TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Amazing Things That Happen to Your Body When You Give Up Soda

soda-coke
Getty Images

Dropping soda can even help you look younger

The Coca-Cola company has identified the culprit behind America’s weight problem. And it wants to put the blame on….you.

The world’s largest producer of soda is pouring money into a nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, a research group with the mission of proving that our diets have little to do with our obesity crisis. The group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, claims that “there’s really virtually no compelling evidence” that eating fatty foods and drinking sugary beverages causes weight gain. Instead, the fact that 2 out of 3 Americans is overweight or obese is just proof that we’re not working hard enough in the gym, he claims.

If that sounds like a desperation move to you, it is: The amount of full-calorie sodas drunk by the average American has dropped 25 percent since the late 1990s, according to a report last month in the New York Times. And while Coke isn’t about to go broke any time soon—it owns everything from Dasani water to Odwalla juice—reversing the decline of its premier brand is clearly a priority. Even if that means pointing a finger at you. But don’t be fooled. Giving up soda may be the single best thing you can do for your weight, and your health. The editors of Eat This, Not That! took a close look at the research and discovered these 7 amazing things that happen when you give up soda.

You’ll be less hungry

Despite what Coke says, their flagship product, made with High Fructose Corn Syrup, will cause weight gain—one can has the calorie equivalent of a pack of Sour Patch Kids, but with 10 more grams of sugar! Diet soda packs on the pounds as well—it’s just more passive-aggressive about it. It also makes you crave more sweets. “Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar.” That causes a couple things to happen, says Smith. “The muscles in your stomach relax so you can take in food, and hormones are released. With artificial sweeteners, your body says, ‘Wait a minute, you told me you were going to give me all this high-calorie food.’ It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction.”

You’ll look younger

Americans spend millions of dollars on anti-aging products, multi-vitamins, and personal trainers to keep themselves young. If only they kicked the can. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that, as cells divide, telomeres—the buffers at the end of chromosomes that protect genes—naturally shorten, a process related to aging and age-related diseases. This findings show that sugar-sweetened sodas consumed once a day—in a 12-ounce serving—were associated with telomere shortness, a precursor to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. In fact, sugar-sweetened sodas increase cell aging (aka senescence) the same amount as smoking.

You’ll lose more weight

That Coke Zero is nutritionally no hero—it’s stopping you from losing weight. “Even though diet drinks are calorie-free, they cause insulin to be released in your gut because their artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar, and that actually prevents weight loss,” says Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN. “Insulin is your body’s primary fat-storage hormone, so it will have the body hold on to any extra fat,” she continues, adding, “Trying to lose weight by trading a Coke for a Diet Coke is doing the body just as much harm, if not more, because of all the chemicals in the calorie-free version.” In fact, over the course of a decade, people who consume two or more diet sodas a day experience increases in waist size that are 4 times greater than those who don’t.

You’ll get sick less often

The acidity in soda is bad news for your digestive system, eroding tooth enamel and worsening acid reflux. But diet sodas are especially treacherous for your gut—and the far-reaching bodily systems it affects. “Researchers are finding that artificial sweeteners may affect our healthy gut bacteria, which can affect everything from blood-sugar control to weight management to disease—how our immune system works and how our body responds to infection,” says Smith. In fact, for every 5 percent of calories you consume from sweeteners, your risk of diabetes increases 18 percent, and “bad” LDL cholesterol and heart disease risk increase after just two weeks of consuming corn-based sweeteners like those in Coke.

You’ll reduce hidden fats

Yep, we’re talking dangerous fats that are hard to detect with the naked eye, meaning, you might not know you’re in risk of certain health problems because you won’t see the changes in your own body. Danish researchers conducted a study of the effects of non-diet soda by asking participants to drink either sweetened soda, milk containing the same amount of calories as the soda, diet soda, or water every day for six months. Total fat mass remained the same across all beverage-drinking groups, but the drinkers of regular soda saw a drastic increase in harmful hidden fats, like liver and skeletal fat. And we mean drastic.

You’ll stop your bones from breaking

The caramel color in soda contains an artificially created phosphorus that can be bad for long-term bone health, says Smith. Phosphorous is a natural chemical found in foods like beans and grains, but the mutant variety found in dark soda is like a dinner guest who refuses to leave. “Basically, you’re taking something that exists in nature but making this hyper-absorbable form of it,” says Smith. “Your body doesn’t have the choice whether to absorb it or excrete it, so it can cause calcium to leach out of bones. It’s particularly bad for anybody with kidney disease,” she explains.

