HEADLINES Published February23, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Why You Want Those Fries: Highly Processed Food May Be Addictive

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HIghly processed foods may trigger addictive-like eating behaviors
(Photo : Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

Highly processed foods, like French fries and pizza, may be addictive. If you are craving some fries and a pizza right not, you probably knew that already, but two studies done at the University of Michigan appear to support the idea that certain foods act like addictive drugs.

Previous studies in animals have found that highly processed foods--foods that have added fat or refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar--may be able to trigger addictive-like eating behavior. Studies in people have found that some people meet the criteria for substance dependence where the substance is food.

To see if highly processed foods share some properties with drugs of abuse, researchers at Michigan ran one study where 120 college students were asked to which of 35 different foods, some highly processed and some not, were associated with addictive-like eating behaviors. In a second study, they asked 398 people to complete an online questionnaire about their own eating and which of the 35 foods triggered any addictive-like behaviors.

They found that people who had symptoms of food addiction or who had higher body mass indexes said they had greater problems with highly processed foods. Unprocessed foods, those that had no added fat or refined carbohydrates-brown rice and salmon, to give two examples-were not associated with addictive-like eating behavior. This suggests that some people may be more sensitive to the rewarding nature of foods that trigger an addictive response.

"The current study provides preliminary evidence that not all foods are equally implicated in addictive-like eating behavior, and highly processed foods, which may share characteristics with drugs of abuse (e.g. high dose, rapid rate of absorption) appear to be particularly associated with "food addiction," the study authors concluded.

The results of both studies were published in one article in PLOS One, which can be read online at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0117959.

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