No Purveyor of Unhealthy Products Wants the Public to Know the Truth

In 2011, Denmark introduced the world’s first tax on saturated fat. “After only 15 months, however, the fat tax was abolished,” due to massive pressure from farming and food company interests. “Public health advocates are weak in tackling the issues of corporate power…A well-used approach for alcohol, tobacco, and, more recently, food-related corporate interests is to shift the focus away from health. This involves reframing a fat or soft drinks tax as an issue of consumer rights and a debate over the role of the state in ‘nannying’ or restricting people’s choices.” I discuss this in my video The Food Industry Wants the Public Confused About Nutrition.

“The ‘Nanny State’ is a term that is usually used in a pejorative way to discourage governments from introducing legislation or regulation that might undermine the power or actions of industry or individuals…Public health advocacy work is regularly undermined by the ‘Nanny State’ phrase.” But those complaining about the governmental manipulation of people’s choices hypocritically tend to be fine with corporations doing the same thing. One could argue that “public health is being undermined by the ‘Nanny Industry’…[that] uses fear of government regulation to maintain its own dominance, to maintain its profits and to do so at a significant financial and social cost to the community and to public health.”

The tobacco industry offers the classic example, touting “personal responsibility,” which has a certain philosophical appeal. As long as people understand the risks, they should be free to do whatever they want with their bodies. Now, some argue that risk-taking affects others, but if you have the right to put your own life at risk, shouldn’t you have the right to aggrieve your parents, widow your spouse, and orphan your children? Then, there’s the social cost argument. People’s bad decisions can cost the society as a whole, whose tax dollars may have to care for them. “The independent, individualist motorcyclist, helmetless and free on the open road, becomes the most dependent of individuals in the spinal injury ward.”

But, for the sake of argument, let’s forget these spillover effects, the so-called externalities. If someone understands the hazards, shouldn’t they be able to do whatever they want? Well, “first, it assumes individuals can access accurate and balanced information relevant to their decisions…but deliberate industry interference has often created situations where consumers have access only to incomplete and inaccurate information…For decades, tobacco companies successfully suppressed or undermined scientific evidence of smoking’s dangers and down played the public health concerns to which this information gave rise.” Don’t worry your little head, said the nanny companies. “Analyses of documents…have revealed decades of deception and manipulation by the tobacco industry, and confirmed deliberate targeting of…children.” Indeed, it has “marketed and sold [its] lethal products with zeal…and without regard for the human tragedy….”

“The tobacco industry’s deliberate strategy of challenging scientific evidence undermines smokers’ ability to understand the harms smoking poses” and, as such, undermines the whole concept that smoking is a fully informed choice. “Tobacco companies have denied smokers truthful information…yet held smokers [accountable] for incurring diseases that will cause half of them to die prematurely. In contexts such as these, government intervention is vital to protect consumers from predatory industries….”

Is the food industry any different? “The public is bombarded with information and it is hard to tell which is true, which is false and which is merely exaggerated. Foods are sold without clarity about the nutritional content or harmful effects.” Remember how the food industry spent a billion dollars making sure the easy-to-understand traffic-light labeling system on food, which you can see at 4:26 in my video, never saw the light of day and was replaced by indecipherable labeling? That’s ten times more money than the drug industry spends on lobbying in the United States. It’s in the food industry’s interest to have the public confused about nutrition.

How confused are we about nutrition? “Head Start teachers are responsible for providing nutrition education to over 1 million low-income children annually…” When 181 Head Start teachers were put to the test, only about 4 out of the 181 answered at least four of the five nutrition knowledge questions correctly. Most, for example, could not correctly answer the question, “What has the most calories: protein, carbohydrate, or fat?” Not a single teacher could answer all five nutrition questions correctly. While they valued nutrition education, 54 percent “agreed that it was hard to know which nutrition information to believe,” and the food industry wants to keep it that way. A quarter of the teachers did not consume any fruits or vegetables the previous day, though half did have french fries and soda, and a quarter consumed fried meat the day before. Not surprisingly, 55 percent of the teachers were not just overweight but obese.

When even the teachers are confused, something must be done. No purveyor of unhealthy products wants the public to know the truth. “An interesting example comes from the US ‘Fairness Doctrine’ and the tobacco advertising experience of the 1960s. Before tobacco advertising was banned from television in the US, a court ruling in 1967 required that tobacco companies funded one health ad about smoking for every four tobacco TV advertisements they placed. Rather than face this corrective advertising, the tobacco industry took their own advertising off television.” They knew they couldn’t compete with the truth. Just “the threat of corrective advertising even on a one-to-four basis was sufficient to make the tobacco companies withdraw their own advertising.” They needed to keep the public in the dark.

