Häagen Dazs Ice Cream 'As Addictive As Drugs', Research Suggests

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 05/03/2012 14:21 Updated: 05/03/2012 17:08

If you still feel an urge for more after polishing off a tub of ice cream, you may be experiencing addiction cravings similar to those of dependent drug users, recent research suggests.

A study from the Oregon Research Institute adds to previous research findings that found junk food and high fat and sugary foods can become addictive when eaten on a regular basis.

The scientists looked at a particular brand of ice cream to investigate the effects it has on the brain.

The study, involving 151 teenagers, found that when ice cream was eaten to excess, the chemicals in the food tampered with the brain's reward response, reducing the ‘feel good’ boost, making them want more.

The participants, aged between 14 and 16, were given chocolate milkshakes made with Häagen Dazs ice cream. During the investigation, researchers questioned the teens on their eating habits and what foods they craved.

Throughout the tests, the participants’ brains were scanned using a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine (fMRI), with their responses being measured while they looked at images of milkshakes before they had the real thing.

All of the participants wanted to drink the milkshake shown in the picture, but those who ate the most ice cream throughout the process, enjoyed looking at the drink less.

Experts compared this result to how drug addicts feel when, despite their cravings, pleasure from the desired object is blunted in the brain by lower levels of the feel-good chemical, dopamine.

The result was that the participants felt like they had to eat more to satisfy their cravings and get the same feeling of euphoria they experienced the first time they ate the ice cream. The researchers felt this paralleled the tolerance observed in drug addiction.

"This down-regulation pattern is seen with frequent drug use, where the more an individual uses the drug, the less reward they receive from using it," Dr Burger, the study's co-author, told the Telegraph.

While researchers added that it is unlikely to develop a full-blown addiction to ice cream, they believe that ice cream has addictive properties.

This isn’t the first time a connection between junk food and addiction has hit the headlines.

According to intensive research from the University of Florida in Gainesville that looked at the results of 28 independent studies on food addiction, they discovered that junk food alters the decision-making part of the brain and changes the way the brain is wired.

Scientists from the University of California recently made the controversial claim that sugar is so harmful it should be controlled in the same way as alcohol and tobacco.

If you’re struggling to battle food cravings, find out how to stave off hunger pangs, and the real reasons you crave them.

Or, take a look a look at the most bizarre ice cream flavours from around the globe...

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  • The Psychology Behind Your Food Cravings

    With top tips from Doreen Virtue, author of <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1848505906/ref=asc_df_18485059066853249?smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&tag=googlecouk06-21&linkCode=asn&creative=22206&creativeASIN=1848505906" target="_hplink"><strong><em>Constant Cravings</em></strong></a>.

  • Chocolate

    <strong>What is it about chocolate that makes it so irresistible?</strong> "Chocolate is associated with undiluted pleasure and reward, so if you've been working too hard or suffering in any way, it's a way to emotionally self-medicate. This is especially true for those who are experiencing relationship disappointments, as chocolate sooths those desires to be loved and accepted. "Chocolate contains mood- and energy-altering feel-good chemicals, such as PEA, which is the same chemical that your brain secretes when you're newly in romantic love. This drug is very similar to the controlled substance, Ecstacy, which turns mortal enemies into friends. So chocolate is truly a "love drug." "It also contains almost a perfect balance of your range of taste buds, and the fat in it gives a satisfying full feeling. Additionally, chocolate boosts energy in caffeine-like ways, which is one reason why pre-menstrual women crave it. Any kind of nut (including chocolate) is in the "xanthine" family, which also triggers the pleasure center in our brain." <strong>How can we satisfy these cravings using healthy alternatives?</strong> "You can get the pleasure-center rush by inhaling the fragrance of nuts, including fresh coffee. Eating raw almonds can also yield some of the textures, fats, and minerals that lead to chocolate cravings. Mostly though, chocolate cravings can be lessened by taking steps to feel loved and emotionally fulfilled. "For instance, spend time with good friends; take good care of your relationships; indulge yourself with gifts, pedicures, relaxation time, and positive self-talk; and create gentle and positive work and home environments."

