Is there any evidence that highly processed foods cause addiction? Since unhealthy diets are frequently sustained by foods loaded with refined carbohydrates and added fats, this is a question that has been debated by scientists for years.
A new study conducted by researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Virginia Tech applied the same criteria used in a 1988 report by the U.S. Surgeon General that found nicotine to be addictive to food, and found a solution. The results suggest that extremely processed foods may be addictive if measured against the same criteria used to assess the addictive potential of tobacco. In fact, the high public health expenses involved with a food environment characterized by inexpensive, readily available, and aggressively advertised highly processed foods may be at least partially attributable to the addictive properties of foods like chips, ice cream, and cookies.
The study, which appears in the latest issue of Addiction, provides evidence that processed foods are just as addictive as cigarettes. They cause addiction, making people unable to cut back on use despite the presence of potentially fatal conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They can alter our mood and trigger neurological changes on par with those brought on by nicotine-containing tobacco products. Moreover, a strong desire or craving for them is triggered by them.
The rapid delivery of abnormally larger concentrations of refined carbohydrates as well as fat seems to be a key factor in the addictive qualities of highly processed foods. The substances found in highly processed foods are too complicated to be reduced to only one chemical agent operating via a central mechanism. Industrial tobacco items, which incorporate nicotine among thousands of other chemicals, are in the same boat.
Today, poor diets comprised mainly of highly processed foods make a significant contribution to premature mortality at the same rate as cigarettes. Scientists concluded that, much like with tobacco products, the food industry creates highly processed foods to be extremely pleasurable and difficult to say no to.