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The Disturbing Truth About Soda

The Disturbing Truth About Soda

New research shows just how dangerous America's soda habit is

New research on the dangers of soda.

In the midst of the great sugary drink debate, it's good to get some perspective on what's actually at stake: public health. And new research, presented in a nifty inforgraphic, shows that we have a lot more to be concerned about than we think.

From Insurance Quotes, the dangers of Americans' soda habits are in clear view. While National Geographic notes that there's a big difference between sugar-based sodas and corn-based sodas (those that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, yum), it's still alarming to see the impact one soda a day has on a person. (Take note of the soda timeline and its effects on the body: it's quite scary.) But there is some good news: cutting back from one soda per day to one soda per week can shed 12 pounds, 65 cups of sugar, and more than12,000 calories in one year.

Check out the infographic for yourself to learn more about soda and its health consequences.


Don't Panic: Here's The Truth About Coke Zero

It seems like much of the Internet is in tears after Coca-Cola announced it’s killing off Coke Zero in favor of a drink with a different name and new taste. Coca-Cola Zero will be phased out next month, and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar will appear on shelves in its place.

But don’t cry too hard: It turns out this “new” beverage isn’t as “new” as some reports make it seem. In fact, both drinks contain the exact same ingredients.

Coke says it “optimized” the doomed drink’s flavors into “the best-tasting zero-sugar Coca-Cola yet.” But it’s probably unlikely they taste that different from one another.

Here’s the list of ingredients in Coke Zero:

Carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, potassium benzonate, natural flavors, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium, caffeine

And here’s the list of ingredients in Coke Zero Sugar:

Carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, potassium benzonate (to protect taste), natural flavors, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium, caffeine

We detect no differences in the new drink’s ingredients list, which was provided to HuffPost by a public relations firm that represents Coca-Cola. Coke Zero Sugar’s recipe is “new-and-improved,” the beverage giant said in a blog post, which could mean Coca-Cola toggled the ratio of ingredients slightly. Really, though, the big change reads like a marketing gimmick: The name is the most substantial update, and it’s a small one at that.

“We’re changing the name to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar to be as clear and descriptive as possible about the product and the promise that it delivers great Coca-Cola taste without sugar,” the company stated.

One other change: Coke Zero Sugar’s packaging “will feature the iconic red Coca-Cola disc” instead of the black cans and wrap that marked Coke Zero. The drink will be available in August.

Here's the difference between Mr. Pibb and Dr Pepper

For starters, Mr. Pibb and Dr Pepper can have something of a Red Vines versus Twizzlers effect on dinner conversations, but there's a big difference in the background of each drink. To be succinct, Dr Pepper was created in the 19th century by a pharmacist who worked at a drug store in Waco, Texas. It was on the market by 1885, which makes it the oldest soft drink in the country.

Conversely, Mr. Pibb hit the market in 1972 as The Coca-Cola Company's way of stepping up to Dr Pepper's success. It had the same peppery-flavored profile, and the same color packaging. However, while Dr Pepper can be found all over the globe, Mr. Pibb is primarily sipped on in the United States.

One other difference between Mr Pibb and Dr Pepper: Notice how there's no dot on the surname in the styling of Dr Pepper, which was removed in the 1950s (via Mental Floss). Mr. Pibb, at least, seemingly has a good copy editor.

Five Reasons the Diet Soda Myth Won’t Die

Repeated studies on a health bogeyman help explain wider problems with food research.

There’s a decent chance you’ll be reading about diet soda studies until the day you die. (The odds are exceedingly good it won’t be the soda that kills you.)

The latest batch of news reports came last month, based on another study linking diet soda to an increased risk of early death.

As usual, the study (and some of the stories) lacked some important context and caused more worry than was warranted. There are specific reasons that this cycle is unlikely to end.

1. If it’s artificial, it must be bad.

People suspect, and not always incorrectly, that putting things created in a lab into their bodies cannot be good. People worry about genetically modified organisms, and monosodium glutamate and, yes, artificial sweeteners because they sound scary.

