Salt Sugar Fat //

Why Salt Sugar Fat is a Must-Read

Salt Sugar Fat //

Oh, this book, this book. I’m thinking if you’re reading here, you’re probably already familiar with Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat at least in title. If not, it’s a fascinating read on how our current processed, fast-food, snacking-all-the-time culture came to be. The book details the driving forces behind convenience foods (such as more women joining the workforce outside of the home and having less time for meal prep, men working longer hours, etc.), but it also talks at length about the brilliant marketing efforts of big food companies, sometimes in partnership with the government, in creating the desire for this way of eating.

Salt Sugar Fat is one of those books that has the potential to completely rock the way you think about food.

I’ve read it twice now, and I feel like I could read it a third time and still learn more. It’s presented in the form of stories – how instant pudding, Lunchables, and double-stuffed chocolate-covered Oreos, for example, came to exist over time. Moss doesn’t vilify the food giants or the government, but instead provides matter-of-fact histories and interviews with those who were at the center of it: the food scientists, the salespeople, the advertising executives, and explains the impact of what was happening in the marketplace. Now, that’s certainly not to say that these processed foods began as sunshine and good intent. They didn’t. These are businesses with one main and often only objective: to maximize profit. And so that’s where the extreme amounts of salt, sugar, and fat come into play, amounts that you would never add to real food made in your own kitchen.

Because this isn’t real food – these are products that come out of a lab, having gone through rigorous testing to create foods that are spot-on in terms of bliss point. Foods that operate similarly to drugs in creating pleasure, withdrawals, and intense cravings for more.

For years, I had wondered why I could rarely stop eating that bag of Lay’s baked potato chips or those Famous Amos cookies, and it made me not only feel unsatisfied and lethargic, but I also felt guilty – like I didn’t have the self-control I should have had to be able to stop at the serving size on the package. And now I understand that these processed foods are engineered to require an absolutely heroic effort to eat the serving size, and that this serving size is really just a marketing ploy. It’s there so the calorie count and fat grams don’t make us balk when we read the label (if we read it at all), but the food companies know that we will most certainly eat the entire bag in one or two sittings. They’ve designed the food to be this way. It’s why cheese puffs (an old favorite of mine as a kid) are so loaded with salt and fat (and sugar!) and disappear on the tongue almost immediately, leaving us reaching for another and another and another.

There were so many of these lightbulb moments in Salt Sugar Fat, too many for me to cover in a single post. However, I do want to share some of the excepts that had a profound impact on my understanding of the processed food industry:

  • “Our bliss point for sugar – and all foods, for that matter – is shaped by our earliest experiences… It’s not that food companies are teaching children to like sweetness; rather, they are teaching children what foods should taste like… They are manipulating or exploring the biology of the child.”
  • “In 1985, General Foods got a new lease on life when the tobacco giant Phillip Morris acquired it for $5.75 billion… Thanks to the acquisitions of General Foods and Kraft, ten cents of every dollar that Americans spent on groceries now belonged to Phillip Morris.”
  • “In the mid-1950s, the food industry undertook two cunning maneuvers to draw working women into its fold. The first was to create its own army of home economics teachers. The second move was perhaps the most influential of all… The industry wielded its very own Betty to preach the creed of convenience. Her name was Betty Crocker…she was entirely fake…invented by the manager of the advertising department at General Mills.”
  • “Research suggests that our bodies are less aware of excessive intake when the calories are liquid.”
  • “If sugar is the methamphetamine of processed food ingredients, with its high-speed, blunt assault on our brains, then fat is the opiate, a smooth operator who effects are less obvious but no less powerful.”
  • “Dairies…are not beholden to the constraints of a free market economy. Since the 1930s, the federal government has viewed milk as vital to the nation’s health. It subsidized the industry by setting price supports and using taxpayer money to buy any and all surplus…With the cows making more milk than anyone wanted to drink and the milk that people did want to drink being stripped of its fat, the industry devised an ingenious solution: it started turning it into cheese.”
  • “The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s annual budget is a paltry $6.5 million, which amounts to 0.0045 percent of the Department of Agriculture’s overall outlays of $146 billion.”
  • “The dollars for marketing beef added up to more than $80 million a year, and over the years, the total money raised has topped $2 billion. …$2 billion for selling America on beef, compared with the $6.5 million the USDA’s nutrition center gets each year to nudge Americans in the other direction.”
  • “The most crucial point to know is that there is nothing accidental in the grocery store….think of the grocery store as a battlefield…it becomes all the more apparent why the food industry is so reliant on salt, sugar, and fat. They are cheap. They are interchangeable. They are huge, powerful forces of nature in unnatural food…knowing all of this can be empowering…you can see the products for what they are.”

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which was appropriately stated as the last couple of lines in the epilogue:

“They may have salt, sugar, and fat on their side, but we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what we buy. We decide how much we eat.”

I’ve always thought of myself as a proponent of moderation, but when it comes to processed food, moderation is a grueling, uphill battle. More and more, I think for myself (and perhaps many of you too), I’m likely better off avoiding it altogether. It’s just not worth the energy suck.

What do you think? Have you read Salt Sugar Fat?


Disclosure: There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.


Leave a Comment

  1. i havent read this book but the more i read about food companies and how much chemical, marketing, and profit driven this industry, i want to just run away. thank you for sharing your insight on the book.

    1. Amanda says

      It can be very disappointing, Dixya. I highly recommend reading Salt Sugar Fat if you have the time, because although it’s overwhelming and frustrating, knowledge really is power and we have the choice to not support these companies when it comes to how we feed ourselves!

  2. Sean M says

    I just finished the book. I agree with 99% of what’s in it. Our food supply has been hijacked by the big corporate marketing machines. However, I was pretty disappointed in his obsession with saturated fat. Understandably, he’s talking about sat fat in processed foods, but recent discoveries have found that our bodies need saturated fat in some limited form. He makes no distinction between this in the book. And I’ll give it to him that the book was written before this recent bit of science has made the mainstream news.

    I heard him interviewed on The Bob Edwards Show this week. He made a good point: “The real culprit here is Wall Street.”

    Remove Wall Street from this equation and the processed food companies might do something right for a change. It’s sad that the financial markets are really the cause of obesity in this country. There’s no way a Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Phillip-Morris, or any of the others will ever change while WS is driving profits.

    The best way to combat this is to just stop consuming all their products. We did several years ago and I’m healthier, lighter, and haven’t been sick in over 3 years!

    1. Amanda says

      All good points, Sean! I took his criticism of saturated fat within the context of processed junk food, but I do think you raise a good point about differentiating between saturated fat in deli meat and saturated fat in unrefined coconut oil, for example.

      I also thought the information about Wall Street being the driving force was important, and not something we hear much about elsewhere. I found it fascinating to dig deeper than “processed food is bad and these companies are evil” to learn more about why they are this way – on the one hand, it’s more complicated than most people think it to be, and on the other, it can really be boiled down to profit. The part about cheese consumption sort of blew my mind in exposing this cheese-in-all-the-things culture we’re living in and again, why it is that way (and it’s not because people suddenly wanted more cheese!). I also find myself more and more disillusioned with the government.

      I think it’s so awesome that you’re in such good health now that you’ve overhauled your diet and lifestyle! We vote with our dollars!

      1. Sean M says

        I found the entire book to be mind-blowing! I couldn’t take notes fast enough! LOL

        The statistics were incredible. One of the things that stuck with me is that the salt shaker only accounts for 6% of the daily intake of sodium. That’s insane….and yet another reason to dump processed foods.

        But honestly, this all boils down to personal responsibility. People just don’t want to look at what they’re eating and take responsibility for it. When that happens, the government, corporations, and Wall Street will walk all over you.

        Keep up the good work. I love your blog!!

  3. Meredith says

    You have such interesting book recommendations, Amanda! First I added The Joy of Less to my list; now I’ll add this one! 🙂

    1. Amanda says

      Thank you, Meredith! The Joy of Less is a good one, particularly the first few chapters. I have so many books on my To-Read List…I need more time in the day!

  4. I am so bored with the book that I am reading now, so I might actually download this book to my Kindle tonight. It sounds like you may also like The World According to Monsanto, if you haven’t read it yet. So good, and informative!

    1. Amanda says

      Thanks for the book recommendation, Michelle!

  5. I have not read this book yet, but I have been meaning to and need to get on that ASAP! This is exactly my kind of book and my beliefs on the food system.

  6. Oh, man. This book sounds amazing and right up my alley! Sometimes I stray away from things like this because I feel like it would make me too depressed to know that this is what the status of food in our country is. That I have so little influence to help change any of this. Did you feel that way at all? But then I remind myself that I can at least educate myself so I can make better choices and I can tell people how to make better choices. Interesting that I just read this review today as I just posted about “health” food that isn’t (as in, foods that companies want to make American thinks is healthy, but if you look at the label, isn’t even really food!).
    I will need to put this on my list of books to read and move it to the top! Thank you so much for posting about this incredibly important information!

    1. Amanda says

      I think most of us can relate to feeling depressed and even hopeless at times when we realize what’s happening with our food system. That said, I also believe we owe it to ourselves and others to be informed so that we can make better choices and educate those around us. Change is possible, and sometimes it starts by putting down the processed food and opting for an apple. 🙂

      I’ll have to check out your post! What you’re describing is what Meghan Telpner calls “health-washing” and it’s something that comes up pretty often in my CNE course.

  7. I haven’t read the book, but it’s been on my to-read list for a while. I find all food fascinating whether it’s healthy or not, but I especially find it fascinating to learn why it’s not such a simple thing, to eat healthy. We are inundated with ads and conned into buying these products because in some way they will make life better, even though we know that’s not the case. And that, quite simply is both sad and fascinating at the same time!

    1. Amanda says

      I agree completely. These products make life better in the moment (though I suppose even that is debatable), but beyond that they make life worse! And definitely long-term they’re giving us a whole host of issues to deal with.

  8. Can’t wait to read that book. Hello, my name is Katie and I’m a sugaraholic. I just have to get through the last Game Of Thrones book!

    1. Amanda says

      I can relate to the sugar thing. Once I start, it’s all I want. I was so good about avoiding refined sugar for a while, but I got a little lax this winter (hello, comfort food!) and I am feeling it! I’m trying to reign it in now, but man, it’s hard. It really can feel like an addiction.

  9. Joanne says

    This is definitely on my list of books to read. I’m currently reading The China Study and am loving it so far! I cannot wait to finish it! 🙂

    1. Amanda says

      Good choice, Joanne! Yes, pick up a copy of Salt Sugar Fat – I’d say it’s one of the most important books I’ve read.


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