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What Are the Most Addictive Foods?

Colloquially, we speak about food being addictive, but people are being hyperbolic. While we know that caffeine in coffee and chocolate is addictive, would you have suspected pizza can also be addicting? New scientific research suggests there may be some truth to this. Researchers at the University of Michigan have delved into this topic and come up with an authoritative list of the most addictive food out there.

The Addictive Foods Study


A team lead by Erica Schulte and doctors, Ashley Gearhardt, and Nicole Avena, looked into this matter by conducting a two-part study. They asked 504 participants what foods out of a list of 35 items, caused the most problems psychologically. The first part of the study asked 120 students about their eating habits, using the Yale Food Addiction Scale. This in-depth questionnaire regarding food habits helped the researchers identify the problematic foods. 

After that they asked an additional 398 participants from the general population, similar questions, via paid surveys. The researchers then came up with a 7 point scale and aggregated the outcome, resulting in a list of the most and least addictive foods. 

What this means

Both studies came to similarly fascinating conclusions. The research team found that the top scoring foods were foods such as pizza, chocolate, and french fries. While these foods aren’t much of a surprise, the reasons are shocking and unexpected. These foods tended to lead to physical discomfort, mental distress and addictive like behavior.  This distinctive trend pointed to processed foods, high in added sugars, fats and composed of refined carbohydrates.  

The high scoring foods on the list usually lead to high glycemic levels, meaning people’s blood sugar levels are likely to rise as a result of eating such foods. Other research has suggested that behaviors and brain wiring are affected by this sort of food consumption, but these studies were conducted on animals.  There is still much work needed to be done before it can be proven in human behavior. The researchers hope their study is the first step towards developing a diagnosis of addictive foods, to be used in the medical community. 

At present the DSM-5, the psychological diagnostic guidebook (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) only lists binge eating as a disorder. The hope is that the literature on addictive food continues to grow, and that food addiction can have preventative methods, like any other addiction, such as smoking. 

While I’m not suggesting you ditch all your favorite snack foods, it is good to be aware of what foods could be problematic. Having this list not only lets us know what foods to be careful with, but it also helps us be aware of why people around us might be acting out.

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