ThinkStock
ThinkStock

Why Is Junk Food So Addictive?

ThinkStock
ThinkStock

We know it’s bad for us, but we can’t stop eating it. Why do our taste buds so frequently override our brains and tell us that eating that bag of potato chips, or that second snack cake, is worth the risk? Apparently, it’s not really our fault—junk food is addictive because food companies have designed it to be that way.

In his book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (and a New York Times article adapted from it), Michael Moss digs deep into the strategies that food companies use to keep the populations buying their food, twisting science and manipulating ingredients. A few of their tactics are more complicated than you may realize.

Howard Moskowitz runs a consulting firm for the bigwig junk food companies, and he’s responsible for a lot of the delicious foods we eat. The secret, Moskowitz told Moss, is something he calls “the bliss point”—that specific balance of flavors that isn’t too much, but isn’t too little, and leaves your brain craving more. The product can’t be too flavorful, or it creates what’s called “sensory-specific satiety”—a big flavor overwhelms the brain and dampens your desire for more. By contrast, boring flavors don’t engage the brain enough, and no matter how much you eat, it never feels like enough. For most companies, reaching the “bliss point” is a simple process: just add sugar. 

Other junk foods trick us into eating more than we ever should with something called “vanishing caloric density.” Steven Witherly, a food scientist and the author of Why Humans Like Junk Food, told Moss that Cheetos are “one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” The puffy snacks melt in your mouth, tricking your brain into thinking there are no calories in it and convincing you to keep eating it forever.

As the population becomes increasingly concerned with the amount of sugars, salts, fats, and other ingredients that could be harming their health, junk food companies are forced to adjust the makeup of their popular snack foods to convince us that they’re still good to eat. By dialing down on the “bad” ingredient—for example, salt—and increasing the other not-quite-healthy ingredients to make up for taste, the company can label their product as “low sodium,” making the consumer think they’re choosing a healthier option, Moss says.

Unfortunately, food companies are driven by the need to survive—if they market something healthier but not as tasty, they risk going out of business because their competitors are still offering sugary, addictive products. But with new research showing that sugar may be as addictive as cocaine and books like Michael Moss’s, we could use our awareness to fight back against the manipulation of the food industry.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
iStock
iStock

Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
iStock
iStock

Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios