Marion Nestle (@marionnestle) is the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and the author of Food Politics, Soda Politics, and Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.
What We Discuss with Marion Nestle:
- How food companies pay for research studies that distort science in their favor — at the expense of even the most health-conscious consumers among us.
- Why it’s important to remember that food companies are businesses geared toward making money for their stockholders — not service agencies operating in the public’s best interests.
- Food companies band together to lobby Congress for laws that allow biased, industry-funded “research” to influence consumer habits with deceptive marketing language.
- When Marion tracked 168 food company-funded studies, she discovered that 156 concluded with results favorable to the sponsors’ interests, and only 12 ended up with unfavorable results.
- The many ways food marketers mislead consumers and how to protect yourself and your family from this never-ending barrage of deception.
- And much more…
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When the people who are trying to sell you something sponsor research that concludes the thing being sold will benefit you in a number of ways and you’d be crazy not to buy it, maybe the actual crazy thing is trusting that these people have your best interests at heart and aren’t manipulating information to influence your decisions. Yet food companies — especially in the United States — do this very thing every day.
On this episode, we talk to Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, and the author of Food Politics, Soda Politics, and Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat. Here, we get into how pervasive the food industry is in corrupting science to support its own agendas (i.e., making money), how it lobbies Congress to shape policy that makes such manipulation as easy as possible, the damage this causes to the health of our society, and what we can do to spot food industry deception and protect ourselves against it. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Thanks, Marion Nestle!
If you enjoyed this session with Marion Nestle, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat by Marion Nestle | Amazon
- Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle | Amazon
- Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (And Winning) by Marion Nestle | Amazon
- Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food Politics by Marion Nestle | Amazon
- Marion Nestle | Website
- Marion Nestle | Twitter
- Marion Nestle | Instagram
- I’ve Been WikiLeaked! | Food Politics
- John Abramson | How Big Pharma Broke American Health Care | Jordan Harbinger
- Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets | The New York Times
- Six Industry-Funded Studies. The Score for the Year: 156/12 | Food Politics
- POM Juice Sued Over Health Claims | The Daily Beast
- California Drought Hits World’s Top Almond Producer | Smithsonian Magazine
- The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI): True Colors Revealed | Food Politics
- Weekend Reading: A Call to the Un Food Systems Summit: Ultra-Processed Foods | Food Politics
- Sugars Consumption Dropping for 20 Years Straight | Food Politics
- Weekend reading: A call to the UN Food Systems Summit: Ultra-processed foods – Food Politics by Marion Nestle
- Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss | Amazon
- Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss | Amazon
- The Fight to Change the Name of High Fructose Corn Syrup | The Atlantic
- How We Were Led to BelieHow We Were Led to Believe Dark Chocolate is Healthy | Vice
- Chocolate Milk Redux: Nutrifluff vs. Policy | Food Politics
- Superfoods’ Origins in Marketing and Industry Research | The Atlantic
- ‘In Defense of Food’ Author Offers Advice For Health | NPR
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan | Amazon
- Conflicts of Interest for Members of the U.S. 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee | Public Health Nutrition
- Congress, FOIA, and Checkoff Programs | Food Politics
713: Marion Nestle | How Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Marion Nestle: And for a whole year, every time I had five studies that were funded by industry, I posted them on my website. And at the end of the year, I had 168 studies and of those 156 had results that were favorable to the sponsor's interest.
[00:00:25] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional Fortune 500 CEO, former cult member, war correspondent, or rocket scientist. Each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:00:52] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show — and I love it when you do that — I suggest our episode starter packs. That makes things a little bit easier. These are collections of some of our top episodes, or at least some of our favorites, organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show, instead of being slammed in the face by 700-plus episodes. The topics included are crime and cults, scams and conspiracy debunk, China, North Korea, abnormal psychology, negotiation and communication, persuasion, influence — you get the idea, just visit jordanharbinger.com/start. Or search for us in your Spotify app and they'll show right up, hopefully, and that'll get you started.
[00:01:29] Today on the show, you've heard a lot about big pharma in the news lately, even a little bit on this show, but what about big food? I'm not talking about big agriculture with their fancy designer seeds, but straight-up big food, the stuff you read about and see marketed to you all the time. The stuff that's packaged on the wall, in the rack of the grocery store. Headlines that read like — Eating this type of grape skin will add years to your life. This kind of fruit juice lowers the risk of prostate cancer. This cereal makes your heart healthier. All of that seeming pseudoscience nonsense. It sounds like it's grounded in science, but it's actually rooted purely in marketing. Just that's pretty much it, plain and simple. That is what we are talking about today with Marion Nestle.
[00:02:09] That's right. It's Nestle, not Nestlé. I know you were thinking that when you read the show title, she's not related to the Nestlé food company. That would be a super weird coincidence, but it's just a sort of weird coincidence with a different pronunciation. Today, we'll discuss how science is distorted to suit the food companies that pay for the studies and the marketing and how you can almost never really trust — surprise, surprise — what you read in the news about food or food products themselves, and also how scientists and researchers are co-opted and guided by food companies, politics, and pretty much everything except for science itself. The good news is the solution to this is a lot simpler than you think.
[00:02:46] Now, here we go with Marion Nestle.
[00:02:52] The book starts with a very interesting story about how there's this WikiLeaks email dump from the Democratic Party. And somehow Coca-Cola gets wrapped up in this. What's going on there?
[00:03:03] Marion Nestle: That was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me. I got a couple of emails one morning from people I didn't know, saying, "Marion, you're in the WikiLeaks of the emails that were hacked from Hillary Clinton." I was kind of stunned. I mean, I wasn't involved in the Hillary Clinton campaign. I could not imagine how emails about me or from me, or to me could have been caught up in that. It turned out that these emails referred to a talk that I had given at the University of Sydney, right about the time my book Soda Politics came out. That was 2015.
[00:03:45] The Soda Politics was a book about the soda industry and why you shouldn't drink sodas because they're not good for your health. And I was asked to give a talk at the University of Sydney to a nutrition society. As I was walking into the talk, somebody said to me, "You know, there's somebody from Coca-Cola in the audience, do you care?" And I said, "Of course not. There's always somebody from Coca-Cola at any talk I give. I expect them to be there." So I gave my talk and thought nothing about it.
[00:04:16] And it turned out that these emails were collected from a friend of Hillary Clinton, a woman named Capricia Marshall. And while she was working on the Clinton campaign, she was also consulting for Coca-Cola for $7,000 a month.
[00:04:34] Jordan Harbinger: Not bad.
[00:04:35] Marion Nestle: She had a retainer from Coca-Cola. We learned from the emails and her emails were collected and it turned out that the person who was at my talk from Coca-Cola had taken notes on my talk — very good ones, by the way — and then passed those notes up the chain of command until they got to Capricia Marshall, where they were caught up in this WikiLeaks thing. And I thought that was amazing. I couldn't believe that Coca-Cola would care about a talk that I was giving to a nutrition group in Sydney, Australia. Or that this would get this kind of attention. Coca-Cola never missed a trick.
