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Food flavorings may be fueling obesity epidemic

Eating healthier isn't just about fat, salt and sugar
Are food flavorings an obesity culprit? 04:08

Fat, sugar, and carbohydrates are common culprits when discussing the skyrocketing obesity epidemic, a disease now affecting one-third of the US population. However, in the new book, "The Dorito Effect," author Mark Schatzker argues that food flavorings, which include everything from syrups to spices to sauces, are a big part of the problem affecting Americans' waistlines.

"We keep arguing about carbs and fat and sugar," Schatzker told CBS This Morning. "All these things existed and people ate them 50 years ago when Americans were a whole lot trimmer. The thing that's really changed is the flavor."

According to Schatzker's research, Americans consume over 600 million pounds of flavoring every year. In his book, he writes that over the past 50 years, volumes of salt, sugar, carbohydrates, and fat we consume have only increased because flavor chemicals incentivize us to eat more of them. He uses the Dorito as a prime example. The snack was first introduced as simply a salted tortilla chip, and it wasn't very popular. It wasn't until flavoring was added - first, a taco-flavored chip, then nacho cheese - that it became a top-selling snack.

Schatzker argues that a huge contributor to the need to add so much flavoring to our foods is the blandness of mass-produced real, whole foods. He points to chicken, which is being produced at about three times the rate it used to be. "The problem is chicken has no flavor," he said. "If you look at recipes for fried chicken from 100 years ago, it was just salt and pepper. If you try that now, it's like eating a roll of wet toilet paper. It's not going to work. So what we're forced to do is blitz everything we eat in flavoring to make it taste good," he said. "But we're misdirecting our palates. We're luring ourselves away from the food we should be eating, and we've made the food we shouldn't be eating hyper-desirable."

Tomatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and other fruits and vegetables have also been leeched of flavor, he says, making the addition of chemical flavors a necessity for good taste, and thereby sacrificing nutrition.

Schatzker hopes "The Dorito Effect" will make people more mindful of the amount of chemical flavoring they consume. "I'd like to get people to be more aware of how they're incentivized by flavors," he said. "This stuff is in not just junk food anymore. It's in yogurt. It's in soy milk. It's in pasta sauces. It's having an effect not just on us, but also our children."

Finally, Schatzker argues that we need to start demanding real flavor from the whole foods we eat. "We've got to start thinking about cooking dinner the way an Italian chef does. Get the ultimate tomato, the best tasting chicken. Cooking's a lot more fun that way. It's much more delicious, and it's more satisfying."

"The Dorito Effect" is published by Simon & Schuster and goes on sale May 5.

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