You’ll have more energy

Ironically, the main reason you’re drinking soda may be the very reason why you’re tired and want more. “Drinking too much caffeine can make you dehydrated, and it can overstimulate the nervous system, making you fatigued and exhausted,” says Smith. “I find that when people cut back on caffeine they have more energy because the caffeine causes very big highs and lows,” she adds. In her practice, Smith has seen that quitting soda can lead to a positive domino effect. “There is way more energy for our bodies in real food than in processed foods,” she says, adding, “When people cut back on processed items, they often look for more fresh foods and make better choices. By giving up soda, it may seem like you’re making one change, but it can actually change a couple aspects of your diet for the better.”

This article originally appeared on Eat This, Not That!

More from Eat This, Not that!

TIME Research

The History of Shampoo

shampoo
Getty Images

Lather, rinse, repeat

MIMI is a Time Inc. property.

Shampoo is good for many things. It makes you smell good, it can give you an extra little bounce, and it’s a delightful substitute for bubble bath in a pinch. But where did this miracle stuff come from?

We owe a ton of gratitude to the people of ancient Egypt, who invented many of our favorite beauty products way, way back in the day — but shampoo got its start somewhere else: India.

As early as the 1500s, people in India used the pulp of a fruit called soapberries combined with some herbs and even hibiscus flowers to keep their hair on point. When British colonial traders were going back and forth between India and England, they knew a good thing when they saw it and brought the notion of shampooing your hair to Europe. Yes, it’s true, prior to that, strands in the Western world were left to their own — probably quite dirty — devices.

Even once shampoo arrived on European shores, it still wasn’t available in the mass market. Pretty much, it was only used by professional hair stylists — and it came in a solid form, similar to a bar of soap. Much to the delight of Jane Austen and her contemporaries, I’m sure, the ability to lather up at home became a thing in the 1800s, but people were still using the stuff very sparingly. We’re talking washing your hair only once a month sparingly. These were grim times.

The New York Times announced in a 1908 article that it was fine to wash your hair every couple weeks (one would hope). Then, in the late 1920s, liquid shampoo was finally invented, making it far simpler to wash that man right out of your hair.

Dermatologists and beauty experts alike advise against daily shampooing, saying it’s best to only lather up a couple times a week at most — and the NoPoo anti-shampoo movement has caught on with certain people — but I still say few things feel better and make me feel more confident than shiny clean hair.

This article originally appeared on MIMI.

More from MIMI:

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Here’s Why People Believe In Conspiracy Theories

Getty Images

UFO sightings. Hoaxed moon landings. Reptiles who rule the world.

What, in the name of our alleged lizard overlords, convinces a person to believe in conspiracy theories?

According to a pair of new studies published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, conspiracy theorists—and there are a lot more of them than you may think—tend to have one thing in common: they feel a lack of control over their lives.

Jan-Willem van Prooijen, associate professor in social and organizational psychology at VU University Amsterdam, has been studying conspiracy theories and those who believe them for six years. “When I started this research, one of the things that I really found astonishing was how many people believe in certain conspiracy theories,” he says.

MORE: Extraterrestrials on a Comet Are Faking Climate Change. Or Something

Conspiracy theories often crop up during times of uncertainty and fear: after terrorist strikes, financial crises, high-profile deaths and natural disasters. Past research suggests that if people feel they don’t have control over a situation, they’ll try to make sense of it and find out what happened. “The sense-making leads them to connect dots that aren’t necessarily connected in reality,” van Prooijen says.

He and his team showed that the opposite is also true: feeling a sense of control is protective against believing conspiracy theories. In one of the studies, they split 119 people into two groups and told one group to write down times when they were totally in control; the other group was told to jot down a time when they didn’t feel in control. (This gave one group a powerful feeling, while the other felt helpless.)

The researchers then surveyed their attitudes on a building project in Amsterdam that accidentally destroyed the foundations of many houses, and which many people believed was a conspiracy of the city council. But those who had been primed to feel in control were less likely to believe the government was up to something evil. “We found that if you give people a feeling of control, then they are less inclined to believe those conspiracy theories,” he says. “Giving people a sense of control can make them less suspicious over governmental operations.

