It’s time for a rethink about processed foods. Because experts warn that certain types of processed foods have truly addictive properties.
A new study involving researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed how consumption of ultra-processed foods is linked to food addiction, which processed foods have the greatest addictive potential and why this is the case. The results can be read in the English-language specialist journal “BMJ”.
Addicted to certain foods?
Being addicted to certain foods is not an excuse for gaining weight. “There is convergent and consistent support for the validity and clinical relevance of food addiction,” emphasizes study author Professor Ashley Gearhardt in a press release.
Therefore, it must be recognized that certain types of processed foods do indeed have addictive properties. According to the expert, this could contribute to improving global health.
Natural foods safe
First of all, it should be noted that not all foods are addictive. “Most foods we consider natural or minimally processed provide energy in the form of carbohydrates or fat – but not both,” adds study author Alexandra DiFeliceantonio.
Typical examples of such natural and non-addictive foods are apples and salmon. For example, the apple has a carbohydrate-to-fat ratio of about one to zero, whereas salmon has a ratio of zero to one, the team explains.
Combination of carbohydrates and fat is addictive
However, if you compare a chocolate bar with these natural foods, you will notice that it contains carbohydrates and fat in a ratio of one to one. It is precisely such a ratio that appears to significantly increase the addictive potential of a food.
Unfortunately, many processed foods are higher in both fat and carbohydrates, and this combination has a different effect on the brain than natural foods that contain only carbohydrates or fat, explains DiFeliceantonio.
Food additives, which are typically used in industrial processing, could also play an important role in the addictive potential of processed foods. This needs to be examined more closely in the future.
Food-related substance use disorder
According to the researchers, the behaviors associated with extremely processed foods, which also contain a high proportion of refined carbohydrates and added fats, certainly meet the criteria for a diagnosis of substance use disorder in some people.
Examples of such behaviors include less control over food intake, strong cravings, withdrawal symptoms and continued consumption despite consequences such as obesity, binge eating, poorer physical and mental health and lower quality of life, the experts explain.
Addicted to ultra-processed foods
In an analysis of 281 studies, the team found that an estimated 14 percent of adults and twelve percent of children suffer from an addiction to ultra-processed foods.
It is particularly worrying that in some countries ultra-processed foods represent an important source of calories in the daily diet.
This not only affects low-income countries, but also high-income countries, where access to minimally processed foods is limited, which contributes to so-called food insecurity.
If such food insecurity exists, those affected are more dependent on ultra-processed foods and are therefore more likely to suffer from food addiction, the team reports.
Changes in diet are required
Classifying certain foods as addictive could lead to far-reaching changes in social justice, clinical care and public policy, the researchers emphasize.
The results make it clear how important it is to ensure that you consume as few highly processed foods as possible in your diet in order to avoid possible food addiction and its worrying consequences for your health. (as)