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Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal

snack \ˈsnak\ (n) – a small amount of food eaten between meals

As I’ve pointed out before, snacking makes you both fat and weak. And as the beginning of “Eat Like A Predator” states, much of the purpose of a paleo diet is to let you avoid snacking entirely:

Predators gorge and fast; prey grazes.

Rephrased for modern humans: Predators eat meals, prey grazes on snacks. This means you need to eat meals which will carry you through to your next meal, but that won’t make you tired or sleepy.

So why is it so difficult to stop snacking? Why is snack food so uniquely addicting? Why can we demolish entire tubes of Pringles, boxes of donuts, trays of chocolates, and bags of goldfish crackers, when we would never finish the same number of calories in the form of meat and vegetables?

It’s because snack food is a magic trick, played on our senses of taste.

Note: This article will help you understand what’s behind the concept of “food reward” that’s been making the rounds lately.

How Our Tastes Evolved: Understanding The Basic Tastes

Our tastes have been selected, over millions of years, to enjoy foods that are nutritious for us, and to dislike foods that are poisonous or not nutritious. Any humanoid whose tastes were not in accordance with healthy eating—for instance, an inability to distinguish plant toxins, or a lack of preference for calorie-dense fat over lean protein which we have a limited ability to process—would have died out over the hundreds of thousands of generations that separate us from our quadrupedal, forest-dwelling ancestors.

Here’s an excellent discussion of our taste receptors and their probable evolutionary purpose, adapted and modified from this intriguing article: “Why Did We Evolve A Taste For Sweetness?” by the Drs. Jaminet:

The five basic human tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Each taste detects either a nutrient class we need or toxins we should avoid.

  • Sweet: sugars. Mother’s milk, sweet fruits. Possibly also hydrophobic (fat-associated) proteins, i.e. a fat sensor: it’s impossible to taste fat by itself because it won’t bond to taste receptors.
  • Salty: electrolytes. Sodium and potassium are necessary for life.
  • Sour: acids. Attractive in small doses (wild fruits, lightly fermented food), aversive in large doses (spoiled food high in bacterial fermentation products).
  • Bitter: toxins. Again, usually OK in very small doses (e.g. cruciferous vegetables) but aversive in large doses.
  • Umami: glutamate (and some nucleotides). Basically a protein sensor.

(More information.)

Modern Technology, Paleolithic Tastes

The key to understanding snack food is to understand what foods were available to us in the Paleolithic, so that we can understand what our tastes are for. It’s impossible to overdose on sour or bitter because they’re aversive in large doses, so that leaves us with sweet (which also helps detect fat), salty, and umami.

Let’s examine fat: there was no such thing as “vegetable oil” (actually seed oil) in the Paleolithic. The only year-round source of dietary fat was animals, with nuts a secondary, seasonal source. Therefore, our taste for fat is primarily a taste for animal fat—including all the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K2-MK4) found in animal fat, and for which fat is necessary to absorb.

A wild banana. Small, starchy, and mostly seeds.

Sweetness was limited by lack of availability. Paleolithic fruits were much smaller and more bitter than modern varieties, which have been bred for sweetness and seedlessness to the point of being unable to reproduce without human help—and they would not have always been available at their peak of ripeness, as they’re eaten by many other animals too. Honey has always been rare. And as the Drs. Jaminet note, it is entirely possible that sweet taste receptors do double duty as animal fat detectors.

Salt was difficult to obtain, except for those who lived near the ocean. And as Parmesan cheese and kombu dashi hadn’t yet been created, umami was limited to its natural source—meat.

In conclusion, we can see that our taste receptors are primarily geared towards obtaining fatty meat and salt, with nuts and sweet fruit as occasional bonuses. So it’s not surprising that we enjoy salty, fatty meat and sweet fruits.

Snacking: The Supernormal Stimulus Of Taste

“Supernormal stimulus” is a technical term for something that’s so much better than reality that we prefer it…

…even when it’s obviously fake.

Niko Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz found many examples of this in animals. Mother birds prefer to incubate fake eggs made of plaster if they’re larger and more brightly colored than their own eggs. Male stickleback fish will attack anything with a red underside, including toy boats.

This is because, in the evolutionary history of birds and sticklebacks, there haven’t been enough curious ethologists with plaster eggs and red-bottomed toy boats to make it important for these animals to tell the difference. If it’s egg-shaped and in your nest, sit on the biggest one, because it’s most likely to survive. If it’s in the water and red underneath, attack it, because it’s most likely another male.

Niko Tinbergen painting some supernormal stimuli.

A supernormal stimulus for humans.


Humans are no exception: we’re vulnerable to supernormal stimuli, too. Photoshop gives men rippling abdominals and women exaggerated curves. Comic book heroes are just as unrealistic as the heroines. Round yellow smiley faces communicate emotion more clearly and simply than a picture of a smiling person.

And in the evolutionary time of humans, there hasn’t been enough refined sugar, seed oil, and MSG to make it important for us to tell the difference between them and real food.

Here’s a startling experiment: rats prefer saccharine and sugar to intravenous cocaine, even after previously becoming addicted to cocaine:

PLoS ONE. 2007; 2(8): e698.
Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward
Magalie Lenoir,# Fuschia Serre,# Lauriane Cantin, and Serge H. Ahmed*

“…From day 7 onward, rats sampled lever C [cocaine] almost maximally, though slightly less than lever S [saccharin], before being allowed to make their choices (Fig. 1c). Thus, despite near maximal cocaine sampling, rats under the S+/C+ condition acquired a preference for lever S as quickly as rats under the S+/C- condition.”

“Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals.”

Characteristics Of Successful Snack Food

If you were to design a profitable and successful snack food, you’d want it to have several characteristics:

  • It would be made of cheap ingredients, allowing a high profit margin.
        Since our government heavily subsidizes industrial grain production, you’d make them of grains and grain products…corn, wheat, and soy. Mostly corn, because it’s so heavily overproduced that we’re forced, by law, to feed it to our cars!
  • It would be shelf-stable and require no preparation, so that it could be kept without refrigeration, taken anywhere, and eaten at any time.
        Therefore, you’d make it out of highly-processed ingredients that are shelf-stable, pump it full of preservatives so that it could survive for months in a vending machine, and enclose it in lots of disposable packaging so it wouldn’t get damaged in transit.
  • It would concentrate the tastes we’ve evolved to enjoy far beyond their natural amounts, and as much as our technology allows.
        This would be the supernormal stimuli of fatty, salty, umami, and sweet: MSG, crystalline sugar, seed oils, fruit juices, “natural and artificial flavors”.
  • Finally, it would not be satiating.
        No matter how much you ate, you would never be satisfied.

In other words, you’d create a movie set: something that looks like reality, but even better. More scenic, more exotic or mysterious or futuristic, more dramatically lit…

…and completely, utterly fake. The buildings have no interior, everything in the distance is just a matte painting or computer graphics, and it’s all built as cheaply as possible because it only has to last until the scene has been shot. All a movie set has to do is look nice for a few minutes, or a few seconds, from the right angle. You can’t live in a movie set, because that’s not what it’s built for…

…and you can’t live off snacks, because that’s not what they’re made for either.

The Magic Of Snacks, Part I: Taste Without Nutrition

Just as a movie set’s only constraint is to look good for a few seconds from a limited set of camera angles, a snack food’s only constraint is to taste good until it slides down your throat.

And that’s what technology allows us to do: create products (“snacks”) that tickle our taste receptors far more than real food can ever hope to—but that don’t come with the nutrition that selected us to crave those tastes in the first place.

This is the reason that the concept “eat whole foods, minimally processed” is generally sound: if whole foods taste good to us, it’s most likely because they contain nutrients we need, not because they’ve been engineered to tickle our taste buds. (Note that all modern fruits are heavily engineered products of thousands of years of careful breeding: read Dan Koeppel’s fascinating book “Banana” for a look at one typical example.)

The Magic Of Snacks, Part II: Taste Without Satiety

A pleasing taste isn’t enough to make an addictive snack food: as mentioned above, it must also be non-satiating. Steak and eggs are delicious—but we don’t have the urge to eat them until we’re sick.

There are many parts to satiety, but I’ll touch on what I believe to be the most important issue: protein satiation.

