Reflections on Salt, Sugar, Fat

Last month I read the much talked about book Salt, Sugar, Fat. Okay I know I’m a few years behind, but curiosity finally got the better of me.

Salt, Sugar, Fat

The book gave some really interesting insights into the food industry and the history, science, marketing, and people behind it. My default is to be skeptical when reading books like this because they can often be very one sided. In this case, the author took an anti-food industry stance and mostly presented information to support his argument, although he included some of the food industry’s perspective as well. In general I found it very well researched and I tended to trust what the author was saying.

And what he was saying was essentially this: the number one priority of food companies is making a profit. Everything else comes after that, including the public’s health. The author provided a few really compelling examples of this, for instance when Campbell’s added salt back into their reduced salt soups because their sales dropped too much. Or when Kraft used a loophole to produce indulgent cookies despite the company’s anti-obesity initiative that placed caps on fat, sugar, and salt in its products.

OreosPhoto credit: Scorpions and Centaurs / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

This book provided me with a whole lot of insights like these, but honestly, after reading it I had the same opinion of the food industry that I had before reading it. And surprisingly, my opinion is not that the food industry is evil.

See, I like to be realistic. I’m not one of those people who will tell you to avoid all packaged foods and only eat foods that have one ingredient. Because that’s not realistic. We’re human and we’re busy. And there are actually some packaged foods that are really quite healthy (perhaps a topic for another post?).

So my takeaway from this book is not that food companies are the devil to be avoided at all costs. But they are not your friend either. They don’t have your best interests at heart and they are not here to help you make healthy choices.

What this book reinforced is that we need to be responsible for our own food choices and our own health. Trusting the claims on packaged foods isn’t enough because the aim of these claims isn’t to help you make a healthier choice – their aim is to sell the food to you by appealing to your health consciousness. So we need to be advocates for our own health at the grocery store by looking at ingredient lists, reading food labels, and not falling for marketing gimmicks (if you want to learn more about reading food labels, this is a great resource).

nutrition facts tablePhoto credit: jpalinsad360 / Foter / CC BY-SA

We will likely always have opposing interests to the food industry (our health versus making profits) so it’s important to stand up for ours!

What did you think of this book if you’ve read it? Do you agree that profit will always be the first priority of the food industry, or do you think nutrition could become more important?

18 Comments

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18 Responses to Reflections on Salt, Sugar, Fat

  1. I’ve been meaning to read this book but I’ve never gotten my hands on it yet. Thanks for the review!

  2. I started reading that book (although admittedly I didn’t finish it) but I thought it was really interesting. Have you read the book Food Politics? It’s pretty lengthy but it’s REALLY interesting!

  3. Very fair review! I have yet to read that one but its been on my radar for quite a while. Along with 500 others…there is just not enough time in the day!

  4. I share your perspective. It’s easy for us to lay blame on X , Y, Z but at the end of the day, we make the final decision of what goes into our mouths. That is so dodgy though about some of the sneaky things companies do.

    • Chelsea

      I do think the companies are to blame as well, but the reality is that they’re probably not going to change any time soon, so we need to take the responsibility of being informed.

  5. This sounds like a great read & I have to agree with your perspective. As much as I wish that all food products had a short & pronounceable ingredient list, that’s not always the case. Profit is the driving goal for most businesses, even if it means at the expense of customers. However I don’t think we can fault such companies. As much as they have a responsibility to provide us with healthy products, we have an equal, if not more, responsibility to do our own research, evaluate our choices and then go on to make informed choices. Some days that might even mean reaching for the less unhealthy option which is fine so long as we take responsibility rather than try and play the blame game.

  6. I bought this book in audio format and got bored with it and never finished. I thought some of the facts were interesting but it wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have already assumed on my own. The food industry is a business just like any other so they’re going to do whatever they can to make more money. But I do think the government should have more regulations and offer more incentives for healthy eating. But I agree with you, ultimately it’s up to the individual to make healthy choices.

    • Chelsea

      Yes I definitely agree the government needs to get involved to a greater extent. Who knows if/when that will ever happen though.

  7. I did like this book when I read it – but nothing in it particularly surprised me. Of course, the bottom line is money! I do agree with your comments about the food industry – they aren’t evil, but they aren’t your friend either; they’re more interested in profits than your health. I do think you should do a post on healthy packaged foods though – I’d love to see your take on that!

    • Chelsea

      I’ve started putting down some thoughts about healthy packaged foods into a rough draft – knowing me it will take me another 2 months to write and post it though haha.

  8. Karen

    I agree with most of what you say however, reality or not, I feel the food industry should have a some responsibility. It’s hard work and very time consuming to sift through all the crap, reading ingredients, taking into account cholesterol, fats, carbs, etc- even for the most healthiest of eaters. I find it exhausting and frustrating. There is so much deception out there and they shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind it for profit sake.

    • Chelsea

      Yes I agree the the food industry should take on more responsibility when it comes to public health. But I don’t think there’s enough incentive for them to do that on their own, so hopefully the government will step up to make stricter regulations for food companies.

  9. I agree the food industry is not our friend. I do think they’re a little evil though. Same way I think tobacco companies are a touch devilish. They’re selling things with poor nutritional value because it’s easier and cheaper. I’m not against all processed or convenience foods (I am a realist after all), but I sure would like them to be actual food, and labels like low-fat, zero calorie, low-carb, high protein are just crappy and deceptive. All that being said, people need to do their homework and take responsibility for what they consume. Sorry I could go on for hours about this one. Rant over. :)

    • Chelsea

      Okay you’re right, I think they’re a little evil too haha. Given the obesity rates and increase in other nutrition-related diseases, it ticks me off to see food companies continuing to pump out “foods” that contribute to that.

  10. Great review. I really liked this book and what I found most interesting was the cave of cheese. What I really want to do is go find said cave, and live in it.

    In all fairness I think Moss did a great job at writing a book about the food industry as an investigative journalist. Sometimes an outside perspective is needed to bring change, and hopefully this book does bring some change.

  11. I was wavering on reading this, and you convinced me not to spend the time – honestly, I feel like all these books are saying the same thing Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan have been writing about for years! I do think we need better standards, but there’s no clear path to who should set them.

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