I’m reading a fascinating book right now called “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” by Michael Moss and I have to tell you, it is amazing/disturbing/enlightening/frustrating. The book is basically the history of processed food and how massive food corporations have used their nearly unlimited resources to pinpoint exactly where the “bliss point” for food is – the balance of sugar, fat, and salt that makes consumers almost physically unable to stop eating the foods they produce.
Now, you may not want to read nearly 500 pages on this subject, so I wanted to bring you the highlights, and some strategies to overcome any “food addictions” that you feel might be bringing you down.
· Sugar lights up your brain’s reward system just like heroin. Heroin, people. That’s serious stuff. And our brains want that reward, and will send out signals to keep the sugar coming. Knowing this, companies just put more and more in their foods to keep you coming back for your fix.
· At a certain point, things get too sweet, even for sugar-lovers. Sadly, there is no such point for the addition of fat. We just love it! And we can’t even really taste it. But our bodies recognize the energy dense substance and will not-so-subtly suggest to our brains to continue eating well beyond what we really need. So fat gets added to all kinds of foods to improve the “eating experience” and something gross-sounding called “mouthfeel.”
· Food doesn’t even have to be salty tasting to have a huge amount of salt in it! It gets added to things to reduce bitter chemical additive aftertastes, keep the food-processing machinery from getting gummed up, and keep crackers crunchy (and weirdly, keep cookies soft). Evidently this food is not very good unless they add tons – literally tons every year – of salt to it.
· Corporate executives at these food companies refuse to eat the products they create, and they don’t let their children eat them.
It is all so depressing. Processed food tastes good, and it’s cheap, and easy, and right there when you’re hungry. And they’re making it easier and cheaper and more convenient every day. What can we do?
If you’ve decided that now is the time to reduce the processed food in your life, I’d like to share some ideas.
· Don’t buy it. Or at least buy less of it. Don’t have it in your house. I know your kids like it, and you want them to have things they like, but you’re not doing them any favors. Keep these kinds of things as rare treats. Plus, anything you bring in the house for them to eat will likely be eaten by you, too – or maybe that’s just me. Doritos for dinner, anyone?
· Be careful with labels. Companies are allowed to put several phrases on their packaging that can be misleading. “All natural,” “contains real fruit juice,” and “lean” don’t really mean the product is healthy. Even “organic” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when the label is on a processed food (more on this later!).
· Check high and low in your grocery store. I mean this quite literally. The top and bottom shelves have better choices on them. Ask anyone who has ever seen me crawling around on the floor to find the last canister of Plain Old-Fashioned Oatmeal.
· Research shows that eating a reduced salt diet for 12-weeks reduces people’s taste for salt by a huge margin (people only wanted 20% of the salt they used to consume). I know from personal experience that avoiding sweets will reduce cravings for them. But willpower is a tough, unpredictable thing. The best advice, and the advice I give all my clients, is Make Convenience Food Inconvenient!