Protein Satiation

Complete protein is satiating. Our bodies absolutely require complete protein—but they also have a limited capacity to process protein in excess of our requirement. This shows up as what’s called “protein leverage”: people tend to consume food until they’ve ingested about 360 calories worth of complete protein. All other things being equal, if we eat foods high in protein, we consume less calories, and if we eat foods low in protein, we consume more. (You can read more about this issue in this AJCN article, and here.)

“Protein” is just chains of amino acids. “Complete protein” is protein containing all the essential amino acids—the ones we must eat because our bodies can’t make them—roughly in the proportions our body needs them.

Interestingly, egg protein is the standard by which protein quality is measured—probably because it takes the same kinds of protein (and other nutrients, like cholesterol) to make a healthy chicken as it does to make a healthy human. Any dietary advice that tells you to avoid eggs for any reason is, by definition, wrongheaded.

Therefore, if we want to sell an addictive and non-satiating food, we should keep it very low in protein (e.g. candy, cookies, potato chips). If it does contain protein, that protein should be incomplete—deficient in at least one essential amino acid—since the limiting factor for protein utilization is the least abundant essential amino acid.

Guess what? Corn and wheat, the foundation of chips, crackers, cookies, and over 90% of the breakfast aisle, are both deficient in lysine. And both zein (corn protein) and gluten (wheat protein) are prolamins, which are very difficult for our digestive enzymes to break down and decrease the digestibility of the associated starch.

Trivia fact: corn gluten meal (CGM) is used as an herbicide. Yum!

In support of this theory, you’ll note that “energy bars” are more satiating than candy bars, despite having a similar taste and number of calories…most likely because they tend to contain some amount of complete protein. (Though they make up for it by costing twice as much. You could be eating prime rib for what energy bars cost per pound. Think about it.)

Fat: The Satiety Potentiator

Fat is not satiating by itself—but it increases the satiation of the protein it’s eaten with. This is because fat slows gastric emptying and increases GI transit time. (More information here.) This is one reason why we can eat entire tubes of Pringles, but only a few eggs: Pringles contain fat and carbohydrate, eggs contain fat and complete protein.

Unless, of course, you’re Cool Hand Luke…

In support of protein satiation, a large hard-boiled egg contains about 75 calories, so that superhuman (and fictional) feat would involve 3750 calories’ worth of eggs. A can of Pringles contains about 900 calories.

50 eggs is just over four dozen eggs…3750 calories is just over four cans of Pringles. What’s easier to eat…a dozen hard-boiled eggs, or a can of Pringles?

The Nutrient Leverage Hypothesis

We can take the protein leverage hypothesis even farther, by extending it to other necessary nutrients. The unjustly neglected blog Fat Fiction makes the startling claim that nutrient deficiency is responsible for the obesity crisis, and cites (among other sources) an intriguing double-blind, placebo-controlled study of feeding multivitamins to obese Chinese women:

International Journal of Obesity (2010) 34, 1070–1077; doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.14; published online 9 February 2010
Effects of multivitamin and mineral supplementation on adiposity, energy expenditure and lipid profiles in obese Chinese women
Y Li1,4, C Wang2,4, K Zhu3, R N Feng1 and C H Sun1

After 26 weeks, compared with the placebo group, the MMS group had significantly lower BW [body weight], BMI, FM [fat mass], TC and LDL-C, significantly higher REE [resting energy expenditure] and HDL-C, as well as a borderline significant trend of lower RQ [respiratory quotient] (P=0.053) and WC [waist circumference] (P=0.071). The calcium group also had significantly higher HDL-C and lower LDL-C levels compared with the placebo group.”

Anyway, I recommend you read Mike’s “Two Minute Summary”. I’m not sure nutrient deficiency is everything, as he seems to be saying—but I believe he’s got hold of an important piece of the obesity puzzle that has been neglected in the rush to blame everything on insulin, and I encourage others in the ‘paleo’ field to build on his work.

Conclusion: Snacking Makes You Fat, By Design

Another supernormal stimulus.

