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Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

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Every year, the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese and 70 pounds of sugar. They ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, almost none of which comes from salt shakers. It comes from processed food, an industry that hauls in $1 trillion in annual sales.

In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how this happened. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century--including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more--

Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research. He goes inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the "bliss point" of sugary beverages or enhance the "mouth feel" of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing techniques taken straight from tobacco company playbooks to redirect concerns about the health risks of products. He talks to concerned executives who explain that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality.

Simply put: the industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat.

480 pages, Hardcover

First published February 26, 2013

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About the author

Michael Moss

2 books265 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Michael Moss was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting in 2010 and was a finalist for the prize in 2006 and 1999. He is also the recipient of a Loeb Award and an Overseas Press Club citation. Before coming to The New York Times, he was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been an adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two sons.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,469 reviews
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,233 followers
April 12, 2013
I can honestly say I am one of the first people on the planet to have eaten a Chicken Mc Nugget.

This is my dad a few years back

He is a mechanical engineer and a total genius. Before I was born my dad had to find a job to support his family (they already had my older sister). My parents wanted to stay near family, so dad started looking around in the Sandusky Ohio area……He got two job offers, one with NASA (yes….NASA) and one with Stein Associates, a brand new company that saw the need for mass food production…..processing it, if you will. They needed someone to design breaders and fryers that ultimately went to companies like Mc Donald’s, Tyson, and Mrs. Pauls, and my dad was the man (Stein offered 10 cents more, NASA lost). They were the only ones out there doing this and had a monopoly on the industry. If it’s been breaded and fried and you didn’t do this yourself, thank my dad.

Dad loved his job was good at it. Really good, he has numerous patents and a Da Vinci Award (a big F’n deal). For years he stood at the end of the line taste testing the food. He brought it home for us as well….hey, anywhere you can save a buck with four kids to feed. He traveled the planet working with various companies to get their production lines working. Japan, The Soviet Union (where he was followed by KGB, he wanted to turn around and point out to them that they asked him to come, but he was wise enough not to), England…..pretty much everywhere.

All of the travel resulted in bad eating habits not to mention the ‘taste testing’ took its toll. He gained weight and eventually became a type 2 diabetic, and has many other weight related health problems.

I don’t know if working at NASA would have been better for his health or wallet, but it would have been way cooler. If I would have ended up with a skinny, healthy dad?…..even cooler.

In Salt, Sugar, Fat the author calls out these big food companies. The CEO’s of companies like Kraft and Nabisco actually sat down one day after studies shown that Americans were getting fat, and it looked like it was their food that was causing the problem. On the chart (they had) showed a steady rise in the average Americans weight after 1980, while before that date we chugged right along at a normal weight. What changed? We didn’t suddenly lose control, in mass, for no reason. It was because of what was being done to the food…..don’t get me started on high fructuous corn syrup. So, these asshat CEOs thought about the problem, thought about making a change, actually tried and failed at a few ideas, and in the end they said “fuck it, let’s just make money”.

The stuff they do to the processed food is done in such a way it actually causes a person to become addicted to certain foods. It activates the same part of your brain as heroin does. I can’t go into all the details about the subject; you’ll have to read the book for that.

Moral of the story, don’t eat processed foods if you can get away with it. Don’t eat fast food like Chicken McNuggets. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, and avoid all the bad things that taste sooo good.

Reviewed on Shelfinflicted
Profile Image for Karen.
132 reviews24 followers
January 20, 2013
Probably like most of you, I thought Michael Moss's Salt, Sugar, Fat would be about how these ingredients are not good for us, how to eliminate them from our diets, and perhaps a few recipes to get us started. I was wrong. This book is far more fascinating than that. It's a well written, in depth look at the food industry, and how the products we all know came into being and developed over the years. It names companies like Kellogg's, Kraft, Campbell's and the soft drink giants that produce Coke, Pepsi, and even Dr Pepper, as well as other.

Did you know that the amount of sugar and cheese that we each eat today has tripled since 1970? No wonder there is an obesity epidemic today. I was very interested in the story of how the US Government was responsible for the increase in cheese production, how the excess was stored, and how it finally made it's way into a lot of everyday foods as time went by.

There are stories about the science behind product development, and how advertising and product placement get our attention, and get us to buy more. One thing became very clear, and that is that processed foods could not exist without salt, sugar or fat. Even some of the people who used to work for these companies now know that in order to avoid these substances, they also have to avoid the very foods those companies produce. While I do a lot of my own baking, and seldom buy convenience foods, I'm starting to think the cans and boxes that are currently in my house may be greatly reduced in the future. I will likely make more of my own soups and salad dressings and maybe even bread in the future.

I think this is an important piece of literature that will withstand the test of time, and will likely be a great reference book about the food industry for many years to come. It's a thick book (over 400 pages) but not difficult reading. It will be available for purchase March 12, 2013. Look for it when the time comes. I think everyone should read it.
Profile Image for Jon Swartz.
43 reviews67 followers
September 8, 2013
I've read a number of books on food and the food industry (
What to Eat, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto); this is one of my favorites. Rather than vilifying the food industry en-masse, the author takes the time to understand the point of view of industry insiders, especially the scientists that craft our processed food. These people do not come across as evil or uncaring, but just highly motivated to do their jobs well -- for reasons of personal pride, loyalty to their companies, and fierce competitiveness (Coke vs Pepsi, Kellog's vs Post). Unfortunately, the better they do their jobs, the more irresistible, addictive, and unhealthy our processed food becomes.

Some memorable highlights:

* The people who design our processed food products frequently abstain from them, choosing healthier alternatives for themselves and their families. "There is a class issue at work in processed foods, in which the inventors and company executives don't generally partake in their own creations...People who work in these companies have very little in common with their audience."

* Neighborhood stores around urban schools are carefully designed to maximize sales from passing students. "Soft drinks by the door, followed by rows of sweet cakes graduating into salty snacks and a jackpot of candy at the register. The average kid who walked through the door of these stores, researchers had found, scooped up chips, candy, and a sugary drink that came to 360 calories - all for just $1.06." The stores get much of their needed income from students, so are unlikely to respond to parent's concerns.

* American cheese consumption has tripled since 1970. Much of this increase is not due to explicit eating of cheese by itself, but rather to the insertion of cheese into processed foods and recipes. Cheese went from being a rare treat to an ingredient. To eliminate the growing surplus of milk and milk-fat from subsidized farmers, the industry and government has for years colluded (via shared marketing programs) to encourage more milk and cheese consumption.

* Companies do sometimes make efforts to improve the nutritional profile of their foods, whether out of true concern for public nutrition or just for PR purposes. Whenever they do, however, their competition rushes in to steal shelf spaces with their more appealing (aka more sugar/fat/salt-ladened) food; profits slip, and Wall Street screams at the companies to stop this irresponsible behavior. Inevitably, capitalism "succeeds" in refocusing the companies on going back to what sells.j
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,987 followers
May 27, 2016

This book has me torn. It does have a lot of in depth research and it makes a lot of interesting points. But, it demonizes some businesses and foods that I don't necessarily feel deserve it. I love food and I know some of it is bad for me (just like when I used to smoke - I knew it was bad for me the whole time). But, it was my choice and I was not kidding myself that I was doing my body justice. I like fast food and junk food, but I try and eat it in moderation and I exercise when I can. I know that the focus in this book is on people with kids who do not make smart choices and the businesses that take advantage of that. But, I think it is harsh to attack a business for trying to improve sales. Sometimes making food better means adding salt, sugar, and/or fat, but what can you do - it’s what people want!

So, while I didn't completely dislike this book - I think it was very one sided. Also, I am not sure that very many of the people this book would need to reach (i.e. people who eat fast food 3 meals a day and snacks the rest of the time) are going to end up reading this book and changing their ways. 400 repetitious pages is a hard way to make a point like this one – I have a hard enough time getting people to read short e-mails.

All this book made me want to do is eat more food!

Update 5/27/2016 - Just noticed that I forgot to mention this is a Scott Brick audio - that made the experience worth it!
Profile Image for Literary Ames.
830 reviews396 followers
November 23, 2014
Cynical people: it's worse than you can even imagine. Privacy infringements, systematic exploitation of children and African Americans, government corruption, and a willful disregard of consumers' health. Moss's three and a half years of investigative reporting for Salt Sugar Fat were well worth the effort, though his writing isn't concise, and boring when it came to describing the careers of food scientists he clearly admires, the points he makes are startling and incredibly important. Although America is the primary country talked about, the problems discussed are global issues.