But everything is a chemical, including dihydrogen monoxide (that’s another way of saying water). These are just words we use to describe ingredients. Some ingredients occur naturally, and some are coaxed into existence. That doesn’t inherently make one better than another. In fact, I’ve argued that research supports consuming artificial sweeteners over added sugars. (The latest study concludes the opposite.)

2. Soda is an easy target

In a health-conscious era, soda has become almost stigmatized in some circles (and sales have fallen as a result).

It’s true that no one “needs” soda. There are a million varieties, and almost none taste like anything in nature. Some, like Dr Pepper, defy description.

But there are many things we eat and drink that we don’t “need.” We don’t need ice cream or pie, but for a lot of people, life would be less enjoyable without those things.

None of this should be taken as a license to drink cases of soda a week. A lack of evidence of danger at normal amounts doesn’t mean that consuming any one thing in huge amounts is a good idea. Moderation still matters.

3. Scientists need to publish to keep their jobs

I’m a professor on the research tenure track, and I’m here to tell you that the coin of the realm is grants and papers. You need funding to survive, and you need to publish to get funding.

As a junior faculty member, or even as a doctoral student or postdoctoral fellow, you need to publish research. Often, the easiest step is to take a large data set and publish an analysis from it showing a correlation between some factor and some outcome.

This kind of research is rampant. That’s how we hear year after year that everyone is dehydrated and we need to drink more water. It’s how we hear that coffee is affecting health in this way or that. It’s how we wind up with a lot of nutritional studies that find associations in one way or another.

As long as the culture of science demands output as the measure of success, these studies will appear. And given that the news media also needs to publish to survive — if you didn’t know, people love to read about food and health — we’ll continue to read stories about how diet soda will kill us.

4. Prestigious institutions and the press

To do the kinds of analyses described here, you need large data sets that researchers can pore over. Building the data set is the hardest part of the work.

Analyzing the numbers on hundreds of thousands of people isn’t child’s play. But gathering the data is much more expensive and time-consuming.

Because of this, a few universities produce a disproportionate amount of the research on these topics. They also tend to be the universities with the most resources and the most recognizable names. Because they’re also usually prestigious, they attract more researchers and more funding to build bigger and newer data sets.

They also get more media attention because of having access to more researchers, prestige and funding. If the research is coming out of a super-respected institution, it must be important.

5. We still don’t understand the limitations of observational studies

No matter how many times you stress the difference between correlation and causation, people still look at “increased risk” and determine that the risk is causing the bad outcome. For reporting on hundreds of thousands of people, observational studies are generally the only realistic option. With very few exceptions, they can tell us only if two things are related, not whether one is to blame for the other (as opposed to randomized control trials).

With respect to diet sodas, it’s plausible that the people who tend to drink them also tend to be worried about their weight or health it could be a recent heart attack or other health setback that is causing the consumption rather than the other way around. But you shouldn’t assume that diet sodas cause better health either it could be that more health-conscious people avoid added sugars.

Many of these new observational studies add little to our understanding. At some point, a study with 200,000 participants isn’t “better” than one with 100,000 participants, because almost all have limitations — often the same ones — that we can’t fix.

Dr. John Ioannidis wrote in a seminal editorial: “Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations. For instance, there are more than 250,000 different foods and even more potentially edible items, with 300,000 edible plants alone.”

And yet, he added, “much of the literature silently assumes disease risk” is governed by the “most abundant substances for example, carbohydrates or fats.” We don’t know what else is at play, and using observational studies, we never will.

(Observational research is still the best way to study population-wide risk factors sophisticated techniques like regression discontinuity can even create quasi-randomized groups to try to get closer to understanding causality. Too few employ such techniques.)

Moreover, too many reports still focus only on the relative risk and not on the absolute risk. If a risk increases by 10 percent, for example, that sounds bad. But if the baseline risk is 0.1 percent, that 10 percent increase winds up moving the baseline to only 0.11 percent.

It would probably be a public service if we stopped repeating a lot of this research — and stopped reporting on it breathlessly. If that’s impossible, the best people can do is stop paying so much attention.

Yes. They are two entirely different things, in the U.S. and anywhere else in the world. Two completely different flavors Sprite is a lemon lime but tasted absolutely nothing like a lemonade. In the US Sprite is carbonated as well and lemonade is not.

