Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sugar, Fat and Salt

Incompatible? I think so. Today I’m noticing the pairing of ice cream and obesity. This is a meditation about ice cream and overeating.
While I was on the road to and from Minneapolis last weekend, I listened to the audio version of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by Dr. David Kessler. It’s a book about how sugar, fat and salt lead to the obesity epidemic in the US. Today I ate Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. Most of a pint carton. I had read the book before, so I knew what I was doing.

Phish Food ice cream tastes very good. Ben & Jerry tell us on the label that it is All Natural. I think they have created something delicious and unnatural. In the framework of the book by Kessler, this dessert represents why people get fat. Kessler’s book isn’t about Ben & Jerry’s; it’s about sugar, fat and salt in addicting combinations. It’s also about how corporate food processing companies and fast food and chain restaurants exploit our appetites. It’s about the science behind it. Kessler points out that the processed foods of today are more complex than they were thirty years ago. They contain sugar and fat and salt in several forms, which he calls layering.

Phish Food ice cream is largely a combination of sugar (in various forms) and fat, with some salt. The description says it is “Chocolate Ice Cream with Gooey Marshmallow, caramel Swirls & Fudge Fish.” The carton also says, “…we made the marshmallow nougat chewy and the caramel gooey.” This adds up to an irresistible product that contains five fats and four sweeteners on its ingredients list, with salt listed twice. Do I want to eat liquid sugar, corn syrup, sugar and corn syrup solids, combined with cream, coconut oil, butter, egg yolks and milk fat? Apparently a lot of people do. And it’s called “all natural.”

Kessler points out that it is the way the sugar, fat and salt are combined that makes the difference. Food scientists have experimented a lot to create foods that taste good, look good, and make the consumer want more. They market them in appealing ways. Combined with that, many people eat away from home and snack throughout the day. Successful snacks contain combinations of these ingredients. Of course people are getting fatter after they fill up on them.

In addition to ice cream, I like potato chips. They have less sugar, although the potatoes aren’t innocent. They have plenty of fat and salt. French fries are a lot like the chips. There are other sweets that many people like and I manage not to eat very often, such as cake, pie, cookies, chocolate and cheesecake.

Kessler’s book is about food science. Kessler was commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He knows his stuff. Ben and Jerry know their stuff, too. They and Kessler are on the American dietary collision course. I have read that two-thirds of Americans now are overweight or obese. We shouldn’t wonder why.

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