Children and people of African descent are the most vulnerable when it comes to salt, sugar and fat, because they're more prone to acquiring a diet high in all those things, and the food industry has been quick to take advantage by adding more and more SSFs to out compete other brands by appealing to people's taste buds instead of their health, keeping an eye on their bottom lines and not their customers' waistlines.

Before reading, I believed it was your responsibility to eat healthily, but reading about America's neglectful and downright harmful governmental practices, allowing food companies to fudge the nutritional information on their products, stops the grocery shopper from making an informed decision about what they wish to put inside their bodies, and therefore food companies are indeed responsible for various serious health conditions, i.e. obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease (cholesterol), and cancers. 'The top contributors to weight gain included red meat and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and potatoes' in all its forms.

SSF addicts are referred to as "heavy users" by companies, though even their ex-presidents and CEOs (many of whom Moss personally interviewed) admit the harm they've caused, feel guilty about their part in it, and actively avoid consuming their own products. Jeffrey Dunn, ex-president of Coca-Cola, developed Dasani bottled water and stopped marketing in schools, but was ultimately fired, for which he was grateful, and now he only works with healthy foods.

Privacy infringements abound: Coke data-mined customer loyalty cards; General Foods 'had mass-mailing lists composed entirely of the names and addresses of children, in order to better target them with promotions.'

Insidious marketing strategies are plentiful: pushing comics like 'The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man' published by Marvel; multiple child-friendly websites pushing junk food; advertising to those who've over-indulged, targeting people with diabetes for their sugar-free products; adding vitamins or a smidgen of fruit for a false healthy image e.g. Capri Sun; or removing real ingredients that you'd think would be essential e.g. Cheez Whiz no longer contains real cheese.

Parallels are drawn with the tobacco industry and the health crises surrounding it, and it just so happens Philip Morris, having made its dough in tobacco, now owns a cadre of food brands. Our food is handled by large conglomerates controlling hundreds of brands, who pump potentially harmful artificial additives and who knows what else (oh, wait horsemeat) into our food. Maybe it's time we invested in the little guys going it alone again, where the people in control know exactly what's in their food, and the distance between the guy on the ground floor and the one in the big office on the top floor, is a lot shorter.

'Take more than a little salt, or sugar, or fat out of processed food, these experiments showed, and there is nothing left. Or, even worse, what is left are the inexorable consequences of food processing, repulsive tastes that are bitter, metallic, and astringent.'

Moss suggests taxing SSFs before they're added to processed foods, though companies will probably pass on that cost to consumers. He also advocates the use of more herbs and spices, but again, since salt is so cheap compared to alternatives, they'd rather stick with what they know than spend more on higher quality, healthier alternatives. Or, we as a society, need to go back to eating the standard three (fresh) meals a day when we ate SSFs in moderation instead of snacking on convenience foods.

Now it's becoming harder to peddle SSFs to the public in developed countries, they're despicably looking to exploit the Third World developing nations like India and Brazil.

I started my first official diet with the help of MyFitnessPal.com just before reading SSF, and it's made me acutely aware of what I'm eating. Now I read the back of every item while grocery shopping, before deciding to buy it. My nemesis are grain-based carbs, potatoes, orange juice, and butter. I don't have a problem with salt and my 'bliss point' for sugar dropped considerably in my late teens, which is the last time I drank soda.

Salt Sugar Fat is definitely a highly recommended read.

SUGAR (a methamphetamine)

Cocaine acts on the brain in a similar way to sugar: '...researchers have conditioned rats to expect an electrical shock when they eat cheesecake, and they still lunge for it.' Drugs countering the effects of opiates curb the appeal of high fat, high sugar snacks.
✺ Nearly every food contains some amount of sugar, naturally occurring in fruit, veg, and milk, so we have no need for 'added sugar'.
✺ Sugar is an analgesic (a pain killer).
✺ Americans consume '22 teaspoons of sugar, per person, per day', yet 5 teaspoons are recommended -that's half a can of Coke.
Fructose is sweeter than glucose and table sugar combined, and has been commercially available since the 1980s.
✺ Sugar has a 'bliss point' - a Goldilocks amount, that creates the most pleasure.
✺ Sweetened foods make you more hungry, not less.
✺ Sweet liquids bypass the body's controls preventing weight gain. Soda and fruit juice concentrates are liquid sugar.
✺ Cereals contain up to 70% sugar, and some believe cereals over 50% sugar should be sold as candy.
✺ The Cola War with Pepsi saw Coke inventing supersizing, endorsement deals, and combination deals (e.g. burger with fries), they even put Cokes into the hands of soldiers in WWII at a loss, all to encourage brand loyalty and addiction.
✺ Coke's biggest ingredient is water, followed by sugar, then caffeine. Hypertention and diabetes in a bottle - Mmm, healthy.

FAT (an opiate)

✺ 9 calories per gram, twice that of sugar or protein.
✺ Sugar masks and enhances the taste of fat, encouraging you to eat more.
✺ No 'bliss point' for fat, the more the better.
✺ Whole milk is only 3% fat.
✺ American eat up to 33 pounds of cheese per year (60,000 calories), triple the amount in 1970s. It's the biggest source of saturated fat in American diets, followed by red meat, then cakes and cookies.
✺ Industrialisation of cows bred indoors on a diet of corn and fat, has increased milk production but lowered the nutritious value of the milk.
✺ When Americans moved to low fat milk, the excess fat was converted to cheese, and the American government protected the dairy industry by ludicrously buying up the excess cheese and beef. Cheese-products were made: mac & cheese, meaty pizzas, etc. Even celeb chefs were asked to promote cheese in cookbooks. On behalf of producers, the government aggressively marketed cheese and beef to the American public (and in Mexico).
✺ "Chilled prepared foods" saw the introduction of Lunchables, containing a child's maximum daily allowance of saturated fat and salt, and more than a can of Coke's worth of sugar.
✺ The Department of Agriculture has ignored experts in its Center for Nutrition and has conspired to get the public to eat more.
✺ 'Lean meat' doesn't necessarily mean low fat.
✺ McDonald's was the first to remove "pink slime" from its burgers.
✺ When opening a package containing multiple servings, you're more likely to eat the whole thing.


✺ 'Sodium pulls fluids from the body's tissues and into the blood, which raises the blood volume and compels the heart to pump more forcefully.' This causes high blood pressure.
✺ The least addictive of the big three.
✺ We learn this addiction, it's not innate like sugar and fat.
✺ Low salt diets increase taste sensitivity to salt, so less is eaten.
✺ It's a preservative, masks bitterness, sweetens sugar, adds crunch to things like crackers.
✺ 2,300mg recommended maximum per day.
✺ England's Food Standards Agency set a limit on how much salt a product could contain and discouraged of salt substitute potassium chloride, effecting US-based companies the most.
✺ Processed meats contain added salt e.g. bacon.
✺ Cargill, one of the wealthiest privately-owned companies in the world, sells 17 types of sweeteners, 40 types of salt, 21 oils and shortenings.

The Horsemeat Scandal

The below paragraph shows me how easy it would be for the European horsemeat scandal to spread to the US:

'the Department of Agriculture is actually complicit in the meat industry's secrecy. [...] The burger that Stephanie [paralyzed by E.Coli] ate, made by Cargill, had been an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of the cow and from multiple slaughterhouses as far away as Uruguay. The meat industry, with the blessing of the federal government, was intentionally avoiding steps that could make their products safer for consumers. The E. Coli starts in the slaughterhouses, where feces tainted with the pathogen can contaminate the meat when the hides of cows are pulled off. Yet many of the biggest slaughterhouses would sell their meat only to hamburger makers like Cargill if they agreed not to test their meat for E. Coli until it was mixed together with shipments from other slaughterhouses. This insulated the slaughterhouses from costly recalls when the pathogen was found in ground beef, but it also prevented the government officials and the public from tracing the E. Coli back to its source. When it comes to pathogens in the meat industry, ignorance is financial bliss.'

That's illegal in the UK under 'traceability' and 'safety'.

*My thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the e-ARC in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nick.
23 reviews6 followers
October 9, 2013
Once you read this book a trip to the grocery store will never be the same. You will watch your fellow shoppers walk around the store an pick up items like mindless creatures; like your the only one who knows whats really going on, kind of like in the film "They Live."

