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Fatty foods equivalent of cocaine, heroin


Photos: Cocaine, handro/flickr. Eclair, grdarling/flickr

"I bet you can't eat just one!"

With ten grams of fat per one-ounce serving of the product, this slogan for Lay's potato chips makes a lot more sense in light of a new study published today by Nature Neuroscience.  This study confirms that high-fat foods act on the brains of the obese in the same way that cocaine and heroin work on addicts of those drugs.  In fact, this addictive effect was so pronounced that the rats who were exposed to the high-fat foods were not deterred from their food by electrical shocks.

This study used rats grouped into three groups: those fed the standard laboratory rat diet, those who were given limited access to high-fat foods, and those who were given extended access to high-fat foods. All rats were given free access to the standard laboratory diet.  The high-fat foods included bacon, sausage, cheesecake, and frosting.  The rats on the standard and limited-access diets ate approximately the same number of calories per day, but the limited-access rats ate nearly 2/3 of their calories from those high-fat foods.  This binging behavior may explain the small weight gain difference between those two groups.  The extended-access rats, on the other hand, ate nearly twice as many calories as the others, and acquired only 5% of their daily calories from the standard diet.

Just like cocaine and heroin addicts, the rats with extended access to the high-fat foods showed a substantial change in their brain chemistry.  Their brains became less responsive to dopamine, a chemical that signals pleasure.  This means that they had to eat more and more fatty foods in order to feel satisfied.  This reduced response lasted for nearly two weeks after the rats were taken off the high-fat diet, a stunning length of time considering that rats (in a similar study) given free access to cocaine took only two days to recover their dopamine sensitivity.

What does this mean for Columbus dieters?  While we cannot eliminate all fats from our diets, the study certainly gives a boost to those who have chosen to pursue a low-fat diet.  Since we typically add excess fat to our diets when we either dine-out or eat bland foods at home.  Cooking more meals can certainly help cut the fat intake.  To keep from using fats to add flavor, consider roasting vegetable to bring out their flavor.  Another great way to get more flavor from your foods is to buy local produce.  The North Market in downtown Columbus, along with many local area farmers' markets will be opening or featuring local produce as early as May, and they typically run until October or later.


  • montreal mental health & Montreal health exami 5 years ago

    I read the study, it does not confirm anything nor does it use the word, it supports previous studies. The tests on rats are done because they cannot be done on humans and there are however a lot of areas where rats and humans do not react the same way. I have followed these studies for a long time since I am obese. But to date they researchers have not concluded anything, this area of research is considered virgin territory. But you are absolutely right diet affects weight and general health and low fat diets are considered healthier. High fat high cholesterol diets lead to obese and the risk for many weight related illnesses.

  • Andrew 5 years ago

    Yes, perhaps "supports prior research" or similar wording would have been more technically accurate. The world of science is, after all, a lot more stringent in its word-use than the rest of us!

  • Emylou Lewis 5 years ago

    I heard about this Andrew. Thanks!

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    Seattle stay-at-home moms examiner

  • K K Thornton 5 years ago

    I saw this when it came out-- I've been reading about similar theories for a while. Fats and sugar seems to activate the pleasure centers of the brain, which can be a big problem for some. BTW I just linked to your piece in my latest article on my Dallas Healthy Trends page for Examiner. :)

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