Consuming highly processed carbohydrates can cause excess hunger and stimulate brain regions involved in reward and cravings, a new study has found.
Researchers led by David Ludwig, director of the obesity prevention center at Boston Children's Hospital, found that limiting these "high-glycemic index" foods could help obese individuals avoid overeating.
The new brain imaging research studied the link between food intake and the brain's pleasure centres.
Ludwig said that the addiction can be similar to substance addiction.
"Beyond reward and craving, this part of the brain is also linked to substance abuse and dependence, which raises the question as to whether certain foods might be addictive," researchers said.
Researchers measured blood glucose levels and hunger, as well as brain activity in the four hours after a meal. This time period influences behaviour at the next meal.
Twelve overweight or obese men each drank one of two test meals, served as milkshakes. The milkshakes were identical in terms of taste, texture and calories, but one was rapidly digesting (high-glycemic) and one was slowly digesting (low-glycemic).
Those who ate the high-glycemic milkshake experienced a sugar rush followed by a sharp crash. This led to increased hunger at the next meal.
Ludwig says that the results show that limiting high-glycemic foods could reduce cravings for food.
"These findings suggest that limiting high-glycemic index carbohydrates like white bread could help obese individuals reduce cravings and control the urge to overeat," said Ludwig.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.