Friday, February 22, 2013

Junk Food is Fascinating!

I’m back from New Orleans and back in the lab, where things are going a little haywire this week.  But hope is not lost, and I’m sure I’ll bounce back from the latest setback.  I didn’t get into science because the work was easy or the pay was great.  I got into it because I was interested in getting as close to the truth as possible, and after all these years in the lab, science still seems like one of the best ways to ask questions about the truth.  Nevertheless, I am glad today is Friday!

I came across this fascinating New York Times Magazine article about the science of junk food, and oh man, is this a good read.  It’s a long piece but absolutely filled with funny anecdotes and stunning confessions of how hyper-palatable and nutritionally empty “food” is developed, marketed, and sold.  I’m going to limit myself to sharing three quotes from the article with you, just to whet your appetite.  The first quote makes me want to cry; such is the constant battle between the private sector and public health.

“There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

Second, a fun food science tidbit!

This contradiction is known as “sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

And third, ain’t this the truth.

With production costs trimmed and profits coming in, the next question was how to expand the franchise, which they did by turning to one of the cardinal rules in processed food: When in doubt, add sugar.

Happy weekend and healthy eating, my dears!

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