Ever found yourself indulging in a few biscuits only to look down and realise you’ve eaten the entire packet? Well science says this compulsive eating could be for a reason.
Researchers from the University of Michigan and Columbia University’s New York Obesity Research Centre found that within certain foods lie several similarities with the addictive nature of drugs.
120 undergraduates and 400 adults were asked to be part of the study, that used the Yale Food Addiction Scale, to determine the foods they couldn’t live without. Similarly, the study also included foods they found easy to resist.
You probably won’t be shocked to hear that some of the most processed foods available are at the top of the “most addictive” list.
These foods contain large numbers of sugar, added fat and sodium and are purposely made to be as appealing as possible – increasing their likelihood to become addictive.
So of course it’s hard to stop at just one cookie when there’s an entire box waiting for you.
“In a similar manner that drugs are processed to increase their addictive potential, this study provides insight that highly processed foods may be intentionally manufactured to be particularly rewarding through the addition of fat and refined carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar,” said Erica Schulte, graduate student of psychology at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, which was published in PLOS One.
The most problematic foods, according to the study, were those with a high glycemic load which acted to cause irregular and sudden spikes in blood sugar levels – causing you to feel hungrier quicker and overloading other organs that try to deal with the sudden intake of sugar into the blood stream.
The researchers surmised that in a similar way to drugs being easily absorbed in the body, becoming more addictive, so do these types of food when consumed on both a regular and irregular basis.
Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour at Wesleyan University told TIME that not all foods have the potential to be addictive, but “it is critical to understand which ones do.”
He went on to say that whilst we are “all pressed for time” the choices we make can dramatically reduce our risk of overeating and consuming high sugar, high carbohydrate foods with minimal nutritional content.
Whilst a handful of almonds and a small milkshake could contain the same amount of calories, the effects they have on our body and brain function differ dramatically.
“I think in the majority of cases when we have a problem with a substance, whether it’s a food or drug…we will ignore it,” he said.
Robinson also suggests controlling – or avoiding all together – certain foods if you have trouble curtailing your consumption. “We are not in a situation where we will have dietary deficiencies (and) whenever possible we should be aiming to cook foods for ourselves,” he said.
So which foods made the list?
5. Ice Cream
6. French Fries
8. Non-Diet Soft Drink
And the least addictive?
31. Plain Brown Rice
27. Corn (without butter or salt)
25. Muesli Bars