In his recently-released book “Salt Sugar Fat,” investigative reporter Michael Moss says scientists at major food companies are well aware that salty, sugary, fatty foods reward the same pleasure sensors in our brains as drugs. He further contends that food companies have manipulated consumers in this manner to increase sales of their products, contributing significantly to the nation’s obesity problem.
Best Food Facts went to Dr. Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, co-director at the University of California-Davis Center for Nutrition in Schools, to get her perspective. In her research, she has studied the impact of multi-faceted approaches to nutrition education on the dietary and lifestyle choices of school-aged children.
Dr. Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr
What are your thoughts on the book’s basic contention that food companies are manipulating consumers?
Dr. Zidenberg-Cherr: “There is some evidence that binge eating-related disorders could be related to addiction-like eating patterns due to addictive potential of hyper-palatable foods. But, studies on the prevalence of food addiction are rare.
“A recent review provided evidence that the prevalence of food addiction is increased in obese individuals and even more so in obese patients with binge-eating disorders. However, the authors of this review state that the prevalence of food addiction is not sufficient to account for the obesity epidemic.
“There is also evidence of food addiction in under-normal and overweight individuals. It’s an area that deserves more research so I will not comment on whether food companies have manipulated consumers. However, food companies do market products that people want to eat and people eat for several reasons. If consumers enjoy the taste of the product it will be a positive factor for that product's consumption.”
Is there a line between making foods that people enjoy and foods that people can’t seem to resist?
Dr. Zidenberg-Cherr: “I think the food industry should take both into consideration and develop products that are appealing to the senses and also follow dietary guideline recommendations. As a nutritional professional, I want to see encouragement of food/meal enjoyment without a concentration or fear of any one type of food. The public is sick of that and many consumers often stop listening to the negative messaging.”
Why do people overeat?
Dr. Zidenberg-Cherr: “That’s the million dollar question. It’s a multifactorial issue.”
What role, if any, have food companies played in our current obesity problem?
Dr. Zidenberg-Cherr: “Food companies have the finances to promote their products. I do think they have played a role in advertising foods as healthy when they might not be so healthy. Some have also advertised less nutrient -dense foods to children during times when children are watching TV. In my opinion, food companies should be focused on providing tasty enjoyable food while keeping the dietary guideline recommendations in mind.”
What’s the best advice for resisting the temptation to overeat?
Dr. Zidenberg-Cherr: “Don't look at food as a reward. Do not deprive yourself. Have smaller portions and enjoy the food. People should eat without guilt because that can lead to overeating."
Should sugar be regulated like alcohol or tobacco?