In conclusion, we can see that “snack food” is designed to make us fat—by giving our taste buds a supernormal stimulus, while withholding the nutrition that has always gone along with that stimulus in evolutionary time. Just like the greylag goose that tries to sit on an egg-colored volleyball, or the stickleback fish attacking a red-painted toy boat, we can’t resist shoving highly processed, brightly packaged non-foods like cookies, donuts, crackers, corn chips, bread, cereal, and candy bars down our throats—

—especially when our rational minds are short-circuited by the label “All-natural!” or “Contains heart-healthy whole grains!” Our livers don’t care if fructose comes from Fanta or apple juice, our pancreas doesn’t care if glucose overload is accompanied by indigestible fiber and plant toxins (“whole grains”), and our eicosanoid pathways can’t tell if they’re clogged with omega-6 fats from Cool Ranch Doritos or Organic Multigrain Rainforest Eco-Chips.

Don’t believe the hype. If it takes multiple layers of brightly-colored packaging and a $multi-million, multi-media ad campaign to sell it, it’s not food. No one has to put meat or eggs in a brightly colored box with a cartoon character on it. I’m just sayin’.

What Should Humans Eat?

Eat foods you could pick, dig, or spear. Mostly spear.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS


Postscript: For those who want to know more, I explore our mechanisms of hunger and reward in detail in my epic series "Why Are We Hungry?" My older series on carbohydrate addiction starts here and explains some of its pathways.

If you enjoy my articles and want to support my continued efforts to inform and amuse you, my novel The Gnoll Credo is available from Amazon and my publisher in the USA, and from this list of international sellers. You can also make your other Amazon purchases through this link: it’ll cost you nothing, and I’ll get a small spiff. Thanks!

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57 comments

Permalink: Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal
  • Josh

    Another great article JS, excellent work. Between your site and Mark’s Daily Apple, anyone could find the framework required to make the immense (and rewarding) paleo steps toward a healthier future.

  • Peggy The Primal Par

    You paint an entertaining (almost supernormal) picture as usual! I love it!

    The points you make will be my arsenal at parties while defending my refusal to put their junk food offerings in my mouth.

    Thanks for pointing us in the direction of Fat Fiction. There are some interesting theories bubbling over there, without a doubt.

  • Beth@WeightMaven

    This is a great piece! The only quibble I have is whether this is true only of snack foods — or whether there’s also a gradual blurring between “snack” foods and “meal” foods. Seems your thesis holds for the latter as well!

  • Asclepius

    Great post (again!). The diet industry is built on failure. I see most ‘neo-foods’ as being premised upon a similar approach – triggering reward receptors whilst ensuring malnourishment.

    You can’t beat eating ‘close to the ground’. It keeps things simple.

  • Katie @ Wellness Mam

    another great post, as always!

    Always makes me sad to see people checking out at the store with carts full of things that aren’t even food, and then feeding these things to their kids! For kids especially, cooking healthy meals and preparing food by hand is a great opportunity to teach about nutritious food and how/why to make healthy eating choices. Our kids love helping in the garden, and their idea of a snack is running out and picking a radish or some spinach to eat.

    As for foods one can spear- my husband took our son (age 4) hunting this year and they got a deer. Our son was fascinated with the whole process of butchering the deer and making sure nothing went to waste (they tanned the hide for a Christmas gift). Now he asks me at dinner what kind of dead animal we are eating…sigh

  • julianne

    @Katie, I get asked that too buy our kids. No illusions that they are eating dead animals. My daughter does get upset though when I buy chicken hearts. About 30 is a tray – which represents 30 dead chicken, just a bit too much death to contemplate at one time.

    @J S. Great piece – thanks so much. It frightens me the amount of snacking geared to children’s lunchboxes in the snack isle at the supermarket. Cakes and biscuits masquerading as healthy snack food.

    I completely concur with nutrient deficiency and weight problems. I noticed about 20 years ago that if I found myself eating when not hungry – a multi-vitamin usually cured the problem. This book is a good little read http://www.gabrielmethod.com.au/ The first of his rules is to add high nutrient food to your diet, before making any other changes like limiting junk food, the theory being that nutritional deficiencies cause you to eat and to hang on to fat.

  • Chris

    I’m known to be able to stuff a few pounds of meat down my gullet in a sitting – but 50 eggs?

    Plus we all know that a New York steak with a melted pat of butter tastes way better than Pringles (or Doritoes, or Oreos – yup I went THERE)

  • Josh:

    Thank you!  The articles I write are gradually forming a coherent picture as I fill in the gaps, and I'm absolutely honored that you consider me on a level with MDA.

