There is a very good reason we all want pizza – and end up reaching for a second slice (and maybe a third) when we’ve had our fill rather than a couple of carrot sticks or a fresh juicy apple packed with vitamins.
A study just released by the University of Michigan found that highly processed foods such as pizza, chocolate, potato chips and French fries are the most addictive of any foods out there. The study is among the first to specifically examine foods implicated in food addiction, a topic of increasing interest to experts and consumers given this country’s obesity epidemic.
Previous studies with animals confirmed that highly processed foods – or those with added fat or refined carbs such as white flour and sugar – could trigger addictive-like eating behavior.
Other studies had determined that some people display substance dependence when that substance is food, according to the release – and that unprocessed foods (think salmon) aren’t connected to addictive eating habits.
“This is a first step toward identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response,” said Nicole Avena, assistant professor of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York City, a study co-author, in a statement. “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 those who follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, occasionally partaking of processed food is not going to derail things, says Janet Blum, a N.J.-based nutritionist and certified health coach. "The issue is the more you eat foods high in fat, sugar and sodium - the more you want them, since they stimulate the pleasure centers."
Future research needs to look at whether addictive foods are capable of actually triggering changes in brain circuitry and behavior like drugs of abuse, the Michigan researchers said.
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