Food marketing deception

As I was crossing the underground railway pass to get to work, this advertisement for Coke Life caught my eye. This bottle has green colour instead of the iconic Coke red and it promises 33% less sugar and in fact it uses natural sweetness of stevia. I mean, it could be a health drink for all you know, just look at it.

Coke Life…if it’s green it must be healthy?


What if I told you it’s nothing but regular Coke with a little less sugar. It’s basically

CARBONATED PURIFIED WATER, CANE SUGAR, COLOUR (CARAMEL 150D), FOOD ACID (338), FLAVOUR, CAFFEINE. Still think it’s a health drink?
 
I decided to compare regular Coke with Coke Life. Here is a chart showing nutritional information (lack of nutrition I should say) in 330 ml of each.

Classic Coke vs Coke Life



Several important points to note:
1. By default the website shows information for 100 ml. Now seriously, who drinks just 100 ml of Coke?  It doesn’t work like that. So let’s be really honest here and let’s look at the amount of sugar in a can of Coke or 330 ml. 


2. Regular Coke has 35g of carbs and all of it is sugar. Life Coke has 24.1 g of sugar and 6.9 g of carbs. That’s a bit interesting. So are we talking about an overall carbohydrate load of 31 g? Either ways, we have 35 g vs 24 g sugar and then some 6 g of carbs. This is apparently not sugar but then I cannot imagine this being fibre carbs. So basically instead of getting diabetes by Coke binging  in 10 years, now you can get it in 12 years. 


3. Let’s compare their ingredient list.
 
Regular Coke: CARBONATED PURIFIED WATER, CANE SUGAR, COLOUR (CARAMEL 150D), FOOD ACID (338), FLAVOUR, CAFFEINE. 
Life Coke: CARBONATED WATER, SUGAR, COLOUR (CARAMEL 150D), FLAVOUR, FOOD ACID (338), CAFFEINE, SWEETENER (960).
 

So if you cut through the noise, they are the same, cut from the same cloth. Both are equally bad (or equally good some would argue).

So you got to look past the shiny green colour, the low sugar message, the promise of natural sweetness. If it’s sweet, it’s sweet. Period. Especially when it’s this processed. Natural sweetness of stevia or for that matter from any natural source will have the same metabolic effect on your body as the garden variety table sugar. Excessive use of both will make you insulin resistant. Raw honey on the other hand is a different animal altogether and is an enzyme rich food with hundreds of nutrients and minerals.

Coke Zero or Diet Coke should be avoided like a plague. There was a time when I would enjoy a can of Diet Coke each night as I would watch Seinfeld but I digress. The promise of sweetness with actually 0 calories means you will bend the laws of biology and hose yourself with artificial sweeteners – research is showing these are carcinogenic and have a terrible impact on your gut microbiome. I thought I would never say this but if you have to have Coke, just have the regular one and let you body deal with sweetness in a form that it can at least understand.

Few other deceptions used by food marketers are like these

1. Low FAT: These are meant to target fat phobic people. This product is healthy because it’s low FAT. Low fat processed cheese, low fat cheese, skimmed milk. They are meant to take the focus away from the fact that they could be loaded with sugar, processed carbs, cooked in refined vegetables oils (and so you are left with  damaged and denatured fat)

Low fat and a bit sea salt, must be good aye?


Whether you love FATs or hate FATs, never ever eat foods that have high fat content in their natural form and have been processed to be low fat like low fat milk or low fat cheese. These Frankenstein foods have been so messed with that they have had their natural occurring fats removed and thus are damaged goods.  The fats in it are damaged and denatured and worse have been replaced with refined and inflammatory vegetable oils. If you avoid fats in general (even in whole foods like avocadoes which I think is a mistake) and generally think of them as evil, don’t mistake low fat foods as the cure. So if you have low fat milk and especially margarine lying around in your home, dump it in the bin.

Don’t let 65% less saturated fat fool you, it belongs in the bin not in your stomach.

2. Low carb or low glycaemic: They know that folks like me prefer a lower carbs (and higher fat) diet. So they try to impress us with the promise of low carb chips. It’s even got 8g of protein. Impressed yet?


Let’s dig a little deeper into the nutritional info:
It has 16 g of carbohydrates out of which 3 g is dietary fibre, 160 mg of sodium. But this is not the whole story. Let’s look at the ingredients. 

SOY (LOW FAT SOY FLOUR, RICE FLOUR, SALT), UNCOOKED CORN STARCH, HIGH OLEIC SUNFLOWER SEED OIL, WHITE CHEDDAR (BLEND OF DEHYDRATED WHEY, SOFT CHEESE, BUTTER MILK SOLIDS, SALT, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, NATURAL FLAVOUR, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, CITRIC ACID), CORN FIBER.
Scared yet? I don’t know if I am more alarmed about the low fat soy flour or high oleic sunflower seed oil or the white cheddar. And I bet even ingredients don’t tell the full story.
In short, low carb means eating whole foods (vegetables, fruits, fish, fowl, eggs, butter) and not this monstrosity.


