The nation’s secret addiction – BSDHTFeatured Products Promotional Features
Posted by: The Probe 2nd November 2018
We all know that feeling – you buy a family packet of crisps, temptation beckons and before you know it you’ve eaten the whole bag. If this seems like a familiar scenario you’re definitely not alone.
However, despite being relatively harmless as an occasional treat, crisps are addictive snacks that can have a negative impact on general health when eaten too regularly and also affect our oral health as well.
As addictive as drugs
You wouldn’t expect it from your average packet of cheese and onion or salt and vinegar, but crisps are actually developed to appeal to our senses in a number of ways. In fact, Dr Tony Goldstone, a neuroscientist at the Imperial College of London who specialises in research on eating behaviours, found that crisps can trigger the same pleasure responses in our minds as hard drugs such as cocaine.[i]
By conducting an experiment where overweight participants were shown pictures of crisps, it was found that their brains had the same response as alcoholics or drug addicts who were shown pictures of their addictions – making it clear that crisps trigger pleasure responses which lead to them being irresistible for certain people. Nearly every design feature of a packet of crisps has been created with this in mind, and it turns out that it’s not just the flavour of crisps that may illicit this response in our brains, but also the shape and texture too.
A tasty trifecta
Crisps are, in some ways, the Holy Grail of flavour. High in fat, salt and often sugar, these snacks appeal to all of the addictive parts of our brain, providing a three-pronged assault of taste that attracts people no matter whether sweet or savoury flavours are their weakness. Tomato base flavoured crisps such as prawn cocktail are especially effective at appealing to our senses, as these flavours tend to contain much more sugar than other flavours such as ready salted.
The problem with fat, salt and sugar is that they are especially damaging to our health in different ways. A high intake of salt has been linked to a rise in cardiac disease,[ii]whilst sugar actively rots our teeth and causes obesity, and can even lead to further problems such as diabetes.[iii]Fat in itself is not necessarily harmful in small quantities, but an excess intake of saturated fats, in particular, has been linked with obesity and heart disease too.[iv]The high level of salt and sometimes acidic ingredients in crisps can also exacerbate certain oral conditions as apthous ulcers. This causes considerable pain for people who try to indulge when these sores are present, and therefore these snacks should be avoided.
Danger comes in all shapes and sizes
Part of the appeal of crisps is that there are many different shapes and textures available. From ridge cut to cheese puffs, this variety of forms tantalises our taste buds in different ways, ensuring that we remain addicted.
One news article piece in the Independent detailed how it could be the crunch of crisps that makes them so addictive, and that many brands develop their crisps to break under the perfect amount of pressure for the most satisfying crunch. Furthermore, the same article revealed how some shapes of crisps can actually trick our minds into thinking that they don’t have calories in them in an interesting idea called “vanishing caloric density” whereby the crisps melt on our tongues and our bodies don’t believe they have calorific value.[v]
Some brands have even employed a combination of these tactics to ensure they remain addictive. Pringles, for example, make true of their motto “once you pop you just can’t stop” by beguiling our senses with not only addictive flavourings and vanishing caloric density, but also a shape that has been especially designed to fit on our tongue and has no predictable breaking point. This, according to an in-depth study of the shape of the crisp, makes them more satisfying.[vi]
What does this mean for people’s teeth?
Aside from the numerous negative effects crisps can have on our general health, they also present a significant danger to our oral health. The starch in crisps is the perfect food source for bacteria. Plus, as the starch sticks to teeth, it gives bacteria a longer time to form plaque which attacks the enamel, leading to tooth decay.
Salt and vinegar crisps have been identified as particularly harmful to teeth, as not only do they have the starchiness that feeds plaque but also the acidic vinegar to weaken enamel further. It’s little wonder that salt and vinegar crisps have been identified as one of the main culprits responsible for high rates of tooth erosion in children.[vii]
A professional responsibility
As dental hygienists and dental therapists it is our duty to make people aware about the negative impact that crisps can have on teeth and general health. One of the biggest problems with crisps is that many people tend to assume they are a tooth-friendly snack compared to chocolate and sweets as they contain less sugar. However, due to their addictive nature and high starch content we know this isn’t the case.
By alerting patients to the oral health risks of crisps, together we can help to spread awareness and influence people to choose healthier snack options. Moderation is key, and with addictive foodstuffs such as crisps it’s important that people temper the amount they eat in order to help them avoid the consequences.
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[i]The Daily Mail. Proof That Crisps are as Addictive as Hard Drugs: Neuroscientist Finds Similarities in the Brains of Snack-Lovers and Drug-Addicts. Link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4525270/Proof-crisps-addictive-hard-drugs.html[Last accessed June 18].
[ii]The British Heart Foundation. Salt. Link:https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/preventing-heart-disease/healthy-eating/salt[Last accessed June 18].
[v]The Daily Mail. Why Are Crisps SO addictive? The Cunning Tricks Companies Employ to Keep You Diving Back In (From the Perfect Shape to the Satisfying Crunch). Link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4668926/Why-crisps-addictive-Cunning-tricks-revealed.html[Last accessed June 18].
Relationship with Diet and Habit. Br Dent J 2004; 197: 479-483.