A Moment of Science

Can Food Be Addictive?

"Today, high calorie foods are not only abundant; they contain much higher amounts of sugar and fat than what's found in natural food sources."

crave sign

Photo: thebittenword.com (Flickr)

Some people have cravings they cannot control.

Can food be addictive? Some scientists think so.

Rewarding Food

Ingredients such as sugar and fat are rewarding to eat, actually acting on the pleasure centers of the brain. Scientists think this occurs because sugars and fats were rare in the diets of our human ancestors.

Enjoying sweet and fatty foods was a survival advantage because people who ate high calorie foods where able to add on extra pounds and survive the lean times.

Modern Foods Are Abundant

Today, high calorie foods are not only abundant; they contain much higher amounts of sugar and fat than what’s found in natural food sources.

A person can buy a ten-ounce milk shake with triple the amount of sugar as an apple and the same fat content as a chicken leg.

To see how modern foods like milk shakes act on the brain, scientists tested forty-eight women, both lean and obese. To measure food addiction, they gave them a written test developed to identify drug addiction.

They then used an MRI brain imaging procedure to see how each person’s brain responded when they were shown and then allowed to drink a chocolate milk shake compared to a tasteless solution.

Addiction

Scientists found that people who scored higher on the food addiction test had brain activity very similar to drug addicts when they were given the milk shake. There was greater activity in the brain region where cravings originate, and less activity in the area that controls urges. It didn’t matter if the person was lean or obese.

All people have food cravings which are not addictions, and scientists aren’t sure if people are born susceptible to food addiction or if it develops through their behavior. But it appears chocolate milk shakes are the cocaine of food world.

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