TIME Business

The Soda Industry’s Promises Mean Nothing

Production Inside A Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. Plant
Empty Coca-Cola Classic cans move along a conveyor to be filled and sealed at a Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. production facility in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Bloomberg—Getty Images

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

Agreeing to decrease soda consumption by 20 percent is easy to do when demand is already falling rapidly

The recent pledge by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group to reduce calories that Americans consumd from their products by 20 percent by 2025 elicited torrents of praise from the Global Clinton Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the national press.

The real news: soda companies are at last admitting their role in obesity.

Nevertheless, the announcement caused many of us in the public health advocacy community to roll our eyes. Once again, soda companies are making promises that are likely to be fulfilled anyway, whether the companies take any action or not.

Americans have gotten the word. Sodas in anything but small amounts are not good for health.

Although Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association have funded studies that invariably find sodas innocent of health effects, the vast preponderance of research sponsored by the government or foundations clearly demonstrates otherwise.

Think of sodas as candy in liquid form. They contain astonishing amounts of sugars. A 12-ounce soda contains 10 (!) teaspoons of sugar and provides about 150 calories.

It should surprise no one that adults and children who habitually consume sugary drinks are far more likely to take in fewer nutrients, to weigh more, and to exhibit metabolic abnormalities compared to those who abstain or drink only small amounts.

And, contrary to expectation, diet sodas don’t seem to help. A widely publicized recent study suggests that artificially sweetened drinks affect intestinal bacteria in ways, as yet undetermined, that lead to metabolic abnormalities–glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This research is largely animal-based, preliminary, and requires confirmation. But one thing about diet drinks is clear: they do not do much good in preventing obesity.

People who drink diet sodas tend to be more obese than those who do not. The use of artificial sweeteners in the United States has gone up precisely in parallel with the rise in prevalence of obesity. Is this a cause or an effect? We don’t know yet.

While scientists are trying to sort all this out, large segments of the public have gotten the message: stay away from sodas of any kind.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. per capita consumption of soft drinks has dropped by about 20 percent. If current trends continue, the soda industry should have no trouble meeting its promise of another 20 percent reduction by 2025.

Americans want healthier drinks and are switching to bottled water, sports drinks, and vitamin-fortified drinks—although not nearly at replacement levels. The soda industry has to find ways to sell more products. It also has to find ways to head off regulation. Hence: the promises.

To deal with sales shortfalls, the leading soft-drink brands, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have expanded their marketing overseas. They have committed to invest billions to make and promote their products in Latin America as well as in the hugely populated countries of Asia and Africa where soda consumption is still very low.

From a public health standpoint, people everywhere would be healthier—perhaps a lot healthier—drinking less soda.

In California, the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley have placed soda tax initiatives on the November ballot. The American Beverage Association, the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and the like, is funding anti-tax campaigns that involve not only television advertising and home mailings, but also creation of ostensibly grassroots (“astroturf”) community organizations, petition campaigns, and, when all else fails, lawsuits to make sure the initiative fails. These efforts are carbon copies of the tactics used to defeat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s portion size cap proposal.

If the soda industry really wants to help prevent obesity, it needs to change its current practices. It should stop fighting tax and size initiatives, stop opposing warning labels on sugary drinks, stop lobbying against restrictions on sodas in schools, stop using sports and music celebrities to sell products to children, stop targeting marketing to African-American and Hispanic young people, and stop funding research studies designed to give sodas a clean bill of health.

And it should stop complaining, as PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi did last week, that nobody is giving the industry credit for all the good it is doing.

If the government really were serious about obesity prevention, it could ban vending machines from schools, set limits on the size of soft drinks sold at school events, define the amount of sugars allowable in foods and beverages, and, most of all, stop soda marketing aimed at children of any age.

Because neither the soda industry nor the government is likely to do any of this, public health advocates still have plenty of work to do.

Marion Nestle is professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. She is currently working on a book titled Soda! From Food Advocacy to Public Health.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is How Many Calories You’d Eat With Olive Garden’s Pasta Pass

Jeffery Patrick—Darden

You could consume more than 100,000 calories taking advantage of the offer

It sounds like a good deal: for $100 you can eat all the pasta, salad and bread you want at Olive Garden for 49 straight days. But taking advantage of the offer has its downsides—perhaps up to 113,190 of them. That’s the number of calories you would likely consume if you were to have a standard dinner nightly at the restaurant for the 7-week period of the offer. That works out to eating about 2,100 calories for dinner alone. Americans’ average total daily caloric intake is between 1,800 for women and 2,600 for men, according to recent government data.

