Michael Moss’ new book reveals exactly how the food industry uses three key ingredients to create never-satisfied cravings for very unhealthy foods.

The international obesity epidemic didn’t just happen by accident. Sure, people’s lifestyle habits shifted from active to sedentary. And, yes, we moved to the suburbs and stopped cooking at home so much.

But a new book suggests a more calculated and insidious reason why two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese: The food industry started crafting foods that were of little nutritional value but kept consumers reaching for more.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss, is a detailed look at how the food industry has contributed to America’s nutritional mess by infusing processed foods with what he calls the “pillars” of the industry: sugar, salt and fat. Moss’ reporting turned up evidence that the industry capitalized on the ability of these three ingredients to mask bitter flavors that develop during manufacturing and to hook consumers on taste.

“Companies convincingly argue that they haven’t intended to make Americans obese or ill,” Moss told TakePart. “But they have been driving hard for decades to make their products as utterly crave-able as possible. They know from their research that when they engineer the perfect amounts of salt, sugar, and fat they will send us over the moon.”

Moss describes food industry marketing campaigns that were adapted from tobacco company blueprints aimed at downplaying health risks by promoting a fix or two designed to make a product a bit healthier. “You see a proliferation of products billed as low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt,” he says. “These are extensions to their mainline products which remain their biggest sellers.” However, these niche products are rarely truly healthy. Many products labeled low-fat, for example, are high in sugar. Or products labeled low-salt are high in both fat and sugar, Moss says.

 

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