'Salt Sugar Fat' highlights the questionable ingredients in popular food

'Salt Sugar Fat,' by journalist Michael Moss, explores how the three title ingredients make their way into American food and the dangers that they may pose.

'Salt Sugar Fat' is written by Michael Moss.

There are three enemies of Americans in the food that the country eats daily, says writer Michael Moss, and their names are also the title of his new book: “Salt Sugar Fat.”

Moss, a New York Times reporter, won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2009 story about what was really going into the meat eaten by US residents, and his research for the piece inspired him to go farther into investigating what goes into our food. His new book argues that three ingredients are causing health problems in Americans, and considers the degree to which many consumers are ingesting far more of these products than they may realize.

Moss was able to convince many in the food industry to speak honestly about their policies in his interviews for the book.

“Many opened up, not always eagerly, but willingly, to help me tell the full story,” Moss told the Chicago Tribune. “These interviews also ... showed me that many of these companies are peopled with pure scientists who have a conscience and are well meaning. But this is America, and so these companies' primary mission is to sell items, in this case food. And they are deeply beholden to Wall Street.”

Moss’s book examines foods like cereals, sodas, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Oreo cookies, and more, diving into what’s actually in the products and how each company is selling its wares to consumers, especially kids and teenagers.

In an interview with NPR, the writer cited one example of marketing strategy with the cereal Frosted Mini-Wheats, which created a series of commercials claiming that kids who ate a bowl in the morning would be better prepared for school.

“What the [company] came up with was some science that they had generated that they said showed that kids who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast would be as much as or almost 20 percent more alert in the classroom, which the company translated into better grades for kids,” Moss said. “That campaign went on for a while until the FTC jumped in and said, 'Hey, wait a minute, we're looking at your study and it doesn't really show anything near that kind of gain,' and not only that, but they weren't even looking at other breakfasts to compare to the Frosted Mini-Wheats.”

Moss’s book came out on Feb. 26 and currently holds second place on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list for the week of March 24.

Reviews have been largely positive, with Boston Globe reviewer Laura Collins-Hughes calling the book “an exactingly researched, deeply reported work of advocacy journalism.”

Associated Press reviewer Jessica Gresko agreed, noting that Moss could be repetitive but that he’s “at his best when he’s acting like a journalist: talking to people, sifting through and explaining documents, and writing with finger-licking flair.”

One guarantee: Once you set down the book, you probably won’t be reaching for a bag of potato chips.

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