Michael Moss’s recent book entitled “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us”, has provided us with some good reasons why junk food is dangerous to our health, but most importantly, how it contributes mightily toward the obesity epidemic that has been “growing” all about us. Having moved beyond one form of dangerous products, the tobacco companies have purchased much of the processed food industry, and, similar to their cigarette promotions, they are now passing on their sneaky tactics to entice people into consuming their newly acquired unhealthy food products.

“We’re hooked on inexpensive food, just like we’re hooked on cheap energy” Moss quotes James Behnke, the former Pillsbury executive. “The real question is this price sensitivity, and, unfortunately, the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. It costs more money to eat fresher, healthier. And so there is a huge economic issue involved in the obesity problem. It falls most heavily on those who have the fewest resources and probably the least understanding of what they are doing.”

So below are a few tips to help you avoid falling into the companies’ various methods of subterfuge:


 Foods are branded to look “natural.”


Apparent grill marks on hamburgers are often faked. They are put there by factories to possess a natural appearance. Ironically, in order to possess these marks, the food requires more processing than ever! Rather than switch to ingredients that are healthier and less processed, food engineers at companies with notoriously processed products such as Kraft, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Dominos—among others—are responding to concerns about processing with an unhealthy and deceiving façade of healthy looking foods.  Kraft Foods engineers spent two years manufacturing a Carving Board line process that would create uneven turkey slabs, and Wendy’s intentionally created curvier “natural squares” out of perfectly square beef chunks so they would appear less processed.  And the list goes on and on!


Marketing to Children under the Guise of Charity


Unfortunately, childhood obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years. More than a third of children and adolescents are now overweight or obese, and the numbers are increasing. One example of sneaky marketing is supplied by McDonalds, who may take an entire elementary class on a lunchtime “field trip” to hear from Ronald the clown about Ronald House Charities, while, at the same time, to partake in their unwholesome foods. This suggests that by eating such products, you are doing a “good deed” for society.  In addition, they often employ social media, branded “advergaming” websites, which include videogames that are supposedly educational, but, in reality are actually marketing ploys.


Manufacturing Addiction


 Despite knowledge to the contrary, many people continue to crave junk food, primarily because the companies that produce it have scientifically created “feel-good foods”, containing just the right combination sugar, fat and salt that our brains adore. This moves us toward a “bliss point”, which is the optimum combination that the brain likes best. The companies’ so-called “pillar ingredients” consist of salt, sugar, and fat, combined in just the right way as to keep you hooked. The processing includes “mouthfeel”, i.e., the crunchy sensation that consumers most crave. They also employ the so-called “flavor-burst”, by altering and shaping salt crystals in order to induce a flavor that can basically assault the taste buds into submission. Finally and perhaps most importantly, is the concept of “vanishing caloric density”, which underlies all junk-food science. This is the process by which the food melts in your mouth so quickly that the brain is tricked into believing that it is consuming fewer calories than are actually present. The packaged-food scientists want you to avoid the sensation of satiety that tells a person to stop eating when it is overwhelmed by flavors. This tends to foster extra eating unassociated with the hunger sensation. This promotes both heftier sales together with matching body weights.


How to Reduce the Amount of Processed Foods you Eat


Processed food is literally everywhere and generally unhealthy. But here are a few simple tips provided by Michael Moss that will help you eat both healthier and less:

   1. Seek true satisfaction: Enjoy genuine flavors, rather than fat, sugar, and salt added to mask the metallic taste of chemical additives.

2. Read labels wisely: You can find food with “real” ingredients in a supermarket by avoiding those showing a long list of ingredients, which is usually a sure sign that it’s processed in an unhealthy way..

3. Relish what’s on your plate: Devote time solely to enjoying the pleasures of eating.

4. Wean yourself off excess salt, fat, and sugar: You can also cook with smaller amounts of these ingredients by using natural substitutes like strong spices.

   5. Give your palate time to change: You’ll gradually lose your taste for excessively sweet and salty foods.

   6. Go for high-quality foods: Look for products that contain the least amount of processed ingredients.

   7. Do not skip meals: Try eating three meals a day at fairly regular times, but try to minimize or avoid eating when you are not hungry. Regular eating at mealtimes will leave much less of an urge to snack or seek out a vending machine. If you must snack, try eating any variety of nuts, especially unsalted varieties.

  8. Last but not least. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables!



As I have noted before, fish consumption is heart-healthy and provides an excellent source of protein. But there are risks associated. One of these is the fact that fish may contain mercury, which is a well-known toxin. When consumed in excess, mercury can cause damage to brain and nervous system causing prickly sensations with various additional problems with fine muscular coordination, speech, sleep, and walking. At highest risk are pregnant women and young children.

Many fish species do contain mercury, which is consumed from plants and tiny animals. When smaller fish are then eaten by larger fish, the latter’s tissue accumulates increasing amounts of mercury. Thus larger, predatory fish such as sharks and swordfish generally contain more mercury than smaller fish such as sardines, sole, and trout. Compounding this problem, mercury levels in the northern Pacific Ocean have risen about 30% over the past 20 years and are expected to rise further because of industrial input.

If you want to consume fish (and you should), here are my suggestions:

Lowest mercury fish are the following: Wild and Alaska salmon, sardines, tilapia, and shellfish such as shrimp, scallops oysters and squid.

Still low, but slightly higher, are haddock, flounder, sole, catfish, trout, and Atlantic mackerel.

The highest ones, to be generally limited or avoided, are swordfish, shark, king mackerel, orange roughy, marlin, grouper, Chilean sea bass, bluefish, halibut, Spanish mackerel (Gulf), and fresh or canned tuna.

The FDA and EPA warn most women (especially if pregnant) and children, against consumption of those fish in the highest mercury group noted above. Moreover, if you are a frequent consumer of more than 24 ounces of any type of fish each week, you are advised to avoid this latter category as much as possible.

Guidelines for limits on fish consumption are undergoing continued scrutiny. My conclusions at present are that women who are of childbearing age should limit themselves to no more than 12 ounces per week, primarily consuming those fish groups having the lowest mercury content. Similar limitations should be applied to children. As noted above, adults should limit their intake of high-mercury types of fish.

A useful tool to provide safer and more specific seafood choices can be found at Consumer Reports website: ConsumerReports.org/org/cro/mercury1014. You can enter the types and amounts of fish you plan to consume, along with your body weight, and you will know whether you’ll be within acceptable limits.