  • Salty Snacks

    <strong>What makes us want to eat salty snacks and foods - and why? </strong> "Our bodies seek a homeostasis of the blood-to-salt ratios in our bodies. If we stop eating salt, our bodies react by expelling water so we can maintain those same ratios. "This mechanism is deadly accurate - if we completely eliminated sodium from our diets, eventually we would die of dehydration.We need salt for survival. "Most salty and savoury foods are crunchy, which is a texture we crave when we're stressed, angry, or anxious. This innate animal-like desire to chew must be satisfied, which is one reason why people don't stay on liquid diets for very long." <strong>How can we satisfy these cravings using healthy alternatives? </strong> "Avoid salt-free diets so that your body doesn't need to crave it. And the best way to avoid crunchy junk food cravings is through reducing or managing the stress in your life. For example, daily cardiovascular exercise such as fast walking or jogging can increase your tolerance of a stressful job. "Or learning to say "No" to unreasonable demands upon your time can give you more time to relax and enjoy your life. If you still feel the need to crunch, choose healthful alternatives like celery or carrots with low-fat salad dressing or a handful of raw organic almonds."

  • Dairy Foods

    <strong>What does it mean if we crave dairy foods, such as cheese and ice cream?</strong> "When you're depressed, you're likely to crave a dairy product such as cheese or ice cream. Dairy foods contain natural anti-depressants and soothing agents such as choline and tryptophan. They're also high-fat, so they give a satisfying full feeling. "Additionally, dairy products are usually flavored with lots of salt or sugar, which helps to calm frayed nerves. The creamy texture of dairy products makes it a natural comfort food." <strong>What things can we do which will help curb these cravings? </strong> "Directly face the cause of depression and discontent by keeping a journal or talking to a trusted friend, counselor, or life coach. Instead of covering over these feelings, treat them as valuable guides who will propel you to make healthful life changes. It's all about empowering yourself to know that you deserve a better life, and that you are capable of making this happen."

  • Sugar

    <strong>Why do we crave sugar and what makes it so irresistible to resist? </strong> "Preferences for sweets are often learned, because we were often rewarded for good behavior in childhood with a candy treat. If you experience overwhelming cravings for cookies, cakes, or pie, you may want to think back to childhood experiences where you may have been rewarded with these foods. "This is not an attempt to blame the adults in your life. Instead, it's a means of trying to understand your cravings in order to reduce or eliminate them." <strong>How can we tackle these sugary cravings with a healthier alternative? </strong> "Reward yourself with nonfood treats. Since some of our sugar cravings stem from the childhood message that "sweets equal rewards."We all need pats on the back and kudos for hard work. "But instead of stopping at the cookie shop for your reward, why not instead treat yourself to a new book, an item of clothing, scented soap, theatre tickets or a piece of jewellery? They are less fattening and infinitely more satisfying than a cookie!"

  • Greasy Junk Food

    <strong>Why do we crave fatty, grease-filled food? </strong> "Most crunchy junk foods are fried, and the fat fills up the stomach and leaves a satisfied feeling for hours after the food is ingested. I find that people who crave high-fat foods are dissatisfied with their lives and aren't ready to face making changes. So they "numb themselves" with high-fat foods which comfort and soothe them, essentially making them oblivious to discontent. "One reason why people have difficulty going on diets is because fat keeps the stomach full and satisfied. When you switch to low-fat foods, you feel hungry. You also feel all of the emotions that the high-fat food smothered over. "Fat cravings appear to be one of our innate drives. Experiments with rats, as well as with children and adult humans, show how nature has equipped us with a preference for high-fat foods." <strong>Are there ways we can fight these cravings? </strong> "Exercise! Studies show that exercise reduces the appetite for dietary fat significantly. This is especially true for yo-yo dieters, whose weight has gone up and down. People in this category have the strongest fat cravings of virtually any group. Yo-Yo Syndrome sufferers also display the most dramatic decreases in fat cravings in response to exercise."

  • Spicy Food

    <strong>Why do we crave spicy foods like curry and chillies? </strong> "Food probably isn't the only area of your life that you prefer spicy. You may also crave excitement and high intensity in your work,love, and play life as well. If you aren't getting enough thrills, you may convert that frustration into intense cravings for spicy foods. "Several researchers have correlated "sensation seeking" with cravings for spicy, crunchy, or sour foods; gourmet foods, and unusual, exotic foods. Another study concluded that overweight women were particularly prone to cravings for intensely flavoured foods. "Spicy food cravers have strong desires for novelty and change--kind of like "pushing the envelope" via exotic eating experiences." <strong>How can we satisfy these spicy cravings without opting for calorific options? </strong> "Seek non-caloric forms of excitement such as training for a marathon, learning to sail or rock climb, or giving a public speech. "Really hot spices encourage the brain to release pain-relieving chemicals that bathe and numb the entire body. It's a natural way to seek emotional anesthesia, but it's still a temporary measure. "Ask yourself, 'What's really bothering me?' and 'What do I really want and need?'"