Matthew Rees:

Marketing strategies aside, the appeal of ultra-processed foods is typically said to rest on a trio of seemingly benign attributes: They are inexpensive, easy to prepare and delicious. But Dr. van Tulleken sees the appeal deriving from something more insidious. With the aid of various additives and sophisticated chemical modifications, these foods have been manufactured to become addictive. He points to the speed of the reward (akin to the “hit” of snorted cocaine) and to the manipulation of brain signals. “By speedballing different tastes and sensations,” he writes, these foods “can force far more calories into us than we could otherwise handle, creating enormous neurological rewards that keep us coming back for more.” It’s not that people utterly lack agency, of course—the problem for many is less coercion than seduction. Ultra-processed foods surround us—they are prevalent in every drug store and grocery store and are the foundation of every fast-food outlet. As such, resisting them requires a greater degree of willpower than many of us routinely possess.

Ah, it’s been a while since I heard the invocation of Things That Affect Your Brain Like Cocaine. I’m glad to see that pop neuroscience is just as unimaginative as ever.