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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Do You Want Whipped Cream With That?

McDonalds now automatically adds whipped cream to all of its shakes.

McDonald's now automatically adds whipped cream to all of its shakes.

Why do McDonald’s, Starbucks and other chain restaurants offer huge dollops of whipped cream to consumers at no extra cost, but at more than 100 extra calories?

Why do McDonald’s and Burger King hand out caramel sauce with their sliced apples? The sauce can add up to 70 calories and 9 grams of fat to an otherwise healthy snack.

McDonald’s says they’re phasing out the caramel when they roll out their new healthier Happy Meals. But why did they offer caramel in the first place?

Former F.D.A. commissioner, David Kessler, has been studying this issue for years and wrote about it in his 2009 book, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.”

He told Here & Now’s Robin Young that adding extras like whipped cream or caramel sauce is part of a larger phenomenon.

“The fact is the American diet is the sweetest diet in the world,” Kessler said. “And it is the sweetening of the diet that drives eating.”

Kessler says that sweeteners in food are the main drivers of overeating. And combining sweet with fat, texture, and even temperature makes food even more tempting. It’s a formula that seems to be working.

“Look at what the business plan of the modern, global food company has been,” Kessler said. “It’s been to take sugar, fat and salt, put it on every corner, make it available 24-7, make it socially acceptable to eat any time.”

Food Cues

McDonald’s spokesperson Danya Proud said that McDonald’s recently rebranded its shakes. Instead of the dull, plastic cup, the shakes now come in plastic cups and every one is topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Proud said the sight of the new shake is sending a cue to consumers to buy them. And shake sales are up.

Kessler says our brains get cues to eat not only from an image, but also from a smell or even a place. For example, he gets an urge to go to In-And-Out Burger when he gets on Highway 101 in Northern California. Here & Now host, Robin Young, says she gets a craving for a certain frosted, cream-filled doughnut when she lands back at Logan Airport in Boston.

“We’re living in a food carnival,” Kessler said. “We always used to have sugar desserts, but we were having it at certain times. Today we’re eating desserts all the time. The key is our brains are being activated by those cues that are linked to the actual consumption of that food.”

Rewiring Our Brains

Kesssler says those cues, combined with sweeter food, are rewiring our brains.

“Something activates your brain circuits so you have a cue arousal,” Kessler said. “This increased attention – and then you have the sweetener – and that reinforces the cue that reinforces the learning, it strengthens the neural circuits and you do it again and again.”

Unfortunately for office workers, Kessler said, even well-meaning colleagues can create these tempting cues.

“Little do we realize that in essence, we are creating some hostile act by doing that,” Kessler said. “Because we’re triggering everyone’s brains, but those cues activate the brain’s circuits that stimulate the brain’s wanting.”

Kessler says the combination of a sweeter diet and ubiquitous cues are part of the reason why the United States is the fattest nation on the planet.

His advice: think about what you really want to eat before you enter a restaurant. Then, stick to your guns and don’t go for that extra whipped cream.


  • David Kessler, former F.D.A. commissioner and author of “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite”

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  • Mary

    I’ve noticed that fast-food concessions have moved closer to airport security.  You run the stressful security gauntlet, then comfort yourself with a latte or slice of pizza.  I’ve seen this in four different airports – it can’t be a coincidence.

  • Anonymous

    Very, very good segment. I think that this should be required listening for all Americans. Dr. Kessler is absolutely right. I am going to get his book. http://michaelmaczesty.blogspot.com/2011/07/because-toys-and-games-dont-cause-type.html

  • David

    I have a healthy (get it?) suspicion of McDonald’s and other corporations who OFFER us bad food. But my main thought during this piece was, “Right, but we can also choose not to eat it.” I lost 20 pounds last year, partly by regularly denying myself things like desserts and whipped cream. So when Kessler was saying “Just hearing these ingredients makes you want some”, my reaction was “Not really”.

  • Marigold23184

    restaurants try to figure out what will give us pleasure. McD has been very successful at it. Kessler apparently doesn’t enjoy eating and would prefer that everybody follow his directives and eat tofu and sprouts. He is an unthinking cause-monger.

