Tag Archives: food addiction

Science finds the most and least addictive foods

Scientists from the University of Michigan have found which are the most and least addictive foods in the world. They gathered data from over 500 participants and found that the most addictive foods are (no surprise) pizza, ice cream and chocolate, while the least addictive ones are cucumbers, carrots, beans and rice.

Pizza was the most addictive food, according to questionnaires answered by 400 people.


It’s been debated for years whether or not food addiction actually exists; naturally, we are all addicted to food in the sense that we have to eat in order to survive. But can you actually be addicted to certain foods, like hamburgers? There is still no general consensus on this, but biologists seem to dismiss this idea, while many psychologists claim that food addiction is a real, serious problem – there are documented cases with people going through withdrawal-like symptoms when living without certain foods. With this in mind, a researcher from the University of Michigan and one from the New York Obesity Research Center, the Department of Medicine set out to find what are the most addictive foods.

For this, they asked participants to answer questions based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale. The scale was designed in 2009 by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and asks people to answer 25 questions on how much they like a certain food. The scale asks participants to count the number of times they’ve agreed with sentences like, “I eat to the point where I feel physically ill” or “I spend a lot of time feeling sluggish or fatigued from overeating,” to help them identify the biggest offenders. Scientists emphasized that “foods” doesn’t mean only unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables, but can also apply to processed foods.

However, when the same study was conducted on undergrads, chocolate turned out to be the most addictive food.

Study 1 – the undergraduates

They conducted two separate studies to see what foods are considered problematic – how much is a certain food overeaten or eaten up to the point where it causes physical discomfort. The first study was conducted on 120 undergraduates. who were recruited from flyers on campus or through the University of Michigan Introductory Psychology Subject Pool. Students received either financial compensation or study credit for their time.

No surprises there, chocolate took the top spot, with over 1 in 4 people considering chocolate problematic. Ice cream, french fries and pizza followed, again, rather expectedly. But there were also some surprises: breakfast cereals were more problematic than soda or fried chicken, while water was considered to be more problematic than cucumbers or beans… I guess no one really loves beans.


“As hypothesized, highly processed foods (with added fat and/or refined carbohydrates) appeared to be most associated with behavioral indicators of addictive-like eating,” the study writes.

Study 2

Ice is always one of the favorites.

The team also conducted a second study, on almost 400 participants.

“A total of 398 participants were recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) worker pool to complete a study about eating behaviors and were compensatedfor their time”.


So this is the chart of what can be considered the most addictive foods. Interestingly enough, results were slightly different. Pizza took the top spot and chocolate had to settle for second. Chips, cookies and ice cream come closely after. Breakfast cereal dropped significantly, and the least popular food is… the cucumber.

I was surprised to find bananas close to the bottom of the list, even under water. But what’s really the takeaway here is that virtually all the addictive foods are processed.

“In summary, the current study found that highly processed foods, with added amounts of fat and/or refined carbohydrates (e.g., sugar, white flour), were most likely to be associated with behavioral indicators of addictive-like eating. Additionally, foods with high GL were especially related to addictive-like eating problems for individuals endorsing elevated symptoms of “food addiction.” Individuals endorsing symptoms of addictive-like eating behavior may be more susceptible to the large blood sugar spike of high GL foods, which is consistent with the importance of dose and rate of absorption in the addictive potential of drugs of abuse,” the study concludes.

woman eating disorder food addict

Food addicts similar to drug addicts in brain activity

woman eating disorder food addict

I always find myself amused whenever I hear the term “food addiction” get mentioned, simply because, hey, who isn’t addicted to food? Besides me being a smart ass and humans having to eat to live (even zombies have to eat some brain – it’s still food right?), seriously there are a lot of people out there who have an acute eating disorder.

Eating too much, uncontrollably, long past the point of hunger saturation can be caused by a lot of things, most of the time by emotional issues (low self-esteem, self-loathing etc.), but my interest isn’t to write about what causes food addiction, instead I’d like to tell you a bit about how food addiction is very much compared to drug addiction by scientists, in terms of how the cravings and urges affect the brain.

This was concluded after researchers have analyzed the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans of women who constantly ate uncontrollably, which revealed they anticipated food much in the same way a drug addict anticipates a fix. This was observed after researchers showed women pictures of a chocolate milk shake made with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, which rendered increased activity in the same regions of the brain that fire when people who are dependent on drugs or alcohol experience cravings. Contrary, women who weren’t addicted to food were presented with the same milk shake picture and showed much lower activity in the same regions.

Five seconds after which the women were presented with the photo, they were also given the Häagen-Dazs ice cream milk-shake to taste. And here comes the interesting part, once the women actually tasted the milk shakes, however, those who scored high on a food-addiction scale showed dramatically less activity in the “reward circuitry” of their brains than the other women – a phenomenon commonly seen in substance dependence, that could lead to chronic overeating and other problematic eating behaviors, researchers say.

“It’s a one-two punch,” says the lead author of the study, Ashley Gearhardt, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Yale University. “First, you have a strong anticipation, but when you get what you are after, there’s less of an oomph than you expected, so you consume more in order to reach those expectations.”

The research was conducted on 48 young women of various weight and size, with or without food disorder signs and was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

In what often proves to be a tough combo, in addition to exhibiting patterns of craving and tolerance similar to those seen in drug addiction, the brains of women who showed food addiction behavior also had less activity in areas responsible for self-control, which suggests that their brain chemistry may prime them to overindulge, Gearhardt says.

“It’s a combination of intense wanting coupled with disinhibition,” she says. “The ability to use willpower goes offline.”

Although a Häagen-Dazs ice cream milk-shake would probably make anyone drool, food addicted or not, this research shows that food addiction is a very serious matter, and does who suffer from it should be support and seek help.