14 April 2017

Drugs in the kitchen

Fatal pizza

Natalia Reznik, "Trinity Variant"

Have you ever gorged on any particular dish? Do you always want it, are you ready to spend a lot of time and effort to get this product, and its consumption captures you so much that your professional and social activities suffer from it? Do you know that this product is harmful, but you still eat it, and you need to eat more and more to achieve the desired effect? Do you have withdrawal symptoms if you are unable to eat your favorite treat?


If you answered yes to at least three questions, you have a food addiction. It has a lot in common with other addictions, including the loss of control over consumption, the inability to stop despite the desire to do so, and the need to constantly increase the dose. When a person eats foods on which he is dependent, the same brain regions are activated in him as in other addictive disorders (striatum and medial orbitofrontal cortex).

The problem of food addiction has been investigated for several years by Dr. Ashley Gerhardt (Ashley Gearhardt). In 2009, she and colleagues from Yale University developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale, which allows assessing the degree of a person's addiction to certain foods, and now continues to work at the University of Michigan [1].

Many drugs are obtained from natural raw materials, but it is not it that causes dependence, but the product of its processing: not grapes, but wine; not poppy, but opium. As a result of such processing, the concentration of the addictive substance increases significantly, it is rapidly absorbed, its content in the blood increases sharply and affects the nervous system.

The researchers suggested that not all foods cause food addiction, but only those that have undergone serious technological processing: not culinary, but technological. The resulting provisions have several distinctive features. First of all, it consists of refined carbohydrates: fine flour and refined sugars, and in high concentration. Refined sugar is rapidly absorbed and causes a jump in the concentration of glucose in the blood. Technological processing removes substances that slow down the absorption of sugar – water, proteins and fiber, and increases the glycemic load of the product (GN). The higher it is, the more such food increases the level of glucose and insulin in the blood.

The second feature of processed foods is added fats. Their concentration is also high, and most importantly, they are adjacent to carbohydrates. Natural foods are either fatty (nuts) or sweet (bananas), and processed foods contain both components, and in a concentration so high that it can be addictive. Both added fats and refined sugars are quickly absorbed, sugar acts on the opioid system, suppressing anxiety and causing pleasure, and fat – on dopamine, which makes food tastier. Thus, refined sugars and added fats play the role of addictive substances. A sweet banana, devoid of fat and containing fiber, will not cause addiction, although many people love bananas very much, and a fatty sweet chocolate can cause.

All these arguments were confirmed by numerous experiments on rats. Much less is known about food addiction in humans, but researchers have the right to expect that it, like in animals, is caused by processed foods. It remains to find out which ones. To do this, Ashley Gerhardt and her colleagues compiled a kind of rating of the "problem" of 35 common products with varying degrees of processing and the value of GN.

The study consisted of two stages. The first one was attended by 120 students of different nationalities, who first of all answered the questions of the Yale food Addiction scale (addiction was found in 6.7% of the subjects, that is, in eight people). Then the students were shown pictures of a couple of products (cookies or apple, cheeseburger or water) and asked to answer which of these products is more likely to cause problems discussed in the questionnaire, such as this: "Over time, I found that I needed to eat more and more certain foods in order to achieve the desired result, for example, to reduce negative emotions or have fun." At the end of the test, each product was compared with all other products from the list.

As a result, the researchers received a list that showed how often a particular dish can cause addiction. Processed foods with added fat and refined carbohydrates were in the top ten: chocolate, ice cream, French fries, pizza, cookies, chips, cake, buttered popcorn, cheeseburger and muffins. In the last five brown rice, water, cucumbers, broccoli and beans without sauce.

Maybe someone is particularly attracted to salty? But no, the sodium content in the products did not affect their rating.

Scientists have suggested that it is the fat content and glycemic load that determine the addictiveness of the product. This hypothesis was confirmed by the second stage of research conducted with a more diverse sample. 384 people from 18 to 64 years old took part in it, who also answered the questions of the Yale scale (food addiction was found in 10.2% of the subjects). Then each participant evaluated each of the 35 products on a seven–point scale (1 point – does not cause the slightest problems, 7 points - causes extreme problems). As a result, the researchers not only received a rating of problematic products, but also found out which features of the subjects (gender, age, body mass index, the presence of food addiction) affect their preferences.

