The Top 20 Most Addictive Foods, According to Study

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We all have late-night cravings we're not proud of, but it's not entirely our fault; the most addictive foods seem to jack directly into the reward centers of our brains, some by direct design. Now a team of researchers from the University of Michigan have created a list of the most addictive foods. Unsurprisingly, pizza reigned supreme.

The two-part study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved surveying 120 undergraduate students in one experiment, and conducting a questionnaire among 384 participants in the other. Participants in the first study, all between the ages of 18 and 23, were first shown the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), a "measure that has been developed to identify those who are most likely to be exhibiting markers of substance dependence with the consumption of high fat/high sugar foods." The scale is based on standard criteria for substance dependence. 

The participants were then presented with food picture pairings and asked to choose which of the two they were "more likely to experience 'problems' with, as described by the YFAS." (Of the group, 75 percent were Caucasian, and about 68 percent were female.) Among the problems they could report were eating more of a food than they intended to, being unable to quit a food, giving up important activities, or showing an increased "tolerance" for a food.   

The research showed that of the 35 food options, those that have been processed and contain more fat and a higher glycemic load are most frequently associated with addictive-like eating behaviors. 

For the second study, instead of choosing between two food pictures, the participants, aged 18 to 64 (about 59 percent male and 77 percent Caucasian), were asked to rate each of the 35 foods on a Likert scale from one to seven, with seven being "extremely problematic."

"It is plausible that like drugs of abuse," reads the conclusion of the study, "these highly processed foods may be more likely to trigger addictive-like biological and behavioral responses due to their unnaturally high levels of reward."

The results varied slightly between the two parts of the study, but pizza, chocolate, cookies, and ice cream placed in the top five on both lists. Here are the items that made the Top 20 from the second study's ranking (which the researchers found to be a "more representative, diverse sample"), in order of most to least addictive: 

1. Pizza
2. Chocolate
3. Chips
4. Cookies
5. Ice Cream
6. French Fries
7. Cheeseburger
8. Non-Diet Soda
9. Cake
10. Cheese
11. Bacon
12. Fried Chicken
13. Rolls
14. Buttered Popcorn
15. Cereal
16. Gummies
17. Steak
18. Muffins
19. Nuts
20. Eggs

Want to know how the other 15 food items placed? You can digest the full list here

When the French Village of Pont-Saint-Esprit Went Temporarily Mad

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On August 15, 1951, dozens of people became terribly ill in Pont-Saint-Esprit, a quaint commune in the south of France. In the days that followed, hundreds more joined them. They complained of nausea and stomach pain, weak blood pressure and faint pulses, cold sweats and low temperatures. Worst of all, everybody had insomnia and smelled. “A state of giddiness persisted accompanied by abundant sweating and a disagreeable odour,” reported the British Medical Journal [PDF]. People would compare the stench to the fragrance of dead mice.

For hundreds of victims, that’s where the inexplicable mass illness stopped. For others, it was only the beginning. Dozens upon dozens of people began experiencing nightmarish hallucinations.

The town became gripped in pandemonium. A little girl screamed as she was chased by man-eating tigers. A woman sobbed about how her children had been ground into sausages. A large man fended off terrific beasts by smashing his furniture. A husband and wife ran around, chasing each other with knives. Even the local animals had gone mad: A dog chewed on stones until its teeth chipped away. Ducks began marching like penguins.

Everywhere, people ran wildly as they tried to avoid imaginary flames. One man, convinced that red snakes were devouring his brain, jumped out of a window. Another reportedly leapt from a window, broke both legs, stood up, and continued running.

Outside, a local postal worker complained that he was shrinking. A person sprinted down the lane, claiming he was being chased by “bandits with donkey ears.” Near the Rhône river, a man—convinced that he was a circus tightrope walker—attempted to balance his way across the cables of a suspension bridge. Another tried to jump into the river, only to be saved by friends. “I am dead and my head is made of copper and I have snakes in my stomach and they are burning me!” he yelled [PDF].

