junkfood“Wow!  That tastes good!”

That exclamation is the result of extensive research, marketing and exploitation by some very enterprising and creative corporations.  They’ve figured out that our mouth is made happy by certain tastes even though  your body is transformed to flabby.   The term “vanishing caloric density” was coined to describe how food processors are using their knowledge of human taste to turn people into processed food addicts.    This isn’t our allegation; the industry itself understands what it has done, but the pursuit of profit trumps caring for customers.

“You can’t just eat one” was an advertisement slogan created for Frito-Lay in the 1960s.  These five words captured the essence of the potato chip.   This lowly, cheaply-manufactured chip possessed the Holy Trinity of essential tastes that the human body craves:  salt, fat, sweet.   It also contains  two other special qualities that the human body loves:  that special vanishing mouth-feel and crunch.   The mouth feel is a kind of meltiness on the tongue. The ultra-processed food products most admired by food company scientists rapidly dissolves in your mouth. As this happens, your brain interprets that melting to mean that the calories in the food have disappeared as well.  So it uncouples your brain from the breaks that keep your body from overeating.   Thus,  ‘vanishing caloric density’ leads to chronic overeating which leads to chronic overbuying.   As to crunchiness, British researchers have found that the more noise a chip makes when you eat it, the better you’ll like it and the more apt you are to eat more. So food processors spend a lot of effort creating a perfectly noisy, crunchy feel that both vanishes and crunches, while providing the salt, sugar and fat that your body thinks is “satisfying”.

This isn’t about cool recipes;  this is about food science.  The food industry spends a lot of money trying to figure out that to which the human body responds and they design their foods to appeal to those needs.   It’s good business but its bad for customers, over time.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese. Obesity-related complications include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer9. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

American eaters are up against some fairly formidable adversaries.    While we spend time trying to lose weight and stay healthy, we have large food companies that  that strategize about how to further exploit the growing (literally) population of consumers, through state of the art, chemical manipulation of our foods.  The New York Times has exposed some of this food manipulation,  relying largely upon the reportage of Michael Moss, whose recent book, ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat’ exposes the coordinated effort by food companies to addict their customers to foods that are satisfying but unhealthy.

In turn, Moss relies upon a hypothesis by Dr. Robert Hyde which states that we tend to like foods with high oral impact, plenty of taste and dynamic contrast, but with low satiating ability or immediate gastric feedback.  Examples:  meringues, diet soda, cotton candy, popcorn, chips and pretzels.    As outlined by Steven Witherly in his book “Why Humans Like Junk Food’,  food companies and clever chefs know that specific food ingredients added to almost any recipe increase flavor and complexity, both of which contribute to food pleasure, albeit not food health.  They understand that the chemistry of common foods like soy sauce, cheese (Cheddar, Parmesan, Romano), butter/cream, sugar and reaction-flavor additions, worcestershire sauce, bacon, egg yolks and salt provide desirable flavor but not necessarily better health.  Yet, they deploy these secret food ‘weapons’ because they are persuade the human brain that the food is satisfying and, therefore, good.

As you munch on those ‘chips’, or popcorn or the hamburgers, fries, pizza, Mexican or Chinese foods, chicken nuggets, breakfast ‘sandwiches’ and Caesar salads that have become staples of the American diet,  you should consider that each of these foods have been created so that you’d feel full.   They are not good for you and will likely leave you chronically ill and obese  — but that’s not the concern of the mega-corporations that feed you.   That’s the health-industry’s problem………and yours!