Does High-Glycemic Index Promote Food Addiction?

Yesterday, I was widely quoted in national media on the issue of food addiction. The background for this was an interview done by CanWest’s Sharon Kirkey regarding a recent paper by Simon Thronley and colleagues from Auckland, New Zealand, published in Medical Hypothesis.

The basic tenor of their article is that food consumption shows many similarities to features of other addictive behaviours, such as automaticity and loss of control. They hypothesize that Glycemic Index (GI) is perhaps the key element of food that predicts its addictive potential.

They quote reports of a withdrawal syndrome from high glycemic food abstinence and argue that both empirical and clinical studies support an addictive component of eating behaviour, with similar neurotransmitters and neural pathways triggered by food consumption, as with addictive drugs.

Specifically, they argue that the short time to peak arterial concentration of glucose (similar to the short time to peak concentrations of nicotine in smokers) associated with high GI-foods, essentially ‘spikes’ the addictive potential of palatable foods – thereby making them more addictive than low-GI foods.

The authors suggest that subtle changes in the preparation and manufacturing of commonly consumed food items and/or reducing glycemic index through regulatory channels, may help break a cycle of [food-] addiction and draw large public health benefits.

While I much like their concept, and certainly buy into the fact that some folks demonstrate features akin to food addiction, this is certainly not a universal thruth that applies to all people with excess weight – in fact, I know a couple of normal weight people, who probably have “sweet addiction” as well.

Nevertheless, I do think that this paper should once again remind us of the important mental health component to ingestive behaviour and certainly explains why for some people kicking doughnuts and chocolate is apparently as hard as kicking alochol or cocaine.

Edmonton, Alberta.