30 Reasons why the Food Giants CAN’T get rid of Salt, Sugar, and Fat
A book review by Alice Friedemann of Michael Moss’s “Salt, Sugar, Fat. How the Food Giants Hooked Us”.
When the food industry talks about you, the consumer, they think of you as their “stomach share” and try to sweet talk you into eating more. Evidently they’re succeeding, since two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
The main way they do this is by cramming the most addictive food substance, sugar – which lights up your brain very much like cocaine – and also Fat and Salt, which are nearly as addictive. These Big 3 ingredients in processed food are the main cause of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, as well as many of the early deaths from heart disease and stroke, hypertension, gall-bladder disease, osteoarthritis, breast cancer, colon cancer, uterine cancer, etc.
Addiction is a main theme in this book, since most people have no idea how addictive sugar, fat, and salt are.
Processed food “drug dealers” spend an immense amount of money to get you addicted. Frito-Lay has almost 500 chemists, psychologists, and technicians paid $30 million a year to do research to hook you on their products. They even have a $40,000 machine that duplicates a chewing mouth to perfect their chips by finding the perfect break point (which is exactly 4 pounds of pressure per square inch). Another 10,000 salesmen are making sure store shelves are well-stocked with their addictive wares (p 321). Nestle’s research team of 700 staff has 350 scientists and they also collaborate with other institutions (p 332).
The biggest revelation of this book is that food processors can’t lower the amount of sugar, fat, and salt. The only way this could happen is if the government required it (as most European governments do to protect their people).
Fat chance of that happening in the United States!
Below are 30 reasons why food processors (and restaurants) will never lower or get rid of excessive amounts of sugar, fat and salt.
Reason #1: Wall Street goes ballistic over health initiatives & anti-obesity campaigns
- Wall Street drives the price of a company’s stock down at news of a health or anti-obesity campaign, because they know customers will buy less of their product(s) if the fat, sugar, and salt are lowered.
- Kraft’s anti-obesity initiative versus Morgan Stanley, Prudential securities, & 17% stock price plunge (p 257)
- When Campbell’s soup announced that they’d be adding more salt to their soups, “Wall Street appreciated that Campbell was now going in what it saw as the right direction. The company’s stock price closed up 1.3% that day”. (pp 300-301).
- Frito-Lay assured Wall Street in private meetings that their market testing of low-fat chips to satisfy the growing outcry against the obesity epidemic was just a small part of their strategy to make snacks a larger part of the American diet (p 322).
- Frito Lay & PepsiCo hosted a 2 day meeting with analysts from Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, etc., that included a private box at Yankee stadium to court Wall Street (p 322)
- “Food companies are deeply obligated toward their shareholders…Making money is the sole reason they exist—or so says Wall Street…Indeed, some experts believe that Wall Street was one of the chief causes of the obesity epidemic…” page 338.
Reason #2: Republicans will fight any attempt at regulation, and both the USDA & FDA are “captured” by the food processing industry and staffed by revolving-door insiders who see their customer as big business, not the American people.
Why Food companies will NEVER get rid of sugar:
- Sugar both sweetens adds bulk and texture
- Sugar makes the taste of food and drink irresistible
- Sugar is cheap and is substituted for more expensive ingredients
- It’s essential to make food safe weeks or even months after they were made.
- Sugar makes food look better: donuts full of sugar fry up bigger. Cookies, crackers, and breads without sugar are “shrunken, pale, flat, or distended”. Sugar gives candy bulk, texture, and crystallization
- Bread with a lot of extra sugar takes longer to go stale
- Cereal with lots of sugar is crunchier, fluffier and a pleasing shade of brown
- Fructose: adds to long shelf life, doesn’t form crystals so soft cookies don’t harden, when baked mimics the finish you’d get if cooking at home, if frozen resists turning into ice, and it’s much sweeter than table sugar. More research needs to be done, but a U.C. Davis study found fructose & corn syrup raised LDL cholesterol and triglycerides 25% (but not glucose).
- Did you know that the starch in potato chips might as well be sugar – it’s absorbed faster than sugar, and according to Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health “this causes the glucose levesl in the blood to spike, and this is a concern, in relation to obesity”. P 329.
Why Food companies will NEVER get rid of fat:
- Lowering fat can diminish taste or texture and lower sales (p 152)
- Fat is very cheap ingredient (p152)
- There can never be too much fat in a product, since fat is so pleasing that the brain doesn’t send a “stop eating” signal. The more fat, the better (p158)
- A combination of fat and sugar is the most irresistible, plus sugar makes the fat content undetectable, so people keep on eating. So to cram more cheap fat into a product, all that needs to be done is add some sugar and people won’t even realize the food is high fat. So the only way fat can be reduced is to crank the sugar level up (pp158-159)
- There’s no funding for low-fat alternatives. A brand manager has a limited budget. So for example, to develop a low fat peanut butter might cost $5 million, plus $40 million to test it, and if it doesn’t work, you’d lose your job (p 201)
- Fat gives mouth feel to corn chips, crackers, ice cream, and cookies.
