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Why is junk food so addictive?

Why are chips, cookies, pizza and soda so addictive? Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares the truth about processed food and why it’s so hard to stop with just one serving.

“I consider junk food to be anything that doesn’t have any nutritional value,” says Komar. “They are your treat-type foods to have occasionally, but not all the time.”

What makes junk food taste so good?

You know junk food doesn’t make you feel your best, but why is it so hard to quit?

“This gets into the wonderful world of the science of food,” she explains. “Processed foods are mainly salt, sugar, fat and preservatives — all of which create a combination of different sensations in your mouth. Your brain is involved as well. Foods that rapidly vanish or ‘melt in your mouth’ signal to your brain that you’re not eating as much as you actually are. In other words, these foods literally tell your brain that you’re not full and you need more of the food. It sounds so good, but actually, you are not fueling your body, but burdening it to work very hard to metabolize junk food.”

It is also important to know that food companies invest a lot of time, money and resources into creating products that keep you coming back for more.

“Food companies will spend millions of dollars to discover the most satisfying level of crunch in potato chips and their scientists will test for the perfect amount of fizzle in a soda,” she says. “Don't get caught in their traps.”

How to reduce junk food cravings

It’s crucial to change your habits, says Komar. The less junk food you eat, the less you will crave.

“Don't go in and smell the fast food or restaurant food, don't bring it in the house so it is ‘calling your name’ from the pantry and don't go to the grocery store hungry,” she advises. “Read food labels and determine what you are really putting into the one body you are given for life.”

Learn more nutrition tips from Living Better experts.