Highly Processed Foods to Blame for Food Addiction

By Victoria Kim 02/25/15

Researchers found that highly processed foods can have the same effect on the brain as hard drugs.

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In a new study, University of Michigan researchers found that highly processed foods are more likely to have the same effect on the brain as hard drugs, compared to non-processed foods like vegetables, wheat, and fish.

Past studies have shown that foods high in sodium, sugar, or fat are likely to trigger food addiction and overeating due to the way they act on the brain’s reward system, according to Medical Daily. But the researchers wanted to find what specific foods meet the criteria for substance dependence.

The study found that “not all foods are equally implicated in addictive-like eating behavior” and that highly processed foods, which may share characteristics with drugs of abuse, appear to be especially addicting.

With over 85% of American adults projected to be overweight or obese by 2030, the link between processed foods and food addiction, the idea that “certain foods may be capable of triggering an addictive response in some individuals,” is worth exploring, said the researchers.

And since there has been little success at preventing excess weight gain or developing weight loss treatments that are effective long term, some experts see food addiction as a real disease that is just as bad as drug addiction or alcohol.

“The ‘just say no’ approach to drug addiction hasn’t fared very well. It won’t work for our industrial food addiction either,” said Dr. Mark Hyman, a physician and author. “Tell a cocaine or heroin addict or an alcoholic to ‘just say no’ after that first snort, shot, or drink. It’s not that simple. There are specific biological mechanisms that drive addictive behavior.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr