We all know that processed foods are addictive, at least that’s what we’ve been told. But what if we could rate the addictiveness of foods on a scale to see which foods have the same effect as drugs to our system? One group of scientists at the University of Michigan may have done just that.
Authors of a new study in PLOS ONE proposed that highly processed foods share pharmacokinetic properties like concentrated dose, or rapid rate of absorption with drugs people typically abuse, such as crack or cocaine. This is because fat and refined sugars or carbohydrates absorb extremely quickly into the system, extremely similar to the “high” an addictive drug would give.
In the addictiveness scale created, the researchers looked at factors like:
· Loss of control over consumption
· Continued use despite negative consequences
· Inability to cut down despite the desire to do so
The study analyzed about 500 participants, to find out which foods were the most “drug-like” and which foods are hardest to resist. What they found was that some foods have the ability to trigger an addictive response in some people. What this means is that like drug abuse, some people may not be able to control overeating because of this. The addictiveness of these foods is a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic we see in the US.
To test the differences between foods, participants filled out the Yale Food Addiction Scale, to see what foods people tended to be dependent on. To no one’s surprise, foods dense in fat and glycemic load (how quickly it is converted to sugar) were found to be the most addictive. Drinks with higher alcohol content were also more addictive than their less alcoholic counterparts. Chocolate, ice cream and French fries seemed to be the most addictive for most respondents of the original survey. The findings are consistent with other studies that highlight the role of the brain’s pleasure chemical, dopamine, in creating addictions. This means highly processed foods act the same way on the brain as hard drugs, lighting up the pleasure center and making us want more.
So what did they find were the most addictive foods? Using a larger body of online participants, the authors of the study asked people to rate the addictiveness of food on a scale of 1-7. The winner?
Pizza. This was followed by chocolate, and chips. All other highly addictive foods shared the same properties of being highly processed and rich in sugar, fat or both. What were the least addictive foods on the scale? Cucumber, carrots and beans, surpassed even by water in addictiveness.