TIME India

India Just Asked PepsiCo to Help Improve the Diet of the Nation’s Children

Indra Nooyi Meets Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal
PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, right, meets Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal in New Delhi on Aug. 26, 2014 Saumya Khandelwal—Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Wait, aren't they the people who make Doritos and Mountain Dew?

India’s government is soliciting the help of an improbable partner in improving the nutrition of millions of its hungriest children, reports Bloomberg. That partner is the world’s largest snack producer, PepsiCo.

Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal met PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of developing nutritious processed foods for use in school lunches across the country, Bloomberg says. The move is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of upgrading the diet of the South Asian nation’s 1.2 billion people — especially that of its 440 million children.

“I suggested [that PepsiCo develop] products which will be healthy and will also contain proteins,” Badal told reporters following her meeting. “As people are becoming busy, the children will be immensely benefited if such products are launched.”

India has a poor reputation when it comes to food safety. A nadir was reached last year when 23 children in the country’s northern state of Bihar died after eating a free school meal that turned out to be laced with pesticide. In addition, some 47% of Indian children under 3 are underweight, according to the U.N.

Critics wonder if processed foods, from a company better known for its sugary soft drinks and potato chips, are really the best way to address such chronic malnutrition.

“No respectable dietitian or nutritionist will recommend processed foods over freshly cooked meals,” Vandana Prasad, national convener of the Public Health Resource Network, told Bloomberg.

PepsiCo India did not reply to Bloomberg’s emailed questions about the meeting.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Most Confusing Health Halo Food Terms

Local vegetables
David Malan—Getty Images

I frequently meet my clients at their local supermarkets so we can walk the aisles together. Most find it incredibly eye-opening: sometimes what they think they know about which products to select or how to read food labels turn out to be misconceptions. For example, one client recently told me she avoids oats because they contain gluten. In reality oats are gluten-free, unless they’ve been contaminated with gluten during growing or processing, but many companies make pure, uncontaminated oats, and label them as such. She was thrilled to be able to eat oats for breakfast again!

But gluten aside, there are a number of other issues and terms that can confuse even the most educated shoppers. Many of them sound healthy on their own—that is, they have a health halo effect. Here are five of the buzziest, what they really mean, and what they don’t.

Natural

The Food and Drug Administration has not developed a formal definition for the term natural. However, the government agency doesn’t object to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Natural does not mean organic though, and it doesn’t necessarily indicate that a food is healthy. For example, today I saw a cereal labeled natural, and it contained a whopping four different types of added sugar. Tip: when you see this term, read the ingredient list. It’s the only way to really know what’s in a food, and if it’s worthy of a spot in your cart.

Health.com: 12 Crazy Things That Happen to Your Food Before You Eat It

Organic

The USDA Organic Seal indicates that a food was produced without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), or petroleum or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The symbol also means that organic meat and dairy products are from animals fed organic, vegetarian feed and are provided access to the outdoors, and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. If the seal says ‘100% Organic’ the product was made with 100% organic ingredients. Just the word ‘Organic’ indicates that the food was made with at least 95% organic ingredients.

Health.com: 16 Most Misleading Food Labels

‘Made With Organic Ingredients’ means the product was made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, with restrictions on the remaining 30%, including no GMOs. I strongly support organics, but like natural, the term organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthy—in fact, there are all kinds of organic “junk foods” like candies and baked goods. Once again, when buying packaged food, the real litmus test is the ingredient list.

Local

This term generally indicates that a food was produced within a certain geographical region from where it’s purchased or consumed, such as within 400 miles or 100 miles or perhaps within the borders of a state. Like natural, there is no formal national definition for the term local. What local does not mean is organic, which is something 23% of shoppers falsely believe according to a recent U.S. and Canadian survey (17% also believe that a food labeled organic is also local, which isn’t accurate either).

Health.com: 14 Fast and Fresh Farmers Market Recipes

Nearly 30% also think that “local” products are more nutritious, and that’s not a given, since there are no specific standards pertaining to ingredients or processing. Also, it’s important to know that a locally produced food may not contain a Nutrition Facts label, because small companies with a low number of full-time employees or low gross annual sales are often exempt from the FDA’s food labeling laws. Hopefully a locally produced goody, like a pie from your farmer’s market, will include a voluntary ingredient list, but if not, be sure to ask what’s in it and how it was made.

Gluten-Free

According to the FDA, the term gluten-free means that a food must limit the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 parts per million (ppm). The FDA also allows manufacturers to label a food as gluten-free if it does NOT contain any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains, or has been derived from these grains, or if it contains ingredients that have been derived from these grains, but have been processed to remove gluten to less than 20 ppm.

Health.com: 18 Health Benefits of Whole Grains

This means that foods that are inherently gluten-free like water, vegetables, and fruits, can also be labeled as gluten-free. The term gluten free-does not indicate that a food is whole grain, organic, low carb, or healthy. In fact, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and include ingredients like refined white rice, sugar, and salt.

