Michael Moss was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 2010, and was a finalist for the prize in 2006 and 1999. He is also the recipient of a Gerald Loeb Award and an Overseas Press Club citation.
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I'm Michael Moss, author of "Salt Sugar Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us," and recent guest on Bloomberg's Material World podcast. I am here to talk about how companies use sugar, salt, and fat to get you hooked, my book, holiday eating, and anything else you'd like to know. AMA!
What is your point of view on GMOs?
Also, you have fantastic hair - what product do you use?
I've been successfully ducking the GMO for years now, and hope to keep doing so. Just haven't done the research to hold forth. My hair? I use whatever shampoo is hanging around in the shower, and even on occasion Dr. Bronners. It will probably all fall out any day now.
What are your thoughts on artificial sugars like aspartame?
They make me nervous. There are lots of non-caloric sweeteners out there now, and some get listed on the label under the title of artificial or natural flavorings, so you don't they're there. That's one thing that concerns me. The other is this: Maybe, if you have to have your food or drink sweet, they can be better than caloric sugars (table sugar, corn syrup). But people have yet to do the science on what happens in your body when your mouth tells your brain that sugar is going down the hatch, and it turns out to be not sugar but one of these sweeteners. There is a biological mismatch there.
What is your opinion on the Ketogenic Diet if you are not a fan of fats?
I'm no expert on diets. Had to look that diet up. It started out for epileptics, I see. My thought: if it works for you, great. For me it would be too radical, and I think I'd eventually lose my grip. I'm also too much into making bread these days.
Why is sugar generally considered less of an unhealthy choice than fat?
There seems to be a growing body of science that as little as a can of soda a day can cause you health trouble, even shorten your life. Sugar is also the No. 1 go-to ingredient for the processed food industry, in getting us to not just like their products, but want more and more. That said, I was surprised to learn how powerful fat can be in this regard too. I look on salt sugar fat as equally opportunity killers if they're used in ways that encourage us to overeat and eat poorly. Latest estimated on the annual cost of obesity out today: $1.4 trillion.
Gateway or an end to itself? It used to be that sugar was confined to things we always knew to be sweet, like ice cream and cookies. But knowing the power of sugar to seduce, the food giants have marched around the store adding sugar to things that didn't used to be sweet: bread, yogurt, pasta sauce. Cool but scary Fact: 75% of groceries now have added sugar. True, we're born loving sugar, but this has created in us the expectancy that everything should be sweet which makes the produce aisle all the more less attractive, especially to kids.
I once encountered a book titled 'Potatoes Not Prozac' that included some interesting information about how the body processing sugar affects neurotransmitters. What's your take on how excessive sugar affects or is related to depression and some related disorders? As a simple example, I know two sugar addicts who get a significant portion of their day's calories through soda, and both are thin, and display various symptoms of mental illness.
If we can draw a direct link between excessive sugar consumption, or being 'hooked', exacerbation of mental disorders, and big companies pushing their junk for profit, what do you think would be the responsibilities of the companies?
Is this maybe in the line of, You are what you eat? I'm not sure how solid the science is on this. It's so hard to do good nutrition science at all. But it stands to reason that food plays a significant role in some but certainly not all mental health. I loved that old saying, An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and would add only to that: So might a mess of Brussels sprouts or roasted broccoli.
What did you think of Vincent D'onofrio's portrayal of the 'Edgar Suit Alien' in Men In Black?
I think bugs are in all our future. Lots of people in the world already love to eat bugs, because they've been brought up to like them. I still get creeped out, but given the high environmental and humanitarian cost of beef, pork and chicken, bugs with all their protein could turn out to be what highly processed food falsely claims to be: cheap, easy, and yummy.
Terms like "addiction" and "hooked" are used to describe many different things. What exactly do you mean when you use these terms?
I'm going more deeply into the question of whether junky food is truly addictive, in my next book, Hooked: Food and Free Will, due out next year. But I'm using those terms in the lay and negative sense: feeling compelled to overdo something that isn't so good for you.
How do companies use sugar, salt, and fat to get you hooked?
I should say I don't see them as this evil empire that intentionally set out to make us clinically obese or otherwise ill. These are companies doing what all companies want to do: make more money by selling more product. And for them the way to do this is to maximize the allure. So when it comes to salt sugar fat, they use some rather extraordinary science to engineer the perfect amounts and combinations of these three to get us to not just like their products, but to want more and more. One recent creation of a new flavor for Dr. Pepper that I wrote about involved some 59 formulations of sweetness each one just slightly different than the next, some 3,000 consumer taste tests across the country, and then some high math to find the perfect level of sweetness. Salt, for its part, is manufactured in as many as 40 types if you count all the additives, each one designed to work best with particular processed foods, including a pyramid shaped salt hollowed out for maximum contact with your saliva and maximum signal to the brain.
Sugar is cheap and it tastes, how would you make kids less addicted to sugar?
My two boys are walking bliss points for sugar, meaning it sends them over the moon. So we've done two things. Talked about the science, and how their brains wrongly see sugar as a good fuel for their bodies. And then on those crazy mornings where we feel compelled to toss some cereal boxes onto the table for them to eat, we've encouraged them to pick some brands with less sugar. And sure, they'd rather be eating those Cocoa Puffs. I did when I was a kid. But having started this conversation with them, I get the sense they like the plain Cheerios better than they otherwise would have. Next step for us is switching to oatmeal and other truly whole grain cereals.
