Putting fork to mouth now is a lot less straightforward, mostly thanks to the growing popularity and evolution of food processing. In fact, processed fare makes up more than 60 percent of purchased calories, according to a recent analysis of U.S. grocery purchases. What’s worse, food companies pay big bucks for scientists to engineer the taste, feel, smell and even the sound of these products in ways that trigger our neurological pleasure centers. The result: Highly caloric and fattening foods that are nearly impossible to put down that add flab to our frames.
Luckily, once you know which foods are the most addictive, you can simply steer clear—which will help the pounds fly off! Read on to discover which of your snack-time favorites are particularly hard to put down once you start munching and learn what alternative foods can satisfy your craving without derailing your diet.
Everyone knows that when you buy Doritos, you're bound to finish the entire bag—and it’s no surprise, really. The recipe for the popular chip was specially designed so that no single flavor overpowers another. When foods lack a dominant flavor, people are less apt to feel full and, in turn, consume more, say researchers. What’s more, one of the first ingredients on the food’s label is monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive that’s been known to increase appetite and make foods taste more appetizing. And if you thought that Dorito breath was just a coincidental side effect of munching on the snack, think again. The powerful savory taste lingering in your mouth is an example of a tactic called “long hang-time flavor” that’s used to lure snackers into going back for more. With all of these factors working against you, it’s really no wonder you're defenseless when Doritos come around.
Eat this Instead: Beanitos Nacho Cheese White Bean Chips. A serving of these bean-based chips have a whopping 6 grams of belly-filling fiber, so you’ll definitely be able to put the bag down once you’ve eaten your fill. Plus, they’re free of MSG, which should let your natural willpower kick in.
It’s not your imagination: This orange, puffy snack melts the second it hits your tongue —a phenomenon scientists have dubbed “vanishing caloric density.” And it’s definitely not an accidental quality of your chips, either. Food developers know that when foods melt quickly, it tricks the brain into thinking you're not eating as many calories. In turn, snackers wind up eating a much larger serving. The sound Cheetos make when you bite into them was also specially developed to get you hooked. The crunchy sound Cheetos make as we chew them makes them taste more appetizing, likely because we associate the sound with freshness, according to a recent Oxford University study.
Eat this Instead: Blue Diamond Natural Almond Nut-Thins in Cheddar Cheese. These rice and almond-based crackers offer a Cheeto-esque taste with three grams of hunger-busting protein per serving. Most importantly, they are free of those tricky vanishing calories that cause us to overeat.
Oreos don’t come with a warning, but maybe they should! As it turns out, they’re more addictive than both cocaine and morphine, according to a 2013 animal study. To come to this finding, researchers fed rats rice cakes, Oreos or gave them injections of cocaine or morphine and found that the cookies had a greatest effect on the pleasure center of the brain—which likely explains why it’s so hard to eat just one. A second group of researchers found that among all the foods out there, cookies were one of the most difficult to eat in moderation.
Eat this Instead: Nothin’ But Chocolate Coconut Almond Granola Cookies. These chewy bites don't quite look or taste like Oreos, but they sure are a lot healthier—and far less addicting. Made from a delicious combination of almonds, oats, chocolate, coconut, cane sugar, spices and espresso powder instead of a mound of processed ingredients, this treat is kinder to your waistline than the traditional twist-and-lick combo.
You might like how they melt in your mouth and not in your hand, but that’s not the only reason why these little colorful treats are so darn difficult to eat in moderation. According to a Swiss study, even when chocolates have identical recipes, people find the round varieties to have the most satisfying texture—likely because they melt more rapidly. Shape influences perceived sweetness, too. In 2013 when Cadbury reshaped their chocolate bars to be more rounded, snackers incidentally found the chocolates to be sweeter—even though the recipe hadn’t been reformulated. The sweeter and more satisfying a food is perceived to be, the more difficult it is to put down.
Eat this Instead: Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa. Trading in your sweet milk chocolate M&Ms for a dark chocolate bar is definitely a smart move. The slightly bitter taste and thicker, flatter shape, which causes it melt more slowly, makes this bar less addicting.
Typically dubbed a healthy, soothing meal, soup truly is one of the least suspecting diet saboteurs of them all. What makes it so addicting? Besides being appealing due to the low cost, many popular brands add monosodium glutamate, a flavoring agent that boosts appetite and causes migraines. While we weren’t too shocked to learn that all of Maruchan Ramen Noodles—a popular college staple—are laced with the ingredient, we were miffed to learn that some of Campbell’s Condensed soups are loaded with it, too.
Eat this Instead: Progresso, Campbell’s V8 Soups, and Pacific Foods Soups are all MSG free. Sticking with those brands will make it easier to keep your appetite and portions in check. If you have high blood pressure, be sure to look for soups with less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving, too.
If you’ve singlehandedly polished off an entire pint of ice cream more times than you’d like to admit, it’s not your fault. Fat-, sugar- and calorie-laden foods have all been proven to activate the pleasure centers of the brain and this creamy treat is loaded with all three! Combine that with its addicting melt-in-your-mouth sensation, and it’s clear why it’s so hard to put down the spoon after starting in on that Chunky Monkey.
Eat This Instead: Arctic Zero Fit Frozen Desserts. Made from a combination of whey protein, monk fruit concentrate, sea salt, Chicory root, sugar, water and natural flavors, these delicious frozen treats only taste sinful. While the texture is less creamy than conventional ice cream, the flavor is pretty close to the real deal. The best part: An entire pint is only 300 calories, so even if you polish off the whole lot in a single sitting (which we don’t recommend) it won’t throw your diet too far off track.
That innocent looking muffin may just give you a muffin-top if you’re not careful. Hey, the name had to come from somewhere, right? A typical blueberry muffin carries nearly 400 calories and a third of the day’s fat, and eating half now and “saving the rest for later” is near impossible—likely because foods rich in carbs, fat and sugar can be downright addicting. A University of Montreal study found that mice who had been fed diets with high levels of those very nutrients displayed withdrawal symptoms and were more sensitive to stressful situations after they were put on a more healthful diet.
Eat this Instead: Kashi Blueberry Waffles. Two of these low-sugar, high-fiber waffles serve up the sweet blueberry taste you crave for a mere 150 calories. Even if you topped them with a tablespoon of syrup, you’d still take in fewer calories and less fat and sugar than you would had you opted for the muffin. The winner here is obvious.
If you’re trying to slim down, you should plan to steer clear of the fries. Why? Even if you plan to just nibble on a few, the odds you’ll be successful are low, according to research findings out of the University of Michigan. When people start eating a highly processed, fat- and starch-laden food, it’s extremely difficult to stop, the researchers found. And after having the subjects fill out questionnaires about their challenges with portion control, it became clear that French fries ranked among the top foods most associated with problematic, addictive-like eating behaviors.
Eat This Instead: Homemade fries. Slice a potato lengthwise into strips, top with a few spritzes of coconut-oil cooking spray (a fat less apt to be stored as flab than butter or lard), pepper, rosemary and garlic powder, and pop them into the oven on 350 degrees F until they’re crispy. When dining out, ask your server for a side of greens or a fruit salad in lieu of spuds.