We all have late-night cravings we're not proud of, but it's not entirely our fault; the most addictive foods seem to jack directly into the reward centers of our brains, some by direct design. Now a team of researchers from the University of Michigan have created a list of the most addictive foods. Unsurprisingly, pizza reigned supreme.
The two-part study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved surveying 120 undergraduate students in one experiment, and conducting a questionnaire among 384 participants in the other. Participants in the first study, all between the ages of 18 and 23, were first shown the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), a "measure that has been developed to identify those who are most likely to be exhibiting markers of substance dependence with the consumption of high fat/high sugar foods." The scale is based on standard criteria for substance dependence.
The participants were then presented with food picture pairings and asked to choose which of the two they were "more likely to experience 'problems' with, as described by the YFAS." (Of the group, 75 percent were Caucasian, and about 68 percent were female.) Among the problems they could report were eating more of a food than they intended to, being unable to quit a food, giving up important activities, or showing an increased "tolerance" for a food.
The research showed that of the 35 food options, those that have been processed and contain more fat and a higher glycemic load are most frequently associated with addictive-like eating behaviors.
For the second study, instead of choosing between two food pictures, the participants, aged 18 to 64 (about 59 percent male and 77 percent Caucasian), were asked to rate each of the 35 foods on a Likert scale from one to seven, with seven being "extremely problematic."
"It is plausible that like drugs of abuse," reads the conclusion of the study, "these highly processed foods may be more likely to trigger addictive-like biological and behavioral responses due to their unnaturally high levels of reward."
The results varied slightly between the two parts of the study, but pizza, chocolate, cookies, and ice cream placed in the top five on both lists. Here are the items that made the Top 20 from the second study's ranking (which the researchers found to be a "more representative, diverse sample"), in order of most to least addictive:
5. Ice Cream
6. French Fries
8. Non-Diet Soda
12. Fried Chicken
14. Buttered Popcorn
Want to know how the other 15 food items placed? You can digest the full list here.