Cite this article

NIDA. (2012, April 3). Addicted to French Fries: Is Food a Drug?. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
April 3 2012
French fries

According to the American Heart Association, about one in three kids and teens in the United States is overweight or obese. Obesity can lead to chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Obesity can even shorten your life.

You probably already heard this in the news. But, did you know that a diet high in saturated fats, refined sugars, corn syrup, and carbohydrates literally tricks our brains into craving more unhealthy stuff?

Brains React to Food

Most people don’t just consume food for “fuel” or energy. Most of us enjoy eating, especially our favorite foods. Science backs this up: Consuming tasty foods can satisfy the natural brain reward system, releasing the chemical dopamine, known as the feel-good brain chemical, to add to overall feelings of contentment and satisfaction. This is good for our survival since we have to eat to survive.

Overeating is different from drug abuse, but is also based in the brain. Scientists now understand that, for a growing number of people, certain foods trick the brain into wanting more. Pizza, French fries, chocolate, and colas are high on the list of foods that trigger dopamine.

In this way, food causes reactions in the brain similar to those caused by some drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, which also affect dopamine levels and lead to compulsive drug seeking and use.

According to NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

Steps You Can Take

It’s important to balance your diet with healthy choices and right-sized portions to ensure you get all the nutrition you need to be healthy. Here are a few tips from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign:

  • Try new fruits and veggies. Add variety to your meals to make eating healthier, fun, and interesting.
  • Drink smart. Skip soda and other drinks flavored with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Choose water—make it more exciting by adding a splash of lemon or a few mint leaves.
  • Move every day. Walk or bike to your destination. Turn off the TV and go outside.

Now you tell us: What do you do to eat well, keep fit, and stay healthy?