A new University of Michigan study confirms what has long been suspected: highly processed foods like chocolate, pizza and French fries are among the most addictive. Using a sample of 504 students, the study found that pizza came out on top. This is one of the first studies to examine specifically which foods may be implicated in "food addiction. So, while this might not make you feel better when you covered in crust crumbs embarking on a pizza comedown, at least you know the science behind your addiction.
Processed foods tend to contain a high dose of fats and carbohydrates while also being more quickly absorbed by the body. Much like the effect of addictive drugs on our neural circuitry, these two factors cause the reward-related areas of our brain to go into hyperdrive. According to the study, the highly processed foods loaded with sugars and fats can cause changes in the dopamine system, involved in reward and pleasure, akin to drug abuse.
Addictive substances are rarely in their natural state, but have been altered or processed in a manner that increases their abuse potential. For example, grapes are processed into wine and poppies are refined into opium. A similar process may be occurring within our food supply.
The other reason why pizza seems to be so addictive might be even simpler: cheese. The crave-inducing properties of cheese come from an ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products. When we digest this protein, it releases casomorphins which stimulate opioid receptors, the receptors involved in pain control, reward and addiction.
On such days, teens consume an average of 230 extra calories, and younger children consume an average of 84 extra calories, compared with the days on which kids don't eat pizza. This is a first step towards identifying specific foods and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response. This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of 'cutting back' on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use.
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