Can Food Really Be Made Addictive?

I bet you can’t eat just one, the old Lay’s Potato Chip TV commercial, came to mind while reading a story a few months ago. It was a sci-fi sort of thing where scientists in white coats hid in buildings deep in Texas, hmm why Texas I wondered?, and set out to optimize an artificial food that humans couldn’t resist. The plot revolved around the idea that humans have evolved to be attracted to certain food content: fat, sugar, salt, and to prefer the feel of certain foods in their mouths—a system that apparently evolved so homo sapiens could find and consume the nutrients needed for survival.

But then these scientists set out to synthesize a food with the ideal mouth feel, and perfect balance of the big three mentioned above, and with just the right breaking pressure (about 4 psi).

Then they packaged it for maximum convenience to so there would be the smallest possible friction between the human hand and its mouth. And designed it to melt away on the tongue so the brain wouldn’t realize how many calories it was consuming and could keep on eating well after its energy requirements were fulfilled, something the scientists called vanishing caloric density.

This seemed like a pretty good plot to me. But why go to so much trouble? Good food abounds on planet Earth. Surely there must be an overarching cosmic reason to work so hard to addict people to such an artificial admixture of excess.

And there was…$$$

As I read further into the story I awakened from my daydreaming and realized this was actually a New York Times article discussing the U.S. food industry and a book by Michael Moss about how corporations construct food that will sneak past the sensory and willpower apparatus of humans in order to extract money from their wallets. It got me thinking about obesity, heart disease, diabetes and and how these are all on the rise, even among children.

All of which reminded me of a book I read years ago called The Okinawa Program that detailed a 25-year study of the people of that island in an effort to understand why they have some of the world’s lowest mortality rates and best health. I don’t recall any white-coated scientists synthesizing food.

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