The Secret of Addictive Junk Food

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“What I love about Pringles is how you can have just a few and feel totally satisfied,” said no one ever. What is it about snack food that makes it so addictive? It’s almost like someone is designing them to make you crave more and more without ever feeling satiated. Does this sound a little like a conspiracy to you? It shouldn’t. This is actually how food corporations design their snack foods and sodas.

In an article published in New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Moss describes the process that food industries use to create addictive snack foods. Moss explains a phenomenon called “sensory-specific satiety,” a correlation between the flavors of food with a feeling of being full. According to sensory-specific satiety, foods with strong, distinct flavors signal to the brain a feeling of fullness, causing the brain to suppress appetite. In contrast, foods without distinct, strong flavors (such as white bread) do not cause the brain to suppress the desire to eat, leaving the eater to snack endlessly. This knowledge of food and satiety presented a dilemma to big food industry: in order to maximize profits and keep consumers snacking ad nauseam, they would need to develop foods that are both flavorful enough to entice us to eat them but lacking in the strong flavors that create a feeling fullness.

According to Michael Moss, the most popular food products are successful because of their complex formulas. These chips and sodas “pique the taste buds enough to be alluring,” but lack an overriding singular flavor that tells the brain to stop eating. Food industries conduct thousands of tastings to pair the optimal ratio of ingredients (ie: fat, sugar, salt) with the right coloring and eating sensation, such as the crunch of a chip, in order to create this “bliss point.” There you have it. Your inability to put down a box CHEEZ-ITS after one handful is because they were designed exactly for that purpose.

So, what do you do now that you know the big bad food corporations are designing foods to keep you snacking endlessly? For one, you could stop buying chips and sodas. You always knew they weren’t good for you anyway. But if you can’t bare the thought of cutting out your crunchy, salty snacks and carbonated beverages, you could limit your endless consumption of them with portion control. Pour a reasonable sized bowl of chips for yourself and then put that mammoth sized bag away! And use this knowledge of sensory-specific satiety to make snacks and meals with strong flavors that will satisfy you.