It’s unclear which labels best identify foods likely to cause addictive behavior. And whether homemade versions of foods such as cookies count as addictive can depend on whether the ingredients used to bake them are processed, such as white flour.

Other issues with terminology enter the debate, of course, with respect to defining “addiction.” Some researchers continue to insist that excessive eating is a behavioral disorder rather than a substance addiction and scoff at the notion that Oreo cookies have anything in common with oxycodone.

But in a larger sense, arguing about whether food is addictive is fruitless. Addiction is not a naturally defined, invariant feature of biology like gravity or electric charge in physics. Addiction is a word. Its use should not be so rigidly constrained that the term can’t be used in ways to better aid those who suffer from self-destructive behaviors.

Tom Siegfried is a science writer and editor in the Washington, DC, area. His book The Number of the Heavens, about the history of the multiverse, was published in 2019 by Harvard University Press. Find Tom on Twitter @tom_siegfried