Friday, March 8, 2013

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

Reading Salt, Sugar, Fat is like devouring a murder mystery – only you’re the intended victim.  Yes, a book packed with chemistry and research can be a page-turner.  This book is as addictive as the foods it studies so the paradox is that readers are essentially learning about their own demise.  That may not make it seem an appetizing read but the book is also similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series you or your children may have read.  Based on the information the book provides, you can choose which path to follow – that of allowing the food giants to hook you or of knowing their tricks and how to avoid them thus choosing a healthier life.   This is not a diet book, a fad of the month self-help tome, nor is it an easy fix.  It is instead the careful reporting of what’s inside the foods we eat.

Some facts presented in the book will probably surprise you:

“On average, we consume 71 pounds of caloric sweeteners each year. That’s 22 teaspoons of sugar, per person, per day.”   Not me, I said to my sanctimonious self.  I rarely eat cookies, cake, pie or dessert.  Ha, little did I know of the places that the big food conglomerates hide sugar.  Campbell’s Prego spaghetti sauce is probably found on the shelves of many American homes. “The Prego sauces – whether cheesy, chunky, or light – have one feature in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar. A mere half cup of Prego Traditional, for instance, has more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as three Oreo cookies, a tube of Go-Gurt, or some of the Pepperidge Farm Apple Turnovers that Campbell also makes.  It also delivers one-third of the salt recommended for a majority of American adults for an entire day. Some of the meat versions of Prego have even higher amounts of sugar and salt, along with nearly half a day’s recommended limit for saturated fat.”

I also learned that I can’t rest after ascertaining that a product is low in fat or salt or whichever of the big three I’m avoiding at the time.  When the public starts clamoring for less fat, the food giants lower it but to keep us buying, they up the salt and/or sugar so the product will still taste good. Those labels on our favorites can change without us ever suspecting because the products taste the same.  The food giants use terms that sound good to make us buy.  The “2 percent” labeling (in milk) may lead you to believe that 98 percent of the fat is removed, but in truth the fat content of whole milk is only a tad higher, at 3 percent. Consumer groups who urge people to drink 1 percent or nonfat milk have fought unsuccessfully over the years to have the 2 percent claim barred as deceptive.” 

Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, is the father of two boys ages ten and thirteen so he knows that it isn’t easy to avoid processed foods.  One of the beauties of this book is that he doesn’t preach and he never makes the reader feel guilty for consuming salt, sugar, or fat.   Instead, Moss provides powerful information that will allow the busiest of us to make decisions about what we put in our bodies.

He shows us that the food industry won’t change because salt, sugar, and fat are cheap, interchangeable, and they make food taste good.  “They are huge, powerful forces of nature in unnatural food... They may have salt, sugar, and fat on their side, but we, ultimately, have the power to make choices.  After all, we decide what to buy.  We decide how much to eat. Kirkus Reviews calls this book “A shocking, galvanizing manifesto against the corporations manipulating nutrition to fatten their bottom line—one of the most important books of the year.”  I thoroughly agree and urge everyone to read it and to choose it for your next book club discussion.

Summing it Up:  Read this book to save yourself and those you love from being manipulated by the food giants.  Read it to learn how to avoid the progressively addictive attraction of the foods at eye level in our grocery stores.  Read it because it’s an addictive treat that reads more like a bag of potato chips than a bunch of raw kale.

Rating: 5 stars   

Category: Nonfiction, Five Stars, Super Nutrition, Book Club

Publication date: February 26, 2013

What Others are Saying:

Question and Answer with the Author in Time Magazine:

Ten Food Secrets You Need to Know: 

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