3. Gluten free – Food marketers have their finger on the pulse of the market. They have caught onto the gluten free trend. I too try to remain gluten free as far as possible by avoiding gluten free grains especially wheat. It’s tempting to think of gluten-free cakes and cookies as somehow healthy. But make no mistake, junk foods are now just gluten-free junk foods. They are still processed and loaded with sugar and chemicals.
So if you have decided to go gluten free, then ditch the gluten free grains and don’t embrace the gluten free cookies and chips.

It’s not junk food, it’s gluten free junk food.

4. Low fat and gluten free – Imagine a food product that is gluten free and low fat. Must be good right? Well, I give you …..Coke of course.

Low fat, gluten free…..(infinite sugar)

While we are on the topic of understanding labels, I should mention an important fact about the ingredient list. Did you know that ingredients are listed in the decreasing order of weight or percentage? So the first item in the list is most abundant. Let’s compare the ingredient list of 34% Green & Black milk chocolate vs 85% Green & Black dark chocolate
 34%: RAW CANE SUGAR, WHOLE MILK POWDER, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, SOY LECITHIN (EMULSIFIER), VANILLA EXTRACT
85%: ORGANIC CHOCOLATE, ORGANIC COCOA BUTTER, ORGANIC COCOA, ORGANIC RAW CANE SUGAR, ORGANIC VANILLA EXTRACT
Notice the difference? The raw cane sugar moves from being the number one item in 34% milk chocolate to being the fourth item in 85% dark chocolate. In fact first three items are all cocoa in the 85% dark chocolate.

All said and done, avoid eating  products out of boxes, ones that come with nutrition label and energy charts on the back because they are mostly processed, artificial and so not whole foods. If you see a product with an ingredient that you can’t even pronounce, avoid it like plague.
Is everything packaged bad? Well, as always use common sense and  we do have exceptions to this rule :).

We don’t say no to the greatest chocolate and awesome butter here.

Many ways to think about food


I often wonder about how we relate to our food. Is it just fuel and calories? Do I have a deeper relationship with my food than just ensuring it’s low carb and fat-protein heavy?

Here are a few common and not so common ways to think about the food.

1.       Calories
2.       Macronutrients
3.       How chewy is my food
4.       Colourful
5.       Whole foods vs processed foods
6.       Biological information

 

Calories – At the first glance, calories sounds like a great way to think about the nature of food when you get interested in health or trying to lose weight. The reason it sticks is because it’s simple and everyone appears to get it. Just read the energy chart and as long as you get X calories in a day and you can burn Y calories in a day and X < Y, you are sorted. This concept is so dumb and so incomplete on so many levels that books have been written about it. 

The reason calories-in-calories-out is dumb is because it’s just restating the first law of thermodynamics or primary school arithmetic. Consider this analogy. Bill Gates is rich because he makes more money than he spends. You see X – Y > 0. Or our team lost the match because opponents scored more points. You are restating the problem in another way without understanding or explaining “the why”. Do you see the stupidity of this system? So, calories-in-calories-out claims that if you want to lose weight, then you should spend more calories that you should eat. At the level of physics, it makes sense. You see emaciated kids who get very little or nothing to eat and they are starving and they sure look like that.  You could also argue that I will only eat 500 calories every day for next 60 days and I will lose weight. Yes, you will but this is impractical and will not work 99.9% of the time for normal people in normal circumstances. You basically won’t have normal levels of energy on a 500 calorie diet and eventually, you wouldn’t have any will power left to carry out this task. On the other hand, let’s talk about all the lean people who appear to eat well. Are they always ensuring a caloric deficit? It’s almost impossible to measure the calories flowing into the system and even harder to measure the calories you are burning. You say, look at my tread mill or fitbit device. In truth we expend most energy on a 24 hour period in activities like sitting or sleeping or basically when you think you are doing nothing, that’s your basal metabolic rate.

Leaving the dumbness aside, this concept is a bit dangerous in my opinion. It sets up a very superficial relationship with the food you eat and is quality agnostic. It doesn’t differentiate between 100 calories from sweet potato vs 100 calories from beer vs 100 calories from steak vs 100 calories from french fries. In this system, there is no difference between a meal of salad and grass fed steak vs meal from a fast food joint as long as they both are giving you 500 calories. It equates junk processed food with natural whole foods. You may want to precisely track calories if you are preparing for the upcoming summer Olympics though. It’s really hard for me to tell the calories in my spinach-avocado-berry smoothie and it doesn’t matter because it nutrient dense and made from whole foods. Calories-in-calories-out is like measuring the quality of your relationship with your spouse in terms of how many times you go out to party.

