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What do Doritos and meth have in common?

New research explores how certain processed foods may lead to addictive eating, information that could help fight obesity.

Jonesing for Fritos?

Food manufacturers have been banking on the allure of processed foods for decades. New research from the University of Michigan reveals more about how processed foods may trigger addictive-like eating behavior.

Previous studies with rats and Oreos and cheesecake found that foods with tons of added fat or refined carbs, or highly processed foods, may be capable of triggering addictive-like behavior. This new study, published in the journal PLOS One and noted on, is the one of the first to look specifically at which foods may lead to “food addiction.” Instead of rats, the researchers worked with college students. The researchers found that people with symptoms of food addiction or with a higher body mass index reported greater problems with highly processed foods, suggesting some people may be particularly sensitive to the possible “rewarding” properties of these foods, according to Erica Schulte, a University of Michigan psychology doctoral student and the study’s lead author.

"If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children," Schulte said in a university release.

"This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response," Nicole Avena, assistant professor of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, and a co-author on the study, said in the release. (Brown rice and salmon, the study noted, were not examples of these types of foods.)

"This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of 'cutting back' on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use."

Future research should examine whether addictive foods are capable of triggering changes in brain circuitry and behavior like drugs of abuse, the researchers said.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013 suggested that higher sugar, higher glycemic foods can be addictive.


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