From a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter at The New York Times comes the explosive story of the rise of the processed food industry and its link to the emerging obesity epidemic. Michael Moss reveals how companies use salt, sugar, and fat to addict us and, more important, how we can fight back.
Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It’s no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It’s no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes; the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.
In Salt Sugar Fat, How the Food Giants Hooked Us , Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we got here. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century—including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more—Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
Moss takes us inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing campaigns designed—in a technique adapted from tobacco companies—to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: Dial back on one ingredient, pump up the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt.” He talks to concerned executives who confess that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality. Simply put: the industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. Just as millions of “heavy users”—as the companies refer to their most ardent customers—are addicted to this seductive trio, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.
We know by now to be skeptical of the “all natural,” “real fruit,” “no preservatives” claims that cover packaging, but did you know that even the “fruit juice” listed in ingredients is modified to the point of being almost pure sugar? “The advantage that the fruit juice-concentrate people have from a marketing standpoint is this product appears on labels in a very healthy context,” one industry scientist said. Even salt is chemically broken down and rebuilt for optimum flavor.
This book is peppered with facts that will make you want to double-check every grocery store purchase you make (a half cup of Prego sauce has more sugar than three cookies, Hungry Man’s frozen turkey dinner has more salt than what’s recommended for two days, etc.). As shown throughout the chapters, the food industry’s priority is putting the truth about ingredients out of sight and out of mind.