Scientists Explain Why We Love Pizza So Much

(vincent desjardins)/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0).

Although you probably won’t be out on the streets hustling for a stuffed crust pepperoni, a recent study has found that pizza has some very addictive properties.

The University of Michigan study, published in the US National Library of Medicine, examined which foods caused people to display addictive tendencies. Using a sample of 504 students, the study found that pizza came out on top (perhaps unsurprisingly).

Nearly unanimously, the list of foods that caused “addictive-like eating” were all highly processed items such as pizza, chocolate, cake and French fries. Processed foods tend to contain a high “dose” of fats and carbohydrates while also being more quickly absorbed by the body. Much like the effect of addictive drugs on our neural circuitry, these two factors cause the reward-related areas of our brain to go into hyperdrive. According to the study, the highly processed foods loaded with sugars and fats can cause changes in the dopamine system – involved in reward and pleasure – akin to drug abuse.

In their paper, the authors write: “Addictive substances are rarely in their natural state, but have been altered or processed in a manner that increases their abuse potential. For example, grapes are processed into wine and poppies are refined into opium. A similar process may be occurring within our food supply.”

They also pointed to another study that showed that “rats maintained on a diet of highly processed foods, such as cheesecake, exhibit downregulation in the dopamine system that also occurs in response to drugs of abuse.”

The other reason why pizza seems to be so addictive might be even simpler: cheese.

The crave-inducing properties of cheese come from an ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products. When we digest this protein, it releases casomorphins which stimulate opioid receptors, the receptors involved in pain control, reward and addiction. 

So, while this might not make you feel better when you covered in crust crumbs embarking on a pizza comedown, at least you know the science behind your addiction.

Image credit: (vincent desjardins)/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0).

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