TIME Diet/Nutrition

Fast-Food Chains Are Cutting Calories, But Does Anyone Care?

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Nico Kai—Getty Images

What's really behind the drops in chain restaurants' calories

Large chain restaurants have lowered their calories, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health used a database of menu items from the 100 largest United States restaurant chains. The numbers showed that from 2012 to 2013, there was a 12% decline, about 56 fewer calories, in newly introduced menu items overall. The calorie cuts were largely in main-course items.

But resist the urge to rush to the nearest drive-thru. The researchers also report that in restaurants with a single food responsible for their identity—a burger, say—the calorie drops were more likely to be in new items added to the menu unrelated to their core business. In other words: More salads, not lower calorie burgers. Restaurants in the U.S. with 20 or more locations are supposed to be listing calorie counts on their menus, which might be why some are adding more healthy items. That’s a good thing, of course, but in the real world, people tend to want the fried stuff when they dine at a fast-food joint.

Take the sad fate of Burger King’s Satisfries, for instance. The restaurant tried to introduce a lower-calorie, lower-fat fry, but customers didn’t want it. In August 2014, Burger King announced that due to months of poor sales, the fries were being pulled from two-thirds of North American locations.

“You can’t prohibit people from eating fast food, but offering consumers lower calorie options at chain restaurants may help reduce caloric intake without asking the individual to change their behavior—a very difficult thing to do,” study author Sara N. Bleich, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School said in a statement.

Still, historically speaking, merely adding healthier options to a menu renowned for its junk food hasn’t incited huge changes, since people will opt for foods they’ve grown to crave. Making it easier for people to get healthy food and combating marketing for the unhealthy stuff might move us closer to a healthier restaurant ecosystem.

TIME health

15 Tiny Tweaks for an Instant Health Makeover

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We’ve compiled a list of super-simple healthy tweaks you can realistically make. Really. Like, starting tomorrow.

This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

It always struck me as slightly odd that we make health resolutions in January. Sure, a new year is a theoretical blank slate — and our holiday habits provide us with ample inspiration for things we’d very much like to change about the way we treat our bodies. And, it helps that everyone around us is making the same resolutions (which, coincidentally, are identical to the ones we made the year before).

But, I’d like to argue that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the New Year’s Resolution model: We set ourselves up to fail by committing to massive life changes in the middle of winter. Environmental factors contribute to a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, such as lower energy and decreased motivation, that undermine even our best efforts in the colder months. Sure, we’d all like to eat cleaner and get to spin class a few mornings a week. But, starting that habit in 20-degree weather? Good luck. And, as we’ve said many times before, the more ambitious your resolution, the less likely you are to accomplish it — baby steps, it seems, are really the way to go.

With these thoughts in mind, we’ve compiled a list of super-simple healthy tweaks you can realistically make. Really. Like, starting tomorrow. Look at it this way: At this point in the year, you’re already eating better. Why not take your wellness game up a few more notches? Your body will thank you when January 1 rears its ugly head once again.

Tweak: Ditch artificial sweeteners

Switching out the sugar in our morning coffee for Splenda and Stevia seems like a no-brainer — they provide the sweetness we crave without any of the metabolic chaos that comes with a sugar habit. But, Shira Lenchewski, registered dietitian and nationally recognized nutrition expert, says that while the fake stuff seems better for your calorie intake, you’re actually making it harder to avoid real sugar. “Artificial sweeteners like Splenda contain a synthetic chemical called Sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than natural sugar. Because Sucralose is so much sweeter than natural sugar, it overstimulates the taste buds, causing people to crave intensely sweet foods throughout the day.” And, recent research suggests that sucralose itself may be messing with your body’s insulin response. Try reaching for an apple to go with your coffee: Not only will it neutralize your sugar yen, but the fiber will help keep future cravings at bay throughout the day.