MORE: What The Jade Helm 15 Conspiracy Theory Reveals About Americans

The Dutch, of course, aren’t the only believers. The second experiment looked at survey data from a nationally representative sample of Americans conducted in the last months of 1999 leading up to Y2K. “The more that people feared the millennium bug in 1999, the more likely they were inclined to believe in other conspiracy theories, ranging from Kennedy to the government hiding evidence of the existence of UFOs,” van Prooijen says. The best predictor of believing in one conspiracy, he says, is believing in another.

This finding backs up data from another group last year, which found that 37% of surveyed Americans believe that the FDA is deliberately preventing the public from accessing natural cures for cancer because they’re beholden to drug companies.

These beliefs can be very hard to change, but giving people a feeling of control could help dispel some conspiratorial beliefs, the new research suggests—a finding that could prove useful worldwide. “There are no doubt cultural variables influencing it,” van Prooijen says. “But the essence of conspiracy theorizing is, I think, universal in human beings. People have a natural tendency to be suspicious of groups that are powerful and potentially hostile.”

TIME medicine

Children as Young as 11 Can Now Take OxyContin

Opana OxyContin Morphine Pain Killers Drugs
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Schedule 2 narcotics Morphine Sulfate, OxyContin and Opana are displayed for a photograph in Carmichael, Calif.

There will be strict limits on when it is safe to prescribe

The powerful painkiller OxyContin can now be prescribed to children as young as 11, the Food and Drug Administration has decided.

The FDA requested that the drug’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, conduct studies to determine the safety of OxyContin for pediatric patients, and found that it would be safe for those in the 11 to 16 age range to take the drug, NBC News reports. However, before a doctor can prescribe OxyContin, the child must already be responding to and tolerating a certain dosage of opioids, so the doctor is sure that the patient will be safe.

OxyContin is used as a long-release version of oxycodone; it is to be taken every 12 hours rather than every 4 to 6 hours for long-term pain management. Comparatively few children require such a drug, which is often used in response to major surgery, cancer or injuries. The drug is notoriously abused by drug addicts, and was reformulated in 2010 to making crushing and snorting or injecting it more difficult. The only other long-release opioid with FDA labeling for pediatric patients is the Duragesic patch, which uses fentanyl.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Fascinating Facts About Breakfast

Americans love breakfast. According to recent data, sales for breakfast items are passing those for lunch and dinner, and multiple fast food stops like McDonald’s are planning to soon offer breakfast fare 24/7.

Here are five things you didn’t know you wanted to know about the most important meal of your day.

Breakfast food is a surprisingly recent invention.
The concept of breakfast food didn’t exist in the U.S. until the mid to late 1800s, according to Abigail Carroll, food historian and author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal. “People ate breakfast, but it looked a lot like dinner or a snack,” she says. In the 1600s, breakfast was likely to be leftovers, cheese and bread, or stewed grains. Beginning in the mid 1700s to 1800s, people started to add meat and fish to their morning meal. “Meat became standard and central to breakfast and it represented growing prosperity,” says Carroll. “There wasn’t enough meat to have it as the center of breakfast before.”

When people began flocking to cities, they continued to eat large, farmers-sized breakfasts despite being more sedentary, and indigestion (called dyspepsia at the time) became a common health complaint. Dietary reformers like Sylvester Graham started promoting diet changes like vegetarianism and consumption of whole grains as a way to combat dyspepsia. A certain type of whole wheat flour called graham flour (named after Graham of course) became popular.

Another health reformer, James Caleb Jackson, used graham flour to create the first breakfast cereal in 1863 which he called Granula. “He took the graham flour, mixed it with water, baked it, took it out, broke it up, baked it again and came out with the first breakfast cereal which was to be eaten soaked in water or milk,” says Carroll. Some years later, John Harvey Kellogg invented his own cereal version, eventually calling it “Granola.”

Yogurt for breakfast is a very recent phenomenon in the U.S.
Some reports cite the 1980s as the first bump in popularity when low-fat yogurt options came to market, just in time for the low-fat diet craze. The astronomical rise of Greek yogurt is even more recent. Fage, a popular Greek yogurt company based in Greece began distributing in the U.S. in 1998. According to Food Navigator, in 2007 Greek yogurt made up less than 1% of the U.S. yogurt market, but today accounts for over half of dollar sales in the yogurt category.

