Is Food Addictive?

Fatty and sugary foods train your brain to hate healthier options: Yale study

People crave fatty and sugary foods when they consume them daily — and the pattern can be hard to break, researchers at Yale University and the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany have determined in new research.

The study, published online Wednesday in the journal Cell Metabolism, found eating a snack high in fat and sugar every day alters the reward circuits in human brains to create lasting preferences.

Participants were divided into two groups and told to continue their normal eating habits, except for one major difference.

Researchers gave one group yogurt high in fat and sugar twice daily for eight weeks, while the other group received a low fat lowl-fat, low-sugar version.

At the end of the eight weeks, participants were offered puddings with varying fat contents and apple juice containing differing sugar levels and told to rate them for fattiness, creaminess, oiliness, sweetness, desire and satisfaction.

Scientists found the group that was used to eating the yogurt higher in sugar and fat didn’t enjoy the healthier options as much as they had before the study.

The participants also underwent MRI scans to track brain activity while drinking milkshakes, which showed increased activity for the high-sugar, high-fat group, but not for the other group.

“Let’s say a new bakery opens up next to your work and you start stopping in and having a scone every morning. That alone can rewire your basic fundamental dopamine learning circuits,” Dana Small, the study’s senior author and director of Yale University School of Medicine’s Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center, told NBC News.


The authors likened the findings to the effects of addictive drugs, saying exposure to foods high in sugar and fat indicates that habitual factors contribute to obesity — not just genetic and environmental influences, as previously thought.The study found those eating food higher in fat and sugar continued to crave it.

In discussing food addiction, it’s the link between the gut and the brain. “When highly processed food is ingested, the body is flooded with heavy loads of salt, sugar and fat, as expressed in his book “Salt, Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss. Once ingested, they race along the same pathways, using the same neurological circuits to reach the brain’s pleasure zones…responsible for enjoyable feelings for what it thinks is the right thing for the body.”

Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat. How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Random House Trade Paperback Edition, 2014

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