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If you’re a vegetarian, Coca-Cola addict or carb-lover I have bad news for you. This week, all three dietary choices took a hit from major figures including local-food demigod Dan Barber and science writer Gary Taubes.

See below why vegetarians were knocked down a peg, why low-carb diets may make a resurgence and why Coke in other countries is more likely to give you cancer.

Dan Barber vs. vegetarians
A champion of local food and owner of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Dan Barber took to the Wall Street Journal to tell all vegetarians to wipe those smug grins off of their faces. Coming from a man who some have accused of being self-righteous in his own right, the anti-vegetarain comments made a big splash. He tells vegetarians, “You don’t have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse.”

 The crux of Barber’s argument is as follows:

  • Vegetables deplete soil more than grazing cows
  • Butchering animals may not always be kind, but eating industrial crops that are grown with pesticides and fertilizers is also a destructive practice (a.k.a soy veggie burgers)
  • Ethical eating is not one-size fits all, rather it’s determined by the time of year and where you live

Barber goes on to declare that “there is no such thing as guilt-free eating.” Naturally, the chef’s assertions resulted in commenter wrath. One person responded: “I suspect Barber doesn’t know the depth of his hubris or his ignorance on nutrition and food production so Dan, please, learn something before you feign expertise.” Another commenter wrote: “In my experience, meat-eaters are the ones on the high horse, threatened in some sub-conscious way by anyone who varies from the ‘beef it’s what for dinner’ orthodoxy.”  

We’re willing to bet that Barber would be happy to enter into a debate with any of his dissenters, in the meantime he’ll keep churning out one of the most impressive menus in the region.

Dr. David Ludwig vs. “a calorie is a calorie” argument
Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital recently conducted a clinical trial that found that diets high in carbs might make weight loss harder than diets high in fat (cue the cheers of Atkins devotees worldwide). The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, focused on 21 obese participants who had to lose 10 to 15% of their body weight (with a $2,500 incentive) and then follow one of three diets for a month. Each diet had the same amount of calories, but one was low-fat, one very low-carb and the other low-glycemic (think healthy grains, fruits, nuts).

The results showed that those participants on the very low-carb diet burned 300 more calories a day than those on the low-fat diet and 150 more calories a day than those on the low-glycemic diet, which upsets the oft stated notion that “a calorie is a calorie” no matter what its source.

Science writer, Gary Taubes, praised the results, which appear to validate his own weight loss philosophy (see Taubes’ editorial in the New York Times). In contrast, NYU Professor Marion Nestle remained skeptical. But no matter their reaction to this study, advocates for both sides of the issue maintain that more studies are needed before carbs are villainized and the nation jumps on the Atkins bandwagon again.

Coca-Cola vs. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
While the jury might be out on the impact of carbs on your health, it’s pretty safe to say that based on CSPI’s recent study you should think twice before drinking Coca-Cola in foreign countries — especially Brazil. CSPI tested the amount of the cancer-causing chemical 4-MI found in Coke’s caramel coloring worldwide. They were looking for Coke that had a high amount of micrograms (mcg) of 4-MI, and they found plenty of it in Brazil, Canada, China and even Washington D.C.

The only place that actually seemed to be making Coke low in carcinogen levels was California. In California, a cancer-warning label is affixed to any product with more than 30 mcg of 4-MI that would plausibly be consumed in one day. This amount could lead to cancer in one in 10,000 people over their lifetime according to the FDA. CSPI foudn that a 12 oz Coke in California has 4 mcg, but that same amount of Coke in D.C. has an alarming 144 mcg. The worst offender was Brazil clocking in at a whopping 267 mcg.

Bottom line? Even CSPI notes that the sugar in Coke is probably more deadly than the 4-MI levels, but either way you might want to avoid the drink unless you’re in California (and maybe even then).