Monday, January 10, 2011

The Taste Trifecta: Sugar, Fat, and Salt

I love sugar.  I have always loved sugar.

For a long time, I thought it was that simple: I just loved candy.  Recently, I have begun to realize that there are many more layers to this love.  Two things have sparked this realization: beginning the Whole30, and simultaneously working my way through The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler, MD.


Day 6 of the Whole30 already has made blueberries taste especially sweet, and made my toothpaste taste simply chemical.

While I am good at abstaining from sugary foods for set periods of time like the Whole30 (or a similar Crossfit Body Composition Challenge at Crossfit Center City earlier this year), I am not good at eating "just a little" sugar when my rules are less stringent.  I have casually wondered why this was, but assumed it had to do with my great desire to keep eating candy corn and hoped I would grow out of it.

Kessler tells us that foods become more "palatable" or even "hyperpalatable" when they contain appropriately intoxicating levels of sugar, fat and salt.  We love the three together, and these three flavors together will always make us go back for more.

Taste is important, however the most poignant point in Kessler's book for me was his illustration of how these tastes can create pathways in my brain.  These "hyperpalatable" foods command our attention, and draw on our memories for power.  A smell, a place, a feeling can all cue memories that we associate with highly palatable foods like milkshakes, pizza, chocolate chip cookies, or fried chicken (or in my case peanut butter!).   When we act on these cues, these desires, our actions build on that memory to stimulate future action and reward.  

And Kessler says, the more we indulge, the more habitual our actions become, and the more our need to reward ourselves becomes "regular" or simply unconscious.  This is unsettling news. But at the same time, it is actually kind of great.

If we know why we are so driven to eat these sugary, fatty, salty foods that we know are terrible for us, if we can remember and understand that our brains just need some time to create new paths, it gives us possibilities.

Kessler imparts some "rewiring" knowledge by suggesting the following:

1. It is a biological change you need to make
2. It is something you will always need to work at
3. Every time you act on your desire and consume The Taste Trifecta, it is harder to break the habit of: cue-urge-reward.
4. You need a plan to succeed against highly palatable food, not just a desire to be rid of them (think candy corn)!  Act quickly. 

I had heard some of it before, but a lot was new!  Pick up Kessler's book and get a better understanding about what you are eating and why you are eating it.  Make new pathways and give up the Taste Trifecta!


  1. Great post, Meredith! So sugar is basically crack - faaaantastic.

  2. Thanks Sara! Yes sugar=crack. It was disappointing for me too BUT it is exciting to know that I could learn to feel a new way about it :) See you soon.

  3. this has my salt topped chocolate cupccake written allllll over it... I need to read this book! You done yet?

  4. yup just finished. I'll bring it friday. I would also love to hear about some of the paleo recipes you have tried this week. I just read about one with chicken salad, homemade mayo, and walnut pesto in bell peppers. mm.