The trans fat story is an excellent example of this. For more on that, see my videos Controversy Over the Trans Fat Ban and Banning Trans Fat in Processed Foods but Not Animal Fat.

Isn’t the Fairness Doctrine example amazing? Just goes to show how powerful the truth can be. If you want to support my efforts to spread evidence-based nutrition, you can donate to our 501c3 nonprofit here. You may also want to support Balanced, an ally organization NutritionFacts.org helped launch to put this evidence into practice.


More tobacco industry parallels can be found in Big Food Using the Tobacco Industry Playbook, American Medical Association Complicity with Big Tobacco, and How Smoking in 1959 Is Like Eating in 2016.

Want to know more about that saturated fat tax idea? See Would Taxing Unhealthy Foods Improve Public Health?.

Also check:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Almonds vs. Rice vs. Potatoes for Osteoporosis

Currently, an estimated ten million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, causing more than a million fractures, including hundreds of thousands of hip fractures, a common reason people end up in nursing homes. Many older women say they’d rather be dead than break their hip and end up in a home.

Bone is a living, “dynamic organ that is constantly renewed through a process of remodeling and modeling” involving bone breakdown by cells that eat bone, called osteoclasts, and bone formation by cells that build bone, called osteoblasts. Osteoporosis is caused by an imbalance between bone loss and bone gain, most often related to hormonal changes that occur during menopause. Is there anything we can do to help tip the balance back in bone’s favor?

There are a number of specific compounds in plant foods that look promising, but, as I discuss in my video Almonds for Osteoporosis, they are based on in vitro studies where researchers basically just drip some plant compound like cranberry phytonutrients on bone cells in a petri dish and see a boost in bone-builder cells or a drop in bone-eater cells. But no matter how much people like cranberry sauce, they’re not injecting it into their veins. For phytonutrients to reach the bone, they first have to get absorbed from the digestive tract into our bloodstream and make it past the liver before they can circulate to our skeleton. So, what we need is a so-called ex vivo study, where you take people, feed them a food—or not, draw their blood a few hours later, and then drip their blood onto bone cells to see if there’s any difference.

Normally, I’m not impressed with studies funded by marketing boards that pay for studies like the one that found that eating almonds improved cycling distance and athletic performance—compared to cookies. But the study I discuss in my video mentioned above was brilliant, not surprisingly, given it was performed in the world-famous lab of Dr. David Jenkins. There was a population study that suggested that eating almonds could protect against osteoporosis. Researchers could have simply dripped some almond extract on bone cells, but that’s not testing the whole food. Instead bone cells could be treated with the blood obtained from donors who had been fed the whole food to directly test the effects of these foods at the cellular level.

So, researchers exposed human osteoclasts, the bone-eating cells, to blood obtained before and four hours after eating a handful of almonds. But, wait. If you ate a handful of almonds every day, wouldn’t you gain weight? That’s almost 200 calories a day. Women in one study added to their regular diet a handful of almonds—like 35 nuts—as a mid-morning snack and were instructed to eat as much as they wanted for lunch and dinner that day. What happened? They ate less. In fact, they ate so much less, they canceled out the nut calories. In the study, the participants all had the same breakfast and then 0, 173, or 259 calories’ worth of almonds as a snack, before eating as much lunch and dinner as they wanted. The nuts appeared to be so satiating that the subjects ate less for lunch or dinner such that, at the end of the day, there was no significant difference in total caloric intake amongst any of the three groups. Part of the reason we don’t tend to gain weight when adding nuts to our diet may be because we end up flushing nearly one third of the calories down the toilet because we just don’t chew well enough. This is why we think there’s so much less fat in our bloodstream after eating whole almonds compared to the same amount of almond oil taken out of the same quantity of nuts.

Back to the study: So, researchers wanted to see if they could suppress the activity of the cells that eat away our bones. What did they find? Blood “serum obtained following the consumption of an almond meal inhibits human osteoclast formation, function, and gene expression…[providing] direct evidence to support the association between regular almond consumption and a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis.” The researchers also tried before and after eating other meals, including rice and potatoes, to make sure there wasn’t just some effect of eating in general. But, no: The protective effect did appear specific to the almonds.


What about dairy products? See my Is Milk Good for Our Bones? video.

And what about calcium supplements? Check out Are Calcium Supplements Safe? and Are Calcium Supplements Effective?.

Surprised by the lack of weight gain from eating all those nuts? You won’t be after watching Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence. And if you think that’s surprising, Pistachio Nut for Erectile Dysfunction will really shock you.

Want to learn more about ingenious ex vivo studies? See:

One possible mechanism for why nuts may be so healthy for our bones can be found in my video Phytates for the Prevention of Osteoporosis. What about the power of prunes? See Prunes for Osteoporosis.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: