It may be ice-cream, or chocolate or even cheese – those foods you cannot seem to stop eating no matter how hard you try. The concept of ‘food addiction’ has been described without clear definition for some time, with associations made between certain types of food being consumed and the physiological and behavioural effects of drug use such as increased impulsivity and emotional reactivity as well as specific patterns of brain activity.
Now, recent research completed by the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai and published online via the Public Library of Science has furthered knowledge in this area. It was proposed by researchers that since some highly processed foods including fast food, chocolate, ice cream, cakes and biscuits shared some similar characteristics than drugs do post consumption, they could also be linked to an addictive style of eating behaviour. Specifically it was thought that foods that contain a concentrated amount of physiological stimulants (sugars and /or fats) along with particularly quick absorption rates in the body (high glycaemic load) would result in these pronounced physiological, ‘addictive’ experiences.
Two studies then investigated which foods were rated as being most and least addictive by individuals. These highly and lowly rated foods were then used alongside the Yale Food Addiction Scale by study participants to describe their food related experiences using statements such as ‘eat to the point where I feel physically ill’. This allowed researchers to identify links between particular types of food and the associated addictive food behaviours. Foods were then able to be rated from most to least problematic when it came to their addictive tendencies.
As expected, not only were the most highly processed foods rated most highly for their additive like properties, the more nutrient dense, low calorie options such as salad vegetables and wholegrains resulted in the least addictive experiences. Such findings support the ongoing recommendation for plain foods with minimal processing to help control feeding behaviour long term. So, if you regularly feel out of control when you eat some things, here are some of the most and least addictive types of food out there.
Most Addictive Types of Food
Pizza - Rich in processed carbs, fat and salt, the mix of flavour, processed starches used to make the base and fatty ingredients give the brain a stimulation overload. If you love pizza, help to control your intake by choosing thin, baked bases with minimal toppings.
Chocolate - We are not talking about 85% cocoa chocolate here, rather the sickly sweet milk variety many of us cannot stop eating once we open a block. The addition of extra confectionery will make it worse. If chocolate is your vice, stick to small serving sizes and the darker the better
Potato Chips - Another carb and fat overload packed with appealing flavours which may explain why an entire bag disappears in no time. Again purchase smaller packets if you must indulge and plain is much better than flavoured options.
Cookies - Less popular in Australia, the mix of white flour, sugar and fat gives the brain a stimulation overload. Make your own with more natural ingredients if you enjoy a cookie or biscuit every now and again.
Ice-cream - With so many flavours to choose from, along with confectionery, syrups, nuts and chocolate often added, is it any wonder we cannot stop at a single scoop. Seek out lower calorie sorbets or gelato in a single scoop when the lure of ice cream calls.
Least Addictive Types of Food
Cucumber - Mostly water, adding a cucumber a day to your diet will help reduce bloating and boost up your fibre and potassium intake for very few calories.
Carrots - Another nutrient rich salad vegetable that will boost your beta carotene and fibre intake with minimal calories
Beans - Legumes are a protein and nutrient rich option that can benefit all of us, not just the vegetarians – add to salads, mince dishes and soups to boost your nutrition
Apples - Need a sweet hit – look no further than thehumble apple which can serve as a perfect sugar hit mid-afternoon especially if enjoyed with a little cheese or nut spread.
Brown rice - While relatively high in carbs, for active peeps, a little carb with your lunch or dinner may even help to prevent sugar cravings later in the evening.