It’s probably not, in fact, the most important meal of the day.
In June 2o14, two studies caused a buzz when they refuted what many thought to be indisputable benefits of breakfast. Prior studies associated eating breakfast with lower body weight, and breakfast continues to be recommended as a way to kick off the day with a healthy metabolism. However, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that skipping breakfast didn’t have any notable effect on weight loss efforts in a 16-week study of obese and overweight participants. Another study found that eating breakfast every morning was not associated with metabolism improvement.

The general question about whether breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day’ is not grounded in scientific data but more of an old saying,” says author of the second study, James A. Betts of the University of Bath.

Conversely, in a study published in the journal Circulation, Harvard School of Public Health researchers looked at the health outcomes of 26,902 men and found that men who skipped breakfast had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease compared to men who regularly ate breakfast. The researchers believe that people who do not eat breakfast end up eating more at night, which could lead to metabolic changes and heart disease. It may depend person to person, but if you’re hungry in the morning it’s still a good idea to eat, even if it may not be the number one factor for better health.

Fiber and protein are the most important factors in a healthy breakfast.
To get the most vitamins and minerals in the morning, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating a breakfast made up of either whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables. Consider foods like oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, or smoothies without added sugar. A healthy breakfast should make you feel more energized throughout the day.

You can eat dessert with breakfast.
Eating a sugary treat in the morning may not be the optimal choice for sustained energy, but don’t cut out that pain au chocolat just yet. Some research suggests eating a little something sweet in the morning can help curb sweet tooth cravings later on. A 2012 study for instance found that people who were eating a low calorie diet and a healthy breakfast, but also incorporated a dessert, had better weight loss results. They reported having fewer cravings and feeling less hungry throughout the day. That doesn’t mean you should eat cake for breakfast every day, but if you’re eating healthy most of the time, that occasional morning pastry isn’t such a bad choice.

TIME public health

The One Food to Avoid Buying This Week

Pig in the sty
Getty Images

Hint: it's a whole hog

It was a pretty good week for food recalls, but one item stood out in these final days of summer: whole hogs for barbeques.

On Thursday, federal officials announced that Kapowsin Meats, a company based in Graham, Washington, recalled 116,262 pounds of whole hogs due to possible Salmonella contamination. The bacteria can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps in people who consume it. Some people who consume Salmonella-tainted products may develop a severe infection and need to be hospitalized.

MORE: 38 Things Americans Say They’ve Found In A Hot Dog

In July, the Washington State Department of Health notified authorities that it was investigating Salmonella illnesses in the state. Health officials eventually linked these infections to whole hogs for barbeque from Kapowsin Meats. More than 30 people ate the hogs before they became infected with Salmonella.

The investigation is continuing, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says there are 134 people in Washington whose onset of illness between April 25, 2015 to July 27, 2015. Those sicknesses may be tied to the contaminated hogs, which were produced between April 18, 2015 and July 27, 2015.

MORE: Meet The Secret Group That Decides Which Flavors Are ‘Natural’

FSIS and Kapowsin Meats worry some consumers may have contaminated meat in their freezers. The meat was shipped to consumers, retail shops and distributors in Alaska and Washington.

There’s concern among health officials that the source of the outbreak could go beyond Kapowsin Meats and to farms in Washington or Montana. “Eight of 11 environmental samples from the slaughterhouse did return positives for the pathogen, which is being seen in Washington State for the first time ever,” Food Safety News reports.

TIME drinking

Find Out What Country You Drink Like

See which country most closely matches your drinking behavior from beer and wine to milk and juice

Do you drink wine like a Frenchman or down milk like a Swede? Use the sliders below to see which country matches your drinking preferences for five different kinds of beverages, according to two studies that measured drinking behavior, country by country, across the globe.

A recent study published by PLOS One sheds new light on global consumption patterns.

One lesson: the more a country earns, the more fruit juice its people drink, according to Gitanjali Singh, assistant professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and lead author on the paper. Wealth isn’t the only sign of how someone fills her glass. According to the study, young people–and men in particular–are more likely to prefer sugars sweetened beverages.

Similarly, a 2014 World Health Organization report provided a picture of how people consume alcoholic beverages across the globe. The average person 15 years and older drinks 6.2 liters of pure alcohol a year–about one a drink a day–the report said.