    Peggy:

    Others have written on the subject before (Guyenet, for one) but I don't recall anyone putting it together with protein and nutrient deficiency.  And I hope that drawing more attention to Mike's ideas gets some of the heavyweights to really dig into the theory and see how well it holds up.

    Beth:

    No, it applies to any food…although it's most apparent with snacks.  People expect to feel at least somewhat satiated after meals…but the “heart-healthy whole grains” propaganda has caused an alarming number of people to think they should feel satiated after eating lentils and brown rice, and to feel guilty that they don't.

    Table bread is the classic example of junk food with a meal.  So is eating pasta with meatless marinara…I wonder how many pounds of fat have been gained at Fresh Choice and Olive Garden over the years?

    Asclepius:

    Exactly.  There's a parallel with consumer culture here: you want to sell people as much as possible — but without actually satisfying any wants or needs — so they'll keep buying more.

    Katie:

    Kids instinctively eat real food — I know I always tried to pick the meat out of the stew — but when their parents are starting their day with breakfast cereal and packing them Lunchables and their school is full of vending machines, the conditioning is pretty strong.

    “What kind of dead animal are we eating today, Mom?”  I laughed.  People think their kids can't handle the truth: in reality, they're only reflecting your own squeamishness.  

    Julianne:

    Very interesting!  I'll have to look at the Gabriel Method some more.  And I agree: nutrient deficiency makes intuitive sense.  Even butterflies know to lick water off mineralized rocks, so it's hard to imagine that we don't have pre-conscious systems that cause us to seek out whatever we're deficient in.  The problem is the supernormal stimulus of the cookies in the cupboard, which we see and eat before we can find whatever it is we really need…just like the birds that can't resist sitting on the big fake plaster egg.

    Chris:

    It seemed like a nice round number.

    JS

  • Juan

    @JS Thank you for a nicely written piece that is remarkably brief considering how broadly informative and well reasoned it is. (Concision defined!) I am definitely putting this one in my quiver. Putting together your own thoughts along with the highly likely aspect of malnutrition, or at least, sub-optimal nutrition that accompanies all the non-foods and birdseed we are told to eat makes a whole lot of good sense.
    By the way, I wanted to let you know that I read The Gnoll Credo and truly enjoyed it. I am recommending it and your blog to anyone who will listen…or are within earshot. Also, I enjoyed your interview with Angelo Coppola on This Week in Paleo. Your star is rising!!

  • Katie J

    I broke a 21 hr. fast a little while ago and I wanted a snack. My snack was a couple of stuffed jalapeno peppers wrapped in bacon. After I ate I was sitting at my computer drinking a glass of iced tea and I had a physical sensation come over me. From head to toe a slight shiver and then total relaxation and a feeling of profound peace. It was akin to a sexual or religious experience. A most satisfying snack.

  • Link Love | fabulous

    […] Why Snacking is Addictive.  I’m not a huge snacker, but this makes so much sense. […]

  • Juan:

    Thank you!  I'm always trying to put the many different parts of dietary and behavioral science together to form a picture that people can understand and act on.  Anyone can write a diet book that says “do this, and this, and this”…I want people to understand how their mind and body work so that they can make good decisions for themselves, and not be bamboozled by the next diet book (or blog) that tries to drag you a totally different direction.

    I'm glad you enjoyed The Gnoll Credo!  Gryka's wonderful, isn't she?  I greatly appreciate the word of mouth: since neither Oprah nor the New York Times took notice, readers like you telling others is the only way people will know about it.  And, frankly, I'd rather people buy the book based on genuine enjoyment than on media hype.  “The next big thing” has a way of becoming “last week's news”.

    JS

    PS: Juan was too modest to link his website, but he's a strong portrait artist whose work can be viewed at juanmartinez.com.

    Katie:

    Bacon is magical, isn't it?  It's what we put on other things to make them taste better.  

    I think if you wrap bacon around anything, it becomes a meal, not a snack.  Whatever it was, it now contains complete protein and a big dollop of animal fat.

    I'm about a day and a half into a fast myself.  Not sure how long I'll go or what I'll break it with, but odds are good that bacon will be involved in some way.

