A Review - Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

I found this book fascinating. The author delves into processed foods and their manufacturers, exposing some hard truths.

If you are interesting in understating some of the workings behind processed food and how this food is engineered to be more appealing (perhaps even addictive) this book is definitely for you. I recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about our modern food industry. 

There are certainly some blanket statements that would make the more nuance-focused cringe and he certainly isn’t trying to subvert any of the standard wisdom of the “healthy diet.” Specifically, some of the things he says about fat and salt could have been better nuanced, especially since several times he makes a brief comment concerning the complexity but does not bother to carry it further. However, that is not the focus of the book. The book forces you to think about processed foods and maybe even rethink the idea of calling them food. I think it also points to the idea that we might not be as in control of our food choices as we think.

This book also hammers home the fact that our food has become scarily corporatized and these corporations are ultimately in the business of making money. To do this they not only tweak ingredients to make food more appealing, they even go so far as to create markets where they did not necessarily exist. You will also see that even when these corporations create “health” foods they are not necessarily “healthy,” and they actually serve to increase the consumption of the “un-healthy” versions of such foods.

It is a very interesting read, so read the book and tell me what you think

Addendum (July 25, 2014): I just reread this book for one of my classes and I have some additions to my previous review. I still think this book has some good and necessary information about the food industry, but I want to make it clear that it should not be read for its nutritional view point. The author makes several nutritional claims that are unfounded, he provides little to no research to back up his claims and the research he does mention is presented as fact without any of the necessary details to properly evaluate the study's validity.

In my first review I pointed to the fact that this book follows the standard wisdom of the "healthy diet" but one of the things that also hit me in my most recent reading of the book is that while the author focuses on the problems of the food industry he only focuses on the salt, sugar and fat in the processed foods. What about all of the other ingredients in processed foods? The chemicals, the solvents, the enzymes, the preservatives, the colorings, etc. And while he mentions some of the ways that the food industry has modified salt, sugar and fat for their use in processed foods, he does not discuss that processing of fat much at all and he doesn't provided any information on where these ingredients are from in the first place. He makes a blanket statement that processed foods provide "bad" saturated fat in large quantities but provides no information regarding where that saturated fat came from in the first place. I can guarantee you that the beef tallow in my fridge is not the same thing that food manufacturers put in a candy bar.

Part of my concern about his focus on just three ingredients in processed foods (salt, sugar and fat) is that these are actually ingredients in home cooked foods. By vilifying salt, sugar and fat, and having no discussion about all of the other modified and chemical ingredients in processed foods, the author is adding to the narrative that food is to be feared. Yes, any ingredient is bad in excess and I don't think "refined sugar" should be consumed with any sort of regularity, but we should not scare people into choosing "alternative ingredients" because the food industry has found a way to make ingredients that can be (and in the case of fat and a little sea salt, should be) a part of our diet if treated properly.

People fear fruit because of the sugar content. People fear beef because of the fat. People fear using good quality sea salt at home because it will "increase their blood pressure." We should be fearing the processing and industrialization of fake food, not eating whole, dense, real food made at home, even if it includes some fat, salt, and occasionally some "refined sugar." That is the message to get out the book. So read it with a grain of salt! (See what I did there? I'm so clever.) 

This was also a great reminder to reread books occasionally, you never know what might hit you on a second or third read through that you missed before!