The Science Behind Why Junk Food Is Addictive
It’s not all in your head – it’s actually in your gut! Recent research has shown that cravings for junk-food are actually coming from your gut bacteria rather than from anything related to brain chemistry, although the gut bacteria are affecting your brain chemistry and causing you to crave the junk food. This is happening because of the certain type of bacteria that is living in your gut. Whenever we eat junk food, bacteria in our gut that thrives on junk food is allowed to multiply and crowd out the other bacteria that thrives on more healthy food. Whenever the ‘junk-food’ bacteria is in control in your gut, being the bacteria that there is the most of, that bacteria sends signals to your brain for your brain to tell you to eat more of the junk food. This is because the bacteria wants to continue growing so it needs more of the junk food to do so.
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This connection is dubbed as the gut/brain axis by scientists and it creates a little window into the reason as to why what we eat affects our health and our overall body so much. Whenever ‘bad bacteria’ is in control, the signals it sends for more junk food crowd out the signals that the ‘good bacteria’ is sending to the brain which is why cravings gravitate toward junk food. Unfortunately, the only way to change those signals is to make sure that the bad ones don’t crowd out the good ones. This means that at the beginning, you have to force yourself to eat the good, healthy food even if your body isn’t craving it. To change the tide of bacteria in your gut you have to help the good bacteria thrive and starve the bad ones. The way to do this is to eat healthy and eventually your body will crave the healthy food because the good bacteria will be back in control in your gut.
There are two sort of short-cuts to helping balance the good bacteria in your gut. The first way is by adding in fiber to your diet, both soluble and insoluble and the second way is by adding fermented foods to your diet. Fiber is good for your gut because insoluble fiber helps by carrying out toxins and cleaning out your gut. Soluble fiber is what helps to balance the bacteria in your gut by absorbing water and normalizing the digestion. Adding fiber to your diet will also mean that you will feel full for a longer time so the cravings for junk food will be further satiated.
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Adding fermented foods to your diet helps to add in good bacteria and tilt the balance of your gut in the favor of the good bacteria. There are many foods that can aid in providing this good bacteria including any pickled foods, especially kimchee, and can include any pickled vegetables or even fruits. Other fermented foods that are beneficial include miso, kefir, yogurt – if it still has live cultures – and kombucha. All of these will help your gut to fight off the bad bacteria and encourage the growth of good bacteria.
The fact that we have this gut/brain axis connection also means that our brains play a certain role in the kinds of food we crave. The sensation of the food that we eat and how it tastes, smells and feels in our mouth is one big factor of the cravings we get. The combination of macronutrients in our food is also a big factor and has to do with both the gut and the brain telling us what we’ve had before and what we want to eat again. This connection goes both ways and thus the gut tells the brain what to crave and the brain also tells the gut what to crave. Having good bacteria in your gut has many good benefits for your body including boosting your immune system, boosting your mental health, giving you more energy, and improving the health of your heart.
Next time you start having cravings for some junk food and you don’t know how to keep them away think about the fact that the bacteria in your gut is dictating what you should eat. Forcing yourself to add more healthy food to your diet will help to balance the good bacteria in your gut and over time your gut will start to crave healthy food because the good bacteria will be back in charge. Putting in more fermented food and fiber into your diet is a quick way to start moving the scales in the right direction. Remember that your brain also controls the gut/brain axis connection so you must also keep your brain in optimal health for it to encourage your body to make healthy choices.