• Emily

The Dangers of Hyperpalatable Foods and Why Our Brains Make Us Overeat Them

Are there certain foods that you feel like you physically can't stop eating? A thick, creamy milkshake or a crispy, salty bag of chips calls your name, and one sip or one bite never seems to be enough?

Yep. Most of us can relate to that situation.

But what if I told you that certain foods are specifically designed to create this reaction? Combinations of fat, sugar, and salt can make foods harder to eat in moderation. These foods are referred to as "hyperpalatable" and they are a big problem as obesity rates reach over 40% of adults in the United States.

Keep reading to learn more about hyperpalatable foods and their effect on the American diet.

Palatability usually refers to how pleasant a food is to eat. The texture, temperature, and salt content are all factors of palatability. For example, many people find ooey-gooey macaroni and cheese more palatable than lumpy, wet cottage cheese. Duh.

But even palatable foods have a point where they become less enjoyable to eat. You probably enjoy the first bite of a piece of chocolate cake more than bite twelve or fifteen.

This same theory applies to the level of salt or sugar in an item. You may enjoy soda because it has a lot of sugar, but if you kept adding tablespoon after tablespoon of sugar it would eventually become too sugary to enjoy anymore.

However, when it comes to hyperpalatable foods there appears to be no limit to how much we enjoy them.

Evidence, please!

No problem.

In David Kessler's book The end of overeating, he refers to several different experiments with hyperpalatable foods tested on rats. And sure enough, there were certain high-fat, high-sugar foods that the rats could not stop eating. They stuffed their faces until all the food was gone.

Moreover, these researchers looked at the levels of dopamine (happiness chemical) in the rats' brains. In rats and in humans, dopamine levels rise when we eat yummy food. But after the first few bites, the level of dopamine settles back down - which brings us back to the first bite of cake versus bite twelve example from above.

There were certain foods that broke this trend. A rat would eat a bite of hyperpalatable food and the surge in dopamine remained elevated until they finished eating.

Uh oh.

You said it. This is a very dangerous discovery. The chemical sensors that keep us in homeostasis should not behave this way. Our bodies and brains should be able to protect us from overeating by communicating that this food is no longer enjoyable or that we have had enough.

And when that fundamental system breaks down, so does our illusion of willpower.

It's easy to blame Doritos, deep-fried Oreos, and the big bad food industry for creating these engineered foods. But ultimately we have to deal with the consequences.

The American diet has been taken over by "food" with ingredients that aren't food at all. The more real food in your diet, the better off you are. Avoiding high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt foods is a great place to start.

Want to learn more ways you can reduce your consumption of hyperpalatable foods and stop overeating? Subscribe to the blog or book a free coaching session with me for more information!

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