When rats were given a choice between rice cakes, Oreos, cocaine, and morphine, the rice cakes lost handily. However, brain activity showed that in the battle between cookies and drugs, the cookies won.
Connecticut College researchers trained rats to navigate a maze, at the end of which was a reward: rice cakes, Oreo cookies, cocaine, or morphine. Not surprisingly, the rice cakes came in dead last in order of preference. However, once the choices were narrowed down to cookies or drugs, the rats’ brain activity showed that the Oreos activated more cells in the nucleus accumbens — an area associated with both pleasure and addiction — than did cocaine or morphine. The researchers believe that the results they found in rats will most likely apply to humans as well. They will present their research at next month’s annual Society for Neuroscience conference.
What’s the Big Idea?
Science is still debating whether food addiction can be classified alongside drug addiction, but as of right now at least, Oreos are still available over the counter, so the fact that they provided the same stimulation as did medically regulated drugs lends additional credence to the dangerous biochemical effects of certain processed foods on some people’s brains. The potential public health impact is significant, says co-author Jamie Honohan: “We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie…but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”
In the case of one new brand, add black to the label and highlight “high-protein” instead of “low-fat.” It’s one of several new and existing products that are designed to attract an increasing number of “manfluencers.”