    JS

  • Juan

    @JS
    Thanks for your kind comments in return! Although art is my profession, fitness and nutrition are certainly amongst my hobbies (obsessions, maybe?). I read tons of books and blogs in these fields, as I know you and many of your readers do. The real knack, however, is to piece it all together so that others might cotton on to the truths of it. And, you seem to possess that trait as well as, or better than, anyone. Again; concision. Or in other words, you’re doing the work for us and I, for one, recognize and appreciate that.

    As far as The Gnoll Credo is concerned, well, although the story is unique and compelling, I think its implications might be too disquieting for, say, Oprah and perhaps not dystopian enough to attract the jaded cognoscenti of the NYTimes. (How’s that for wildly assumptive generalizations?). In any case, I shall do what I can to spread the word.

    And, finally, bacon. There simply is no food or dish that cannot be enhanced by the addition of bacon. It’s the new black.

  • Paleo Pepper »

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    […] JS Stanton has an outstanding post at Gnolls.org: Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal. […]

  • Juan

    Aside from everything you stated above, junk food also messes with us our hormones. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is found in basically every snack there is out there, blocks the messenger (leptin) that tells our brain to stop eating. This is the reason why we feel like we can eat snacks and fruit drinks for ever.

    Really enjoyed the post. Helped me gain some new weapons.
    If you want to read more on HFCS why it is a poison you can read my blog post at http://www.thesuperherobody.com/weight-loss-resources/fructose-is-not-glucose/

  • Juan:

    Yes, I've seen the Lustig video before.  But it's not just HFCS, it's anything that contains large quantities of fructose.  Orange juice is basically just Coca-Cola with a couple vitamins.

    JS

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    […] at this site, but if you haven’t  take some time to check out this article from Gnolls.com- Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal. They also discuss the idea that is, the supernormal stimulus of taste. It’s an interesting […]

  • fleeber

    You make mention of the same studies found in Deidre Barrett’s book Supernormal Stimuli without a single mention. For shame.
    http://www.amazon.com/Supernormal-Stimuli-Overran-Evolutionary-Purpose/dp/039306848X

  • fleeber:

    I haven't read Barrett's book.  I found the studies I referenced by searching with Google Scholar and PubMed, and am familiar with the concept (which is by no means original to her) through my previous studies of evolutionary biology.  The conclusions seemed obvious to me.

    It looks like an interesting book, though!

    JS

  • It is About Correct

    […] If you were to design a profitable and successful snack food, you’d want it to have several characteristics: http://www.gnolls.org/2074/why-snack-food-is-addictive-the-grand-unified-theory-of-snack-appeal/ […]

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    […] and be replaced by those that did. The problem is when reward is not accompanied by nutrition. Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal Reply With Quote   + Reply to […]

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    […] Snacks are designed to be unfilling but supernormally stimulate the senses. They are also fattening because they don’t fill you up. Here is a great link that covers it in far more detail than I can. Why Snack food is Addictive: The grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal […]

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  • Tahitian Moon

    Thank You so much for posting this. It explained something that I have been trying to figure out for years. I didn’t understand how I could eat a ton of donuts or Mickey D’s and still be hungry. I am new to the primal/paleo community, but I have never felt better. My only regret is that I didn’t find you sooner. I have spent a small fortune on Jenny Craig/Weight Watchers and Conventional Wisdom Diets. I can’t wait to read more of your work.

  • Tahitian Moon:

    I'm glad you found this article illuminating!  I do my best to explain things in a way people who aren't already familiar with the paleo jargon can undersatnd.

    It's extremely important to understand that healthy food tastes good.  That's why you'll be able to stick with paleo, when you couldn't stick with Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers…fatty meats taste good for a reason.

    Welcome to gnolls.org…I hope you'll stick around!

    JS

  • julie

    What about snacks such as English peas, carrots, cucumbers, peaches? They’re not meat. BTW, I also picked meat out of my food as a kid, but to throw it out, not eat it. I can stand it a bit more now, but my eating is more as MP says – Eat Food, not too much, mostly plants. Each to their own. I enjoy your in-depth well thought out/researched articles, but your push to eat as predator leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  • julie:

    I'm sure it's possible to binge on carrots…but in a world with seven billion people, it's possible to find a single example of anything.  In practice, I'm sure it's vanishingly rare…carrots have a respectable amount of nutrients per calorie (one 8″ carrot = 30 calories), so they're unlikely to trigger a binge.  On the other hand, it's quite possible to binge on cling peaches, and probably even the regular kind…I know someone that's suffered grape binges.

