Salt Sugar Fat — Summary

Learn how the food industry hooks us with salt sugar and fat. Often resulting in fatal diseases

Ever since the food industry began specializing for the taste bud of people to compete for the “stomach share” of the people, the industry started to become more and more aggressive with highly processed additives like salt, sugar, and fat. In this book, you will learn details about the unscrupulous ways the food industry optimizes its profit margin at the expenses of public health.

Processed foods took over home-cooked meals

After World War 2 a change in America’s food habits was imminent. People started to buy more convenience foods which were quick and easy to prepare. They happily traded a little bit of money for more free time, especially as the food industry began to adopt aggressive strategies to promote processed foods over home-cooked meals. One strategy they used was to recruit their own home economy teachers to promote the convenience of processed foods.

The industry exploits human cravings for sugar

Humans have a taste for sugar because it represented an evolutionary advantage. Sugar is easily converted to energy which increased our likelihood of survival. The food industry is very well aware of this which is why they try to optimize their products for the sweet bliss point, the point where our cravings reach a maximum level.

The bliss point is not equal in every individual, there are some patterns, though. Children tend to prefer 30% sugar whereas adults only prefer half of that amount.

In the 1970s, sugar not only wreaked havoc through obesity and diseases like diabetes, but it also caused tooth decay. The situation became so alarming that one dentist, Ira Shannon started to test the sugar content of breakfast cereals — companies weren’t required to print the ingredients on the package at that time — and found that the sweetest cereals were advertised during children’s cartoons.

Despite efforts from the Federal Trade Commission to ban all advertisements directed to children, and much public debate, sugar consumption kept skyrocketing. Coca Cola’s sales more than quadrupled between 1980 and 1997.

Meanwhile, obesity and social costs kept rising, social costs at a scale of $100 billion a year were spent on heart disease and diabetes.

The obsession with fat

Much like the sugar, fat also has an evolutionary function. It has the highest density of calories — double the amount contained in sugar — and therefore provides us with a lot of energy.

There is just one problem. We don’t sense fat as we do sugar, which means that there is no virtually no upper limit to fat content. Even worse, sugar seems to “hide” fat, foods with sugar are perceived to have less fat.

Naturally, food companies take advantage of the fact that there is no limit to the desire of fat, packing their products with it.

Fat also has another benefit for the industry. It helps preserve the food and gives it desirable textures.

Moreover, most of the fat used in products is saturated fat. Saturated fats are linked to heart diseases and diabetes which makes the high consumption of them particularly bad.

Cheese, the biggest source of saturated fat

A 2010 report identified cheese as the biggest source of saturated fat in the average American diet. The amount even exceeded that of red meat. But why is this?

It began in the 1930s, as the US government decided to subsidize the dairy industry by buying dairy products that producers couldn’t sell.

Then came the low-fat trend in the 1950s, which resulted in demand for low-fat milk. The result? Dairy producers obliged and ended up with enormous amounts of excess milk fat, which they used to make cheese and sell to the government. In 1981 the stack of government cheese amounted to 1.9 billion pounds.

Eventually, Ronald Reagen put an end to the program, but he also instituted a program for producers to help them market cheese to the Americans. The result was a variety of processed cheese products high in saturated fat. Americans now consume triple the amount of cheese they did in the 1970s.

This problem didn’t go unnoticed for the government, but the USDA did not issue a recommendation to cut down the intake of cheese, probably acting in the interest of producers not the health of Americans.

The problem of Sodium: Salt in processed foods

Salt has no calories, and it contains an essential mineral called sodium. But too much sodium can lead to increased blood pressure resulting in hypertension. Hypertension became a severe problem in the US in the 1980s, as 1 in 4 Americans suffered from it. It was found that Americans were ingesting 10–20 times the recommended daily amount of sodium. Health officials recommended reducing the use of salt shakers but soon they found that the real cause of sodium overdose was processed foods, accounting for more than three-quarter of American’s sodium intake.

Despite the havoc, the industry once again showed more interest in taking advantage of salt to increase sales than about public health. They poured high amounts of salt into all kinds of products for several reasons. First of all more salt appeals to the taste. But saltiness not only brings flavor it also helps to hide unwanted tastes which often happen as a byproduct of manufacturing. Even though studies suggest that there is an optimal saltiness, meaning that there can be too much, constant salt intake can raise that bar.

As long as there is demand, industries will keep up the salt-sugar-fat craze

In the face of the massive health issues resulting from salt sugar and fat, some companies several times tried to voluntarily reduce the use of those components, in par with more transparent labeling. The results were fewer sales, forcing those companies once again to rise the unhealthy components in their products.

It seems that the only remaining option is a more health conscious population or government interventions. Government interventions have had some success. In the UK an effort was placed on the reduction of the sodium content of foods. The program is estimated to have prevented an astounding 10.000 stroke and heart-related deaths a year.

A similar program in Finland dealt with the sodium problem by labeled grocery products with the label “high salt content” together with increased education efforts to teach people about the dangers. The results were an 80% reduction in strokes per capita in 2007.

While in some countries government interventions have had great success, restrictions are generally opposed.

The solution seems to be more awareness from the consumers.

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