Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver may have made a name for himself as the "Naked Chef" but now he's trying to make a name for him self as something else, an advocate for higher taxes.
Oliver, who is opening up a Toronto restaurant, came to Canada recently to hit the media circuit to drum up new customers.
But the chef didn't just stick to cooking and his food. Oliver, a British national, took to the CBC radio program Q to say that both the UK and Canada need a national tax on sugary beverages. He says kids, particularly those who come from underprivileged backgrounds, are growing up living a far too unhealthy lifestyle.
Would a tax change that behaviour?
The evidence says no. According to a report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, such taxes might not have any effect at all on obesity rates. The research shows that when people choose not to consume pop they simply go to another source to get their calorie fix. Even studies that do purport a drop in weight show only very small declines and are not "statistically significant" the report says.
This is backed up by evidence that shows pop consumption has been on the decline for more than a decade, yet waistlines are getting bigger. The correlation between pop consumption and a healthy society is fuzzy at best.
And if we're planning to round up all the pop drinkers and make them pay more because of what they are doing to our kids, then where does it stop? Who is going to decide what the definition of a sugary drink is and who will be the ones who decide what is bad for us and what isn't?
For example, what about lobster tails covered in butter, are those good for you? Or Acadian Maple Walnut Fudge? How about Cabot Trail coffee with Glen Breton Whiskey and Cabot trail maple cream?
If these things are bad for us, would Chef Oliver propose at tax for all these things as well?
You won't likely see Chef Oliver push for a tax on any of these items because he sells them. All of these foods were also on the menu during a Chef Oliver event at Pictou Lodge in Nova Scotia in late October.
Deciding what is bad for us will end up falling to the government, and that means big business for Ottawa lobbyists as each tries to convince the government what should be included or excluded from extra tax.
Recent changes to Canada's food guide that sets out healthy foods attracted interest from over 100 businesses and industry associations, many of them making submissions about why one food belongs in the guide and another one should not.
Who should decide what you and your family should eat and what is good for them? Should it be you or some government official who's been the subject of millions of dollars of lobbying?
The only clear winner with these types of taxes is governments. They earn new revenue while working taxpayers foot the bill.
Chef Oliver -- who travels to Canada on a private jet and recently purchased a 10 million pound home in North London -- probably won't worry too much if the government charges an extra tax on a can of pop. But this tax would fall on those rich and poor alike, adding another burden on working Canadians who could least afford it.
Celebrity endorsements deserve scrutiny and a pop tax would do nothing more than build a bigger government bureaucracy, punish working families who will have to pay the new tax and take away the freedom of Canadians to decide for themselves what is "good" and what is "bad" to eat.
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The Reality: "Diet soda is no panacea," says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D., C.D.N., adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU and author of The Portion Teller Plan. Sugar-free doesn't mean healthy. In fact, the "false sweetness" of diet soda can be quite problematic, says Young. The theory goes that the brain thinks that sweetness signals calories are on their way, and triggers certain metabolic processes that could, in fact, lead to weight gain in diet soda drinkers. And widening waistlines aren't the only downside. Diet soda has been linked to a whole host of health problems, including increased diabetes, stroke and heart attack risk. These studies don't necessarily prove that drinking diet soda regularly causes health problems, Young cautions, but there's certainly nothing nutritious about it.
The Reality: The truth is, a soft drink marketed for energy -- such as Red Bull or Rock Star -- has less caffeine than a cup of coffee (not to mention, more sugar!). Sure, an energy drink is easier to chug, but that doesn't change the simple fact that your average brewed coffee has between 95 and 200 mg per eight ounces, while Red Bull has about 80 mg for 8.4 ounces, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Reality: While the caramel coloring responsible for that brown hue can discolor your teeth, says Young, the big difference between clear or light-colored sodas versus darker sugary drinks is typically caffeine. Think Coca Cola versus Sprite, or Pepsi versus Sierra Mist. (Mountain Dew is the obvious exception.) Considering that the average can of soda has less caffeine that a cup of coffee, most soda drinkers probably don't have to swap Coke for Sprite. But if you are nearing the "how much is too much?" caffeine tipping point, this might actually be a good rule of thumb to follow.
The Reality: It turns out that the problem isn't necessarily the corn-derived sweetener, it's the fact that the sugar is in liquid form. "I've done a lot to demonize it," Michael Pollan famously told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "And people took away the message that there was something intrinsically wrong with it. A lot of research says this isn't the case. But there is a problem with how much total sugar we consume." Both full-calorie sweeteners break down into approximately half glucose and half fructose (corn syrup is about 45 to 55 percent fructose, compared to sugar's 50 percent). As such, they behave very similarly in the body, which is to say dangerously: "HFCS is, of course, 45-55% fructose; and liquid cane sugar is 50% fructose," says David Katz, M.D. and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. "So they are compositionally all but identical. Sugar is sugar, and the dose makes the poison in either case."
The Reality: Watch a Gatorade commercial and you're apt to think you'll need a sports drink anytime you break a sweat. But the truth is that your electrolyte and glycogen reserves aren't depleted until more than an hour of intensive training. So that 45-minute session on the treadmill? Probably not going to require much more than some water.
The Reality: Young says this claim was likely born of the idea that if kids (or adults, for that matter) are drinking more soda, they're drinking less bone-benefitting milk. But recent research has zeroed in on the soda and bone density link. A 2006 study found that women who drank three or more colas a week (whether they were diet, regular or caffeine-free) had significantly lower bone density, leading researchers to believe the culprit is flavor agent phosphoric acid, found more often in colas than clear sodas, that ups the acidity of the blood, The Daily Beast reported. The body then "leaches some calcium out of your bones to neutralize the acid," study author Katherine Tucker told the site. Others have suggested that it's simply the carbonation that hurts bones, but the effect from a single soda would be negligible, Popular Science reported.
The Reality: Research suggests that rapid consumption of the fructose in both sugar and high fructose corn syrup doesn't properly stimulate production of leptin, a hormone that sends the brain a signal when the body is satiated. This commonly leads to overconsumption of the highly caloric drinks. And research finds that soda drinkers do not compensate for their extra calories by eating fewer calories elsewhere. In other words: you're probably going to eat some fries with that soda -- not an apple.
The Reality: This myth is little more than urban legend. No research exists documenting any effect on fertility from drinking Mountain Dew, Everyday Health reported. Many speculators link the rumor to the (deemed-safe) food coloring Yellow No. 5 that gives Mountain Dew its neon hue. Yellow No. 5 has made headlines recently, as one of the two food dyes two mothers seek to eliminate from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. They claim Yellow No. 5 has dangerous health effects, and in fact the food dye has been linked to ADHD, Health.com reported. "At the end of the day, it's all about moderation," says Young. "Nobody's going to have a reduced sperm count from the occasional soda."
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