Combine water and sugar in a pot on the stove and heat it until all of the sugar is dissolved. Pour the sugar water into a large bucket and add soda extract (or other flavors) and yeast. Divide the soda solution into different bottles and tightly seal the lids.

The McDonald's website says that "in order to ensure our drinks are always meeting a gold standard, we have proper filtration methods in place." The fast-food chain actually filters their water more than most competitors and invests a lot of money into maintaining their filtration system. Fresh water = fresh Coke.

McDonald's takes the temperature of their soda very seriously. There is an insulated tube that runs from the refrigerator unit in the back, all the way to the soda fountain near the drive-thru window.

The water runs through this tube constantly in order to maintain a temperature just above freezing. The cold temperature is essential for achieving peak C02 levels. This not only ensures the crisp, bubbly taste of your Coke, but also means that the carbonation will last longer than other restaurants.

#SpoonTip: Never order a McDonald's coke without ice. The ice is essential to maintaining the perfect syrup ratio.

Zevia Zero Calorie Soda, Cola

Say hello to the first stevia soda! It's a good thing the parents who founded Zevia wanted healthier sodas for their kids to drink because now we have another scale-friendly option to add to our shopping list. This was the first soda brand to use stevia, combining the leaf extract with citric acid, carbonated water, and natural flavors. Don't let the word "acid" scare you citric acid is a safe additive that's naturally found in many fruits, and all of these ingredients add up to a yummy, sometimes caffeinated, zero-calorie soda. So chug another one if you're parched — there are 14 flavors to choose from after all.

Baking Soda and Sports Performance

Baking soda won't cause you to lose pounds, but it could help you improve the effects of workouts you perform as part of a weight-loss program. A study published in a March 2013 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that consumption of baking soda 60 minutes prior to a lower-body strength-training session helped participants complete more repetitions with fewer signs of muscular fatigue compared to those provided with a placebo. The study was small — only 12 male athletes — so further research is needed to be sure this strategy is safe and effective.

Sodium bicarbonate may also help improve speed and endurance in cardiovascular exercise. When you work at or near your maximum intensity, your muscles start to make more of a substance called lactate. When you can't process the lactate as quickly as it's produced, you start to feel the "burn" and must eventually stop or slow down. Lactate buildup creates acidity in the muscles and baking soda taken prior to exercise may help buffer this acidity, so you can work a little harder and go a little longer before having to stop.

More research is needed to confirm the true benefits of baking soda as an ergonomic aid. But, if it does indeed help you work out harder for longer, it may ultimately help you burn more calories during exercise to aid in weight loss.

The Benefits of Spiritual Baths

Although some people like to ignore it, the state of our auras plays a role in both our mental and physical wellbeing.

Through our daily lives, we’ll come in contact with both positive and negative vibrations.

The positives will help to uplift our mood, while the negatives will drag us down, making us feel drained, tired and irritable.

There are a few techniques you can use to block negative energy from entering your aura.

These meditations take practice, though, and they won’t solve all of your aura problems.

Outside energy will always sneak through, so it’s essential that you cleanse your aura regularly to make sure your body isn’t hanging onto any of these negative emotions.

Spiritual baths give us the opportunity to cleanse our auras of the negative energy we’ve collected.

You can remedy a stressful day at work by cleansing your aura with one of the bathing recipes we’ve provided below.

Watch this video for additional benefits of spiritual cleansing:

Even spiritually-minded people hang onto negative energy.

This energy is impossible to avoid, even if we consciously surround ourselves with positive influences.

Cleanse your aura, so the negative vibrations don’t follow you to your next day.

Good enough to eat? The toxic truth about modern food

We are now producing and consuming more food than ever, and yet our modern diet is killing us. How can we solve this bittersweet dilemma?

Last modified on Tue 19 Mar 2019 16.33 GMT

P ick a bunch of green grapes, wash it, and put one in your mouth. Feel the grape with your tongue, observe how cold and refreshing it is: the crisp flesh, and the jellylike interior with its mild, sweet flavour.

