The Art of the Bliss Point
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD
Beware of the bliss point this holiday season!! The term “Bliss Point” made headlines earlier this year when author Michael Moss’ book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” was published. Bliss point, a term often used by the soft-drink industry represents the food manufacturers’ use of sugar, salt, and fat to increase taste and ultimately, the cravings of consumers. It is a specific term coined to represent the “specific amount of crave” which is smack in the middle of the sensory intensity (level)1.
Remember when Oreos were all over the news last month? A study performed by Connecticut College found that eating Oreos stimulate the same sensation in the brains of lab mice as drugs do, suggesting that Oreos may possibly be as addictive as drugs. “Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” says Joseph Schroeder, the director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at Connecticut College2. “It could explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”2 While the study is yet to be officially published and undergo the peer-review process, it is likely that the Oreos caused the mice to reach something like their bliss point. It is important to recognize that this does not mean the food itself is addictive (check back soon for a post on food addiction). If foods are eaten in combination with other foods especially proteins, the sensory experience of the food would be different and, therefore, not at the optimal bliss point.
Keep in mind, the food manufacturers are trying to achieve bliss point so the consumers continually buy and eat their products. This is a marketing ploy. The University of Indiana highlights the Bliss Point on their website, stating that the bliss point is the combination of “just the right amount of sugar, salt, and fat”. They report the food industry attempts to prepare all foods with at least 2 combinations of the earlier mentioned nutrients3. In fact, Moss says there are some foods on the market today that cause our bodies to feel hungry even as we’re eating them1.
Take an example by Moss, from his article in the NY Times, just a half-cup serving of a popular marinara sauce brand has more than 2 teaspoons of sugar (that’s more than two oreos worth of sugar). Moss states, however, that having too much of one sensation (ie sweetness, fat, or salt) can actually be off-putting to the consumer. It is a term called “sensory-specific satiety,” in which more distinctive flavors overwhelm the brain, therefore reducing the desire to eat more. Thus, not only do brands look for the perfect mixture of tastes, but they also measure them accordingly to ensure that they don’t reach the “sensory-specific satiety”1.
Can you think about a certain food like a potato chip or even an Oreo that has hit upon your bliss point? I can remember eating Pringles and one was just never enough. Even now, when I eat Oreos, having one is extremely rare. Rather I try to have Oreos with my lunch, or with milk or immediately after eating dinner to so that I get full from the other foods and also to prevent a blood sugar rollercoaster.
So what can we do, as consumers? As parents? We live in a busy world where too often convenience trumps nutrition. Despite having good intentions to eat locally sourced foods, time and lack of energy cause us to fall prey to packaged goods. It is truly a balancing act. Most important is that the consumer realizes this is happening and can make an educated decision regarding which brands to purchase, how often to eat packaged foods and to realize the body is not betraying you rather the big food companies may be!
Do you think food companies should be allowed to manufacture foods that achieve bliss point? Do you think overeating of these specific foods is the fault of the big food companies or the individual?
What food hits your bliss point?
Additional Viewing: http://www.pbs.org/pov/foodinc/
- Moss, Michael. “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” New York Times [New York City] 20 Feb 2013, Magazine n. pag. Web. 25 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html?_r=0>.
- Martin, Amy, and Deborah MacDonnell. “Connecticut College News.” Connecticut College News. Connecticut College, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
- “The Bliss Point.” The Bliss Point. Indiana University, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.