It’s Friday night and you’re just looking to chill at home. You made no plans for dinner, and all you’re sure of is that you want something hot and tasty that you can easily eat while watching TV. You know what to do: It’s going to be a pizza night!
Now, this scenario does not necessarily happen only on Fridays. It can, in fact, be the same any other day of the week. And with many different flavors and varieties to choose from, it’s literally quite possible to live off of pizza for all eternity.
But why? What makes pizza so special? Why do we love it so much that we can’t stop thinking about it as soon as we read the word? Is it the cheese? The sauce? The stuffed crust? The thin crust? The toppings? Or just the fact that it’s fun to eat?
Wonder not, because apparently, there is a clear science behind this phenomenon.
So apparently, as science would have it, pizza is one of those foods that are considered to be highly addicting. It falls under this category alongside other heavily processed foods like cake, French fries, and chocolate. In other words, all the comfort food that we know and love, but also tend to hate.
What happens to your brain when you eat pizza?
Processed foods such as pizza have very high fats (cheese) and carbohydrates (crust) content and are absorbed a lot faster in the body. This fat-carbs combination triggers the dopamine system into hyperdrive. Dopamine is known to be responsible for the reward-related areas in our brain, which is also responsible for our cravings.
Pizza, in particular, is a very popular craving as it turns out, at least according to a 2015 study published by the University of Michigan. In their study, they were basically able to prove that yes, pizza is indeed the number one food source, especially among college students.
Fat and carbs are not the only things that make pizza highly addicting. The toppings also contribute to the mix with their glutamate content. This compound — found in pepperoni, sausage, and tomatoes — is responsible for making our brains excited as soon as the flavors hit the tongue.
So the combination of the toppings does play a very huge role in the success of the pizza flavors, and thus, your addiction to it.
The other thing that makes pizza so delightfully addicting is the caramelization that it gets as it cooks in the oven. Yes, even the browning of the ingredients, thanks mostly to their sugar content, makes pizza look very appealing.
Last but not least, it’s all about the cheese. Cheese is rich in the protein casein, which is known to make our brain feel rewarded — and thus happy — as it releases the hormones casomorphins.
Add these all together, and you have the perfect storm for the perfect food.