The 3 Week Diet

Foods High in Fat and Sugar Are as Addictive as Cocaine, Studies Reveal

If you’ve ever craved a food, given into craving, and perhaps even binged on a food, you know that feeling of loss of control. Well, there are reasons for it, that go beyond with willpower or even emotional eating. Yes, studies are confirming that high fat foods cause the same effects on the brain as other addictive substances including cocaine and tobacco.

A growing body of medical research at leading universities and government laboratories suggests that processed foods and sugary drinks made by the likes of PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) aren’t simply unhealthy. They can hijack the brain in ways that resemble addictions to cocaine, nicotine and other drugs.

“The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

The idea that food may be addictive was barely on scientists’ radar a decade ago. Now the field is heating up. Lab studies have found sugary drinks and fatty foods can produce addictive behavior in animals. Brain scans of obese people and compulsive eaters, meanwhile, reveal disturbances in brain reward circuits similar to those experienced by drug abusers.

Twenty-eight scientific studies and papers on food addiction have been published this year, according to a National Library of Medicine database. As the evidence expands, the science of addiction could become a game changer for the $1 trillion food and beverage industries.

If fatty foods and snacks and drinks sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup are proven to be addictive, food companies may face the most drawn-out consumer safety battle since the anti-smoking movement took on the tobacco industry a generation ago.


“This could change the legal landscape,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and a proponent of anti-obesity regulation. “People knew for a long time cigarettes were killing people, but it was only later they learned about nicotine and the intentional manipulation of it.”

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The article goes on to note the implications of this are far-reaching for public health around the world as obesity rates soar. It’s an issue that goes beyond dieters developing the resilience to avoid eating foods known to pack on the pounds, yes, even when in high-pressure times and circumstances such as holidays, parties, family reunions and even going out to dinner with friends. Let’s face it, eating unhealthy foods is still encouraged, we say such things as “everything in moderation,” which as always struck me as quite odd as a rationalization, and somewhat akin to deliberately stepping into a poison ivy patch “in moderation” from time to time even if it meant getting a splendid view of the mountain. Well why not take an alternate route without the poison ivy?! It does not have to remain so. Generations ago, smoking was even endorsed by doctors as you can see in this rather astonishing advertisement. Yet times have changed.

David Kessler, M.D., former FDA commissioner wrote about the practices of food companies making foods laden with fat, sugar and salt appealing to the point of producing an uncontrollable urge to keep eating — conditioned hypereating, he called it in his book, The End of Overeating. He noted in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

[Food companies] know what drives demand, and they were able to design foods to be hot stimuli. The food industry says they only give consumers what they want. But what they want excessively activates the rewards circuits of the brain. They aren’t selling just any commodity. They’ve designed highly stimulating products, and consumers come back for more. Nothing sells as much as something that stimulates the rewards-circuitry of the brain. It’s all about selling product.

Scientific evidence and our own experiences in trying to control our appetites when eating these highly processed foods let us know the dangers. The critically acclaimed documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock made the point resoundingly, as noted in some highlights from the movie in the video below.

Aside from the occasional “cheat meal” for those who can do so — and I must say I am not one of those, as I have had to permanently remove the trigger foods from my diet — we may jeopardize our weight loss and weight management goals by allowing these high fat, high sugar, over-salted processed foods in the diet. Thankfully, as with other addictions, we can get over them as we transition to a healthy diet of whole, natural unprocessed foods.

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