Don’t be so hard on yourself if you’re unable to resist tearing into a bright blue bag of Oreos. Turns out that little cookie may be as addictive as cocaine.
Researchers at Connecticut College made the discovery recently, after studying the effects of high-fat, high-sugar foods on rats’ brains. They found that eating Oreos activated more neurons in a region of the brain known as the “pleasure center” than exposure to “drugs of abuse.”
“It means that something that is pleasurable — eating Oreo cookies — activates the brain in the same manner, and to a greater degree even than cocaine or morphine,” explained Joseph Schroeder, a psychology professor at the college who worked with four students on the study.
The findings, which have yet to be published, could affect understanding of obesity in humans. “People who have eating disorders and are susceptible to obesity may be viewed as someone who has a problem with drugs of abuse,” said Schroeder, who also is director of the college’s behavioral neuroscience program.
The research idea came from a neuroscience student named Jamie Honohan, who was interested in the prevalence of obesity in low-income neighborhoods, where healthy food options are often scarce.
Researchers could have used any snack high in sugar and fat, but chose to feed the rats Oreos because they wanted something palatable to humans, too.
One not-so-surprising finding: The rats, like most humans, ate the creamy middle first. □