Monday, February 25, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat

I'd just like to put in a quick word for a book that will be released tomorrow, titled Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Moss.  This is along the same lines as Dr. David Kessler's book The End of Overeating, which explains how the food industry uses food reward, palatability, and food cues to maximize sales-- and as an unintended side effect, maximize our waistlines.   Judging by Moss's recent article in New York Times Magazine, which I highly recommend reading, the book will be excellent.  I've pre-ordered it.


David L said...

Are you going to write something about the heavily publicized report today about The Mediterranean Diet and mortality rates?

Stephan Guyenet said...

I doubt I'll write about it. I did tweet it though.

Robert said...

I would argue that a key solution to beating these processed foods might be subsidies for educating people how to cook to change the food culture in the US. Unfortunately this would take a generation or two and would require significant money, time, and political backbone.

Chris McKenna said...

Moss was excellent on Terry Gross today:

Jane said...

This is a big story right now here in the UK. Michael Moss was interviewed on Channel 4 News yesterday evening. The previous evening, the Oxford University Scientific Society had a debate between Gary Taubes and Philip James, who is President of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. I didn't go, but there will be a video.

Robert said...

"Salt, Sugar, Fat" author on NPR's "Fresh Air."

Laura said...

I agree. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Tim said...

In my opinition it would take exactly three very simple measures to put an end to the obesity epidemic and greatly improove public health:

1) A tax on refined carbohydrates
2) A tax on refined oils and fats
3) A tax on (added) salt

Now imagine the income from this tax would be used to subsidize fruit and vegetable growing and support nutritional education and research...

Ain't going to happen. Because goverment regulation is EVIL. Well, that's at least what the lobbyists and their political puppets make us believe.

Unknown said...

This book has been a great read so far.
Check out this article about high school cafeteria lunches. This is from one of the wealthiest school districts in the country.


Grinch said...

Tim the problem with your recommendation is that who is to decide what should be taxed and what shouldn't? I guarantee if the government started taxing unhealthy foods, the first thing they are going to tax is red meat and dairy because of saturated fat. I personally don't want the cost of eating what I believe to be healthy to skyrocket because of bad science.

Unknown said...

That would work in theory, but you have to remember that the foods that fit in those categories have many similar ingredients that are subsidized by the government. So give a subsidy to the company who makes it, but tax the hell out of the consumer? That doesnt make sense.

LA_Bob said...

Sorry, Tim. I think your recommendation confuses regulation with revenue. If you want to discourage the behavior you have to set the tax high enough to have the desired impact. But, if you have the desired impact, you lose the revenue to support your preferred programs. Governments also tend to get hooked on this kind of revenue (cigarette taxes come to mind), so they have an interest in perpetuating the revenue-raising behavior.

Not to mention there are going to be hassles over the definitions of "refined oils and fats" and "refined carbohydrates". Butter could easily be considered a "refined fat" -- it doesn't come out of the cow in that form. The same can be said of "whole wheat." We don't eat it raw, do we?

I remember thirty years ago arguing with a friend who insisted fructose was a natural sugar as distinct from that evil refined stuff C&H sold.

Unfortunately your approach is subject to all kinds of corrupting influences and opportunistic definitionalism.

There are no simple measures to put an end to the obesity epidemic.

Tim said...

@Grinch: I did! ;)

Well, I think science is clear enough about this. The failed sat-fat tax by the Danish gorvernment has been an unfortunate example of the vilification of one specific nutrient. It's not only that it is based on the exaggerated connection between saturated fat and heart disease, it's the wrong approach to tax a nutrient which naturally appears in whole foods. By taxing refined carbohydrates, oils and salt ony processed foods would be affected. The tax would be much easier to collect because it's simply the refined ingredient which is taxed - no need to calculate the tax based on a variable nutrient composition analysis, as with the Danish fat tax.

The formula for fattening junk-food is simple. It's caloric density plus palatability divided by cost. You can try to decrease the enumerator by educating people or pushing the industry - and of course this should be done. But the people who are most susceptible to junk food are the least educated and lowest income groups. You can much more effectively affect those groups by increasing the denumerator, thus making junk food more expensive compared to whole food. If a loaf of white bread would cost twice as much as a loaf of wholegrain bread (and not the other way around!) that would be a better argument than any nutritional counsel for people on a budget. Of course, to avoid social imbalances, we would have to make sure that prices on a whole wouldn't rise too much, i.e. by spending the tax income as subsidy for healthy foods.

Tim Lee said...

I’m glad that this article came out. It helps show that lots of time, money and smarts have been used to precisely engineer food that drives the reptilian side of our brain into a feeding frenzy.

There’s evidence that this isn’t unique to humans. Domesticated and even wild animals are getting fatter if they have access to human processed food. (–too/)

There are lots of people who will say that food addiction is a choice. As if it’s as simple as choosing to go left or right.
They just don’t get it.

There’s a ton of genetic, mental and circumstantial factors that control what we do. Open up a psychology or marketing book and you’ll see a ton of examples on how to subtly influence a human being with something as simple as a word change.

So what are some possible solutions to the obesity epidemic?

Government Regulation? Eh…Maybe. But given the ideology and power struggles plus the huge amount of food lobby money pumped into Washington, it’s hard to imagine any meaningful change.

Education? Seems to work only a little. Every smoker, alcoholic, and overweight person knows what they’re doing is horrible. Yet they can’t stop.

More exercise? Helps. Feels good too. However, there’s evidence to show that exercise plays a small roll in weight loss. Makes sense. Work out all day then eat a ton of junk? That ain’t gon’ work.
Seems like there’s no easy solution.

However, I believe that there is a way to tame the overeating habit and that’s through…

Habit and Technology

We can train ourselves and eventually get into a healthy habit. Yeah, this is much easier said than done. And that’s where technology comes in. You see, people are notoriously bad at keeping track and predicting anything. What did I eat for lunch? Uh, no idea.

However, through the use of technology we can better keep track of and even motivate ourselves to make better decisions. Our iPhone, Apps, Facebook, Twitter, and soon Google Glasses might be able to dramatically change how we eat.

The future is an exciting time to live in.

Anonymous said...

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Tim said...

Of course my tax suggestion left the perverse system of agricultural subsidies out of the equation. It will be a tough but very necessary battle to change those. In fact the suggested taxes may be easier to achieve politically.

I recently watched this discussion from te 2010 Nutrition and Health Conference with David Kessler, Andrew Weil, Tara Lemmey and Sanjay Gupta - very interesting and entertaining (Kessler is quite a humorous guy):

The last six years NHC discussions are online. I learned a lot about the US Farm Bill from the 2007 discussion with Michael Pollan. Living in Europe, I had no idea how monstrous that system actually is. It's bad enough here, but not nearly as bad. Maybe that's why we are still not quite as obese?)