What do you think of the statement, sugar causes cancer, because cancer eats sugar?
Do you believe that there is any truth to this?
What about diseases like Alzheimer's?
My understanding is that a lot of todays diseases can be linked directly or indirectly to sugar. Your thoughts on this?
I'm a little scared of linking any one food to cancer, though I should note that my book starts out with a secret meeting of food industry executives who gathered in 1999 to consider their culpability on the country's worsening health, and one of their own stood up and linked processed foods to several types of cancer. I totally believe, however, the old credo, You are what you eat, and it stands to reason that working on having a better diet will increase your odds of avoiding of lots of health problems, notwithstanding the latest oldest living person who when asked what her trick is says, "no exercise, lots of bacon and whiskey." Meaning, even good diets are a law averages and can fail you when it comes to things like cancer.
What can we ingest to offset a high-sugar diet?
Also, can you shed some light on this:
I've been a sugar fiend as far back as I can remember, I have it under control now(been about 7 years now), yet whenever I go completely (well, now informed I guess I can't say completely lol) without sugar for a few weeks or so my body usually has some intense craving that drives me to the store to get a few bags of sweets.
I pig out then go cold turkey. The cycle repeats. Is that worrisome behavior? Am I 'shocking' my body with sugar?
Wouldn't that be great if there was a prophylactic or antidote to sugar. Don't know of any, and if there was, it would probably taste god-awful. I think it's hard to go on any type of diet that is too radically different from what you are used to. It works for a while, and then you go off a cliff, doubling down on whatever you were starving yourself on. Some people seem unable to eat just a cookie or two. They have one and will eat the whole bag uncontrollably. But if this isn't you, maybe you could try eating just a bit of sugar every day, which could be in the form of fruit. I wonder if that would steady you out.
Hi, I'm a person who started drinking Coca-cola since elementary and throughout high school, I mostly just drank sodas or juice. And I've never been hospitalized. Sometimes when I drink water, my head hurts. Does that mean I'm immune? lol Now I finished college, i started drinking water. I just want to ask, what happens to your body if you only drink soda for a week?
Have you seen the film called, That Sugar Film? The Australian filmmaker undergoes an average high sugar diet and chronicles the demise of his health. It's a fun watch. Soda for a week? Nothing much is likely to happen. But more than a couple of sodas per week, over time, will mess up your heart, some studies have now found. Not sure what the headache from water was about. If your brain is expecting soda, however, and you drink water, it's likely to give you a hard time in one way or another.
What do high fat, high sugar, high salt diets do to the body over prolonged time for say an average American?
Ps. My girlfriend and I both get terrible headaches from most artificial sugars, specificly aspartame. I've tested this on many occasions and otherwise I don't get many head aches. Is there any advice you could provide to lowering sugar intake with out using artificial sweeteners?
SaltSugarFat -- I like to think of these as the unholy trinity of the processed food industry -- in high amounts may tend to compel you to overeat, and not get enough of the stuff that you need more of (vegetables). Lessening a sugar habit takes time. You have to be patient. It takes a while -- weeks -- for your brain to adjust, and not kick you in the ass when you drink plain water instead of a soda. I'm leery of artificial sweeteners, so I'd start off by making my own soda: water, some squirts of lemon or lime, and whatever amount of sugar that avoid a brain revolt, lowering that sugar over time. I do see, however, that some people seem to have to go cold turkey, and can't touch a grain of sugar without losing control. So this might not work for you.
What do you think of Soylent and related "foods"? (Check out r/Soylent if you are not familiar with the category...) Thanks!
I used to sneer. But I've mellowed. There have been times in my life when I just didn't want to shop, cook and chew my food. I was too busy doing other stuff. And if a drink like soylent can help folks in that mode avoid a diet a cheetoes and coke, then it seems terrific.
What do you think about zero sugar sodas?
If you mean non-calorie sweeteners, I wrote this in another reply: they worry me. Great if they help you deal with a sugar habit, and you just have to have a sweet drink. Bad if they cause you to then think you're safe to eat that bag of double-stuf Oreos. I also just don't know what happens when the mouth tells the brain that sugar is coming in, and there is only the non-calorie sweet thing.
For those of us already "addicted" to sugar, are there forms of sugar that are less unhealthy or that can help one "step down" from a sugar addiction? e.g., Is it preferable to eat a tablespoon of honey over a bite of chocolate, etc.?
Yikes, did you suggest something could be better than chocolate? Just kidding, though I do like chocolate. At least in terms of calories, and the temptation to overeat, I'm in the camp that sugar is sugar is sugar. No matter whether it comes from sugar cane, sugar beets, field corn or bees, is organic or natural or locally made. That said, there is some developing science that pure fructose might be especially treacherous for our health beyond calories. And I love bees and beekeepers, so you got to figure there is some added benefit to honey. But it's still sugar.
Since carbs are essentially refactored in our body into glucose, yet raw sugar is absorbed as glucose - what do you think of my theory that sugar itself isn't the problem, its the rate its entering our bloodstream that is?
Can I take a rain check on this? I'm mulling over this question of rate for my next book.