Tweak: Get the right amount of sleep

We all know how important it is to get enough sleep. As New York-based physician Dr. Frank Lipman puts it, “From serotonin production to blood sugar management, immunity, and heart health, sleep impacts every aspect of your health.” Says internationally recognized cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell, “Sleep is essential for our bodies to recharge and for our brains to repair important pathways associated with memory and learning new things.” But, as Campbell points out, more isn’t always better. He points to new research suggesting that the “perfect” amount of sleep may be 7 hours a night — although some people need more than others. Experiment to figure out how much sleep makes your body feel its best, and then commit to that number of hours — even if it means resisting the urge to hit snooze.

Tweak: Wash your hands

Here’s an easy one. Wash your hands more — especially after using the ATM. According to recent research, “ATMs harbor the same organisms seen in a public toilet,” Campbell explains. “It is important to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching ATM buttons in order to avoid exposure to nasty microbes and [to avoid carrying] them into your car or home.”

But, be sure to look for a soap that’s triclosan-free. A common ingredient in anti-microbial soaps, triclosan has been shown to seriously mess with hormone production and increase the risk of breast cancer. Luckily, there’s no need to reach for an anti-microbial: Research shows that products claiming to have anti-microbial properties are not better at preventing disease than regular old hand soap.

(MORE: The Truth About Your Post-Workout Snack)

 

Tweak: Snack smarter

We’re all familiar with the 3 p.m. snack attack — and how it can wreak havoc on our clean-eating intentions. But, as Campbell points out, there’s a right way and a wrong way to snack. “Research shows that eating two to three healthy snacks throughout the day can improve your metabolism, improve weight control, and reduce obesity. Snacks should be limited to 100 to 200 calories and should be rich in nutrients, such as fruits and veggies.” Lipman suggests incorporating hummus and avocado — the healthy fats in each go a long way toward keeping you full until your next meal.

Tweak: Stop “thirsty”

We’ve heard it before: Adequate hydration is essential to proper function of every body system, especially in the summer. But, it’s all too easy to get dehydrated — as Lipman points out, “if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, then you’re already dehydrated.” Instead of letting that dry-mouth feeling come on, get into the routine of drinking eight to 10 ounces of water every hour or so, whether you’re thirsty or not. And, if you need extra incentive to keep refueling, try out a new hydration habit — flavor your water with lemon, cucumber, herbs, or in-season berries.

Tweak: Try jogging

We know, we know: Who wants to run in face-melting heat? Well, it doesn’t take much of a step up in the cardio department to generate a major net health benefit. According to Campbell, “Recent research shows that even jogging for as little as five minutes a day has been shown to reduce risk for heart disease, prolong life, and decrease heart attack risk.” Think about running around the block once or twice after dinner. In addition to the cardiovascular health benefits, getting your heart pumping will help kickstart your metabolism, giving your digestive system a serious boost.

Tweak: Increase probiotic intake

From Greek yogurt to kombucha, it doesn’t get much hipper these days than probiotics. Luckily, there’s some health science to back up this particular fad. As board-certified internist and weight-loss specialist Dr. Sue Decotiis points out, “Probiotics are a crucial part of a daily routine of healthy eating, supplementation, and physical activity. Probiotics help naturally “cleanse” our bodies by processing and eliminating toxins from our digestive tract. When our digestive tract is functioning efficiently, so are our hormones and metabolism.”

But, there’s more to the probiotic party than yogurt. Lipman suggest that you “develop a taste for…unpasteurized, fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, [which] feed your gut with trillions of healthy bacteria.” Try to incorporate one fermented food or drink into each day to keep your gut biome in tip-top shape.

Tweak: Replenish B vitamins

Winter isn’t the only time to be concerned about your vitamin intake. One easy wellness fix: Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins. As Dr. Decotiis points out, B vitamins, like folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, are essential for proper metabolic function, but they get depleted quickly and must be consumed daily. And, alcohol depletes B vitamins in the body — “All the more reason to increase intake especially after a long summer of social drinking.” Rather than popping supplements, load up on fruits and veggies (especially dark greens like kale), whole grains, fish, and eggs.