  • 2harness_entropy

    David Kessler is so right and I applaud his long fight to raise awareness in Americans in how they are being  manipulated into purchasing food that isn’t healthy for them.
    During Spring Break of this year, my teenage daughter and I took a road trip in Washington and Oregon to visit colleges. Along the interstate highways, we struggled to find places where we could eat the food. We like fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and whole grains and we had little to choose from other than Subway (and even that has limited offerings). There are so many poor choices mass marketed in the standard ubiquitous shopping malls! The average consumer is helpless in the face of such.
    I’m not sure what the realistic answer is to use to change this “mind control” over Americans.  But sounding the alarm is a good start. Thank you, David Kessler!

  • Stan

    Good news from David Kessler. I was talking about this problem back in the mid 70′s, namely the Standard American Diet(SAD) and its emphasis on the white poisons of refined sugar, refined flour, salt, oleo(plastic fat) and milk.

    Its all about the big sell in this consumer culture called America.

    “Two-thirds of these diseases, (heart disease and diabetes) would be eliminated if we consumed a healthier diet and exercised more”.   ~ Dr. Meir Stampfer M.D.,  Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School

    Mr. Kessler’s book may be required reading, but check out this three part series below:

    Dumbing Down Society Part I: Foods, Beverages and Meds

  • BHA in Vermont

    The whole American  “sugar diet” thing can be changed but it has to be a slow withdrawal.

    I needed to cut back on sodium and found it in abundance in foods I didn’t think were salty. One is cottage cheese. I found a “no salt added” version of my regular brand. At first it just didn’t taste right, no surprise of course, it has 55 mg sodium instead of 430 in 1/2 cup. I ended up mixing some of the high sodium stuff into the low sodium stuff and tapered off over a few weeks. Now the original tastes much TOO salty, I have retrained by mouth to expect less sodium.

    The same can be done for sugar but EVERYONE who makes products with a lot of sugar would have to slowly remove some of the sugar. If they do it slowly, they can probably cut the sugar by half  over a period of years for things that are not too tart to begin with.     

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=74800746 Andras Konya

      Or eat real foods, in the first place.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    This man is an illustration of what’s wrong with our society.  He’s bought into psychological determinism and the notion that government has to save us from ourselves.  If you don’t want to be fat, eat less and move more.  It’s your choice and my choice, and the powers that be have no business getting involved.

    • Milo

      Go back to your garbage diet Greg.
      Yes, its your choice to do what you want with your ugly, degenerating body.

      The habits of a healthy diet needs to be instilled into children at an early age. If the Food corporations can influence your habits in those early years, then society needs to counter that in this so called “free” democracy called America with its mindless consumerism.
      In the US, its anything goes. If it hurts you, no problem. Capitalism to the rescue with some “treatment” your ailment. Its a sick culture, the sickest on the planet.
      Home of the brave and the homeless.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        Ah, without evidence, you’ve decided what I look like and what the state of my health is.  I argued for personal choice, not bad choices.  Perhaps you prefer the healthy diet of the old Soviet storeshelves?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        “It’s your choice,” not “its your choice.”  It’s = it is.  Its is the neuter third person singular possessive pronoun.

  • Just in

    “We’ve turned into this nation of overfed clowns, riding around in clown cars, eating clown food, watching clown shows. We’ve become a nation of cringing, craven f*ckups.”  James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Long Emergency”

    Do not alcohol, aluminum, aspartame, caffeine, canola, chlorine, fluoride, cow’s milk, malathion, mercury, nitrites, Nutrasweet, Neotame, tobacco, sucralose, sugar and vaccinations constitute biological and chemical warfare against us.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Your list is a grab bag of substances–some harmful, some good, and some just neutral.  Do you like cholera?  Then ban chlorine.  Do you like smallpox and polio?  Then ban vaccinations.  On the neutral list, caffeine has been with us for a long time without harm.

      You may die a few years older than your peers, but what a miserable existence you condemn yourself to.

      • Marty

        As a toxicologist Mr. Camp, its obvious you don’t know your biochemistry, chemistry or health sciences very well.

        Caffeine for example you may consider neutral. However do you know its effects on the cellular level? Can you explain that to us. If you aren’t versed in these sciences then limit your comments to the parasites in Washington, D.C. and their politics.
        Please look at the big picture, Mr. Camp and not isolated or lone factors. Look up the word synergism.

        A poison in a small dose is a medicine, and a medicine in a large dose is a poison.   — Alfred Swaine Taylor, 19th-Century toxicologist.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Water, in a sufficiently large dose, is toxic (electrolyte imbalance, not drowning).  The point here is that alcohol and caffeine, for example, have safe and even beneficial doses.  Nicotine does not.  It’s the ancient Greek ideal of moderation.

