The Kitchen Think: A Healthier Snack… or Healthier Profits?


Mama’s always a little skeptical when a big company that generates billions of dollars in profits starts talking about doing something designed to be “good for you.” I find myself wondering… “What’s the company getting out of it?”

But I also figure that it’s my responsibility to look out for myself and my family… not expect some giant company to do it for me.

I think about that a lot, especially when it comes to healthy eating habits…

Still, a lot of food companies these days must think there’s big money in helping people eat healthier, because there sure are a lot of them touting their “healthy food products.”

For example, can you engineer a healthier snack? The largest food company in America thinks you can. PepsiCo is working on a couple of things right now to try and change the hearts and minds… and taste buds… of consumers in an effort to offer healthier food. Now let’s not lose our heads here. Pepsi also wants to make money… lots and lots of money. But there’s plenty of dough in nutritious, healthier foods. Pepsi knows that we know we should eat healthy… but we don’t want it to taste healthy.

Pepsi is pretty smart when it comes to marketing already; they spend roughly $3 billion a year on it. They know that snacking is part of our country’s obesity problem and that we aren’t going to give it up… ever. So, they’ve decided to design new snack foods that they hope we’ll view as a “nutritional supplement” to our diets. In other words, they’re trying to make junk food less junky.

Take what Pepsi’s doing with salt, for instance. Scientists say our taste buds only “taste” 20% of the salt in our food. But if you reduce the salt, you lose the salt sensation and food is less appetizing. Well, the researchers at Pepsi have come up with a new salt, which will hit the market on Lays Potato Chips next year. It tastes saltier… but has less sodium. Same salt kick, minus the high-sodium content.*

Pepsi’s also got a robot that they’re using to “taste” millions of things… animal, vegetable and mineral… to try and find a totally natural, calorie free, sugar-tasting alternative to sugar. (Sounds too good to be true, right?) But, the sugar scientists seem to be on the right track. In my December 15th Kitchen Think, I wrote about Pepsi’s soon to be released “mid-calorie” soda that will allegedly taste exactly like a real Pepsi, but with 60% less sugar. We’ll get to taste test that later this year or in early 2012.

I’m really in a quandary. I really want to believe Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, is spiritually committed to tackling the health and obesity issues facing this country. After all, she’s hired bigwigs from the World Health Organization to help her company find ways to become more nutritionally sound. But is it just monetarily motivated? And if it is just lip service, will government regulators and watchdog groups look the other way when Pepsi takes these products to market?

This has really made me think. If we’re going to change how we eat and what we eat, we’re going to have to do it with the help of the huge food companies. Their products and the marketing of their products are so ingrained in our eating psyche, we’re going to need their help in changing our eating, drinking and dining out patterns… even if we should be doing it on our own.

*If you want to read more about this, pick up the May 16, 2011 edition of  The New Yorker.

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: