Many of us are in committed, long-term, loving relationships with pizza, but a study from the University of Michigan suggests that our obsession with bread smothered in cheese and pepperoni may be less about glorious love than about addiction. Researchers assessed which foods are most likely to trigger addictive responses, and although the treats that make up our 20 most addictive foods — with pizza at the top of the list — will surprise absolutely no one, the study offers important insight into why we have a harder time saying “no” to some foods than others.
Researchers recounted the results of their two-part study in PLOS One in February. In the first study, university students were schooled in the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), a questionnaire developed to evaluate subjects' tendencies toward food addiction (Significant signs of food addiction include consuming more food than you intend, and being unable to stop eating certain foods, even when you are aware of negative consequences). The students were shown 35 different foods in pairs and asked to choose which ones were most likely to cause symptoms from the YFAS scale. In the second study, a group of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 were asked to rank the same 35 foods according to how problematic they were in relation to the signs of food addiction presented on the YFAS scale.
The researchers generated lists of the 35 foods for each study, reflecting how addictive they were, according to the study’s participants. The results of the two lists vary, but their general dynamics are the same: Both rank pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, French fries, and ice cream as their top six most addictive foods, and both rank carrots, brown rice, cucumbers, broccoli, and beans among the least addictive. The pattern here isn’t hard to recognize: The researchers “found processing, fat, and GL [glycemic load] to be predictive of whether a food was associated with problematic, addictive-like eating behavior.” The study suggests that highly processed foods may be more likely to trigger addictive behaviors because they tend to contain added fat and refined carbs (like white flour and sugar), additions which make these foods “particularly rewarding.”
The two studies generated slightly different rankings; however, the second study, which surveyed adults of a wide age span, offered what the researchers describe as “a more representative, diverse sample.” Here’s how participants ranked the top 20 of 35 foods, according to their ability to trigger addictive behavior. (You can see the full rankings of both studies here):
- Ice Cream
- French Fries
- Non-Diet Soda
- Fried Chicken
- Buttered Popcorn
If pizzas grew on trees, would they no longer count as "highly processed foods"? Please, someone get on that.