Michael Moss is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter at The New York Times who has written a book Salt Sugar Fat, in which he explains how the food industry is hooking us in a way that reacts physically with our body chemistry . In a Time Magazine interview6 discussing his book, Moss says:
“One of the things that really surprised me was how concerted and targeted the effort is by food companies to hit the magical formulation. Take sugar for example. The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the ‘bliss point.’ Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon, and send products flying off the shelves. It is the process they’ve engineered that struck me as really stunning.
When it came to fat, it was the amazing role of what the industry calls the ‘mouth feel.’ That’s the warm, gooey taste of cheese, or the bite into a crisp fried chicken that you get. It rushes right to the same pleasure centers of the brain that sugar does…
When it comes to salt, what was really staggering to me is that the industry itself is totally hooked on salt. It is this miracle ingredient that solves all of their problems. There is the flavor burst to the salt itself, but it also serves as a preservative so foods can stay on the shelves for months. It also masks a lot of the off-notes in flavors that are inherent to processed foods.”
The food industry use something known as “sensory-specific satiety.” This is food that is designed in such a way that causes us to want to eat more – “craveability”. There is a delicate balance between wanting more and having too much, and food manufacturers spend a great deal of money working out exactly where this satiety point is in their foods.
One of the the most addictive junk foods on the market, containing all three bliss-inducing ingredients: sugar, salt and fat, is crisps and biscuits. In case you are wondering potatoes contain natural sugar, though some companies will add it too.
The intricate balance of salt, fat and sugar rewards the brain with instant feelings of pleasure — all of this combined with crunch make them the perfect addictive foods.
Sugar — One of the Most Addictive Substances Known (more than cocaine!) Research7 published in 2007 showed that 94 percent of rats who were allowed to choose between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar. Even rats who were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine.
The problem is that years ago when food was scarce, if we located sugar (usually in the form of seasonal fruit) we were primed to over-indulge in order to build up fat stores. However these receptors have not evolved to take into account the abundance of sugar inducing products that we can locate 24 hours a day. The abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets generates excessive reward signals in your brain and the release of feel good, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, and thus lead to addiction and weight gain.
So the next time you beat yourself up because you ate the whole of a big bag of crisps, or the whole packet of biscuits, blame the manufacturers, and if you want to avoid their addiction ….. don’t buy them, one will never be enough!