For more on the milk, juice and sugar-sweetened beverages study, read here.

For more on the alcohol study, read here.

TIME Malaria

Creating a DEET-free Mosquito Repellant That Actually Works

mosquito-human-skin
Getty Images

A new patch promises to make us invisible to mosquitos.

Enjoying time outside might just get a lot better. A mosquito repellant technology is in the works that could make us practically invisible to mosquitos. No more will products that don’t fully work, or the effective, yet very toxic DEET be the only options for us to defend against mosquitos.

With a growing presence of research, the dangers of mosquitoes are being more realized. As the New York Times cites, “According to the World Health Organization, mosquitoes remain the deadliest animal on the planet, carrying diseases like West Nile, chikungunya, and malaria that kill more than a million people a year.”

The need for a real solution to the perennial problem of those winged vessels of disease is consistently relevant. But mosquitoes do have a positive impact on the ecosystem like providing food for animals so inclined to consume them. So while we can’t just do away with them, we can—and need to—look for a way to live with them.

That’s where Kite comes in. Kite is “an international team that assembled to develop a new system for transforming mosquito-fighting innovations into disease-defeating products and applications.”

The advances at the Kite facility boast promising results to help us live in bite-free harmony. With an Indiegogo campaign that drew in over $500,000 with 11,254 contributors in just one month, the demand and anticipation is apparent.

The New York Times writes that when using a Kite patch, “no mosquitoes landed anywhere near it,” citing, “the new compound works by confusing a mosquito’s senses, hindering its ability to target us based on the carbon dioxide we exhale, and confounding its capacity to locate us up close.”

While its creators remain tight-lipped about its ingredients, it is reportedly “made of fragrances and other compounds that don’t require E.P.A. approval. A second version is awaiting regulatory approval for 2017.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Does a Low-Carb Diet Really Beat Low-Fat?

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, whole wheat bread, grains, toast, breakfast
Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

People lost more body fat on a low-fat diet in one new study

Which diet is better for weight loss: low-fat or low-carb? Ask anyone hip to the headlines, and they’ll likely say the latter. A low-carb diet decreases a hormone called insulin, which helps regulate fat tissue—it’s thought that lowering insulin levels gives you a metabolic, fat-burning edge.

“We wanted to test this theory,” says Kevin Hall, PhD, a metabolism researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. His small but rigorous new trial with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), published in the journal Cell Metabolism, concludes that the theory is flawed—and that a low-fat diet may have more merits than a low-carb diet.

MORE: Which Weight Loss Program Works Best? A New Study Ranks The Evidence

Any study trying to accurately answer a nutrition question has to get a little obsessive; nutrition research is notoriously difficult to do well. So Hall and his colleagues wanted to design the most rigorous study they could. They recruited 19 obese people who volunteered to stay at the NIH clinical center in a center where every shred of food and every second of exercise was prescribed and monitored by the scientists. Hall wanted to answer a basic question: How does an obese body adapt to cutting carbohydrates from the diet, versus cutting fat from the diet?

“Unless we do the kind of study that we have done here, where we basically lock people up for an extended period of time, control everything, and make sure we know exactly what they eat…then we don’t have the kind of control that’s required to answer these really basic questions,” says Hall.

So for a pair of two-week stays, the volunteers lived in a metabolic ward where they ate the same thing every day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Each person tried two different diets identical in calories: one diet cut 30% of their total calories, all coming from reductions in dietary fat while keeping carbohydrates and protein the same, while the other cut calories from carbohydrates, keeping fat and protein the same. “This is the first time a study has ever just selectively reduced these individual nutrients as opposed to changing multiple nutrients at once,” says Hall. Using special equipment, the researchers were able to see exactly how their bodies were burning both calories and body fat.

MORE: Low-Carb Beats Low-Fat For Weight Loss

People ended up losing weight on both diets, but they lost slightly more on the reduced-carb diet. That didn’t surprise Hall at all. “We’ve known for quite some time that reduction of dietary carbohydrates causes an excess of water loss,” he says, so the weight loss may be due to water loss. As expected—and in keeping with the theory about carb-cutting—insulin levels went down and fat burning went up.

But on the low-fat diet, people lost more fat, “despite not changing insulin one bit,” Hall says.

