“America’s Favorite Cookie” is just as addictive as cocaine, at least in lab rats. In a new study out of Connecticut College, Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students found that rats formed an equally strong bond between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreo cookies as they did with the effects of taking drugs like cocaine or morphine. Eating Oreos activated more neurons in the “pleasure center” of the brain than exposure to drugs like cocaine or morphine.
The study -- created by neuroscience major Jamie Honohan -- was originally designed to test the relationship between high-fat and high-sugar foods in low-income neighborhoods with the obesity problem nationwide.
“My research interests stemmed from a curiosity for studying human behavior and our motivations when it comes to food,” Honohan said. “We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”
Schroeder, Honohan and three other students devised a maze with Oreos on one side and rice cakes on the other. The rats would invariably spend more time with the Oreos. Much like humans, they went straight for the middle of the cookie.
The team would then compare the results of the Oreo test with results from another study where rats were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze, and an injection of saline on the other side. The results showed that rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the “drug” side of the maze as those conditioned with cocaine or morphine.
“We found that the behavior they exhibited was equally strong for Oreo cookies as it was for cocaine or morphine,” Schroeder, the director of the Behavioral Neuroscience program at Connecticut College, told WCBS 880. “When we looked in the pleasure center of the brain, we found that the Oreo cookies activated the pleasure center more so than cocaine would activate the same center.”
Schroeder’s team also discovered that Oreos triggered more neurons in the brain than cocaine or morphine.
“Overall, it lent support to the hypothesis that high fat, high sugar foods can be viewed in the same way as drugs of abuse and have addictive potential,” Schroeder told WCBS 880. “It could be used to explain why some people have a problem staying away from foods that they know they shouldn’t eat or that they know are addictive.”