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You Won't Believe What the Food Industry Is Doing to Keep Americans Hooked on Junk

The junk food industry is getting sneakier in its tactics to entice people into consuming its concoctions.

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  • Pillar Ingredients—Salt, sugar, and fat are the Pillar Ingredients, and the industry strategically combines the three to keep you hooked.
  • Bliss Point—If we crave pillar ingredients so much, why not just crank them up as much as possible? It turns out there is an optimum amount of salt, sugar, or fat the human brain likes best, and it is called the bliss point.
  • Mouthfeel—This is literally the way food feels inside a person’s mouth; junk food industry scientists also adjust factors like crunchiness to produce a mouthfeel that consumer most crave.
  • Flavor Burst—Technologists alter the size and shape of salt crystals, so that they induce a flavor burst that “can basically assault the taste buds into submission.”
  • Vanishing Caloric Density—Underlying all junk-food science is vanishing caloric density, which is the process by which the food melts in your mouth so quickly that the brain is fooled into thinking it is consuming fewer calories than it actually is. The packaged-food scientists want to avoid triggering sensory-specific satiety, the brain mechanism that tells a person to stop eating when it is overwhelmed by flavors. The goals are either passive overeating, which is the excessive eating of foods that are high in fat because the human body is slow to recognize the caloric content of rich foods, or auto-eating: that is, eating without thinking or without even being hungry.

Michael Moss interviewed Jeffrey Dunn, who in 2001 directed more than half of Coca-Cola’s $20 billion in annual sales as president and chief operating officer. In the New York Times article, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food," Moss writes:

"[Dunn] drew from the bag of tricks that he mastered in his 20 years at Coca-Cola, where he learned one of the most critical rules in processed food: The selling of food matters as much as the food itself."

April M. Short is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @AprilMShort.