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Unveiling the Bliss Point- How Hyperpalatable Products Exploit Our Palates for Profit

In the post-industrial food industry, the term bliss point has emerged as a crucial concept in understanding the sales success of any particular heavily processed product. Coined by food scientist, Howard Moskowitz, the bliss point refers to the perfect balance of sugar, salt, and fat that makes a food item irresistible.
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Many of my patients express frustration with cravings for what I call “profitable products”—heavily processed and hyperpalatable foods that are hard to resist. This doesn’t mean these products are bad, it means we should limit our consumption of them. I’ll often commiserate that it was easier to eat a nutrient dense diet when these products didn’t exist. After all, it wasn’t considered diet culture to eat what was available on the homestead when premade items weren’t an option. Today, however, readily available nutrient-poor products make it easy to accidentally fall into a nutrient deficit, which I see on lab results daily.

So why does this happen? Why are we choosing products leading to depletion rather than foods that will keep essential nutrients within normal limits? Well, the truth is you’re not the one choosing. It’s been chosen for you.

In the post-industrial food industry, the term “bliss point” has emerged as a crucial concept in understanding the sales success of any particular heavily processed product. Coined by food scientist, Howard Moskowitz, the bliss point refers to the perfect balance of sugar, salt, and fat that makes a food item irresistible. Nutrient-poor products can seize the brain’s reward system, leading to cravings and compulsive eating behaviors.

This blog will delve into the science behind the bliss point, exploring how manufacturers exploit your desires to manipulate you into purchasing their product.

 

Understanding the Bliss Point

The bliss point utilizes the triad of taste to tap into the brain’s reward system, releasing feel-good chemicals like dopamine with every bite. Consumption can lead to a cycle of craving, driving repeat purchases (Pepino et al., 2016). The triad of taste includes sugar, salt, and fat.

  • Sugar, and especially concentrated sweeteners, trigger pleasure centers in the brain, encouraging consumption.
  • Salt enhances flavor and stimulates appetite, making the food more palatable.
  • Fat provides a rich, satisfying mouthfeel and contributes to the overall indulgence.
  • Protein, arguably the most satiating macronutrient, doesn’t hit the bliss point, leading to the plethora of low-protein products available in every grocery store.

 

Exploiting the Bliss Point and Mouthfeel for Profit

Mouthfeel is a key component to perfecting how craveable a product is. Mouthfeel refers to the tactile sensations experienced when eating, including texture, creaminess, and thickness. Research shows that mouthfeel can significantly influence food preferences and consumption patterns (Piqueras-Fiszman & Spence, 2015). Achieving the right mouthfeel is essential for creating a satisfying eating experience, contributing to the food’s overall allure.

Heavily processed food products are engineered not only for the bliss point but also for an enticing mouthfeel, fostering brand loyalty. The combination of taste and mouthfeel creates a memorable experience that consumers crave, hence the idea that these products have an addictive nature. (Liem et al., 2012).

At the end of the day, manufacturers are trying to make a profit. Manufacturers create variations of popular products to cater to different mouthfeel preferences, broadening their consumer base. The diversity in textures ensures a range of options that appeal to various sensory preferences despite products made from roughly the same ingredients (Ares et al., 2014).

We rarely see bland nutrient-poor foods consumed in isolation and in large quantities, such as plain sugar or plain flour. However, combined with strong concentrated flavoring we can trick the brain into consuming more than it would without intervention. (Liem et al., 2008) And thus the formula for most hyperpalatable products is: refined starch/sugar + refined oils + flavors & colorings + fortified vitamins. This combination results in craveable products at minimal cost.

Marketing campaigns highlight the sensory pleasure of consuming these foods. This emphasizes both the bliss point and mouthfeel, as well as the convenience of a readily available shelf-stable option. Appealing to the tactile sensations of eating enhances the emotional connection consumers have with these products while the ease of access contributes to impulse purchases and habitual consumption. (Huang et al., 2019) (Wansink & Chandon, 2006).