Eating grapes can feel like an old pleasure, untouched by change. The ancient Greeks and Romans loved to eat them, as well as to drink them in the form of wine. The Odyssey describes “a ripe and luscious vine, hung thick with grapes”. As you pull the next delicious piece of fruit from its stalk, you could easily be plucking it from a Dutch still life of the 17th century, where grapes are tumbled on a metal platter with oysters and half-peeled lemons.

But look closer at this bunch of green grapes, cold from the fridge, and you see that they are not unchanged after all. Like so many other foods, grapes have become a piece of engineering designed to please modern eaters. First of all, there are almost certainly no seeds for you to chew or spit out (unless you are in certain places such as Spain where seeded grapes are still part of the culture). Strains of seedless varieties have been cultivated for centuries, but it is only in the past two decades that seedless has become the norm, to spare us the dreadful inconvenience of pips.

Here is another strange new thing about grapes: the ones in the supermarket such as Thompson Seedless and Crimson Flame are always sweet. Not bitter, not acidic, not foxy like a Concord grape, not excitingly aromatic like one of the Muscat varieties, but just plain sweet, like sugar. On biting into a grape, the ancients did not know if it would be ripe or sour. The same was true, in my experience, as late as the 1990s. It was like grape roulette: a truly sweet one was rare and therefore special. These days, the sweetness of grapes is a sure bet, because in common with other modern fruits such as red grapefruit and Pink Lady apples, our grapes have been carefully bred and ripened to appeal to consumers reared on sugary foods. Fruit bred for sweetness does not have to be less nutritious, but modern de-bittered fruits tend to contain fewer of the phytonutrients that give fruits and vegetables many of their protective health benefits. Such fruit still gives us energy, but not necessarily the health benefits we would expect.

The very fact that you are nibbling seedless grapes so casually is also new. I am old enough to remember a time when grapes – unless you were living in a grape-producing country – were a special and expensive treat. But now, millions of people on average incomes can afford to behave like the reclining Roman emperor of film cliche, popping grapes into our mouths one by one. Globally, we both produce and consume twice as many as we did in the year 2000. They are an edible sign of rising prosperity, because fruit is one of the first little extras that people spend money on when they start to have disposable income. Their year-round availability also speaks to huge changes in global agriculture. Fifty years ago, table grapes were a seasonal fruit, grown in just a few countries and only eaten at certain times of year. Today, they are cultivated globally and never out of season.

Almost everything about grapes has changed, and fast. And yet they are the least of our worries when it comes to food, just one tiny element in a much larger series of kaleidoscopic transformations in how and what we eat that have happened in recent years. These changes are written on the land, on our bodies and on our plates (insofar as we even eat off plates any more).

For most people across the world, life is getting better but diets are getting worse. This is the bittersweet dilemma of eating in our times. Unhealthy food, eaten in a hurry, seems to be the price we pay for living in liberated modern societies. Even grapes are symptoms of a food supply that is out of control. Millions of us enjoy a freer and more comfortable existence than that of our grandparents, a freedom underpinned by an amazing decline in global hunger. You can measure this life improvement in many ways, whether by the growth of literacy and smartphone ownership, or the rising number of countries where gay couples have the right to marry. Yet our free and comfortable lifestyles are undermined by the fact that our food is killing us, not through lack of it but through its abundance – a hollow kind of abundance.

W ith Brexit, food worries in the UK have become political, with panicked discussions of stockpiling and the spectre of US imports of chlorine-treated chicken on the horizon. Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, has dismissed these worries, suggesting that US food standards are nothing to be concerned about. But the bigger question is not whether American standards are lower than those in Britain, but why food standards across the world have been allowed to sink so dramatically.

What we eat now is a greater cause of disease and death in the world than either tobacco or alcohol. In 2015 around 7 million people died from tobacco smoke, and 2.75 million from causes related to alcohol, but 12m deaths could be attributed to “dietary risks” such as diets low in vegetables, nuts and seafood or diets high in processed meats and sugary drinks. This is paradoxical and sad, because good food – good in every sense, from flavour to nutrition – used to be the test by which we judged the quality of life. A good life without good food should be a logical impossibility.

