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Sugar Is More Addictive Than Fat

Jun 16, 2023

Sugar Is More Addictive Than Fat

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the stronger stimulus to food cravings is actually sugar, and not fat. The researchers found that sugar was so powerful a stimulus that it overshadowed fat, even when the two were combined in large amounts.

With a sample size of 100 high school students, researchers tracked brain activity as the students drank chocolate-flavoured milkshakes that were identical in calories (high in sugar and low in fat, or vice versa). Both kinds of shakes lit up pleasure centres in the brain, but the shakes that were high in sugar did far more effectively, firing up a food-reward network that plays a role in compulsive eating.

“We do a lot of work on the prevention of obesity, and what is really clear not only from this study but from the broader literature over all is that the more sugar you eat, the more you want to consume it,” said Dr. Stice, a senior research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute. “As far as the ability to engage brain reward regions and drive compulsive intake, sugar seems to be doing a much better job than fat.”

“These sugary foods themselves are not inherently addictive through their taste per se,” said Dr. Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s the effects that they have on our metabolism. If our blood sugar is stable, we can walk by a bakery and be much less tempted than if our blood sugar is crashing. Your brain knows these foods are going to rescue low blood sugar. But then this sets up the next cycle.”