Are You Hooked? How to Overcome the Lure of Processed Food

“Bet you can’t have just one.”  It sounds like a challenge, or a threat.  That line on the potato chip bag, already knowing they’ve got you with the first bite.  “Once you pop, you just can’t stop.” And not because your hand is stuck halfway down the tube of Pringles, but because something drives you to keep going back for more.  Read on to learn how to stop eating processed food and love the taste of real food!

It’s no mystery why food industry wants us to eat more of their products.  The more we eat, the more money they make. And we’re not talking naturally delicious foods fresh from the garden that need no flavor-altering.  We’re talking the cheapest forms of food-like substances that can be made from the byproducts of cultivating real food, like corn and soy.

Because so much corn and soy are produced in the USA, hundreds of ingredients are made from them that can be added to other cheap foods like wheat flour and potatoes to add flavor and stability to an otherwise bland, dead food.  High fructose corn syrup, MSG, modified food starch, soy lecithin, soy protein isolate, stabilizer – these are some of the many ingredients you might find on the labels of your favorite processed snack.

So they get cheap fillers to add to a highly processed base, but perhaps the most insidious part of all this is the time, money and effort poured into each of these products to find “THE BLISS POINT.”  

The Bliss Point is the actual industry name for the point all food producers want to get to in their product.  It’s the point where a consumer takes a bite and the brain lights up in excitement and pleasure only wanting more.  You might refer to this quality in something as “addicting.”

The actual industry name for these food scientists is “Craveability Expert.”  You can probably imagine these food scientists are not like chefs who combine the wonderful flavors of nature together.  They combine unnatural amounts of salt, sugar and/or fat, with the ingredients above, among others, to find the point at which the human biology gets hooked.

Add to all this the amount of money spent on advertising these products to us in a way that grabs attention and starts the craving process, what are we to do?

Here are some tips to help you take back your high-jacked taste buds and return to the joy of real food. Click To Tweet

Variety in the right places

It’s well accepted in the nutrition and food world that variety drives us to eat more.  Like if you have just one thing in front of you, say a bowl of vanilla ice cream, you tend to eat less than if you have a bowl of 3 different flavors and toppings.  Everwonder why there are so many different flavors of Oreos? Or M&Ms? For the exact reason that we eat more when there’s a variety of flavors and textures.

Want to use this to your advantage?  Give yourself plenty of variety in vegetables, both in type and how you prepare and cook them.  And keep the foods you want to eat less of more plain, and just one flavor.

Check the Ingredients

If you’re craving chocolate or chips and want to go for it, choose the kinds with the least processing.  The ingredient list can tell you a lot.

For example, these are the ingredients of a popular brand of flavored corn chips:

  • Corn, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, salt, cheddar cheese, whey, monosodium glutamate (MSG), buttermilk, romano cheese, whey protein concentrate, onion powder, corn flour, natural and artificial flavor, dextrose, tomato powder, lactose, spices, artificial color (yellow 6, yellow 5, red 40), lactic acid, citric acid, sugar, garlic powder, skim milk, red and green bell pepper powder, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate

And here are the ingredients of a less processed corn chip:

  • Organic blue corn, safflower oil, sea salt

And again for chocolate:

  • Sugar, milk, chocolate, cocoa butter, lactose, milk fat, soy lecithin, PGPR (polyglycerol polyricinoleate), emulsifier, vanillin, artificial flavor


  • Organic chocolate, organic raw cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, soy lecithin, organic vanilla extract

Now, organic isn’t necessarily always better, but they just so happened to have much fewer ingredients, and ingredients of mostly real food as well.

Take a 2 week break

Want to know something awesome? Your taste buds turn over about every 2 weeks! If you want to rediscover the flavors of nature after eating a lot of processed food, give yourself 2 weeks without it. ~Meghan Leah, MS, RD Click To TweetIf you eat it again after 2 weeks you might find you’re a lot more sensitive to it, and a little goes a long way. You might also find you’re able to taste the natural sweetness of carrots and corn, and fruit satisfies a sweet craving!

Be Mindful

Perhaps the worst trap when it comes to food products is when you eat them in front of the TV straight from the package.  Your brain is unconsciously driven to eat more of this processed food to begin with, and your conscious attention is on a screen in front of you, likely showing you food commercials at some point, subconsciously driving you to eat even more.  How many countless bags of processed food have met their end on a couch in front of a TV?

Do yourself a favor and if you eat the foods with endless ingredients, at least be mindful of what you’re doing.  What happens if you slow down and taste that cracker?

Understand what’s really going on

Food industry isn’t in the business of selling food.  They’re selling an experience. Here is a quote from the national peanut board (wait, weren’t peanuts a real food?) stating how they could dress up and sell plain old peanuts to millenials:

‘I think that’s what gets millennials,” said McGarity. “They want to see excitement; they want to see innovation. Why not push the envelope and do something unexpected?” When it comes to research on flavors, her analysis echoes that of Dr. Engoron’s. She said that there is a general consumer interest for edgier, bolder flavors that have depth and complexity, and offer a multi-sensory experience.” 

This should scare us.  When food becomes entertainment, nourishment goes out the back window, and a whole host of unintended consequences emerge.  They already have.

Fight back against big food industry by buying real food.  The more you eat of nature, the more your taste buds will crave it.  

I’m not proposing you never eat a processed food again.  And I’m not saying that all those who produce and sell them will stop at nothing, including harming your health to get your money.  I’m sure the mom-and-pop ice cream shop that makes their own ice cream from their grass fed cows genuinely want to bring fun and pleasure to their community by selling ice cream.  Buy it from them.

But don’t feed the pockets of companies who won’t think twice about throwing cheap byproducts of petroleum into their ice cream and cookies to bring down costs.  Your family deserves better than that. You deserve better than that.


What does it feel like to be exploited by big food companies?  Let me know in the comments below.

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