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Pepsi's Answer to 'Eat Natural': Snackify Beverages and Drinkify Snacks

Frito Lay ChipsPepsi has recently announced two changes to its products. First, half its Frito-Lay chips will now be made with "all natural" ingredients (bear in mind that "natural" has no regulatory meaning -- companies largely define for themselves what the word means).

Second, Pepsi announced a new children's product: Tropolis pouches of squeezable fruit. These supposedly healthy drinks contain large quantities of "juice concentrates" -- another euphemism for sugar.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"[Pepsi's CEO] has said she wants to build the nutrition business to $30 billion from $10 billion by 2020 ... 'We see the emerging opportunity to 'snackify' beverages and 'drinkify' snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience.'"

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Pepsi's CEO is looking to beef up their share of profits from the healthy foods category, and hopes to boost their nutrition business from $10 billion to $30 billion by 2020, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Their idea of good, healthy nutrition?

"'Snackify' beverages and 'drinkify' snacks."

What exactly does this strange twist on words, described by Pepsi's CEO as "the next frontier in food and beverage convenience," really mean? For starters, a new squeezable fruit product that's targeted at kids and being marketed as a health food … and new versions of their popular snack chips that claim to be "all natural."

Squeezable Fruit and Natural Chips … Pepsi's Idea of Health Food

Many junk-food giants are rapidly jumping on the natural food bandwagon, eager to cash in on Americans' good intentions and desire to eat healthier. But is choosing a natural version of Frito-Lay chips really healthy?

Of course not.

First, you need to know that "all-natural" means next to nothing on a food label. In the processed food arena, a "natural" product can be virtually anything -- genetically modified, full of pesticides, made with corn syrup, additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Most are also heavily processed.

The partial good news is that sometime in 2011, Pepsi's Frito-Lay brand will be unveiling 50 percent of its snacks with updated all-natural ingredients. They will be removing dietary atrocities like monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial colors, and other chemicals from certain varieties of their snack chips and more.

Anytime a corporate food giant ditches chemicals in their big-name sellers, it's a step in the right direction, and if you're a fan of snacking on these chips, this means they may become slightly less hazardous for your health.

But healthy? No, not even close.

It is because of the very vagueness of the natural food label that companies can call their heavily processed products natural, even though you'll never find anything close to a snack chip in nature. Likewise, Pepsi's new Tropolis squeezable fruit pouches, which will come out under the Tropicana brand, are a heavily processed fruit concoction being disguised as a healthy snack for kids.

This squeezable fruit may not contain artificial flavors or high fructose corn syrup, but they are made up largely of fruit puree concentrate. As Marion Nestle wrote on

"Translation: "Juice concentrates" is another euphemism for sugar … My translation: this is watery apple and banana sauce, artificially thickened, sweetened with fruit sugars, flavored with additives, and with added vitamin C."

This is not a healthy choice for kids, or anybody, particularly with the new knowledge we now have about the devastating effects that fructose (fruit sugar) has on health. The worst type of sugar you can ingest is fructose!

So if you're looking for a healthy sweet treat to give to your child, squeezable fruit is not it. A far better choice would be an actual piece of fruit like an apple or a pear. Don't be fooled by the marketing blitz or the convenience factor … really it's not much harder to peel an orange than it is to rip open a pouch of processed squeezable fruit.

How to Determine What's Truly Natural and Healthy

You can expect that food manufacturers will continue to use natural label claims for as long as possible; this is one trend that is not going anywhere. Products labeled as "natural" or "sustainable" account for $50 billion annually, or 8 percent of total retail grocery sales, so don't expect them to disappear from your grocery store anytime soon.

The trick is to remember that just because someone slaps a "natural" label on a food product, that label does not somehow magically transform a junk food into a health food. "All-natural" processed foods -- ice cream, potato chips, soda, etc. -- are just as detrimental to your health as conventional processed foods -- and they are often far from natural.

"Natural" processed foods routinely contain pesticides, antibiotics, hormone-disrupting chemicals, genetically modified organisms, chemical additives, colors and preservatives. And, again, they are processed, which is a hindrance to your health in and of itself.

Processed foods are designed to be eaten quickly, on-the-go, and often in large, addictive quantities. In eating these foods you may satisfy a brief craving, but you will not feel satisfied, and you will not have received the vitamins and minerals, the live enzymes and micronutrients, the healthy fats or high-quality protein that your body needs to function, let alone thrive.

Americans currently spend upwards of 90 percent of their food budgets purchasing processed foods, which offer very little in terms of nutritional value and instead typically contain ingredients that will actually cause you harm.

Cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes -- all modern plagues that have a dietary component -- are spreading and increasing in occurrence and severity with each passing year. The health statistics speak for themselves.

So if a "natural" label claim is no measure of food quality, then what is?

  1. It's grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
  2. It's not genetically modified. You can get your free GMO shopping guide here.
  3. It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
  4. It does not contain artificial anything, nor any preservatives
  5. It is a whole food, and this means it will not have a long list of ingredients (for instance, high-quality almond butter should contain almonds (preferably raw) and maybe sea salt -- no added oils, sugars, etc.)
  6. It is fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh local conventional produce, the latter is the better option)
  7. It did not come from a factory farm
  8. It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)
  9. It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)
  10. It is not processed, or only very minimally processed (such as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil)

If you really want to eat healthy, it's time to take a look at your food budget and delegate 90 percent of it to real, whole foods -- vegetables, grass-fed meat, healthy oils, raw dairy, nuts and seeds. These are the foods that are truly natural, and quite easy to prepare once you get the hang of it.

Your health -- your energy levels, your appearance, your mood and so many other factors -- will improve when you eat the foods your body was designed for. Returning to a diet of locally grown, fresh whole foods -- and ditching the "natural" processed versions -- is really the only way to reach optimal health.

For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan.