A new study has vindicated fat and sugar -- two of a nutrition's most reviled boogeymen and long blamed for being not just unhealthy but also addictive. Not so, scientists say.
Instead, the evidence suggests that while eating itself my be psychologically addictive, fat and sugar don't act like drugs.
The conclusion was drawn by a team of international scientists surveyed the literature of food addiction and substance abuse. Though public discourse sometimes suggests obesity is driven by an addiction to certain components of junk and fast food -- fat and sugar, for example -- researchers found little evidence that the human brain responds to nutrients in the same way it does to hard drugs like heroin or cocaine.
The new study was published this week in the latest issue of the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.
"People try to find rational explanations for being over-weight and it is easy to blame food," said John Menzies, one of the study's lead researchers and a physiologist at the University of Edinburgh. "Certain individuals do have an addictive-like relationship with particular foods and they can over-eat despite knowing the risks to their health."
"More avenues for treatment may open up if we think about this condition as a behavioral addiction rather than a substance-based addiction," Menzies added.
"There has been a major debate over whether sugar is addictive," said fellow researcher Suzanne Dickson, a professor nutrition at the University of Gothenburg. "There is currently very little evidence to support the idea that any ingredient, food item, additive or combination of ingredients has addictive properties."