    As far as my dietary recommendations, you're free to take them or leave them as you wish.  It's more difficult to get proper nutrition on a low or zero-meat diet, but so long as you eat eggs and coconut products it's quite possible…and fishatarian paleo is quite healthy if you can afford it and you are cautious of methylmercury content.

    If I demanded that all my readers agree with me in every respect, I'd have very few left.  Feel free to stick around.

    JS

     

  • Jimmy

    Sign me up for news

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    […] Snacks are designed to be unfilling but supernormally stimulate the senses. They are also fattening because they don’t fill you up. Here is a great link that covers it in far more detail than I can. Why Snack food is Addictive: The grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal […]

  • Tim

    This is a great article, especially the amount of reasoning behind the way we work, rather than just the nutritive value of foods.

  • Tim:

    Thank you!  It's important to start with real-world observed behavior, instead of starting with a neat theory and bending reality to fit it.

    JS

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  • jacob

    very, very useful, thanks! great info + links

  • Jacob:

    Thank you!  If you want to go deeper into the biology of hunger, you can read my epic series “Why Are We Hungry?”  Part 1 starts here.

    JS

  • […] J Stanton has a really good series about will power, satiety and such. The best-titled one is Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal - GNOLLS.ORG Female, 5'3", 46, Starting weight: 160lbs. Current weight: 136lbs. Read this: The […]

  • […] normal. When we’re not hungry and we still crave food, we have a problem, and when we crave foods that our bodies aren’t designed to eat we have an even bigger problem. The types of foods we crave, the timing, and intensity of those […]

  • […] Here's a good article that explains why many modern foods leave you hungry and wanting to eat more. Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal - GNOLLS.ORG Female, 5'3", 47, Starting weight: 160lbs (August, 2011). Current weight: 135lbs. Read […]

  • […] a read, and I hope it does the same for you as it did for me. Why Snack Food is Addictive. 20 APR 0 Share Related PostsNo related posts found Categories: […]

  • eddie:

    That link doesn't show me anything…try finding the original image instead of redirecting through Google.

    JS

  • eddie watts

    it’s okay was just a joke, happy eggs are probably the best eggs in the uk but the box is brightly coloured and has a cartoon chicken with a massive happy grin.
    from the above it therefore cannot be good for you!!

    i just reread this post as i overheard something in the office along the lines of “why is it that all the food that is good for you tastes bad and all the bad stuff tastes so good?”
    naturally i sent them this article :)

  • eddie watts

    here is their website

    http://thehappyegg.co.uk/

    bright and colourful!

  • eddie:

    I hope your co-workers found the article illuminating!  Here's another of my favorite articles on that subject.

    JS

  • […] sucks, and causes you to gain fat. It leaves you unfulfilled while you wait for your next meal. It is often composed of junk food […]

  • WalterB

    Belike “food reward” would be better named “non food reward”?

  • WalterB:

    That’s certainly closer to the truth!  It's very difficult to overeat real food.

    (Although, as I point out in my epic series Why Are We Hungry?, “reward” is not a property of food at all…it’s a subjective property we assign to food based on our own nutritional and metabolic state.  And now that AHS 2012 is over, I’ll be continuing to explore the science of hunger in detail.)

    JS

  • Debit

    Excellent article! I have been suspicious about junk food for a while and most of the key points in this article matches with my thoughts.

    I think this article drives us back to the starting point: Start from the fundamentals — biochemistry (need it in order to understand how our bodies handle nutrition) and nutritional composition (need it in order to understand what contains what and by how much). The market-scientific aspect of commercial food production do not make sense until we become aware of the fundamentals.

  • Alice

    Very good article there! I knew about the fat-sweet hypothesis, but some of it has shed new light, especially that nutrient-deficiency study!