The second list, like the first, is headed by fatty foods with high GN. In the top ten are pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cheeseburger, sweet soda (the only low-fat product), cake, cheese. Popcorn moved to 14th place, muffins - to 18th. In the last five brown rice, apples, beans, carrots and cucumbers.

The researchers concluded that people are more likely to get used to products with high GN. This indicator affects food dependence more strongly than the content of sugar or refined carbohydrates by itself, since it determines not only the amount of carbohydrates, but also the rate of their absorption. A substance becomes narcotic when a high dose of the agent and its rapid absorption increase the addictive potential. Foods with high GN stimulate brain centers associated with reinforcement, such as the striatum, which causes addiction to the product and cravings for it. Fat content also contributes to the development of food addiction. The more of it, the higher the probability that the product will cause addiction. Foods low in carbohydrates (nuts and eggs) or fat (bananas) occupy places in the second ten of this rating.

Eating disorders and food addiction are more common in people with a high body mass index. Another risk factor is the propensity to food addiction on the Yale scale. Such individuals sometimes have an unhealthy addiction to foods with a low fat content and an average GN, which is safe for most people. Men are more likely than women to become addicted to unprocessed foods: bacon, cheese, steaks and nuts.

That's the story. The journalists extracted one word from it – cheese! Still: the average person eats 16 kg a year! Cheese is in pizza, and in cheeseburgers, and even enters the second list as the tenth number. And men can't do that without him at all. There is something mystical about this product. It is no coincidence that Ben Gunn, who was landed on a desert island by Flint and dreamed of normal human food for three years, missed cheese most of all. The sensation of cheese addiction was spread by many media outlets, for example [2]. For clarification, the journalists turned to the first author of the article, graduate student Erica Schulte.

Erica and other consultants said that cheese contains milk protein beta-casein, and in concentrated form. During digestion, it is broken down to form short peptides of casomorphins. Casomorphins are well absorbed into the blood and interact with opioid receptors. How not to become addicted here!

Now the expression "scientists are shocked" is popular. Apparently, Ashley Gerhardt, reading all these notes, experienced something similar. To the correspondent of Scince News, who contacted her for comments, she said that she was horrified.[3]

Yes, pizza ranks first in the ratings of products that can cause food addiction. However, the main addictive agents of pizza are not cheese, but fine flour, fat and high glycemic load. Cheese can really give great pleasure to lovers, it stimulates the reward system in the brain, but there is no reason to compare it with cocaine. They remembered about cheese because of casomorphins; however, their effect was studied on rats by injecting the drug into the body cavity of animals or directly into the brain. Under such conditions, casomorphins do bind to opioid receptors, however, when consumed with food, they do not cause addiction in rats. So there is no reason to cheat cheese, eat it calmly. Ashley Gerhardt continues to research food addiction, improves the Yale scale. Recently, she challenged an alternative theory according to which people get used not to individual foods, but to the process of eating itself, so that their dependence is not food, but behavioral [4]. Of course, behavioral features play a role in the development of food addiction. However, behavioral deviations are characteristic of all people who are dependent on any substances. And since addiction does not develop to every product, it is still not behavioral, namely food.

Research by Ashley Gerhardt and her colleagues allows people to take a more meaningful approach to their diet. The state, according to the researcher, should also realize the problem of food addiction and take appropriate measures. Perhaps the time is not far away when the inscription will appear on the pizza boxes: "Caution! Addictive"!


1. Schulte E. M., Avena N. M., Gearhardt A. N. Which foods may be addictive? The roles of processing, fat content, and glycemic load // 2015. 10 (2): e0117959.

2. techtimes.com/articles/98684/20151023/cheese-is-addictive-as-drug-dairy-product-triggers-brain-region-linked-to-addiction.htm

3. sciencenews.org/blog/scicurious/no-cheese-not-just-crack

4. Schulte E. M., Potenza M. N., Gearhardt A. N. A commentary on the «eating addict. ion» versus «food addiction» perspectives on addictive-like food consumption // Appetite. 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.10.033.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru  14.04.2017

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