[00:05:15] Jordan Harbinger: When I read Unsavory Truth, this isn't even specifically about soda, but it definitely exposes some of the — I'm trying not to be hyperbolic here, but it definitely exposes some of the food company tentacles that reach into things that we would probably not like food company tentacles to be in such as academic research. And it sounds to me, and correct me where I'm wrong here, like drug company influence, food company influence, pushes recommendations that are not necessarily in the best interest of those who consume the product aka food, but instead are in the best interest of the company and its shareholders.
[00:05:49] Marion Nestle: Well, the way I like to put it is that food companies are not social service agencies. They're not public health agencies, they're businesses. And like any other business in the current business environment, their job is to produce profits for stockholders.
[00:06:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:04] Marion Nestle: That's their first priority. And anything that interferes with that is something they want to put a stop to and they want to promote anything that will promote sales. It's really that simple, and there's not much ethical consideration that goes into it. You know, we're not concerned about morality, or as I said about public health, they're not public health agencies.
[00:06:27] And the soda companies are the best examples of that, although all food companies do this. But the soda companies are the best example because they produce products that are sugars and water and nothing else. And there's no redeeming nutritional value anywhere in their products. And so they have a particularly hard time at a time when people are gaining weight and obesity is highly prevalent in society, and everybody is trying to eat less sugar and take in fewer calories. They're kind of in trouble as a result.
[00:07:00] These are business imperatives. And so Unsavory Truth, which was the book that came later is about food company sponsorship of research and the other ways in which food companies promote their products beyond advertising. So funding of research, attacking of critics—
[00:07:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:20] Marion Nestle: —keeping track of critics, that kind of thing.
[00:07:23] Jordan Harbinger: There's something invasive about a food company, trying to police what we are actually learning about their product. You know, I understand advertising. Okay, I get it, hashtag capitalism. I don't want fast food restaurants, writing nutrition guidelines for kindergartners. I don't mind if they advertise juicy burgers and there's a toy with it and the kids bug their parents to go. Fine, you're a good parent. You take your kid to the fast food place once a month. It's not going to kill them, but I don't want them to say, "Hey, you know what? You're not getting your daily serving of fries." That's where it crosses the line and sort of freaks me out.
[00:07:54] And undue influence from big pharma is well documented. We did an episode with Dr. John Abramson on this, and people can search for that in the show feed. I'll link in the show notes. But when we get into influence from food companies, it starts to take these little steps over the line, and then it starts to take these bigger steps over the line, like the psychology of gifts. Can we talk a little bit about that? You mentioned it in the book. Look, if you sponsor a golf tournament. Okay. But then it's like, the scientists are saying, "Hey, I'm not influenced by the fact that I spent a week in Cayman Islands sponsored by a food company." And it's like, well, you are, that's how bias works.
[00:08:29] Marion Nestle: Yeah. But people don't recognize it. And that's one of the interesting things about it. I mean, let's just talk about the situation with pharmaceutical companies because they've been studied more. And basically what I tried to do in Unsavory Truth is to do for the food industry what had been done over 50 years for the pharmaceutical industry, which is to demonstrate that gifts influence physicians' prescription practices. That the physicians don't realize the influence. They didn't intend the influence. They don't believe they're influenced. Somehow, it just happens.
[00:09:06] And so what I tried to do was to take this enormous amount of evidence from the pharmaceutical company and see if it applied to food companies. And it was quite difficult to do because there's not nearly as much evidence. And the first looks at food industry influence, really only took place within the last 20 years, some of the mine of some of them other people's, there's not as much evidence, but as far as I could tell the game works in exactly the same way.
[00:09:37] And the food industry bought the pharmaceutical industry's playbook, the cigarette industry's playbook, the chemical industry's playbook, they all worked the same way. The first thing you do is cast out unfavorable research. You attack critics. You promote your own research to give you the answers that you want to the research questions. That's all public stuff. And then behind the scenes, you lobby, you visit Congress. You make sure that nobody is trying to regulate you in a way that you don't want to be regulated.
[00:10:14] You know, I picked on Coca-Cola, not because Coca-Cola is any worse than any other company, but Coca-Cola got caught.
[00:10:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:10:23] Marion Nestle: And it got caught red-handed because the New York Times did an investigative report of Coca-Cola's funding of a research group of investigators who were claiming that it didn't matter what you ate or drank, obesity was a matter of not enough physical activity.
[00:10:43] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:10:43] Marion Nestle: Contrary to a lot of research. Take my word for it. There's a lot of research that says that's not true. Physical activity is very important. It's just that it doesn't work very well for weight unless you're in a lead athlete. And they got caught because some of these researchers were at public universities and investigators were able to use the Freedom of Information Act to get their emails.
[00:11:07] And the emails between these researchers and Coca-Cola were very damning. They showed that Coca-Cola arranged their travel, arranged their research, paid for it, you know, interpreted it, sent them on talks. Considered them a member of the Coca-Cola team.
[00:11:26] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yikes.
[00:11:26] Marion Nestle: Called them team members. I mean, they were essentially working for Coca-Cola, and yet if you talk to those investigators, they would swear to you that the Coca-Cola funding had nothing to do with their opinion. Oh yes, and they forgot to mention the Coca-Cola funding.
[00:11:43] Jordan Harbinger: Right. so it doesn't affect our opinion. And that's why I'm literally not going to ever talk about it or write about it or admit about that I'm working with them because it doesn't affect my findings.
[00:11:53] Marion Nestle: Yeah. And that's what I meant by they got caught because somebody figured it out and informed a reporter.
[00:11:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:12:00] Marion Nestle: And the rest ended up on the front page of the New York Times, which is not where you want to be if you are a—
[00:12:06] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:12:06] Marion Nestle: —food company—
[00:12:07] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:12:07] Marion Nestle: —in that way. But as far as I can tell every food company does exactly the same thing to the extent it can. They don't all have as deep pockets or as efficient staff, as Coca-Cola has, but they're all funding research to give them the kind of results that they want. They're all members of the American beverage association or some other trade association. That's doing their lobbying dirty work for them. And their purpose is not to make people fat. Their purpose is not to make people unhealthy. Their purpose is to make profits. It's really simple.
[00:12:44] Jordan Harbinger: It is the subtle influence that makes it hard to detect corruptive effect of funding, right? Because it's not like, okay, we're funding this and it's going to be so blatant that you're going to see all these obviously skewed results. It's people who are doing, in many ways, doing their best, but in complete denial that their golf trip being funded by Coca-Cola is causing them an issue. It might have been in your book, trips and funding and gifts from pharmaceutical companies ended up doubling the number of prescriptions that were written from that company. And it's like, well, okay, that is as blatant as it gets. And it's the same thing that's happening. If a rep can go to a doctor and say, "Hey, here's a nice meal and a prescription pad and a pen." And then the prescriptions double. Well, what happens when there's a nice Florida, Miami conference and they're paying for your flight and your hotel, and it's sponsored by a food company? I mean, it's going to be very similar when it comes to doing your research.
