Is Fast Food Addictive?
In recent years several scientists in the fields of medicine and nutrition have advanced the theory that fast food is an addictive substance, much like caffeine. While caffeine is not harmful in ordinary doses, it’s likely that the same cannot be said for fast food. These foods tend to be high in fat and low in fiber, and contain few, if any, vegetables or whole grains. They’re also usually accompanied by extraordinarily high-sugar-content soft drinks.
“Limited evidence suggests that the high fat and salt content of fast food may increase addictive potential,” wrote University of California San Francisco researchers, in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews. Researchers at Yale University have also expressed this concern. “Data suggest that hyperpalatable foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process,” investigators wrote, in the medical journal Addiction. “Hyperpalatable” refers to the irresistible combination of fat, salt and sugar that make so many typical fast foods—such as french fries, sodas, pizzas, and hamburgers—so mouth watering.
Investigators note that these foods have been purposefully engineered to enhance their rewarding qualities. Enhancements include increased salt, fat, and sugar content, compared to natural foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc., and often include additives and flavor enhancers. Laboratory studies indicate that some of these foods share certain features with addictive drugs. Animal studies, for example, show that brain pathways involved in drug addiction are also activated by foods such as sugar.
Gearhardt AN, Grilo CM, DiLeone RJ, Brownell KD, Potenza MN. Can food be addictive? Public health and policy implications. Addiction. 2011 Jul;106(7):1208-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03301.x. Epub 2011 Feb 14.