How Scientists Engineer Foods to Make Them Dangerously Addictive
It’s no secret that the standard American diet is having a terrible effect on human health. What’s is a secret, though, is how the food industry uses science and psychology to create processed food products that are devoid of nutrition, full of chemical additives and colorings, and incredibly addictive.
In fact, the science of how food companies get customers physically, mentally and emotionally hooked on their products reads like a good conspiracy theory. Major food manufacturers know good and well that repeat customers can be made by tricking the mind and body and overriding our natural tendency to seek out healthy, satisfying foods.
“The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. ” ~Michael Moss
The story revolves physiology, psychology and neuroscience, and three key ingredients: salt, sugar and fat. And at the core of addictive food science is our understanding of physiology and neurochemical responses to foods. Scientists have been able to boil this down to a simple equation: The Food Pleasure Equation.
“The Food Pleasure Equation postulates that the brain has the ability to quantify the pleasure contained in an eating experience as performed by certain dopamine neurons in the brain and the sensing of calories by the gut. When you have a food choice, the brain actually calculates how much pleasure will be generated during the eating and digestion of a particular food. The goal of the brain, gut, and fat cell is to maximize the pleasure extracted from the environment, both in food sensation and macronutrient content. If a food is lowered in calories for health reasons, the gut has the ability to sense this, and the food will become less palatable over time.” [Source]
The work of the food scientist is to figure out how to override this function and trick the brain and body into believing that high calorie, nutrient-poor foods will offer a reward in the form of nutrition and satisfaction. To do this, they look primarily at a short list of key factors.