[00:13:39] Marion Nestle: The interesting part about that is that investigators have then gone back to the physicians who changed their prescription practices, and say, "Did you change your prescription practice? Because you were getting money or gifts from the prescriber, and they're just floored at the idea that anybody would even think such a thing. Or they're surprised that you would even think such a thing.
[00:14:05] When I give talks on Unsavory Truth, there's always somebody in the audience who stands up and says, "I don't understand. Why you're suggesting that industry funding would have any effect? You're not commenting on the science. My science is just fine." And in many cases, they're right, because there have been investigations of that too. And those investigations show that the main place where the bias shows up is in the way the research question is framed. And this I understand because I get letters from food companies all the time saying, "We're putting out a request for proposals to demonstrate the benefits of our product." You know, just flat out?
[00:14:52] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Not is our product good for you, but how our product is good for you, right?
[00:14:56] Marion Nestle: Well, they're specific about the kinds of research they're looking for. They want to show that the product is good for cognitive functioning, prevents heart disease or cancer, prevents bone problems. They're very clear about that. Well, they're not going to fund anything that risks showing something different.
[00:15:16] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:17] Marion Nestle: I mean, this sounds subtle, but there's a big difference between that and saying, "We want to know what this product does for health."
[00:15:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:15:25] Marion Nestle: Big difference.
[00:15:26] Jordan Harbinger: I would assume if you run that study and you say, "Hey, turns out no cognitive benefits whatsoever." That's the last time you get selected for funding from that company forever.
[00:15:35] Marion Nestle: Right.
[00:15:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:36] Marion Nestle: Yeah. You know, I kept track for a while and I have a blog at foodpolitics.com and for a whole year, at least once a week, every time I had five studies that were funded by industry, I posted them on my website. And at the end of the year, I had 168 studies and of those 156 had results that were favorable to the sponsor's interest.
[00:16:02] Jordan Harbinger: That's a large percentage.
[00:16:03] Marion Nestle: A very large percentage. Now, this was not a systematically collected study which is what I ran across. And the only scientific conclusion I can make is it's easier to find industry-funded studies with favorable results than it is to find industry-funded studies with unfavorable results but I thought, you know, that was pretty clear. I can look at the title of a study and it's almost always with fruits and vegetables. Pomegranates will improve cognitive [funding]. I know exactly who paid for that study.
[00:16:38] Jordan Harbinger: Cognitive function, right? Is what you meant, not cognitive funding?
[00:16:40] Marion Nestle: Did I say funding?
[00:16:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Speaking of cognitive function. Yeah.
[00:16:46] Marion Nestle: Right.
[00:16:46] Jordan Harbinger: That's a funny error.
[00:16:47] Marion Nestle: Yeah.
[00:16:48] Jordan Harbinger: And I see those ads and didn't — I was going to bring this up later in the show, but I know that POM Wonderful got sued into oblivion — well, maybe not oblivion, because they're still around and still selling — for making ridiculous claims. I could be making this up, but wasn't there a claim about erectile dysfunction or something like that?
[00:17:05] Marion Nestle: Right.
[00:17:05] Jordan Harbinger: And it's like, give me a break.
[00:17:07] Marion Nestle: Yeah. They were making health claims that have to be approved by the FDA and the FDA took a dim view of them. And they weren't marketing pomegranate juice as a supplement. If they'd been marketing it as a supplement, the rules for claims on supplements are different and they could have gotten away with it if it was a supplement, but they had a nutrition fax label on it. So they had to change the wording of their claims, but people love health claims. Health claims sell products.
[00:17:35] Jordan Harbinger: I can say that one's not true. Once you see the price of that juice, you will absolutely lose any erection you may have had upon purchase. That stuff is super—
[00:17:42] Marion Nestle: Right.
[00:17:43] Jordan Harbinger: —overpriced. Those are the same, and this is just a side note, it has nothing to do with the actual food. But that company is also owned, I believe, by the wife of another guy, who's basically draining all the water out of California to grow almonds that should — they have no business being grown in California. And these two people are charmers.
[00:17:59] Marion Nestle: Well, they're also the people who import water from Fiji.
[00:18:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right. These are the top three. It's like water in California, problem. Water being imported from Fiji, which has a water shortage and being sold in plastic bottles, problem — POM Wonderful and it's the same two people who own these companies.
[00:18:16] Marion Nestle: Well, they're doing very well.
[00:18:17] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, they're doing well for themselves. They are going to be remembered very poorly by history. No matter how they try to white watch their reputation.
[00:18:24] Marion Nestle: Yeah, but doing well is what all this is about.
[00:18:27] Jordan Harbinger: I know.
[00:18:27] Marion Nestle: It's where keep coming back to. Food companies, even though they produce foods we love, they are not social service agencies and cannot be looked at as social service agencies. It's a mistake to look at them as a public health—
[00:18:41] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:42] Marion Nestle: —force, you know, and it's caused them a lot of problems. I mean, food companies could do anything they wanted until obesity became a problem in the United States. And the statistics now are that three-quarters of American adults are overweight or obese. That's a lot of overweight. And if you're going to do something about that, you got to encourage people not to choose a lot of those products. That's not good for business.
[00:19:12] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Marion Nestle. We'll be right back.
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[00:22:26] Now back to Marion Nestle.
[00:22:30] This is probably an overstatement, but would you say to some degree, if you know who funds it, you can often predict the results of a study? Is that a fair statement?
[00:22:38] Marion Nestle: Absolutely. I can. I can do it all the time. I can look at the title of a study and say, somebody, must have paid for this.
[00:22:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:47] Marion Nestle: Because why would anybody do that study? Or I can look at the results and say, somebody, must have paid for this. I wonder who it was and can often predict who it was.
[00:22:58] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me about funding and funding front groups because you see these with political election things where it's like, "Paid for by Americans for freedom." And you're like, what does that even mean? Nothing. It's like just some sort of candidate group that doesn't want to say which candidate it's for or group of candidates it's for, it's like a pack or a super pack. They have this with food where you see like, "Paid for by the cotton association," or, Paid for by the American corn growers," or something like that. But what do these groups really do? And who are they for? I mean, they're obviously for the farmers, I guess, or the food marketing companies, but what is their function?
[00:23:32] Marion Nestle: Well, first of all, they're trade associations for food companies and those trade associations have as their function to promote sales of whatever products they're representing, but front groups are groups that pretend to be independent. I mean, you know that a trade association, if it's the corn refiners, they're going to do everything else, everything they can to promote high-fructose corn syrup. If it's the sugar association, they're going to be working for the growers of sugar cane and sugar beets. But front groups pretend to be something else. They pretend to be independent scientific entities. And I guess the two best examples for food are the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and the American Council on Science and Health which purport to be independent scientific experts and instead they're paid for by food companies mainly and reflect a very strong pro-food industry position on any issue where public health is in conflict with the food companies interest.
