Labeling foods such as chips, chocolate and ice cream ‘addictive’ could help curb obesity rates, a major review found.
Likening it to tobacco and alcohol, researchers said the way some people consume foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and fat ‘meet the criteria for diagnosis of substance use disorder’.
They estimate one in seven adults and one in eight children are hooked on ultra-processed foods which can lead to intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms and less control over how much they eat.
This is despite knowing the damaging consequences such as obesity, poorer physical and mental health and lower quality of life.
Scientists have previously told DailyMail.com that junk food should be put in the same category as drugs because of how addictive and harmful they can be.
The warning would be similar to that on vape products (shown) which warn about the addictiveness of nicotine
In the new study, international researchers analyzed 281 studies from 36 different countries and found ultra-processed food addiction is experienced by about 14 per cent of adults and 12 per cent of children.
Whereas natural foods – such as fruit, vegetables, mean and fish – tend to provide energy in the form of carbohydrates or fat, foods which go through industrial processing tend to contain both.
Giving the example of a portion of salmon, an apple and a chocolate bar, the salmon has a carbohydrate to fat ratio of roughly 0-to-1 and the apple 1-to-0.
However, a chocolate bar has a carbohydrate to fat ratio of 1-to-1, which appears to increase a food’s addictive potential, they said.
Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia, said: ‘Most foods that we think of as natural, or minimally processed, provide energy in the form of carbohydrate or fat – but not both.
‘Many ultra-processed foods have higher levels of both. That combination has a different effect on the brain.’
Studies have suggested refined carbohydrates or fats evoke similar levels of extracellular dopamine in the brain striatum to those seen with addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol.
The speed at which these foods deliver carbohydrates and fats to the gut could also play a role in their addictive potential.
And while food additives are not thought to be addictive on their own, they may contribute to the overall addictiveness of ultra-processed foods, the researchers suggest and ‘become powerful reinforcers of the effects of calories in the gut’.
Based on these behavioral and biological parallels, foods that deliver high levels of refined carbohydrates or added fats are strong candidates for an addictive substance, according to the study published in the BMJ.
They conclude: ‘Ultra-processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and added fats are highly rewarding, appealing, and consumed compulsively and may be addictive.’
‘While further careful research is needed to determine the exact mechanism by which these foods trigger addictive responses, UPFs high in refined carbohydrates and fats are clearly consumed in addictive patterns and are leading to deleterious health outcomes.’
Ultra-processed foods such as breakfast cereals, cakes and yoghurts make up more than half of the average British diet.
Experts believe recognising foods high in carbohydrates and fats as addictive could improve health through changes to social, clinical and political policies.
Dr Chris van Tulleken, whose book Ultra-Processed People was recently serialized in the Daily Mail, is calling for a warning label system in the UK.
Speaking at Randox’s Cost of Poor Nutrition conference last month, said marketing tools developed by the tobacco industry were now used by food giants.
He said: ‘We have so much evidence that ultra-processed food is addictive, they are engineered to be addictive. We know with ultra-processed food, the calorific reward is very quick compared to real foods.
‘And once the sugar is in the gut, you get this huge rush and that’s what you get addicted to.’
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk
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