Brunch

S&M: Killing us softly, Coca Ronaldo 

Christiano Ronaldo’s removal of two Coca-Cola bottles during a press conference recently at Euro 2020 caused a faecal storm of gargantuan proportions.  

Not only did it cause a $ 4 billion fall in the share price of Coke, but it spearheaded a ripple apt enough to grow into a tsunami-sized wave. 

The Portuguese football star is a pop culture colossus with an Instagram following of 300 million, ergo the cause and effect is bound to be immense. Coca-Cola is one of the official sponsors of Euro 2020. Coke’s share price plummeted by 1.6%. 

Now, Coca-Cola is associated with true refreshment, healthiness, virility, youth, joy, and vigour. That’s part of the problem, that major players in advertising and marketing conceive and develop unique ways to sell products to consumers regardless of the health and safety predicaments. 

You see, what commercialism and branding does is associate with it a set of attributes, notions, and ideals that are oft not connected with it.  

By the way, did you know that Coca-Cola contains phosphoric acid as its most active ingredient? Ergo a metallic rusted nail dropped into a glass of Coke will have cleared of rust if kept for a reasonable duration. 

 

Am I evil? 

Why is Coke so addictive though? This is because carbonation makes a soft drink more addictive. The acidity, caffeine, and sugar (artificial sweeteners) combined intensify the feelings of euphoria. According to CNN (29 October 2019), the artificial sweeteners replacing real sugar have their own addictive characteristics, triggering taste receptors that register the sweetness and expect sugar, preparing the brain for a reward that never really comes. Pretty twisted, huh? 

And this is what parents get their kids hooked on; like opium to a junkie or porn to a sex addict. 

The human brain craves things that stimulate it. Many fast food and beverage brands know this and exploit this to their advantage. 

Look at Nestlé, the world’s largest food company. The Financial Times published findings (31 May 2021) from a company presentation circulated this year that the conglomerate itself acknowledged that nearly 70% of its mainstream food and drinks products don’t meet a “recognised definition of health” and that “some of our categories and products will never be healthy no matter how much we renovate”. The parent company of Maggi, Kit Kat, Milo, and Nescafé admitted that 96% of its beverages and a grand whopping 99% of its confectionery and ice cream portfolio don’t meet the required health regulations. 

Let’s look at fast food like McDonald’s for instance – it is laced with excessive sodium, sugar, and fatty acids, the overconsumption of which can lead to serious health disorders. However, you don’t buy their products and receive it with packaging declaring the potential health warnings, like you would, say, when buying a pack of cigarettes. 

Did you know that the recommended fat for a human adult is 60 g per day? 

Sugar, it can be argued, causes more deaths around the world than tobacco. The leading cause of death in Mexico is diabetes. And of course, this is with all the cartels, gang wars, drug smugglers, and numerous other factors. They are the biggest consumer of Coke in the world. 

The point being that scientific discoveries and plentiful empirical health-based research proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that leading fast food and soft drink beverage companies are the harbingers of misinformation and prime agents of disease. 

Obesity, liver failure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes and numerous other health risks are attributed to the consumption and addiction of carbonated drinks and fast food. Some would say that over-consumption is the issue and this is true of anything in life. Not having moderation can result in health risks. Yes. Even drinking too much water can cause hyponatremia where your kidneys cannot get rid of the excess water and the sodium content in your blood gets diluted. But…water doesn’t knock up your dopamine levels and get your craving spiked up like carbonated drinks do, no?

Registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Cordialis Msora-Kasago said: “The more soda you drink, the bigger the ‘reward’, and as would happen with most pleasurable things, we develop an affinity and want even more of them.”

 

Nothing but the truth 

Just because people are getting more calories doesn’t necessarily mean they are getting more nutrition. 

This information needs to be disseminated more widely. 

Beverage and food companies constantly spread misinformation. We see these organisations and brands promoting health and wellness in their marketing and communication campaigns. In fact, many of these companies use and misuse the health label in advertising. Brands say with convincing candour how they are working towards formulating strategies to meet the accentuated nutritional needs in order to fulfil balanced dietary requirements. 