TIME’s estimate assumes you’re eating a fairly standard Olive Garden dinner: a chicken Caesar salad, one order of bread sticks, a spaghetti and sausage entree and a Coke to wash it all down. All of those items are included in the offer, and this estimate assumes you don’t continue to scarf down food after the first serving of each item (the offer is technically “all you can eat”).

“No matter how much we talk about epidemic obesity and diabetes, we have not yet caught up with the times,” says Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and editor of a journal on childhood obesity. “The last thing we need is more refined pasta at no extra charge. It seems like a great deal until the money you saved goes to the endocrinologist.”

Of course, there are less caloric dinner options at Olive Garden. For instance, you would consume 1,670 calories per meal if you subbed in seafood alfredo instead of the sausage pasta—and you could shave off even more if you skipped the Coke.

But, says Katz, that’s beside the point. “Everybody overeats at an all you can eat buffet. You’re missing out the bargain if you don’t eat all you can eat,” Katz says.

Recent research has suggested that the caloric content of many sit-down restaurant chains makes them just as unhealthy as their fast food counterparts. The average size of a meal at these restaurants, according to the study, is 1,400 calories.

TIME Family

Why I Don’t Eat With My Kids

Who invited those two? The 'family dinner' ain't all it's cracked up to be
Who invited those two? The 'family dinner' ain't all it's cracked up to be GMVozd; Getty Images

The curative properties of the nightly family dinner have been greatly overexaggerated

I love my daughters, I really do, more than I can coherently describe. I love my dinner hours too — not nearly as much, of course, but I’ve been on familiar terms with dinner for a lot longer than I’ve been on familiar terms with my children. Frankly, I don’t see much reason to introduce them to each other.

It’s not that my wife and I don’t eat with our daughters sometimes. We do. It’s just that it often goes less well than one might like. For one thing, there’s the no-fly zone surrounding my younger daughter’s spot at the table, an invisible boundary my older daughter dare not cross with touch, gesture or even suspicious glance, lest a round of hostile shelling ensue.

There is too the deep world-weariness my older daughter has begun bringing with her to meals, one that, if she’s feeling especially 13-ish, squashes even the most benign conversational gambit with silence, an eye roll, or a look of disdain so piteous it could be sold as a bioterror weapon. Finally, there is the coolness they both show to the artfully prepared meal of, say, lemon sole and capers — an entrée that is really just doing its best and, at $18.99 per lb., is accustomed to better treatment.

All of this and oh so much more has always made me greatly prefer feeding the girls first, sitting with them while they eat and, with my own dinner not on the line, enjoying the time we spend together. Later, my wife and I can eat and actually take pleasure in the experience of our food. But that, apparently, is a very big problem.

We live in the era of the family dinner, or, more appropriately, The Family Dinner™, an institution so grimly, unrelentingly invoked that I’ve come to assume it has its own press rep and brand manager. The Family Dinner™, so parents are told, is now recognized as one of the greatest pillars of child-rearing, a nightly tradition you ignore at your peril, since that way lie eating disorders, obesity, drug use and even, according to a recent study out of McGill University, an increased risk of the meal skipper being cyberbullied.

O.K., there is some truth in all of this. Sit your kids down at the table and talk with them over dinner every day and you have a better chance of controlling what they eat, learning about their friends, and sussing out if they’re troubled about something or up to no good. But as with so much in the way of health trends in a gluten-free, no-carb, low-fat nation, enough, at some point, is enough.

For one thing, the always invoked, dew-kissed days of the entire nuclear family sitting down to a balanced, home-cooked meal were less than they’re cracked up to be. Ever hear of the Loud family? Ever watch an episode of Mad Men — particularly one that plays out in the Draper kitchen? Welcome to family dinner in the boomer era.

Much more important, as a new study from North Carolina State University shows, the dinner-hour ideal is simply not possible for a growing number of families. The researchers, a trio of sociologists and anthropologists, spent 18 months conducting extensive interviews with 150 white, African-American and Latina mothers from across the socioeconomic spectrum, and an additional 250 hours observing 12 lower-income and poor families to get at the truth of what’s possible at mealtime and what’s not.

