Halloween begins our annual end-of-the-year overindulgence marathon, which runs from trick-or-treating to the Thanksgiving table and the string of Christmas parties, all the way up to our New Year’s resolutions. From pumpkin spice muffins to fun-size candy bars, there’s always a yummy snack within reach, and it’s hard to say no.

It’s in our nature: Humans are flavor-seeking creatures, so we crave what tastes good. For much of history, this was a win-win. We went after food that tasted good because in nature, that was the food with the most nutritional content.

But on today’s grocery store shelves, and even in the produce displays, that’s not necessarily the case anymore. We’ve lost our bodies’ “nutritional wisdom,” and as a result we’re grasping at the latest diet fads and seeking out solutions to new health problems, writes Mark Schatzker, journalist and author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth about Food and Flavor.

Our bodies are programmed to crave food that meets our nutritional needs. Schatzker marshals evidence of goats, calves, and even human babies who choose the naturally occurring foods that keep them in optimal health. Even during illness, these instincts are strong: for example, a baby with rickets who drank cod liver oil—a jackpot for vitamin D—while ill, but wouldn’t touch a drop after he recovered. These animals and children weren’t examining their meals for essential vitamins and minerals. They simply ate what tasted good, and it turned out to be good for them, too.

The food industry, though, has distorted the relationship between flavor and the nutrients our bodies were designed to detect. Industrial ...

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