Cynical people: it’s worse than you can even imagine. Privacy infringements, systematic exploitation of children and African Americans, government corruption, and a willful disregard of consumers’ health. Moss’s three and a half years of investigative reporting for Salt Sugar Fat were well worth the effort, though his writing isn’t concise, and boring when it came to describing the careers of food scientists he clearly admires, the points he makes are startling and incredibly important. Although America is the primary country talked about, the problems discussed are global issues.
Children and people of African descent are the most vulnerable when it comes to salt, sugar and fat, because they’re more prone to acquiring a diet high in all those things, and the food industry has been quick to take advantage by adding more and more SSFs to out compete other brands by appealing to people’s taste buds instead of their health, keeping an eye on their bottom lines and not their customers’ waistlines.
Before reading, I believed it was your responsibility to eat healthily, but reading about America’s neglectful and downright harmful governmental practices, allowing food companies to fudge the nutritional information on their products, stops the grocery shopper from making an informed decision about what they wish to put inside their bodies, and therefore food companies are indeed responsible for various serious health conditions, i.e. obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease (cholesterol), and cancers. ‘The top contributors to weight gain included red meat and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and potatoes’ in all its forms.
SSF addicts are referred to as “heavy users” by companies, though even their ex-presidents and CEOs (many of whom Moss personally interviewed) admit the harm they’ve caused, feel guilty about their part in it, and actively avoid consuming their own products. Jeffrey Dunn, ex-president of Coca-Cola, developed Dasani bottled water and stopped marketing in schools, but was ultimately fired, for which he was grateful, and now he only works with healthy foods.
Privacy infringements abound: Coke data-mined customer loyalty cards; General Foods ‘had mass-mailing lists composed entirely of the names and addresses of children, in order to better target them with promotions.’
Insidious marketing strategies are plentiful: pushing comics like ‘The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man’ published by Marvel; multiple child-friendly websites pushing junk food; advertising to those who’ve over-indulged, targeting people with diabetes for their sugar-free products; adding vitamins or a smidgen of fruit for a false healthy image e.g. Capri Sun; or removing real ingredients that you’d think would be essential e.g. Cheez Whiz no longer contains real cheese.
Parallels are drawn with the tobacco industry and the health crises surrounding it, and it just so happens Philip Morris, having made its dough in tobacco, now owns a cadre of food brands. Our food is handled by large conglomerates controlling hundreds of brands, who pump potentially harmful artificial additives and who knows what else (oh, wait horsemeat) into our food. Maybe it’s time we invested in the little guys going it alone again, where the people in control know exactly what’s in their food, and the distance between the guy on the ground floor and the one in the big office on the top floor, is a lot shorter.
‘Take more than a little salt, or sugar, or fat out of processed food, these experiments showed, and there is nothing left. Or, even worse, what is left are the inexorable consequences of food processing, repulsive tastes that are bitter, metallic, and astringent.’
Moss suggests taxing SSFs before they’re added to processed foods, though companies will probably pass on that cost to consumers. He also advocates the use of more herbs and spices, but again, since salt is so cheap compared to alternatives, they’d rather stick with what they know than spend more on higher quality, healthier alternatives. Or, we as a society, need to go back to eating the standard three (fresh) meals a day when we ate SSFs in moderation instead of snacking on convenience foods.
Now it’s becoming harder to peddle SSFs to the public in developed countries, they’re despicably looking to exploit the Third World developing nations like India and Brazil.
I started my first official diet with the help of MyFitnessPal.com just before reading SSF, and it’s made me acutely aware of what I’m eating. Now I read the back of every item while grocery shopping, before deciding to buy it. My nemesis are grain-based carbs, potatoes, orange juice, and butter. I don’t have a problem with salt and my ‘bliss point’ for sugar dropped considerably in my late teens, which is the last time I drank soda.
Salt Sugar Fat is definitely a highly recommended read.
SUGAR (a methamphetamine)
✺ Cocaine acts on the brain in a similar way to sugar: ‘…researchers have conditioned rats to expect an electrical shock when they eat cheesecake, and they still lunge for it.’ Drugs countering the effects of opiates curb the appeal of high fat, high sugar snacks.
✺ Nearly every food contains some amount of sugar, naturally occurring in fruit, veg, and milk, so we have no need for ‘added sugar’.
✺ Sugar is an analgesic (a pain killer).
