Why Do Processed Foods Taste So Good?
When most of us browse through the aisles at the grocery store, we don’t really give a second thought as to what the foods we throw in our carts are actually made of.
In fact, most of these foods that have become our favorites are actually made to keep us coming back for more.
Processed foods are chemically made to make us crave them, which increases our dependency and consumption. It can be really difficult to break this cycle, especially when we try to eat healthier. By this time, our bodies have become so dependent on these processed foods, that the cravings can become overwhelming.
“Most of us were introduced to processed foods at a very young age, so it can be difficult to avoid these foods when trying to adjust our eating habits,” says Christy Shatlock, MS/RD, and one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD. “This not only has to do with the ingredients the food is made with, but also mental cues, like the smells and aromas of certain things.”
Our expert dietitian Christy explains why so many Americans are addicted to processed foods, and how to make the transition to a healthier diet a little less stressful.
The Smells and the Aromas…
Ever since we were young, the smells and aromas of certain foods manage to stay with us. When we are hungry, this creates mental cues that we need these foods in order to feel satisfied.
“If we are exposed to certain foods at a young age, this influences our mental dependency and cravings for specific things,” says Christy. “This is especially true of fast food.”
Fast food is an American staple, with powerhouse fast food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s also expanding and dominating in the global market.
Deals like the Happy Meal expose children to fast food at a very young age. This also strengthens their mental dependency for these foods, especially if they are eaten on a regular basis.
“People underestimate the power of the aromas and smells of fast food,” says Christy. “It’s like a trigger in our brains that goes off if we are walking through a shopping mall and smell the smoke of a burger being prepared—we automatically know it’s a burger, and we know what restaurant it’s coming from. Ultimately, the smell of fast food is one of the major influencers that keeps us coming back for more.”
You can’t always plug your nose, and you can’t prevent yourself from smelling food. One of the best ways to make the cravings of fast food go away is to fully appreciate and indulge yourself in some of the smells and aromas of some of the healthier meals you are preparing.
“The same principle can be applied to healthy foods,” says Christy. “Take the time to really enjoy the healthy new meals you prepare. When preparing a dish, take the time to immerse yourself in these new aromas and smells.”
Pretty soon, the mental cues in your brain will be making you crave “healthy” versus “overly-processed!
“Natural” and “Artificial” Flavors...
When you look on the back of an ingredient label, chances are, you will notice a statement that reads “made with artificial or natural flavors.”
But, what does this mean, exactly?
“Artificial flavors usually include chemicals that preserve the food, and also make it taste better,” says Christy. “One of the most common artificial flavorings is Monosodium glumate, mostly found in Asian cuisine to enhance flavor. Another common artificial flavor is aspartame, used in many sugar substitutes.”
Most foods that contain artificial flavors, are also high in sodium and sugar. Too much consumption of these processed foods can lead to a number of dangerous health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
This enhancement of taste also causes us to crave more of these foods, which can spell trouble if we are trying to eat healthier.
“Unfortunately, the artificial flavors and preservatives in our food makes it hard for us to say ‘no’ when we are trying to eat smarter,” says Christy. “It does take time, but it is not impossible.”
When shopping at the grocery store, try to purchase items with fewer than ten ingredients, and then once you accomplish that, try to purchase those with fewer than five. Also, try to only eat foods you can pronounce. If you can't pronounce the ingredients, it may be more a product of food science than food. And, watch out for products that contain sodium. Label tip: buy items that read ‘lower in sodium.’ It’s the closest thing you can get to the flavor you want, without the worry over your health.
Here is a video of BistroMD's founding physician, Caroline J. Cederquist, M.D., explaining to Frank Cruz, of Fat Man Unleashed, why there are minimal to no preservatives and additives in BistroMD meals.
Choosing the Best Diet Food for Your Health from BistroMD on Vimeo.
The Dangerous Appeal of Trans Fat...
Trans-fat is without a doubt, bad for you, but why do so many people eat foods that contain it?
“Trans-fat is very addicting, and very unhealthy,” says Christy. “Trans fats actually make food taste better. It is also more cost-effective for the food industry, as well as consumers, because oils that contain trans-fats actually make food last longer, and can be used over and over again.”
If you crave doughnuts in the morning, or the taste of French fries with your cheeseburger, then you are craving trans fat.
Trans fat is mostly found in fried foods, as many restaurants and fast food chains use oils with this additive due to lower cost. People love the taste, and restaurants love the savings.
“If you are going to use any type of oil to prepare your foods, make sure it doesn’t contain any trans fat,” says Christy. “Olive oil or canola oil are definitely wiser, healthier alternatives.”
The bottom line: If you want to eat healthy, do your research; know where your foods are coming from. The road to eating healthy can be difficult, but it can be more beneficial and easy-going if you educate yourself.