The section on fat is mostly about Phillip Morris's acquisition and then spin off Kraft Foods. As the author talks about the various executives, marketers, and product developers I can't help but think of the characters in Mad Men since some of the events take place at the same time.

It also tells the story of Kellogs, Post, Oscar Mayer (and Lunchables), General MIlls, General Foods, Kraft, the dairy and meat industries' coziness with (read: heavily lobbied) the USDA and their tax payer funded scheme to make is all drink more milk (Got Milk?) and meat (Beef: Its Whats for Dinner) through programs called checkoffs.

Four cheese! Sounds good, right? No, just a way to make you eat more cheese. Diet Coke? That's kind of like a filtered cigarette: it's healthy(er), so indulge!

Main points:

Most processed foods (bread, cheese, cereal, snacks, candy) tastes terrible without salt.

When a food is labeled as having less sugar, it might have more salt and/or fat.
When a food is labeled as having less fat, it might have more salt and/or sugar.
When a food is labeled as having less salt, it might have more fat and/or sugar.
When a food is labeled as having a large number of vitamins added, it is to compensate for the fact that it has large amounts of sugar and/or salt and/or fat.

If you switch to low salt or low sodium versions of a food your sensitivity for salt will go down. You might notice it the first few times you eat it, but eventually it will taste like it has the same amount of salt. Processed food is loaded with salt since it helps extend foods' shelf life, so the industry has an intrest in keeping your tolerance hight, which is bad for you.

“Real fruit juice” or “natural fruit juice” and “no added sugar” claim on drinks is a trick. The juice has had all of the fiber filtered from it, so it is all sugar. The fiber is what makes fruit healthy, so the benefit is lost. It is not too different from extracting high fructose corn syrup from corn, and then claiming “real corn juice.”

“Diet” versions of bad food are “healthier” in the way that filtered cigarettes are “healthier.” Of course neither one is healthy. You’re tricked into picking the lesser of two evils.

The tobacco company Philip Morris purchased Oscar Mayer, who used their cigarette-like marketing tactics to get kids to think Lunchables were cool. The daughter of the inventor Lunchables did not let her kids eat it. The inventor of Lunchables has regrets.

Kraft created a council that tried to make their foods healthier. It included at least three people (industry insiders) that truly wanted to help reduce sugar, salt, and fat. They succeeded but once shareholders started to complain about the stock's performance, the companies, to the dismay of the three health conscious council members, reversed course and expanded into new geographical territories.

A conclusion I came to that was not covered by the book after reading the book:

Food that never contained gluten and that you would not think of as containing gluten will be labeled as gluten free, possibly to counter the perception of its large quantity of sugar, salt, or fat.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,188 reviews1,689 followers
March 17, 2013
Several years ago I developed a candida infection; my doctor urged me to give up all sugar products for at least three months.

Easier said than done. It didn’t take me long to realize that nearly everything in the grocery aisles contained sugar. And now I know why.

Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, has written a brilliant book that doesn’t scold, lecture, or patronize. Rather, it reveals the reasons why one out of four American children are at risk for diabetes and why high blood pressure and obesity is soaring out of control. The average adult today is 24 pounds heavier than in 1960.

He brings us inside the industry game at companies such as Kraft, Kellogg, General Mill, Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay and Nestle. Surprisingly, John Ruff from Kraft gave up sweet drinks and fatty snacks; Luis Cantarell from Nestle eats fish for dinner, Bob Lin from Frito-Lay avoids potato chips like the plague and so on. Many of the executives of the most highly profiled companies go out of their way to avoid their own products.

They are, of course, more “in the know” than the average consumer, who swallows whole the marketing ploys and behind-the-scenes science that turns us into their unwitting pawns. As one executive said at Kraft: “We don’t create demand. We excavate it. We prospect for it. We dig until we find it.”

How? First, the companies locate the “bliss point” – that crucial point that identifies when consumers fall in love with a product without the need for the company to pay a penny more. Then, they follow the “better for you” formulation. It works like this: when people clamor loudly enough for healthier products, the companies provide a better-for-you-formulation: lower-fat potato chips or sugar-free ice cream, for example. If done right, they can boost sales or the original full-calorie and full-fat version by drawing more shoppers to the brand.

To play it fair, Mr. Moss shows that it’s hard to really get the consumer on board for change. When the “big three” – sugar, salt and fat – are removed, “Corn Flakes taste like metal fillings, the Eggo rozen waffes like straw. Cheez-Its lost their golden yellow hue, turning a sickly yellow, and they went all gummy when chewed. The buttery flavor of the Keeber Town House Light Buttery Crackers, which contained no actual butter to begin with, simply disappeared.”

Small wonder, then, that companies would not give these three up in any real way, without a major fight. Salt, sugar and fat are the foundation of processed foods and the American public clamors for convenience and taste, not health benefits. In a particularly unsettling chapter, Mr. Moss shows how the Department of Agriculture and the FDA are really looking out for the interests of the food industry, not the consumer. With a slew of bench chemists, behavioral scientists, package designers, food technicians, lobbyists, Wall Street executives and the government on its side, one can empathize when one executive tells Mr. Moss, “I feel sorry for the public.”

This is an important book for any one who is concerned about obesity or diseases – any one who cares about the future of their children – to read. As Mr. Moss concludes, “We, ultimately, have the power to make choices…we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.” Becoming informed – and in an engaging manner – is a vital first step.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,519 reviews8,985 followers
August 18, 2015
In a nutshell: the food industry cares more about money than human health and well-being.

Not in a nutshell: in his detailed and well-written book Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael Moss shows how the food industry has hooked Americans on salt, sugar, and fat. He exposes how scientists calculate the "bliss point" of sugar to seduce consumers into craving more, how companies reconfigure the chemical structure of fat to enhance its taste, and how the industry incorporates salt into a massive variety of processed foods. He includes a variety of perspectives, ranging from former bosses and employees of food companies, to researchers trying to crack down on how to understand people's propensities for salt, sugar, and fat.

Moss has done extensive research here. My favorite part of this book centers on just how specific he gets. Moss delves into the scientific properties of these substances and their biological and psychological effects on humans with a confident and knowledgeable writing style. He consults with renowned researchers and former company executives to get a true insider's view of how the food industry targets its marketing to make its products irresistible. Moss's deconstruction of products like Lunchables and Tang impressed me, as he travels deep into the history and creation of these unhealthful foods. He accomplishes all of this without demonizing the food industry; while some of these folk may have hearts as cold as steel, others just want to provide jobs for their communities and income for their families. A quote I enjoyed about the nature of such companies:

"It's simply not in the nature of these companies to care about the consumer in an empathetic way. They are preoccupied with other matters, like crushing their rivals, beating them to the punch. The most amazing thing about the secret 1999 meeting of food company CEOs to discuss obesity was that they got together at all. The grocery store, after all, is littered with the results of their war to outsell one another by arming their products with more salt, sugar, and fat. Witness what happened when Post started coating its cereal with sugar: Rivals came out with versions that went as high as 70 percent. Or look at what happened when Hershey introduced its mega-chocolate cookie in 2013: Kraft responded by rolling out a slew of fattier, sweeter Oreos."

I have a couple of minor qualms with this book. First, I felt that Moss could have incorporated some of the consumers' perspectives. He discusses the repercussions that salt, sugar, and fat have on people quite a bit, so the book may have been even more effective if he interviewed or spoke with some of these non-industry or research-oriented folk. The ending of Salt Sugar Fat also struck me as abrupt. Instead of Moss just writing "now that you have all this info go ahead and be healthier people now!" he could have provided more concrete ways to make more informed, nutritious decisions. He also could have synthesized his writings about each of the substances to integrate the information presented within every section.

Despite these few issues, Salt Sugar Fat serves as a searing exploration into the food industry and its products. Would recommend to anyone interested in nutrition, marketing, and/or the role the food industry has in perpetuating obesity.
Profile Image for Blaine.
782 reviews656 followers
October 10, 2022
Some of the largest companies are now using brain scans to study how we react neurologically to certain foods, especially to sugar. They’ve discovered that the brain lights up for sugar the same way it does for cocaine.

They may have salt, sugar, and fat on their side, but we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.
Salt Sugar Fat is a really good book. On an academic level, it explains how the pursuit of dollars and sales have led the American food companies—independently, but ultimately in concert—to create the ever-expanding unhealthy choices in the grocery store. Using customer preference as a defense, companies have pumped more and more salt, sugar, and fat into our diets, consequences be damned. The book has a point of view for sure, but it does not paint these companies as villains; they are made up of real people, trying to do their jobs well (no shame in that). Instead, it focuses on the aggregate effects, and the failure of government to exercise oversight over the industry.

On a personal level, Salt Sugar Fat made me literally queasy in numerous places, thinking about all of the processed food I eat. Within days of finishing this book, I resolved to start eating better. So far, so good. If you would like to eat better (and most people do, but are having trouble getting motivated, I would challenge you to read this book and not change your habits. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
392 reviews114k followers
February 9, 2017
A fascinating in-depth and well researched look at the processed food industry. I recommend this for anyone who buys food at a grocery or convenience store (aka everyone). I read this book hoping to learn more about processed foods and how to avoid them, and I definitely got what I was looking for. Before reading this I was trying to avoid processed foods, and this book has helped increase that resolve, as well as educated me more on how to do it. It is absolutely amazing and frightening how many processed foods - some of which I remember fondly like Capri Sun - have enough salt/sugar/fat to easily account for a quarter or half of your daily recommended limit. This makes it super easy to go way over, and the result is unhealthy, fat Americans.

One of the more powerful things of this book was that Moss went deep into the food industry to really understand the dynamics at play. He didn't just demonize them for making the US one of the fattest countries in the world. He interviewed dozens of insiders - current and retired, to get their perspectives.

And the bottom line is scary. The food industry has zero incentive to produce healthier food. Because the high calorie food that they make that is stuffed with salt, sugar, and fat sells really well. It's tasty and convenient and cheap, and people buy whats tasty, and have no time or money to make or buy healthier options. And when the industry has tried to reduce the salt, sugar or fat, every time they find that it doesn't sell as well. Sure they have made some incremental improvements here and there, but by and large, the grocery store is a scary place if you don't want to vastly exceed your daily caloric intake.

It seems clear to me that things will never get better without government intervention - something that Moss also concludes in the book. Trying to understand a food label is impossible for most people, as (1) you have to know by heart the daily recommended values for calories, salt, sugar, and fat, and (2) you have to do math to figure out how many servings you are eating. Doing both of these just won't happen for 99% of the population, and thus we are where we are. We cannot rely on the food industry to make healthier products - we have make them do so by choosing with our wallets.

In my opinion, the FDA or someone in the government needs to get a good designer to fix food labels and get them to a state where any American can easily look at them and go "oh my gosh this [can of pasta sauce] will account for [a quarter] of my daily recommended [caloric/protein/fat/sugar] intake if I eat it". Maybe some startup can combine a phone camera and some image recognition to do this. The right organization to drive this is the FDA, but they are not acting.

So why doesn't the government act to prevent the obesity epidemic (and yes, that word is appropriate)? Moss spends a bit of time in the book examining this question, interviewing people at the FDA and the Dept of Agriculture. His conclusion is that they aren't incentivized or enabled to act. The food industry is well capitalized and has - for some inescapable reason to me - been able to fight every report of how bad their products are. Regulation is a tricky subject in America, but it seems that even the role of getting information to Americans about how to protect their health is completely broken.

One of the more interesting things I learned from the book is how sophisticated the food industry is in marketing their products. Their segmentation is impressive, and they find the right products, messages and mediums for each segment. They have learned to be on top of trends and perform slight of hand tricks with ease. For instance Americans initially loved their breakfasted cereals when marketed using the word "sugar". When people finally caught on that many of these were 50-70% sugar (!!!) the industry changed their marketing to promote other aspects, and removed the word sugar. Sugar Frosted Flakes became Frosted Flakes. Same thing for "low salt" or "low fat" or "includes some vitamin or nutrient" trends.

This is good to know if you are in the grocery store, as they still use these tricks. If a product is "low sugar", it's probably high in fat and/or salt, and same for "low fat" or "low salt". Or they will pick a nutrient or vitamin and promote that to hide the high amounts of salt, sugar & fat - for instance Tang was marketed as having lots of Vitamin-C (but was and is really bad for you).

One of the biggest trends that led to processed food in the past 40 years is summed up by the word "convenience". That's been a big part of the food industries marketing tactics, and it's worked. Life has become increasingly busy and complex, and we don't have time to go to work *and* shop for and cook a healthy meal. An aspect of this that I hadn't thought about is the rise of dual-working families - we have gone from 50% of women in the workforce in 1970 to 80% today. Families simply don't have time when both parents work to spend hours cooking when they get home. Thus, "convenience", or foods that are easy to buy and make, have risen drastically in that timeframe.

Emotionally, I could see how this marketing worked on me as a kid. Hearing about products that I used to eat and remembered fondly was kind of sad. Capri Sun, lunchables, hot pockets are just a few such examples mentioned in the book, none of which is particularly good for you.

The most damning evidence Moss finds is that none of the executives or insiders he talked to eat their own dogfood. In fact, they all have diets that explicitly prohibit it. I think that's very telling.

Overall, I think book will open your eyes to the "battlefield" for space and attention that goes on in the grocery store, and to pay more attention to the labels. That's a big educational process, but one which everyone needs to learn how to do. We need to force the food industry to stop producing foods that are unhealthy by stopping buying them.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 11 books843 followers
September 22, 2013
Where I got the book: my local library.

Food is weird. At least, it is nowadays. Humans like variety; variety in food makes them eat more. Put science and industry at the service of variety, and you get:

Be still my British heart.

There are tens of thousands of different products in the average grocery store. One thing I learned from this fascinating book is that a successful strategy to increase sales is by line extensions, where, for example, you take a bestselling product like Oreos and come up with variations on the theme, until you reach this

and then you realize you've been keeping your researchers up at night for too long.

And, because the food industry is big business, and big business has shareholders to keep happy, the food industry wants you to eat its food. Lots of it.


Yes, my friend, Wall Street wants you to be a greedy pig. It WANTS you to eat the whole bag of chips because, dagnammit, you're supporting the economy! It is the American Way to crave a FourthMeal! A Giant Gulp is a patriotic gesture!

But the trouble is...

There's a price to pay. Obesity and its first cousins heart attack and diabetes are roaring along at record levels. And the food industry knows it. But the food industry is, first and foremost, an industry, responsible to its shareholders. As Michael Moss says, "It is simply not in the nature of these companies to care about the consumer in an empathetic way."

Salt, sugar and fat are the food industry's weapons in the war to sell more food, gain bigger market shares and keep the Wall Street analysts happy. Moss goes into the science behind why, the more processed food you eat, the more you WANT to eat; these foods are painstakingly engineered to be, well, as addictive as possible. The addiction factor is supported by marketing campaigns that literally make your mouth water, and by careful product placement overseen by regular visits from food company employees.

Yep, the checkout lane. That insidious piece of marketing we all accept as normal.

Chances are that if you've picked up this book, you're already converted to the idea that processed food is bad for you. As I am, after years of weight gain and other symptoms, blooming in middle age into terrible (and socially awkward) gastric attacks and asthma attacks as my body tries to expel that xanthan gum that snuck into my soup or the polysorbate 80 in the cream. The last few years have been one long lesson about what I can and can't eat, label reading and an increasing adoption of the clean eating ethos.

But enough about me. What will you find inside this book? Well, for one thing, absorbing entertainment and thought-provoking findings such as the very telling fact that the top executives in the food industry go out of their way to avoid eating the very foods they foist on the unsuspecting public (in America, but increasingly all over the world) BECAUSE THEY'RE UNHEALTHY. Moss doesn't hesitate to name names: in fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of Salt, Sugar, Fat for me is the way he engages with the personalities behind the products. He reminds us that the food industry isn't faceless; these are people who earn a living persuading us to eat more.

Not all of them. There are renegades and prophets of doom; those who remind their companies of the moment when forty or so states rose up against the cigarette industry on behalf of their health care systems. Obesity costs money; what the food companies gain, the economy as a whole suffers because of rising health insurance costs and sick employees.

There is a lawsuit waiting to happen; or, as Moss speculates, the solution may come in the form of government regulation. And he concludes with an appeal to the consumer: "They may have salt, sugar, and fat on their side, but we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat."

Except that "healthy" food is an industry all its own. Open up any magazine aimed at consumers who are trying to eat right and you'll find it full of ads for products made by the selfsame companies that bring you the 32oz soda and the candy bar. Every time there's an eating trend, the industry jumps all over it and produces a solution that's not a solution. Low fat products that have more sugar and salt to make them taste better without the fat. Low sugar products that have more fat and salt than the regular version.

