03/03/2011 07:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

'Tropolis' and the Propaganda Behind Liquid Snacks

In mid century, Coca-Cola -- which had become a beloved symbol of America in a bottle during World War II -- was beginning to be looked at critically by nutritionists and physicians, who suggested that carbonated sugar water lacked any nutritive value except energy. A new term entered the language -- "empty calories" -- and the Mad Men who sold them had to come up with an ingenious way around this issue.* Advertisements began to use "energy" as a euphemism for calories, because "kids need lots of energy," sounds much better than "kids need lots of calories." Turning negatives into positives have been used in the marketing of sugary foods ever since, and have helped make us what we are today -- the fattest nation in the developed world.

Currently 7 percent of our calories come from Coke and other sweetened soft drinks, which means we are drinking, on average, 70,000 calories worth of soda a year.** You "open happiness" when you open a can of Coke these days, and "refresh the world" when you have a Pepsi, because it would be unrealistic to still try to convince us that they lead to vitality and good health.

Subsidies make high fructose corn syrup sweetened sodas and other sugary beverages highly profitable, and to stay ahead of the game it's necessary for the industry to offer alternative (that is, seemingly healthier) choices. A teenager can "man up!" with No Fear from PepsiCo, a 130-calorie 8-ounce liquid vitamin pill in a plastic bottle and "just one of hundreds" of beverages the giant food company currently offers according to the PepsiCo website. And (if they test well) mom's everywhere can give their kids a Tropolis.

Introduced this month (from the Tropicana division of PepsiCo), Tropolis is an example of how large conglomerates can twist facts and sell half-truths so effectively that most mothers would feel virtuous giving their child a thickened, non-carbonated soft drink instead of real food. Tropolis is part of PepsiCo's "Good for You" line. This is the very top of their personal food pyramid; followed by products they designate "Better for You," such as Baked Lay's Chips and Diet Pepsi. These non-foods are better than what? The foundation of their business, of course, which consists of the items they refer to as "Fun for You," and include Doritos, Mountain Dew, and Pepsi Cola. Just as "energy" positively spins "calories," "fun" sounds a whole lot better than "may cause diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers."

According to a press release, "Good for You" Tropolis is "a smooth blend of real squeezable fruit, packed with nutrition, designed for kids," and each "fun-flavored, 3.17 fl.oz pouch" is "less than 100 calories."

"Price, availability and convenience" make Tropolis preferable to an apple or banana, according to the press release. And so instead of a less than 100-calorie piece of fruit, the kid will get a Tropolis, and unless Mom is extremely savvy when it comes to reading labels, she will think she made a wise decision.

This is all part of a much larger and more serious problem. Most kids like fresh fruit, which contain fiber, vitamin C, and many other nutrients. (Tropolis adds fiber and vitamin C ). Apples and bananas are as easy to pack up as a "lunch box ready" Tropolis, and cheaper. Suggesting it is "good for you" to replace them with a thick, sugary, processed substance makes no sense to anyone except PepsiCo, and adds tremendously to the confusion about what makes up a healthy diet.

PepsiCo calls Tropolis a "snackified beverage." Mehmood Khan, a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who heads PepsiCo's Global Nutrition Group, stated in a Wall Street Journal interview: "It's outdated to think that snacks are dry and beverages are wet.

With statements like that coming from credentialed physicians (albeit on the PepsiCo payroll), how could we not be uncertain about what to eat?

Most alarming about all this is evidence that the brain doesn't register calories from liquid foods.
The brain will likely consider Tropolis a beverage. But wait! The Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, as mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, also plans to "drinkify snacks."

In the second decade of the 21st century, our brains won't know what hit them.

*Yager, Susan. "The Hundred Year Diet. America's Voracious Appetite For Losing Weight." New York: Rodale,2010, p.100-101.
**Barry M. Popkin, Lawrence E. Armstrong, George M. Bray, Benjamin Caballero, Balz Frei, Walter C. Willett, "A new proposed guidance system for beverage consumption in the United States," in " American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83" (2006):529-42.