Thursday, October 17, 2013

Newsflash: Rats love Oreos!

If you had the (mis) fortune to be on a low fat diet plan any time since the 1980's, you have probably been given a list of "healthy" snacks that were somehow supposed to satisfy your cravings for...whatever you were craving.  Sometimes they might have actually resembled what you were craving, and sometimes they were actually tasty foods, and sometimes they were just things that you forced yourself to eat because you (likely mistakenly) thought you were being healthy (Does anyone besides me remember Molly McButter?  Yes?  I'll wait while you stop making gagging noises).  One of those items that could be used as part of a healthy snack was rice cakes.  At 35-70 calories they are not too bad, but there really isn't any nutritional value, and they really don't have any taste by themselves.  By the time you actually add "butter flavoring," or cinnamon and sugar, or even peanut butter (used to be my favorite) to those rice cakes, you may no longer have something that's low calorie.  And if you were like a lot of my patients over the years, you'll wind up eating the high-sugar-not-so-low-calorie snack anyway.

Which is why I was interested when I saw various versions of this article appear in my news feed: Why Oreos Are As Addictive as Cocaine to Your Brain.  Really?  Let's look at the evidence and the red flags raised.

1) I couldn't find a link to the original article, but there wasn't one, as the results are to be "presented" at a conference.  So this means there was no peer review where other experts in the field could see if the study methods actually passed muster.

2) Speaking of methods passing muster, I don't this this actually would.  There was a comparison between sweet and creamy (known as having a good mouth feel) and a dry, tasteless rice cake.  If this was a philosophical argument we could safely call this a false equivalence.

3) As far as activating the so-called "pleasure center," our brains are supposed to light up when we eat foods that taste good to us, otherwise we probably wouldn't eat them.    The potential problem here is that when less healthy food is what's convenient and affordable (as well as tasty), people will probably go for that over the homemade almond flour and raw honey version.  (If you try that recipe, just try to eat two, go ahead).

4) Stating the obvious:  This study was done in rats, not humans.  This might lead up to some human studies some day, but we can't really extrapolate this beyond the rat kingdom.

5) "Addiction" also has some social implications that may not quite fit here.  In one of the versions of this article that I read I saw some commenters were (I think justifiably) outraged to see the comparison made; particularly those who had watched the lives of their loved ones destroyed by an illness such as cocaine addiction.  Is someone really going to start lying and cheating just to get Oreos specifically?  (Someone might go to all sorts of lengths to get enough food that can be eaten quickly to survive, but that's to survive, not to feed an addiction).

Take home message--There are plenty of reasons to limit your intake of oreos and other store bought cookies.  Does eating them really have the same ramifications as cocaine?  Too soon to tell.

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