          My point in all of this is that I will choose what I eat, not the government and not McDonald’s.

    • Anonymous

      Do not use verbs.

  • DS

    IF we go to McD, I race to take the caramel out of the bag, like you had mentioned during the show. She would have ate the apples ANYWAY! Then one unknowing parent left the caramel and now it’s a big fight with my daughter over this. She doesn’t even understand that the apples were suppose to be dipped in caramel, bc/ what small child would gets this concept? She eats apples as snacks at home all the time wo/ caramel, so how would she know? She will eventually be trained by McD that apples have to have caramel. Just like I was trained by school lunches that every lunch got at dessert. My co-worked used to balk when I’d mention thing like this – saying he ate it and he’s fine. Well he’s recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure and cholesterol. So there you go.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Spelling and grammar, spelling and grammar:

      she would have eaten

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=74800746 Andras Konya

      “IF we go to McD”…  “and now it’s a big fight with my daughter over this.”

      Don’t go to McDonald’s, you’re the adult, problem solved. Welcome.

  • guest

    A good apple is something special. McDonald’s apples are probably not what you would find at a good farmers market. My guess is McD selects it’s apples for qualities other than taste. So they try to cover up the poor quality with caramel sauce.

  • DesertGirl101

    Kessler’s perspective is valid. As a fiftysomething who grew up on sugary cereals and the convenience and novelty of getting a meal (burgers and fries) from a fast-food restaurant drive-through window, my brain is definitely “wired” to want the sugary, salty and fatty foods I grew up eating. Due to recent health issues, I am now trying to “rewire” my brain to want tomatoes, fresh fruits and lettuce instead of chili cheese chips, soda, and fried chicken in a box. Rewiring the experiences and sensations of childhood is hard work. No wonder McD’s and the other fast-food restaurants target their marketing to little kids….

  • Dennis Grimes

    What I have noticed is that, like smokers who have lost taste, to much stimulation of any kind will stunt your ability to sense.  I cut out most of my sugar and was amazed how amazing things can taste.  We can find great value in quality and in diversity if we inhibit learned behavior.

  • Andrew D.

    Talk about your coincidences. I was just reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” right before I turned on the radio and heard this report.

    In his book, Michael Pollan talks about the harm that the western diet may be doing to us, and to populations that adopt it. Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and a quarter of us have what is known as “metabolic syndrome” (the term given to the group of health problems that the Australian Aborigines had after they replaced their traditional diet with a western one). Mr. Pollan continues, saying that the syndrome has been linked to a variety of diseases including the development of Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and possibly certain cancers.

    In addition, he says, 54 million Americans have pre diabetes, and the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes has risen 5 percent annually since 1990, rising from 4 percent to 7.7 percent of the adult population, or 22 million Americans.

    Given that all of this is the case, I am surprised that fast food restaurants (and in some cases public schools and workplaces) continue to offer foods that contribute to the development of these serious (sometimes lethal) medical conditions. Rather than offering up caramel sauce with apple slices simply because the caramel sauce goes over well, restaurants that are truly interested in a re-design of their menus to offer more healthy options should consider taking these kinds of little “extras” off the table entirely. Yes, do need to take responsibility for their own health, but restaurants don’t need to continue making eating these unhealthy foods so easy, either. If people assume responsibility for their own health, and healthier options are offered at restaurants (leaving things like caramel sauce out entirely), I think that we can drastically reduce the incidence of these serious illnesses.

    Andrew D. (from Illinois)

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Or, rather than mass protests and legislation, you can choose not to eat at McDonald’s.  That’s much less intrusive and leaves choice intact.

      • Andrew D.

        I didn’t say that I think that people shouldn’t have a choice. I just mean that maybe, just maybe, it should not be so easy to eat as unhealthily as it is. You would still be able to eat unhealthily, if you so choose. You just wouldn’t be able to get the unhealthy junk in 2.5 seconds flat. As Michael Pollan himself suggested recently, I believe, if people had to go to the grocery store and make the junk food themselves, from scratch, each and every single time they wanted it, they would still be able to eat it, and eat it they probably would… but it’s a fair assumption that the vast majority of them wouldn’t eat it nearly as often, which could very well lead to a reduction in obesity, diabetes, and other serious medical conditions that are now on the rise, as well as a reduction in healthcare costs (which I am sure everyone would appreciate, particularly now when the economic situation isn’t all that great.)

