Hyper-Palatable Foods Defined; Study Develops Data-Driven Metrics


Hyper-palatable foods are usually unhealthy and addictive

Hyper-palatable foods are known to induce food addiction as they contain increased high level of fat, sugar and food additives, which appeal to the palate and increase cravings for these particular classes of foods. These foods can light up people's brain-reward neural circuitry and overpower mechanisms that can give us a signal when we've had enough to eat. This usually results in overeating. In general terms, we think of these foods as fast food, processed foods or desserts; with no specified category assigned to such foods. A new study offers specific metrics that can define some unhealthy foods as hyper-palatable, mostly foods packed with fat, sugar and salts.

The results of the research were presented at the 7th Annual Obesity Journal Symposium at Obesity Week at the Mandalay Bay South Convention Centre in Las Vegas.

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 said, "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. But these definitions are virtually unknown to the scientific community, which is a major limitation.”

(Also Read: Food Addiction: Does it Really Exist?)


Foods high in sugar, fat and salts are hyper-palatable

Tera Fazzino along with 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, carried out the study to come up with specified criteria for hyper-palatable foods. The team carried out a literature review, and applied their definition to 7,757 food items in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS), using nutrition software.

“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," stated Tera Fazzino.

Through the study, the researchers found out that almost 70 per cent of foods that qualified as hyper palatable foods were high in fat and sodium, such as meat dishes or egg and milk-based foods like omelettes or cheese dips. 25 per cent of the foods were high in fat and sugar, and 16 per cent of the foods were high in carbohydrates and sodium.

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