October 27, 2020

The food business: sugar, fat and salt


Sugar, fat and salt. Three words that take very little time to say, cheap to obtain, easy to mix but that are a high price on our health.

The main idea was not to harm the consumer but to sell their products, of that there is no doubt. But pursuing that “logical” goal of making money, like any company, they forgot to take into account the purpose of the name of this industry: food. Not only do they have to be profitable, but they must also preserve the health of consumers and, with this saturation of ingredients in food, what they have achieved is that obesity has become an epidemic that must be tackled before it can be stopped. late. Hopefully it isn’t already.

What is the ‘bliss point’?

The term bliss point It was created by the psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz to refer to the amount of sugar, salt or fat (or of the three together) that optimizes the flavor of a product.

From the food industry this combination has been found to make the perfect ultraprocessing. With it, the consumer will reach bliss point, that point that has been identified as “point of happiness” (fictitious well-being). That sensation that will make us resort to it over and over again, even though we know that it is not at all caused by a healthy product.

“The industry does not change for various reasons. One of them is that if you decrease the amount of any ingredient, the ‘bliss point’ that it has cost you so much to achieve will be lost and the business will be in danger

Getting the right amount of salt, sugar or fat with which we do not get tired of eating and we need to go again and again for more also has its difficulty. The food industry invests a large amount of resources (economic and human) in finding the product (because this is a product, not a food) that the consumer cannot stop eating (and buying).

The fat provides a smooth texture to foods like cookies. Salt enhances the flavor, it is very cheap. Also, if you offer, for example, a snack salted with a soft drink will get the salt and sugar to form a tandem that is not recommended at all.

Sugar, like salt, manages to increase the shelf life of the product. Both are preservatives. Furthermore, sugar activates pleasure circuits in our brain. Studies of these combinations are tested with consumers before entering the market. When the exact amount is found, repeat success in the purchase is assured.

What happens to us when we reach the ‘bliss point’?

Usually these are products that instantly saturate our taste buds. We will obtain an explosion of flavor that we do not find in other foods. We never needed it, but now we can no longer live without it. Even in some cases where consumption is very high and continued, a reaction similar to a withdrawal syndrome has been seen caused by the need to achieve that point of satisfaction again by eating these products.

“The ultra-processed ones are consumed quickly and are easy to swallow. The containers ‘ask’ for the product to run out. Our head will never know when we have eaten enough and in the end we will have eaten too much

This does not have the only drawback of consuming unhealthy products, which by itself is a problem, but also, we will stop consuming those that are correct because we need to find that feeling that made us “happy” at another time. And since it is not found in regular foods, we will go again and again to the ultra-processed ones.

It might seem like a serious enough reason to justify where this obesity epidemic comes from, but no, it doesn’t stop here.

The “caloric density dispersion” further favors the need to consume these foods loaded with salt, sugar and fat. Caloric density dispersion is the perception of eating fewer calories than we are consuming. The ultra-processed ones are consumed very quickly: at a lunch, a snack, a “quick” lunch or dinner … they are easy to swallow and they are not chewed too much, they also take great bites. Our head will not be able to determine when we have eaten enough and it means that we will have eaten too much.

That they are consumed quickly does not imply that they are small, but that they will be packaged in such a way that, until we finish all that is in the container, we will not stop eating.

So why do we buy them?

When we have already taken the first bite of that “poisoned apple” (which is not an apple, even if they are in the same establishment of sale), we will go again and again for it. But before that, the industry has created in the consumer a prior need without testing the product. All this thanks to marketing. Intense colors, drawings, promotions, advertising and everything you can think of to try it for the first time.

They have no doubt that after the first one more will come.

The key: stay away from these products. Its not that easy. They are not found exclusively in supermarkets. This bliss point It has become strong in the large chains of restaurants. And here the factors that predispose it are many more.

Let’s go with the idea of ​​eating something that we already know is not healthy. Although we see “salad” on the signs, very few people have it as their first choice.

Large fast food chains do not have the same decoration casually, but they know that our brain is more comfortable in places it already knows. The stress of facing something new is reduced. Have you ever been on vacation and ended up eating someday in one of these establishments? Don’t blame yourself, it’s normal. Everything is set for you to repeat.