- When a company lowers salt, sugar, or fat, they lose “stomach share” to companies that don’t, i.e. Lunchables with less fat sold poorly, added carrot and apple slices wilted and turned brown because it takes weeks for food to be make it to grocery store shelves (yecch!) so they were removed.
Occasionally I see stories that it’s okay to eat a lot of salt. On page 304, Moss mentions that Frito Lay hired “experts” to badmouth studies linking salt to high blood pressure and write about the harms of too little salt, plus paid for research to cure the harmful effects of sodium.
So I don’t know if these stories are true, or if it’s a tobacco / climate change denier “Merchants of Doubt” strategy, or if it’s partly true — okay if you’re young and healthy.
But there’s an undeniable connection between too much salt and high blood pressure, which can lead to congestive heart failure, cirrhosis, kidney disease, and strokes. The reason is that when you eat a lot of salt, the sodium pulls fluids from your tissues into your blood, and the increased volume of blood makes your heart pump harder, resulting in high blood pressure. Most of the salt people get is from processed food, not the salt shaker at home.
Salt max/day: 1,500 mg salt if you have high blood pressure, 2,300 if you don’t. Average consumed now: 3,500-4,000 mg
Why Food companies will NEVER get rid of salt:
- Salt’s greatly intensifies and enhances the taste and aroma of food
- Salt’s often cheaper than water. The very definition of processed food is cheap ingredients (and no fiber).
- Salt extends the shelf life of food
- Salt makes sugar taste sweeter
- Salt adds crunch to crackers and other products
- Without salt, sugar, and/or fat, food tastes like straw or cardboard, and it’s bitter, metallic, and astringent.
- Salt hides bitter flavors
- Moss writes: “Without salt, processed food companies cease to exist”. (p 292)
- Any product with meat must have salt to avoid what the industry calls Warmed over Flavor (WOF), when meat is reheated after precooking (i.e. soups, boxed meals, etc). The taste has been described as damp dog hair, and people can smell and taste WOF at very low levels. WOF is also associated with a bad texture that is so objectionable people spit the food out.
- WOF could be cured with healthy, nutritious, fresh spices, but herbs are more expensive than salt. Campbell’s soup asked Moss to consider that adding herbs to replace salt would cost more, and who would pay for that? (p 300).
- There’s even more salt than you realize: dozens of sodium chemicals are added to delay spoilage, bind the ingredients, keep mixtures glued together, etc. Here are some of the additional salts to look for on the label: monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), sodium benzoate, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate.
- Salt is engineered for products. Cargill makes 1.7 Billion pounds of 40 kinds of salt per year: smashed, ground, pulverized, flaked, large granules, etc. Their popcorn salt is designed to cling to popcorn. A very fine powdered salt is used in processed meat and cheese. Non-caking salt is used in dry soup, cereal and flour. Their “flavor burst” salt has a unique shape that dissolves 3 times as fast as regular salt and gives your brain an immediate jolt of salty flavor.
Some companies keep their best selling products unchanged to give the customer (and Wall Street) what they want, and also make a “healthier” version, though if you know how to read labels you’ll find that the “healthy” product isn’t as much so as it would appear to be.
Red meat: 18 ounces/week is okay. There is no safe level of consumption for processed meats – for every 1.7 ounces of processed meats eaten per day your risk of colorectal cancer goes up by 21%
- Taste receptors light up for sugar not just on our mouth and tongue, but all the way from the esophagus to the stomach and pancreas.
- Sugar addiction: kids all over the world like food with sugar twice as sweet as adults do.
- Fat is equally addictive according to the latest brain studies (p 149).
- The food industry adds more and more sugar to kid’s food. Today’s kids may expect, and want food to be sweeter than they otherwise would have when they grow up. Food scientist Danielle Reed says the food industry isn’t just adding calories with all this sugar, “they’re impacting the health of that child” when they manipulate and exploit children’s higher cravings for sugar and salt.
- Companies spend millions trying to get the “bliss point” of their products just right – with just the right amount of sugar, not too much, not too little.
White flour: a chemical-laden nutrition-free & fiber-free starch/sugar
White flour is almost a sugar since it quickly converts to a sugar in your mouth. Your saliva has lots of amylase enzyme that immediately breaks it down into a sugar (p 14).
Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to get food makers to voluntarily lower the salt in their food. Breads and rolls had an average of 139 mg of sodium per ounce and Bloomberg asked for the level to be lowered to 103 mg. (p 297)
What Moss doesn’t know about is why food made with white flour that has no salt, sugar, or fat tastes bad. My posts on Kessler’s “The End of Overeating” and “Chemicals added to White Flour” at wholegrainalice explain why in more detail, but basically it’s because white flour has had nearly all of the flavor and nutrition stolen after the bran & germ are removed. That leaves nothing but a tasteless starch that no longer behaves like flour, so up to 30 chemicals are added, and these chemicals give flour a bad taste with metallic and bitter flavors. Bakers have no choice but to add a lot of salt, sugar, and fat to hide these off flavors, a great deal more than people realize.
Walter Willett, a professor in Harvard’s nutrition department, accuses them of stripping away the nutritional value of food – most grains have been converted to starches. You may already know that starch is just a short step away from being sugar.
It’s ironic that Kellogg cereal is so full of sugar, because the founder John Harvey Kellogg was a health nut who ran a sanitarium where sugar was banned. He fed his patients a flaky roasted grain concoction he invented that people liked well enough, but when his brother Will began adding sugar to the mix after he’d gone out of town, they came back for second and third helpings. John was furious, so Will left to start up a factory to make his sugary cereal, and it wasn’t long before a former guest at the sanitarium, C. W. Post started a competing cereal company. It wasn’t long until cereals were half sugar — some are even 70% sugar. Moss suggests that perhaps the sweetest cereals ought to be placed in the candy aisle.
Random disgusting facts
- Yoplait yogurt has twice as much sugar per serving as Lucky Charms “cloyingly sweet, marshmallow-filled” cereal (p xiii)
- By 1960 over 1,500 chemical additives were being added to food
- More than any product, sugary drinks are responsible for the obesity crisis, which began with super-sizing of Coca-Cola and other sodas. By 1997 Americans drank 54 gallons of soda a year, double the amount of 1970.
- Two-thirds of the sugar in American’s diet comes from processed food and therefore a lot of America’s dental decay
- Processed and restaurant foods account for more than three-quarters of all sodium.
- Reducing sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods by 50 percent would save 150,000 lives a year
- It wasn’t the FDA, FTC, or USDA that alerted the public to all the sugar in processed food – it was two dentists (p73-74).
- Philip Morris, masters of getting people addicted to tobacco, own Kraft & General Foods, where they use that expertise to addict people to processed food
- Processed Cheese: There’s no cheese in Cheez Whiz or Velveeta (p162, 166)
- Winner of one of the most disgusting recipes I’ve ever heard of: Paula Deen’s bacon-wrapped balls of macaroni and cheese deep-fried in oil (p 178)
- Lunchables were invented because Oscar Meyer was desperate to sell bologna and other processed meats, which people were consuming less as they became aware of the health hazards
- “Pink Slime”: ammonia-processed beef from the parts of cows most exposed to feces with E. coli that used to go towards pet food or tallow but became a favorite of fast-food hamburger chains and the school lunch program (226-7).
- Nestlé’s snack “Hot Pocket” has over 100 ingredients including salt, sugar, and fat several times over (with alternative names). Each had the daily limit of saturated fat and salt, and 6 teaspoons of sugar – more than the average woman should eat and 2/3 of a man’s daily intake. These have a shelf life of 420 days.
- Cereal makers spend twice as much on advertising as they do on the ingredients in the cereal
- Young kids are so gullible that they can’t understand commercials aren’t true, or understand how much they’re being influenced. The average 1979 child saw 20,000 commercials between 2 and 11, half for sweetened foods (p 80).
- The ads targeted at children were: 3,832 sugary cereals, 1,627 candy & gum, 841 cookies & crackers, 582 fruit drinks, 184 cakes, pies, & desserts. 4: unsweetened food (i.e. meat, fish, or vegetable juice).
- Babies do NOT like salt until they’re 6 months old, but salt is put into baby food to get them to crave salt as soon as possible, because once they’re taught to like salt it has a deep and lasting effect on what they eat the rest of their life (pp 279-281).
- Coke’s strategy: Emotional. Sell cola where special moments happen – ball parks, beaches, always within arm’s reach, ubiquitous.
- Put images of fruit and the word fruit on packages even if there’s little or no fruit at all in the product (i.e. Kool-Aid, Tang, Capri Sun).
- “Fruit Drinks” have juice concentrate, which is “entirely devoid of fiber, flavors, aromas or any other attribute of real fruit”. It’s just another kind of sugar, equally lacking in nutrition.
- The last thing industrial food makers want is for you to feel full, then you’ll stop eating. They’ve discovered that big distinct flavors are easily detected by the brain and signals are sent back that you’re full quickly. So food makers are careful to add flavors that tantalize you but not enough to make you satiated.
- Pages 62 through 67 describe how home economics classes in schools went from teaching how to make healthy food from scratch to using commercial products so that when girls grew up, they’d continue to eat processed food.
