by Marion Nestle
Sep 8 2007

Healthy Snacks–An Oxymoron?


For this tidbit, I am indebted to a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous. PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay, is partnering with the American Dietetics Association (ADA) to poll members about their knowledge and attitudes about “healthy” snacks. Presumably, Frito-Lay will use this information to market healthy (well, maybe a bit healthier) snacks to consumers. The survey is online at Why the ADA is partnering with PepsiCo is a question worth pondering, but PepsiCo’s interest in doing so is obvious. ADA members are actively involved in counseling people about what to eat and PepsiCo would love them to recommend Frito-Lay products. Should nutritionists partner with food companies? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? I think these questions deserve serious thought, no?

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  • This association deserves serious questions, too. And the ADA also partners with Cadbury-Schweppes, the candy and soda people. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

    Then again, I’m not surprised. The ADA gives out terrible advice to diabetics that by and large is not useful for getting blood glucose levels down to *normal* (not just *ok* for a diabetic). Achieving normal, not just lower, blood glucose levels are the best way to avoid complications. Keeping starchy snacks to a minimum or not at all is one of the best ways to achieve normal glucose levels.

    And the ADA’s new president-elect is a man with a successful track record for disease-charity fund-raising, but not someone who knows diabetes issues in detail. Is is too hard to find a person with diabetes (or a close association with diabetes) to head a group that purports to help diabetics?

    But the ADA will just do what they always do, stress whatever low fat snacks Frito Lay devises and remind people to “cover” their higher carbohydrate intake with enough meds and insulin.

    Oy vey!

  • Mark D.

    Very disappointing. Especially since our site was in discussions about ADA sponsorship of a columnist or two. Now, I think they may be simply “not credible” anymore with partnerships with the likes of PepsiCo.

    I will have to send this to our columnist who is a member of the ADA and get her reaction.

    Thanks for the info…

  • I also question this relationship between The American Dietetic Association and PepsiCo. I even asked a friend and colleague who is “high up” at the American Dietetic Association about the thought process behind the arrangement (i.e., what’s in this for ADA members) and have never received an explanation or answer to my question.

    I cannot remember the last time that I professionally recommended or personally purchased any typical “snack food”. I actually just finished eating a whole wheat bagel and some homemade hummus accompanied by a glass of red wine for a late evening snack. Real food filled with health-promoting nutrients and phytochemicals plus easy to purchase or prepare!

  • Bix

    “Do the benefits outweigh the risks?”
    I can’t see that they do.

    I just took their survey. Lots of questions about “chips”. It’s unfortunate that anyone in this day of weight problems would seek to put a positive spin on “chips.”

    Does anyone know … Is Frito-Lay paying (or otherwise compensating) the ADA for this privilege?

  • Is it right that the organization that oversees the Bachelor’s degree level Dietetics programs as well as the Dietetic Internship programs partners with PepsiCo/Frito-Lay, Cadbury-Schweppes, and as I learned in “Food Politics” also accepts money from businesses like the dairy industry?
    This similar behavior is seen by the USDA where they say “vary your veggies” but subsidize junk food in effect–corn for high fructose corn syrup in soda, etc. and corn & soybean oil for frying fast food.
    These are conflicting roles which do much harm and continue to the public confusion of “What to Eat”.
    What if the American Dietetic Association only accepted funds from organizations that represent healthy food choices? What if the USDA promoted Agriculture and a DIFFERENT organization had the proper resources allocated to it to promote Health & NUTRITION, perhaps within the Department of Health & Human Services/FDA? Wouldn’t this be a much better way than the inherent conflicts of interest within the USDA?

  • Bix

    Yes, good point, Dietitian. The USDA is experiencing a conflict of interest. …

    “Eat corn!”
    “No, wait, don’t eat corn!”
    “No, wait, eat corn!”
    “No, wait…”

    I feel for them.

  • Point of clarification: American Dietetic Association, not Diabetes. Not that it matters. As Anna points out, the American Diabetes Association is also deeply embedded with food companies but quite open about it. I spoke at a national conference a couple of years ago and was surprised by the lack of interest in dietary approaches to diabetes prevention and treatment. Everything focused on drugs.

  • Sheila

    We certainly need clarification of policy contributions to goals, in both government and private industry. It would seem a contradiction in terms to monetarily partner with a manufacturer of processed foods while allegedly promoting a healthier diet.
    Along this line, I keep wondering how to get the US government to modify the food stamps program. I am a physician, bone-weary of asking my patients about their diets, only to be told they consume 6 to 12 sodas a day plus chips/candies/cakes which they say they buy with their food stamps. Why can’t we get the food stamps program modified like the WIC program, where it will only pay for certain foods, i.e. fresh veggies, fresh fruits, low-fat dairy products, beans/legumes, fresh poultry or fish, whole grain breads and pasta. No soda, candy, cake, chip, pie.

  • CintheSooner

    This is precisely the reason I dropped my membership in the Am Dietetics Association (well, one of the reasons anyway). The point isn’t necessarily “should we encourage consumption of this food or that food” but “are we being objective in our recommendations”? If I go to any professional for advice about my health I want to know that I am getting information about what is best for me, not what is going to feather said professional’s nest. If they are making money in any way off the advice they give (or products they sell…) then they are immediately suspect and their credibility just went out the window. This is quite sad for the ADA considering how many smart, dedicated and passionate nutrition professionals they supposedly represent in this country.

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  • Rats – when I saw your subject line, I thought you were going to tell us to stop snacking, period.

    Since you didn’t, I will: stop snacking, period.

    According to Dr. Richard Bernstein, it takes food about 5 hours to digest. If you are eating properly, you shouldn’t need to eat more than once every five to six hours or so. So if you eat breakfast at 7:00 am, you should have lunch between 12:00 and 1:00, and dinner 5 to 6 hours later. Maybe, and that’s a big maybe, you might need a bedtime snack. If you feel a need to eat every two to three hours, you are not giving your body adequate nutrition. Have some protein and fat, and you’ll be amazed at how long it sticks with you.

  • I manage a wellness program for state employees and have noticed in my 20 years in the wellness industry that wellness is gaining in popularity (being funded and staffed), but I think that’s because of the link with the Value Based Benefits design – a trend in benefits plan designs where employees get discounts on drugs if they have certain diseases like diabetes. They get hooked up with health coaches – and we call that wellness. I’ve noticed that all of the hot wellness conferences are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and feature many speakers/testimonials from wellness directors about how their drug benefits plan has improved the health of their employees. They have lots of colorful PowerPoint slides to prove it. It’s happening in my program too. Very little is being said about changing lifestyle habits – except by me. I’m holding the torch, but it doesn’t burn nearly as bright as the torch held by the drug companies. There’s work to be done! Cheryl