Junk food is terrible for our health. It increases the risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. There is even a link between junk food consumption and elevated depression rates. But why do we crave junk food? Certainly the sensation of eating it, the taste and texture appeals to us. Junk food manufacturers spend millions to give soda the right fizz and potato chips the right crunch. Also, substances that our stone age ancestors craved, one’s that were rare at the time but are abundant now such as fat, salt and sugar, are scientifically combined in order to keep you craving those potato chips or chocolate chip cookies. But there are many other techniques junk food manufacturers use to keep us consuming in addition to addictive ingredients. Dynamic contrast is one. This is when something is crunchy with a gooey, creamy or soft inside. Pizza, Oreos, and crème brulee are three such examples. The brain loves this sensation.
The next technique is using salivary response. Salivation is a normal part of eating. If a food makes you salivate it will then cover the tongue and make your brain dance with joy. Ice cream, mayonnaise, salad dressing, butter and chocolate all give us this response. Those delectable foods that just melt in your mouth, they trick the brain into thinking you aren’t consuming any calories when in fact, you are consuming a lot. Cheetos are the perfect example of what food scientists call vanishing caloric density. They are high in fat and salt, things the brain craves, but they vanish soon after being put in the mouth, making your brain think you haven’t eaten anything at all, and causing you to wolf them down by the handful. Junk food is designed to avoid sensory specific response. The brain craves variety. When eating the same foods over and over again, the taste becomes less fulfilling. But junk food is designed to be perpetually interesting and avoid this response. Calorie density is designed in such a way where you crave the kinds of calories that have salt, fat and sugar, but not enough where you feel full so you keep eating. Although these foods are carefully designed to make you crave them, you aren’t destined to fill your face with junk food. You are in control of your own life. Treat yourself to a small portion once in a while of your favorite junk food, once a month, or as a reward for something. You will be healthy and you will satisfy your cravings.