Oh, I could go on. There are so many goodies to feast on in this book that I could talk about it all day. Moss's journalistic style, while not always as fluent as I'd like, is that of the educated man on the street, and he appeals to a fairly well informed audience in his use of facts and figures and his incorporation of science. If you're starting to wake up to the power of food in your life and want to gain a better understanding of the role of the food industry in our global economy and everyday existence, you could do worse than to read this book.
Profile Image for carol..
1,566 reviews8,218 followers
June 8, 2017

“We rarely get in the situation where our body and brain are depleted of nutrients and are actually in need of replenishment. Rather, he discovered, we are driven to eat by other forces in our lives. Some of these are emotional needs, while others reflect the pillars of processed food: first and foremost taste, followed by aroma, appearance, and texture.“

If you eat food, you should read this book. Sugar Salt Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us caused a very conflicted reaction in me, because although American capitalism is founded on the principle of caveat emptor, the vast majority of people have never been given the tools and information to make informed decisions. And when the government, and by extension, public schools, align themselves with the food giants, surely it is unfair to put all the responsibility on the consumer. Yes, it is up to us what we eat–how we fuel our bodies. But without labels that reflect a real serving size, classes for every student on nutrition and cooking, and foods that a create repeat buyers, not daily nutrition, it seems like we are doomed. Moss gives the reader a crash course in modern packaged food development and the three cardinal points of salt, sugar and fat, its strong connection with marketing and consumerism, and its somewhat ethically challenged science (hello, Oppenheimer) that connects it with biology and craving.

The long version, is, as always, at my site. Because it'll be there.

Profile Image for Caroline .
429 reviews593 followers
November 6, 2017

By now it’s pretty much common knowledge that processed food is horrible for one’s health. Salt, Sugar, Fat goes into that, but what author Michael Moss was really concerned with were the inner workings of the processed food industry and how it’s lured and fooled consumers. Salt, Sugar, Fat is part business history and part science. It’s also a warning and gigantic wake-up call.

The industry is smarter than the consumer. It knows humans are wired to love sugar and fat from birth. It knows precisely how to make them crave salt, a taste for which is not present at birth. It knows how to make a product just sweet enough (what it calls the “bliss point”) to keep consumers compulsively eating and that foods can never be too fatty. It doesn’t care. Its goal is to make the tastiest foods so people keep eating through their processed food quickly and run back to buy more and more. An exact understanding of how people operate is how these companies have been successful for so many decades.

A large chunk of this book is devoted to marketing tactics, which involve the most elaborate, unbelievable deception. In their insidiousness, the marketing campaigns are ingenious. These range from changing a product’s name (as in Kellogg’s changing “Sugar Smacks” to “Honey Smacks” when sugar consumption became a health concern) to introducing just enough doubt in scientific studies questioning nutritional content.

Also fascinating is how companies positively slave to create each new food. All major companies employ cream-of-the-crop marketers and also hundreds of scientists, technicians, and a few psychologists.

I give Moss a lot of credit for how much work he must have put into Salt, Sugar, Fat, but I give him extra credit for going one step further by interviewing former industry insiders. These were people who left when they could no longer ignore their nagging consciences. I lost count, but two that stood out to me were from Coke and Frito-Lay. Tellingly, all of these insiders eschew the food they helped produce and live lifestyles filled with whole foods and regular exercise.

The processed food industry will never go away, but Salt, Sugar, Fat empowers. As waistlines grow ever larger and health care costs from heart attacks and strokes continue to soar, this is crucial reading.
Profile Image for 7jane.
683 reviews268 followers
July 28, 2017
There is now more obesity around the world than ever, and it all can be best blamed on these three things: salt, sugar and fat. Each of them is tackled separately in this book. The book is US-centric, yet it's quite easy to apply to other countries, some through brands that are international (Coca-Cola and such), and some through country-centric versions. Plus there are of course all those fast food chains.

This book talks about the food companies, how they put profit before health - some a bit more reluctantly now, but in the end money matters the most. There's all the marketing tricks (fe. targeting certain groups: kids, black people, the poor, the already-addicted), and lowering of one of the three only to up one or two of the other two. We read about many studies in each section, plus some company histories.

The author has clearly done his research, and the tone of the writing is excellent, presenting calmly and not feeling preachy. Now I will list some themes for each section... salt appears last of the three.

*exhale* *phew* Learnt a lot. I certainly will look with wary eye at many foodstuffs now *lol*
This is a good book to find some food company and marketing tricks, find motivation to eat and drink healthier, and know what to avoid. I don't think it's going to be easy, but it's good to be informed and how to plan your shopping etc. Well worth the read.
Profile Image for Carol.
834 reviews499 followers
March 18, 2015
The Hook - Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hook Us has been on my radar since its publication. Since my retirement my eating habits have slipped. Fortunately I haven’t gained any weight and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels remain stable. I felt it was time to take my daily diet back. No better place to start than here.

The Line – Like potato chips that you can’t resist, it’s hard to choose one line that stands out when there’s so much to choose from.

”Salt, sugar, and fat are the foundation of processed food, and the overriding question the companies have in determining the formulation of their products is how much they need of each to achieve the maximum allure.”

The Sinker – Which is to blame for the fattening and declining health of our nation, salt, sugar, or fat? If I had to choose from these, sugar seems to be the most manipulated by the food industry. You may come up with a different villain but none are without blame. If it has done nothing else for me, it has got me reading those food labels more closely once again. I’m amazed at what I’m finding. Without standing on a bandwagon or sounding preachy I am going to let you come to your own conclusions. Moss’s book is a real eye-opener.
Profile Image for Aaron Arnold.
442 reviews134 followers
June 25, 2013
This is one of those Rorschach books, with parts that will resonate differently with you depending on your prior views of the processed food industry. Looking around at reviews of this book, I found basically two different reactions to Moss' research and analysis, both pro- and anti-industry. I'll go over both of them, because, to paraphrase Trotsky, you may not be interested in the food industry, but it is very interested in you, and an accurate understanding of what it does and how it works is essential if you're someone who likes to eat healthy and avoid swelling into a greasy party balloon like so many of our fellow Americans (and fellow humans in general, if you look at the depressing upswing in global obesity trends).

A defense of companies like Kraft, Nestlé, or Cargill might go something like this: food companies, in many if not all cases, are simply responding to consumer desires by using innovative research techniques and the latest in food technology to feed people by providing them with a large variety of foods that offer low costs, plenty of calories, convenient preparation and storage, and endless levels of customization for even the most discriminating palate. If people didn't want this stuff, they wouldn't buy so much of it. Furthermore, even much-derided food products like Kraft cheese product were typically not developed to ensnare obtuse, obese rubes but to solve entirely legitimate problems of food preparation and distribution; in Kraft's case, how to distribute cheese in the days before refrigeration. The modern obesity epidemic isn't the companies' fault because consumers are the best judges of their own preferences for the amount of fat, sugar, or salt they ingest. Besides, obesity can be just as easily linked to things like modern patterns of car-centric transportation, more sedentary modes of employment, people's changing eating habits, or government intrusion into the agricultural market via methods like price supports than to processed food products on their own. If children find products like Lunchables so delicious they won't eat fruits and vegetables, maybe it's because they're actually good, and besides, you're the parent here. Stop trying to write your Congressman and grab a refreshing Coke instead, you'll feel better.

There is some truth to all of those statements, and hence the opposing case is a bit more complicated. Processed food companies aren't simply responding to consumer demand, they are creating demand: nobody was out petitioning for Big Gulps filled with Mountain Dew: Code Red, PepsiCo unleashed that sugary, fattening concoction on the market to make a quick buck, using advanced research to determine exactly which segments of the population would be most susceptible to its lure. Processed food products claim to offer guilt-free indulgence and convenience, but the mentality of "hey, we're just selling this stuff" is identical to the logic used by purveyors of more harmful products like tobacco companies (many of which are in fact identical to processed food companies, e.g. RJR Nabisco or Phillip Morris and Kraft). Food companies have aggressively fought efforts to make their foods healthier or their ingredients or serving sizes more comprehensible, actively lobbied for federal subsidies to support their businesses, and have behaved in cartel-like fashion in markets such as the one for breakfast cereal. Since food is necessary, its advertising to children, which can shape lifelong patterns of consumption, can't be compared to theoretically harmless advertising for other types of products. If processed food is so benign, why do the developers and executives of food companies invariably never feed their own children their products? Big Food - more like Big Fat.

