Friday, March 1, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

The makers of processed foods have worked hard at dominating the American diet. To do this they use sugar, fat and salt.

Sugar. We love sweets. We are hardwired for it. On the average, we Americans consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Company researchers analyze taste responses to develop the mix of contents so we consumers will find the product tasty and attractive. We find out what “contains real fruit” really means for drinks and sodas. We're made aware of the sugar content of cereals.

Fat. While there is a “bliss” point for sugar (add more sugar and the taste declines), there appears to be none for fat. And there is a synergy when fat and sugar are combined. Moss looks at the dairy industry, the fat in milk and cheese. He tours the meat industry, looking particularly at Oscar Mayer. I knew I didn't like hamburger but was shocked to find out the role of ammonia in its production.

Salt. Salt is the essential ingredient for taste and preservation. We love our processed foods, foods that have a shelf life of weeks. That takes salt. But when one frozen dinner (man size) has more salt that the 1,500 mg we are to have for an entire day, then that is trouble.

Moss' book contains lots of personal stories. While all the research he has done could result in a dry and boring book, I found it very readable.

Moss spent three and half years prying into food industry's operations to understand the production and marketing of sugar, fat, and salt. Sales trumps consumer welfare. Don't expect any of the major companies to forsake their profits to make and market the most healthy food for us.

We are hooked on inexpensive food. We are hooked on convenience foods. Eating healthier foods costs more and takes longer to prepare. Ultimately, the choice is ours. Moss sees is book as a tool, helping us keep up our defense when we walk the grocery aisles. Read it and be prepared.

Michael Moss is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter with The New York Times. He is also the recipient of other awards and citations. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.

Random House, 480 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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