Reporter Michael Moss takes readers on a tour of the $1 trillion processed food industry, and the sights aren’t pretty. The average American eats 33 pounds of cheese and 70 pounds of sugar a year, and health experts say those trends triggered the obesity epidemic that has left millions at risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.
I just found this article by Moss himself in the New York Times that is long but fascinating….“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”
What I found most interesting about Moss’ investigation is that food scientists target our “Bliss Point” at which a certain amount of sugar causes a high that leads to repeat sales. With fat, they call it “Mouth Feel”. Again, the more fat they use, the more the product sells. And salt causes a “Flavor Burst”, acts as a preservative, covers up bad flavors, and also causes a burst in sales.
After all your research, do you believe these foods can be considered “addictive?”
That is the one single word that the food industry hates: “addiction.” They much prefer words like “crave-ability” and “allure.” Some of the top scientists who are very knowledgeable about addiction in the country are very convinced that for some people, the most highly sugared, high fat foods are every bit as addictive as some narcotics. Sugar uses the same neurological pathways as narcotics to hit the pleasure center of the brain that sends out the signals: “eat more, eat more.” That said, the food industry defends itself by saying true narcotic addiction has certain technical thresholds that you just don’t find in food addiction. It’s true, but in some ways getting unhooked on foods is harder than getting unhooked on narcotics, because you can’t go cold turkey. You can’t just stop eating.
In your book, you talk about how the industry fiddles with the physical shapes of ingredients like fat and salt so they taste better on the tongue. How are companies using this process?
Cargill, among other companies, make numerous versions of salt to meet the particular needs of their customers and their products. There are powdered salts, chunked salts, salts shaped in different ways with various additives to work perfectly with processed foods. All of them are geared to increase allure. My favorite is the one called the kosher salt. It looks like snow, but is shaped like a pyramid with flat sides that enable it to stick to food better. But where the magic comes in is that it’s hollowed out so your saliva has more contact with the salt. Your saliva is what conveys the salt taste to the taste buds, which send the electric signals to your brain. The kosher salt also dissolves three times as fast as regular salt, so you’re getting a much larger hit of what the companies call the flavor burst.
Were you surprised by how many scientists and food company executives avoid their own products?
It was everything from a former top scientist at Kraft saying he used to maintain his weight by jogging, and then he blew out his knee and couldn’t exercise, his solution was to avoid sugar and all caloric drinks, including all the Kool-Aid and sugary drinks that Kraft makes. It ranged from him to the former top scientist at Frito Lay. I spent days at his house going over documents relating to his efforts at Frito Lay to push the company to cut back on salt. He served me plain, cooked oatmeal and raw asparagus for lunch. We toured his kitchen, and he did not have one single processed food product in his cupboards or refrigerator.
In another article about this same book food magnate Stephen Sanger is quoted…
“Bottom line being, though, that we need to ensure that our products taste good, because our accountability is also to our shareholders. And there’s no way we could start down-formulating the usage of salt, sugar, fat if the end result is going to be something that people do not want to eat.”
These facts are not surprising, and people who have experienced a pure diet often become sensitive enough to instantly feel the unbalancing and addictive drug-like effects of processed foods.
What is interesting is the scientific advancement of flavor enhancers. In some ways, a new kind of salt that increases the salt flavor while lowering the actual amount of salt eaten sounds like it could help people eat less salt. But if it causes an addictive response or more “crave-ability” and people end up eating more of the product laced with this, then it is creating a worse problem.
The TriplePundit article ends with a positive note that once shareholders realize the long-term health impact of these products they will demand corporate responsibility from the companies producing them.
At least books and articles like these are letting people know what they are dealing with. And movements like raw food are proving that it is possible to eat in a totally healthy way.
What do you think?