Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Munchable Soapbox: Salt on Fat on Sugar

I am a bit of a nerd. You may think that I say this in jest (yes, I just wrote 'jest'), but my hand is laid out on the table. And why I raise the issue is because this post has roots in the rather nerdy book club some friends and I put together. Longing for intellectually invigorating conversation (and personally missing a few west coasters), we decided to tackle the topic of consumption and over-consumption through a bi-weekly Google hangout. No biggie.

The book we just completed is called The End of Overeating. Now, I wasn't planning on writing about it, but I can't seem to stop thinking about the principles in the book. And then I stumbled across an article on NPR about the same general topic. It must be a sign, so here I am. In the book, David Kessler tackles the question of why, in the past few decades, has the weight of America ballooned. What is it about the food we consume that drives us to over-indulge? According to Kessler, it is a combination of three elements and the title of a new book by Michael Moss - Salt, Sugar, Fat

If we take a step back and think about what foods the general populous eats in excessive quantities, it is not the carrots or the celery, the leafy greens or even fruits. The candy bars, baked goods, fast foods - essentially fat, sugar, and salt - are what fly off the shelf and contribute to the growing obesity crisis. Both Kessler and Moss discuss how an optimal mix of salt, fat, and sugar stimulates desire to eat certain foods, tapping into our most primal instincts to stock up for lean times. Even more fascinating, and disturbing, is that over time consumption patterns can condition a body to want certain foods after particular cues, and requires more and more to make us have a positive reaction (chocolate chip cookies, the new drug?). The food industry has hooking consumers down to an art, and yet we don't seem to pay as much attention to this underlying failure of our food system to nourish our population.

I'm just going to conclude with a couple of thoughts. First of all, despite these large food businesses claiming they are trying to address health and weight concerns in the country, who actually believe this will achieve improvements in obesity and associate ailments? Second, in order to mitigate the allure of the food industry's empire of tempting yet dangerous goodies, we really need to make the price better reflect the cost to society. Junk food is cheap, and yet it takes a huge toil on our health and happiness. Mark Bittman called for a tax on junk food, and cities like Seattle have attempted (and unfortunately failed) to pass such a policy. Perhaps such a move will help us go back to consuming real food with whole ingredients, and limit these luxurious foods that have until

I highly recommend the book, and it will change how you think about food, why you want to eat specific things, and why some people crave that bar of chocolate after lunch...mmm...


Tim Lee said...

The End of Overeating is a great book. However, I don't think Kessler provides very good solutions to the problem. Yes, education is important. However, every smoker, alcoholic, and overweight person knows what they're doing is horrible. Yet they can't stop. Our reptilian brains are really hard to control.

So what are some possible solutions to the obesity epidemic?

Government Regulation? Eh...Maybe. But given the ideology and power struggles plus the huge amount of food lobby money pumped into Washington, it's hard to imagine any meaningful change.

More exercise? Helps. Feels good too. However, there's evidence to show that exercise plays a small roll in weight loss. Makes sense. Work out all day then eat a ton of junk? That ain't gon' work.

Seems like there's no easy solution.

However, I believe that there is a way to tame the overeating habit and that's through...

Habit and Technology.

We can train ourselves and eventually get into a healthy habit. Yeah, this is much easier said than done. And that's where technology comes in. You see, people are notoriously bad at keeping track and predicting anything. What did I eat for lunch? Uh, no idea.

However, through the use of technology we can better keep track of and even motivate ourselves to make better decisions. Our iPhone, Apps, Facebook, Twitter, and soon Google Glasses might be able to dramatically change how we eat.

The future is an exciting time to live in.

Rachel said...

Hi Tim, thank for your thoughts. I like the idea of the google glasses being used to help inform our food decisions. I still wonder how much of our overeating problem in this country could be addressed by education (some people just don't know) or support groups (like AA). Even with an app, I feel as though unless I have someone else holding me accountable, it's so easy to give in to the dessert or whatever. The solution will likely very from person to person, which makes it tricky, but I definitely see a role for technology in conjunction with other efforts.