Can foods be addictive?

Highly processed foods have artificially increased levels of refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour) and fat. These may trigger addiction-like responses because they produce unnaturally high levels of reward in the brain. Lots of refined carbs can also increase the rate at which the addictive food components are absorbed into the bloodstream, creating a blood sugar spike. Research has shown a link between blood sugar levels and activation of the parts of the brain involved with addiction.

Not everyone who likes pizza or chips will necessarily eat them uncontrollably. And just because you find yourself craving junk food or even losing control over your consumption of it may not mean you’re addicted to it. The Yale Food Addiction Scale — a way to assess addiction-like eating behaviors — found that food addiction often occurs in the context of other issues, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and attentiondeficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A 2015 study published in PLoS One ranked foods on their potential to be addictive, with a score of 1 being not at all addictive, and 7 being extremely addictive. As expected, ultraprocessed foods ranked high on the scale. Is it any surprise addictive foods are common in the American diet?

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