How is this possible? The exact mechanism is yet to be determined, but Hall has some ideas. “When we cut fat in people’s diets, the body just doesn’t recognize that we’ve done that…in terms of metabolism, so it keeps burning the same number of calories [and fat] as it did before,” he says. This surprised him; Hall thought that the body would somehow respond to the reduction in fat, but it didn’t.

“Insulin is a hormone that is particularly reactive to changes in carbohydrate,” says Hall. “What I was sort of hoping to find was an analogous hormone that was responsive to changes in fat in the diet and altered metabolism.” But they didn’t find it. “It might not exist,” he says.

What they did find was that cutting 800 calories of fat resulted in the body burning just as much fat as before. In contrast, on a low-carb diet, metabolism changes: insulin levels went, carb-burning went down and fat-burning went up, but only by about 400 calories a day, Hall says. That means that low-carb dieters had a net deficit of about 400 calories per day—but those on the low-fat diet had a net deficit of about 800 calories per day, resulting in slightly less body fat.

MORE: If You Want To Lose Weight, Don’t Pick Your Own Diet

Hall cautions against changing your diet based on the results of his study; the differences in fat loss were small, and so were the number of volunteers in the study, due to expense.

“What happens to 19 people on a metabolic ward may not apply to the general population out in the real world who are trying to lose weight,” says Lydia Bazzano, MD, PhD, professor in nutrition research at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. (Bazzano, who was not involved in this research, co-authored a study last year that followed people for a year and saw that low-carb dieters lost about eight more pounds than low-fat followers.) “It is also difficult to imagine the the physiology of these 19 people represents the diversity found in the U.S. general population,” she says.

More research is needed, Hall says, but “the takeaway for me is that the theory about metabolism that has previously been used to recommend low-carbohydrate diets probably doesn’t hold water.” “In fact, if anything, the reduced fat diet seemed to offer a slight metabolic advantage.”

If metabolism doesn’t necessarily tip the scale in favor of one diet over another, what else will? In his experiments, Hall is currently exploring the possibility that the brain could respond differently to one diet versus another.

Hall’s bottom line is one agreed upon by many nutrition scientists on both sides of the diet divide: the best diet, whether low-carb or low-fat, is the one you will stick to.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Chips?

4/5 experts say no.

Don’t even start with that “made from potatoes” business: chips are not a vegetable.

Plain salted potato chips are “a low-nutrient, high-calorie food,” says Lindsay Malone, registered dietitian who works at the Cleveland Clinic. A typical 1.5-ounce bag will run you 223 calories, plus 14 grams of fat and 221 mg of sodium. That might be fine if you’re having them once in a blue moon, but that’s often not the case—especially with kids.

“The largest increase in children’s snack calories in the last 15 years has come from salty snacks,” says Dr. Lenny Lesser, a research physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation who has studied adolescent eating behavior. That’s bad news not just for our waistlines but for overall health, too.

“Potato chips have been consistently reported to have the highest concentrations of acrylamide among all the foods tested,” says T. Koray Palazoğlu, an acrylamide researcher and professor in the department of food engineering at Mersin University in Turkey. Acrylamide is a chemical created in certain foods that are cooked at high temperatures. Because chips are sliced so thin and fried so hot, they’re even heavier in acrylamide than French fries (which, sadly, 7 out of 9 experts warn against). Fries only have acrylamide in the golden crust, not the core, Palazoğlu says. “Potato chips, being nothing but crust, therefore have higher levels of acrylamide.” Acrylamide still has unknown human health consequences, but the European Food Safety Authority said this summer that the chemical may raise the risk for cancer.

Chips are also fairly addictive; even scientists who know better can’t always resist the crunch of a chip. “I have to admit that I really enjoy crisps,” says Sangita Sharma, professor of aboriginal and global health at the University of Alberta. Even for remote Inuit communities in Canada, whose diets are still rich in traditional foods like fermented seal fat and fried caribou, 80% reported eating potato chips, Sharma found in her recent research.

We all succumb to chips—even Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. But here’s his trick: crunch carefully. “A well-chosen chip can be a good source of fiber,” he says. While a bag of chips will only give you just about 1 gram of fiber, the same 1.5 ounce serving of white corn tortilla chips chalks up 2.3 grams.

“If Americans expand the idea of chips beyond potato chips,” says Lesser, “they may find some ‘thumbs up’ options that provide just as much crunch.”

Potato chips
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Read Next: Should I Eat Falafel?

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com