While researching his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Moss made an interesting discovery: Many of the scientists and executives who create fast food won’t eat it themselves. Why? Because they know how unhealthy it is.
Here’s a telling excerpt from an interview Moss just did with Heathland describing what he found out:
Were you surprised by how many scientists and food company executives avoid their own products?
It was everything from a former top scientist at Kraft saying he used to maintain his weight by jogging, and then he blew out his knee and couldn’t exercise, his solution was to avoid sugar and all caloric drinks, including all the Kool-Aid and sugary drinks that Kraft makes. It ranged from him to the former top scientist at Frito Lay. I spent days at his house going over documents relating to his efforts at Frito Lay to push the company to cut back on salt. He served me plain, cooked oatmeal and raw asparagus for lunch. We toured his kitchen, and he did not have one single processed food product in his cupboards or refrigerator.
The scientists and executives were pretty honest about their roles in creating unhealthy food. Did you get the impression they felt guilty about their products?
One reason they don’t eat their own products, is that they know better. They know about the addictive properties of sugar, salt and fat. As insiders, they know too much. I think a lot of them have come to feel badly. But not blaming themselves necessarily, because the older ones invented a number of these products back in the days when dependency on them was much lower. In the 70s and the 80s for example, we were eating more home cooked meals from scratch and eating more mindfully. As society evolved and we became more dependent on these conveniences, these people came to see their work with real misgivings. The inventor of the Lunchables, Bob Drane, wishes mightily that the nutritional aspects of that product could’ve been made better. He is still hoping it will be made better. They came to have regrets about their work in the context of the health effects their products seem to have that go hand-in-hand with society’s increasing demand of their products.
Health on Today has an interesting article called Diet Soda is Doing These 7 Awful Things to Your Body and any weight hackers out there who still drink the stuff should give it a read. For instance, although it’s called “diet” soda it might actually be contributing to your weight gain:
You read that right: Diet soda doesn’t help you lose weight after all. A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that the more diet sodas a person drank, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. Downing just two or more cans a day increased waistlines by 500%. Why? Artificial sweeteners can disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake based on the sweetness of foods, suggested an animal study from Purdue University. That means people who consume diet foods might be more likely to overeat, because your body is being tricked into thinking it’s eating sugar, and you crave more.
It could also be adding to your belly fat and increasing your cholesterol: “According to a 2008 University of Minnesota study of almost 10,000 adults, even just one diet soda a day is linked to a 34% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, the group of symptoms including belly fat and high cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease.”
Other terrible things it could be doing include rotting your teeth due to its high acidity, damaging your cells and causing your kidney function to decline. Not good, right?
I long ago stopped drinking beverages that are sweetened either naturally or artificially since even regular sweetener will spike your insulin and cause you to be hungry when you don’t really need food. If you simply must have a sweetened, carbonated beverage, consider getting something like a Sodastream so you can control what goes into your drink instead of letting soft drink makers decide. They’ll happily feed you massive quantities of sugar if they think it can help them sell more product.
My suggestion: Try putting chunks of fresh fruit in your Sodastream drink or even in your regular water pitcher to add a light touch of sweetener, which will help with the taste without adding to your belly fat, obesity, tooth decay, etc.
Fundamentally, being overweight is the result of an energy imbalance in your system. When your body takes in energy by eating, it can only do two things with it: 1) Burn it as fuel 2) Store it as fat. So if you take in more energy than you burn off, you’ll increase the amount of fat you store.
Most people typically talk about taking in less energy when they want to lose weight (i.e. eating less), which makes sense. To burn off all the excess fat, you have to put your body into an energy deficit, either by cutting back on food, increasing the amount you move (i.e. exercise) or a combination of both.
Researcher James O. Hill, PhD. at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center suggests we’ve overemphasized the “eating less” part and need to make sure we’re attacking weight loss in a balanced manner if we want to succeed:
“A healthy body weight is best maintained with a higher level of physical activity than is typical today and with an energy intake that matches. We are not going to reduce obesity by focusing only on reducing food intake. Without increasing physical activity in the population we are simply promoting unsustainable levels of food restriction. This strategy hasn’t worked so far and it is not likely to work in the future. What we are really talking about is changing the message from ‘Eat Less, Move More’ to ‘Move More, Eat Smarter.'”
