TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What Soda Does to Young Rats’ Brains

Soda is on the mind. A new small study in rats found that drinking sugary beverages may result in memory issues down the line.

University of Southern California researchers looked at adult and adolescent rats, and feed them sugary beverages (meant to mimic soda) for a month. After a month, the rats completed tasks that assessed their cognitive function and memory. The adult rats had no problems, but the adolescent rats who had been drinking sugary beverages had impaired memory and trouble learning.

The findings are being presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), and are preliminary. The researchers plan to explore whether the soda is causing inflammation in the brain’s hippocampus, which is the region of the brain involved in memory and learning.

Though the research has not been done in humans, it’s part of a growing body of work looking at the risks of soda.

TIME fitness

63% of Americans Actively Avoid Soda

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Crushed can Getty Images

The soda craze is going flat–at least, according to a new Gallup poll, which found that almost two-thirds of Americans actively avoid soda in their diet.

While 41% percent of those polled in 2002 said that they try to steer clear of soda, that number has now jumped to 63%. Gallup’s poll shows that generally Americans are making more effort to have healthier diets. More than nine out of ten Americans try to include fruits and vegetables in their diets, and 52% said that they are trying to avoid sugars.

Don’t start pouring one out for the dying soda business just yet, though. A 2012 Gallup poll also found that 48% of Americans drink at least one glass of soda a day.

MONEY

10 Things Americans Have Suddenly Stopped Buying

Popping bubble gum
Ross Culshaw—Getty Images

America is just not the clean-shaven, gun-buying, soda-drinking, Chef Boyardee-eating place it used to be

For a variety of reasons—including but not limited to increased health consciousness, the harried pace of modern-day life, and plain old shifting consumer preferences,—Americans have scaled back on purchases of many items, sometimes drastically so. Here’s a top 10 list of things we’re not buying anymore, at least not anywhere near as frequently as we used to.

Cereal
In one recent four-week period, cereal sales were down 7%, and cereal giant Kellogg’s sales decreased 10%. The reasons for cereal’s declining dominance at the breakfast table are many. As the Wall Street Journal reported, consumers are more apt nowadays to turn to yogurt or fast food in the morning, and they’re less likely to have time to eat breakfast at home at all—not even if it’s a simple bowl of cereal.

Consumers also want their breakfast to pack more punch, protein-wise. “We are competing with quick-serve restaurants more, but the bigger driver is that people want more protein,” Kellogg CEO John Bryant told the Journal. It’s no coincidence that milk sales have been falling alongside cereal, with cow’s milk struggling especially due to the rise of alternatives like soy and almond milk. (Sales of yet another breakfast-at-home staple, orange juice, have plummeted 40% since the late 1990s.)

To try to put cereal back on the spoon of more breakfast eaters, food makers have been resorting to all manner of gimmicks, including the promoting of new higher-protein cereals, as well as the idea that cereal is a great late-night snack rather than just a breakfast-time basic.

Soda
The crash of soda—diet soda in particular—has been years in the making, with consumers increasingly turning to energy drinks, flavored water, and other beverages instead of the old carbonated caffeine drink of choice. The latest Wall Street report from Coca-Cola showed that the soda giant missed estimates, partly because sales of Diet Coke in North America fell in the “mid-single digits.”

(MORE: 10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On)

While a lot of soda’s slump can be attributed to shifting consumer preferences—more organic, less sugar—the broader war on soda involving taxes and big-beverage bans must factor in too. And if First Lady Michelle Obama has any say in things, the decline of soda is a trend that’ll continue: Her ongoing “Drink Up” campaign encourages kids to consume more water—and, consequently, less soda.

Gum
Likely due to heightened competition from mints and candies, chewing gum sales have dipped 11% over the past four years, the Associated Press reported. The editorial board of the News Tribune of Washington state, for one, weighed in that it is wonderful that gum sales are down in the gutter, sniffing, “Gum-chewing doesn’t do us any favors, making us look like cows chewing our cud. For humans, that’s not a good look.”

Guns
Gun sales have been booming in recent years, with sales periodically juiced when perceived anti-gun politicians enter office or a high-profile mass shooting takes place, prompting consumers to seek guns for protection—or just out of fear they won’t be able to buy them in the future because tougher gun regulations might be passed.

Lately, however, gun sales have fallen, sometimes sharply. The big reasons why this is so seem to be that there’s little in the way of likely gun control for gun enthusiasts to motivate new purchases, and also that everyone who has wanted to buy a gun in the past couple of years has already bought one (or seven). In the first quarter of 2014, the guns-and-ammo-focused Sportsman’s Warehouse retail chain saw comparable stores sales drop 18%, while gun sales at Cabela’s fell 22%.

