What are the most “addictive” foods?
Commonly people describe sugar as ‘addictive’ (a controversial term in itself as it likens food to drugs) however less emphasis is placed on looking at other factors relating to food.
One study asked people to rate 35 foods on the basis of how likely they were to experience problems with these foods. An example of one question is “Over time, I have found that I need to eat more and more of certain foods to get the feeling I want, such as reduced negative emotions or increased pleasure”
This is interesting research because it is conducted in humans (not animals) and compares a wide variety of foods rather than two head to head (like sugar with water, as in some animal research).
What were the main findings?
The strongest association with addictive-like eating came from foods which were highly processed (defined in this study as having added in refined carbohydrates or fats). I have highlighted these to illustrate.
Most of these foods were high in refined carbohydrates as well as additional fats, pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies and ice cream.
If we look at unprocessed foods, those that were high in fat (and normally salt) actually rated higher than unprocessed foods which were high in sugar alone.
Examples of this include cheese, bacon, steak, nuts and eggs.
Lastly, the unprocessed foods that were low in fat tended to rank at the bottom.So in terms of addictive-like foods, highly processed foods that have a combination of highly refined carbohydrates with additional fats appear to be the worst offenders rather than one specific macronutrient.
Reference: Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load.