Salt, Sugar, Fat
According to urban legend, Doritos are made with crack cocaine. The truth is, they don’t have to be, because they are made with a frightening combination of salt, sugar and fat that is specifically designed to trigger pleasure responses in the brain and keep you coming back for more.
This book is an expose of the industrialized American processed food industry, with biology, history and nutrition information thrown in. It is divided into three sections, one each for sugar, salt, and fat. In each section, the author explores the human body’s response to that taste as well as ways that processed food companies capitalize on it to sell more product.
One of the more interesting concepts in this book was the idea of “bliss points:” that (through biology as well as acquired taste) we all reach a point where we max out on our enjoyment of a certain taste – that up to that point, more is better, but after that point, more is not better and maybe even worse. When you start combining the salt, sugar and fat tastes together, the bliss point is much higher than for each taste alone. In fact, when the researchers combined fat and sugar, they literally could not get people to max out on the taste – they never reached a bliss point. Which I guess explains why we all love ice cream so much.
The other thing that was most eye-opening to me was the discussion of cheese. I know milk can be a controversial issue, but I love it. I grew up drinking 2 glasses of milk a day and still crave it if I don’t have it on a regular basis. I love cheese of all kinds. But this book revealed a concerted effort on the part of food manufacturers (aided by the industrial dairy complex and government subsidies) to increase our dairy and cheese consumption. Very little of it is in the form of glasses of lowfat milk or even pieces of cheese on crackers, and more like double cheese frozen pizza (with cheese stuffed crust and cheese dipping sauce) and chocolate cream cheese dipping spread.
The biology in the book is interesting; what’s frightening is how manufacturers of processed food use that to push more sugar, salt and fat into their products – thus creating more of a demand for foods artificially loaded with those tastes. Even seemingly harmless foods like breakfast cereals, bread and soup are loaded with sugar and salt.
Apparent efforts by food manufactures to adapt to health trends don’t necessarily make foods better, either. Most of the time when one thing (sugar, salt or fat) is lowered in a food, the other things are actually increased to make it continue to taste good.
When I got done with this book, I literally took stock of the processed foods in my house. Thanks to Michael Pollan and his writings on “real food” (see previous post) it was thankfully a short list: mostly basics like bread, pasta and cereal; dressings and sauces, and canned soup bases. And I think I might start making my own spaghetti sauce now.
You might like: Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser. Food, Inc (movie.) Food Rules, Michael Pollan