When we started the transition from a western carnivorous diet to a WFPB diet, we struggled with giving up certain processed foods like chips, cookies, chocolate, and crackers.  Why couldn’t we just stop with just eating one cookie or a few chips?  Why did we want to eat the whole bag?  We bought a book entitled, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss and learned from it that our addiction to processed foods was not all our fault. The food industry has a big part in this processed food addiction.

An addiction is an inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior even though it is causing psychological or physical harm. The term addiction does not only refer to dependence on substances such as heroin or cocaine. Some addictions also involve an inability to stop partaking in activities such a gambling, eating, or working.  Addiction to food is included in this definition.

The food industry has invented foods and flavors in an attempt to sell more of their products and get us hooked on them in order to increase sales. To help with this they have turned to the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia to study the science of why we are so attracted to sugar. The Monell Center tested 356 children, ages 5-10 to determine their bliss point for sugar. The bliss point is the precise amount of sweetness, that makes food most enjoyable. The bliss point is a powerful phenomenon and dictates what we eat and drink more than we realize.

There are five primary tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Fat isn’t one of these. And yet, fat has remarkable powers that the processed food industry relies heavily upon. It can transform a food from dry and listless into a silky smooth, texture-rich, savory delight. It improves tenderness, color and mouth-feel. In addition, it increases the shelf-life of a multitude of products from days to months. And it increases profit margins on cheaper cuts of meat because there is less meat and more fat. Scientist Adam Drewnowski determined that unlike sugar, fat has no bliss point. The more fat there was, the better. The highest levels of fat that were tested, in this case heavy cream, tasted even better with added sugar. He learned that adding both fat and sugar increased the allure of food that neither sugar nor fat alone could reach.

Studies have shown that babies love sugar the instant they’re born, but not salt. The scientists at Monell have been studying our desire for salt and they believe that salt is being pressed upon American kids. It turns out that the manufacturers of processed foods have been creating a desire for salt where none existed before. Why does the food industry do this? One reason is that the salty taste drives people to keep eating until the bag is empty. In addition, salt improves the taste. Cornflakes taste metallic without salt. Crackers without salt are bitter and soggy and stick to the roof of your mouth. Ham is rubbery. In baking bread, salt keeps the fast-spinning machinery from gumming up. Even more important is the problem of what the industry calls, “warmed-over-flavor” WOF (like a dog’s bark) for short.  When the fats in meat oxidize, the meat tastes like cardboard.  Some in the industry compare this to damp dog hair when it is reheated and added to soups or boxed meals. It’s the WOF that the industry is desperate to avoid, which is where salt comes in. Salt is one of the most effective counteractive measures against WOF from the meat’s deterioration.

Food addiction is heavily influenced by the food industry as products are chemically and scientifically engineered to create craving and a never ending desire for more. That’s what you can expect when you eat processed foods. To us, this plays a major role in modern day food addiction.