Snack foods can be addictive. The salty, spicy, tangy or whatever flavors, are capable of making us crave for more. Snack foods, or most commonly known as junk foods, are consumed by 94% of Americans on a daily basis. The ease of availability and their low cost is what encourages most to consume these products. According to the recent report from Mintel, Snacking Motivations and Attitudes US, 50% of adults snack two to three times per day with 70% claiming that anything can be considered a snack these days.
Indeed, most people are willing to occasionally gorge on the kind of food that isn’t exactly great for them. Recent research across the globe has revealed several horror stories that hide behind the glossy menus and vibrant packaging. Here, we are listing some of the disturbing facts about snack foods, that will change your diet forever.
1. French fries, one of the most popular snack foods in the world, exposes us to high levels of acrylamide; increasing the risk for several types of cancer.
The average American eats 30 pounds of French fries per year. French fries and ketchup are a combination that has imprinted itself firmly in our diet. However, in 2002, a substance known as acrylamide was discovered in French fries by scientists. Acrylamide is a chemical used primarily to make substances called polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers. It is found in some foods, especially potatoes, that are heated to high temperatures in the presence of certain sugars.
According to Cancer.gov, food and smoking are the two major sources of acrylamide exposure for people in the general population. When it comes to food, French fries and potato chips contain the most acrylamide. Depending on the manufacturing process, the levels of acrylamide vary. The longer potatoes are fried, the higher the amount of acrylamide and if the cooking time is decreased to avoid browning, the amount of acrylamide is found to be lower. Several cancer organizations and research facilities do consider acrylamide to be a probable human carcinogen.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the amount of residual acrylamide in drinking water and materials that come in contact with food. However, there are no regulations when it comes to governing the presence of acrylamide in food itself. (source)
2. One powerful asset food companies have at their disposal is salt. We can be addicted to salt, the same way as cigarettes or narcotics, and food companies pack it into their products in astonishing amounts.
Once we open a bag of potato chips, it’s hard to stop eating them until we have finished the entire bag. Even if we are not hungry, it’s still hard to stop eating them since our cravings can be uncontrollable. This is because we are addicted to salt. Studies from as far back as 1991, show that salt activates the same neurological pathways that narcotics do, triggering the brain’s “pleasure center”. Unlike sugar, which is something that we naturally love since birth, salt is an acquired taste.
Studies show that kids who are exposed to salty foods before six months start to prefer salted over unsalted foods, while kids who aren’t exposed don’t. The average person eats 96 bags, or about 6 pounds of potato chips each year. Manufacturers are well aware of this and food producer Cargill sells 40 different types with different chemical structures. Each one is optimized for certain uses, and they have fun names like “Special Flake,” “Fine Flake Improved,” and “Shur-Flo Fine Flour Salt”.
Excess consumption of sodium increases blood pressure, increases your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease. (source)
3. Cheetos are designed to melt in your mouth in order to trick your brain.
Once you tear into a bag, it’s hard to stop, and there’s a reason for it. According an Oxford study, the brain associates the crunching sound with freshness, so you might be convinced that what you’re eating is more appetizing than it really is. To make us become addicted to the snack, there’s this little thing called “vanishing caloric density,” which tricks our brain into believing that we’re not getting enough of the tasty snack.
When food dissolves quickly in your mouth, the brain assumes that there were no calories consumed. Thus, we keep eating the snack until its completely empty. Every year, snack food manufacturers spend millions to make their products light, dry and addictive. (source)
Fun Fact: It takes 11 million gallons of milk to make the 10 million pounds of cheddar cheese that are used in Cheetos seasoning, this according to Kimberly Scott, the director of communications at PepsiCo, Inc./Frito-Lay North America. For a further breakdown, this averages to 2,200 gallons of milk per cow.
4. Touts on the front of packages, like “low fat”, or “all natural” is a way to trick the consumer.
Nutritionists are always concerned about calories and weight gain. Some even shop based on how products are advertised. For this purpose, many manufacturers put labels on the front of packages, like “low fat” or “all natural”, which can be assuring to most consumers. This is actually a tactic that fools customers into overlooking the reality. Studies show that a low-fat yogurt can have as much sugar as ice cream. All natural products can be fully loaded in sugar, fat and salt and still be labelled as “low fat” or “all natural”. So, before you buy a product based on its label, make sure to also check the nutrition facts box. (source)
Fun Fact: Every human is genetically predisposed to love sugar, so food companies put it in foods you wouldn’t expect. There’s as much sugar in half a cup of Prego tomato sauce, as there is in three Oreos (two teaspoons).
5. Pretzels are dipped in a lye solution before they are baked. Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, is essentially the same stuff that’s used to make soap and clean drains.
For some, soft pretzels are beloved snack. After mixing flour, yeast and salt to form a sticky ball, the dough is dipped into a mixture of water and lye before being baked. This step is crucial, since it provides the pretzels with the brownish golden color. Some bakers do use a mixture of hot water and baking soda, but the lye bath yields the best results, which is why most use it.
