Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: Salt, Sugar, Fat

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

Let me sum up this book for you: processed food is bad for you.

Okay, so I already knew that. Most educated people know that. But it's a little more horrifying to hear how many teaspoons of sugar are in a bottle of soda. That's a measurement I can visualize rather than the grams that are on the label. (And yet, while I read the section on soda, I wanted nothing more than to go out and buy a root beer--maybe it's the pregnancy?)

Some shocking things about salt: many processed foods, even ones we don't think of as salty (like breakfast cereal) taste like cardboard, or worse, taste metallic, without salt. Is it really food if it needs salt to make it taste like food? Also, humans are not hardwired to like salt. Babies like sugar and sweet from day one. But a baby who eats only fruits and veggies will not like salty things as they grow older, whereas a baby who eats grocery store foods like its parents will start to like salt.

Some shocking things about sugar: Many breakfast cereals are 50% sugar (sometimes even more). Most people know that soda is bad for them, and as a nation our consumption of it has gone down. But our consumption of sports ades, juices, and vitamin waters have gone up--and those often have just as much sugar.

Some shocking things about fat: Like salt, it's often in things that don't taste fatty. It's not a taste, it's a mouthfeel thing. And because of this and other factors, we have no internal alarm that goes off when we eat too much fat like we do with sugar. And cheese, which is incredibly fatty, has been turned into an ingredient, rather than an indulgence that people have after a meal.

This book was interesting and horrifying and a little bit frustration-inducing. What is left but fresh fruits and veggies? What on earth can I feed my children? Without crackers and cereal, what would I feed my toddler after she's had an apple, a banana, and an orange and is still hungry?

And a realization: if I tried to make everything homemade, I would have time for nothing else. I made homemade bread while we lived an hour away from a store. But as soon as we were closer to a store, I haven't made a loaf of bread (even when we had our bread maker). Trying to get a homecooked meal on the table is often frustrating, let alone making my own ketchup. I know chicken nuggets aren't good for you, but they're an easy back up on busy nights. Or when we've run out of bread before I get to the store and we can't have sandwiches for lunch. And, no, I'm not going to make homemade chicken nuggets. If I have time for that, I'll make something better than chicken nuggets.

So I've decided not to beat myself up for the processed food we do eat. I would like to slowly find healthier alternatives to some of the processed foods we eat. But I'd have to spend all day in the store reading labels to replace everything at once. I also don't want to suddenly shock my family (and myself) with a bunch of healthy food that has no appeal. And as long as I'm on the road to doing better, it shouldn't matter at what point in the road I'm on compared to other people (just like anything else in life).

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