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Sugars & Sweets! Yummy… But Addicting?

Addicted to sweets? Most of us probably don’t hesitate to say a resounding, ‘YES!’ You know, sometimes it can just be so hard to say no to desserts… but are they truly addicting?

The Addictive Properties of Sweet Foods

A new study looks at the effects sweet foods have on the human brain, and researchers have come up with some surprising conclusions. The study, performed by the Oregon Research Institute, did MRI scans on teenagers to see the effects milkshakes had on their brains. They found that teens who ate the most ice cream during the study needed to eat more ice cream to experience the same amount of pleasure from it. Comparing this to a drug addict who receives less pleasure from a drug the more they use it, researchers have concluded that ice cream indeed has “addictive properties.”

Past studies have made similar conclusions. “This study is consistent with other research that shows there is definitely something about the brains of people who report being addicted to foods,” Janis Jibrin, a registered dietician says. “It seems to be twofold — if you eat these sugary, high-fat foods regularly, you build up a kind of tolerance and you need more and more to get the same hit,” Jibrin says. “Some people might also have a genetic predisposition to food addition, and then we live in an environment where it’s so easy to access these types of food.” (1)

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It seems our brains are weak when it comes to their pleasure centers. We always want more of what makes us feel good, even to the point of wanting nothing else. This is what happens in a drug addict’s brain.

Eating Addiction vs. Addictive Properties

Food addiction is a very real disorder, and many people with this kind of process addiction need professional help to gain control over their eating. For the rest of us who just like to enjoy some dessert when we can, this behavior cannot be blamed on an addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines an addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry […] characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.” (2)

One of the researchers from the study is being careful about making conclusions that overgeneralize people’s behavior. Says Kyle S. Burger, “I personally do not say food is addictive. I say energy-dense food, high sugar food, can elicit neural responses during consumption that parallel those seen in drug addiction. So it has addictive-like properties.” (2)


(1) Is Ice Cream Addictive? The Truth About “Addictive” Foods

Is Ice Cream as Addictive as Drugs?

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