From the moment that you pop open a bag of chips, it’s game over. You won’t stop until every last crumb is gone. Is this your fault? Not necessarily. While you may think that your craving for more is a consequence of hunger, you should think again. Food companies have tailored every detail to satisfy you while munching, and leave you desperate for more once you swallow.
Take Doritos for example. Those ‘Dorito fingers’ and that tangy aftertaste have a purpose; a reminder to go back for more. The process of eating each chip is meant to satisfy your brain, and create a sensory experience. Think about it – you see the bright orange triangles, smell the (processed) cheese, taste the zesty powder, hear the crunch of each bite, and feel the lasting Dorito dust on your fingertips. Doritos cover all the bases.
Chips aren’t the only snack that keep you reaching for more. Snacks like popcorn, cotton candy, and Cheetos take part in a phenomenon called vanishing caloric density. Food scientist Steven Witherly explains, “if something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it… you can just keep eating it forever.” This trick often causes overeating, which can be dangerous. Remember, just because your brain is tricked into thinking that calories can vanish, certainly doesn’t mean that they do.
Another form of neurological manipulation in the food industry is contrast. News site ati says, “Dynamic contrast foods like Oreo cookies or Cadbury Eggs require getting through a hard outer layer to a soft and satisfying middle, and boy, do our brains find those juxtaposed textures thrilling”. Drilling in on Oreos, these cookies have both a contrast in texture and color going for them. Whether it’s the colors, texture, or the controversy of how to correctly eat an Oreo that makes them addictive, it has been scientifically proven that the brain reacts to Oreos like a drug. Researchers set up a test using rats to compare the effects of morphine or cocaine and Oreos on the brain. The answer: the effects are all too similar. Forbes says that this phenomenon, “could explain why people have such a hard time resisting eating an entire sleeve of the cookies”. Sound familiar?
Tactics such as contrast and vanishing caloric density may be deceptive, but many snack companies have gone a step further to ensure their brand success. Some chips such as Pringles use the additive monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG. According to Eat This, Not That!, “many popular brands add monosodium glutamate, a flavoring agent that boosts appetite and causes migraines”. MSG has a bad reputation, so it may be best to steer clear of foods that add it, especially since you may end up eating more of it than you wanted to.
Knowing these tricks is the first step to outsmarting them, and snacking in moderation. Look for snacks that are unprocessed, and do not contain MSG. While they may not be quite as exciting, healthier snack alternatives can keep you both satisfied and in good health. This can be as simple as reaching for baked chips instead of fried Lays, or veggie sticks instead of Cheetos. Remember that junk foods are expertly crafted to take a hold of you and keep you munching. Don’t let them!