Former FDA Head Says Food Manufacturers Use Sugar, Salt, And Fat To Short Circuit The Brain's Reward System

Do you have trouble resisting the urge to scarf down that cookie/candy bar/entree? Maybe it’s because somewhere upstream, experts spent lots of time and money manipulating the ingredients to deliver the consumer to a “bliss point,” suggests former FDA head Dr. David A. Kessler. His book “The End of Overeating” looks at how modern food has been designed to be as irresistible and satisfying as possible.

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.

The book is Kessler’s attempt to understand how the brain responds to such perfectly designed food, and how people develop an uncontrolled eating pattern he calls “conditioned hypereating.”

*Shrug* We don’t know if it’s worth a read or not. We just think it sounds like an interesting look at the modern food environment, where nearly everything consumable is packaged and marketed to you in the most attractive way possible. If you’re a frequent dieter or overeater (Kessler admits to having been both), or just interested in the concept of food marketing, you might find it worth looking into.

“How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains” [New York Times]
(Photo: Got Jenna)