Hyperpalatable Foods: Science or Science Fiction? Part 4

An aisle just for chips!

Snacks, junk food, and hedonic foodstuffs in general are all too often nothing more than mere foodlike substances. These ersatz edibles are precisely engineered by the armies of food scientists. The goal is not maximum nutritional value, or even any nutritive essence at all.

No, the object of these laboratory labors is to find the right scent, texture, and flavor that consumers are literally unable to resist, essentially an addictive substance, a pseudo-food. The addictiveness is built in. The addictiveness of hyperpalatable foods is not a side effect, it is the entire reason for their existence.

In “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic,” the lead story in Eating Disorders, Volume 19, #4, Dr. Pretlow wrote,

High-tech, massive industrialization has rendered such hyperpalatable, addicting foods cheap and widely available. Children have difficulty obtaining tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, but they have ready access to hyperpalatable foods. When bored, stressed, or depressed they may use such foods as a ‘drug of comfort’ that also is more acceptable than tobacco, alcohol and drugs of abuse.

Liz Snyder, whose capsule bio reads, “farm-starter, food activist, nutritional anthropologist, mama!,” writes of the time when she realized the main thing about fast food:

[…] that it was a concoction of chemicals designed to fool our tastebuds into thinking it was something good.

Ever notice how sometimes being sick with the flu can make everything taste wrong, like alien food, or like it contains poison? If our taste buds and brains were not so corrupted by constant exposure to fake food, an awful lot of what we eat would taste horrible all the time. People seem to have lost the instinct that tells a healthy animal what to eat and what to avoid. Even animals have lost it these days, as can be seen by the epidemic of fat pets.

Check out this piece from the WebMD feature archive, “Is Fast Food Killing Our Sense of Taste?” It quotes Steven A. Witherly, Ph.D., who is president and CEO of a food consulting company called Technical Products Inc., which almost sounds ominous, given the often sinister link between food production and technology.

But this company seems to have its own, more beneficent agenda. For instance, Dr. Witherly was a judge for a chef competition called “Iron Matador,” where the object was to create tasty, low-calorie dishes with highly nutritious ingredients.

So, what did Dr. Witherly say to WebMD?

Fast food has ridiculously high levels of salt, fat, and sugar — and the brain likes salt, fat, and sugar. Fast food does not so much dull the taste buds as affect how the brain processes that taste as pleasurable or unpleasant… Snack food is affecting how we process food.

Taste has been found to consist of four parts: the ability to detect saltiness, bitterness, sourness, and sweetness. Then, it was found to also include the detection of umami, which is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Dr. Witherly, one of whose areas of expertise is sensory evaluation, finds two more basic tastes, hot pepper and fatty acid.

Fat, he says, is one of the substances that can make the pleasure centers of people’s brains “light up” — to resemble the brain scans of drug addicts. He notes another similarity, the effect that sugar has on obese people, blunting their enjoyment of it to where it takes larger amounts of sugar to get the same response of comfort and pleasure as before. This tolerance effect is also a sign of drug addiction. In his recommendation to reduce salt intake, he says,

In a week to a month, tops, your old level of saltiness will taste terrible to you.

A therapeutic fast is not at all the same as a starvation diet aimed at weight loss. ScientificFasting.com explains the difference in great detail, and defines fasting as…

[…] the voluntary denial of food to a system which is diseased, and which, because of disease, neither demands nor desires nourishment until, rested, purified, and with hunger in evidence, it is again able to resume its metabolic processes.

For thousands of years, people have known that this kind of fasting can regenerate the sense of smell and taste. The writer says,

One of the objects that nature has in placing the nerves of taste in the mouth is that of a protective measure to prevent noxious substances from entering the stomach; but because of persistent cultivation this sense has been perverted and most men and women are more or less abnormal in taste perception… after a fast, taste and smell are restored to normal acuity and, so long as they are not abused and remain in this state, they may be used as partial indicators.

Although it can’t be 100% reliable, because nature does sometimes fool us by making something edible and toxic at the same time, the fully functioning sense of taste is still preferable to the one that has been bludgeoned into unconsciousness by the assault of food additives.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Addiction to Highly Pleasurable Food as a Cause of the Childhood Obesity Epidemic: A Qualitative Internet Study,” Eating Disorders, 06/21/11
Source: “On Mrs. Bizarri’s Farm,” ieatreal.com
Source: “Is Fast Food Killing Our Sense of Taste?,” WebMD, 09/16/11
Source: “Perversion of Taste and Smell,” ScientificFasting.com
Image by sanjoyg (Sanjoy Ghosh)
(modified), used under its Creative Commons license.

3 Responses

  1. The obesity rates are alarming with one third of the population obese it is getting out of control. I recently lost weight when I saw an article on processed foods and how these foods are causing weight gain and are loaded with chemical. I had to detox my diet and with exercise the weight started coming off. Along with vitamin supplements that helped me with my belly fat. This is an important issue we need to get under control. And this online weight loss site helped me stay on track.

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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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