 

Macro nutrients – Another popular way to look at our food. Macros come from macronutrients – that is proteins, fat and carbohydrates. The focus here is fuel partitioning. So a person trying to get rid of excess body weight (fat) is recommended a high protein diet and that is why chicken breasts are so popular. We have all seen health-conscious folks having protein shakes.  You see cyclists carrying gels – basically dense and processed carb sources.  You also see schools of low carb high fat (LCHF) and of course low fat is a pretty old fad now. 2 things are still missing here. The awareness of quality of macro-nutrients and hormonal impact of macro-nutrients. If you are trying to lose excess body weight (fat), a high protein diet will work initially but not all proteins are equal and it’s also important to understand what is this high protein doing to my hormones. Does it matter which kind of protein I eat – processed Whey protein vs pastured chicken or pastured eggs? So, they tell a very important story about the nature of the food you are eating but it’s not the full picture. When you combine quality with macronutrients that’s a much better picture.




The 3 amigos. Green for fats and orange for carbs is coincidental 🙂

 

Chewy – Sounds a bit odd at first but  it’s an interesting way to think about food. How much would I need to chew the food to get the energy out of it. Saliva has your DNA and food digestive enzymes. As you chew, the food mixes with your DNA and becomes self, a part of you. Chewing also sends a signal to the gut to get ready for incoming food. It’s interesting that starchy foods tend not to be chewy – rice, kumaras\sweet potatoes (which I love just for the record). Processed high-carb foods like chips, cookies and breads require very little chewing, they just melt in your mouth. Vegetables, salads, meats, nuts and seeds definitely require ample chewing. I like to eat food I can chew.

Very chewy

 

Colourful – It’s impossible to look at a salad of colourful vegetables and fruits and not think of it as healthy. Everyone intuitively understands that. Colourful veggies and fruits represent richness of phytonutrients or plant chemicals. Now unlike vitamins and minerals, they are not essential to keep you alive but they are extremely important to prevent diseases. Look at carrot – you can tell by its colour that it’s rich in beta-carotene which our body can convert to Vitamin A. The redness of tomato comes from Lycopene. Look at blueberry or any berries for that matter. Sometimes I eat a piece of fruit just because it’s got a bright colour (and hopefully that’s not poison). If anything, I am a bit guilty of not making my salad colourful enough.

Whole foods – I love the concept of whole foods. Doug McGuff, the author of Body by Science was asked about what kinds of food does he eat and what he said has stayed with me. He talked about eating foods that lie in a straight line between us and the sun. So get sunlight (vitamin D). Eat plants and vegetables for the same reason. And eat animals that eats those plants. So simple. Basically you can eat all the veggies and salad, fruits, meats, nuts, seeds, eggs etc. Another way to think about whole foods is if someone from 50000 years ago recognize it as food. If you eat from a variety of whole food sources, you are eating a nutrient dense diet by default and your body, brain and cells will thrive. It’s natural food and your body exactly knows what to do with it.  You don’t really need to know the science and bio-chemistry or hormones or what goes on inside our cells or how to regenerate the mitochondria just like you don’t need to know what’s under the hood of your car. It’s like black-box testing in computer science. You put in good stuff (input) and you get the right output. Use food as medicine and exercise as preventative medicine.
 Quality matters here too and it will be wise to ensure the quality of meat you eat. Pastured eggs, pastured chicken, grass fed lamb, grass fed beef. I have no doubt that gaining optimum health on a diet of whole foods will work for 99% of the people. You can of course tweak the macro nutrients to achieve your fitness goals whether it’s gaining more muscle (up the proteins) or losing weight (high fat or low fat depending on who you believe) or managing pre-diabetes (low carb).
Yet you don’t often hear this message because nobody stands to make money off broccoli, kale and steak. Or at least not the 700% profit you can make off the chips, cookies and cereals.
 




Whole foods

Biological Information – I remember Arnold the Terminator talking to Tim Ferris about meditation and mindfulness. As Arnie would work on his biceps, he could feel himself in his biceps. Awesome right? That he could relate to his workout at such a deep level. So we put food into our mouth and it sustains us and hopefully we thrive and not just survive. But if you look under the covers as to what’s going on – the DNA or bio chemical information in what you put into your mouth is going to interact with your SELF DNA and eventually it will be absorbed by you. At the end of the day, all food is bio chemical information for your body. It prompts the body to behave accordingly by release right hormones and digestive enzymes to make this outside food part of us. 


