A new study has found that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) such as potato chips and ice cream are just as addictive as nicotine, cocaine, or heroin.
The study which analysed data from 281 studies across 36 different countries found that a staggering 14% of adults are addicted to UPFs.
UPFs are foods that have been heavily processed using industrial methods and ingredients, such as sugary drinks, processed meats, and packaged snacks.
They are often high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt.
The study's authors say that the combination of refined carbohydrates and fats found in UPFs seems to have a supra-additive effect on brain reward systems, above either macronutrient alone, which may increase the addictive potential of these foods.
“The combination of refined carbohydrates and fats often found in UPFs seems to have a supra-additive effect on brain reward systems, above either macronutrient alone, which may increase the addictive potential of these foods,” Gearhardt and the study’s authors wrote in their new findings, published in The BMJ.
The study also found that UPFs are more likely to trigger cravings and continued intake despite potential negative health effects.
The experts say that the addictive properties of UPFs are a serious concern for public health given that they are linked to a number of chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
They are calling for more to be done to raise awareness of the addictive nature of UPFs and to help people reduce their intake.