But a little perspective is necessary. While guns sales and background checks are down compared to the past couple of years, they remain far above the levels of the early ’00s. As gun industry experts have put it, the decline probably just represents a “returning to normal” for gun sales—which aren’t as strong as they once were, but are still very strong nonetheless.

Cupcakes
Well, it looks like many of us at least have stopped buying the pricey “gourmet” variety of cupcakes. That’s the conclusion to be drawn with the collapse of Crumbs, the 65-store chain that shut down abruptly in early July. The news was widely interpreted as a sign that the gourmet cupcake trend is officially dead.

Chef Boyardee
ConAgra recently issued a warning to Wall Street that its consumer food volume experienced a 7% decline, and that it faced “continued profit challenges” due to some of its flagging, tired products—in particular, Chef Boyardee, the 86-year-old canned pasta brand.

Golf Gear
It’s not surprising that going hand in hand with fewer people playing golf, there are also fewer golf purchases being rung up at sporting goods store registers. The most notable eye-opener occurred this past spring, when Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that its golf equipment sales were down around 10%, at the same time the average driver was selling at a price of 16% less.

(MORE: Could Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?)

Razors
Beard-loving hipsters were blamed for the decline in razor sales last summer, and in 2014, razor giants like Procter and Gamble (owner of Gillette) has continued to blame poor sales on the trendiness of beards. Everything from the shaggy beards worn by the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, to month-long no-shave “challenges” like Movember and Decembeard have been cited as reasons why guys have scaled back on razor purchases. In response, marketers have introduced even more varieties of new high-tech razors, while also pushing the concept of “manscaping,” with special razors designed just for the task. The hope is that even if men aren’t shaving their faces, they might still shave one or several other parts of their bodies.

Bread
According to one survey, 56% of American shoppers said they are cutting back on white bread. White bread was surpassed in sales by wheat bread sometime around 2006, but in recent years the gluten-free trend has hurt sales of all breads. Sales are even down in European countries like baguette-loving France, where consumption is down 10%. In American restaurants, meanwhile, there’s an epidemic of free bread disappearing from tables, as fewer owners want to bear the expense of putting out free rolls and other breads that no one is going to eat.

Convertibles
The fun-loving, wind-in-your-hair thrill of driving in a convertible just hasn’t been enough to keep consumers buying the classic ragtop in strong numbers. Businessweek noted that convertible sales have fallen 44% since 2004, and automakers have been significantly scaling back the number of models that are even offered in convertible form. Apparently, too many consumers see convertibles as impractical, and/or not worth the $5,000 or so premium one must pay compared to the regular model.

Data recently released from Experian Automotive indicates that the convertible is largely now a toy purchased by the rich. Nearly 1 in 5 convertible buyers have household incomes of at least $175,000 (compared to 11% of buyers of all cars), and 12% of convertible buyers own homes valued over $1 million (compared to 4% of buyers of other cars). For what it’s worth, convertible drivers are also better educated than the average car owner (50% of convertible buyers have at least a bachelor’s degree, versus 38% overall), and nearly one-quarter of all convertibles are now purchased in three sunny states with ample coastlines: California, Florida, and Texas.

Related:

10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On

TIME

Study: You Eat Twice As Much Sugar As You Should

Sugar cubes in drink
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

One can of soda could account for your recommended daily sugar limit

Bad news for your sweet tooth: People’s average consumption of sugar should be cut in half, a British government advisory group has recommended.

A draft report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition said that in order to curb obesity, people should reduce their sugar intake so that it only accounts for five percent of their daily energy intake, down from the current recommended level of 10 percent. The group also said people should minimize consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages because of their association with type 2 diabetes, as well as increase their fiber intake.

“There is strong evidence in the report to show that if people were to have less free sugars and more fiber in their diet they would lower their risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer,” said Committee chair Dr. Ann Prentice.

England, like the United States, is facing a severe weight problem. One third of the country’s 10 and 11-year-olds are overweight or obese, with the majority of those children living in the most deprived communities, according to Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist at the government agency Public Health England.

Public Health England issued a report detailing how it would respond to the new recommendations. Initiatives mentioned in the report included local public health funding and working with businesses to reduce calories in food and drink products.

The five percent target energy intake from free sugars amounts to five to six teaspoons for women and seven to eight teaspoons for men, based on the average diet. One can of soda would account for the recommended five percent daily limit in adults, according to the BBC.