 

Low Nutrient Density and Low Satiety

While processed foods engineered for the bliss point and mouthfeel may provide immediate gratification, they often lack essential nutrients necessary for optimal health. This deficiency in nutrient density can have profound effects on satiety (the feeling of fullness after eating). Here’s how it’s done:

Hitting the bliss point produces foods that are calorie-dense yet nutrient-poor. Consuming these products can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels followed by crashes, leaving you feeling hungry again shortly after eating (Drewnowski, 2018).

Nutrient-poor foods typically lack essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients necessary for optimal bodily function. The absence of these micronutrients can disrupt metabolic processes and appetite regulation, leading to increased food intake to compensate for the lack of nutrition (Drewnowski, 2018). Regular overconsumption can lead to rapid changes in weight, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases (Monteiro et al., 2017). Excessive consumption of hyperpalatable foods may also have implications for mental health, including increased risk of depression and anxiety (Luppino et al., 2010). In addition, emotional dependency eating (self-medication) of dopamine reward foods can create a cycle of harmful thoughts and behaviors.

A simple solution would be to moderate intake by staying in tune with mindful eating and your hunger signals. However, while nutrient-dense foods containing fiber, protein, and naturally occurring fats promote satiety and regulate appetite, hyperpalatable low-nutrient products fail to trigger the same satiety signals, leading to persistent hunger (Rolls et al., 2017). Constant exposure to these products can lead to leptin resistance, a condition where the body fails to respond to signals of fullness, perpetuating persistent hunger (Drewnowski, 2018).

 

Conclusion

The ability to tap into the bliss point and mouthfeel is a powerful tool in the food industry’s arsenal to craft addictive, crave-worthy products. In essence, while these products provide temporary satisfaction, their lack of nutrient density ultimately undermines your long-term need for satiety. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t enjoy your snack cakes or deep-fried favorites.

My goal is not to shame your choices. On the contrary, understanding these concepts empowers consumers to make informed choices about their intake, promoting a healthier relationship with food. Most of us know that opting for nutrient-rich whole foods not only promotes feelings of fullness and satisfaction but also supports overall health and well-being. Additionally, increased consumer awareness can drive demand for nutrient-dense alternatives and encourage the food industry to prioritize nutritional value in order to maintain a profit (Glanz et al., 2017).

So now you know how you’re being exploited and manipulated. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

 

References:

– Ares, G., et al. (2014). Sensory properties driving consumer acceptability of sweet products: A case study on bakery products. Food Quality and Preference, 36, 70-79.

– Drewnowski, A. (2018). Nutrient density: principles and evaluation tools. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(1), 1-5.

– Glanz, K., et al. (2017). Measures of retail food store environments and sales: Review and implications for healthy eating initiatives. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 49(7), 513-532.

– Huang, L., et al. (2019). Effect of food packaging color on consumer purchase intention: Moderating role of food naturalness. Journal of Cleaner Production, 221, 378-386.

– Liem, D. G., et al. (2012). How children learn to like the foods they do. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(7), 1137-1144.

– Liem, D. G., et al. (2008). The influence of taste liking on the consumption of nutrient rich and nutrient poor foods. International Journal of Obesity, 32(5), 822-829.

– Monteiro, C. A., et al. (2017). Ultra-processed foods: what they are and how to identify them. Public Health Nutrition, 12(5), 2205-2214.

– Pepino, M. Y., et al. (2016). Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load. Diabetes Care, 39(9), e212-e213.

– Piqueras-Fiszman, B., & Spence, C. (2015). Sensory expectations based on product-extrinsic food cues: An interdisciplinary review of the empirical evidence and theoretical accounts. Food Quality and Preference, 40, 165-179.

– Rolls, B. J., et al. (2017). Nutrient density and energy density of foods in relation to weight outcomes. Nutrition Reviews, 75(7), 521-528.

– Spence, C. (2017). On the psychological impact of food colour. Flavour, 6(1), 1-21.

– Wansink, B., & Chandon, P. (2006). Can “low-fat” nutrition labels lead to obesity? Journal of Marketing Research, 43(4), 605-617.

 

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