If you cannot seem to put down that packet of chips and bar of chocolate, know that you are not alone. We have all been there and despite knowing all the health risks that come with junk food we still continue indulging in it. A food scientist, Steven Witherly has dedicated 20 years of his life studying why is it that junk food is so addictive. According to his research this is because of two pleasurable experiences; the first is the sensation of eating the food. The taste may it be sweet, sour or salty. What is smells like, the aroma that reaches your nose. Lastly, what it feels like inside your mouth, the texture of it. This is also known as ‘orosensation’. Food companies give this a lot of importance when developing their products. The crispness of a perfect potato chip or the perfect amount of fizzle in a carbonated soda. All this makes your brain react to food in a favorable way. The second experience is the macronutrient makeup of food meaning the fats, proteins or carbohydrates that are in it. Junk food focuses on salt, fat and sugar since that is what most excites the human brain and makes you crave more.
Food manufactures have many factors that make junk food addictive. The first is known as dynamic contrast. This means getting different sensations from the same food. Something that is crispy on the outside but soft in the middle for example éclairs or Oreo cookies. They play with food to make the experience of the first bite so pleasurable that you keep going for more. Second is salivary response. When we salivate while eating, the food flows throughout our mouth and covers every taste bud. For example ice cream, butter or chocolate. It is for this reason that people cannot help themselves but want glazes or sauces with their food. Third are the kinds of food that rapidly vanish or give the melt in your mouth sensation. This makes your brain think that you are not eating as much as you could. The purpose of this sensation is to make you think that you are not full despite the calorie intake you are taking and make you overeat. For example, puffy potato chips and Hershey’s kisses. Forth factor is called the sensory specific response. This is based on the fact that we do not like eating the same thing over and over again. The sensitivity of our taste buds towards it decreases with time. However junk foods are designed in a way that your brain does not get tired of eating them. It is more this reason that it is impossible to put down that bag of cheese Doritos! Junk foods also convince you that you are actually getting energy from eating it, even though you really are not. This particular psychological thinking is known as calorie density. Lastly, we have the memories of past eating experiences. When you eat something tasty, the brain registers and remembers. The next to you or smell that food, the brain triggers memories that make you respond and crave towards it.