“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”
is a best-selling cookbook. Those four elements are chef-attested keys to good
cooking. But two of them may be culprits
in cooking that’s TOO good. Along with certain carbohydrates and sugar, salt and
fat go into foods that scientists call “hyperpalatable.”
In plain words, that means food we can’t resist. Once we start, we overeat with them. Think buttered popcorn, pizza, Oreos, Ritz crackers, potato chips, M&M’s. You think you can just avoid those and solve the problem…. Not so fast!
Two University of Kansas researchers who specialize in addiction tackled the problem of obesity to see how much addictive temptations could be a factor in the crisis of the expanding American waistline. They searched the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrient database of 7,757 foods for ones that were hyperpalatable.
Hyperpalatable foods come in three profiles:
· Fat/salt cluster: These have fat content higher than a fourth of their calories and at least 0.3% sodium (salt) per serving. Like bacon.
· Fat/sugar cluster: The proportions are excessive. These foods derive more than 20% of their calories from fat and another 20% or more from sugar. That explains cookies, for sure, but also some “healthy” options like bran muffins.
· Carbs/salt cluster: These foods tend to have carbs that are not highly nutritional and a very salty flavor. They contain at least 40% of calories from carbs and at least 0.20% sodium per serving. Nacho chips and buttered popcorn are examples.
It may seem from those examples that we only need to watch out for snack foods and treats, but that’s not the case. Unless you are cooking from scratch for every meal, relying mostly on vegetables and a little fruit, hyperpalatable foods are lurking everywhere. Barbecue sauce on baked chicken, olives, macaroni and cheese, and glazed carrots are likely to turn up for dinner.
What researchers Tera Fazzino and Kaitlyn Rohde found when they looked at the USDA database was the 60% of the foods it listed were hyperpalatable. The most abundant combination was foods in the fat/salt cluster, which includes omelets, bacon, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, nachos, potato chips, pepperoni pizza, and cream style soups and chowders.
One of the problems we face when we decide to lose weight is that food companies have a very good idea of what makes us crave more. So if we choose low-fat foods, they are likely to be extremely high in salt to keep us gobbling. Salt is sneaky enough, but sugar is a whole different prospect. A cup of that low-fat yogurt you have virtuously made yourself eat may have the equal of 12 teaspoons of sugar in it. A whole Snickers bar doesn’t have that much sugar.
The cure for food entrapment if you are trying to keep your waistline in check comes to two defenses. You can cook from scratch if you have the time and inclination. Or you can read labels. You might even realize that you can afford a treat like an occasional candy bar if you learn to avoid sneaky hyperpalatable foods.
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