FoodFacts.com has been fascinated by a story making its way around the news today. It appears that studies are actually showing that fatty and sugary foods are as addictive as drugs. We’ve known for quite a long time that fatty foods, snacks and sugar or high fructose-sweetened drinks aren’t healthy options for your diet. But what we really didn’t know is that if you’re eating enough of them, switching your eating habits to eliminate these foods isn’t as easy as setting your mind to it.
Recent studies are pointing out that processed foods and sweet drinks evoke brain responses that are similar to addictive drugs and cigarettes. The conclusion is that kicking the bad food habit is going to be just as difficult as quitting smoking or giving up drugs. In fact the National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that the data is so overwhelming, that it has to be accepted. It truly appears that drugs in the brain and food in the brain go hand in hand.
Research studies have found that sweet drinks and fatty foods are producing addictive behaviors in lab animals. University researchers gave rats access to foods such as proceeded bacon, cheesecakes and creamy cake frosting, for one hour a day. They discovered that when the treats were presented to the rats, they began binging on them, even though they had an unlimited supply of nutritional food that was easily accessible.
After binging, the rats’ brain activity was measured. The study found that processed foods produced the same brain pattern that occurs with escalating intake of cocaine.
During their investigation, university researchers also found that obese and compulsive eaters were drawn to images of junk food in the same way cocaine addicts were when shown a bag of cocaine. In the junk food eaters, the decision-making area of the brain released a surge of dopamine just from looking at the fatty, sugary foods. That dopamine release is the same reaction addicts have to the visual image of cocaine.
The evidence is pretty compelling and it leads to some basic questions. If these processed foods and beverages are proven to be addictive, how might it change the food industry? Does it open up a new area for legal disputes? Is there an answer waiting in the wings from the pharmaceutical industry? Do these offending products become regulated much like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs?
We’ve all thrown around the term “sugar addict” at one point or another, but it appears that it may not be an exaggeration. FoodFacts.com would love to hear your opinions on these new studies. What do you think the ramifications might be? And what changes might those ramifications infer for our food supply and our culture?