- Food researchers now use fMRI brain wave studies to find out what you really like because brain waves are more reliable than what people say.
- Food companies add and tout the one good ingredient they’ve put in and hope you’ll overlook all the bad stuff that’s there as well.
- Kellogg claimed that eating frosted mini-wheat cereal improved children’s attentiveness by nearly 20%. Not true (pp 90-93)
Cheese should be served in very small portions as a special treat like it used to be, not as an ingredient in food. The same for chocolate truffles or any food high in fat and calories: eat them in small amounts directly so they can be savored.
Some researchers think we don’t eat for pleasure so much as to avoid the more painful feeling of true hunger pain, even though we can easily go without food for a day with no problem. So at the first sign of hunger, we eat. Our bodies make us feel lousy if we don’t, and our fear of hunger is so deeply rooted.
Sugar max/day: 5 tsp. women, 9 tsp men. Average consumed now: 22 tsp/day
100 names for sugar (from thefoodlabelmovement.org)
Agave nectar, Barbados sugar, Birch sugar, Barley malt, Barley malt syrup, Beet sugar, Brown rice syrup, Brown sugar, Coconut sugar, Cane juice, Cane sugar, Carbitol, Caramel coloring, Concentrated fruit juice, Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Date sugar, Dextrin, Dextrose, Disaccharides, Evaporated cane juice, Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), Fructose, Fruit juice concentrate, Galactose, Glucitol, Glucosamine, Gluconolactone, Glucose, Glucose polymers, Glucose syrup, Glycerine, Glycerol, Glycol, Hexitol, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Inverse syrup, Inversol, Invert sugar, Isomalt, Karo syrup, Lactose, Levulose, “Light” sugar, “Lite” sugar, Malitol, Malt dextrin, Malted barley, Maltodextrin, Maltodextrose, Maltose, Malt, Mannitol, Mannose, Maple syrup, Molasses, Monosaccarides, Neotame, Pentose, Polydextrose, Powdered sugar, Raisin juice, Raisin syrup, Raw sugar, Ribose rice syrup, Rice malt, Rice sugar, Rice sweetener, Rice syrup solids, Saccharides, Sorbitol, Sorghum, Sucanat, Sucrose, Sugar cane, Tagatose, Trisaccharides, Turbinado sugar, Unrefined sugar, White sugar, Xylitol, Xylose
Moss interviewed hundreds of people for his book, and they nearly all said that the food industry will not give up salt, sugar, and fat without a major fight because they’re the very foundation of processed food. He heard this from chemists, nutritionists, marketing executives, CEOs, lobbyists and many other professionals (p 337).
Nearly all of them avoid eating their own products (p 341).
You’d have to be in solitary confinement for the past 40 years to not know that restaurant and processed food are bad for you. I have no sympathy for adults, but I’m quite angry that children are the target and life-long victims of this crap.
Nutrition should be required starting in Kindergarten, schools should have gardens, and students taught how to make meals from scratch. To fund these programs, the FDA & USDA should be disbanded – they’re useless, toothless, and governed by revolving door insiders.
All that time you’re saving buying this crap isn’t exactly saving time if you die early, or are miserable from poor health. Moss says people buy this junk because they’re short on time and it’s cheap, but you can cook quick, less inexpensive, healthy food at home for a lot less money and live a longer, healthier life. An internet search of “fast and cheap healthy recipes” brings up hundreds of recipes.
Even if you read labels it’s hard to figure out how much fat, salt, and sugar is in a product, because the serving size is ridiculously low, or the sugar is in the ingredients list has 5 different kinds of sugar to try to hide how much there is. White flour is not required to list the dozens of added chemicals, so you’ll never know what chemicals were used in a product that contains white flour.
Many companies outright lie about their products, hoping the Center for Science in the Public Interest won’t notice. Food processors aren’t afraid of the USDA or FDA, who seem to have forgotten that the American public is their “customer”, not the food industry. By the time the FDA tells a company to knock it off, the company is on to a new advertising campaign anyway (p 92).
In the future, as increasing population collides with resource and energy decline, as topsoil loses its fertility from being blown and washed away, and the last schools of fish harvested, people will be envious and amazed there was ever a time when the problem was so much food that billions of people became imprisoned within their own walls of fat.
References and additional reading
Marion Nestle 1) Safe Food 2) What to Eat
David Kessler The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite
Center for Science in the public interest (CSPI)
More Effort Needed to Reduce Sodium in Processed Foods, Says CSPI
Sodium Levels in Processed Foods http://cspinet.org/salt/Salt-Assault-3rd-Edition.pdf
Fruits, Vegetables More Affordable Than Packaged Snacks and Sides, Report Finds
Little Improvement Seen in Food Marketing to Children http://www.cspinet.org/new/201212212.html