Sugar Not Addictive, Study Says

By Paul Gaita 09/12/14

It's the act of consuming food, not the kind of food that spurs addiction.

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An international group of researchers has concluded that the culprit in food addiction is not so much the ingredients, such as fat or sugar, but rather the act of consuming food itself.

Their findings, which were published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, showed that “macronutrients” like sugars, starches, or fats do not produce the same response in the brain as substances like cocaine.

"There is currently very little evidence to support the idea that any ingredient, food item, additive or combination of ingredients has addictive properties,” noted study co-author and Gothenburg University professor Suzanne Dickson, who also serves as coordinator of the NeuroFAST consortium, an EU-funded project studying the neurobiology of eating behavior, addiction, and stress.

However, the positive neurological response generated by the brain towards eating itself can generate compulsive feelings. The study authors concluded that eating addiction is a behavioral disorder, not unlike gambling, and suggest that treatment for obesity and other eating-related disorders should be focused on the individual’s relationship with food and not the items they eat.

The study also suggests that the current classification for food addiction in the DSM-V, which is listed as a Substance-Related and Addictive Disorder, should be revised to define the behavior as an eating addiction. Additional research would be required, however, to provide a more definitive diagnosis.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.