Today's "Dr. Oz Show" features a new book that's sure to surprise and infuriate people who find themselves inexplicably hooked on processed food.
Just released today, Michael Moss' book "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us" (Random House, $28) explains how food manufacturers tinker with the levels of salt, sugar and fat to make their products addicting.
The "New York Times" investigative reporter was on "The Dr. Oz Show" Tuesday to discuss his book, excerpted in Sunday's "New York Times Magazine." That article, accompanied by a tantalizing close-up of a Doritos tortilla chip, spread like, well, hotcakes through social media circles over the weekend.
Those three tastes -- for sugar, salt and fat -- are hard-wired in the human brain, and tweaking those levels in foods through relentless product testing to a high level of "craveability" is the goal of food manufacturers, Moss writes. And with sugary foods, the "bliss point" is that perfect tip of the flavor curve and the brain can't get enough of the product.
According to Moss, each year, the average American eats 33 pounds of cheese (a salt-and-fat gold mine), which is three times what we ate in 1970.
And one of the biggest offenders in "tweaked food" are products aimed at dieters. Many times, if fat is removed from the food, the sodium level is jacked up to compensate for the loss of the fatty flavor. Take away one flavor and turn up the volume of the other two.
Moss combed through years of government records and corporate internal documents to uncover how food scientists have "weaponized" fats, sugars and salt by products by changing their chemical structures. The food companies then use brain scans to see how addicting they can make the foods.
Kinda makes you want to gnaw on a head of organic broccoli, doesn't it?
And children are a big target of food manufacturers. The book goes into detail with an entire chapter about the development of Lunchables, now a staple in grocery stores and kids' lunch boxes. At the height of Lunchables' popularity, there even was a "Maxed Out" variety that contained 1,600 milligrams of sodium (pretty much a day's worth), 9 grams of saturated fat (also a day's maximum) and the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar. The “Maxed Out” line was discontinued.
And just when Americans started reading food labels more closely and demanding healthier options, food manufacturers turned their attentions to new markets – poor neighborhoods in the United States and overseas.