In “Salt Sugar Fat,” investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how executives and food scientists at Coca-Cola, Kraft, Frito-Lay and Nestle are well aware that sugary, fatty and salty foods light up the same pleasure centers in our brains that cocaine does. Though they avoid using the word “addictive,” they knowingly concoct “crave-able” foods that have a high “bliss point” of sugar and hefty “mouthfeels” of fat. At the same time, they employ insidious tactics to keep their “heavy users” using and to hook new consumers, especially children. If you had any doubt as to the food industry’s complicity in our obesity epidemic, it will evaporate when you read this book.
Moss is devoted to showing us how ruthless these companies are at exploiting our built-in cravings for salt, sugar and fat, aggressively marketing junk food not just to children but to the poor. The class division becomes even more apparent when Moss asks food scientists and executives at these companies if they drink soda or feed their kids Cheetos and Lunchables (prepackaged trays of bologna, “cheese” and crackers). They don’t. When Moss sits down with Howard Moskowitz, the man who reinvented Dr Pepper, to taste his signature drink, Moskowitz demurs: “I’m not a soda drinker. It’s not good for your teeth.”
‘Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us’ by Michael Moss
Big Food executives know that eating products like these causes severe health problems, and yet they work hard to make them as irresistible as possible.
Moss fills his book with a host of damning examples. Coke regularly preys on the poor and refers to its most loyal customers — in places like New Orleans and Rome, Ga. — as “heavy users.” In Brazil, the company wins over new customers in impoverished favelas by repackaging its sugary beverage into smaller, 20-cent¢ servings. Most of us know that Coke and Frosted Flakes contain unhealthy amounts of sugar. But Moss reveals that, eager to increase sales, companies are lacing once-wholesome foods such as yogurt and spaghetti sauce with astonishing amounts of sugar and sodium. According to Moss, Yoplait contains twice as much sugar per serving as Lucky Charms, and half a cup of Prego Traditional spaghetti sauce has as much sugar as three Oreos (not to mention one-third of the daily salt intake recommended for most Americans).
Every time the public wises up and stops buying an unhealthy product, the industry speedily reacts, launching enticing new products to lure the newly health-conscious consumer back. For instance, in the 1980s, consumers heeded advice from nutritionists to reduce their intake of saturated fat and salt by not buying bologna. In response, Oscar Mayer invented Lunchables, a convenient meal replacement still containing bologna. Cleverly marketed to harried working moms and priced affordably (yet loaded with high levels of saturated fat, sodium and even, in some versions, sugar), Lunchables were — and still are — a huge hit. Convenience, it seems, overrides parents’ health concerns, and companies know this all too well.
In one of the most egregious examples of company misbehavior, Moss describes a 2008 Kellogg’s commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats in which a voice-over claimed, “A clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20 percent.” In fact, half the children who ate the cereal showed no improvement in attentiveness. But by the time the Federal Trade Commission got around to barring Kellogg’s from making this claim, the commercial had already run for six months.