A new study from researchers at Connecticut College shows that Oreo cookies are just as addictive–to lab rats, anyway–as cocaine.
The study aimed to show why we choose the foods we do as well as prove once and for all whether certain high-fat, high-sugar foods are indeed “addictive”. Everyone knows that a heartbreak can be eased with a carton of peanut butter fudge ice cream (preferably eaten in bed with a “Breaking Bad” marathon); but why do we choose the foods for comfort that are technically the worst for our bodies?
According to Professor Joseph Schroeder, it’s because those foods activate more neurons in the brain’s pleasure center than even a highly addictive drug…like cocaine.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat/ high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” Schroeder said. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
The scientists said they placed rats in a maze that had an Oreo cookie on one side and a rice cake on the other. Given the option to choose which side they wanted to go to, the rats consistently chose the Oreo side. Next, a different group of rats were placed in a maze where they received a shot of cocaine or morphine solution on one side and a shot of saline on the other. The rats given the Oreos spent as much time on that side of their maze as the rats who chose the drugs. Neuroscience major Jamie Honohan says that the major concern with the study’s findings is that those sugary foods that create such a feeling of pleasure in our brains can have lasting affects on health, yet they are much cheaper and are more easily accessible than drugs.
“My research interests stemmed from a curiosity for studying human behavior and our motivations when it comes to food,” said Honohan, who led the study out of curiosity regarding low-income families and the prevalence of fatty, sugary foods in their homes. “We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”
The researchers said that perhaps the most surprising part of the study was that the rats ate the Oreos just like many humans do: by breaking them apart and eating the middle first.