Book Review: “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” by Michael Moss

My key takeaways from this book:

1. Bliss point – precise amount that makes the food and drink more enjoyable – the inverted U-shape in pleasure vs. quantity of sugar.

2. Grouping data into “light,” “medium,” and “strong” coffee drinkers. Gladwell’s TED talk about Ragu’s grouping into extra chunky and 35 other kinds of spaghetti sauces. Sugar is the second critical ingredient after tomatoes.

3. We are driven to eat or crave certain food other than the emotional needs, tastes, followed by aroma, appearance, and texture. Sugar does it all.

4. Use of DOE (Design of Experiments) to come up with most appealing taste in carefully orchestrated taste tests across the country to engineer a food product.

5. Convenience is the key, e.g. Jello remade to jell within 5 minutes. Thanks to more women working. For convenience, lots of additives were added. Among them, the biggest one is sugar. Tang orange mix was created in the lab trading off all other vitamins except Vitamin C.

6 Food companies deploy an army of home economics teachers to teach cooking classes using their ready-made mix, and create a fictitious chef celebrity like Betty Crocker, and infiltrate the home economic associations.

7. Cereal should be considered as “candy.” They are laces with sugar for quick fixes.

8. Good history of the processed foods like cereals, Dr. Pepper, and chips.

9. People are eating more snacks and less or skipping main meals.

10. People can exercise their own will but can they if they’re “addicted” to the salt, sugar and fat.

11. Lots of repetition since all 3 ingredients combined pack the biggest punch.

12. The CEO’s or product managers of their own food category do not eat their own foods to keep off the salt, sugar and fat.

13. It’s sad to see that in pursuit of ever time and cost efficiency, people are replacing normal healthy home made foods with those processed foods that would eventually put them in the chronic illness like diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure and others.

– Cola war story of Jeffery Dunn, repented – now selling carrots.
“Sensory-specific-satiety” explains why people are addicted to Coca Cola because of it’s balanced taste – no lingering edginess, the aroma of vanilla and the citrus, and whole family of spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, then you have the sweetness and the bite of phosphoric acid, and the tingle of the carbon dioxide bubble – all the parts of the flavor construct.
– Self imposed curb of marketing to children under 12. But local stores are magnets for kids to consume soda. Teens spend less and visit stores more often.
– Story of “Tang” mix: designed artificially to mimic oranges but have to add in Vitamin C only to keep the good taste.

-Mouth fullness feeling from fat. But it has no tongue receptor. Gives cookies more bulk and a firmer texture. Has not bliss point – the more the better – no negative feedback from the brain.
– Fat has a narcotic effect on people. Ice cream makes people happy.
– Hard to replace as people can taste the difference – “mouthful” feel.
– Fat is often linked up with sugar in candy bars. Majority of calories (60~80%) come from fat.
– There is no cheese in Cheez Whiz.
– Krafts’ American Cheese is the “processed cheese” left over from bottom of the pot after stirring the cheese. Enzymes are added to speed up aging and flavoring process.
– Surplus milk was converted to cheese.
– Story of Lunchables – from Oscar Mayer, started by Bob Drane.
– The making of the “pink slime.”
– Government agency including USDA helps promote meat, cheese, and milk inside and outside the country.
– Correlation of saturated-fat diet to lung cancer. For Philips Morris, this could be another nicotine problem like in the cigarette.

– Sodium in salt pulls the fluid from our tissues into the blood which raises the blood volume (high blood pressure) and forces the heart to work harder.
– Most of the sodium/salt consumption comes from the processed foods, as people are cooking less at home.
– People don’t just love salt, they crave (or addicted to) salt . It’s one of the hardest thing to live without.
– Makes the wet-dog-hear meat taste more tolerable.
– More salt makes people less sensitive to salt, hence eating more of it. After being cut off, the sensitivity to salt can be enhanced and need less.
– In bread making process, salt keeps the huge, spinning mixer machines from gumming up. Also salt slows down the rising process to keep up the pace.
– Salt can help the “warmed-over” foods taste better.
– Cargill, one of the biggest supplier of salt and other farm-related products, is an extremely profitable private company.
– Potassium Chloride could be substitute for salt but tastes bitter.
– Potato chips are a source of heavy salt consumption. Call them “toasted” not “fried.”
– Baby Boomers are aging and eating less potato chips but more salty foods in general due to more snacking and reduced home cooking.
– Different crystal formation of salt can be customized to each form of food. Fine crystal for potato chips to produce the maximal effect.

In summary, this book serves as a wake up call to the readers/consumers the danger of submitting oneself to the seduction of salt, sugar and fat in the processed food. The food companies will do their best to pander to the customers even if the products are not good for our health. Being educated is the best weapon to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of the processed foods.