Hyperpalatable Foods: Science or Science Fiction? Part 1

first times

What do we know about the chemical commonly known as salt?

According to David Kessler, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, over-eating might be due to… the combination of fats, sugars and salt used by food manufactures to trigger a ‘bliss’ point in the human brain.

Sarah Hughes said that, in a piece called “Why one cake is never enough: Addictive additives in food MAKE us eat more.” She also explained how Dr. Kessler sees the insatiable American appetite as a factor in the obesity epidemic. He’s all for societal and cultural changes, in the ways we think about and react to food. He’s also for putting an end to the deliberate designing of food to make it literally irresistible. And that means changing the ways in which food is manufactured and advertised. The article is a comprehensive introduction to Kessler’s ideas about what is wrong and how to fix it. In summation, Hughes says,

… the primary lesson from Kessler’s book is that instead of simply blaming and shaming those who weigh more, we should reconsider our entire relationship with food and look at why some people are more likely to respond to the stimuli provided by salt, sugar and fat than others.

Hyperpalatable, hedonic, more-ish, umami — a lot of new terminology has entered the vocabulary of nutrition in the past few years. Basically, umami is the stuff added to processed foods to make them hyperpalatable, hedonic, and more-ish. In other words, to make them addictive. A question arises in the mind. Could it be that corporations purposely add (to their already questionable recipes) substances designed to make the food addictive? How paranoid is that?

First, it’s necessary to assume that food can be addictive. We have seen evidence, such as the Yale study, “Neural Correlates of Food Addiction.” We are seeing societal evidence of many kinds. What was once called “peer group pressure” has been better named “peer homogeneity.” People want to be like most of the other people around them, to be normal. The drive toward peer homogeneity is a good explanation for teenage mothers, and is supposed to be a viable explanation for the use of recreational drugs (including alcohol) by teens, and why people voted for Hitler. In other words, peer homogeneity is assumed to be a very powerful force. Which indeed it can be.

In our society, there is a very strong drive to be weight-normal. It can take the form of sane health consciousness, or it can be an obsession to the point where a person develops an eating disorder. Body size is an issue for almost everyone, especially for teenagers. The culture is saying, “Don’t be a fat geek, be slim like the people in that group you wish to be a part of.” No teen wants to be different in that particular way. But they are. Hundreds of thousands of teenagers are overweight or obese. For the child or teen who struggles against the temptation of hedonic foods, even that drive to conform and be slim is powerless to overcome the urge to eat and grow fat.

Conclusion: against the very strong force we call peer homogeneity, there must be another mighty force at work, an overwhelming one, that keeps them (and grownups too) enslaved to hyperpalatable foods. It is indistinguishable from addiction in every way, and might as well be called by its name. A part of addiction is so-called ‘process’ addiction. In the case of food, this is the mechanical motions, like hand-to-mouth, biting, chewing, tongue action, and swallowing, which can serve to relieve stress. The mechanical action of crunching down on a mouthful of crispy carrot and reducing it to slush, is a fantastic exercise in stress relief. Yet few people become addicted to eating carrots. The allure of the process alone is not enough.

On the other hand, people do become addicted to chips, reported by the Weigh2Rock kids as one of the most addictive foods. Aggressive crunching is also part of the fun of eating chips. But chips have something that carrots don’t. Eating chips is part process addiction and part substance addiction. Which means there must be something in the substance that makes it addictive. Which is where the quotation at the top of the page comes in, the one about

…the combination of fats, sugars and salt used by food manufactures to trigger a ‘bliss’ point in the human brain.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Why one cake is never enough: Addictive additives in food MAKE us eat more,” Daily Mail, 08/03/09
Image by ebruli, used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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