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.

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