If we were just heat engines, calories would suffice. We are bio chemical electro magnetic beings.

 

 

 

Why I don’t believe in cheat meals or cheat days

Couple of days ago, the day before Good Friday to be precise a normally quiet lady at work remarked as I was preparing my typical lunch salad that she has never seen anyone eat so clean and healthy. And she’s never seen me having the occasional doughnuts or muffins.  I quote “It’s really very impressive, I have never seen anyone eat such healthy food, every single day.” I thanked her for the compliment and this post is not to toot my own horn.  2 days later it’s made me ask a bunch of questions about my lunch and food in general and I believe this enquiry will be helpful to the readers of this post. How do I manage to eat clean and nutrient-dense lunch every day? For that matter, how do I manage to eat clean nearly all the time? Less than 2 years ago, I used to love high-sugar processes foods and junk-foods. There is something that has definitely shifted?

Let’s talk about my typical office lunch which invariably gets health approval from all and sundry. If I could get a cent for every time I heard the world ‘healthy’ to describe my lunch.


So as the photo suggests, it’s typically mixed salad leaves, some colourful vegetables like purple cabbage, carrot, a big avocado. If I want a bit more colour, I will put half a beetroot. Sometimes I put goat milk feta.  So the foundation of salad is plants based. On this I will add meat of some sort: canned wild caught salmon or canned sardines or organic chicken livers or lamb curry or wild goat or steak cut into pieces. I will sprinkle some sunflower seeds and pumpkin kernels and maybe a spoon of MCT oil – this is my dressing. I absolutely don’t use any commercial salad dressing. So, all in all, I am getting a lot of plants and proteins and fat into the first of my 2 meals of the day. More importantly, I am getting a lot of live enzymes. Everyone intuitively knows this is a healthy meal (well, some may frown upon the meat), yet most find it very hard to eat this even once a week let alone every single day.

How have I managed to be so consistent day in and day out with my lunch? It’s not the tastiest lunch in the world you know. It also takes a bit of time to eat it unlike a sandwich or a scone or a quiche which passes off as lunch these days. Is it just my will power? Is it just that I feel awesome about how the food makes me feel and so I keep eating the same way? That’s a bit chicken and egg.

One of the secrets to my success with eating healthily has been has been my dislike for the concept of “cheat days”. I don’t think of my meal as something I only need to do for 5 days a week and then for 2 days of the week, anything goes in the name of lunch. Of course I crave variety and I almost never have salad again in the night. The weekend lunches again are a bit different from the 5 weekday lunches, but they are again whole food based as well. I don’t cheat over the weekends or I don’t treat the whole day as a cheat day. ‘Cheat days’ is a slippery slope. Human beings have a tendency to get away with as much as they can. If we can get away with less sleep, we will keep doing it. If we can get away with eating ice cream every night without any apparent health impact, we will keep doing it. In fact, before you know it, you will start doing it twice a week and worse. In my opinion, ‘Cheat days’ takes the control away from you and eventually weakens your will power overtime. It may sound a bit subtle but it breeds the notion that what you day 5 days a week is a bit different from what you do other 2 days of the week.

So, what’s the alternative? What are we supposed to do?

I am definitely an 80/20 guy. In food terms it could mean that you eat well 80% of the time and 20% of the time, you cut yourself some slack. My 80/20 is more like 95/5. The important point is that I don’t considering eating less than optimal cheating or failure. It is what it is. I am aware of the choice I am making and I understand the impact of my choice. Orange cake with cream on the side or kumara fries are two of my weaknesses. I don’t indulge in them 95% of the time but when we are out by the waterfront and it’s a clear day, I find myself ordering a slice of orange cake. I am aware of the consequences – it’s going to raise my blood sugar, turn of fat burning, I am getting some gluten too. But like I have often said and I don’t know who to credit for this quote ‘Eat the most restrictive diet you can enjoy, not the most restrictive diet you can tolerate.’  So eat the damn slice of cake or pizza and get done with it and don’t look back or worry about it. Here is another trick I have learnt – often we only need one quarter or half of what you are pining to eat to get over the craving. You don’t need to eat the entire pizza or entire doughnut – you will find that half or even quarter of doughnut would get you over the sugar crave or the junk-food delight.

To cake or not to cake? If a little slice will help you eat the salad…




 Food is not just about nutrient density. Sure it fuels our body and brain and provides vitality to our cells. But we have also have emotional and spiritual connection to the food we eat. There is a reason why some foods are called comfort foods. Foods your mother made lovingly for you as a child.  It’s also important to be at peace with the food you are eating. I could give you the best grass fed steak in the world, but if it’s odd with your world view and you don’t want to consume meat, what good is it?