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The Bliss Point

By mixing precise combinations of sugar, fat and salt and texture, Kessler believes manufacturers create “hyper-palatable” foods to “stimulate feelings of pleasure”.

In a new book entitled The End of Overeating, David Kessler – former head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – suggests that food manufacturers and their scientists devise combinations of sugar, fat and salt to make their products irresistible. Kessler believes that the blame for the rampant increase of obesity and those with weight problems cannot be squared solely at the consumer. Rather, he suggests snacks, cereals and ready-made meals are created by food manufacturers with a specific goal in mind – to act on the reward centres of the brain, triggering the so-called “bliss point” and leaving the unwitting consumer hungry for more.

Kessler was best known for his attacks on the tobacco industry while at the FDA and in an article for The Times Online (UK) by science editor Jonathan Leake, he said that he believed the food industry manipulated their products in the manner that tobacco companies did/do to make their cigarettes more addictive. And while this may not be a new concept to many familiar with the pitfalls of processed foods, that an esteemed member of a former governing body has come forth with such a statement is important. Kessler makes a strong point that society has been shaped so that there is a food outlet on almost every street corner, allowing easy accessibility to unhealthy, “bliss-triggering” products whilst on the other hand organic, healthy foods increase in price and become less available.

The Bliss Point

By mixing precise combinations of sugar, fat and salt and texture, Kessler believes manufacturers create “hyper-palatable” foods to “stimulate feelings of pleasure”. He lists Heinz tomato ketchup and Starbucks’ Frappucinos as among the thousands of modern foods engineered to trigger the brain’s pleasure centres. Kessler ran the FDA from 1990 to 1997, and is now professor of paediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California. He says that most people have a “bliss point” where an individual receives the greatest pleasure from sugar, fat or salt.

“As more sugar is added, food becomes more pleasurable until we reach the bliss point, after which it becomes too sweet and the pleasure drops off, “ Kessler told The Times. The same applies with fat and salt. According to Kessler, the optimum point stimulates a person’s appetite instead of suppressing it. By combining certain quantities of sugar etcetera, the ‘bliss point’ can be consistently stimulated resulting in constant craving.

In 2001, the National Audit Office in Britain released a report stating that 20% of adults were obese – a number that has been estimated at 25% today (no doubt a conservative figure). In 2007, the government’s Foresight report said that modern foods “with their increased palatability and ability to heighten sensory stimulation (emphasis added), drive us to reward ourselves with more food.” Following the 2001 report by the Audit Office, England’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson was so alarmed that he labelled the situation a “health time bomb”. Of course, given all of the above information, proper nutritional education is also of the utmost importance in a motorised society conditioned to believe that there is little time for one to cook or prepare a healthy meal or snack.

by Max Drake
(Freelance writer and artist for GritFX.)

(Source: The Times Online (UK) – Junk food triggers our ‘bliss point’ by Jonathan Leake)

Discussion

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  1. The bliss point, a big problem for me I am afraid. I have been a long time over-eater. Recently I have been coming down from the multi-year high, but some foods are definately addictive-ish, and the sweet foods are the ones that get me the worst. So it makes sense that it has to do with sugar.

    When I was in basic training for the US Army they forbade junk food, and the sweetest thing we were allowed was fruit. After basic training was over candy was almost unpalatable, but I worked hard it unfortunately, and started to eat it again.

    I wonder if there is a comparisson to candy versus fruit in the book?

    Ok, interesting post.

    Posted by Bill Donovan | July 1, 2009, 10:25 am
  2. Hi Bill…
    I think I have the sweetest tooth (as they say) in Australia…I'm notorious at gorging on sweet stuff. My teeth are telling me to quit it, though…

    That's interesting about banning junk in the armed forces…I guess the brass want their soldiers in peak condition, which lends weight to the argument against junk food…or maybe they just don't want you guys hopped up on sugar with weapons in your hands..? :)

    But what does it say about the endless junk food available to KIDS in schools…?

    Thanks for dropping by, Bill…

    Posted by Max Drake | July 1, 2009, 7:12 pm
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