Grass-Fed

Recently, I’ve had several clients who eat beef and dairy tell me that they only buy grass-fed, but most mistakenly believed that grass-fed also means organic. The actual parameters, as defined by the USDA, state that the cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed during the growing season, or consumed as hay or other stored forage, and the animals must have access to pasture during the growing season.

Grass-fed does not mean that the cattle’s feed is organic, and it doesn’t mean they cannot be given hormones or antibiotics. Compared to products produced conventionally, grass-fed meat and dairy have been shown to contain more “good” fats, less “bad” fats, and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. But if you want to ensure that the product also meets the organic standards, look for that label term and the USDA organic seal as well.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

5 Most Confusing Health Halo Food Terms originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What Happened When I Tried a Children’s Weight-Loss App

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Michael Hevesy—Getty Images

A new Silicon Valley startup is giving kids a way to manage their eating habits on that smartphone they're glued to all the time anyway

I’m seeing red everywhere—not because I have an anger management problem but because I’ve been using Kurbo, a new app designed to help kids lose weight. And as with many things aimed at children (See: remote control cars, trampolines, songs from Frozen), adults may find themselves loving the app, too.

Kurbo is built on a “traffic light” program that has roots in research conducted decades ago, and which the founders licensed from Stanford University. Here’s how it works: Foods packed with calories, whether an ice cream sundae or bagel, are classified as red-light. Foods that you should approach with caution, like pasta and whole wheat bread, are yellow. And the go-crazy-have-all-you-want things, like broccoli or mushrooms, are green.

Kids are instructed to log everything they eat in terms of portions—and a portion, a welcome video explains, is generally the size of their fist (or open palm if the food is flat like a pizza). Users are given an automatically generated budget of reds they can have each day, and that budget can quickly become a backdrop in your mind that affects decisions you weren’t thinking much about before.

Once I found out that each slice of sourdough bread was a red and whole wheat was yellow, I started choosing wheat for my sandwiches—because the difference, one I knew about but brushed off before, was hardly worth two of my precious reds. I didn’t pick at a bowl of olives at a restaurant this past weekend, something I usually wouldn’t have even registered, because I wanted to spend that red on a beer. I can no longer justify the guacamole by telling myself that avocados are full of “good fat,” because good or bad, those babies are red. Nuts? Red. Cheese? Red. Light cheese? Beautiful yellow. (Nota bene: Eating more than two servings of any yellow in a single sitting also starts counting as a red.) There is no calorie counting or quibbling.

The downside of being so simple is that the app is inevitably reductive. If you just have a few bacon bits on a salad, you might not have a whole portion, and there’s no way to log that—and almost any nutritionist worth their salt would agree that some of the “red” foods, like the aforementioned avocados I’m suddenly abstaining from, are healthy in moderation. Also, many foods are nowhere to be found in the app’s limited (though expanding) catalog. Expecting kids to break down a dish of beef and broccoli from the local Chinese joint into individual components—when it’s unclear what those components actually are beyond beef and broccoli—is unrealistic. And while foods like nuts and even cheese are high when it comes to energy density, they have good qualities, too.

That said, the simplicity had its benefits. I found, for instance, that because I wanted to be confident in my color-logging, I’d opt for foods like a salad for which I chose the ingredients instead of one that was prepackaged. “It’s a very important behavioral principle: If you can’t count it, you can’t keep track of it, and if you can’t keep track of it, you can’t change it,” says Tom Robinson, professor of pediatrics at Stanford and director of the university’s Center for Healthy Weight. People are generally lousy at counting calories, he says, and the calorie count on a menu might be far from what actually shows up on your plate. “If you’re trying to get from 40 to 35 red lights a week,” he says, “you’re going to be focusing more on the overall choices you’re making.”

Kurbo co-founder Joanna Strober conceived of the app when she was trying to help her son to lose weight. As they visited doctors, she found they had no tools that would fit naturally into his daily life. “Okay, your child is overweight. But what do you do next?” she says. One thing she did was discover Stanford’s program for treating childhood obesity, which has a solid track record but is only available to a couple hundred families per year for a hefty sum ($3,500 for six months of weekly visits). She also found that apps marketed to the 18-and-older crowd had proved effective. So Strober tried to take every element from Stanford that she could and pack it into the Kurbo app for kids, with the help of $5.8 million in venture capital funding, making a similar system more available to the masses.

For $10 per month, a whole family gets access to the app, which comes with virtual coaching, automated notifications that nudge users to log more regularly or congratulate them for staying within their budget of reds. For $75 per month, one person in the family also gets a weekly call from a nutritional coach, some of whom have come from the Stanford program. And if that price point still sounds high, don’t despair: The company is currently in talks with insurance companies about getting coverage for usage of the app. (For the whole family to get access, users need to sign up through Kurbo’s website; an Apple app is available now, an Android app is expected in September.)

Through the Stanford program, more than 80% of kids reduce the percentage that they’re overweight, and more than 75% of overweight parents lose weight, too. In Kurbo’s beta program, which included kids ages 8 to 18, more than 85% of participants reduced their body mass index over 10 weeks.

