What’s the relationship between food and dopamine

Let’s disclose a fact that eating healthy food releases a small about of dopamine. From berries to steaks. The moment our taste buds find their pleasure this neurotransmitter dopamine releases itself. Yes, but having a large amount of added sugar and consuming more salt does affect the dopamine level.

Before I explain the context let’s focus on, what is neurotransmitter dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter made my brain and our nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine is basically which the brain interprets as pleasure. Helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. The brain is hardwired to seek out behaviors that release dopamine in the reward system.
This reward system releases when the brain knows that the person is doing something right and thus it releases good feeling chemicals. Dopamine is the essence of the reward system.

So, taking steak, rice or fruits does releases a moderate amount of dopamine, because our brain thinks that consuming food is the right thing to do. Which it is, it is the right thing to do because we need energy, we need vitamins, protein. The same chemical releases with a larger amount when an individual consumes junk food. Junk food is often depicted as burgers, ice- creams, etc but when we cook the same food in our homes, using a moderate amount of sugar, salt, and good quality oil. Would it be junk as well?

No, burgers, ice- cream, and jams from fast food joints all our denoted as junk because they contain a high amount of sodium, sugar, and other preservatives. Fast food joints require ingredients to be preserved and they also require pumping up our dopamine because of our cravings.

Craving and dopamine go hand in hand. The urge to satiate our taste buds has a huge impact on our food habits and when we eat what we crave. Our brain releases dopamine, the reward system takes in charge and we as consumers feel satisfied.

Let’s understand what is craving?

We shouldn’t misinterpret craving as hunger. It is an emotional state, where there is a desire to consume a particular food, it shouldn’t be confused with hunger.
Craving can find its place anywhere, while working in your office, playing with your kids, anywhere, and especially passing by a sandwich or donut joint.

It’s not always in thin air, craving occurs when an individual is going through an emotional state. Like feeling sad or being depressed which is generally known as emotional eating and craving most of the time about satisfying your brain.

Reaching that reward system and here the fast-food joints place their role. Their high sugar and salted food provide us with dopamine and the release of dopamine means satisfying the craving; getting pleasure.

As you consume these kinds of food and the amount of dopamine is too high the brain releases dopamine receptors to balance the things out. When there are fewer dopamine receptors, the person will have very little dopamine activity and start to feel unhappy when they don’t get junk food.

This is called withdrawal. And fewer the receptor the more dopamine is needed to reach that reward system, to attain the satisfaction and causes people to consume more junk food, to satisfy their craving.

Overcoming Addictive behavior

Most of the people who are addicted to food usually are unaware of it and few of them hide it. Food addiction causes physical and mental health problems.
In many cases of food addicts, they are going through anxiety issues or even depression; they have been treating their mental health by consuming unhealthy food.
Most importantly we should also focus that the food we consume can also cause people to be depressed. Studies have found, people who consume a higher amount of sodium, food with a high glycemic index, and have a large amount of added sugar(the sugar that is not naturally found in foods) intake in their diet associated with an increasing rate of depression.

The Glycemic index of a food is a measure of how quickly that food raises our blood sugar level. Usually, the foods which are processed, where most of the fibers are removed, tend to have a high glycemic index. White bread, white rice, cakes, candies, sweet beverages have a higher glycemic index.

So when we eat highly refined carbohydrates, we tend to get our sugar high from it and once our blood sugar level is too high, our body sends out insulin to bring the blood sugar level down to a normal level. But unfortunately, sometimes, it can bring the blood sugar level too low.

Then we can have a stress hormone in response. An effort to bring that blood sugar back up. Then stress hormones respond to symptoms
that can cause anxiety, difficulty to focus, mood and behavior changes, and hunger, and this hunger is often interpreted with craving.

The person with anxiety and stress tends to consume junk food. Generally, the individual thinks it will make them feel better. Which it does because it raises the blood sugar level instantly, giving energy and simultaneously the dopamine releases, making the consumer feel good and satiated but what they don’t realize that the sooner the blood sugar level increases after consuming that processed/ refined food, the quicker the sugar level will go down. Causing the person to feel sad, tired, and in the long term even depressed.

Studies have reported that food addiction is as dangerous as any other drug addiction like meth or cocaine. And there is no mental exercise or medicines to overcome the addiction. All a person needs is to understand that he/she is harming their body and try to avoid unhealthy food. Visiting a psychiatrist or psychology can be very helpful.

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