Processed Foods Linked to Food Addiction?

A new study, published in PLos One, that proposed a link between highly processed foods and addictive-like eating.

May 6, 2015

2 Min Read
Processed Foods Linked to Food Addiction?

Food Product Design has been covering clean label extensively—everything from various food and beverage applications to formulation challenges, alternative ingredients and market insights. And if one thing is for certain, a major driver of the clean-label market is the perceived health benefits of a simpler label comprised of recognizable, natural ingredients. 

On the heels of the clean-label revolution is a new study, published in PLos One, that proposed a link between highly processed foods and addictive-like eating (Feb. 19, 2015). The cross-sectional study, conducted in two settings: a university setting (Study One) and a community setting (Study Two), comprised of 120 undergraduates and 384 participants recruited through Amazon MTurk. 

In Study One, participants completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) followed by a forced-choice task to indicate which foods, out of 35 foods varying in nutritional composition, were most associated with addictive-like eating behaviors. Using the same 35 foods, Study Two utilized hierarchical linear modeling to investigate which food attributes (e.g., fat grams) were related to addictive-like eating behavior (at level one) and explored the influence of individual differences for this association (at level two).

In Study One, processed foods, higher in fat and glycemic load, were most frequently associated with addictive-like eating behaviors. In Study Two, processing was a large, positive predictor for whether a food was associated with problematic, addictive-like eating behaviors. Body mass index (BMI) and YFAS symptom count were small-to-moderate, positive predictors for this association. In a separate model, fat and glycemic load were large, positive predictors of problematic food ratings. YFAS symptom count was a small, positive predictor of the relationship between GL and food ratings.

The researchers concluded: “The current study provides preliminary evidence that not all foods are equally implicated in addictive-like eating behavior, and highly processed foods, which may share characteristics with drugs of abuse (e.g. high dose, rapid rate of absorption) appear to be particularly associated with ‘food addiction.’"

Although this study doesn’t necessarily raise a new accusation against processed foods, it does offer some support for those who may be questioning going clean-label, as it’s these types of studies that are fueling consumers’ demands. 

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