The packaging and labels often cite that this is so – you’ll see the mandatory information; data highlighting the ingredients and nutritional facts side by side at times. However, the truth is a bitter pill to swallow and choke on. Many of these labels outright lie. For example, food that says they have fat removed are filled up with additives and added sugar in order to make it taste better. Processed foods are major culprits of the above. 

Did you know that when it comes to trans fats, where labels carry the “hydrogenated” tag, all it takes is for a product to state it contains fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving and it’s permitted to be printed on the label.

How about the myths of whole grains? While definitely healthier than refined grains, many cereals claiming to include whole grains actually pulverise it to the point that resistance to quick digestion is lost and it may spike your blood sugar. 

But of course the brands manufacturing, marketing, and selling these products will not tell you this. Lots of food containing whole grains aren’t really “whole”. 

How about the gluten-free trend? We see more and more people jumping on the gluten-free wagon, and while it certainly does offer health benefits, the range of processed foods claiming to be gluten-free are unhealthy, as they are loaded with highly refined high-glycaemic starches and laced in sugar. 

 

Liar, liar, pants on fire 

Remember, most people don’t stand around at supermarkets reading the list of ingredients or nutritional data. Food and beverage manufacturers are well aware of this. And, of course, they are grand magi of disguising the true contents of their products. 

It’s very clever. Insidious, in fact. The manipulation and twisting of truth isn’t quite the same as lying. It’s sometimes worse, because you are leading adults and kids with misinformation to try and test stuff that they will get easily addicted to. 

For instance, brands will use different names on labels so that people are unaware of what they are actually purchasing or consuming. They’ll say it has high-fructose corn syrup – which is a fancy way of fooling people to guzzle more sugar. 

Did you know that high-fructose corn syrup is cheap, sweet, and makes stuff last longer? From 1970-1990, high-fructose corn syrup consumption went up by 1,000%. It’s in bread, yoghurt, ketchup, candy, and carbonated drinks. So go figure.  

Brands will also coyly position healthier looking facts on top of the label so that it masks the actual contents. 

 

Wolves in sheep’s clothing 

Many of these brands and corporate giants fund their own research. They use advertising and marketing to hoodwink consumers by showing that they are addressing food quality perceptions. Perhaps some are actively making substantial changes internally, to their supply chains, manufacturing processes, and operations. The bulk of them, however, mint billions and, apart from increasing their bottom line and shareholder value, don’t really need to make drastic changes to their existing formulas and product portfolios.

Look at the brands and services influencing global health policies. They are major contributors to their respective nations’ economies and so get away with outright murder (pardon the pun). 
Most of these brands will also fund non-profits. They will showcase embracing sustainability, good corporate governance policies, and green marketing practices to dust the specks of dust from their finely tailored haute couture. Maintaining appearances is just another role-playing game for these organisations. 

Is free trade to blame? Opening up countries and removing the barriers between them have definitely rendered as many iniquities as benefits. Free trade results in more product choices, lower prices, economies growing faster, and everyone staying connected and having access to more stuff.

More countries have tied up trade deals between powerful capitalist nations and so, developing countries ensue to suffer with unhealthier lifestyles. 

Fast food and beverages are cheap, and being cleverly priced and well positioned makes them more appealing to the masses. 

In the minds of these commercial corporate giants, why would you fix something that has worked for them for decades? 

The big guns only care about profit. They will sacrifice children’s health for monetary gain without as much as batting an eyelid. 

 

Fates Warning 

The importance of a balanced diet cannot be undermined or overstated.

The world is leaning towards healthier diets and balanced meals with nutritional value, with many nations working steadfastly to regulate and implement more robust regulations so that corporations and brands need to be more responsible and accountable for what they manufacture, market, and sell to consumers. 

If we don’t take care of ourselves and each other, sharing this information and knowledge, then  pandemics, wars, poverty, economic slumps, and political depravity all be damned. Because, while all of the above will destroy us from the outside, unhealthy lifestyles will kill us from within. And do so in grand panache, very slowly and softly.

Of course, we’ll keep paying for it and end up killing ourselves.

 

Suresh de Silva is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.