Skip to content
Health, Sports & Psychology

Why are some foods so addictive?

Updated Tuesday 9th August 2005

Are you lost without your morning coffee fix? Cherie Lunghi investigates why certain foods are so addictive

Cherie Lunghi Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

Cherie Lunghi is well known for her appearance in a TV advert for coffee granules. But is she an addictive caffeine drinker herself? Ever Wondered sent her out to find why so many people are hooked on coffee and chocolate

First port of call – Paris, where Cherie visits one of the world’s biggest chocolate fairs and meets up with Nicola Porter, co-founder of The Chocolate Society…

Nicola Porter with Cherie Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission Nicola Porter is one of the Directors of The Chocolate Society. Her aim is to make people have a better understanding of what real chocolate is all about.

Cherie: Is there a difference between continental chocolate and British chocolate?

Nicola Porter: There is, but to understand the difference, you have to understand what the definition is. European chocolate just contains cocoa butter…they don’t replace any of the cocoa butter with added fats. Cocoa butter gives it it’s shine - and it’s the healthy side of chocolate. Sadly in Britain at the moment, we replace some of that cocoa butter with oils and fats which clog up our insides.

Cherie: So what is is that makes chocolate so addictive? Chocolate Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission Nicola Porter: Inside chocolate is theobromine, which acts on the body like caffeine. You also have something called phenomelythelene which induces the same feelings as when you fall in love.

What about our eating habits in the past? Cherie heads to the Museum of London to find out more

Hazel Forsyth with Cherie Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission Hazel Forsyth is a Curator of the Post Medieval collection at the Museum of London

Hazel Forsyth: There are plenty of contemporary accounts of immoderate quaffing and drunkenness. It’s evident that people had consuming food fads and passions just as we do today. One of their passions was for sugar. We can tell the predeliction for sugar in Elizabethan London by the prevalence of rotting teeth. And this is the period when sugar coated sweetmeats and comfits became common.

So what is it that makes us addicted? Cherie joins Dr Sydney Crown to find out...

Dr Sydney Crown and Cherie Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission

Dr Sydney Crown was a consultant at the Royal London Hospital . He has since retired.

Dr Crown : You always have to start with physical attributes of a foodstuff. There’s no doubt that in coffee there’s a physiological reason why some people can become addicted to it. Caffeine is a mild stimulant so it really wakes you up. It’s a muscle stimulant as well. But eating chocolate and sweet things. But by far the most important thing are social factors and psychological factors.

In mild to moderate depression comfort food like chocolate can be a simple solution!

If you would like to find out more about food you might try these suggestions:


The Coffee Book
Gregory:Luttinger Dicum Nime, The New Press

Food Addiction: The Body Knows
Kay Sheppard, Health Communications Inc

The Chocolate and Coffee Box
Christine France, Lorenz Books

Caffeine and Behaviour: Current Views and Research Trends
B.S. Gupta, CRC Press


The Mind Guid to food and mood

The British coffee assocation 

The Pudding Club

The Chocolate Society

Also on this site : Join chef Gordon Ramsay as he asks how modern is the modern British menu? or join agriculturalist Sean Beer for his expert opinion on why our food choices are so important.

If you think you might be interested in studying more about these subjects, find out what The Open University has to offer.

The BBC and the Open University are not responsible for the content of external websites


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

What coffee does to your body Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

What coffee does to your body

What is it that makes coffee so delicious and lovely and... well, even addictive?

Timeline: Just the facts Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

History & The Arts 

Timeline: Just the facts

A timeline of the science, culture and technology of food. If you would like a more visual experience, you can explore with our food timeline interactive.

Does counting calories work? Creative commons image Icon Mike Mozart under Creative Commons BY 4.0 license video icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Does counting calories work?

If you're finding your new diet frustrating because you can't make the calories add up, you're not alone. Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley investigate why the calorie might be broken.

5 mins
Consider meditation Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Consider meditation

While meditation might be some way from being a proven therapy, advances in brain imaging techniques shows it might have an effect that isn't all in the mind, says Tom Heller.

Health and environment Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 2 icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Health and environment

To be able to understand the importance of the environment for our health, we need to know a little about the interdependence between environment and humankind. This free course, Health and environment, will look at interactions between plants, animals and the physical and chemical environment, as well as considering ways in which humans have altered, and are altering this environment.

Free course
12 hrs
Pasture to plate Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC activity icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Pasture to plate

However hungry you are, you wouldn't be able to get much nutritional value out of a field of corn without a spot of processing to make something edible. Find out how food makes it from pasture to plate.

Mental health: Survivor suggestions Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Mental health: Survivor suggestions

Advice for everyone from our mental health survivor

Solving the Parkinson's Puzzle Creative commons image Icon "Michael J. Fox 2012 (cropped) (2)" by Paul Hudson (original)Supernino (derivative work) - Flickr (original). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image cropped. under Creative-Commons license audio icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Solving the Parkinson's Puzzle

Dr Birgit Liss believes the answer to the Parkinson's puzzle will lie in the genetics of individual neurones.

10 mins
Cancer treatment in France: The pros and cons Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

Cancer treatment in France: The pros and cons

Following ex OU academic Jill Reynolds' previous posts 'what if I die before I get old' husband Dave continues Jill's story of her experience of cancer treatment in France.