Ice cream and potato chips are just as addictive as cocaine or heroin: research

by Rajesh Kaur

Title: Ultra-Processed Foods: The Hidden Addiction Facing Millions


Research conducted at the University of Michigan has shed light on a startling revelation: ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are just as addictive as harmful substances like nicotine, cocaine, or heroin. These findings have significant implications for public health, given that over 1 in 10 individuals are reported to be addicted to UPFs. The addictive potential of these foods highlights the urgent need for greater awareness and understanding of their negative impact on cognitive function, mental health, and overall well-being.

The Study’s Shocking Findings

Led by Professor Ashley Gearhardt, the analysis examined 281 studies from 36 countries and revealed that a staggering 14% of adults globally are hooked on UPFs. Such foods, including sausage, ice cream, biscuits, soft drinks, and sugary cereals, have long been associated with cognitive decline, cancer, psychological distress, and premature death. By applying similar criteria used to diagnose substance addiction, such as uncontrollable consumption, cravings, and continued intake despite known health risks, the study established the addictive nature of these highly processed products.

Understanding the Addictive Nature of UPFs

Researchers attribute the addictive potential of UPFs to the combination of refined carbohydrates and fats commonly found in them. This combination triggers supra-additive effects on brain reward systems, enhancing their addictive potential. While the exact mechanism remains unclear, experts theorize that it is the combined effects of these multiple ingredients that contribute to their addictive properties rather than a single ingredient acting alone.

The Significance of Ultra-Processed Foods

Findings from this study revealed that the addiction to UPFs predominantly occurs with these processed products rather than natural food sources. Ultra-processed foods are typically high in both carbohydrates and fats, a contrast to naturally sourced foods that tend to be high in one or the other. Previous research has shown that the presence of sugary or fatty foods can make healthier alternatives less appealing, leading to overconsumption and weight gain. The addictive cycle of consuming UPFs has been compared to that of alcohol or drug addiction, where consumption leads to a dopamine rush followed by a sudden drop-off, causing cravings and a cycle of repeated consumption.

The Role of Additives in Reinforcing Addiction

While it is recognized that UPFs are not inherently addictive, the study suggests that additives present in these foods act as “reinforcers” of the pleasurable effects derived from their consumption. The exact mechanism of addiction is multifaceted and complex, and individual susceptibility to the addictive nature of UPFs can vary widely. Some individuals can consume a small portion of potato chips and feel satisfied, while others struggle to control their consumption.

Implications for Public Health and Moving Forward

The addictive properties of UPFs have raised concerns among health-conscious scientists, prompting calls for these products to carry “tobacco-style” warnings to raise public awareness about their harmful effects. However, given the ubiquity of ultra-processed foods in today’s society, quitting them entirely may seem like an insurmountable task. Moderation remains key, with health experts recommending that no more than 10% to 20% of daily calories should come from processed foods.


The findings of the University of Michigan study serve as a sobering reminder of the impact of ultra-processed foods on our health and well-being. Increasing awareness about the addictive potential of these foods is crucial for making informed choices regarding our diet and nutrition. It is time to recognize that our relationship with UPFs needs to evolve, and strategies must be developed to reduce their prevalence in our diets. By promoting healthier alternatives and educating individuals about the dangers of excessive UPF consumption, we can take the first steps toward breaking free from this hidden addiction and embracing a healthier lifestyle.

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