One of the beta users was Tiana Lepera, a 14-year-old from Ogdensburg, NJ. She’s lost 10 lbs. since she starting seeing the world in red, yellow and green. “Even when we go to restaurants, we know that certain foods would be red lights, yellow lights and green lights,” she says. “If I don’t eat the bread that will be one less red light. You always think about it. It changes the way you’re thinking about food.” Her mom has meanwhile lost 29 lbs. and gone off blood pressure medication she’s had to take for the past 14 years. “Everything,” Keshia says, “corresponds to how many red lights you eat.”

TIME Nutrition

Why Your Bottled Water Contains Four Different Ingredients

Getty Images

Water you buy in the store is not just hydrogen and oxygen. Here's why food producers add all those extra ingredients.

Next time you reach for a bottle of water on store shelves, take a look at the ingredient list. You’re likely to find that it includes more than just water.

Popular bottled water brand Dasani, for example, lists magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride, and salt alongside purified water on its Nutrition Facts label. SmartWater contains calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, and potassium bicarbonate. Nestle Pure Life’s list includes calcium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and magnesium sulfate. And these are just a few brands. Bottled water companies are purifying water, but then they’re adding extra ingredients back.

None of this should be cause for health concerns, says Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and professor of Sociology at New York University. The additives being put into water are those naturally found in water and the quantities of these additives are likely too small to be of much significance. “If you had pure water by itself, it doesn’t have any taste,” says Bob Mahler, Soil Science and Water Quality professor at the University of Idaho. “So companies that sell bottled water will put in calcium, magnesium or maybe a little bit of salt.”

Taste tests have revealed that many people find distilled water to taste flat as opposed to spring waters, which can taste a bit sweet. Minerals offer a “slightly salty or bitter flavors,” which is likely why low mineral soft waters have a more appealing taste, Nestle wrote in her book What To Eat.

Many of the ingredients that are added to bottled water occur naturally in tap water and in our daily diets. Potassium chloride, for example, is a chemical compound that is often used as a supplement for potassium, which benefits heart health and aids normal muscular and digestive functions. Magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate, and calcium chloride are all inorganic salts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that Americans reduce current levels of sodium intake by 2,300 mg per day, so you would have to drink a lot of water to make much of a difference, Nestle says. The typical amount of sodium in water averages at around 17 mg per liter.

But just because additives are generally naturally occurring ingredients doesn’t mean that consumers shouldn’t look at labels. If labels show calories, that means sugars have been added. Some bottled waters can be high in sodium, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends only drinking water that contains 20 mg of sodium per liter or less.

The best choice that many water consumers can make may be to just stick to drinking tap water. “To the extent that tap water is clean and free of harmful contaminants,” says Nestle, “it beats everything in taste and cost.”

TIME You Asked

You Asked: Will Eating Before Bed Make Me Fat?

What to eat at night
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You’ve been told eating before bed is a no-no. But a little pre-slumber snack can help you sleep more soundly without packing on pounds—if you reach for the right foods.

Especially if you tend to eat dinner a few hours before bedtime or you’re very active (or both), snacking before bed will help stabilize your blood sugar levels during the long, meal-less night, explains Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Why should you care about blood sugar? As most diabetics know, blood sugar and its attendant hormones can supercharge or deflate your appetite and energy levels, as well as mess with your body’s efforts to store or burn fat. “Having low blood sugar in the morning will cause a person to feel sluggish and make it more difficult to get out of bed,” Maxson explains, adding that low blood sugar could also wake you up or otherwise disrupt your sleep in the middle of the night.

Ideally, you want to encourage stable blood sugar levels for optimal health, which will be tough to do if you’re going 10 or 12 or 14 hours without eating, Maxson says. (This is one reason she and many other nutrition experts underscore the importance of eating breakfast.)

“It’s such a big myth that you don’t need any energy for sleep,” adds Cassie Bjork, a registered dietician and founder of HealthySimpleLife.com. Not only can the right bedtime snack provide the fuel your body needs to burn calories while you sleep, but a little grub also calms the release of hunger hormones that tell your body to store fat, Bjork explains.

That said, a pint of ice cream isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, you should be reaching for complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, non-starchy vegetables, popcorn, and fruit, Maxson says. These foods break down slowly, and so help stave off the blood sugar spikes or crashes that could mess with your sleep or appetite, she explains. For athletes, adding a protein like turkey or chicken to a bedtime snack can help with muscle repair during the night while also providing a hit of an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which is beneficial for sleep, Maxson says.

And don’t shy away from a little fat, which can further slow the absorption of carbohydrates into your system, Bjork says. Some avocado or peanut butter—or a splash of melted butter on your popcorn—can help if you frequently wake up hungry or tired.

Just be sure to avoid things like chips, cookies, cereal, or pretty much any traditional dessert food, advises Dr. Joan Sabaté, a professor of public health and nutrition at Loma Linda University. Because fiber and other digestion-slowing nutrients are typically stripped away from these foods during their preparation, your body absorbs them quickly and they tend to cause quick spikes in your blood sugar, which can make it tough for your to sleep, Sabaté explains.

Anything featuring caffeine—yes, that includes chocolate—is also a bad idea at bedtime, Maxson says.

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