Study Finds That Highly Processed Foods Are the Most Addictive

A SERVING SIZE of ice cream is one-half cup, but if you have trouble stopping there, it’s understandable.

A new study, recently published by PLoS ONE, supports what many people have observed firsthand – that highly-processed foods with added fat and/or refined carbohydrates are most likely lead to addictive eating.

Foods like pizza, chocolate, ice cream and chips were found to be the most addictive, while foods like cucumbers, beans, and brown rice were among the least addictive.

The research team also found that foods with high glycemic loads were particularly likely to cause problems for those prone to addictive eating behavior. A food’s glycemic load is a measure of both the amount of refined carbohydrates and the rate at which they are absorbed into the body.

Researchers noted that highly addictive foods share properties with addictive drugs in the sense that the dose (quantity of white flour and sugar, for example) and rate of absorption appear to affect how addictive a food is.

In two separate studies, the research team had a total of 504 participants identify foods that were problematic for them. In the first study, the researchers asked students to identify foods they were more likely to experience problems with, including having trouble cutting down on a food or losing control over how much of the food they consumed.

In the second study, participants were asked to rate how likely they were to experience problems with 35 different foods.

The top six “problem” foods in both studies were chocolate, pizza, ice cream, hot chips, biscuits, and chips. Meanwhile, few people reported losing control over the amount of cucumbers, beans, brown rice, broccoli, water, carrots, or apples they consumed.

Men tended to have more problems with higher fat unprocessed foods like steak, nuts, and cheese, compared to women.

“This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response,” said Nicole Avena, a professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and one of the study’s co-authors, in a press release. “This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of ‘cutting back’ on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use.”


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