If processed foods are addictive, scientists have argued, it should be possible to create an addictiveness scale to find the crack cocaine among common meals. Surprising as it may seem, their answer isn't chocolate.
“We propose that highly processed foods share pharmacokinetic properties (e.g. concentrated dose, rapid rate of absorption) with drugs of abuse, due to the addition of fat and/or refined carbohydrates and the rapid rate the refined carbohydrates are absorbed into the system,” write graduate student Erica Schulte and Dr. Ashley Gearhardt of the University of Michigan in PLOS ONE.
The authors characterize addictiveness by factors such as “loss of control over consumption, continued use despite negative consequences, and an inability to cut down despite the desire to do so.” They back up their claims with a study of 504 participants, who helped them assess which foods are hardest to resist.
“Although the causes of obesity are multifactorial, one potential contributing factor is the idea certain foods may be capable of triggering an addictive response in some individuals, which may lead to unintended overeating,” the authors write.
To test the differences between foods, the authors had 120 undergraduate students fill out the Yale Food Addiction Scale, of which Gearhardt was one of the original authors, to determine the individuals' substance dependence. The students were then shown pictures of 35 common foods, presented in pairs, and asked to say which they considered more likely to produce addiction-like eating behaviors.