The foods offered there have the exact combination that guarantees success:

  • Lots of sugar, salt and fat.
  • They are elusive and we will have to eat them very quickly.
  • They have the size that is selected individually. This is a guarantee of ending all the food on the tray.
  • They offer complete menus, so it is not necessary to think about whether or not you need more food, you have it directly.
  • Add gifts or promotions if it was not enough with all of the above.

This is really alarming in the case of children. We use these places to celebrate birthdays or to reward them for something. Some of these occasions seem inevitable, but others do not.

  • Let’s try to encourage that unhealthy food is not a prize but rather sporadic. The amount of sugar, salt and fat already takes care of itself in creating the feeling of well-being that will make us look for it again.
  • Let’s educate that the true flavor of food should not saturate our taste buds.
  • Let’s buy food and not products.
  • Let’s run away from products that need promotion to sell.

Why the food industry does not change?

The reasons are varied. One of them is that, if you decrease the amount of any ingredient, the bliss point that it has cost him so much to obtain will be lost and they will not be guaranteed that the consumer will buy that product again.

Your business is undoubtedly in danger. The tests carried out in blind tastings with consumers reveal that, compared to the initial product, a drastic decrease in salt, sugar or fat supposes a rejection on their part.

But you have to do something and you have to do it now. With some food such as bread, it has already been shown that a gradual drop in salt does not mean rejection by the consumer, perhaps it would be a starting point to start with these products.

Currently, the alternative is to substitute sugar for sweeteners. It is a measure that only partially solves the problem since, although it is effective in reducing sugar consumption, it does not correct the need for sweet taste in food. Of course, sweeteners are safe additives (like the others), but just because something isn’t toxic doesn’t mean it’s necessary.

In the case of fats, measures have also been taken by substituting trans fats, the most harmful ones, or eliminating palm oil from many ultra-processed ones. This is replaced by other healthier fats like high oleic sunflower oil or olive oil. However, eliminating or replacing a single ingredient if the amount of sugar does not decrease will make the product just as wrong, even though they have achieved a good claim for the consumer who is aware of the problem of fats. Not surprisingly, for years the focus of the sugar problem has been avoided by focusing it on fats, when in fact it should have focused on reducing the three ingredients as much as possible.

In early 2019, Health reported that it had signed an agreement to reduce 10% of added sugar, saturated fats and salt in its products along with almost 400 companies in the industry. It seemed that a good initiative to reduce overweight rates was beginning, modifying almost 4,000 references within 13 major categories such as pastries, soft drinks, ice cream, sauces …

Some restaurant chains have pledged to decrease the size of the sugar or salt sachets and reduce the supply of fried pre-cooked dishes by 20%.

But analyzing the agreement little by little, the reality is that this reduction did not focus on the foods that needed it the most and it was not 10% either.

Some bakery or cookie products decreased by only 5% in saturated fat and sugar. Instead, they reduced by 18% the sugar added in sauces such as mayonnaise. Reducing 18% of a product that should no longer have sugar by itself is saying too little.

The figures in terms of salt are a little more encouraging, but they are insufficient. The highest value was obtained by meat derivatives with 16%, followed by fried potatoes with almost 14%.

Of course, it is clear that the reduction is necessary and could be effective if this were carried out in the framework of a regulatory framework where the gradual reduction of these ingredients was mandatory, these values ​​being the beginning of greater reductions.

But it was not like that. In fact, the initial agreement that started a year earlier expected that the number of companies committed would be about 511. More than 100 in that year were left behind a plan that the industry saw as ambitious but not entirely sufficient for dietitians-nutritionists, who considered it necessary stricter and regulatory measures.

There are currently no regulatory measures in place for sugar, despite the fact that the data seems to reveal that they are more than necessary. As for salt, there are already measures in the case of bread. In addition, there is the option of preparing foods without salt and, in addition, indicating it on the label.

Will there be a reduction plan?

Regarding trans fats, the European Commission modified Annex III of Regulation 1925/2006 on trans fats that were not of animal origin, limiting the amount of this type of fat in food intended for the final consumer to 2%.

This Regulation published in April 2019 must be made patent on all products in April 2021.

That the food industry knows perfectly the mechanisms to ensure that we do not stop consuming products loaded with salt, sugar and fat is not a novelty. That the excessive consumption of products with these three ingredients is responsible for the increase in overweight, cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes is also known.

When will there be a plan to reduce these ingredients? When will there be a regulation with maximum limits on your products? When will advertising be controlled and will they avoid promotional gifts so that children do not prioritize these types of products

Of course, at the moment, it is not possible to know.

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