[00:24:40] And ILSI is the one that's been best studied by this time. It was an organization funded by Coca-Cola originally, a very long time, many, many decades ago now. And within the last few years, there have been many number of investigative reports of how ILSI influenced public policy in countries like Singapore or China or, you know, any place that you can think of where ILSI operates. And as an independent think tank on scientific issues, ILSI scientists get appointed to important positions in public health agencies and government agencies, where they are able to promote food industry influence from within. There are now many documented examples of how that operates more and more coming out all the time.
[00:25:34] So much so that ILSI has changed its name and its foundation has changed its name. And it's trying to drop the name ILSI so you people won't recognize it for what it's doing.
[00:25:46] Jordan Harbinger: These front groups can, what? Lobby to bury studies they don't like or lobby for things that have been judged as may be ineffective or possibly even unsafe.
[00:25:55] Marion Nestle: The kind of thing that they are involved in as any public policy that might end up with people buying less of food company products. Again, the purpose of a food company is to sell products.
[00:26:10] Two things have made this tough on food companies. One is the general understanding that eating less sugar is really better for you. So if you're a soda company and you're making a product that provides half the sugar in American diets, you're in trouble. And in fact, soda sales, full-sugar sodas are way down. If you want to know why supermarkets are filled with these artificially sweetened waters, it's because nobody's buying sugar anymore. So sales are way down.
[00:26:41] The other thing, and this is newer, that is going to affect food companies is the understanding that what are now called ultra-processed foods, are particularly bad for health. And there is now an astonishing amount of evidence that demonstrates that people who eat a lot of ultra-processed foods gain weight, get type two diabetes, have a higher risk for heart disease, higher mortality, are at greater risk for poor outcome for COVID-19 than people who avoid these products. And the easiest way to define ultra-processed food is to say that it's something that's so industrially produced that you can't make it in your home kitchen because you don't have access to the equipment or the ingredients.
[00:27:28] Jordan Harbinger: Can you give me an example of something that's common that is in that category?
[00:27:32] Marion Nestle: I'll give you two examples, corn and ice cream.
[00:27:36] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:27:36] Marion Nestle: So corn on the cob is unprocessed. Canned corn is processed. Doritos are ultra-processed.
[00:27:43] Jordan Harbinger: Got it. Okay.
[00:27:44] Marion Nestle: Okay. Ice cream, you can at home make four-ingredient ice cream, milk, cream, vanilla, sugar. That's not ultra-processed. The ultra-processed ones are the ones that have flavors and texturizers and 20 ingredients that you don't have access to.
[00:28:04] Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
[00:28:04] Marion Nestle: So you can't make it. There's a big difference in the way the human body responds to these products. And that has been shown in a controlled clinical trial. That demonstrated that people who were eating ultra-processed as compared to foods that were processed and matched for protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, palatability, and everything else they could think of, except for the ultra-processing caused people to eat 500 calories more a day.
[00:28:35] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. I could imagine. Look as a guy who survived on DoorDash while I had COVID because my wife and kids were out of the house and I tried to order healthy stuff and it was still like, I feel like a bowling ball every time I eat. This is not good. It adds up quick after a week.
[00:28:50] Marion Nestle: Yeah. Well, this is interesting too, because this was a controlled clinical trial done in a metabolic ward at NIH. And the people who were in this trial could not tell the difference between the two diets, the relatively unprocessed and the ultra-processed. They thought they were equally palatable and they were completely unaware that they were eating more calories out of the ultra-processed diet. And the thing about it, that was so shocking to me was the quantity of the caloric difference. Because usually in dietary studies of calories, you're lucky if you get a 50-calorie difference, hardly enough to measure, but this was 500 calories.
[00:29:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yikes.
[00:29:35] Marion Nestle: 500 calories a day. And the people who were eating the ultra-processed diet while they were on it, they gained weight. No surprise.
[00:29:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, no surprise, indeed. I weigh all my food and I learned a lot from doing that such as, well, a lot of depressing things like, oh, this thing that I eat, sort of absentmindedly that I thought had almost no calories in it is probably an additional 300 to 400 calories per day, that I'm consuming of empty carbohydrates. You know, you start weighing those tortilla chips and you just go, "Okay, all right, Saturday night only, and only, you know, a handful."
[00:30:04] Marion Nestle: Yeah. And there's a reason why they're why people will eat — I mean, these products were formulated to get people to love them. The journalist Michael Moss, who's written a couple of books about this says they're addictive. They're deliberately formulated to be addictive. Again, not because food companies want to make people fat, they just want to sell products. So this is a normal course of doing business.
[00:30:30] Jordan Harbinger: I heard you got a cease and desist letter, essentially, a letter from a lawyer to stop talking about this, because you said soft drinks had sugar in them. What was their argument there? What was going on there?
[00:30:42] Marion Nestle: This was when my book Food Politics first came out in the early 2000s. I got this letter from a lawyer from The Sugar Association saying that on some radio program, I had said that soft drinks were an easy target for the first thing you should do if you want to go on a diet because they contained sugar and water and nothing else. And their lawyer wrote me an outraged letter saying, "You of all people should know better. Soft drinks haven't contained sugar for years, they contain high fructose corn syrup." I can't even say it without laughing because high fructose corn syrup is fructose and glucose separated and sugar is sucrose with fructose and glucose stuck together but not for long. Basically, they're the same and the body deals with them the same way. I thought it was hilariously funny. And then I started talking to people about it and they were horrified and said, "You got to get a lawyer. You have to see a lawyer. You have to consult a lawyer. You need to write a point-by-point rebuttal because they are preparing a lawsuit against you. And they're going to sue you for defamation." In fact, they said in this letter that I had defamed high fructose corn syrup.
[00:32:01] Jordan Harbinger: That's insane.
[00:32:03] Marion Nestle: I didn't know that high fructose corn syrup was so sensitive.
[00:32:07] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to say—
[00:32:07] Marion Nestle: Sorry about that.
[00:32:08] Jordan Harbinger: —it's a very sensitive substance. That's ridiculous. It's been crying all day after that comment. That's unbelievable. It is believable and yet it's unbelievable. And it's also like this isn't great reasoning from a legal perspective, but you got to wonder — people try really hard to hide things when they are guilty. And of course, people profess innocence as well when they're innocent, but this is just such a ridiculous argument to make. How scared are you of being labeled sugar, even though you're essentially sugar that you're willing to sue someone who says this?
[00:32:39] Marion Nestle: Oh no, no, no, no. It makes perfect sense. These products are represented by two different trade associations.
[00:32:46] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:32:47] Marion Nestle: So The Sugar Association represents the growers of sugar cane and sugar beets. The Corn Refiners Association represents the makers of high fructose corn syrup. So there are business issues involved in this. This has nothing to do with biochemistry or anything else. It has to do with which sweetener is making the most money.