The first problem, the moms in the study almost universally agree, is that it is always more time-consuming to prepare dinner than you think it will be. Michael Pollan, the ubiquitous author and food activist, has written, “Today, the typical American spends a mere twenty-seven minutes a day on food preparation, and another four minutes cleaning up. That’s less than half the time spent cooking and cleaning in 1965.” To which I say, huh? And so do the moms in the study.

“I just hate the kitchen,” said one. “I know I can cook but it’s the planning of the meal, and seeing if they’re going to like it, and the mess that you make, and then the mess afterwards.” Added another: “I don’t want to spend an hour cooking after I pick [my daughter] up from school every day.” All of that sounds a lot more familiar to me than Pollan’s rosy 27+4 formulation.

Even if prep time weren’t a problem, dealing with the scheduling vagaries in two-income households can require day-to-day improvisation that makes regular, predictable mealtimes impossible. One couple studied by the NC State researchers worked for the same fast-food company in different parts of the state. Both parents often don’t know the next day’s schedule until the night before, which means inventing dinner plans on the fly and often calling on a grandmother for help. That kind of scrambling is part of what the researchers describe as “invisible labor,” work that is every bit as much a part of dinner as preparing and serving the food, but is rarely acknowledged.

Finally, there is the eternal struggle of trying to prepare a meal that everyone at the table will tolerate — a high-order bit of probability math in which the number of acceptable options shrinks as the number of people who get to weigh in grows. “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I never had it!” declared one 4-year-old in one observed household. Parents throughout history have dealt with that kind of reaction with all manner of wheedling, bargaining and here-comes-the-airplane-into-the-hangar games, to say nothing of one mother in the study who simply turned a timer on and told her child to keep eating until the buzzer sounded.

Again, none of these problems diminish the psychological and nutritional value of a family sitting down to eat a home-prepared meal together — but perhaps that meal should be an aspirational option, not a nightly requirement. The family-dinner ideal, the authors write, has become “a tasty illusion, one that is moralistic and rather elitist … Intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy, home-cooked meal on women.”

With that said, I shall now open some wine and grill my wife and myself some salmon. After all, the girls are in bed.

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

Breakfast Might Not Help You Lose Weight

Bowl of colorful breakfast cereal with spoon
Getty Images

Breakfast can be a solid nutritional dividing line. Cross into the realm of whole grains and eggs, and you feel great about embracing what we’ve come to know as “the most important meal of the day.” Abstain, and you’re in for some skipped-breakfast shame.

But researchers are questioning the merits of the morning meal, according to two rigorous trials in which people were randomly assigned to eat breakfast or not, appearing in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The two studies explored the main claims made about the benefits of breakfast — that it helps with weight loss and boosts metabolism. James Betts, one of the study’s authors and a senior lecturer in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Bath in the U.K., decided to look into the research more closely after a colleague criticized his habit of skipping breakfast. He found very little. As a scientist, I was quite shocked actually at how sparse the evidence base was,” he says.

In one study from the University of Bath, researchers instructed 33 lean adults to either eat nothing in the morning or a 700-calorie breakfast of their choice. After six weeks of the intervention, researchers found that eating breakfast didn’t rev metabolism — instead, the participants’ resting metabolic rates remained the same. Skipping breakfast didn’t prompt the volunteers to gorge at lunchtime either, another common claim. So in these people, having a smaller appetite wasn’t a byproduct of breakfast.

But breakfast eaters didn’t lose more weight. That’s perhaps not surprising, given that the study lasted only a few weeks, but the other larger, longer study in the same issue came to a similar conclusion. Researchers from several institutions assigned about 300 overweight and obese people to one of three groups for 16 weeks: those instructed to eat breakfast, those told to skip it, and a control group vaguely told to have a healthy diet. “What we found was absolutely no difference in the change of weight among the three groups, severely calling into question the idea — at least among ordinary adults — that it’s important to eat a good breakfast every day for the purposes of weight control,” says David Allison, one of the study authors and distinguished professor and director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Still, there were some distinct perks to taking the time to eat breakfast. Breakfast eaters moved more, burning away 442 calories more than the nonbreakfast group. “That’s equivalent to running on the treadmill for an hour or so for many people,” Betts says, “and that was just accumulated from being generally more active throughout the day.” Breakfast eaters also maintained steadier blood sugar levels and Betts is studying what breakfast foods are most likely to promote these healthy effects.

So is it better to eat breakfast or skip it? More trials are needed — especially longer ones, and those studying the type of breakfast consumed — but a morning meal doesn’t appear to be a weight-loss silver bullet, even though it may help you move more.