(Not everybody was having a bad experience. Some people, according to The New York Times, “heard heavenly choruses, saw brilliant colors … the world looked beautiful to them.” It was an especially productive experience for the head of the local farmers' co-op, who began writing hundreds upon hundreds of pages of luminous poetry.)

But overall, the scene was apocalyptic. “I have seen healthy men and women suddenly become terrorized, ripping their bed sheets, hiding themselves beneath their blankets to escape hallucinations,” the mayor of Pont-Saint-Esprit, Albert Hébrard, said. Asylums were filled with people wrapped in straitjackets and tied to beds. According to the British Medical Journal, “Every attempt at restraint increased the agitation.”

By the time the mass illness had subsided, approximately 300 people had been in some way affected. At least four died. In the immediate aftermath, the outbreak was blamed on … bread [PDF].

The summer of 1951 was especially wet, and ergot fungi grew all over the country's rye fields. Tainted grains were sourced back to the Roch Briand bakery, where a miller had used fungus-contaminated flour, causing widespread poisoning. The last time ergotism—or what's colorfully known as Saint Anthony’s Fire—had reportedly struck France, it was 1816.

Today, ergot poisoning remains the most commonly accepted explanation of what happened in Pont-Saint-Esprit, though there have been competing theories. Just weeks after the incident, the president of France’s miller’s union, Pierre Jacob, refused to acknowledge the ergot explanation, Reuters reported. Jacob argued that ergot was always present in French flour and, therefore, could not be responsible. To prove his point, he offered to eat ergot-tainted bread in front of a group of experts [PDF]. (There's no record of whether he actually completed the stunt.)

Other theories blamed mercury, fungicide, and various other types of fungus. Some people claimed it was the water used to make the bread, and not the grain, that had been infected.

And, of course, there are conspiracy theories.

In 2009, writer Hank P. Albarelli Jr. claimed that he found a fishy document belonging to the CIA. It contained this label: “Re: Pont-Saint-Esprit and F. Olson Files. SO Span/France Operation file, inclusive Olson. Intel files. Hand carry to Belin—tell him to see to it that these are buried.”

According to the BBC, Frank Olson was a CIA scientist researching LSD; David Belin was executive director of the White House commission investigating the CIA's abuses. Were these men connected to the Pont-Saint-Esprit poisoning? Was it some kind of hidden CIA LSD experiment? Or was the CIA—which was certainly studying psychoactive substances at the time—simply curious about what had happened in southern France?

Steven L. Kaplan, a bread historian at Cornell University, who wrote extensively about the fallout from the outbreak in a French-language tome titled The Cursed Bread, doesn’t buy into the CIA conspiracy theory. LSD, he says, was an unlikely culprit; the symptoms suffered by residents don't match those caused by the hallucinogen. But he’s not convinced that ergot was the cause, either.

Which raises the question: If not ergot or LSD, then what happened in Pont-Saint-Esprit in the summer of 1951?

The Most Popular Halloween Candy in Each State

If you've ever argued that no one actually likes candy corn, you're probably not from Alabama, Iowa, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, or Rhode Island. The controversial confection is a favorite treat among residents in those states, according to sales data from online candy retailer CandyStore.com.

As they've done for more than a decade, the bulk candy retailer combed through 11 years of data (with a particular focus on the months leading up to All Hallows' Eve) to gauge America’s top-selling sweets. They created the interactive map below to display their results.

Source: CandyStore.com.

In addition to the divisive—yet classic—candy corn, Skittles, M&Ms, Snickers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Starburst were among the nation's favorite candies. Hot Tamales, Tootsie Pops, Jolly Ranchers, and Sour Patch Kids have all earned some candy lovers' devotion, too.

Some states are unique in their top candy choices: Mississippi was the only state to name 3 Musketeers the best, while Connecticut opted for Almond Joy and West Virginia showed their love of Blow Pops. Meanwhile, trick-or-treaters in Kentucky have a sweet tooth for Swedish Fish, Louisianans love Lemonheads, and Delawareans would die for Life Savers.

After seeing which treat is number one in your state, check out the chart below to learn how many pounds of each top-ranking candy are consumed in each state (and then go buy a new toothbrush).

Source: CandyStore.com

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