[00:33:10] Jordan Harbinger: I love this term you've maybe invented the "nutrifluff."
[00:33:13] Marion Nestle: Nutrifluff.
[00:33:14] Jordan Harbinger: It sort of encompasses these stupid headlines, like chocolate can temporarily improve your IQ.
[00:33:20] Marion Nestle: Right.
[00:33:21] Jordan Harbinger: What do we look for in terms of food claims with obviously self-serving results or nonsense results? Like, is it just obviously nonsense where they make a claim based on one food? Or are there guidelines we can look for?
[00:33:34] Marion Nestle: I think you have to use common sense except it's no fun to use common sense.
[00:33:39] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:33:39] Marion Nestle: It's much more to think that if I have pomegranate juice or almonds, I'm going to be healthy forever. You know, I don't think pomegranate juice is bad. It's got a lot of sugar in it, but it's not bad. And almonds are great. I'm in favor of that, but I wish that they weren't trying to — I mean, again, this is about competition for sales. Even if you're overweight, you can only eat so much, even if you're overeating. Another sort of point about the American diet is that there are 4,000 calories available per day for every man, woman, and tiny baby in the country, which is roughly twice the average need of the population.
[00:34:22] Jordan Harbinger: That's crazy.
[00:34:23] Marion Nestle: So there's a lot of food around and if there's a lot of food around makes the food industry very, very competitive. They have to get you either to buy their food instead of somebody else's or to get you to eat more in general. And I think they got pretty good at getting people to eat more in general, through larger portions of nothing else.
[00:34:44] So again, this is a business environment and for an individual to try to maintain a healthy weight in this environment is very difficult because you're fighting a food environment in which food companies are doing everything they can to get you to eat more, not less. And it's hard if you got something delicious in front of you not to eat it. I find it difficult. I assume that everybody else does too.
[00:35:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah, of course. And so the idea that somebody who works in an office all day and doesn't really hit the gym or anything is eating 4,000 calories per day, or at least being marketed to so that they eat that much or more is really, really unhealthy.
[00:35:25] Marion Nestle: Well, the Department of Agriculture says that about a third of that is wasted. So maybe that's a help.
[00:35:31] Jordan Harbinger: I suppose.
[00:35:32] Marion Nestle: But there's a lot of food around. There's a lot of food around and a lot of marketing behind that food. And some of the marketing you see and advertising in t-shirts, in positions of foods in supermarkets because companies pay to have foods in supermarkets, in places where you're likely to see them. And in other ways that are obvious, then there are ways that they're marketing these foods that are not so obvious. A lot of the marketing is online and on social media now—
[00:36:03] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:03] Marion Nestle: —and very, very difficult for people to sort out. It's hard to be a critical thinker about this when the entire purpose of advertising, as it was explained to me once is to slip below the radar of critical thinking. You're not supposed to be paying any attention to it. You're just supposed to feel it.
[00:36:24] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. There's that subtle persuasion as well. I noted in your book, a lot of studies use insane quantities to get a benefit. So you'd need like 3000 calories per day of pure dark chocolate to get this sort of minor benefit that they say it offers. Or they just create an insane headline to turn heads and get clicks. Like chocolate milk helps heal concussions. And it's like, what are you talking about?
[00:36:48] Marion Nestle: That was a nasty one.
[00:36:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. These are real, I'm not making these up, right?
[00:36:51] Marion Nestle: Yeah. Fortunately, they got into trouble over that one. I think again, it's just very easy to understand this is marketing to try to sell products. The job of a food company, particularly a publicly traded one is to satisfy the demands of stockholders for immediate returns on investment and growth in profits over time. And they can all grow. There's a limited amount of food that people can eat. And so there's intense competition to try to sell food products. And they're quite good at it. They pay really smart people—
[00:37:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:37:32] Marion Nestle: —you know, to market their products. And if you're a mere consumer and you're not paying attention and most people don't, why would you? You're just not going to notice how you're being marketed to.
[00:37:44] Jordan Harbinger: So bottom line health claims sell and health claims for foods are about marketing, not about science.
[00:37:51] Marion Nestle: Absolutely.
[00:37:51] Jordan Harbinger: What about terms like superfoods, you know, is that a nonsense marketing buzzword? Because it sure sounds like one. Yeah.
[00:37:58] Marion Nestle: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, every fruit and vegetable has vitamins, minerals, fiber—
[00:38:05] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:38:06] Marion Nestle: —and plant nutrients in it, you know?
[00:38:07] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:08] Marion Nestle: Antioxidants and those kinds of things. Therefore, every fruit and vegetable is a superfood, but the ones that are marketing it as, particularly — I mean, the POM Wonderful people were fabulous at that, and the Maine Blueberry people kind of invented the whole thing. They were having a lot of trouble getting those ground-level blueberries sold until they figured out that they had a lot of antioxidants in them and to market it that way. But you know, there is no such thing as a superfood.
[00:38:38] You want a healthy diet? It's really easy to do that. It's so simple that Michael Pollan can do it in seven words — eat food, not too much, mostly plants. That really takes care of it by food. He means everything but ultra-processed foods. And that's really all there is to it, but that doesn't sell food products.
[00:38:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:59] Marion Nestle: And if you're in the food business, your job is — I'm saying this over and over again. I'm sorry. Your job is to sell food products.
[00:39:10] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Marion Nestle. We'll be right back.
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[00:41:48] Now for the rest of my conversation with Marion Nestle.
[00:41:54] I definitely need to eat more plants. I'll tell you. It's hard. The way I grew up did not include a lot of plants. And so—
[00:42:01] Marion Nestle: Aah—
[00:42:01] Jordan Harbinger: For me right now, they're they just seem less convenient to eat and buy and assemble and arrange. It's like, it's easier to get tacos than a salad many times, but I need to change my routines.
[00:42:12] Marion Nestle: I have to say the food industry has made it much, much easier to eat fruits and vegetables now because they're chopped and put into bags and—
[00:42:20] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Yeah.
[00:42:20] Marion Nestle: —cut up for you. And I mean, they really have tried to make it as easy as possible. I'm in favor of starting a garden and growing your own, it gives you an entirely different view of what vegetables taste like—
[00:42:33] Jordan Harbinger: That's true.
[00:42:33] Marion Nestle: —if you're growing them yourself. You know, even if it's just a pot on a window sill, it's really worth doing.
[00:42:39] Jordan Harbinger: I got eggplant and tomatoes back there. I've eaten a lot of those that's for sure. Yeah.
[00:42:43] Marion Nestle: There you go.
[00:42:44] Jordan Harbinger: So health claims about most foods, they just seem to be nonsense, you know, like mangoes, nuts, fruits, milk. It seems like any sort of health claim, I guess I just sort of said this and you did too. It's just, it's pure marketing. It's not necessarily about actual science.
