How Processed Foods Trick Us into Eating More than We Meant to

  1. Marketing convinces us that processed foods are “healthy”. Processed foods come in packages with bright colors, cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, and powerful words that triggers all kinds of positive associations. You’ll see chips “prepared with avocado oil,” sugary cereal “made with flaxseeds,” or creamy chip dip with “real spinach.”

    The nutrient content of those foods isn’t particularly impressive, but the addition of nutrition buzzwords and trendy ingredients make us perceive them as healthier. Health buzzwords and emotional appeals can make us perceive a food as “good for me”; it seems like a wise and caring choice to put them in our shopping carts, then in our mouths.

  2. Big portions make us think we’re getting a “good deal”. People get mixed up about food and value. We’re taught to save money and not waste food. When companies use cheap, poor quality ingredients, they can sell bigger quantities without raising the price.

  3. Variety makes us hungrier. When we have lots of variety, we have lots of appetite. Reduce the variety and you also reduce distraction from your body’s built-in self-regulating signals.

  4. Multiple flavours at once are irresistible. If there’s a party in your mouth, you can guarantee that at least two out of three of the following guests will be there:

    • Sugar

    • Fat

    • Salt

    These three flavours—the sweetness of sugar, the luxurious mouthfeel of fat, and the sharp savoury of salt—are favourites among those of us with mouths. When you combine these flavours, they become ultra delicious and hard-to-resist. This is called stimuli stacking—combining two or more flavors to create a hyperpalatable food.

Just think about the ease of eating whole foods versus processed foods:

Whole foods require about 25 chews per mouthful, which means that you have to slow down. When you slow down, your satiety signals keep pace with your eating and have a chance to tell you when you’ve had enough, which is probably why you’ve never overeaten salad.

Processed food manufacturers, on the other hand, aim for food products to be broken down in 10 chews or less per mouthful. That means the intense, flavorful, crazy-delicious experience is over quickly, and you’re left wanting more—ASAP.

December 4, 2022

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