6 min read…
Junk means old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value. We all know junk food is unhealthy. We are aware that it is the cause of heart problems, obesity, depression, and other ailments. But, we cannot stop eating it, can we? Knowing that it’s harmful, we still crave for junk.
Is there a scientific explanation behind it?
What is oro-sensation?
Why do you love the food when it melts in your mouth?
How do we stop consuming junk?
WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND OUR CRAVING?
Food scientist Steven Witherly says there are two reasons why consuming junk food is pleasurable.
1. ORO-SENSATION: It means, a false sensation of taste obtained by the stimulation of the tongue. The sensation of eating the food – what it tastes and smells like, how it feels in your mouth – is called oro-sensation. The Food industry spends millions of dollars in finding the satisfying amount crisp in potato chips or the perfect amount of fizz in a soda. All the factors create a sensation that your brain associates with a particular food or drink.
2. MACRONUTRIENT COMBO: Macronutrient-makeup of the food is about the right blend of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Junk food has the perfect mix of salt, sugar, and fat that excites your brain and makes you come back for more.
HOW DOES THE FOOD INDUSTRY TAP INTO THIS?
There are various factors food companies use to make our food addictive.
1. DYNAMIC CONTRAST – It refers to a combination of different sensations in the same food. Witherly says foods with dynamic contrast have an “edible shell that goes crunch followed by something soft or creamy and full of taste-active compounds“. Remember the crunchy oreo cookie with a creamy layer in the middle? Or a crusty pizza with a cheesy combination? The idea is to let the brain crunch through its way into something soft and fulfilling.
2. SALIVARY RESPONSE – The more we salivate while eating some food, the more it will swim through our mouth and cover our taste buds. Emulsified foods like butter, ice-cream, mayonnaise or chocolates fall into this category. That is one reason why we like foods with sauces on them.
3. RAPID FOOD MELTDOWN – When the food we eat rapidly melts in our mouth, we don’t know how much we eat. Our brain tells us that we are not full, and as a result, we tend to overeat despite consuming a lot of calories.
When you eat tasty food that provides pleasure, your brain registers the feeling. The next time you see or hear about that food, your brain triggers your memories of your feelings when you ate it. This causes salivation and a “mouth-watering” craving. Food companies use every possible scientific strategy to make their foods addictive.
HOW DO WE KICK OUT JUNK AND EAT HEALTHY?
Research shows that the less junk food you eat, the less you crave it.
One of my favorite authors James Clear uses an outer-ring strategy to avoid buying processed and packaged foods at supermarkets. In his own words:
He also uses the 5-ingredient rule. If a food has more than 5 ingredients, don’t buy it. Chances are that they try to fool you into eating more of it. Avoid these processed foods and stay with natural ones.
Create variety with your food, to satisfy your brain’s craving for variety. Oreo’s crunchy/creamy sensation could be substituted by a carrot dipped in hummus. I know its not THE BEST alternative, but you get the point. Find ways to add new spices and flavors to your food.
Deal with your stress. Why? Science proves that when you get stressed, your brain feels the addictive call of fat and sugar and you’re pulled back to junk food. Ever heard of stress-eating?
Junk food is designed to keep you coming back for more. Telling people that they “need more willpower” or should “just stop eating crap” is short-sighted at best. – James Clear
If you want to know more about the science behind junk food, read Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.
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– Kavi & Ninja
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