Where humans used to live in fear of plague or tuberculosis, now the leading cause of mortality worldwide is diet. Most of our problems with eating come down to the fact that we have not yet adapted to the new realities of plenty, either biologically or psychologically. Many of the old ways of thinking about diet no longer apply, but it isn’t clear yet what it would mean to adapt our appetites and routines to the new rhythms of life. We take our cues about what to eat from the world around us, which becomes a problem when our food supply starts to send us crazy signals about what is normal. “Everything in moderation” doesn’t quite cut it in a world where the “everything” for sale in the average supermarket has become so sugary and so immoderate.

At no point in history have edible items been so easy to obtain, and in many ways this is a glorious thing. Humans have always gone out and gathered food, but never before has it been so simple for us to gather anything we want, whenever we want it, from sachets of black squid ink to strawberries in winter. We can get sushi in Buenos Aires, sandwiches in Tokyo and Italian food everywhere. Not so long ago, to eat genuine Neapolitan pizza, a swollen-edged disc of dough cooked in a blistering oven, you had to go to Naples. Now, you can find Neapolitan pizza – made using the right dough blasted in an authentic pizza oven – as far afield as Seoul and Dubai.

Talking about what has gone wrong with modern eating is delicate, because food is a touchy subject. No one likes to feel judged about their food choices, which is one of the reasons why so many healthy eating initiatives fail. The rise of obesity and diet-related disease around the world has happened hand in hand with the marketing of fast food and sugary sodas, of processed meats and branded snack foods. As things stand, our culture is far too critical of the individuals who eat junk foods and not critical enough of the corporations who profit from selling them. A survey of more than 300 international policymakers found that 90% of them still believed that personal motivation – AKA willpower – was a very strong cause of obesity. This is absurd.

It makes no sense to presume that there has been a sudden collapse in willpower across all ages and ethnic groups since the 1960s. What has changed most since the 60s is not our collective willpower but the marketing and availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Some of these changes are happening so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep track. Sales of fast food grew by 30% worldwide from 2011 to 2016 and sales of packaged food grew by 25%. Somewhere in the world, a new branch of Domino’s Pizza opened every seven hours in 2016.

Zhongshan Snack Street, a market in Nanning, Guangxi province, China. Photograph: Aleksandar Tomic/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

But this story isn’t just about one kind of food or one set of people. Across the board, across all social classes, most of us eat and drink more than our grandparents did, whether we are cooking a leisurely dinner at home from fresh ingredients or grabbing a takeaway from a fast food chain. Plates are bigger than they were 50 years ago, our idea of a portion is inflated and wine glasses are vast. It has become normal to punctuate the day with snacks and to quench our thirst with calorific liquids, from green juice and detox shots to craft sodas (which are just like any other soda, only more expensive). As the example of grapes shows, we don’t just eat more burgers and fries than our grandparents, we also eat more fruit and avocado toast and frozen yoghurt, more salad dressing and many, many more “guilt-free” kale crisps.

Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill can identify the year when snacking took off in China. It was 2004. Before that, the Chinese consumed very little between meals except green tea and hot water. In 2004, Popkin suddenly noticed a marked transition from the old Chinese ways of two or three meals a day towards a new pattern of eating. In collaboration with a team of Chinese nutritionists, he has been following the Chinese diet in snapshots of data every two or three years, conducting regular surveys of around 10,000-12,000 people. Back in 1991, Popkin found that at certain fixed times of year, there were treats to supplement the daily diet. During the mid-autumn festival, for example, people would eat moon cakes made from lard-enriched pastry stuffed with sweetened bean paste. But such feasting foods were ritualised and rare, nothing like a casual cereal bar.

In 2004, out of nowhere, as incomes rose, Chinese habits of snacking spread dramatically. The number of Chinese adults between 19 and 44 describing themselves as eating snacks over a three-day period nearly doubled, while the number of children between two and six eating snacks rose almost as much. Based on the most recent data, more than two-thirds of Chinese children now report snacking during the day. This is an eating revolution.

The curious thing about snacking in China is that to start with it actually made people healthier, because they were snacking on fruit: fresh tangerines and kumquats, bayberries and lychees, pineapple and pomelo. These were the foods that people had always aspired to eat, but couldn’t afford in the past. Phase two of snacking in China has been very different. “The marketing comes in,” Popkin tells me, “and boom! boom! boom! the snacks are not healthy any more.” As of 2015, the commercial savoury snack food market in China was worth more than $7bn. When I travelled to Nanjing last year, I saw people consuming the same Starbucks Frappuccinos and blueberry muffins as in London.

China is not alone. Almost every country in the world has experienced radical changes to its patterns of eating over the past five, 10 and 50 years. For a long time, nutritionists have held up the “Mediterranean diet” as a healthy model for people in all countries to follow. But recent reports from the World Health Organisation suggest that even in Spain, Italy and Crete, most children no longer eat anything like a “Mediterranean diet” rich in olive oil and fish and tomatoes. These Mediterranean children, who are, as of 2017, among the most overweight in Europe, now drink sugary colas and eat packaged snack foods and have lost the taste for fish and olive oil. In every continent, there has been a common set of changes from savoury foods to sweet ones, from meals to snacks, dinners cooked at home to meals eaten out, or takeaways.

In Spain, Italy and Crete, most children no longer eat anything like a ‘Mediterranean diet’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The nutrient content of our meals is one thing that has radically changed the psychology of eating is another. Much of our eating takes place in a new chaotic atmosphere in which we no longer have many rules to fall back on. On an early evening train journey recently, I looked up at my fellow travellers and noticed, first, that almost everyone was eating or drinking and second, that they were all doing so in ways that might once have been considered deeply eccentric. One man had both a cappuccino and a can of fizzy drink from which he was taking alternate sips. A woman with headphones on was nibbling an apricot tart, produced from a cardboard patisserie box. She followed it with a high-protein snackpot of two hard-boiled eggs and some raw spinach. Sitting across from her was a man carrying a worn leather briefcase. He reached inside and produced a bottle of strawberry milkshake and a half-finished packet of chocolate-caramel sweets.

We are often told in a slightly hectoring way that we should make “better” or “smarter” food choices, yet the way we eat now is the product of vast impersonal forces that none of us asked for. The choices we make about food are largely predetermined by what’s available and by the limitations of our busy lives. If you go into the average western out-of-town supermarket, you can choose from thousands of different sugary snack bars (many of them protein enhanced in some way) but only one variety of banana, the bland Cavendish.

It might be possible to eat in a more balanced way, if only we didn’t have to work, or go to school, or save money, or travel by car, bus or train, or shop at a supermarket, or live in a city, or share a meal with children, or look at a screen, or get up early, or stay up late, or walk past a vending machine, or feel depressed, or be on medication, or have a food intolerance, or own an imperfectly stocked fridge. Who knows what wonders we might then eat for breakfast?

A line of fast-food restaurants in Los Angeles, US. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

Our culture’s obsessive focus on a perfect physique has blinded us to the bigger question, which is what anyone of any size should eat to avoid being sickened by our unbalanced food supply. No one can eat themselves to perfect health, nor can we ward off death indefinitely, and the attempt to do so can drive a person crazy. Life is deeply unfair and some people may eat every dark green leafy vegetable going and still get cancer. But even if food cannot cure or forestall every illness, it does not have to be the thing that kills us. The greatest thing that we have lost from our eating today is a sense of balance, whether it’s the balance of meals across the day or the balance of nutrients on our plate.

“There are so many myths about food,” says Fumiaki Imamura, an epidemiologist who has spent the past 16 years in the west, studying the links between diet and health. One of the food myths Imamura refers to is the notion that there is such a thing as a perfectly healthy diet. He offers himself as an example. Like many Japanese people, he eats a diet rich in fish and vegetables, but he also eats a fair amount of supposedly “unhealthy” refined white rice and high-salt soy sauce. But Imamura is conscious that no population in the world eats exactly the combination of healthy foods that a nutritionist might prescribe.

Every human community across the globe eats a mixture of the “healthy” and the “unhealthy”, but the salient question is where the balance falls. Take ultra-processed foods. The occasional bowl of instant ramen noodles or frosted cereal is no cause for panic. But when ultra-processed foods start to form the bulk of what whole populations eat on any given day, we are in new and disturbing territory for human nutrition. More than half of the calorie intake in the US – 57.9% – now consists of ultra-processed food, and the UK is not far behind, with a diet that is around 50.4% ultra-processed. The fastest growing ingredient in global diets is not sugar, as I’d always presumed, but refined vegetable oils such as soybean oil, which are a common ingredient in many fast and processed foods, and which have added more calories to what we eat over the past 50 years than any other food group, by a wide margin.

