number One: Food becomes highly addictive when it is processed and combined with added amounts of fat and/or refined carbohydrates (ex. pizza, chocolate, chips, and cookies).
- Takeaway Number Two: Some of us may be more susceptible to food addiction than others. We are all best served if we stick to whole, unprocessed foods.
I hope this has been interesting and helpful. If you are looking for a way to get away from the addictive processed foods, I invite you to learn my four daily habits, which are also known as my 0,1,2,3 strategy.
The strategy is free and comes with videos that explain how to get the most out of it. It is a great foundation for any healthy diet.
(1) Schulte, Erica M., Nicole M. Avena, and Ashley N. Gearhardt. “Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load.” PloS one 10.2 (2015): e0117959.
About the Author:
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.