In between these two reactions, each of which is valid in its own way (though I agree with the latter much more strongly), lies a bunch of interesting history and research. You'll become familiar with famous names like Betty Dickson (AKA Betty Crocker), John and Will Kellogg, and James Kraft, as well as less-famous names like Howard Moskowitz, Al Clausi, and Geoffry Bible, who worked in the industry and did a lot to shape our modern tastes and palates. I knew that people who drank diet soda often didn't actually lose weight, but I learned that a taste for salt is something that can be developed and not inborn, as opposed to fat and sugar, which everyone loves. Myth busted: Tang was not actually invented specifically for the space program. The big lawsuits against tobacco companies, along with public health efforts designed to reduce smoking, have many parallels with efforts by mayors like Michael Bloomberg of NYC to reduce obesity.

Ultimately it's hard to be very sympathetic to big food companies, even if they're merely exploiting neurochemical loopholes that we all have due to our recent emergence into a landscape where hunger has been banished (at least in the first world). I'm by nature skeptical of faddish diets (e.g. Atkins, no carb, paleo), but the effects of too much salt, sugar, and fat on people are unambiguous, even if a great deal of food that people prepare for themselves is scarcely any healthier. Moss doesn't really offer a plan to cure ourselves of our addiction to terrible foods, but this is a good history, and will hopefully help people to really think about what they eat. Calvin & Hobbes' famous Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs are no joke!
Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
621 reviews2,033 followers
November 20, 2021
I hope everyone who is curious about processed food reads this book and shares it with their friends and family. This book describes the way the food industry, consumers, and the American economy came to rely so heavily on salt, sugar and fat. It's not as much a cabal or a conspiracy on the part of government and corporations, as it is a matter of very human, systemic factors that keep American food producers making and aggressively marketing "food" that is essentially engineered to addict. And when I say addict, I mean it quite literally, not euphemistically (see The Pleasure Trap, by Doug Lisle). Engineered, calorie dense pleasure foods addict users (heavy user is an industry term for people who buy and eat lots of junk food and soda) via the same brain mechanisms as other addictive drugs, and have similar biological, psychological and social costs. There is hope, there is a way out. It entails educating our selves, getting needed support, and taking action to change our habits. This book should be a nice addition to anyone's education on this urgent and important public, community, family and individual health issue.
Profile Image for Casey.
272 reviews128 followers
October 4, 2013
Go into a typical American grocery store, and you won't find that they stock much food. The real food lines the edges: produce, meat and seafood, dairy. If you want real food that was produced locally and sustainably, with care paid to proper animal-husbandry practices, you're probably out of luck entirely. The interior of the store is filled with food products: mostly nutrient-poor corn and soy based "foods" engineered to make you keep reaching for just one more. These products are heavily marketed towards children.

Let's take a look at the ingredient list for Cheetos, which is available online but are not able to be copied and pasted because Frito-Lay seems to want to keep this information as secret as possible. Spoiler alert: this stuff is pretty much poison. My comments on the ingredients appear as footnotes.

Enriched Corn Meal [1] (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil [2] (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil), Cheese Seasoning (Whey, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Canola Oil [3], Maltodextrin [Made From Corn] [4], Salt, Whey Protein Concentrate, Monosodium Glutamate [5], Natural and Artificial Flavors [6], Lactic Acid, Citric Acid [7], Artificial Color [Yellow 6] [8]), and Salt.

Cheetos were the first food product I could think of, but many food products have similar ingredients. Seriously, the crap that lines the grocery store shelves is mostly corn with artificial flavorings. I wouldn't feed most of these products to anyone, but millions of people are buying them for their children. How the hell did this happen?

Salt Sugar Fat attempts to provide an answer, by detailing a historical account of processed food. The first section, Sugar, explains how we've gone from healthy breakfast standards like eggs, bacon, and sausage, to eating bowls of glorified sugar for breakfast. It's incredibly disturbing, especially when you hear how food companies go about creating and marketing these products. Unbelievably, many cereals make claims about their "healthy whole grains"(which aren't even particularly healthy) even though their cereals are pretty much 50% sugar.

Case in point: the insane claim that Frosted Mini Wheats "boost brain power." Check it out. This is all based on in-house studies, and they didn't even do a good job biasing the studies because the data don't support the claims, but that didn't stop the food companies from marketing sugary wheat as a health product. Seriously, you can't make this shit up.

The fat section is a bit more uneven than the sugar section. See, sugar is something that pretty clearly has no nutritional value and shouldn't be a major part of anyone's diet. Fat, on the other hand, is more complicated. Moss writes based on the misconception that polyunsaturated fats are healthy and that saturated fats should be avoided at all costs, which is outdated (the true story is much more nuanced than that, and really depends on whether you're getting your saturated fat from grass fed cows or from processed foods). This grated on me. However, the kinds of fats he's talking about are processed fats, so my nit-picking isn't terribly relevant, because no one thinks processed cheese and trans fats are healthy.

I didn't realize how much cheese people were eating. See, Americans have decided that whole milk is, like, super bad for them; apparently, they've traded milk consumption for seriously excessive amounts of cheese consumption. Moss outlines how cheese turned from something to be enjoyed in moderation with a little charcuterie and wine, to an ingredient that can be used in a ton of different products (on the cheap, of course). This is mostly due to some incredibly insane government subsidies that lead to more milk being produced than the market needed, or even wanted. You'll never look at that box of Mac and "Cheese" (really, cheese product) again.

The final section, Salt, deals with the truly insane amounts of salt put into processed foods. People seem to know that salt can be damaging in large quantities, but the "solution" has been removing the salt shaker and eating bland food at home. Truth is, if you're making food from scratch, you don't really need to worry about the amount of salt you're consuming. The major issue is the sodium in processed foods, which contributes to the texture and covers up off flavors, like the "warmed over flavor" that comes from oxidized food products. Without salt, processed foods taste completely disgusting, so don't expect to see truly low-sodium versions of these foods in the future.

I'm subtracting one star, because processed foods are deeply connected to science, which Moss does not write about well. As a scientist myself, it pains me to see descriptions like this one about "brain imaging, which allowed [Nestlé] to perform nifty experiments like wiring the scalps of its human test subjects to EEG machines in order to see how, say, Dreyer's ice cream…excites the brain's neurology" (emphasis added). Read that again, because it's terrible. EEG measures electrical signals that indicate neuronal activity in the brain. Neurology is a brach of medicine that deals with nervous system disorders. The book includes many errors like this, although more often Moss fails to include any sort of methodological information at all. Of course, if Americans were more science literate, we wouldn't need books like this in the first place.

My criticisms aside, I would definitely recommend this book, especially for people who are newer to healthy eating.

[1] Made from genetically modified corn, although they don't have to say that on the label on the label, and grown in a monoculture that's incredibly harmful to the environment

[2] A chemically extracted, terribly unhealthy oil that's been touted as healthier than good old-fashioned butter (if this sounds surprising to you, I highly encourage you to check out this debunking of the China Study, as well as the wonderfully accessible book Real Food, which explains the sound nutritional advice of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Besides being horrible for you, most vegetable oils are genetically modified.

[3] Why Canola oil would be added to cheese, I have no idea, as cheese naturally contains a fair amount of milk fat

[4] Maltodextrin is a type of sugar

[5] Yep, that's MSG

[6] Both "natural" and artificial flavorings are created in labs; "natural" products aren't particularly natural, but they're made from things you might find in nature, ish. This Scientific American article explains it well.

