Autumn 2015 / Leading Edge
Lingo: Hyperpalatable

Some foods are engineered to be so tasty they’re difficult to resist, says nutritional scientist Venket Rao


When Frito Lay – the maker of potato chips and other crispy snacks – bets that “you can’t eat just one,” they’ve stacked the odds in their favour. Like many food companies, Frito Lay employs food scientists who deliberately engineer their products to be more irresistible than healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. By adding sugar, salt and fat, they make Cheetos and Tostitos “hyperpalatable.”

Venket Rao, a professor emeritus of nutritional sciences, explains that the presence of sugar, salt and fat on our taste buds triggers our brain to release endorphins, which generate feelings of euphoria. Hyperpalatable foods do this so effectively, they override the signal our body uses to tell us we’re full. We often keep eating these foods, even if we’re not hungry – a phenomenon known as conditioned hypereating. “This has health implications,” says Rao, “obesity being the main one.”

So what can we do to lower the health risks posed by these super-delicious snacks? Rao says food companies and government regulators bear some responsibility, but “educating the consumer is very important.” Learning the effect these foods have on us, he says, may help us resist them before we “eat just one.”


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