But health officials say these recommendations do not have to inconvenience consumers.

“It doesn’t mean having a completely different diet from today, it’s thinking about swapping high sugar foods for a lower-sugar alternative,” Tedstone told the BBC. “Instead of fizzy drink, have water or low-fat milk, instead of a chocolate bar, have a piece of fruit.”

The Committee’s recommendations follow similar guidelines issued by the World Health Organization in March. Health officials are still trying to determine how to realistically get people down to five percent when many are still currently eating far more sugar on a regular basis. Some countries, such as Mexico, have tried implementing a sugar tax, but England has yet to do so.

TIME Soda

There’s Even More Sugar In Soda Than You Think

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Jennifer Smith—Getty Images/Flickr RF

And you’d never know, because sugars aren’t broken down on food labels like fats are. The latest study shows just how much sweet stuff is hiding in sodas and fruit juices

Sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose—can you tell the difference? Probably not, even if you’re a careful reader of food labels. Unlike fats, which are broken down on nutritional labels as saturated, trans, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, sugars are listed as “sugar.” If you read the full ingredient list you may find clues as to what kind of sweetener is in there, such as high fructose corn syrup or dextrose or maltose. But when it comes to figuring out exactly how much of each is there, you’re on your own.

Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine and the director of the childhood obesity center at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California, analyzed popular sodas and found that they contained more fructose—a form of sugar that essentially behaves like fat in the body and has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes—than their labels suggest. In Goran’s analysis, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola, Arizona Iced Tea and 7-Up contained more than 58% fructose. These results were consistent across three different ways of analyzing their chemical makeup. “What was surprising was the consistency across the methods and the consistency across beverages,” he says. “We saw a consistent ratio of fructose to glucose of 60-40.”

He also found that some drinks that don’t list fructose as an ingredient also contained detectable amounts of the sweet stuff. Pepsi Throwback and Sierra Mist, which do not list HFCS as an ingredient, still contained 37% and 7% of fructose, respectively. Mexican Coca-Cola, which lists only sucrose, also showed higher concentrations of fructose than glucose; sucrose, even if it’s broken down, should lead to equal contributions from both. “If fructose is damaging, then we need to know how much fructose is in our food and beverages,” says Goran.

MORE: 7 Not-So-Sweet Lessons About Sugar

There’s a lot that scientists still don’t know about how the various forms of sugar work in the body, but here’s what they do know. Sucrose, or table sugar, is made up of two carbohydrate molecules paired together: glucose and fructose. Once in the body, the couple splits up and goes two very separate ways. Glucose is the body’s main form of energy, so those molecules are immediately used by cells or stored as fuel for later.

Fructose, on the other hand, can only be processed by the liver, where it behaves like fat. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a staple of processed foods and drinks, is glucose that is treated with enzymes so it produces various proportions of fructose; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for HFCS42 and HFCS55, which contain 42% and 55% fructose, respectively, with the remainder made up of other sugars, primarily glucose.

MORE: 12 Breakfast Cereals That Are More Than 50% Sugar

Why does all this matter? Since fructose isn’t used by the body for energy, it simply contributes to weight gain and diabetes—not exactly a desired effect. Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics in the division of endocrinology at University of California San Francisco, admits that there aren’t any studies showing how higher ratios of fructose greater than 50% may influence health. Still, that doesn’t mean that people should continue to be in the dark about how much fructose they’re consuming. Fats are more clearly labeled, and since research links trans fats to unhealthy outcomes, people can now see on labels how much trans fat foods contain. Likewise, he says, sugars should be broken down into fructose and glucose, so consumers have a better sense of how much of those sugars can potentially be burned off as energy, and how much will turn immediately into fat.

In response to TIME’s questions about the report, PepsiCo referred us to the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT), a technical group of beverage industry professionals, which happened to publish a report on their own analysis of the fructose content of sweetened beverages on the same day. Not surprisingly, in their analysis of the same drinks, the results were very different. HFCS content in their analysis was right around 55%.

MORE: This Is What Happens When You Give Up Sugar for One Year

So who’s right? Larry Hobbs, co-author of the ISBT study, says that the method Goran and his team used is more appropriate for assessing honey, and not HFCS. Bela Buslig, a former research scientist with the Florida department of citrus who was not involved in either study, says that isn’t necessarily true—and that Goran’s methods were suitable to determine actual fructose content in these drinks. The fact that Goran’s group consistently found 60-40 ratios of fructose to glucose using three different analytical methods, Buslig says, suggests that the results are reliable.