        Andrew D. (from Illinois)

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          Healthy food is available to most who want it.  What you’re pointing out is that we have a cultural problem, and legislation won’t solve that.

  • Russ

     “Nothing offends patients more than to be asked to change their habits of life. Their desire is to be able to break every known law of health; then when they are called upon to pay the penalty, the expect complete absolution in a bottle or two of medicine. They are content to be patched up sufficiently to continue their practice of self-indulgence in various forms.”
                  …Dr. Alexander Bryce…

  • Tommy

    It’s very simple.  Just skip the Shakes, Caramel, Doughnuts, etc.  I didn’t need to hear an NPR talk with an “expert” to know that’s lots of sugar and fat is bad for you.  Just say no.

    • Johnny6

      Unfortunately, most people DO need to be told this stuff to force themselves to avoid these toxic foods. 
      Why does what other people eat concern you, you ask?  Well, assuming you just don’t care about the health of your fellow citizens, you should know that YOU will be paying for the consequences of their diets through your health insurance premiums.

      Every time someone who has pigged out on big macs and shakes all their life gets a heart attack, needs their arteries unclogged, needs an ambulance to come pick them off the floor because they weigh 600lbs and can’t get up, or even just goes to see the doctor every few weeks, WE ALL end up paying for it.

      So yes, we do need NPR and everyone else possible to tell us about this stuff, and we do need the government to regulate what toxins food companies are allowed to slip into our food.

  • Gateau

    Eat foods that spoil, but eat them before they do.

    Eat more raw foods folks. Ever consider that humans are the only creature on earth that prepares their food by a wide array of cooking processes. Heating destroys various nutrients.
    Not all foods on the planet are considered for human consumption.
    If it has to be cooked to be made palatable, them its not for you.
    Eat raw. Eat foods that contain enzymes.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Human civilization comes in part because we started cooking food.  That improved our digestion, which allowed the surpluses that produced arts and sciences.  The raw food movement is an affectation of a productive society, not a healthy policy.

  • Rlparker52

    I continue to be amazed at the amount of sugar pushed on us via flashy labels and advertising for supposedly healthy products. I just read the ingredients from a bottle of Fuse that I drank and found that it is made up of water, sugar and flavoring! I’m going back to seltzer!

  • Lew

    Is this the same Dr. David Kessler who, as head of the FDA, made it his mission in life to do everything possible to make nutritional supplements available only by prescription (because a very small handful of idiots misused them), allowing his drug company and medical doctor pals cash in on even higher-priced supplements controlled by the drug companies?  All-the-while allowing drug companies to fast-track the approval of many pharmaceuticals so that more drug companies could become billionaires–that is until a few years later, when a very substantial number of people become sick or die due to side effects?  Maybe he’s had a change of heart or philosophy.  I agree that many, many “junk food companies” in fact to chemically alter their so-called foods (ever hear of MSG?) with a number of additives designed to make you want to eat more.  Many of these same additives have been approved for use by the FDA as “harmless”.  The truth is the FDA has always talked out of both sides of the mouth.  On one hand allowing bad “foods” and additives to pervade the marketplace, while supporting the pharmaceutical companies profit motive of creating more toxic drugs (with all their side-effects) designed to combat the very diseases caused by or contributed to by our unhealthy eating habits.

  • Andrew D.

    My apologies if this comment/reply appears more than once. The comments section did not seem to be working right the first couple of times I tried to post this comment/reply. Without further ado, here’s the comment, again. Maybe this time it will actually post to the comments section of this page.

    Make that a major cultural problem. The thing I am proposing is not legislation, though. What I propose is a different approach. Why not start teaching children about proper nutrition when they are younger? They should know, from the time that they are little, a healthy diet from an unhealthy one, and what the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle are. Obviously, schools would need to tailor the program so that it is informative, yet remains age appropriate. Obviously, they may not understand certain specifics (i.e. what hypertension is), and some information may be a bit overwhelming and scary to them, so you may want to leave the more detailed information for when they’re a little bit older. However, the way many (if not most) public schools (and private schools, for that matter) are designed now, proper nutrition is rarely (if ever) talked about. When it is part of a school’s curriculum, it is more likely to be mentioned almost in passing, with the bare minimum amount of time, attention and resources devoted to the subject. It’s no wonder then that so many people either don’t stop to consider their diet and lifestyle, and how that diet and lifestyle can (and does) impact their overall health. It is, without a doubt, time that health/nutrition become a standard part of every school curriculum, be it a public or private school.