Betts says the new research can be helpful no matter where you fall on the breakfast spectrum. “If you’re like me and you skip breakfast, you can just use this information to be aware that you may not be as active as you otherwise would be,” he says. “So you should consciously think, don’t be lazy today.” And if you are a fan of the morning meal, then you can be satisfied that you’re more likely to be physically active during the day — something that most doctors agree is a good thing.

TIME Nutrition

Eggless Eggs Exist and This Is What They Taste Like

Hampton Creek

No it’s not science fiction.

The product’s logo says it all. It’s a silhouette of a tiny plant against the background of an egg shell, and it represents a revolutionary idea in food, questioning the land-laden, energy-heavy and labor-intensive way we grow so much of what we eat. It also represents the first time a company has created—and gotten to market—a food that acts like an egg and tastes like an egg, but comes from a Canadian yellow pea, not chickens.

Hampton Creek Foods launched its eggless mayonnaise just over eight months ago and its flagship product, Just Mayo, is already the leading mayo brand at Whole Foods Markets. In September, it will take over Walmart and Target shelves too and based on the growing interest in its products so far, the company expects to earn $35 million in sales this year.

During a recent visit to Hampton Creeks’ research facilities in San Francisco, in a warehouse between the city’s SOMA and Mission neighborhoods, I found the cramped space was a hub of activity. It was here that founder and CEO Josh Tetrick began his journey two and a half years ago to find a new way to make food—starting with the egg. With the help of biochemists, food scientists, data scientists and chefs, he is rethinking where our food comes from and how it’s grown. It’s not about replacing what we currently have, he says, but about making it better – more nutritious, and cheaper by about 30%.

Tasting the Eggless Eggs

On the day I’m there, dozens of people—from biochemists to data scientists to chefs—were busy fulfilling the next stages of the company’s mission. Tetrick says the company has already piloted eggless raw cookie dough as well as a liquid egg-like substance that can be used on French toast or even scrambled on their own. Now, they’re trying to cull from the world of plant proteins to develop alternatives to sugar or even fat.

So how does it taste? The mayo is indistinguishable from regular mayo. So much so that celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern is a fan: in a blind taste test, he preferred the richness of Just Mayo to Hellmann’s. The cookies are moist and crumbly, and even the raw cookie dough pretty faithfully replicates the taste of a traditional batter—but without, as Tetrick points out, the risk of salmonella poisoning or the burden on the environment that comes with raising hundreds of thousands of poultry.

That’s why companies like Walmart, Target, Kroger, Safeway, Ralph’s, Shoprite and Costco are signing deals to carry the company’s mayonnaise. From the beginning, Tetrick says, Just Mayo was not meant to be a boutique brand aimed at the 1% who can afford to worry about the environment. Case in point: Just Mayo will also be at the Dollar Tree. That every-man mentality, which means the eggless egg could also help to alleviate hunger around the world as an important and cheaper form of protein, has also attracted some of the company’s biggest-name investors, including Bill Gates, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, financier Tom Steyers and Chinese entrepreneur Li Ka-Shing.

The Scrambled Challenge

But before that can happen, Hampton Creek’s chefs and chemists are trying to tackle their biggest challenge yet — scrambled eggs. For the 30% of products like muffins, cookies and mayo in which eggs are just an ingredient and not the star of the show, their product has exceeded expectations. But when it comes to throwing the yellow-pea “egg” into a pan…that’s been a challenge that’s stumped — and continues to stump — the team. To move things along, Tetrick recently hired Trevor Niekowal from Chicago’s trendy Moto restaurant, and Niekowal is eager to show me the latest version of their scramble-ready egg. He starts by whipping up some French toast using Wonder bread. It tastes indistinguishable from the real thing, with the right crispiness that comes from a sautéed-egg coating.

He admits, though, that heating the product on its own is still a work in progress. Back in April, the culinary team, which includes other Moto alums Chris Jones, a former Top Chef contestant and pastry chef Ben Roche, eagerly poured the product into the pan, only to watch the liquid evaporate into nothing. The next version, beefed up with stronger chemical bonds, stayed together a little too well, forming a flat crepe that didn’t have any of the fluffiness of an egg.

