Why are salt and sugar so addicting?
Sugar, salt and fat: "Food that is addicting"
Cheap, inferior and addicting: the author of "Salt Sugar Fat", Michael Moss, and his journalistic fight against the food industry.
They write about salt, sugar and fat. Are all three generally bad or just the products you make with them?
Michael Moss: In small amounts, all three are okay, except maybe sugar, which can make some people lose control. But the large amounts used in the food industry lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
What about the quality of the ingredients in junk food that you criticize particularly heavily in your book?
Everything that industry does is based on economic considerations. That's why she uses the cheapest ingredients she can get. And they are specially processed. There are 40 different types of salt, from a very fine powder for soups to large pieces for chips and snacks. You modify these ingredients in order to use them multiple times.
How are they modified?
There is salt with an outer protective layer so that it does not dissolve in the mouth, but only in the stomach. So it takes time and doesn't taste salty.
So are all big corporations bad?
Companies do what companies do: as much money as possible by selling as much goods as possible. I don't consider this good or bad. Kraft Food started an anti-obesity initiative in 2003 and cut back advertising for children. You have improved the information on the packaging and introduced limit values for sugar, fat and salt. But the competition has responded with bigger, salty, fatter, and sweeter products. Kraft has lost sales and has backed out. For it to work, everyone would have to participate.
You write that the people who work in the food industry do not eat their own products.
That was surprising. So many people in the industry I spoke to don't eat the products - because they know better.
And how do these people reconcile this with their conscience?
Their argument is that they give people the choice between sugar-free, low-fat or whole grain. But nutritionists say it doesn't work that way, these products are too addicting. People who need low fat don't eat it.
What else surprised you?
That big companies are much more dependent on salt, sugar and fat than we are. Anyone who has ever followed a low-salt diet knows that after six weeks you lose the taste for salt and that many things taste too salty. So we can lose our dependence on salt, but companies need salt. For them it is a miracle ingredient because it is preservative and very cheap - and covers up bad tastes.
What role do governments play?
Cheese shows that well, it's not bad, but people in the US eat three times as much cheese as they did in the 1970s. The government worked with industry to make people eat more cheese because the farmers are pretty strong. At the same time, they give instructions on what to eat.
But where is the solution then?
That's the problem. There's a small part of the government that protects the people and a large part that helps the industry sell more. Consumers would have to get louder to express their doubts. Governments and industry won't react until people put pressure on it.
But there is also the issue of price, which also plays an important role.
There is a growing number of people getting loud in the US, but it is still a minority. One thing the government can and will do is make healthy food cheaper. Fruit and vegetables are too expensive. Good food just has to get cheaper.
What do you think of sugar and fat taxes?
Difficult, because they only hit the poor. Such taxes would work, but lead to a struggle between rich and poor. It already exists in the USA.
If you compare salt, sugar and fat: which of the three substances is the strongest?
Sugar is the best for industry, it is the strongest because everyone loves sugar. You know how to use it properly. But fat has twice as many calories as sugar, nine calories per gram, and it tricks the brain into thinking: That's great, eat more of it. That way it's stronger.
Is organic actually better automatically?
Just for one reason: it has fewer pesticides, but it can be just as high in salt, sugar, and fat. From a marketing standpoint, organic is a problem because people think it's good, I'm safe and can eat this. It is the same with the addition of “little fat” or “with vitamin A”.
Have you met people in the industry who turned their backs on it?
Yes, many show remorse and feel guilty. They say when we made these products it was a better time. You blame social change. But they are also looking for ways to change that. The former president of Coca-Cola, for example, is now doing something about his bad karma: he sells baby carrots.
("Die Presse", print edition, July 14, 2013)
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