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March 25, 2021 – “I had tried to avoid the word addiction when I was writing ‘Salt Sugar Fat,’” he said. “I thought it was totally ludicrous. How anyone could compare Twinkies to crack cocaine was beyond me.”

But as he dug into the science that shows how processed foods affect the brain, he was swayed. One crucial element that influences the addictive nature of a substance and whether or not we consume it compulsively is how quickly it excites the brain. The faster it hits our reward circuitry, the stronger its impact. That is why smoking crack cocaine is more powerful than ingesting cocaine through the nose, and smoking cigarettes produces greater feelings of reward than wearing a nicotine patch: Smoking reduces the time it takes for drugs to hit the brain. But no addictive drug can fire up the reward circuitry in our brains as rapidly as our favorite foods, Mr. Moss writes. “The smoke from cigarettes takes 10 seconds to stir the brain, but a touch of sugar on the tongue will do so in a little more than a half second, or six hundred milliseconds, to be precise,” he writes. “That’s nearly 20 times faster than cigarettes.”

This puts the term “fast food” in a new light. “Measured in milliseconds, and the power to addict, nothing is faster than processed food in rousing the brain,” he added.

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