Michael Moss certainly claims a lot in his new book. I have only read an online article about it, and I'm highly suspicious of the claims made there, especially terms like "vanishing caloric density" and "designer sodium". Is there any truth to his claims?
The question is currently too broad, so I am addressing only following claim:
The Frito-Lay executives also spoke of the company’s ongoing pursuit of a "designer sodium," which they hoped, in the near future, would take their sodium loads down by 40 percent.
"Designer Sodium" doesn't appear to be a widely used jargon term (based on Google searches) but clearly refers to coming up with new ways of presenting table salt (i.e. Sodium Chloride) in their products.
For example, their web-site explains that their Frito-Lay chips contain less salt than the taste would suggest:
the salt in a Frito-Lay chip is sprinkled on the surface, rather than baked in, so it is one of the first tastes your tongue detects. This is why Frito-Lay chips taste saltier than some other common foods.
The 40% figure is more ambitious, but consistent with other public messages from Frito-Lay, where they use the term "designer salt".
For example, from 2010
the mad scientists at PepsiCo are trying to do them one better. They’re about to start making a new “designer salt” for their Lay’s brand potato chips that they claim will reduce the amount of sodium you consume without losing any of that great sodium taste.
The new salt, which is still in the test and development stages, is probably two years away from hitting the nationwide market. It’s just one portion of PepsiCo’s long-term plan to make healthier products. They announced today that they hope to reduce sodium by an average of 25% over the range of their products in the next five years.
Are they actually researching this stuff? Well, if patents are a measure, yes. Here is just a sample.
- Food product containing table salt formulation
- The use of soluble tomato solids for reducing the salt content of food products
- Phytosterol/salt composition for topical application to food products
- Low sodium salt composition and method of preparing
Michael Moss (as cited by Mother Jones) might have got the jargon slightly wrong, and might have exaggerated the figure by a bit (or he might have got it 100% correct, and the Frito-Lay story has changed slightly), but essentially his reporting was consistent with the Frito-Lay press-releases.
Frito-Lay have evidence that they are researching the areas that they are claiming, and some of the "designer salt" products are already in the marketplace. Whether they achieve their 40% reduction goals is something that time will tell.