[00:42:59] Marion Nestle: Oh, there might be science behind it. There might be science behind it that the company paid for.
[00:43:06] Jordan Harbinger: Right, right.
[00:43:06] Marion Nestle: Or that the trade association paid for. So you're back into the business of industry-funded science coming out with results that can be used in marketing. That's why they're paying for it. Otherwise, why would a company pay for an expensive research study? They're doing it because they can use the results for marketing and they do it all the time. And I have many, many, many examples in the book of companies that have gotten studies that they paid for. And then there's an immediate headline.
[00:43:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right. That's the chocolate temporarily raises your IQ type of nonsense.
[00:43:44] Marion Nestle: Yeah. Right.
[00:43:45] Jordan Harbinger: What was really scary, aside from all of the things we just discussed, what was even more scary I should say is industry representatives ending up on state or government advisory boards. I mean like, this is the most Banana Republic, not the clothing store, thing that I've heard ever, right? It just reeks of corruption. How does this happen? Why is this allowed? I do not want somebody from the sugar industry on the board, like I said earlier, that writes guidelines for my kid in the food groups and stuff. That just seems insane.
[00:44:13] Marion Nestle: Well, let's go back to the pharmaceutical industry, which set the standard for this. You know, I mean, the argument for people who have drug industry connections to be on federal advisory committees is that they have the expertise.
[00:44:30] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:44:30] Marion Nestle: And besides the funding doesn't affect their opinion, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The situation on federal Dietary Guidelines is just like that. Everybody is supposed to disclose whatever potential conflicts of interest they have. And I think I was an outside reviewer on Dietary Guidelines. I don't know a couple of Dietary Guidelines ago. And I had to fill out an elaborate conflict of interest form that covered the last three years who paid my travel, who paid my hotel, who paid, you know, for all of the ways in which food companies could have paid expenses or anything else. And that was just to be a reviewer. So the people on these committees have to do that, but then the agencies waive any kind of food industry connections because they argue that anybody who is a leading nutritionist is going to have food industry connections. You can't avoid them.
[00:45:32] You know, I go to meetings that are sponsored by food companies. The organizations that I belong to are funded by food companies. I have a personal conflict of interest policy that I've developed over time. That forces me to think about what my relationship is with anybody who's asked me to come and speak, but even I find it difficult. And I'm, you know, sort of aware of these issues—
[00:46:01] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:46:01] Marion Nestle: —and write about them. It's difficult to avoid. Having connections with food companies and there are such nice people.
[00:46:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:46:09] Marion Nestle: You know, there's that too. So you don't want to be implied but what happens then is that these federal advisory committees end up with I think the paper just came out that said that 95 percent of the members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in 2020 had relationships either with food companies, their trade associations, or their front groups.
[00:46:35] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like since the people on these agencies might in some way be beholden to or influenced by at the very least food companies and industries, we almost have to just disregard their guidelines. Like how can we possibly rely on candidates funded by industry-backed groups and placed on committees or agencies? It just seems so ridiculous. Am I misunderstanding this? Or is this as horrible as it sounds? I just don't see how this can be impartial.
[00:47:00] Marion Nestle: I think it's a huge problem, but most people don't and the arguments are, we're not influenced even though there's tons of evidence that they are influenced, they just don't recognize it. And that, you know, I can make sensible comments about this. I suppose the hope is that the people who are on these committees represent enough different kinds of companies. So they'll cancel out each other's biases, but nobody thinks that they are biased. Nobody does. And it's just human nature to think that you're independent in this way and to notice — I mean, you have to work hard to think that, "This is something that might bias me. And what am I going to do to take steps, to make sure that my opinion is independent in this?" I think that's very hard to do. The agencies claim they can't find people who are qualified, who don't have these connections.
[00:47:57] Jordan Harbinger: I'm starting to believe that because if everybody is on the take from the freaking company, then maybe there aren't that many people that aren't. I mean, look, I know science updates and changes recommendations over the years. I get it. You know, one year, it's eggs are bad — my mom loves to complain about this. She'll say, "Eggs are bad for you, and now they're good for you. Now, they're bad for you again. And now it's bad if you eat too many. And now you can eat as many as you want, and now you got to take the yolks out." Whatever, I understand this, but what you're saying now, it almost makes me think that a lot of the so-called new science is just new marketing designed to make me throw out perfectly legitimate health concerns so that I eat more of a product manufactured or grown by an industry that funded the study.
[00:48:35] Marion Nestle: Yeah. Let me say one more thing. And then that is I'm considered biased.
[00:48:41] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:48:41] Marion Nestle: I have not been appointed to a federal advisory committee since my book Food Politics came out in 2002.
[00:48:49] Jordan Harbinger: Surprise, surprise.
[00:48:50] Marion Nestle: You know, I've been nominated for Dietary Guidelines advisory committees. I've been told by people at the agencies that I'm far too biased and controversial to be appointed to these because I think that food industry connections are not good for nutritionists to have.
[00:49:08] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:49:08] Marion Nestle: If you do think that a food industry connection is acceptable and you have food industry connections, that's considered okay.
[00:49:18] Jordan Harbinger: That's so upside down seeming — there's a lot of lobbying for changing guidelines to make the guidelines more confusing. The example you gave in your book and I'm paraphrasing here, but it was like 1980 guideline, "Limit your intake of sugar," right? Pretty simple, 1990 guideline, "Hey, try not to get more than 10 percent of your calories from sugar." 2010 guideline, "Select beverages and foods that will allow you to moderate your consumption of sugar," or beverages that contain sugar. This confuses me, right? Are they doing this on purpose? So we don't have an obvious statement just showing us that sugar is unhealthy or is this the lawyer in me reading into this too much?
[00:49:55] Marion Nestle: Well, I think what happened over — first of all, the guidelines have gotten much more complicated. They used to be this little pamphlet and now they're 150, 160 pages of, you know, you go online and you're on the web forever to go through them. It's a trend in nutrition to make it more complicated, more obfuscating.
[00:50:15] And part of that comes about because government agencies cannot say, "Eat less meat, eat less sugar. Don't eat snack foods because they've got too much salt in them." They can't do that because the makers of those foods go right to Congress and say, "Hey, we're going to lose jobs."
[00:50:33] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:50:34] Marion Nestle: You know, it's going to close down our business. This is bad for business. We're going to lose jobs. The jobs are going to be lost in your state.
[00:50:41] Jordan Harbinger: Not good. Yeah.
[00:50:43] Marion Nestle: And so the government agencies and the people who go on these committees have sort of internalized euphemism. And so the idea is if you say, "Eat less salt, sugar, and saturated fat," everybody knows or is supposed to know that the main sources of salt or snack foods and fast foods, the main sources of sugar or sugary drinks, and the main source of saturated fat is beef. So it's euphemism for nutrients. And I've always said that when the Dietary Guidelines talk about what you're supposed to eat more of, they talk about fruits, vegetables, grains. When they talk about what you're supposed to eat, less of, they switch to nutrients.
