The Promise of “Fundamentally Improved” Snacks

December 29, 2009 in Foodland Chronicles, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

The various holiday seasons throughout the year spike the sales of soda and snacks; so when I read that PepsiCo announced a new research laboratory in New Haven to “fundamentally improve” the nutritional portfolio of its products, I was interested.  The new research laboratory is right next to Yale University campus. PepsiCo already has eight research centers around the world.

They also announced that they would fund a fellowship in Yale’s School of Medicine that will support nutritional research in areas such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. (What kind of eating leads to these health problems?)

Dr. Mehmood Khan, the chief scientific officer at PepsiCo said that, “Ultimately, we’re trying to make it easier for consumers to lead healthier lifestyles.” (It’s so hard for me to resist making a comment here.)

The researchers are finding that consumers are demanding healthier food options. I can read about it almost daily in the food manufacturing journals. I believe that this consumer focus on nutrition has gotten the attention of the food manufactures and the announcement from PepsiCo is an outcome of that focus.

I must admit, when I first read about it, I was in something akin to an oxymoronic stupor. It’s almost difficult to describe the thoughts that were ‘bouncing’ back and forth between the synapses of my brain. PepsiCo …….. nutrition research laboratory???? PepsiCo parent company of …….. Fritos, and No Fear Motherload, and Fununs. PepsiCo the Cap’N Crunch (The captain of sugar cereals) and Aunt Jemima Syrup people? If you read this blog often you know my idea of ‘food-like substances’ and how often and how much we should be drinking soda, juice (and juice-like products). It seems to me that PepsiCo is my nemesis. I can’t write about every single product that comes under their umbrella, but it seems like a huge percentage of their brands qualify for my ‘food-like substance’ category.

I did a little research about PepsiCo. Oh my goodness! They’re huger than huge. I thought that I’d look up the brands that come under PepsiCo. I got started and then gave up.  I’ve given you some links so you can do the rest yourself, if you’re interested.

•    Lay’s Potato Chips, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Fritos, Sunchips

•    Baken-ets (fried pork skins), Cracker Jacks, Crackers (peanut butter and cheese stuffed between white flour crackers)

•    Sunchips Harvest Cheddar, Smartfood (white Cheddar Cheese Flavored Popcorn, Flat Earth (flavored baked veggie crisps, Fununs (pretend onion rings), Frito dips, Gamsa (cookies), Matador (jerky and meat sticks), Maui Style (chips), Miss Vickie’s (chips), Munchies (snack mix, something like different flavored chex mixes), Natural line (chips and nuts), Nut Harvest (nuts and fruit mixes), Quaker snack mixes (cereal, pretzels, and chips), Rold Gold Pretzels, Ruffles Dips,  Sabritones, flavored puffed wheat snacks, Santitas tortilla chips, Smartfood Popcorn Clusters, Stacy’s (Pita, bagel, buns, crisps and chips), Sunchips (9 varieties multigrain snacks), Tostitos (11 varieties),  True North

•   Pepsi, Mountain Dew …… 50 brands just in North America alone, including: with and without caffeine, with lime, vanilla, cherry, wild cherry, Mountain Dew versions, Mug root beer, Mug cream soda, Sierra Mist, Slice, AMP energy drink, Aquafina versions, Dole juices, Sugar Free No Fear Motherload, and No Fear Motherload, Ocean Spray juices, Frappuccino coffees, Starbucks coffee versions, SoBe Juice drinks, dairy and teas,

•    (Chips and nut clusters and Crisps)

•    Quaker Oats, Cap’N Crunch, Life, Quaker Chewy, Near east Rice Pilaf, Rice a Roni, Breakfast Cookies, King Vitamin, Aunt Jemima syrup, Sugar Puffs ….. 27 North American Brands …..International Brands

•    True North Nuts in white flour crackers, and stuck together with sugary ‘stuff’.

•    Tropicana (Juices, punch, smoothies, nectars, juice without clothing (Naked Juice), Tropicana Twister sodas.

•    Gatorade Brands, Propel, Gatorade Tiger, G2 and Gatorade Thirst Quenchers

PepsiCo makes humus dip and salsa (I’d have to look at the ingredient list to decide what I think about those two, might be a good choice), and packages some tree nuts and peanuts, rice cakes, and oatmeal, so I don’t want to imply that they don’t make anything that is good for you. But good grief, there’s a huge list of stuff – food-like substances and highly processed products that have removed perishable and “rough” bran and added taste-tempting layers of sugars, salt, and saturated fats.  These composite products have a very long shelf life and are highly profitable – good for their shareholders.  But the constituents of these types of products are already implicated by much research to the current epidemic of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. It does not take a new research institute to establish the probable link between these conditions and the consumption of highly processed snack foods, soda, and sweet drinks. In these blogs I repeatedly advise people not to choose these types of products very often. I hope they do more than reverting to the grand idea of throwing in a bottle of vitamins and minerals and calling all those food-like substances “fundamentally improved” health foods. Be careful, my friends, strive to eat unprocessed foods.

If their research institute is given enough independence, it could result in increasing somewhat the ratio of healthy foods in PepsiCo’s portfolio by modest increments.  It is not likely that it will really attack the truly fundamental issue of the imbalance of their portfolio toward highly profitable snacks and drinks.  Perhaps we will see more snacks like Almonds rather than like Cheetos. We will see.  I only hope that they will not use their power and resources to turn out research attempting to prove that the fundamental nature of most snacks and drinks, and their ubiquitous presence in the modern food environment world wide, cannot really be implicated as an important part of the epidemic of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.  The cigarette companies’ self-funded research and legal actions held back for decades the progress of public health in putting addictive, debilitating, economically devastating smoking in its place.

P.S. Note to self: Learn how cheese (which I believe that we should eat sparingly) is turned into cheese powder before it is sprinkled all over chips, crackers and other snack foods. Often made with palm oil which is 49% saturated fat (Coconut oil 86 – 90% saturated fat and Palm kernel oil 81% saturated fat.) The fat in hard cheese, like Swiss and Cheddar, is about 63 – 65% saturated fat – that’s why we should be real careful with cheese intake. Although it may have a little less saturated fat, cheese powder made with palm oil still has lots of saturated fat. Yikes! Notice the caution lights blinking when you choose highly processed foods and food-like substances.

Snacks can contribute to a healthy diet.

Snacks can contribute to a healthy diet.