Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Understanding the American Appetite

Great article in yesterday's Well column in Science Times, How the Food Makers Captured our Brains, about the topics of a new book by former Food and Drug Administration head Dr. David A. Kessler, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.” A few excerpts from the article:

When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full.

Dr. Kessler isn’t convinced that food makers fully understand the neuroscience of the forces they have unleashed, but food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named “bliss point.” Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt.

The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” he notes. And Dr. Kessler reports that the Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.

Much like the above text, the book is supposed to focus on why those peanut M&Ms are so darn addictive and not so much attack the industry, but simply understand how our brains work in response or in conjunction. Join Tara Parker-Pope's discussion here.


becky said...

So true..
but seriously, fat, sugar and salt...what else do you need :)
Also, glad to see you continue to update the blog remotely.

Niko said...

I have to agree with Becky... those are truly a great combo :)