[00:51:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Interesting. That's interesting.
[00:51:32] Marion Nestle: Because it's politically less fraught.
[00:51:35] Jordan Harbinger: I'll paraphrase here just in case I misunderstood, but we eat foods, not nutrients, right? So it's not only fat or only sugar or only trans fat that's causing problems. It's the amount of what we're eating, the type of food we're eating, ultra-processed, whatever it might be. But it's easy for food companies to say, "Hey, it's this nutrient, that's a problem. Not the fact that the beef that I'm telling you to buy right now is loaded with it.
[00:51:58] Marion Nestle: Yeah. We'll take a gram of sugar out and put it in some artificial sweetener and we can advertise it as low calorie, low sugar.
[00:52:06] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned in the book, and this was a little scary how food companies and other companies use FOYA. So Freedom of Information Act requests, where you can basically get documents from the government because they're all public records. Companies are using this to harass scientists who report harm from their products. How do these industries use this government process to silence people?
[00:52:29] Marion Nestle: I'm only aware of a few instances of that, although there may be more. They simply make these requests that are almost impossible to respond to. And, you know, people are required to drop whatever research or teaching they're doing and spend weeks collecting these materials and responding. But the companies would say, you know, this is what the reporters who are investigating industry malfeasance are doing to us—
[00:53:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:53:00] Marion Nestle: —is they're requesting things that are really impossible to get to. And so I don't know, I'm in favor of the Freedom of Information Act.
[00:53:09] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course.
[00:53:10] Marion Nestle: I think it's very important to have it. I wish that government agencies were more responsive to these requests, but I also understand that for the recipients of these requests, it's very difficult. I worked for private, in university, and I was very happy not to be subject to FOYA.
[00:53:32] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. I mean, look, I'm all for FOYA. I'm just not for sort of weaponizing things like this in an unethical way just to punish somebody who exposed something that I'm doing that's unethical, right? It's kind of like saying, "Oh, okay. You want to say that football causes concussions. Now I'm going to bury you in paperwork. So you're not going to do a productive thing for the next eight months. And this should teach you a lesson about outing us." I don't know if there's a solution to that. I just thought it was kind of despicable as a practice.
[00:54:03] Look, in conclusion, are the goals of food companies and nutrition educators, inherently incompatible? Is it possible to do industry-funded research and maintain academic or scientific integrity?
[00:54:15] Marion Nestle: Oh, I think it is. I think it is. But you have to build in controls and get the ground rules set well in advance. First of all, the research needs to be investigator-initiated. You got to get somebody to pay for research that you want to do, not the other way around. And the money has to be given with absolutely no strings attached. And when I say no strings, I mean, the funder is not involved in the development of the research question. It has nothing to do with the way the research is conducted. It has nothing to do with the publication of the research and receives a copy of the publication when it comes out.
[00:54:54] And if those guidelines are set in advance and the investigators are aware of the possibility for bias and are taking steps to make sure that they're not being unduly influenced at every step of the way, then sure. And under those circumstances, the research results could come out either way or they have a better chance of coming out either way. And certainly, it's possible to do it, but I was surprised at how rare negative results were.
[00:55:28] Jordan Harbinger: How can we engage on this as citizens to make sure that our research and science environment is a bit more trustworthy and useful for our own needs as citizens versus the needs of companies and their shareholders? Is there anything that we can do?
[00:55:44] Marion Nestle: Yeah, we can try to get the government to pay for research or government or private agencies to pay for research and lobby for research in areas where we need more information. I think individuals can look to try to figure out who paid for the studies that they're so excited about and to pay attention to who owns which product and, you know, where the vested interests are and just to be a little bit skeptical without taking all the enjoyment of it away. I find industry-funded research to be enormously entertaining. I just really get a kick out of it, looking through the titles of research articles and saying, "Oh, let's see who paid for this."
[00:56:29] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. Yeah.
[00:56:29] Marion Nestle: Bingo.
[00:56:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it can't be that hard when it's chocolate can improve your IQ or pomegranate juice increases erections or whatever it is. I mean, that's like the white-belt level of predicting who paid for this study, right? There's not a whole lot.
[00:56:44] Marion Nestle: Right.
[00:56:44] Jordan Harbinger: That's level one. But like many problems in society, the answer seems to lay in education. And that's what we're trying to do here on this podcast as well. And I want to thank you for helping us further that mission. This is a really interesting conversation.
[00:56:57] Marion Nestle: Oh, glad to be here. This was fun.
[00:57:02] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's a sample of my interview with an emerging infectious disease expert that's taking a proactive approach to identify, prepare for, and stop viral threats before they become pandemics. Here's a quick look inside.
[00:57:18] Dennis Carroll: A new influenza virus that is transmissible and is deadly. That is what will then sweep around the world as a pandemic.
[00:57:28] Jordan Harbinger: The 1918 flu at the end of World War I, we had 50 to 100 million deaths.
[00:57:33] Dennis Carroll: That was 50 to 100 million deaths when the world's population was 1.8 billion. So think about it today, even if it took us 300,000 years to hit the billion mark, we've been able to add six billion in just 10 decades.
[00:57:46] Jordan Harbinger: That's six billion people, right?
[00:57:47] Dennis Carroll: Yeah. And by the time we get to the end of this century, we're going to be right on the edge of 12 billion.
[00:57:54] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:57:55] Dennis Carroll: The speed with which an influenza virus can move is staggering, were a virus to emerge today, within one year, a year later, two billion people would likely be infected. And if it were as lethal as the 1918, which had a mortality rate of three percent, you're talking about hundreds of millions of people.
[00:58:16] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:58:17] Dennis Carroll: The fact of the matter is time marches on. The societies we live in today that we take for granted will be a footnote in history 500 years from now. The architecture that we surround ourselves with, they will be ruins or forgotten. It's not a question of if, there will be epidemics, there will be pandemics, it is a question of when.
[00:58:41] Jordan Harbinger: For more including why a future influenza epidemic is not a matter of if but when and why vaccine hesitancy is one of the top 10 health threats in the entire world, check out episode 320 of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Dennis Carroll.
[00:58:58] This stuff got a lot more interesting than I thought, you know, food science was not something I thought I'm going to be super rapidly interested in this. How can we tell if reports of new science, especially news reports of new science are legit or not? Here are some guidelines — does it rely on a news release? If so, it's marketing, it's not science. Basically, does the article that you're reading point to some press release from a juice company that says it makes your dong bigger or whatever? I don't know. That's not science. That's a press release. If the claim — I probably shouldn't have used that example. I apologize to anybody who was offended by that.