[7] Lactic Acid and Citric Acid both act as preservatives

[8] This is manufactured from petroleum, and is a carcinogen. Yummy.
87 reviews3 followers
July 14, 2013
I read the first third of the book, "Sugar," and I just could not continue to put myself through this torture. It takes a special writer to craft a piece of nonfiction that is not only informative, but engaging. Michael Moss is not that author, at least not in this book. It is evident that he did his research and spent a lot of time gathering his facts over the years, and that may be part of the problem. He seemed so invested in the time he spent, that he included too much information in the book, and it simply became repetitive. Worse, Moss attempted to turn his factual information in some small narratives, which failed miserably. Rather than simply creating characters out of the real people in this book based on their actions within the food industry, Moss instead used cliche, lazy, and unrelated information in regards to his stock characters - i.e. "a brawny former athlete who hated to lose more than he loved to win."
Furthermore, the actual information in this book was beyond uninformative. People seem to be shocked by the information here. I thought this book would explain more of the science behind created processed foods, but instead, Moss simply would relay a boring anecdote about "a brawny former athlete" and end it with, "and so they added more sugar." He thinks he is groundbreaking by trying to popularize the term "bliss point," but Malcolm Gladwell you are not. And the majority of this book simply explained that these major food companies spend billions on advertising to sell us the foods laden with salt, sugar, and fat. If it is groundbreaking to you that the reason you eat many of these processed foods stems from advertising for them, then you are an idiot and you did enjoy this book.
Profile Image for Mario Tomic.
159 reviews319 followers
March 3, 2021
After reading this book you're gonna think twice about eating a fast food place or a convenience store. What you will learn from this books will be dozens of tricks and marketing techniques big food companies have used over the years and continue to use today to make us eat more processed food. It's all split into 3 parts covering the use of: sugar, fat and salt in that order. The whole book is really a massive eye opener, it will bring you to a new level of awareness when you go on your next late night fast food quest or when you go shopping. You'll definitely be able to make healthier choices and you'll be unplugged so to say from the seductive power of processed food marketing. Overall there's tons of valuable information in this book, it can also be a bit overwhelming to digest because a lot of the data are results of studies and market research so I suggest take your time to really think about it and soak up as much as you can. I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, you will get a glance into the whole system of fast food industry that is fully optimized for decades to compel you to eat more processed food.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
305 reviews
April 20, 2013
Wow, wow, wow. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this book. I feel I have been forcing this book into conversations I've had with people all week. I literally cannot shut up about it. It is one of the most interesting, engaging non-fiction books I've read in years.

Ever wonder how Coke and Pepsi came to be enemies? How a grocery store is strategically designed to pray on innocent shoppers? How General Foods literally put their own people in Home Ec classes around America to promote convenience over making healthy food from scratch? It's all in here and loads more.

These sort of encapsulated histories of big industries can be interesting at first... but you quickly tire of being inundated with thousands of mundane facts and statistics (at least I do). Salt Sugar Fat never once bored me. It was endlessly fascinating, horrifying and enlightening. I highly recommend listening on audio (done by Scott Brick) at the gym and while grocery shopping. That's what I did, and I was shocked at how much of the book I was able to confirm with my very eyes on the shelves of my local store.

The last passage summed up my entire takeaway. That we ultimately have choices when we shop and while this book should not serve as a moral scolding, it should empower the reader to understand what is truly behind all the labels in advertising so we can make educated choices. And that is exactly what this book did for me.

I pledge to put this in the hands of at least 10 other people by end of the year.

Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,912 reviews248 followers
April 20, 2021
'It's simply not in the nature of these [food] companies to care about the consumer in an empathic way. Making money is the sole reason they exist--or so says Wall Street.'

So if you are concerned about your health or what is in the food you and your family eat, this is a great place to start to educate yourself about the amount of sugar, fat and salt that is in processed foods and why they are used.

Over the past year, I began worrying about the amount of the unpronounceable chemicals that are in our foods, but maybe simply looking at how much sugar, fat and salt are included per serving will eliminate most of the bad choices on the shelves. Eat real, America!
Profile Image for Amy.
18 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2013
The first thing I want to say about Salt Sugar Fat is that it felt like it was rushed to market, and that a little more time spent editing it would have made it a better book. At least my Kindle edition is riddled with grammatical errors and typos (at least one of which is pretty significant--a reference to "congenital" heart failure rather than "congestive" heart failure, which is clearly what the author meant). The narrative is frustratingly repetitive, and we are introduced to several characters and events more than once. All this is too bad, because the story of processed food that the book tells is actually pretty interesting. I figured that I would be as horrified as I have been reading other exposes of industrial food (which I was, at times) but the author, perhaps inadvertently, presents a rather multifaceted picture of the industry. A lot of this sympathy comes in the parts where he meets with food scientists and food company executives and finds them, apparently contrary to expectations, to be human beings, not rapacious fat-pushing ogres. Oddly enough, I found myself fascinated by and even a bit admiring of the complex psychological and biological science produced by food companies in their attempts to engineer the ultimate processed food, and I came to understand why cutting the fat, sugar, and salt out of those foods isn't as easy as it might seem. There is some attention paid to the role of government nutrition policy and subsidies for beef and dairy, and I still can't get over the story of the government's enormous Strategic Cheese Reserve. All in all, not a bad book, but I don't think it stoked the outrage it meant to, even in a sympathetic reader like me (I'm on a big Pollan-inspired "real food only" kick lately).
133 reviews1 follower
February 2, 2013
I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. I thought this book was amazing! I consider myself to be a fairly healthy eater. I like fruits and vegetables and try to stay away from too much processed food. However, after reading this book I have even more of a commitment from staying away from any food that was developed in a laboratory. The author is not preachy. He is not advocating for a certain diet. I have been turned off by other authors such as Michael Pollan who seem to be pushing eating rules on people that are not practical. Instead, Moss has set himself the task of investigating how the processed food giants, including Kraft, Kellog's and others, have relied on the three pillars of Salt, Sugar and Fat to seduce people into eating the maximum amount of processed foods.
The author is the journalist who first cracked open the "pink slime" meat scandal and the depth of his investigative journalism is really impressive. It seems that he has spoken with scores of researchers, marketers and financial officers of the processed food companies in order to learn about things such as the invention of the Lunchable, as a way to sell more processed meats, and the growth of cheese from a food meant to be savored on its own into an ingredient that is shoved into a million different kinds of food.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in nutrition, or in the business of food. I would also recommend it to anyone who is looking for a push to close up the bag of chips or give up a soda habit.
512 reviews11 followers
March 15, 2013
You can find my full review here: http://mimi-cyberlibrarian.blogspot.c...

My granddaughter aged 20 months, sits in her highchair. Her lunch is some strawberries, some carrots, and a hotdog with cheese in the middle. She pokes a few strawberries in her mouth and drops all the carrots on the floor. Then she eats one slice of the hotdog with cheese. With a smile on her face, she looks at me and says, "Umm, delicious!" In an instant, the hotdog slices are gone. Another child lost to "salt, sugar, and fat."

In his book with the same name, Salt, Sugar, Fat, Michael Moss has created a highly readable study of the food industry and its drive to create ever more edible concoctions to please the palate and the pocketbook and keep you coming back for more. Food scientists strive to "optimize" their products to maximize our cravings for them. You all remember the slogan, "betcha you can't eat just one," for Lays potato chip. Well, that was a food scientist at work, creating a product with just the right amount of salt and fat to make you want to eat those chips until the bag is empty. And then there is the "bliss point" for the soft-drink industry--the point where you open up the can and go "Ahhh." Combine the right amount of sugar, the right amount of salt and a whopping dose of fat and you have food science in a nutshell (with salt on it of course.) The whole reason for adding things to food is to optimize products to maximize cravings. Moss says: "These are the pillars of processed foods, the three ingredients without which there would be no processed foods. Salt, sugar and fat drive consumption by adding flavor and allure. But surprisingly, they also mask bitter flavors that develop in the manufacturing process. They enable these foods to sit in warehouses or on the grocery shelf for months. And, most critically to the industry's financial success, they are very inexpensive."

The preface of the book is very enlightening. In the late 1990s when the epidemic of obesity was just being recognized, a group of food industry leaders, including CEOs of many of the food giants, gathered together to discuss business strategy. The leader of the meeting was trying to impress upon the businessmen that they were most likely going to need to change their strategies if they were going to weather the coming storm of criticism about their industry regarding obesity. At the end of the meeting, no one was convinced that they wanted to change any strategy, and most went back to their companies and added more salt, sugar and fat to their already laden products.

Moss's book is very well researched, and he also acts like a journalist doing many interviews. I found the book very helpful as my husband and I continue to rid our lives and our pantries of the junk that has weighted us down all our lives. Our mothers were part of the 1950s when convenience foods were just coming into their own. Mixes, frozen foods, packaged cookies, TV dinners and chicken pot pies. My oh my! The scourge of our generation. After reading Salt, Sugar, Fat, I renewed with vigor my nutritional quest. I am now reading nutritional information on every single item I buy, shopping only the outside aisles of the store, and emptying my cupboards of snacks. If I don't eat one, I will never eat the whole bag. I am proud to say that we are making good progress.