    One thing I WOULD add onto it, however, is that modern hunter-gatherers are frequent snackers. If they’re out and about, tracking, gathering, checking snares or moving camp; they’ll be picking berries off bushes and insects out of the grass and popping them into their mouths as they go. However (in the tribes that do this and during the seasons they do): their meals are FAR smaller than a modern human’s (think: fistful of meat, piece of fruit) and they may only have a meal a day. When they snack, it’s one or two berries or a locust. Modern humans, by comparison, eat HUGE meals, three to four times a day and, when they snack, they finish the bag/box.
    Hunter-Gatherer: 5 nuts, four locusts, an earthworm, one meal of a fistful of meat, one meal of crushed fruit and nuts.
    Modern human: a bowful of kcal-dense, sugary grain, a 10oz steak with chips, a large sandwich with mayonnaise, eggs, ham, cheese and some salad, two packets of crisps.
    Basically: the easy availability of food is ruining what may have been a natural instinct (the odd snack when out and about).

    I’ve started incorporating this on my “rest days” and it works wonders. I just have one medium (chicken thigh, 400g mixed veg) or two small meals** (100g lamb chump chop with all the fat, a piece of fruit) and then nibble here and there. Not continual snacking, mind. Just every few hours I’ll get up and have four hazelnuts, or 5g of butter, or a few grams of 81% chocolate, or a bite of apple. Then, I’ll leave it. It seems to keep my body happy enough. :)

    **My meal sizes are based on kcal-density and availability of fats and micronutrients, not actual size on the plate! So a huge salad, if very leafy, not very varied, with a few nuts and berries, but no animal produce, would be a “small” meal, but 2x100g lamb chops and three eggs are a “large” one!

  • […] really helped me to understand cravings so that I can stay on track, and take care of my cravings. Why Snack Food Is Addictive: The Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal - GNOLLS.ORG Reply With Quote « Previous Thread | Next Thread […]

  • Tracy Kolenchuk

    I do wonder sometimes, if it is possible to produce a ‘healthy’ snack food. I know there are lots of snack foods that claim to be healthy – but I haven’t seen a processed food that can actually support the claim. It’s an interesting challenge, we could take some of the goals from your list,
    – It would be made of cheap ingredients, allowing a high profit margin.
    – It would be shelf-stable and require no preparation
    – It would concentrate the tastes we’ve evolved to enjoy far beyond their natural amounts
    – No matter how much you ate, you would never be satisfied

    and add one other qualifier:
    – it must not contain ingredients that are toxic, or unhealthy even when consumed in large quantities over a long period of time (decades).

    It doesn’t need to be very nutritious, because we don’t make it our meal (snack by definition), although a bit of nutrition would add value – as long as it was not the fake nutrition our scientists call ‘calories’.

    Are there any snack foods that fit the criteria? Would it be possible to design some? Would they sell? Would the public believe they are ‘healthier’ in the face of so much conflicting evidence from corporations?

    to your health, tracy

  • Tracy:

    Rice cakes are a snack food that is nutritionally empty but not actively toxic.

    However, I feel the act of snacking itself is metabolically detrimental for other reasons: eating carbohydrate in the absence of complete protein and other nutrients will leave you both hungry and gaining weight.  Snacking on rice cakes, banana chips fried in coconut oil, or other non-toxic snacks, falls into the “less bad but still bad” category.  To me, anything nutritionally incomplete should be eaten as a dessert if it's eaten at all.

    JS

  • […] as a can of Pringles. Which one will leave you less hungry after eating it? (See this article, or for a longer read, the index to my epic hunger series. JS Reply With […]

  • MimiLee

    Since puberty, I have rarely been able to eat starchy carbohydrates in moderation. Even when combined with a plate of protein, and veggies. Wheat and sugar are the most problematic for me. “Healthy” carbs such as yams, brown rice, new potatoes, quinoa, OG corn tortillas are all still binge-triggering foods/and or hard to control portions. By body is just very sensitive to carbohydrates. My weight composition also changes when I eat them regularly: for years I struggled with a poofy, bloated stomach, and easily put weight on in my face, mid section and arms. Not attractive! So the paleo approach has been the best way to go for me. I am fine with moderate consumption of simple sugars from fruits and veggies. And I only eat organic meat now.

  • MimiLee:

    You’re not the only one to report that carbohydrates trigger binges for you: it’s reasonably common, particularly among people with weight problems, and especially amongst the weight-reduced. I suspect metabolic flexibility may play a role here, but I don’t know for sure: meanwhile, avoidance is a perfectly reasonable tactic, and strict paleo is an excellent solution that also solves many other problems. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    JS

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