For my taste test, Niekowal pours some of the egg mixture into a skillet and it looks no different than something cracked out of a shell and whipped into a slightly runny yellow liquid. It hits the pan with a slight sizzle and stays a little runny before fluffing up and rolling once it’s been heated. The taste, however, still needs some work. The eggless eggs I ate at Hampton Creek tasted like, well, tofu. ‘We’ll tell that to our food scientists,” says Niekowal.

The Sky’s the Limit

And they’ll likely get it just right eventually. In fact, Tetrick is so confident of that that he’s looking even beyond the eggless egg and making even bigger plans to re-make food. He recently hired Dan Zigmond, responsible for managing data for Google Maps and YouTube, to make the company’s plant-based database even more nimble and productive. “We built this company around the idea that there are 400,000 plant species in the world,” says Tetrick. “Remarkably, 92% of them haven’t been explored for how to make food.”

And so Tetrick and his team are painstakingly annotating as much of that database as possible, with valuable information such as the proteins’ weight, their molecular properties—does it form gels? what happens when it’s heated?—and where they are grown. In order to qualify for Hampton Creek consideration, the plant can’t be a premium crop or one that requires excessive or unusual conditions to grow. That wouldn’t help to make the food a less expensive option than what we currently eat. “For the first year and a half of the company, there was a lot of grinding out information about the proteins, lots of trial and error before we started seeing things,” says Tetrick.

But the database is starting to bear fruit — the team is perfecting a super-food high in protein that could potentially address malnutrition in developing nations, as well as looking for healthier ways to sweeten foods. “The world is so addicted to soy and corn, it’s almost like we forgot about the abundance and complexity of the natural world,” he adds. “I think that’s unfortunate.” There’s a big world of plant proteins out there just waiting to be mined for taste, nutrition and health benefits. And for now at least, there’s always the eggless egg.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

These New Healthy Vending Machines Are a Huge Hit

Park goers not only like healthier vending machine snacks, they buy more of them too

Replacing vending machine fare in Chicago parks with healthier snacks significantly increased total monthly sales, new research shows.

Chicago, with its 100% Healthier Snack Vending Initiative, is one of the first cities to try to improve the foods available in public places. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been recommending that communities make more healthy food and drinks available in public parks, and the Chicago Park District serves 200,000 kids every year. It replaced candy and cookies from its vending machines with fruit snacks, granola bars, and baked chips, and for a little over a year, Northwestern University researchers collected data about the vending machines. They discovered that 100% of the park staff members and 88% of park patrons reported liking the healthier vending machines, and monthly sales per machine spiked from $84 to $371.

The researchers found that almost 55% of snack vending purchases were made for or by kids, showing that vending machines could have an impact on the future of America’s eating habits.

“These are important findings given that fear of revenue loss is often cited as a barrier to implementing healthful vending initiatives,” the researchers conclude in their report published Thursday in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease. “Our experience can help to assuage those fears in other communities and provide support for the district’s new healthful beverage vending initiative.”

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

Pepsi Made With Real Sugar: Is It Healthier?

Nutrition experts say sugar has the same nutritional value.

Pepsi Made With Real Sugar is the drink of summer, perfect—from the looks of their TV ads, anyway—for pool parties, river rafting, and other outdoor activities for the young and fit. The product, which is the centerpiece of a summer marketing blitz, ditches high fructose corn syrup for real sugar, but nutritionist experts say it isn’t really any healthier.

“It really doesn’t matter. Sugar is just sugar,” said Lisa Sasson, a faculty member at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health “It’s broken down and it’s the same in our body.”

Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center and editor of the journal Childhood Obesity, adds that replacing corn syrup with sugar would not yield any public health benefit.

Of course, Pepsi hasn’t explicitly said that real sugar makes the product healthier. Its advertisements focus on summer fun and a hearkening back to the soda’s origins, and a Pepsi spokesperson told TIME that the offering is designed to meet a consumer demand for a soda with real sugar.

“I can easily imagine people thinking that cane sugar is less processed than corn syrup and is some ways more natural and healthier for you,” said John T. Gourville, a professor at Harvard Business School, who studies marketing and consumer behavior. “It’s an attempt to expand a product category that is struggling to build sales.”

Indeed, carbonated beverage sales, especially in the diet market, have been on the decline in recent years. This summer isn’t the first time Pepsi has used real sugar. It began selling the product for a limited time as Pepsi Throwback in 2009. The company launched the Throwback as a permanent fixture in 2011 and added Pepsi Made With Real Sugar last month. The cola in both real sugar products are the same, but the cans are different.

 

 

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