5 Reasons Why Junk Food Is Addictive
I consider myself a healthy eater; I eat more than my share of kale and refuse to let Oreos sneak into my grocery cart. But stick me in a room alone with Tostito chips and salsa, and I'll be licking my fingers and staring at an empty bowl before you can say "junk food." Our country's obesity statistics assure me I'm probably not the only one with this problem.
But why do these foods taste so darn good (and make us feel good, too)? There are several studies about junk food's addictiveness, most of which show that eating large amounts of high-sugar, high-fat foods changes our waistlines as well as our brains. The more we're exposed to these ingredients, the harder and harder it is for our brain to get pleasure from them, making us want to eat more. We may even begin to crave these foods, much like addicts crave their drugs of choice.
But a fascinating article in the New York Times finally explains the reasons why we can only ease a junk food craving with Cheetos, not carrots. Turns out the food scientists and marketers at some of the nation's biggest food companies have turned making us seek out bad-for-you foods into a science. See the five sneaky ways they fool you in the supermarket.
1. Two Words: Bliss Point: Before a new product emerges, food engineers tweak several characteristics (texture, flavor, etc.), and then they hire volunteers to taste, smell, and feel the products. They collect the data to find the optimal levels of every single ingredient, ensuring they put the most appealing product on the shelves. The perfect sprinkling of salt, a specific amout of fat that sends pleasure signals to the brain, and the small amount of sugar in starch: All these things contribute to make chips inherently addictive.
2. Brain Food: Big Food follows the rules of “sensory-specific satiety." With extremely flavorful foods, at first you can't get enough, but eventually the taste overpowers our brains, making us crave less of them ( aka why you can only eat small abouts of super sour or super spicy foods). This is a food company's nightmare. That's why they take care to develop products with just enough flavor to keep us snacking without creating a combination of seasonings that fatigue taste buds and send our brains into sensory overload.
3. It Preys on Laziness: Products like Lunchables took off because they appealed to busy moms who wanted an easy way to prep lunches for their kids. Unfortunately, a lot of these products are easy, not healthy. But once moms got used to putting these in kids' backpacks, it was hard to go back to making turkey sandwiches from scratch.
4. It Hooks Us While We're Young: There's a reason why cartoons appear on sugary cereals, cheesy chips, and other processed foods. By appealing to kids, food marketers know they are also indirectly appealing to those children's mothers. No mom wants a tempter tantrum in aisle 12, right? Especially with a product like Lunchables, kids feel like picking out their lunch is the one thing they can control in a world where someone tells them when to wake up, how to dress, and where to go. What kids don't realize is that they're teaching their taste buds to respond to high-fat foods and setting themselves up for a lifetime of hard-to-break unhealthy eating habits.
5. Every Detail Is Pre-Planned Think the shape of a Cheeto is a random occurence? Nope. Frito-Lay has a $40,000 tool that replcates the act of chewing in order to make chips that crunch perfectly in your mouth -- at about 4 pounds of pressure per square inch. Some of their products also conveniently melt in your mouth, tricking your brain into thinking it consumed fewer calories than you did. By making foods that appeal to all of your senses, junk food makes a tough case for choosing it over anything found in the produce aisle.
What do you think about junk food? Do you have problems avoiding it?
By Mara Betsch
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