I like to think of myself as a somewhat even-keeled person. I try not to get too upset over a too much, with one exception that gets me really riled up every time!
When it comes to nourishing our bodies and the food industry, all bets are off and I find myself up on my soap box being totally opinionated about the entire food production and manufacturing process.
I am sure you have probably come across the term ‘conspiracy theory’ which is bandied about in a lot of different arenas. It bears some weight with me but I am not sure I always subscribe to the concept. I make an exception when it comes to this. Food manufacturers specifically design and manufacture foods for us to over-consume and become addicted to. I am not making this up. This is the premise on which all packages and processed foods are created and the ultimate goal of the manufacturer is to get you eating more.
The food industry actually uses tricks designed SOLEY to make you eat more than you want or need to. Processed foods have been deliberately engineered to make you crave — and eat — more of them.
Here are just a few of the tactics they use to ensure you become a repeat customer:
Yes, it is a word. You know that feeling of needing to have that bag of chips or that pastry or chocolate bar that is sitting in your in the pantry RIGHT NOW? That is craveability. It is not about physiological need or hunger, you just need to have it at this very moment.
The reason you will never be able to eat just 1 potato chip is because of all the different flavors packed perfectly into the chips.
The salt, which sits on the outside of the chip, hits your tongue first. It sends a message to the pleasure center of the brain, which then sends a signal back saying, ‘Keep them coming!’
While your brains would eventually tire of one flavor (a reaction known as ‘sensation-specific satiety’) and tell you to stop eating, the junk food industry has overcome that hurdle by topping things off with plenty of fat (which also helps light up your brain’s pleasure center) and, for good measure, some potato starch, which gets rapidly converted to sugar in the body. This leads to sugar highs and lows promoting further sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
2. Vanishing calorie density
You take a bite of a cheese puff, feel a slight crunch, then, all of a sudden, like magic, it melts away and you are left with nothing to swallow, only flavor dissolving in your mouth. Snack foods that melt in your mouth, like cheese puffs, meringues or cotton candy, have something called vanishing caloric density.
That means that the stomach does not get the signal that you have eaten any of that food. Consequently, your brain never registers that you are full, even though you have been scarfing down handful after handful. So you reach for another handful. And another. And another.
3. Dynamic contrast
I had mentioned previously that your brain eventually tires of one flavor. Foods with dynamic contrast give a whole host of differing sensations in the same food. For example: a crunchy shell followed by something with a soft or creamy texture. Think chocolate with a caramel center or an Oreo cookie, or a maple bacon donut or most deep fried foods.
The brain loves the thrill of these novel sensations, so it seeks them out. The dynamic contrast keeps the brain interested, so it never tires of eating the food.
I am sure you are wondering what you are able to do counteract these attacks on your senses.
You are now well aware that processed foods are carefully crafted to contain all sorts of flavors and sensations designed to be as addictive as possible. Here are a few pointers to steer you clear of this sabotage:
1. Choose whole foods.
Buy real foods. If there is no junk in your house, you will not be eating it at home. When visit the grocery store, shop the perimeter. This is where you find your high-volume, healthy, non-processed fare, including veggies, fruit, meats, eggs and dairy.
2. Create your own dynamic contrast.
Mix things up on your plate to keep things interesting. Try carrots dipped in hummus, plain whole fat Greek yogurt with nuts and berries, steamed beans with a sprinkling of almonds or an egg or chicken salad with celery and/or pickles.
3. Stop before you swallow.
Before you eat, ask yourself: Is my stomach growling? Am I light-headed? Am I hungry or thirsty? These can determine if what you are feeling is really physical hunger. If those physical signs are absent, ask yourself: Am I stressed? Anxious? Bored? If so, come up with 3 other ways to relieve the problem. Take a bath, read a good book, or call a friend. This will shift your focus and begin the process of retraining your taste buds, and your brain and most importantly, prevent you from reaching for that pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Now, if we could only get that crap off the shelves …