Are Junk Foods Addictive?
You may think it’s easy to give up your favorite junk foods, but surprising new research suggests they might have a stronger hold on you than you suspect. Trying to cut back on highly processed foods can trigger the same physical and psychological symptoms that occur when giving up smoking, everything from cravings, anxiety, and mood swings to headaches and poor sleep. Researchers from the University of Michigan found that these withdrawal symptoms were most intense between days two and five after going cold turkey on chocolate, fries and other junk foods, about the same span of misery that occurs with drug withdrawal. Earlier studies in animals and humans have shown similarities between addictive-like consumption of highly processed foods and substance abuse disorders, but this study was the first to find that giving up these foods can potentially lead to withdrawal symptoms. The researchers asked 200 people who had succeeded in quitting junk foods to respond to a questionnaire about any withdrawal symptoms they experienced. The study didn’t measure the intensity of the symptoms, and depended on the participants’ own recall of events, so the strength of its conclusions will need to be evaluated in future investigations.
My take? These new findings are another indication of how unhealthy junk foods can be. In addition to having a significant influence on weight gain, they also are linked to depression. A British study involving nearly 3,500 middle aged men and women found that after five years, participants whose diets were high in processed meat, chocolates, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals and high-fat dairy products were 58 percent more likely to be depressed than those whose diets were composed mainly of fruit, vegetables and fish. In addition, in 2010 Spanish researchers followed the diets and mental health attributes of more than 12,000 men and women for six years. They reported that while none of the participants had been diagnosed with depression at the outset, 657 were found to be depressed by the study’s end. The researchers reported that study subjects with an elevated consumption of trans-fats (found in commercially produced baked goods and fast foods) had up to a 48 percent increase in the risk of depression compared to participants who didn’t eat these foods.
Erica M. Schulte et al, “Development of the Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale.” Appetite, December 2018, doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.09.013
Also in this week’s bulletin: