Food Industry Adds Addictive Salt, Sugar and Fat to Seduce Consumers

Winnipeg Free Press, March 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

Food Industry Adds Addictive Salt, Sugar and Fat to Seduce Consumers


2That's the admission of a contrite Frito Lay exec, reflecting on the health crisis in North America he says has been perpetrated by the giants of the food industry.

Now retired, he is quoted in American journalist Michael Moss's absorbing and concisely titled new book Salt Sugar Fat.

According to the food industry experts Moss interviews, nutrition be damned. All the resources of Kraft, General Foods and Nestle are directed to beating each other for market share and profit, with consumers in North America showing the consequences of their zeal.

Today in the United States, one-third of adults and one fifth of children are obese. It's not much different north of the border -- the average Canadian adult is 25 pounds heavier than in 1960, and the rate of obesity in children is similarly unsettling.

The weapons in the food industry's war are simple and seductive. Sugar and fat added to processed foods turn people into food addicts and keep them buying more.

A New York Times reporter, Moss won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his investigation of the dangers of contaminated meat. For Salt Sugar Fat, his first book, he spent 31/2 years sifting through documents and interviewing current and former food industry executives.

In their research labs he saw hundreds of scientists tinkering with ingredients and formulae, working tirelessly on the more than 60,000 products found in a modern supermarket, most of which didn't exist 30 years ago.

Moss skilfully relates stories of individuals, companies and specific products, weaving back and forth through the history of the food industry. His narrative voice is reminiscent of Terry O'Reilly, host of CBC Radio's Under the Influence, and his writing is as entertaining as the content is educational and disturbing.

The result is a powerful indictment of the industry. Despite the occasional blip of conscience, food manufacturers focus on altering the shape and structure of sugar, salt and fat molecules to amplify taste and texture, reduce costs and lengthen shelf life.

The goal of research on sugar is to find the "bliss point," the optimal amount of sweetener that causes pleasure, after which the food becomes unpalatable. The bliss point is achieved through thousands of taste tests and meticulous data collection, according to Moss.

Children accustomed to sugar will always want it, guaranteeing permanent customers of processed foods. That's why ad campaigns promoted Sugar Frosted Flakes, Count Chocula and Pop Tarts as breakfast staples, but foods we consume at other meals are also laced with sugar.

After tomatoes, sugar is the second largest ingredient in Prego brand sauces, at a greater concentration per serving than is found in Oreo cookies. …

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Food Industry Adds Addictive Salt, Sugar and Fat to Seduce Consumers
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