It’s confirmed: processed food are highly addictive

February 24, 2015

Craving that hamburger and Coke? Well, study has confirmed that highly processed food are indeed addictive.

Highly processed food are those that have been touched up with extra fat, refined carbohydrates from white flour and added sugar, among other things.

The first of the two experiments involved 120 university students aged 18 to 23 who completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), a 25-point questionnaire developed in 2009 by researchers at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Next, they had to confront the foods that were among the hardest for them to stop eating after the first bite.

Researchers presented them with two photos at a time, the photos depicting two of 35 different foods varying greatly in nutritional composition.

Participants were asked to select the more problematic of the two in terms of how addictive they found it.

Of the 35 food items, 18 of them qualify as “highly processed,” such as cake, chocolate, pizza and chips, whereas the remaining 17 were unprocessed items such as bananas, carrots and nuts.

Overall the food items each could be categorized as high in fat and refined carbohydrates; low in both; or high in one but not the other.

The researchers processed the data, scoring each food based on feedback about YFAS symptoms, ranging from 0 to 6, and chocolate topped the list as the most addictive of the 35 food items.

It was followed by ice cream, French fries, pizza, cookies, chips and cake, in that order.

The 15 most addictive of the 35 food items were all processed, and the 16th item on the list was cheese, the first unprocessed item.

Least addictive of the food items were beans without sauce, followed by broccoli, plain cucumber, water, brown rice, carrots, bananas and salmon in that order.

Researchers conducted a second experiment using data from 384 participants aged 18 to 64.

Rather than choosing between two foods, participants were asked to come up with the foods that were most addictive to them and rate them accordingly.

This time, pizza topped chocolate and cucumber was the least addictive of the same 35 items; cheese finished 10th.

The study, published in the online journal PLOS One, is likely to inspire more dialogue among nutrition and food science experts, government watch dogs, the food industry and individuals concerned about increasingly conflicting messages.

“If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children,” says author Erica Schulte, a UM psychology doctoral student.


Category: Features, Health alert

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