You start with the best of intentions. "I'll just have a few potato chips", you think to yourself as you sit down for lunch. But a few chips somehow turns into a few handfuls of chips, and before you know it, you're hitting the bottom of the bag. Processed foods are creating a modern-day minefield of foods we constantly crave and can't seem to stop eating.
Check out these sneaky ways processed foods can cause overeating, so you can combat the cravings and take back control of your nutrition.
Processed Foods Are Hyperpalatable1 of 9
More and more, the foods lining grocery shelves are now considered "hyperpalatable"--meaning they have been deliberately engineered by food scientists and manufacturers to trigger a more rewarding response in your brain than traditional foods. These scientists work hard to determine the "bliss point" of each product--that perfect combination of taste, texture and mouthfeel that stimulates your desire to keep eating, even when you're full. Serve yourself a reasonable portion when you indulge in snacks like these, so you can enjoy them responsibly and mindfully.
Processed Foods Have Manipulated Textures2 of 9
Whole, unprocessed foods in their natural state require some work for your body to digest. But processes such as extrusion, where grains are broken down into a slurry, heated and pushed through an extruder machine, manipulate those chewy, fibrous grains into airy, crispy and easy-to-digest forms. This makes it easier than ever to crunch your way through too many portions. Chemical emulsifiers also alter food textures by creating a smooth, rich mouth feel. Food manufacturers use emulsifiers to make dairy treats, such as ice cream, flavored yogurts and cheese spreads extra creamy and delicious.
Processed Foods Are Marketed as "Healthy"3 of 9
The marketing war happening throughout supermarkets is no secret. Colorful boxes compete for attention (and dollars) as they brag about being gluten- or trans-fat free, packed with whole grains or containing flaxseeds--along with a host of other health claims you see on any given aisle. These trendy nutrition buzzwords create the perception that the product inside is much healthier than it actually is. And if you perceive a food as "healthy," you feel more inclined to eat as much as you want of it.
Processed Foods Pack a Flavor Punch4 of 9
When every "flavor blasted" potato chip is like a party in your mouth, those carrot sticks you planned to eat suddenly look a lot less appealing. Food manufacturers pack a powerful combination of flavors into every bite using additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial flavoring agents. These ingredients are prevalent in many packaged goods, and your taste buds start to crave those strong flavor combinations after time, making fresh, healthy meals seem bland in comparison.
The Packaging Encourages Larger Quantities5 of 9
Our food culture has trained us to believe that bigger is better. When the family size bag of chips is only a few cents more than the regular size bag, it seems like an easy decision to get the bigger package. After all, that's a better value, right? But research has shown that when we serve ourselves out of larger containers, we tend to eat more than we would from a smaller sized package. So even though you'll save a buck in the short term, you pay the price health-wise in the long term as you steadily over-consume processed foods.
Processed Foods Capitalize on Variety6 of 9
Our brains are hardwired to look for variety in nutrition, and the processed food industry has turned this innate preference into a sneaky way to keep you eating. Choices are exciting--just think of an ice cream sundae bar. All those toppings! Before you know it, what started as a modest scoop of ice cream turns into a mountain of dessert. Likewise, that big bag of "snack mix" has so many different textures and flavors that we wind up eating more than we should, simply because there's so much variety. Reduce the excessive variety, and you're likely to eat more mindfully and consume fewer calories in the long run.
Processed Foods Combine Flavors for Tantalizing Tastes7 of 9
There are three big flavors that compete for your mouth's attention: salt, sugar and fat. When food manufacturers combine two or more of these flavors into a single snack, it's mouth-wateringly delicious. Doughnuts (sugar and fat), cheesy nachos (fat and salt) and even salted caramel brownies (sugar, fat and salt) become incredibly hard to resist. These combinations make it easy to overeat as you are able to enjoy different flavors in each bite.
Processed Foods Are Easy to Eat8 of 9
Most foods that are good for us take some work to eat and digest. You may have to peel, chop, season, cook and serve multiple ingredients before you can finally sit down for a meal. Processed foods require none of that time-intensive prep work. When it comes to digestion, whole foods require about two times more "chews per mouthful" than processed foods. This gives your body time to signal your brain that you are full, which is why you've probably never overeaten asparagus. But processed foods are specifically created to require as few chews as possible to digest, so the eating experience is over quickly, and you are left wanting more.