According to Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss, the food industry is up to some pretty sneaky business. Food companies employ scientists to “engineer” their food to make sure the exact amount of certain ingredients are in the foods to make them irresistible to the consumers. There is a lot of manipulation of ingredients to get just the right balance.
Have you ever heard the term “bliss point”? The “bliss point” is the perfect amount of sweetness in a food that will keeping you always coming back for more. There is added sugar in all kinds of foods like, pasta sauce, bread, pizza, salad dressings, soups, you name it. If it’s a packaged food, chances are very good it has sugar in it. The food companies want to make sure they don’t add too much sugar, to make it too sweet and also obvious that there is sugar in the food, but also not too little so that it doesn’t hook you.
Dietary fat, when it is of a high quality, is good for the body. However, manufactured foods are full of poor quality saturated fats that you may not even know is in there. It contributes to what the food companies call “mouthfeel” or the consistency of the substance in your mouth as you consume it. The more appealing the mouthfeel, the more you want to eat it.
Salt content of the food is very important. You know how you feel when you pop that first chip or french fry into your mouth. You just want to keep eating them. Well, the way the salt is shaped is very important in certain cases. The idea is for the salt to stick to the food and when it hits your tongue, it goes straight to the pleasure center in your brain. So the salt is a pyramid shape with the flat side against the food and the points landing on the tongue to quickly interact with your saliva.
Flavoring with sugar, fat and salt is not the only aspect of food engineering the scientists are involved in. If you are a potato chip fan, you likely prefer the noisier crispier chips and perceive them to have a better flavor than those that are not as crispy.
There is also a term used in the food industry called “vanishing caloric density”. A good example of this concept is Cheetos or some other puffed cheesy food. When you put one in your mouth, it quickly dissolves, leaving your brain with the impression of having consumed a negligible amount of calories and therefore can continue eating.
Sugar, regardless of what name it masquerades under, will make you gain weight. Don’t be fooled by labels that say “made with real fruit” because the fruit is stripped of everything except the sugar and added to the product. It doesn’t contain any parts of the fruit that provide value, like the fiber.
Low fat products are not necessarily better for you than their full fat alternatives. The fat that has been removed is usually replaced with loads of sugar and artificial flavor enhancers. So low fat flavored yogurt can actually contain as much sugar as ice cream.
Don’t fall for “all natural” on the label thinking of it as something that is healthy for you. All natural means nothing regarding the amount of sugar, salt or fat (all of which can be considered “natural” ingredients) contained in the product.
These days, the number one source of saturated fat in the Standard American Diet is cheese. Cheese is included as an ingredient in many foods, hidden and obvious. We get it stuffed into pizza crust, in all sorts of useable forms like cubes, tubes, strings, and tubs. Our consumption of cheese has tripled since we started eating “low fat” in the late 1960s/early 70s. We now consume about 33 pounds of cheese annually per person.
Did you know that we are not born liking the taste of salt? We start to develop that taste at about six months so when we feed young children processed and fast food, they will be looking for sources of salt by the time they are in pre-school. You can lose your taste for salt by simply stopping consumption of salty processed foods for about six weeks, at which time everything in packaged foods will taste way too salty.
Fat, salt and sugar are very valuable to the big food industry. Salt is needed as a preservative to allow foods to sit on the shelf for several months. Salt replaces more expensive herbs and spices and is also used to mask the unpleasant flavor of processed foods.
Even though the food industry has a pretty powerful approach to encourage us to eat poorly from their vast selection of processed foods, we can defend ourselves against that invasion on our willpower. Shop the outer edges of the grocery store. The farther into the middle you go, the more likely the food is not good for you. When you shop in the middle of the store, look around and not just at what is right at eye level. The biggest sellers and the items most filled with sugar, salt and bad fats will be right in front of you. Look up and look down for the less unhealthy selections. Better yet, stay away from that part of the store completely.
Avoiding processed foods is far from easy but it can be done with planning and preparation. Never go to the store hungry and shop from a list after you have decided what recipes you will be preparing at home. You will not only save yourself unwanted empty calories but you will also likely save yourself some money. It’s a win-win.
As a health coach, I work with women who are facing serious health challenges like heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes or who have been diagnosed as having a precursor to a serious health issue such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar. I help them make food and lifestyle changes so they can get healthy, live longer and enjoy a fuller, happier, more energetic life. If you would like to have a free consultation about the health challenges you have and the improvements you would like to see in your health, click here to schedule a no strings attached call.