MORE: WHO: Only 5% of Your Daily Calories Should Come From Sugar

Still confused? Until the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture start mandating labeling requirements for sugar as they do for fats, you might stay that way. “My advice to consumers is to reject anything with HFCS,” says Goran. “That would be the first line of defense.” And as Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University adds, “The bottom line: everyone would be healthier eating less sugars of any kind.”

MONEY deals

WATCH: Movie Theaters Offer $1 Shows This Summer

Two major theater chains are running midweek bargain matinees for the whole family. Don't count on any blockbusters, though.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Soda Industry Study Says Drink Diet Soda to Lose Weight

But don't go reaching for those diet soda cans just yet

Numerous studies in recent years have knocked down the notion that diet soda helps shed pounds, but the soda industry wants people to take another sip.

A new industry-backed study has found that diet soda drinkers lose weight faster than those who foreswear soda altogether, CNN reports. The small study, funded in part by the American Beverage Association, divided 300 diet soda drinkers into two groups. One group could go on drinking the sweet stuff, while the other cut out diet soda entirely. The study found that the drinkers, with intensive coaching, lost an average of 13 pounds over 12 weeks, while the abstainers, with the same coaching, lost only 9 pounds.

That four-pound difference, the authors suggest, comes down to a failure of willpower. The abstainers evidently turned to higher caloric sources for their sweet fix, while the drinkers could satisfy their cravings with artificial sweeteners.

“The most likely explanation was that having access to drinks with sweet taste helps the [artificially-sweetened beverage] group to adhere better to the behavioral change program,” concluded study author Dr. Jim Hill of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

In other words, diet soda is healthier, assuming you can’t control your cravings for even more sugary food and drink.

Susan Swithers, a professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Purdue University, noted the study only last 12 weeks, and many researchers think diet sodas actually heighten the desire for real sugar and the likelihood of greater weight gain.

“Doing these short-term studies that look at weight can’t really tell us anything about whether or not these products are contributing to these increased risks,” Swithers told CNN. “And it’s really hard to look at the (long-term) data and come up with any argument that they’re helping.”

[CNN]

TIME Companies

Coca-Cola Profits Dip as Americans Drink Less Pop

The world’s largest beverage-maker sold more drinks overall worldwide but that didn’t make up for a drop in its vital North American market

Coca-Cola’s profits dropped by almost 8% in the first quarter this year, as the world’s largest beverage manufacturer sold less soda and grappled with a stronger U.S. dollar.

Profits fell for the Atlanta-based company despite an overall increase in sales of non-carbonated beverages around the world and a 2% increase in global sales volume, the Associated Press reports.

Soda sales in North America fell 1% as the company raised prices. Adding to challenges for Coca-Cola—and for its competitors, like PepsiCo, which is expected to report a similarly poor performance when it posts profits Thursday—is the fact that Americans are simply drinking less soda.

“Look, we have Coca-Cola, and we have another 500 brands,” said CEO Muhtar Kent in an interview on CNBC. “The key is to offer a wide variety of choices.”

[AP]

 

TIME food and drink

Soda Sales Drop to Lowest Point Since 1995

PepsiCo Products Ahead Of Earnings Data
Susana Gonzalez—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The bubbliness continues to drain out of the carbonated-beverage market, with total sales falling 3% in 2013. Industry experts say widespread fears about obesity are to blame for the decline in sales

Sales of carbonated soft drinks continued to plummet in 2013, with the number of cases sold reaching a nearly two-decade low.

Last year marked the ninth consecutive year of sales decline, with total sales falling 3% to 8.9 billion cases in 2013. Each case is equivalent to 192 fl. oz. Sales fell 1.2% in 2012 and 1% in 2011, according to a Beverage Digest newsletter, Reuters reports.

One reason for the decline could be a growing awareness of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and growing health concerns surrounding sugar-sweetened beverages. According to Reuters, industry experts say the beverage industry is shrinking under the scrutiny. Even diet-branded drinks have suffered a loss of sales with concerns over artificial sweeteners.

In 2013, Coca-Cola Co.’s share of soft drinks rose by 0.4% and PepsiCo Inc.’s share shrank by 0.4%. Only Sprite experienced sales growth last year.

[Reuters]

TIME Food & Drink

Soda Wars Bubble Up Across the Country

Soda
Bottles of Dr. Pepper in a production line at the Swire Coca-Cola bottling plant in West Valley City, Utah George Frey—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Following Bloomberg's failed ban on big sodas, will a host of initiatives popping up in other cities pass muster?

