Coke is next on Health Hit List for Harvard Nutrition Experts

Share the health - Food - The Phoenix

Dan Coudreaut, director of culinary innovation at McDonald’s, is groaning. He’s sitting in a large auditorium on the Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) Greystone campus in Napa Valley, listening carefully as Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, presents his recent findings. Willett has the lulling, comforting tone that scientists use when standing at a podium, confidently armed with PowerPoint slides and regression analyses. “The scientific community has no choice but to label trans fats ‘metabolic poisons,’ ” Willett is saying. (Metabolic poisons?, you can almost hear Coudreaut thinking.) Indeed: it’s strong language for the product formerly known as margarine. “We’ve concluded that there is absolutely no safe amount of trans fats in the human body,” Willett continues, almost apologetically. Coudreaut’s breathing is shallow. He’s the guy charged with ridding McDonald’s of trans fats, and developing a new recipe that doesn’t make the famous fries taste like cardboard. By many estimates, it’s an effort that has cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in the past year. (In fact, it was at this meeting, the annual CIA–Harvard Medical School retreat for the corporate food world, that Willett first broke the definitive news about trans fats last year, starting a national cascade of alarm that no sane corporation could ignore.)

Coudreaut, his Golden Arches in danger of tarnishing, raises his hand. “I just gotta know: what’s the next ‘trans fats’? What’s coming at me next?” Willett smiles and waves his hands for a second or two, considering the impact his answer will have on the 300 chefs at the conference — corporate executive chefs from companies such as Red Lobster, Magic Kingdom, Hyatt, Starbucks, and Au Bon Pain, as well as the dining-services directors from Harvard, Stanford, UMass, and Boston College, among others, and representatives from major food distributors, grocery chains, and produce growers.

“Coke,” Willett says. “Sugared beverages are the number-one preventable cause of obesity among young adults. We don’t have to go to zero, but we have to go way down.” The corporate types in the auditorium take a moment to think about what their bottom lines would look like if the revenue from Coke and other sugared sodas suddenly disappeared.


London Nutritionist Yvonne Bishop Weston says "Coke can hinder your ability to absorb calcium, mess with your metabolic rate, help increase risk of diabetes, provide you with unnecessary calories increasing the risk of obesity. The sugar free versions are little better as artificial sweeteners have a mounting amount of evidence reporting on their detrimental effects. I suspect the best thing to do with coke is use it for cleaning metal but it's probably best to rinse it off afterwards!"