While reviewing the tremendous amounts of new information that have been released over the past year or so regarding obesity, FoodFacts.com has noticed that more than a few studies point out a common fact. The proliferation of junk foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat has occurred in our society at the very same time that obesity has soared. We don’t actually think that’s a coincidence and it does beg the question, “Is junk food addictive?” Maybe you really can’t eat just one of a wide variety of junk foods with high levels of fat, salt and sugar.
Take Oreos, for instance – everyone knows it’s just about impossible to eat one and not look for more. There’s new research out of Connecticut College that is showing that certain foods (and particularly Oreos in this study) cause our brains to signal us to eat more of them. Addictive drugs have this very same affect on the brain. Previous research in both rodents and humans have shown that the same area of the brain will light up on scans when drugs are used or high fat, high sugar foods are consumed.
This research was conducted by students who constructed a two-sided maze to test this theory on rats. On one side of the maze, the rats were fed Oreos. On the other side, they were given rice cakes. Then the rats were permitted to choose for themselves which side of the maze to independently explore.
The researchers recorded the amount of time the rats spent on each side. They then compared the times to a similar experiment where the rats were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other.
The lab rats conditioned with cookies spent just as much time on the “drug” side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine, the researchers say. It was also found that the Oreo-eating rats actually experienced more pleasure than the animals who had been injected with drugs.
If consumption of foods high in fat and sugar can lead to addictive behaviors and have the same effect on the brain as drugs that are known to be addictive, then those foods could be considered addictive. This explains why some people have difficulty regulating their food intake, especially when it comes to high fat and sugar options.
We need to keep in mind that rats aren’t humans and these results may or may not be replicated in a human study. Considering that part of the rat study involved the use of illegal drugs, it’s difficult to imagine this research being replicated for the human population. In addition, the research didn’t prove that the rats were addicted – it simply showed that the rats kept going back for more Oreos and found the experience pleasurable.
These things considered though, FoodFacts.com DOES think there’s definitely something these rats are teaching us. There may very well be a correlation between addiction and junk food. That’s why it’s so hard for so many to resist the temptation. And, whether it’s an Oreo or a different product that’s high in fat and sugar, maybe we really can’t eat just one … even with the best of intentions. Just one more reason that processed junk food belongs on all of our “avoid” lists!