What You Can Learn From a Rat

Have you ever said, “I am addicted to chocolate,” or “I’m addicted to my mom’s mac ‘n cheese?” Your use of the term addiction may actually be in all in your head. A fascinating new study in rats shows that their compulsive addiction to junk food may be similar to a human’s addiction to strong recreational drugs. In the study, the rats were divided into 3 groups, one group enjoyed only health food, and another enjoyed health food with 1 daily hour of junk food consumption (think sweets, chips, and fast food). The last group was allowed unlimited access to both health food and junk food.

Posted on | Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD | Comments ()

Have you ever said, “I am addicted to chocolate,” or “I’m addicted to my mom’s mac ‘n cheese?” Your use of the term addiction may actually be in all in your head. A fascinating new study in rats shows that their compulsive addiction to junk food may be similar to a human’s addiction to strong recreational drugs. In the study, the rats were divided into 3 groups, one group enjoyed only health food, and another enjoyed health food with 1 daily hour of junk food consumption (think sweets, chips, and fast food). The last group was allowed unlimited access to both health food and junk food. 

You won’t be surprised to learn that the last group preferred junk food over health food and throughout the study, gained considerable weight. When the junk food option was removed, they refused to eat the healthier options and instead starved until more junk food became available. 

Researchers concluded that the brain function following the junk food consumption mimicked that of a human’s brain functioning using cocaine. Are we so different than these animals? When you regularly make poor dietary choices, doesn’t it become easier to continue the bad habits?  Luckily, our palate can be trained to like or dislike certain foods. If you go without added salt for 3 weeks, chances are you’ll lose your desire for it.

We can all learn from this study and commit to healthy food options that include whole grains, lean sources of protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Let’s get addicted to the good stuff – we’ll live longer and happier because of it!

Blog written by Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD
Kristin Kirkpatrick is a registered dietitian and Wellness Manager for Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program. Kristin has...