The Addictive Nature of Processed Foods
A University of Michigan study is one of the first studies to examine specifically which foods may be addictive and why. This is important in helping to identify additional causes of eating disorders and the increasing number of people suffering from obesity. While behavioral addictions have been controversial, new research is providing some interesting results.
Previous animals studies conclude highly processed foods, or foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates, can trigger addictive-like eating behavior. Now clinical studies in humans have observed that some individuals struggling with symptoms of food addiction or with higher body mass indexes reported greater problems with highly processed foods. This suggests some people may be particularly sensitive to the possible rewarding properties of these foods, which meets the criteria for substance dependence.
A co-author on the study Nicole Avena, assistant professor of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, explained the findings’ significance:
“This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response. 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.”
The study provides evidence that not all foods are implicated in addictive-like eating behaviors, but highly processed foods appear to be particularly associated with food addiction and associated food cravings. In addition, the research found “foods with high glycemic levels were especially related to addictive-like eating problems for individuals endorsing elevated symptoms of “food addiction.” These individuals may be more susceptible to the large blood sugar spike of high glycemic foods.
Much larger studies are needed to confirm the latest results implicating specific type foods as addictive, with parallel symptoms similar to those seen in substance addiction. A personalized balanced diet can be developed with the help of a nutritionist or dietician, who can also provide more information or answer questions about eating disorders.