Unless something very unexpected happens, voters in San Francisco can expect to be answering a question like this come Election Day in November: Would you support a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, with the funds dedicated to health, nutrition, and physical activity programs? They can also expect to find themselves amid a whirlwind of arguments and ads from health organizations supporting the measure and from the powerful beverage industry opposing it.

Soda and other sugary drinks are popping up on city and state dockets across the nation, as lawmakers attempt to curb America’s consumption of certain beverages. Like San Francisco, Berkeley, Calif., and Illinois are considering taxes on sugary beverages, while lawmakers in Maryland and Los Angeles may impose age restrictions for purchasing energy drinks like Red Bull. These follow a steady line of potable proposals in recent years that never made it onto the books, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s famous, failed attempt to limit the size of sodas available consumers in his city.

A big question is whether proposals like San Francisco’s, which would levy a two-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors, will succeed and become an example for other cities to follow or whether—as the beverage industry claims—that proposal is part of a dying breed. “There’s been a sharp decrease in the number being introduced,” says Chris Gindlesperger, spokesperson for the American Beverage Association. “It’s time for serious health professionals and lawmakers who want to be engaged in a comprehensive solution to obesity to move on from soda taxes and bans.”

It’s still early in the legislative session for many states and cities. While time will tell how popular these proposals prove to be this year, there is no doubt that Americans’ concerns about obesity are blowing up. In a recent Gallup poll, obesity followed only cost and access as the country’s most pressing health issue, above cancer and smoking. The obesity rate is increasing, and research has linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages—including sports drinks, fruit drinks and teas—to the risk of weight gain and chronic illnesses like diabetes. Some studies have shown that at certain price points, taxes on soda may decrease consumption, while others have found that soda taxes have little effect on body weight of consumers.

Though the San Francisco measure still technically has to be approved by the city’s board of supervisors, the majority of them have already co-sponsored the bill, effectively guaranteeing that it will be on the ballot; to go into effect, the tax will need the approval of two-thirds of voters. Proponents point to polls, like one released by Field Research on Thursday, finding roughly 67% of California voters would support a sugary drink tax if proceeds are earmarked for healthy initiatives, as they are in San Francisco. This week, the City Chamber of Commerce released another poll showing that just 51% of voters would support the tax, though the bill backers take issue with the wording of their question.

“We’re not saying you can’t drink soda,” Wiener says. “We’re saying there are health effects directly related to it—just like we did with cigarettes—and we need to address those effects.”The American Beverage Association emphasizes that other factors contribute to obesity, like high-calorie foods and Americans’ lack of exercise. Gindlesperger argues that soda taxes are “discriminatory policies against common grocery items” that unfairly “single out” products made by their member companies, like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, rather than looking at the bigger picture. When asked whether limiting the intake of full-calorie sodas would help fight obesity, even if it wouldn’t solve the problem, Gindlesperger deflects the question, saying that soft drinks “are not any more the cause of obesity than any other caloric food.”

When it comes to soda taxes, the points of contention are both economic and philosophical. Last week, the first major study on how a soda tax would affect the labor market was released. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that a 20% tax levied on soda in Illinois or California would yield a net increase in jobs—as truck drivers who used to haul sodas hauled other beverages and as the revenue generated by the tax was used to create other jobs. “People are still going to spend money,” says San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “They’re just going to spend it on something else.” The ABA maintains that soda taxes mean job losses, at least among their member companies.

In San Francisco, advocates at a recent street festival handed out fliers opposing the proposed tax; one bullet point was that such a tax limits consumer choice. Critics of the energy drink bill in Maryland have made similar arguments, saying that banning anyone under the age of 18 from buying a Monster Energy drink is government overreach. “We’re not saying you can’t drink soda,” Wiener says. “We’re saying there are health effects directly related to it—just like we did with cigarettes—and we need to address those effects.”

A state lawmaker in California recently proposed that all sugary drinks come with warning labels. The Golden State looks poised to be a battleground over sugar this year. In 2012, two sugary-beverage taxes on the ballot in the cities of El Monte and Richmond failed by wide margins. A related state bill died in committee.

San Francisco has a proud reputation of making progressive sacrifices—being the first in the nation to ban plastic bags, for example—that may help yield a different result for health advocates here. “We have a history of supporting these kinds of public health measures,” says Wiener. “Policy trends often start in San Francisco and then spread elsewhere. We’re proud of that as a city.” The ABA says they’ll be spearheading the effort to oppose the measure here as they have elsewhere, running ads, courting local businesses, and likely spending tens of millions.

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