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Highly processed foods can be addictive, according to a recent study. This is an issue that researchers have deliberated over for years because unhealthy foods are usually fuelled by foods that have added fats and refined carbohydrates. 

In order to discover a solution, a recent analysis from the Universities of Michigan and Virginia Tech applied to food the standards employed in the 1988 US Surgeon General’s report that determined the addictive nature of tobacco.

Are highly processed foods as addictive as tobacco 

Lead study author Ashley Gearhard, U-M associate psychology professor and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Alexandria DiFeliceantonio, said that the findings are consistent with the criteria for tobacco addictiveness, implying highly processed foods are addictive. 

According to the researchers, the addictive nature o foods like cookies, potato chips, French fries, and ice cream could be a major contributor to high public health costs related to a food industry dominated by highly marketed, cheap, and accessible highly processed foods. 

The study findings published in the Addition journal offer insight that highly processed foods can be addictive based on the criteria used to categorize cigarettes as addictive. For instance, researchers indicated that the foods could trigger compulsive behaviors where it is hard to cut down or quit even when someone has a life-threatening condition like heart disease or diabetes. 

Additionally, the foods are highly enforced and can trigger intense cravings and urges. Findings indicate that highly processed foods change how someone feels and can cause brain changes, as nicotine does. 

Highly processed foods meet all four criteria of addictiveness 

Gearhardt stated what is surprising is that we don’t have a biomarker in our brain that will tell us if something is addictive. He said that in the past categorizing tobacco as addictive was based on the four criteria and highly processed foods tick every box of the criteria. 

Highly processed foods are of poor nutrition and can cause as many avoidable deaths as smoking. Yet, according to the study, the food business creates these foods to be profoundly satisfying and difficult to avoid.