Too Much Food That Tastes Too Good?

The Taste of the FieldsQuietly and systematically, Tera Fazzino has been working with colleagues to define a concept of hyper-palatable foods that might explain the apparent effect of ultra-processed foods on body composition and thus, obesity. The latest chapter in this quest appeared recently in Nature Food. In short, a narrative is taking shape that we may have a supply of too much food that tastes too good.

Is this a substantial part of what lies at the heart of our problem with the rising prevalence of increasingly severe obesity? If it is, how might this insight help us reduce the problem?

Defining Hyper-Palatable Food

In 2019, Fazzino published her definition of hyper-palatable foods in Obesity. She drew this definition from prior research on the subject, but distilled it into something based on the composition of the food. She came up with three clusters of foods that she defined as hyper-palatable. The first was foods with an excess of fat and sodium. Next was foods with too much fat and simple sugars. The final grouping was foods with an excess of carbs and sodium.

Subsequently, she published an analysis that showed remarkable growth in the availability of food that fits her definition of hyper-palatable foods. She and her colleagues examined three datasets representative of the U.S. food systems and found that in 2018, hyper-palatable foods had come to account for 69 percent of the food supply. That’s up from 49 percent in 1988.

Correlating Hyper-Palatable Food with Extra Consumption

The narrative builds further with the Fazzino’s latest study in Nature Food. For this analysis, she collaborated with Kevin Hall and others to see if they could find a correlation between freely consumed calories and protein content, energy density, or hyper-palatability.

On protein content, they had mixed findings. But they found that energy dense and hyper-palatable foods each were associated with a trend toward consuming more calories. Another interesting finding was that the interaction between energy density and hyper-palatability was negative. High energy density predicted more calories consumed from meals that had less hyper-palatable foods. Hyper-palatable foods predicted more calories consumed from meals that had less energy density.


As we wrote in 2019, this narrative of hyper-palatability is shaping up to be a compelling one. But a compelling story is not the same thing as compelling science. For one thing, we do not yet have evidence that this definition of hyper-palatability supports a cause and effect relationship with food consumption and weight gain. The research to test such an effect is underway.

We would not bet against the observation of an effect. It is not too hard to imagine that people will eat more food if it is tastier. But then the hard questions come. What shall we do about having too much food that tastes too good? Tax it? Regulate it?

The public discourse about this may get very interesting.

Click here for the latest study by Fazzino et al. For further perspective, click here, here, here, and here.

The Taste of the Fields, painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau / WikiArt

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February 26, 2023

6 Responses to “Too Much Food That Tastes Too Good?”

  1. February 26, 2023 at 6:37 am, Al Lewis said:

    I’m in a Facebook group that shows food ads from the 1950s, often showing prepared meals. They were absolutely disgusting. Like canned hamburgers. Jello molds. Campbells soup poured over meatloaf.

    I often comment: “The good news is that nobody wanted seconds,” or something like that. The comments were supposed to be a joke, but reading this post, I’m thinking maybe not. Maybe food is simply much more palatable today than it was back then.

  2. February 26, 2023 at 8:58 am, Susannah Southern said:

    Shout out to Barbara Rolls for her research into the energy density of foods. As an RDN working with folks on weight management, I enjoyed sharing her low energy density recipes that didn’t seem like deprivation. Glad to see this evolving.

  3. February 26, 2023 at 9:14 am, KJP said:

    I think that we all knew implicitly why we liked certain foods often those HFSS. Why we opened a packet of crisps while watching TV when we weren’t actually hungry or refused another boiled potato but would accept another roast one or ice cream to follow.

    But I have never seen it set out so explicitly not even by those campaigning against HFSS foods. Maybe “don’t eat doughnuts because they are HFSS but taste great” doesn’t really work.

  4. February 26, 2023 at 11:51 am, David Brown said:

    An abundance of hyper-palatable food does not explain these observations. “… risk of developing obesity and T2D has largely been blamed on the increased consumption of energy dense foods and fat intake, particularly saturated fat, but it is interesting to know that the mean fat intake of the human population has not increased much in the past 50 years. It is true that the vast advancement in technological developments has led to a reduction in physical activity worldwide, but as obesity now involves infants and the populations of developing countries, this obesity pandemic cannot be attributed to this alone. In addition, laboratory and other domesticated animals have also been subject to the increased prevalence of obesity, despite having largely unchanged living conditions for many years.

  5. February 26, 2023 at 1:43 pm, Allen Browne said:

    But the real question is how does this fit with the energy regulatory system, it’s “set point”, the 80% of children without the disease of obesity (yet) and the 40-50% of adults without the disease in the U.S. We need to dig deeper than palatability and caloric density to figure out how the energy regulatory system goes awry to an unhealthy point and then defends the unhealthy situation. As has been noted, obesity is a complex disease.


  6. February 27, 2023 at 2:21 pm, John DiTraglia said:

    yeah, hunger is the best sauce.