Scientists say food in America is "hyper-palatable"—and that's a bad thing.
Tera Fazzino, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, led the study published in the journal Obesity. She says most foods eaten in the U.S.—including some marketed for weight loss—contain ingredients that make people want more. These hyper-palatable foods contain certain combinations of sugar, fat, salt and carbohydrates that tap into the brain's reward system and make it hard for us to stop eating them.
According to the study, hyper-palatable foods fall into three categories: foods with at least 25% of the calories coming from fat, and salt making up 0.03% of their weight; those with at least 20% calories from fat and 20% from sugar; and items getting 40% of calories from carbohydrates and 0.2% of weight from salt.
Foods, for example, deemed hyper-palatable include hot dogs, which marry salt and fat; brownies, which bring together fat and sugar; and pretzels, which contain salt and carbohydrates.
To come up with this definition, researchers used special software to see which ingredients 7,757 foods sold in the U.S. shared. They reviewed 14 existing studies on foods manufactured to contain ingredients, which make them more appealing.
Based on the new criteria, the team found 62% of foods sold in the U.S. are hyper-palatable. Of those, 70% are high in fat and salt, 25% are high in fat and sugar, and 16% feature a lot of carbohydrates and salt.
Among foods labeled as having no, reduced or low levels of sugar, fat, sodium or calories, 49% are hyper-palatable.
Fazzino, who is also associate director of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment at the University of Kansas' Life Span Institute, told Newsweek: "These findings indicate that many foods marketed for weight management may have characteristics of enhanced palatability."