Processed Foods Are Addictive, Study Finds

Processed Foods Are Addictive, Study Finds Hero Image

A new study from the University of Michigan has finally confirmed what we've always suspected: that all that greasy late-night-eating type of food are actually addictive.

The research, published in PLOS ONE, found that individuals with symptoms of food addiction or with higher body mass indexes reported greater problems with highly processed foods — like pizza, chocolate, and french fries. This suggests a sensitivity to the possible "reward" properties of these foods, said lead author Erica Schulte, in a press release.

Past studies have shown that highly processed foods, or foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates (think white flour and sugar) may be able to instigate addictive eating behavior. This is the first study to identify specific foods that may be guilty of inducing "food addiction."

Researchers followed a total of 500 participants in two separate study groups. They found that unprocessed foods with no added fat or refined carbohydrates (think brown rice and salmon) were not associated with addictive eating behavior.

The study authors believe that this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children.

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"This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response," said co-author Nicole Avena. "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.

For now, the main takeaway is that we should stay far, far away from highly processed foods — because, as we know, once you pop the "fun" don't stop — and instead flock to the safety of real, whole foods.

And moving forward, the authors added, research should examine whether addictive foods, like drugs of abuse, are capable of triggering changes in brain circuitry and behavior.

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