Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Dr Folta and Dr Blair and the problem with industry funding


Photo: Coke de Plume by BFLV on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A couple of things happened in the scientific world in fairly short succession recently. I spent a lot of time waffling about whether or not I should write about them. Primarily because I don’t want to draw the ire of the pro-GMO community. I see a lot of rabid support for “science” on twitter and I fear being dismissed as anti-science. But this post isn’t about whether or not GMOs are great, or even whether or not they’re safe. It’s not about my opinions on genetic modification nor organic farming. “What is it about?” you ask. It’s about credibility and honesty in scientific research and dissemination of said research.

A few weeks ago the Internets got their collective panties in a twist because some scientists were revealed to have received money from Monsanto. In particular, one scientist received money to pay for his travel expenses in order to enable him to speak at events. Naturally, he was speaking in support of genetic modification, which aligns with Monsanto’s values. I’ve since seen his supporters claim that this information was freely available to anyone who was interested and that he had never failed to disclose his funding sources. I’ve also seen his detractors attribute quotes to him clearly stating that he did not receive money from Monsanto. I don’t know who to believe. It doesn’t really matter who I (or anyone) believes anyway. The important fact of the matter is that he received money from Monsanto to speak at conferences and events.

The following week the news broke that a number of scientists have been receiving funding from Coke (via a nonprofit organization) to support their research and other logistics. That research focusing on the import of exercise in weight management. Once again, the Internet was collectively outraged. Okay, I exaggerate. Nearly everyone I follow on twitter, and much of the mainstream media, were outraged. The researchers shrugged and said: what’s the problem, we’ve never hidden the fact that we received money from Coca Cola and that money had no influence on our research findings. Everyone rolled their eyes and said: um, bias, helllooo. 

Here we have two instances of scientific funding by organizations which have vested interests in the results. Here we have two groups of scientists saying that the funding doesn’t matter and that their findings would be the same no matter where the money was coming from. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that by accepting financial support from organizations that have a vested interest in the results and the messages from theses scientists creates the perception of bias. Even if these scientists are completely impartial, and that’s being incredibly generous given the fact that the majority of industry funded research findings support the interests of the funders, it raises doubts about that impartiality. At worst, the scientists receiving the funding have a conflict of interest. At best, they have a perceived conflict of interest, and perception matters. It also makes for an uneven scientific playing field. If all of the players on one team are having their expenses covered by a benefactor then how can the other team hope to succeed. Even if they are better players, they can’t afford to go to out-of-town matches or find the time for extra practice.

If only the scientists with the pro-GMO message or the scientists with the pro-exercise message are given the platforms to share those messages how can we ever hope to find out the truth?

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Have a merry Coca Cola Christmas


Today I just want to have a little rant about the obesogenic environment we live in.

The other day I had to go to Walmart for something. I know, I know. It’s a store that I normally avoid like the plague but knitting emergencies do strange things to people. Anyway… Christmas is popping up all over the place despite the fact that it’s obscenely early and one of the first things I saw upon entering Walmart was a huge bin of Coke Christmas ornaments. These weren’t just ornaments though, they were bottles of Coke shaped like Christmas balls. Beside the fact that they’re completely impractical, they’d break pretty much any branch, why on earth do we need to put pop on a Christmas tree? I truly hope that this is a sign that the mighty are falling. If Coca Cola are becoming so desperate in their marketing that they’re resorting to make ornaments filled with pop maybe they’re not doing so well. Honestly, there is more than enough celebratory eating over the holidays is it really necessary that people adorn their trees with Coke???

Later that same day I went to Starbucks for coffee with a friend. I know, more corporate shame. Would you believe that there are no other coffee shops in the city open past 6 pm? I would choose somewhere local in a heartbeat but without that option I found myself ordering one of the new chestnut praline lattes. Because it was night time and I’m an old dietitian I ordered it decaf, half sweet, with 2% milk. Silly me, because I failed to request no whipped cream or sugary sprinkles. I’ve ranted about the use of sweetened coffee as the default for their iced coffees before but really, this is just a crime against coffee. No coffee shop beverage, aside from an espresso con panna, should automatically come with whipped cream and sugary sprinkles. A latte by definition is espresso, steamed milk, and a little bit of foam. Not whipped cream. Not sprinkles. If customers want those options they should have to specially request them and pay a little extra. Why must the unhealthy option be the default? Even at half sweet it tasted very sweet. According to the Starbucks website there’s 31 grams of sugar in a tall chestnut praline latte. That means in my half sweet version (which I scooped the whipped cream and sprinkles off of) there was still nearly 4 teaspoons of sugar! If I ever get it again I’m going for 1/4 sweet, which, at 2 teaspoons of sugar is still too sweet. Screw it, I’ll just have an herbal tea.

