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Cocaine cookies

We delude ourselves in myriad ways every day. You might be telling yourself that your pants are biting into your midriff because for some reason they have suddenly, despite many previous washes and wears, decided to shrink. You could be telling yourself that the new jacket you bought for three times more than you intended to spend looks wonderful on you, even though you never wear anything with a pink pinstripe. Perhaps you consider yourself a talented chef even though friends always disappointingly find themselves unable to accept your dinner invitations with excuses ranging from sprained ankles (plausible but irrelevant) to a case of rabies (valid but improbable). Yes, delusion is almost a mandatory part of the human condition. You might even think that you are in control of what you choose to eat but, according to a new study, at least as far as your biscuit craving goes, that’s another delusion right there.

This study was done on Oreo Cookies, a favourite of Americans, but we could assume that similar results would apply to other sweet, fatty biscuits as well.

For the research, hungry rats were given cookies on one side of a maze. On the other side of the maze they were fed rice cakes. The researchers then gave the rats the option of going to either side of the maze without the food present and measured how long they chose to spend on each side.

Then, in another experiment, on one side of the maze the rats were given addictive drugs like cocaine or morphine. On the other side of the maze, they were given saline. Again, researchers measured the amount of time the rats would spend on either side of the maze when no drugs or saline were being given.

The results showed that the rats fed cookies spent as much time on the side of the maze where they received the cookies as did the rats who were given the addictive drugs. The researchers then measured levels of a protein called c-Fos in the pleasure centre of the rat’s brains. Measuring this protein tells you how many neurons were turned on in response to cookies or drugs. The cookies turned on many more neurons than did either cocaine or morphine. This suggests that high-fat, high-sugar foods can be genuinely addictive.

It might be challenging to think of biscuits as addictive because they are so pervasive. Ultimately though, addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behaviour or substance. Some researchers speak of two types of addictions: substance addictions (alcoholism, drug abuse and smoking) and process addictions (gambling, spending, shopping, eating and sexual activity).

So biscuit addiction lies along the same continuum, as does drug addiction, and these results indicate that the strength of that addiction can be equally as real and powerful. Are you still sure you can give up those biscuits for morning tea whenever you want to?

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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