In 2015, Imamura was the lead author on a paper in the medical journal the Lancet, which caused a stir in the world of nutrition science. This team of epidemiologists – based at Tufts University and led by Professor Dariush Mozaffarian – has been seeking to map the healthiness, or otherwise, of how people eat across the entire world, and how this changed in the 20 years between 1990 and 2010. The biggest surprise to come out of the data was that the highest-quality overall diets in the world are mostly to be found not in rich countries but in Africa, mostly in the sub-Saharan regions. The 10 countries with the healthiest diet patterns, listed in order with the healthiest first, came out as: Chad, Mali, Cameroon, Guyana, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, Laos, Nigeria, Guatemala, French Guiana.

Meanwhile, the 10 countries with the least healthy diet patterns, listed in order with the unhealthiest first, were: Armenia, Hungary, Belgium, USA, Russia, Iceland, Latvia, Brazil, Colombia, Australia.

The idea that healthy diets can only be attained by rich countries is one of the food myths, Imamura says. He found that the populations of Sierra Leone, Mali and Chad have diets that are closer to what is specified in health guidelines than those of Germany or Russia. Diets in sub-Saharan Africa are unusually low in unhealthy items and high in healthy ones. If you want to find the people who eat the most wholegrains, you will either have to look to the affluent Nordic countries where they still eat rye bread or to the poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where nourishing grains such as sorghum, maize, millet and teff are made into healthy main dishes usually accompanied by some kind of stew, soup or relish.

It was Imamura’s conclusion about the high quality of African diets that ruffled feathers in the world of public health. What about African hunger and scarcity? If the people of Cameroon consume low amounts of sugar and processed meat, it is partly because they are consuming low amounts of food all round.

Amsterdam has been the first rich city in the world to bring down child obesity. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Imamura does not deny, he tells me, that the quantity of food available is very low in some of the African countries, but adds: “That’s not the point of our study. We were looking at quality.” His paper was predicated on the assumption that everyone in the world was consuming 2,000 calories a day. Imamura was well aware that is far from the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where the prevalence of malnourishment is around 24% according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. But he and his colleagues wanted to isolate the question of food quality from that of quantity.

For 50 years or more, our food system has been blindly fixated on the question of quantity. Since the end of rationing after the second world war, our agricultural systems have been focused on supplying populations with enough food, without considering whether that “food” was beneficial for human health. But now there are glimmers of a return to quality, with an acknowledgement in public health circles that food is more than just a question of calories in and calories out. With Brexit, there has been belated recognition in the UK that the quality of the food we eat is not something we can just take for granted. At a meeting in Westminster Hall earlier this month, Sharon Hodgson, the shadow minister for public health, warned that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the quality of food served by public caterers in schools, hospitals and prisons.

Brexit or no Brexit, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the way most of us currently eat is not sustainable – either for the planet or for human health. The hope is that some governments and cities around the world are already taking action to create environments in which it is easier to feed ourselves in a manner that is both healthy and joyous.

Amsterdam has been the first rich city in the world to bring down child obesity, through the Amsterdam healthy weight programme (AHWP). From 2012 to 2015 the percentage of children there who are overweight or obese declined by 12%. The AHWP worked on many fronts at once, from banning junk-food marketing at sporting events to increasing water fountains in the city. But the guiding philosophy behind all the actions was to change collective ideas about what is normal when it comes to food and health. Now, when a child celebrates a birthday in an Amsterdam school, he or she cannot bring in packs of cookies or Haribos. Instead, a popular option is a selection of vegetable skewers to share with friends, consisting of tomatoes, cubes of cheese and green olives. Celebrate with olives!

Here in the land of The Great British Bake Off, celebrating a child’s birthday with olives instead of sugar might sound weird. If schools tried to enact such a plan in the UK, you can be sure that the usual chorus of critics would denounce it as “middle-class”. But there is nothing middle-class about the desire to eat food that brings us both health and happiness.