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Coke gives the green light to traffic light nutrition labelling


Apparently Coke is going to adopt the “traffic light” front -of-package labelling in the UK. For those who are unfamiliar, this labelling scheme uses red, yellow, and green lights to help customers make healthy choices quickly.

I can’t help but wonder how Coke is going to have anything besides red on their beverages. If they’re able to, it’s a testament to the fact that you can’t always trust labels. After all, the absence of unhealthy ingredients (as in the instance of diet pop) doesn’t mean it’s healthy as there’s still an absence of healthy ingredients.


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Coca Cola tackles obesity

I can’t seem to keep up with my reading… I just read this news article about Coca Cola launching a series of ads, ostensibly to address the obesity epidemic. Really Coke? Are we honestly expected to believe that a huge for-profit company like Coca Cola is concerned about obesity rates and thinks that two, two-minute commercials will help us to lose weight. These ads are not for our benefit, they’re for the benefit of Coca Cola. They are advertising their beverages, and are meant to increase sales, not help you to lose weight.

The first ad tells us what Coca Cola is doing to reduce obesity. That would be creating more diet sodas. They also put calorie counts on the front of cans (because turning them around was too much effort). They also  While reducing calories through consumption of low-calorie beverage options, rather than the original versions, can aid in weight loss it is certainly not the only necessary change. More important personal changes include: cooking most meals at home, not eating in front of the tv, and eating slowly. Most importantly, we need to change our society and food system so that calorie-laden, nutrient-poor foods are not so cheap and readily available, among other things.

The second ad (which I can’t seem to find a link for, sorry) tells us how much exercise is necessary to burn-off the 140 calories in a standard can of Coke. The message here? Coca Cola doesn’t have all that many calories, you can burn them off by walking your dog, dancing, or basically just having fun with your friends. Sure, you can burn-off the calories in those ways but the empty calories are not the only thing to be concerned about. There’s the phosphorus which may increase bone demineralization. There’s the fact that these calories may be displacing nutrient-dense foods and are often being consumed on-top of more than all necessary calories, meaning that one walk around the block with the dog is more than likely not going to be adequate exercise to maintain or lose weight.

I don’t think that anyone should be applauding Coke for “tackling” the obesity crisis. These advertisements are entirely intended to make you feel okay about consuming empty calories. Honestly, I don’t blame Coca Cola for trying to sell their products, everyone’s got to make a living. I just find it offensive that they think we’re stupid enough to believe that a) they’re concerned about obesity and b) that two commercials could reduce obesity rates.

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Coca Cola saves breakfast!

Like many other people, I’m sure, I got sucked into the excitement of the Olympics. It’s so inspiring to see such great athletes. Slightly less inspiring has been the incessant playing of a particular Coca Cola commercial. It’s been driving me nuts! In this commercial, a couple of initiators of a school breakfast club praise the involvement of Coca Cola for increasing their standard of nutrition by providing Minute Maid juice. What??!! There are so many things wrong with this! Coca Cola is no great provider of nutrition. A company that promotes carbonated syrup water to the world should never be praised as a purveyor of nutrition even if they also provide nutritious selections. Minute Maid juices, I would argue, are certainly nothing to redeem Coca Cola in the nutrition department. Instead of providing breakfast programs with their popular carbonated syrup water they’re providing them with vitamin C fortified sugar water. Huge improvement. I’m “sure” they did a “great” and “generous” service to the breakfast program by providing these drinks. How about providing something with some inherent nutritional value like actual fruit, for example. Oh, wait, no money to be made there. Gotta provide the kids with one of their brand name products to ensure their lifetime brand loyalty. How generous.