The grocery chain where I shop, Meijers, has a big promotion every couple of months where they offer dozens of items on a 10 for $10 sale with the eleventh item free. Last week for the first time they had nearly as many fresh items on the sale as they did processed items. So for every can of Spaghetti o's, there was an avocado; for every bag of cookies, there was a bag of lettuce. I am proud of the company for making the decision to promote fresh items. My challenge for this year is to try to not buy any processed food items when I go to the grocery. Is it possible? Hope so!

You might also like to read Taste What You're Missing by Barb Stuckey. Stuckey is a food scientist and she tells about how and why salt, sugar, and fat are added to foods from a food science point of view. Her intent is to show us why these elements are necessary in making palatable food. A good companion to Salt, Sugar, Fat.

Following this review, I am going to look at a book I just received from the publicist, Foods that Harm; Foods that Heal. It discusses hundreds of food items and what they do to the body. Look for it.

The New York Times review
Interview with Michael Mossat at Bon Appetit magazine: http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandfor...
Profile Image for The.Saved.Reader.
414 reviews83 followers
June 6, 2013
Salt, Sugar, Fat (the book-that is) is a healthy read about the unhealthy industry of processed foods. Although a little long-winded at times (the only reason for the 4-star rating, otherwise it would have received a 5-star rating)this book will be a healthy addition to your diet.

In my home I work really hard to make as much as possible from scratch, but I also work full-time and feel like I am literally going out of my mind trying to keep up at times. This book reinforces the importance of not relying on processed food from day-to-day making what I do rewarding in the long run.

I am always ranting about how things really took a turn for the worse, when mothers started to work in the late 40's, early 50's and this book is just more re-enforcement for that theory of mine. Processed food really came out of that time period due to working mothers needing quicker ways to provide meals for their families after a long day of work.

The most disturbing part is that their seems to be no morality in what the food manufacturers are doing, they are so driven by profit that the greater good keeps getting pushed aside. But, fear not, I see a movement happening amongst my fellow humans and I do believe that something better must be around the corner.

My recommendation is to eat simple foods-steamed veggies, baked or grilled lean meats, rice, fruits (you will be amazed by how much better you feel and surprised when some of those ailments clear up)-just do not buy those boxed items, then the food manufactures will have do do something to meet the new demands of the more health conscience consumer.
Profile Image for KJ Grow.
159 reviews19 followers
January 29, 2013
I fully admit to finishing this book with a bag of potato chips in my hands. But! I checked the ingredient list and limited myself to one serving. Thank you, Michael Moss, for a riveting, illuminating, horrifying, scandalous read. It's been a long time since I looked at a Hot Pocket, but I'll certainly never look at one the same way again (over 100 ingredients listed in the calzone...um, what?).

A fascinating look at genius marketing tactics, the pressures of Wall Street, the processed food industry corporate machine, food engineering, human psychology, and the ugly aftermath of unchecked consumption.
Profile Image for Maxine.
1,278 reviews49 followers
May 3, 2013
I have always thought my eating habits were, if not great, not really terrible either. I don't drink pop, I rarely eat red meat, and I don't add much salt to my food. Turns out I've been wrong. The yogurt I eat has just as much sugar as the ice cream it was meant to replace; I replaced red meat with cheese, one of the worst offenders in the junk food catalogue, according to author, Michael Moss; and not adding salt to my food, in many cases, only means I'm not adding insult to the injury of the already salt-laden processed foods I eat. Turns out what I thought was a relatively good diet was a lie, much of it fostered by the processed food industry, a kind of smoke-and-mirrors magic show but the amazing illusions it has created can kill us. Stephen King couldn't have written a better horror story.

In Salt, Sugar, Fat, Moss talks about his three year journey through the processed food industry and what he found was truly frightening. The three ingredients in the title are the pillars of the industry and to say the industry uses them liberally is like saying hockey can be a little violent at times. The amount of these ingredients used is shocking and has led to the epidemic of obesity, Type-2 diabetes, and other health concerns which are taxing our health and the health care industry.

Nor is the industry unaware of the problems it is creating. Moss spent a great deal of time talking to the scientists who are responsible for the creation of many of the worst offenders, many of whom have at least tried to make healthier changes. But, as Moss points out, this is an industry more beholden to its shareholders than its consumers. If they can't show profits, Wall Street will want to know why and it won't take 'health crisis' for an answer.

And the industry does its best to comply. Children's shows are inundated with commercials pushing cereals with enough sugar to take down an elephant; guilt-ridden working moms are told that fat-laden lunchables are a healthy and fun way to make the kids happy; and who doesn't like cheese on their easily prepared frozen pizza, lots and lots of cheese, something the whole family can enjoy. And the industry keeps the price low so that these processed foods are cheaper than healthy foods and they make sure they are placed at eye-level in supermarkets while real healthy choices like fruits and vegetables are pushed to the side. Poor neighbourhoods, where there are no supermarkets, are an especial target. And even reading labels to isn't always the answer since sugar, salt, and fat can come in different varieties, with different names. Unless you recognize all these names among the dozens of ingredients listed, you are not likely to realize the real amount of each within, say, that granola bar the commercials tell you is a great healthy substitute for fruit at breakfast.

So what can the consumer do? As Moss points out, very little. The FDA tends to be more of an aid to the industry rather than a watchdog for the consumer and we all saw what happened when Michael Bloomberg tried to outlaw huge soda cups in New York. The backlash was heard throughout the nation - how dare he curtail our freedom to kill ourselves with sugar - and his well-intentioned law was quickly struck down. The consumer, according to Moss, has only one choice - take responsibility for what you put into your body and that of your children. Changing your eating habits won't be easy, processed food is one of the hardest addictions to break (and it is an addiction), but it can be done. Reading this book is a great place to start.
Profile Image for Yulia.
339 reviews316 followers
November 30, 2013
This book does not vilify food manufacturers, nor does it make excuses for them: what it does is make one realize what one is up against every time one enters a grocery or convenience store or looks at a vending machine. In sections devoted to the role of salt (and sodium), sugar and fat in processed foods, Moss lays out the series of techniques that food scientists, advertisers, package designers, financial officers and sellers use to discover, shape and give consumers exactly what they want. Moss shows that individuals in the food industrial complex can try to do the best by their customer, but still struggle to change an industry driven by stock prices and profit margins. Unfortunately, processed foods will not become healthier until consumers stop buying them in their current forms. The book becomes a bit repetitive in the salt and fat sections, but it still manages to be a page-turner.

In the course of the book, Moss brings up the existence of a bliss point in enjoying sugar, the effect of sugar on dulling our awareness of fat, the heightening of our salt cravings and our ability to resensitize our palate, the Coke and Pepsi wars (and how no side loses), the ability of minimally edible foods like Lunchables to attract children, the advertising of pure fructose as "made from real fruits," and the limited role of the USDA and FDA in shaping food policy. Together, these stories reveal the true cost of convenience and unimpeded capitalism on the consumer: food addiction, obesity, and heart disease.

What can the consumer do? Read the nutrition label and list of ingredients (or ask someone with better vision to read them for you), write down a grocery list before shopping and stick to it, be especially careful with what you give very young children, and try to be mindful about what you consume without developing orthorexia. Good luck!
Profile Image for Amanda.
754 reviews22 followers
April 16, 2013
Now that I'm finished with the Sugar section I'm going to take a breather to process ( no pun intended) what I've read. I'd recommend this book to EVERYONE. It's not a diet book. Not a how to eat healthy book. It's more about the history of the processed food marketing business. Obviously most people know that much of the processed food we eat is not the healthiest choice, but for convenience and taste we use it. What is very eye opening to me is that those companies know exactly what they are doing and the role they are playing in the relatively new epidemics of obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes, but they justify it by saying they are just giving the customers what they want. Which is true, but on the next page you find out that these same companies are actively creating addictions to thier unhealthy ingredients. Read the section on how undesirable it is for a product to offer, "sensory specific satiety". Basically we are being manipulated to feel like we haven't eaten anything after a bag of chips, can of soda or a cookie . Come to think of it, I swear that's what happens when I eat Girl Scout cookies.
The passage on high fructose corn syrup and the "contains real fruit juice" claims, really shocked me. It's pretty clear that the food industry thinks consumers are idiots and the more healthy a product sounds, (vitamin water for example) the worse it is. But consumers will feel good about buying it 'cause we're stupid. Btw vitamin water has as much sugar as soda. This book could and has produced many rants in my house. My kids would like to burn it. No kidding. And that's just the first section. Stay tuned...
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