According to Medical News Today:
People who have a low level of physical activity have trouble achieving energy balance because they must constantly use food restriction to match energy intake to a low level of energy expenditure. Constant food restriction is difficult to maintain long-term and when it cannot be maintained, the result is positive energy balance (when the calories consumed are greater than the calories expended) and an increase in body mass, of which 60 percent to 80 percent is usually body fat. The increasing body mass elevates energy expenditure and helps reestablish energy balance. In fact, the researchers speculate that becoming obese may be the only way to achieve energy balance when living a sedentary lifestyle in a food-abundant environment.
As a weighthacker I know that moving more is an integral part of losing weight, which is why I’ve done things like switching to a treadmill desk so I can get my body moving while still doing the things I love, like surfing the Web and blogging.
A study by the University of Washington that looked at the proximity of supermarkets compared to rates of obesity turned up an interesting finding: people who shop at lower-price grocery stores have higher rates of obesity than those who shop at more expensive stores. And that was true even after adjusting for the education and income levels of the patrons:
The type of supermarket, by price, was found to be inversely and significantly associated with obesity rates, even after adjusting for individual-level sociodemographic and lifestyle variables, and proximity measures.
The price of food is something weighthackers should always be aware of. Why? In general, heavily processed foods have fewer nutrients but more calories than whole foods and tend to cost less. That’s not a coincidence. The processing is what gives them a longer shelf life and makes them easier to package, which is great for the profits of food manufacturers. It’s also terrible for your health.
So the pennies you’re saving buying the cheap stuff could be turning into extra pounds around your waist line. “Buyer beware” indeed.
(Luckily if you read Weighthacker you know that eating healthy foods can actually cost less than unhealthy ones.)
Sugar-laden drinks have been getting a lot of attention from health officials because they’ve been linked to things like poor diet, weight gain, obesity and diabetes. In the recent Weight of the Nation specials on HBO (they’re available free online and I recommend watching them), there was this mind-boggling quote:
“It is really important because sugary soft drinks are the No. 1 source of calories in our diets,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We get more calories from sodas and sugary drinks than any other individual food — cake, cookies, pizza, anything.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has certainly been paying attention to all the research. And more importantly he actually plans to do something about it by limiting the sales of super-sized sodas. According to The New York Times:
The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.
Although it may seem draconian at first blush, I’m in favor of the ban because it’s far too easy to take in unwanted calories from sugary soft drinks, in part because they’re formulated to be addictive. And a huge amount of sugared drinks are marketed and sold to kids, who are notoriously ill equipped to make healthy food choices.
Serving mega-sizes of sugared drinks certainly doesn’t help. I mean, when did 16 ounces become “smaller than a common soda bottle”???
Carson Chow (yes, Chow) is an MIT trained mathematician and physicist who works as an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. His job is to use math to figure out why the average American gained 20lbs between 1975 and 2005, and he told The New York Times that he’s found the answer:
And it’s something very simple, very obvious, something that few want to hear: The (obesity) epidemic was caused by the overproduction of food in the United States.
Beginning in the 1970s, there was a change in national agricultural policy. Instead of the government paying farmers not to engage in full production, as was the practice, they were encouraged to grow as much food as they could. At the same time, technological changes and the “green revolution” made our farms much more productive. The price of food plummeted, while the number of calories available to the average American grew by about 1,000 a day.
Well, what do people do when there is extra food around? They eat it! This, of course, is a tremendously controversial idea. However, the model shows that increase in food more than explains the increase in weight.
Actually I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to draw a link between an abundance of food and an abundance of people suddenly overeating in record numbers. I think it makes a lot of sense, and a lot of the advice on Weighthacker centers around figuring out what the right amount of food to eat really is and how to actually only eat that amount. Chow (hah) also shot down a few common theories about why there are more obese people now than at any time in history:
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