To reverse the worst of modern diets and save the best would require many other things to change about the world today, from the way we organise agriculture to the way we talk about vegetables. A smart and effective food policy would seek to create an environment in which a love of healthy food was easier to adopt, and it would also reduce the barriers to people actually buying and eating that food. None of this looks easy at present, but nor is such change impossible. If the transformations we are living through now teach us anything, it is that humans are capable of altering almost everything about our eating in a single generation.

This article was amended on 19 March 2019 to more correctly order the name of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bee Wilson’s The Way We Eat Now is published by 4th Estate on Thursday.

The Truth Behind Secret Recipes in Coke, KFC, Etc.

Everybody loves secrets, mystery, and intrigue. That's why mystery novels and films have been popular for decades, and why shows like "The X-Files" and "Lost" are cult hits.

The commercial appeal of a good mystery (real or manufactured) has not been lost on advertisers. "Mystery meat" aside, several famous brands have emphasized the uniqueness of their secret-ingredient-containing products.

According to Jay Bush of Bush's Best Beans, "Our baked beans are made from a secret recipe that's been passed down and closely guarded by generations of the Bush family." In their commercials, Duffy "Duke" of Castlebury, Jay's treacherous golden retriever, repeatedly tries to sell the secret recipe to the highest bidder. Jay notes that "he hasn't spilled the beans yet, but every dog has his price." (Actually, as long as we are revealing secrets, the real Duke is actually portrayed by a trained stunt double &mdash is nothing sacred?)

Coca-cola has one of the most famous secret recipes in the world ads whimsically claim that only two men know the ingredient list, and describe the dire consequences that would befall the planet if the secret was ever lost, including a hole appearing in the fabric of the universe. (Technically, Coca-Cola is no longer produced, and hasn't been commercially available for years. What most people refer to as "Coke" or "Coca-cola" is actually "Coca-cola Classic," since the now-discontinued "New Coke" was branded simply "Coke.")

Dr. Pepper claims that its secret blend of 23 flavors is known by only three people alive today. Kentucky Fried Chicken is home of the famous blend of "eleven secret herbs and spices," closely guarded by the company. And so on.

But is there really any such thing as a "secret ingredient" these days? After all, over the past decade consumers have gotten more and more disclosure about what's in the food they eat-- everything from calorie content to food allergy information. Furthermore, laboratory analysis has kept up with the times. Perhaps when A.J. Bush baked his first recipe in 1908, or when the Coca-Cola company was founded in 1892, there was no way to determine what "secret ingredients" might be in a product.

But these days, any laboratory worth its sodium chloride can tell pretty much what chemicals and ingredients appear in what quantities of a given sample. It's food science, not rocket science.

In his book "Big Secrets," William Poundstone revealed a laboratory analysis of Kentucky Fried Chicken: "The sample of coating mix was found to contain four and only four ingredients: flour, salt, monosodium glutamate, and black pepper. There were no eleven herbs and spices &mdash no herbs at all in fact. Nothing was found in the sample that couldn't be identified." So much for the "secret." In fact, the chicken's ingredient statement is available on KFC's Web site.

As for Coke Classic, well, the formula can be found on page 43 of Poundstone's book, but it includes vanilla extract, citrus oils, and lime juice flavoring.

There's no cocaine in Coke, and technically there never was, though it uses coca leaves and kola nuts as flavorings and stimulants. Cocaine is not the same as the coca leaf it is derived from for centuries, natives in South American countries regularly chewed on the coca leaf for its anesthetic and mild stimulant properties. But just as chewing on a coca leaf is not "taking cocaine," neither is drinking a Coke.

I had planned to reveal the whole Coke Classic formula, but as I prepared this column I got a threatening e-mail from someone who told me that if I did, he would "get medieval" on me. He referred obliquely to various implements of torture including thumb screws and the Billy Ray Cyrus single "Achy Breaky Heart." Revealing some secrets comes at too high a price. I also got an e-mail from Duke Bush (who, by the way, is amazingly competent on the keyboard despite his lack of opposing thumbs) offering to sell me his secret bean recipe.

Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. His books, films, and other projects can be found on his website. His Bad Science column appears regularly on LiveScience.