It’s no secret that processed food tastes great. However, it’s one of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic which is spreading wide and far and only getting worse despite various governments implementing new health initiatives. It’s costing nations lots of money in healthcare and both individuals and society could benefit from improved health.
One big obstacle to improving one’s health is the reduction or elimination of processed food. This is a tough one for most people. But perhaps, if you understand why processed food tastes so good, you might be able to figure out your own way of reducing your intake of processed food.
What Makes Processed Food Taste So Good?
#1 – High In Sugar
In ancient times, millions of years ago as homosapiens, foods high in sugar would’ve been hard to come across. Rare. Rewarding.
Sugary foods such as fruit would’ve sent signals to our brains that they were full of energy and safe to eat. As such, we learned to connect sugary food with being safe to eat and energy-dense. Two things which would’ve been extremely important for surviving in a world where food was limited.
Nowadays, food companies take advantage of this fact. Sugar is produced in high quantities and bought cheaply allowing food manufacturers to put lots of sugar into food. This makes it taste good whilst keeping it cheap.
The problem is that consuming high amounts of sugar (in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle) is a recipe for disaster (literally) for your body. Especially when high amounts of sugar are consumed on a regular basis.
It can cause:
- Elevated blood glucose
- Elevated insulin levels
- Insulin resistance
- Decreased micronutrient absorption (as a consequence of insulin resistance)
All of which can lead to type 2 diabetes, increased body fat, nutrient deficiencies as well as many other health conditions and chronic diseases.
#2 – High In Fat
One macronutrient which is absolutely packed with energy is fat. Fat contains roughly 9 calories per gram whereas carbohydrates and protein contain about 4 calories per gram. This makes fat very energy-dense.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense to consume lots of fat. If food was scarce, fat would be a great source of energy which is one reason it would make sense for us to eat lots of it if we got our hands on it. Of course, in the modern world, food is present everywhere and we have no shortage of food in more economically developed countries.
In order to make sure we had enough energy to survive, eating extra fat would help us to put on more body fat for colder winter months and help to ensure that we could stay alive by literally eating our own bodyfat stores whenever food was unavailable or limited.
Because it tastes so good and provides texture and a nice mouthfeel to products, fats tend to be put into lots of processed foods. Combined with sugar it makes for a decadent duo.
#3 – Lots Of Salt
Salt is another ingredient which is present in many processed foods. It tastes good and that’s probably because it’s also vital for optimal body function. The body requires electrolytes like magnesium, potassium and sodium which are found in salt for optimal nerve signalling.
Don’t forget either that salt used to be so valuable it was considered to be a highly valued trade item and was even considered a currency amongst certain peoples.
#4 – Calorie Dense
The combination of fat and sugar found in processed food makes them calorie dense. These foods give us lots of energy we can use for metabolic processes. We learn to love this combination and crave it more and more because it’s full of energy. It tells the human body we have no shortage of energy, yet despite this, these foods are so well engineered we can’t stop eating them and we load up on even more energy.
Whilst this may sound great, it’s not so good because it often leads to us overeating food which tends to lead to gaining excess body fat which leads to impaired health and then diseases related to impaired health further down the line.
#5 – Texture
Texture claims are being used more and more frequently in new product launches within food and drinks companies.
A third of global food and drink products with texture claims launched in 2017 were described as crunchy, crispy, crusty, brittle or nutty.
A third of these claims were described as crunchy, crispy, crusty, brittle or nutty.
A fifth of them were classified as smooth, silky, velvety, creamy or butter. Further descriptors included carbonate, bubbly, chewy or gummy.
Consumers love to try different flavours and textures as this creates a different taste in your mouth. Food companies are well aware of this which is why they have begun to include lots of texture claims on their packaging. Certain consumers will prefer different textures and by appealing to consumers in this way, these texture claims encourage you to buy their food products.
Many of these textures aren’t found in the natural world and can only be produced through industrial, factory processes which makes them rather novel to the human senses causing us to want more of these unique tastes, flavours and textures. They then mix these textures together to create new tastes which humans want to try out because we’re innately built to be curious creatures.
You’ll find these innovations everywhere. Things like instead of marshmallows, having marshmallows in chocolate. Chocolate with biscuit pieces. Chocolate with popping candy. Once you’re aware, you’ll start spotting how texture causes us to try lots of these different processed foods out. It also causes us to keep eating foods with a texture we’re fond of as we crave the feel of the product on our tongue along with the flavour which creates a unique taste altogether.
#6 – Consumer Experience
One thing that plays a big role in consumer experience is the packaging.
You might be thinking, what? Packaging? How on earth does that make processed food taste good? Well, it’s all about the consumer experience.
Depending on the product, there are several steps to the consumer experience:
- Seeing the packaging
- Visualising the product
- Opening the box
- Unwrapping the product
- Smelling the product
- Tasting the product
The brain plays a pivotal role in the consumer experience. All the environmental cues such as what you see, what you smell (aromas) and how things feel, influence the consumer experience of tasting a food product.
Eating a square piece of chocolate you find lying in a bowl provides a very different sensorial experience to unboxing a box of chocolates and seeing a whole selection laid out in front of you and being overwhelmed by the different colours, flavours and aromas present. And that’s before you even taste the chocolate.
Avoiding Processed Food
Consumption of processed foods have been linked to obesity, increased body fat, insulin resistance, raised blood pressure and that’s before we consider that processed foods contain lots of additional additives, oils and artificial ingredients which the human body has only been introduced to in the last 100 – 150 years or so.
If you’re concerned about your health, it’s best if you limit or avoid consumption of processed foods as they tend to be devoid of micronutrients and they don’t seem to induce much satiety compared to whole foods. To best do this, I suggest trying to consciously choose not to buy these foods in supermarkets or opting for processed foods that are animal-based.
Trying to forbid yourself from eating processed food doesn’t always tend to go well due to how much it has become a part of modern culture. For most people, it’s probably not completely possible, but a little self-restraint, reduction or manipulation of your environment can go a long way.
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