(MORE: 7 Harmful Diet Lies You Probably Believe)

Tweak: Cut back on alcohol

If you’re anything like us, you’ve been partying just a little bit harder these past few months — and we don’t blame you. After all, there’s nothing quite like drinking outside on a warm evening. But, consider cooling it a bit on the booze for the rest of the season. As Dr. Decotiis points out, “Besides the obvious that alcohol adds more to your daily caloric intake, it also affects hunger hormones.” Specifically, research has shown that alcohol decreases the amount of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone made by your endocrine system. This makes it harder for your body to register that it’s had enough to eat — leading you to overconsumption.

Tweak: Replace nonfat yogurt

In the past few years, nonfat yogurt manufacturers have made a killing on our collective fear of that short little “F” word. But, it turns out that avoiding fat like a deadly plague isn’t doing us as much good as we might think. Because it takes longer to digest, fat stays in your stomach longer, helping to keep you full after meals. And, as Lenchewski points out, “One of the most pervasive food myths is the idea that consuming dietary fat makes you fat. But, truthfully, consuming any macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, or fat) in excess will result in weight gain. The fact is, fat adds flavor, and when it’s removed, sweeteners and artificial flavors are typically added in its place.” Then there’s the recent research suggesting that full-fat dairy is better for reducing body fat than nonfat options. Go ahead: indulge. Your metabolism will thank you.

Tweak: Plate your food

Research has already shown that the size and color of your plate can make a big difference in terms of how much you eat. But, here’s another plating-related trick to consider. While many of us go out of our way on presentation to impress our guests, pulling out all the tips and tricks we’ve learned from our Food Network marathons, we tend to get lazy when it’s just us. Think about spending a little time on the aesthetics of your dinners for one. A bit of effort can go a long way toward teaching us to be mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies. Lenchewski says, “When food is plated beautifully and thoughtfully, it makes the meal or snack more appetizing and enjoyable, and as research suggests, can even prevent overeating.”

Tweak: Put food away

Even when you try to eat well by cooking something healthy, you’re not out of the woods. Sometimes, there’s nothing more tempting than that second helping. But, if you find yourself reaching for a refill — whether you’re hungry or not — here’s a no-brainer fix. Board-certified internist Dr. Pat Salber suggests removing temptation altogether. “After you plate your food, immediately put the rest in the fridge so you won’t be tempted to help yourself to seconds.” Out of sight, out of mind. Added bonus: This way, cleanup gets done beforedinner.

Tweak: Set goals for fall

One way to deal with the seemingly inevitable downturn in wellness in the fall and winter? Be deliberate about setting specific goals before bad weather (or seasonal affective disorder) gives you an excuse to crank up the lazy. Dr. Decotiis suggests a proactive approach to your wellness goals by taking accountability before things start to go south. “Start tracking your eating and exercise habits again, and you might be surprised with your findings. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, there’s no better time to get back on track than right now. You’ll go into the fall and winter feeling better about yourself.”

Tweak: Befriend vinegar

Vinegar has long been a favorite in alternative medicine circles for treating everything from acne to ear infections. But, one proven benefit should take the sour stuff into the spotlight for good. Apple cider vinegar has been shown to help regulate blood sugar, which helps keep your most intense food urges under control. Lenchewski says, “Vinegar helps fight sugar cravings by inhibiting the hunger hormone (ghrelin) and preventing blood sugar from spiking after a meal.” Try incorporating ACV into your daily routine with an afternoon cocktail of 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of honey and 8 ounces of grapefruit juice.

(MORE: 6 Hydration Myths And What You Need to Know)

Tweak: Re-think dessert

Eating better doesn’t have to mean giving up dessert. It’s all about putting a little bit of thought into how you indulge. As Lipman points out, “The quickest way to whip up a sweet and healthy treat is to make your own popsicles. Freeze your favorite smoothies or juice with a few chunks of fruit or berries.” Even better? Throw a little kale into the mix for a super-healthy, refreshing, and fiber-packed dessert.

 

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.

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