Lye baths are actually a caustic alkaline solution that is used to make the traditional Bavarian pretzels. Although the solution provides the food with its unique coloring, the same solution is used to make soap and clean drains. According to the NPR, it is even capable of dissolving glass. If pretzels are not given a lye bath, they come out white and also taste different. Lye can be toxic in high concentrations and most bakers use food-grade lye, which is the chemical equivalent of drain cleaner. However, they are regulated and are produced and sold in cleaner packages.
Since the lye dip is heavily diluted and the pretzel is baked after dipping, it won’t hurt you; unless you are eating about 10 soft pretzels every day. (source)
6. Food companies know how our brains work in a grocery store, and they pay big money for good placement.
Food companies pay big bucks to understand our shopping habits. A 2005 Coca-Cola research study showed that people tend to move counterclockwise through supermarkets, from back to front. This is the reason why eye-catching sodas and some of the most popular brands of chips are placed in the front right of the store to catch your attention when you go in.
Behavioral experts who analyzed the shopping habits are also the reason why there are only two to three checkout lanes open in a store with more than 10 lanes. If you pay close attention, you would also notice that the open checkout lanes are further away from the entrance and towards the exit. This is to ensure that the customers view as many items as possible during the brief moment they are present at the store. (source)
7. Microwaved popcorn is bad for your lungs. The chemicals called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) that are inside, prevent oil from seeping through popcorn bags. Inhaling the chemicals for longer periods of time can cause “popcorn lung”.
A Healthline study found that there’s a possible link between microwave popcorn and cancer, and it’s not the popcorn itself that causes it, but rather the chemicals called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) that are in the bags. PFCs are added to popcorn bags to repel grease and to prevent them from seeping through popcorn bags.
PFCs have also been used in pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers, Teflon pans, and other types of food packaging. The issue with PFCs is that when you heat them up, they break down into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is a chemical that’s suspected to cause cancer. When you microwave the popcorn bags, these chemicals latch on to the popcorn, and when you consume them, it ends up in your bloodstream. According to the NCBI, 98% of Americans already have this chemical in their blood. (source)
In 2012, a Colorado man sued major popcorn manufacturers of microwave buttered popcorn that caused him to develop “popcorn lung” after eating two bags daily for 10 years. After deliberation, the jury awarded him $7 million in damages and blamed the manufacturer for negligence. (source)
8. Frito-Lay has a research team of nearly 500 scientists dedicated to fine-tuning their snacks for maximum deliciousness (and addictive power). They even used a $40,000 chewing-simulation device to achieve the ideal crunch level for their chips.
When we look at a bag of Doritos, all we see is a bag of chips. However, we are less likely to think about a group of scientists in white coats, surrounded by an array of high-tech lab equipment and testing 20 different variations of cheese powder to achieve the perfect combination. According to Michael Moss’ February 2013 New York Times Magazine article, “The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food,” Frito-Lay spends upwards of $30 million a year to run a research complex in Texas. Inside that complex, about 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians all work together to produce the perfect chip; exploring things like flavor, texture, mouth feel, aroma and crunch. The lab includes some highly specialized equipment that seems like the kind of fantastical contraptions you might expect from a Wonka-esque fantasyland and not necessarily from large, industrial-looking buildings just outside of Dallas. Case in point: a “$40,000 device that simulates a chewing mouth [to discover] the perfect break point.” (source)
9. Processed meats such as jerky can cause cancer. The WHO classifies processed meats as Group One carcinogen.
Beef jerky is a popular snack enjoyed by millions in the US. What the consumer does not know is the fact that these foods are processed to an extreme extent, in order to increase their shelf life. Manufacturers want to ensure that the food lasts for months or years, as well as taste the same when it is consumed. Simply putting beef or bacon through the mincer does not achieve their goals, so manufactures use chemicals that not only increases the products shelf life, but also increases the risk of cancer.
A study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 50g of processed meat a day – less than two slices of processed bacon – increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Cancer Research UK suggests that instead of giving up on some of your favorite snack foods, it’s best to cut down on consumption in order to avoid further damages. (source)
10. Although fruit snacks are labelled as healthy source of vitamins, they have more in common with candy than actual fruit.
Fruit snacks are consumed by millions of Americans every day since it is supposed to provide us with the necessary vitamins. However, in 2017, the manufacturer was challenged by a New Jersey woman, who learned that they are “no more healthful than candy”. According to the plaintiff Lauren Hall, Welch’s has been deceptively marketing Welch’s Fruit Snacks to make consumers think they contain significant amounts of the fruit shown in the products’ advertising.
“Indeed, Defendants label and market the Fruit Snacks as ‘Made with REAL Fruit,’ prominently depict a cornucopia of characterizing fruits on the front of each package, and prominently claim that ‘Fruit is our 1st Ingredient!’” Hall claims.
According to Hall, sugar makes up 40% of each serving of Fruit Snacks and Fruit Rolls Snacks, and as much as 60% of the Fruit ‘n Yogurt Snacks. Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, the product could be moved to the candy aisle. (source)