Can highly processed foods be addictive? This is a question that researchers have been studying for years, as unhealthy diets are often fueled by foods containing processed carbohydrates and fats.
To find the answer, in a study conducted by the University of Michigan (UM) and Virginia Tech, criteria used in 1988 in the USA to prove that smoking is addictive were taken and applied to processed foods.
Based on the criteria set for tobacco in cigarettes, the results of the study suggest that highly processed foods may be just as addictive, say study lead author Ashley Gearhardt, assistant professor of psychology at UM, and Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, assistant professor at the Institute for Biomedical Research. Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech.
Potential addiction to foods like chips, cookies, ice cream and french fries could be one of the main factors contributing to high health care costs due to cheap, readily available and highly processed foods, the researchers said.
Same criteria for addiction
A study published in the current issue of the journal Addiction suggests that highly processed foods meet the same criteria used to define cigarettes as addictive:
- Cause compulsive eating when people are unable to stop or cut back (even with life-threatening conditions such as diabetes and heart disease).
- They can change how we feel and cause brain changes similar to the effects of nicotine in tobacco products.
- The pleasure center of the brain is particularly affected (chemical additives used by food manufacturers affect the pleasure center, causing feeling of satisfaction and familiarity.
- Cause strong urge and desire for food.
“It’s worth noting that there is no biomarker in the brain that tells us whether something is addictive or not,” Gearhardt said. “Determining that tobacco products are addictive comes down to these four criteria, which have withstood decades of scientific evaluation. Highly processed products meet each of them.”
The ability of highly processed foods to instantly deliver unnaturally high doses of processed carbohydrates and fats appears to be a key factor in their addictive potential, according to DiFeliceantonio. Highly processed foods contain complex substances that cannot be reduced to a single chemical agent acting through a specific central mechanism. The same can be said for industrial tobacco products, which contain thousands of chemicals, including nicotine, Gearhardt said.
There is no need to turn a blind eye to the health risks associated with highly processed foods.
When the US cigarette addiction criteria report was published over 30 years ago, tobacco products were the largest preventable cause of death. But many people and tobacco companies have resisted recognition of their addictive and harmful nature. “This has delayed the implementation of effective strategies to deal with this public health crisis that has cost millions of lives,” said Gearhardt, director of the Food and Addictions Laboratory at UM (University of Michigan). “When we realized that tobacco products are addictive, we realized that smoking is not just an adult choice, but something that people are addicted to and cannot quit even if they really want to. This also applies to highly processed products. And this is especially worrying because children are the main target of advertising these products“.
Poor diets dominated by highly processed foods are now a cause of preventable deaths, as is death from cigarettes. As with tobacco products, the food industry is designing highly processed products to be hard to resist, the researchers say.
The bodies of the dead decompose much more slowly.
Swiss scientists back in 2014 published shocking data: the bodies of people buried in the past three decades decompose much more slowly. Sometimes they look like they were put in a coffin a week ago. Researchers blame this on poor ecology and poor-quality food from fast food outlets.
German forensic experts were the first to sound the alarm. In August in Düsseldorf, at a scientific-practical conference, Dr. Werner Stolz from Berlin presented a sensational report. Over the past three years, during the exhumation of the bodies of people buried 20 or more years ago, he encountered 32 times that their corpses were almost not decomposed. The dead look “fresh”, as if they were buried in the ground a week and a half ago.
And recently this topic resurfaced in Switzerland, at a meeting of funeral business experts. Directors of large cemeteries in Paris, Milan, Hamburg, Cologne unanimously complained that they no longer had enough places for new burials. According to the sanitary standards adopted in EU, you can dig a fresh grave in place of the old one in 17 years (in Greece it is only 3 years). However, often the corpses simply do not have time to turn into dust before the deadline.
Swiss scientists took up the study of incorruptible bodies. After two months of painstaking research, they put forward a version of why the dead are in no hurry to decompose in the ground: “The soft tissues of the bodies of the dead now turn not into ordinary humus, but into corpse wax – a gray-white mass. It’s all about the preservatives.”