✺ Americans consume ’22 teaspoons of sugar, per person, per day’, yet 5 teaspoons are recommended -that’s half a can of Coke.
✺ Fructose is sweeter than glucose and table sugar combined, and has been commercially available since the 1980s.
✺ Sugar has a ‘bliss point’ – a Goldilocks amount, that creates the most pleasure.
✺ Sweetened foods make you more hungry, not less.
✺ Sweet liquids bypass the body’s controls preventing weight gain. Soda and fruit juice concentrates are liquid sugar.
✺ Cereals contain up to 70% sugar, and some believe cereals over 50% sugar should be sold as candy.
✺ The Cola War with Pepsi saw Coke inventing supersizing, endorsement deals, and combination deals (e.g. burger with fries), they even put Cokes into the hands of soldiers in WWII at a loss, all to encourage brand loyalty and addiction.
✺ Coke’s biggest ingredient is water, followed by sugar, then caffeine. Hypertention and diabetes in a bottle – Mmm, healthy.
FAT (an opiate)
✺ 9 calories per gram, twice that of sugar or protein.
✺ Sugar masks and enhances the taste of fat, encouraging you to eat more.
✺ No ‘bliss point’ for fat, the more the better.
✺ Whole milk is only 3% fat.
✺ American eat up to 33 pounds of cheese per year (60,000 calories), triple the amount in 1970s. It’s the biggest source of saturated fat in American diets, followed by red meat, then cakes and cookies.
✺ Industrialisation of cows bred indoors on a diet of corn and fat, has increased milk production but lowered the nutritious value of the milk.
✺ When Americans moved to low fat milk, the excess fat was converted to cheese, and the American government protected the dairy industry by ludicrously buying up the excess cheese and beef. Cheese-products were made: mac & cheese, meaty pizzas, etc. Even celeb chefs were asked to promote cheese in cookbooks. On behalf of producers, the government aggressively marketed cheese and beef to the American public (and in Mexico).
✺ “Chilled prepared foods” saw the introduction of Lunchables, containing a child’s maximum daily allowance of saturated fat and salt, and more than a can of Coke’s worth of sugar.
✺ The Department of Agriculture has ignored experts in its Center for Nutrition and has conspired to get the public to eat more.
✺ ‘Lean meat’ doesn’t necessarily mean low fat.
✺ McDonald’s was the first to remove “pink slime” from its burgers.
✺ When opening a package containing multiple servings, you’re more likely to eat the whole thing.
✺ ‘Sodium pulls fluids from the body’s tissues and into the blood, which raises the blood volume and compels the heart to pump more forcefully.’ This causes high blood pressure.
✺ The least addictive of the big three.
✺ We learn this addiction, it’s not innate like sugar and fat.
✺ Low salt diets increase taste sensitivity to salt, so less is eaten.
✺ It’s a preservative, masks bitterness, sweetens sugar, adds crunch to things like crackers.
✺ 2,300mg recommended maximum per day.
✺ England’s Food Standards Agency set a limit on how much salt a product could contain and discouraged of salt substitute potassium chloride, effecting US-based companies the most.
✺ Processed meats contain added salt e.g. bacon.
✺ Cargill, one of the wealthiest privately-owned companies in the world, sells 17 types of sweeteners, 40 types of salt, 21 oils and shortenings.
The Horsemeat Scandal
The below paragraph shows me how easy it would be for the European horsemeat scandal to spread to the US:
‘the Department of Agriculture is actually complicit in the meat industry’s secrecy. […] The burger that Stephanie [paralyzed by E.Coli] ate, made by Cargill, had been an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of the cow and from multiple slaughterhouses as far away as Uruguay. The meat industry, with the blessing of the federal government, was intentionally avoiding steps that could make their products safer for consumers. The E. Coli starts in the slaughterhouses, where feces tainted with the pathogen can contaminate the meat when the hides of cows are pulled off. Yet many of the biggest slaughterhouses would sell their meat only to hamburger makers like Cargill if they agreed not to test their meat for E. Coli until it was mixed together with shipments from other slaughterhouses. This insulated the slaughterhouses from costly recalls when the pathogen was found in ground beef, but it also prevented the government officials and the public from tracing the E. Coli back to its source. When it comes to pathogens in the meat industry, ignorance is financial bliss.’
That’s illegal in the UK under ‘traceability’ and ‘safety’.
*My thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the e-ARC in return for an honest review.