Should The Humble packet of crisps carry a health warning?
You might scoff at the suggestion, but it comes as evidence emerges to show the snack is bad news — fuelling not just the obesity and heart disease epidemics, but linked to developmental problems in unborn babies, hyperactivity in children and potentially cancer in adults.
The risks would not be so critical were it not for the alarming extent to which Britain’s crisp-munching habit has grown.
Last week a YouGov poll found that a third of British children eat crisps every day.
The other two-thirds of UK children eat them several times a week.
In fact, Britons polish off six billion packets a year — the equivalent of one ton of crisps every three minutes or almost 100 packets per person.
Snacking on a packet a day — as so many of Britain’s children now do — can add up to the equivalent of drinking almost five litres of cooking oil per year to their diet.
All this may seem difficult to believe of those innocent-looking grab bags crowding the shelves at the corner shop, supermarket and petrol station.
But the fun logos and bright colours mask a product that has been industrially perfected to tantalise our taste buds to the point of addiction.
Michael Moss, the author of newly published book: Salt, Sugar, Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us.
His investigations have revealed how decades of research by food-making giants have transformed crisps from the mildly enticing snacks of the Seventies into products designed to smart-bomb our brains’ craving centres with precision chemistry.
When you pop a crisp in your mouth, he explains, the taste of salt hits you almost immediately. It’s an effect that the salt industry calls ‘the flavour burst’.
Modern crisps are also loaded with fat to provide something that the industry calls ‘mouthfeel’.
This makes the experience of eating modern-day crisps similar to the pleasure sensation you get when you bite into gooey cheese.
We feel this fat through a nerve called the trigeminal, which sits above and behind the mouth. It sends tactile information to the brain. The better the mouthfeel, the more we desire it.
Combined with the salt and fat is the sugar that is naturally packed in the potato starch.
This completes the trio of flavours that our instinctive brains naturally crave, says Moss.
But the ultimate secret weapon of today’s crisps is their scientifically honed crispiness.
‘Research has found that the more noise a crisp makes when you bite into it, the more you will like it,’ Moss says.
All this helps to explain why so many of us ‘love’ crisps.
But this highly seductive high-intensity burst of fat, sugar and salt comes at a potential price to our health.
Consumed in excess, these ingredients are well-proven by research to increase our risk of obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and coronary disease.
In children, over-consumption can put them on the path to a lifetime of ill-health.
Dr Mozaffarian, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School, says research indicates the high levels of starches and refined carbohydrates in today’s larger-sized ‘single-serving’ packets of crisps can knock awry the levels of glucose and insulin in our blood.
This imbalance ‘leads to less feeling of fullness, increasing hunger and larger amounts of food consumed over the course of the day’.
“So now you know why one bag of crisps is never enough” says Greengates Builders Merchants Accrington, Lancashire.