New research offers specific metrics that might qualify foods as hyper-palatable (loaded with fat, sugar and salts) and finds most foods consumed in the United States meet these criteria.
Many foods in the American diet, can pack a mix of ingredients apt to light up people's brain-reward neural circuitry and overpower mechanisms that are supposed to signal when we've had enough to eat .The results of the research were presented at the 7th Annual Obesity Journal Symposium at ObesityWeek at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Centre in Las Vegas.
Researchers call this class of foods - often processed foods or sweets with alluring combinations of fat, sugar, carbohydrates and sodium "hyper-palatable." While a slew of films, popular books and academic studies have addressed hyper-palatable foods over the past 15 or so years, none has yet to offer a broadly accepted quantitative definition of just what constitutes a hyper-palatable food.
Offering specific metrics that might qualify foods as hyper-palatable -- and finding most foods consumed in the United States meet these criteria.
"Multiple documentaries have pointed out that food companies have very well-designed formulas for these types of foods to make them palatable and essentially enhance consumption," said lead author Tera Fazzino, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kansas and associate director of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment at KU's Life Span Institute. "But these definitions are virtually unknown to the scientific community, which is a major limitation.
If there's no standardised definition, we can't compare across studies - we've just typically used descriptive definitions like 'sweets,' 'desserts' and 'fast foods.' That type of descriptive definition isn't specific to the actual mechanisms by which the ingredients lead to this enhanced palatability. This has been a substantial limitation in the field I thought was important to try to address."
Fazzino and her KU coauthors -- Kaitlyn Rohde, research assistant at the Cofrin Logan Center and Debra K. Sullivan of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center- sought to define criteria for hyper-palatable foods by conducting a literature review, and then using nutrition software and applying their definition to 7,757 food items in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS).
"We essentially took all of the descriptive definitions of the foods from the literature - for example, Oreos or mac and cheese -- and we entered this one by one into a nutrition program that is very careful in how it quantifies a food's ingredients," said Fazzino. "This nutrition software essentially provides in fine-grained detail a data set that specifies how many calories per serving are in this food, and how much fat, sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, fibre and all sorts of other things."
The authors found that 62 per cent of foods in the FNDDS met the criteria for at least one of the three clusters they'd identified. Most (70 per cent) of those foods that qualified were high in fat and sodium, such as meat dishes or egg and milk-based foods like omelettes or cheese dips. Some 25 per cent of the hyper-palatable foods were high in fat and sugar, and 16 per cent of these foods were high in carbohydrates and sodium. Less than 10 per cent qualified in more than one cluster.
Fazzino plans to build on this work by analyzing how the ubiquity of hyper-palatable foods in the U.S. diet compares to foods available in other nations. She recently applied for a grant to compare American foods to those consumed in southern Italy, where a Mediterranean diet is prevalent.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)