    Andrew D. (from Illinois)

  • Andrew D.

    Oops! I noticed I left something out of my comment. Here is the corrected version. Second time’s a charm, I guess, when it comes to posting comments :)

    Make that a major cultural problem. The thing I am proposing is not legislation, though. What I propose is a different approach. Why not start teaching children about proper nutrition when they are younger? They should know, from the time that they are little, a healthy diet from an unhealthy one, and what the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle are. Schools would need to come up with a program that is informative, yet remains age appropriate. Obviously, small children (i.e. Kindergarten students) may not understand certain specifics (i.e. what hypertension is), and some information may be a bit overwhelming and scary to them, so you may want to leave some of the more detailed information for when they’re a little bit older. However, the way many (if not most) public schools (and private schools, for that matter) are designed now, proper nutrition is rarely (if ever) talked about. When it is part of a school’s curriculum, it is more likely to be mentioned almost in passing, with the bare minimum amount of time, attention and resources devoted to the subject. It’s no wonder then that so many people either don’t stop to consider their diet and lifestyle, and how that diet and lifestyle can (and does) impact their overall health. It is, without a doubt, time that health/nutrition become a standard part of every school curriculum, be it a public or private school.Andrew D. (from Illinois)

    • DS

      I have always spoken with my child about healthy choices. She knows which are the super foods, good foods and not so healthy, that activity is good and don’t smoke, etc. Yesterday she started first grade at a new school. I took her to school and went through the breakfast line. There was a row of bags that had the words “Healthy Choice” wrote all over them. What was in them? A bag of apples that looked just like the ones at McDonald’s AND a donut dunking stick. Any adult would recognize the deceit, but my 1st grader would not. She can read. She knows what healthy choice means. The “education” about food, that the school provides, is much worse than I had realize.

  • Tengberg75

    However, and this may just be my personal experience, when I do get that milkshake or burger or whatever that my brain told me that I wanted becuase I was nearing a Steak & Shake or wherever it’s a letdown.  It doesn’t taste nearly as good as I thought that it would.  And like other experiences, it’s all in the anticipation and not the actual event.  But this happens especially when it comes to fast food treats, not so much when I cook myself or go to a real restaurant.  Is it the chemicals that are actually in the food contradicting the chemicals that are in my brain telling me that I want the other chemicals?

  • Lew

    To get a “bird’s eye view” of the effect of our eating all one need do is to look carefully around you the next time you take a walk (if you aren’t too worn out from all the junk food you eat).  See all the litter on the ground?  The vast majority of it consists of cigarette butts, soda pop and beer containers, and various junk food wrappers.  As we treat our bodies, so we treat the earth.  It’s no wonder there is so little real commitment to cleaning up our earth’s environment.

  • DS

    To anyone adult who wants the choice to eat whatever they want, have at; or just say no. But please don’t pack my child’s meal (kid’s meal at a fast food restaurant or school breakfast/lunch) with junk and get them addicted to the stuff. Give them a chance to have a better life than we had. Pleasure and a fun childhood can be derived from sources other than a vat of sugar. And life will be all the better for it.

  • Alex

    Let’s not forget that huge corporation-restaurants like McDonald’s main drives are profit and serving foods classically thought of as “tasty”. They can’t do one without the other. The initial reason behind offering “apple dippers” in place of fries was offering a (somewhat dumbed-down) healthier choice to placate its critics that overstate McDonald’s blame for the US’s obesity epidemic. Is it better to have apples and caramel sauce with 15 g sugar than small fries with 11 g fat? It’s give or take, but most nutritionists would say yes, depending on how often you ate either. Sure, some children will choose plain apple slices over french fries but not many! We may want McDonald’s to serve unadulterated, healthier food, and maybe (maybe) they want to too (or at least come off like they want to), but they CANNOT do something that will not sell. 

  • Shwabra

    New change at BK today. No more “value” or “small” shakes. Only medium and large. And yes, it now comes with whipped cream. Used to be able to get a value shake for a buck. No, not in 1973–last week. That’s gone now, and we’re forced to buy more than we need, with extra fat and sugar on top.

  • SmileLoveDance

    I agree. Its not so easy as “just say no” when people are bombarded constantly with signage and advertising from McD’s. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns, food designers and research studies to find out what attracts and tempts people to buy and keep coming back for more. 

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