Syracuse, N.Y. -- Lab rats find Oreos just as addictive as cocaine and they like to eat the middle of the cookies first, according to a study.
Connecticut College professor Joseph Schroeder and his students found the high-fat, high-sugar cookies stimulate the rats' brains the same way drugs do. "It may explain why some people can't resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them," Schroeder said in a news release.
The study found rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain's "pleasure center" than exposure to drugs of abuse.
On one side of a maze, the researchers gave hungry rats Oreos and on the other, they gave them rice cakes.The researchers gave the rats the option of spending time on either side of the maze and measured how long they would spend on the side where they were typically fed Oreos. The rats given Oreos broke the cookies open and ate the middle first.
The results of the Oreo and rice cake test were compared with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other. The rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the "drug" side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine.
"Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability," said student Jamie Honohan, a neuroscience major.
You can contact health writer James T. Mulder at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 470-2245. Follow him on Twitter @JamesTMulder.