How many times have you read a new study promoting the benefits of things that you love to consume- whether it be candy, chocolate, or diet soda? It’s so comforting to see that some of these foods could have benefits to your health, right? Well don’t get too excited – because it’s all a BIG SCAM by the food industry. Here’s what’s really happening behind these “studies” and fake health news…
Skittles keeps kids from getting fat?
When I read the CBS News headline—“Does candy keep kids from getting fat?”—I went nuts. If this were true, it would be a shocking scientific finding, especially since it would contradict decades of research into the hazards of sugar (and also contradict common sense!).
The study that inspired this ridiculous headline was funded by a candy trade association that represents the makers of Snickers, Skittles, Butterfinger, and other big candy brands (15). Their research was based on government surveys that asked people to recall what they had eaten in the past 24 hours. The problem with this methodology is that people often don’t remember what they ate, which is what led the researchers to admit that their data “may not reflect usual intake” and that the study was “thin and clearly padded” (16).
Translation: the results were bogus and a perfect example of how the news media is used by the food industry to fool us into thinking candy is ok for our kids. The purpose of the study isn’t to convince us that candy is healthy, but rather, make us less concerned about its affects on our kids so we keep buying it.
Chocolate Milk & Concussions?
A small milk brand – Fifth Quarter Fresh – paid the University of Maryland to study their “high protein” chocolate milk and it’s apparent ability to help athletes recover from concussions. Their chocolate milk was also atrociously high in sugar – 42 grams per serving – making it very unhealthy by any estimation (17).
Emails show that Fifth Quarter Fresh coincided the release of their findings with the release of the Will Smith movie Concussion to help boost publicity for the study (18). After the seemingly positive results were announced to the public, some school districts were clamoring for their sugar-laden chocolate milk. One superintendent announced that he planned on buying $25,000 worth of their chocolate milk for his athletes (19)… YIKES.
The study was suspect because the actual study findings weren’t made available, the results were preliminary and not peer reviewed. Thankfully, the university conducted an internal investigation, disavowed the study, and returned the research funds to Fifth Quarter (20).
Diet soda is better than water?
Anyone who ever says diet sodas are better than water clearly hasn’t looked into their ingredients. A small 3-month study funded by the American Beverage Association (a Coca-Cola and Pepsi lobbying group) found that participants who drank diet soda lost more weight than people who just drank water. This contradicts numerous other studies that show artificial sweeteners in diet drinks cause people to crave sugar, suffer from increased food cravings, and gain weight (21-27). Soda companies love to use short-term studies like this that don’t show the overall health or weight impact of what happens to people who are drinking diet soda long term consuming risky artificial sweeteners that are linked to leukemia and other cancers (28-29).
Transfat causes heart attacks, but the FDA did nothing for over 60 years.
When I was growing up there was one staple that my family ate to celebrate countless birthdays: Pepperidge Farm Golden Layer Cake. It came out of the freezer section in a white box. I remember struggling to wait while it thawed on the counter. I always begged for a second piece.
One thing we didn’t know then is that it was filled with Partially Hydrogenated Oil – an ingredient that has now been banned by the FDA because it’s very harmful to the heart (1).
You may know this as the stuff that made up margarine and Crisco shortening. That oily goo was a staple in the processed food industry, and basically, if you ate anything processed in the last few decades, you were eating this substance.
“Partially hydrogenated oil” is made in a factory by taking a liquid vegetable oil (like the soybean and cottonseed oil that Pepperidge Farm used in their cake) and transforming it into a semi-solid by adding hydrogen to it. The food industry LOVED to use this heavily processed, solidified oil because it was CHEAP… much cheaper than using real butter and allowed them to create foods with a really long shelf life…
But they had a problem…
Buzz started generating in the 1950’s that it was giving people heart attacks (2). As the years went on, more and more research backed up the harmful effects of partially hydrogenated oils on the heart (3)(4). Yet the FDA turned a blind eye and allowed it in our food for DECADES. Why, you ask?
Big Food companies (Kraft and Procter & Gamble) hired scientists to SPIN THE SCIENCE and hide the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils so that the industry could keep using this cheap ingredient (5).
Besides squelching worries that partially hydrogenated oils (particularly the trans fats they contain) were bad for the heart, they took it even FURTHER, and were successful in convincing almost everyone that partially hydrogenated oils were HEALTHY (6).
With the FDA’s blessing, the industry went on to market margarine as GOOD for your heart… and fooled sooooo many people (my own family included!) Maybe you remember seeing ads like this?
Thankfully, there were some good nutrition researchers who pressed on the truth and eventually forced the FDA to ban these heart-wrecking partially hydrogenated oils – but it took over 60 years and a lawsuit! (9-10)
And this is how a small group of industry-funded scientists blocked the FDA from banning one of the most dangerous ingredients in our food for decades.
They did it once, and they can do it again.
During that time, researcher Walter Willett theorized that 30,000 people were killed each year from trans fat consumption (11). That is 30,000 people (EACH YEAR) whose lives could have been saved had the FDA done its job and banned partially hydrogenated oils decades ago. We’re talking nearly 2 million people here.
This is one of the many reasons why I believe you need to be really skeptical of food industry inventions (like partially hydrogenated oils and food additives) and don’t automatically trust them with your health – and why I try to eat whole, real food instead.
I also believe the Big Food industry should not be paying scientists to defend their products. It’s absolutely shameful and people need to know the truth behind these tactics.
What’s interesting is that most researchers who take dollars from food and chemical companies do not believe that it will affect their research (12). They flat-out will say that where the money comes from will not change the results of a study. But this is NOT TRUE (13).
Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor from NYU, demonstrated this well. She cataloged 168 studies which were either directly funded by the food industry or done by researchers who had food industry connections. She found that 156 out of the 168 studies (93%) of them had results that were favorable to their industry sponsors (14). That’s a lot more than by just chance I’d say!
Industry-funded researchers may not consciously realize that they are biased, but the data shows that $$$$ from industry = results that help the industry.
Next time you hear a wild health claim, remember this…
Many studies might seem convincing, but are thinly veiled marketing ploys that undermine our health. If a headline seems too good to be true… it probably is. Especially if it favors a heavily processed food industry product!
Unfortunately, the food industry isn’t going to stop paying for science to promote their products any time soon. So, please, SHARE THIS POST and spread the word about this practice. Warn your friends to pay close attention to who is funding the “science” they are using to make their food decisions.
P.S. Want to learn more about fake health news and how to spot it? You will love my new book – FEEDING YOU LIES.
I expose the shameless lies we are being fed about our food by the very people we should be able to trust for health information… lies about its nutrient value, effects on our health, label information, and even the very science on which we make our food choices. It’s investigative, hard-hitting, and scandalous.