UPFs have been linked to cognitive decline, cancer, dementia, psychological anguish, and potentially premature death in a JAMA Neurology study (a medical journal). (Image: DC)
You want to give it up but just can’t. The craving is too much to resist. You need to get that ‘high’, come what may! Potato chips, soft drinks, ice creams and all other ultra processed foods (UPFs), which most of us cannot do without, are just as addictive as nicotine, cocaine or heroin, according to a new, alarming study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently. The analysis was done by applying the same criteria that experts use to diagnose substance addiction, which includes uncontrollable and excessive consumption, cravings, and continued intake despite potential negative health effects.
The combination of refined carbohydrates and fats often found in UPFs seems to have a supra-additive effect on brain reward systems, which may increase the addictive potential of these foods, the findings show.
The neurobiological impact
UPFs and sugars are capable of triggering biobehavioural mechanisms associated with addiction. "The dopaminergic dysfunction, emotion dysregulation, and impulsivity are high with these groups, whereas naturally occurring foods do not appear to produce addictive responses," says Dr Era Dutta, NeuroPsychiatrist & Certified Life wellness coach and Founder, Mind Wellness.
Food addiction – real or fad?
"Since UPF and sugar are easy to binge on, it becomes a vicious cycle. Binge eating on the other hand is a diagnosable condition and folks who resort to it may find more comfort in UPF, sugar and carbohydrates," says Era.
Sugar & addiction
Is sugar addictive or is there just fear mongering?
"Sugar is more addictive than compared to some psychoactive substances like cocaine. There have been several studies conducted on rats to understand the effects of sugar addiction. Princeton University researchers, found that rats that were induced to binge on sugar exhibited withdrawal, when the effects of the sweets were blocked. Rats went through withdrawal on stopping," adds the NeuroPsychiatrist.
What are UPFs?
Ultra-processed foods are heavy in fat, carbohydrates and sugar. Additionally, they have little to no nutritional benefit. They include things like ice cream, chips, cheeseburgers, French fries, soda, cake, candy and cookies.
Am I hooked to processed food? Is there a scale?
Addiction of such foods has been measured by the The Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) which was designed specifically to assess signs of addictive-like eating behaviour. There is also the the Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale (ProWS), a self-report questionnaire that assesses 29 physical (e.g., headaches) and psychological (e.g., irritability) withdrawal-type symptoms that may occur when individuals cut down on or abstain from highly processed foods," says Era.
Trick to stop food cravings
Giving into cravings is an action originating out of a physiological thought or feeling! How can one have control over it ? "If you stabilise your blood sugar levels and prevent the insulin spike, physiologically you’ll prevent cravings," says Karishma Chawla, nutritionist and lifestyle educator. "Take charge of your gut bacteria, these beautiful species are responsible for stabilising blood sugar levels and prevent cravings. Consume fermented foods or probiotic supplements and eat good amount of fiber to feed them," adds Karishma.
An apple has 55 kcal from carbs and less than 2 kcal from fat, whereas a chocolate bar has 237 kcal from carbs and 266 kcal from fat 547cals in 100 grams of potato chips (salted).
UPFs have been linked to cognitive decline, cancer, dementia, psychological anguish, and potentially premature death in a JAMA Neurology study (a medical journal).