[00:59:32] If the claim is that one ingredient or food helps mitigate risk from heart attack or diabetes, obesity, et cetera, that's a huge red flag. There aren't single ingredients that reduce risk of things like heart attack, diabetes, obesity. It is, as Marion has said, it's a sort of comprehensive whole diet, whole lifestyle thing. Watch out for words like "miracle" or "breakthrough." Science just about never works that way. First of all, miracle is something that is taken from way out of context, but breakthrough? maybe if you're talking semiconductor or something, something, but even then usually science is kind of brick by brick. So breakthrough, we've just discovered this thing and honey does this? Nah, pretty much no.
[01:00:18] And whenever you see the words "may" or "might," you should also realize that means may not or might not. And chances are it's actually, that is what it probably means it's may not or might not. So they just use the inverse of that or the converse of that. And it gets you all excited, but it really doesn't mean anything. It means like I might sprout wings and fly. It's never happened in the history of the world, but the probability is not technically zero. So Jordan may technically sprout wings and fly after this episode airs. I guess, we'll see, folks. Write an article about it, put it in Forbes and/or Business Insider or whatever, and here we go paid for by Hawaiian Punch.
[01:00:57] Also, watch out for studies, by food companies that have a strong presumption of bias. If they're not going to come up with the results the company wants, they're not going to get funded. Surprise, surprise, right? So we almost end up with some sort of bullsh*t industrial complex here. You're going to find the results if you're a food scientist that your funding says they want, even if they don't tell you what they want, y'all know what they want. So how does bias affect a study? Well, they can fail to publish results that are unfavorable to the funder. Not that they're covering it up, they just kind of say, uh, well, they're not really interested in that. Maybe we'll leave that out of the publication or the article will just skip the unfavorable part and only focus on the part that serves their interests. They could focus on a minor benefit and ignore major drawbacks. Like, "Yes, this drug increases the risk of heart attack times 300 percent, but it improves your mood by five percent." You know, that kind of thing is not totally ridiculous. It happens all the time. They might inflate the importance of some minor benefit. Like, "Ooh, this does something which could do this other thing, which could do this other thing, which could do this other thing, which might make you live a little bit longer." I don't know, 18 months on average, if we average in the entire population of the Western world, yeah. And they just say, "This makes you live longer," maybe. They can also just downplay negative results instead of omitting the negative results they say, oh, well this is just a small sample of people that had the negative results. Well, okay, maybe the small sample of people also had the positive results, but they don't really want to harp on that. They want to give you the positive results and make you think they've got a miracle breakthrough thing.
[01:02:20] Also, Marion said that whenever you see a specific health claim for a specific food, you want to see three things. Those three things are whether the result is biologically possible. Pomegranate juice is not going to make you taller. Sorry, that's just not a thing that can happen. Who sponsored the study? We just kind of discussed why that's important. And did the study control for other factors like diet and physical activity and lifestyle factors like environment? Because yeah, maybe if you cut down on this or you drink more of that or you eat more of this, you do live longer, but also you're exercising three times a week and you're eating far less fat or whatever it is, or cooked meat. And you're eating a lot more plants and you moved and changed jobs and did a different thing. I mean, they ignore all of this stuff and they'll focus just on the thing that you were eating. And that is a big problem. Science rarely works where there's one ingredient that does one thing. That's what Marion was very careful to mention here on the show.
[01:03:14] And as for how those goofy headlines that we mentioned at the top are created, lots of studies will find a bunch of statistically insignificant findings, and they will spin them into something positive for the food that they want to promote. For example, they will find that, I don't know, pecans or almonds or whatever, raise good cholesterol. And they'll say that even though they really don't do anything of the kind, they've just spun a big, nothing burger into something they can use for marketing, right? It might be like this tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny increase in good cholesterol. How do they get away with this? Well, it's like this. If you only eat almonds straight for a month and water, maybe, you'd raise your good cholesterol by 0.1 percent. And that's not going to do anything for your health, but then they will grab that straw and hold on for dear life and say, "Eating almonds every day raises your good cholesterol and promotes heart health." And it's like, you're supposed to be reading here, lowers the risk of heart attack. Well, okay. If you just inject pure almond milk into your bloodstream, to the point at which you are nearly dead and can't move or function, maybe it does lower your cholesterol. You know what also do that drinking water and going for a freaking walk. You know, they will just take that straw and hold on for dear life.
[01:04:26] Marion also said that debates on nutritional guidelines are far more about politics than they are about science. I don't think that surprises anyone. I think, of course, nutrition — I mean the government had to force nutrition labels on products in the first place. We weren't even supposed to be able to know what the heck was in everything that we eat. And now nutritional guidelines, the food pyramid — when I was a kid, it was four food groups and grains were one of the big ones. Eggs were in the dairy section. I don't even understand why that could be a thing.
[01:04:53] You would think that if anybody would recognize that cash and funding has influence on you, even if you think it doesn't, and even if you're trying to mitigate it in your own head. If you're a scientist, you think, "Oh, the funding doesn't affect me," you would think the people that would know how bias works would be scientists that create studies and control for bias in the study. Geez, come on, cognitive bias. If anybody's going to be well versed in this, it's got to be scientists. It's not just that funding can corrupt the person who receives it, but it can actually influence the design of the study in the first place or the data that the person uses in the study. All of this can even happen subconsciously. So people think they're not being affected by who's funding it and they obviously are, and it's affecting what we eat and how long we live. This is bad folks. So scientists need to disclose funding, but that still doesn't solve the problem, right? Because recognizing a conflict of interest doesn't solve a conflict of interest. Recognizing a bias doesn't solve for the bias.
[01:05:52] Man, like I said, when I was a kid, we were supposed to eat a bunch of grains. That was one of the four food groups. Then it was at the bottom of the food pyramid. I don't even know what we use now, but I guess the best advice really is that a former show guest, Michael Pollan, who said, "Eat food," you know? And he meant like actual food, "not too much, mostly plants."
[01:06:09] Big thanks to Marion Nestle for coming on the show. Links to all things Marion Nestle will be in the show notes on the website at jordanharbinger.com. Books, always at jordanharbinger.com/books. Use those website links if you buy the book. Even if you're in another country, even if it's an audiobook that does help support the show. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos are up on YouTube. All the deals and discount codes for all of our advertisers are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please do consider supporting those who support this show because they are the ones that make it possible.
[01:06:40] So yeah, I'll shill a mattress. I'll shill some green juice. God knows what's in there, but the science says that it's good but go ahead. Here's one thing I can guarantee, they do support the show when you use those codes. That much is science.
[01:06:55] I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also connect with me right there on LinkedIn.
[01:07:00] I got to rethink some of these sponsors now because I always check for the science. I'm like, "Is this legit?" And now I'm like, "Great. Everything I read was a freaking lie," and I don't want to lie to you guys ever, but I realize I almost certainly have been tricked into doing that. Dang-it!
[01:07:13] Anyway, connect with me on LinkedIn and yell at me there, or Instagram and Twitter.
[01:07:17] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use, jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty, folks. Those relationships aren't going to make and maintain themselves.
[01:07:30] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into nutrition or into science or wants to know or should know about how food science actually works, share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. And in the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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