Two thousand and four must have been a disheartening year for Kentucky Fried Chicken. High-protein, low-carbohydrate regimes had our collective weight-loss imagination in a death grip, and the rest of the nation's meaty fast-food industry rushed to get in on the action.
Carl's Jr., Hardee's and Burger King all rolled out versions of the "bunless burger," a meat monstrosity served either in a bowl or wrapped in a limp sheath of iceberg lettuce. On the salad front, the sit-down chain Ruby Tuesday pimped its Spring Chicken Salad, which packed 1,161 low-carb calories and 98 grams of fat.
With all the other joints getting a low-carb pass on their artery-clogging entrées, what was a chain like KFC whose backbone is deep-fried chicken with high-carb breading to do?
In a word: fudge. So it was that in 2004 KFC introduced a series of advertisements lauding the chain's contribution to a healthy diet.
In one ad a woman plops a bucket of bird on the table, announcing to her husband: "Remember how we talked about eating better? Well, it starts today!"
Then comes a claim that two KFC breasts "have less fat than a BK Whopper."
A modest boast, to be sure, but while KFC's claim did turn out to be true, the Federal Trade Commission forced the company to pull the ad in light of the fact that two KFC breasts "have more than three times the trans-fat and cholesterol, more than twice the sodium, and more calories."
Now that's what I call eating better.
Yep, America's decades-long struggle with obesity is littered with the huckster promise that science will allow us to sit on our lipo-pygious haunches mainlining Twinkies while the calories simply burn away. Which brings us to the latest and one of the more curious calorie-burning schemes to arrive on grocers' shelves: Enviga, a diet soda that purports to have been "shown to increase calorie burning by 60-100 calories."
That's right. Not only does Enviga carry a mere five calories per twelve-ounce can, but its makers the tag-team combo of Nestlé and Coca-Cola promise that drinking three cans per day "invigorates your metabolism to gently increase calorie burning."
The key to these "negative calories"? Their proprietary blend of caffeine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant found in green tea.
The claims are based on a Nestlé-funded study of 31 average-weight people during two 72-hour periods. From these studies, Enviga's marketers conclude that drinking Enviga is "much smarter than fads, quick-fixes, and crash diets."
To be sure, whittling off 100 calories per day is not exactly the fast track to svelte. For a person to lose 1 pound of fat, he must irretrievably burn 3,500 calories. At 100 calories a day, that's 35 days (and 105 cans) per pound. At the advertised rate of $1.39 per can, a person would have to spend $146 on Enviga to lose one pound of meat.
These are the sorts of comparisons the folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have included in a lawsuit arguing that Enviga's calorie-burning claims are based on junk science.
Of course, that very pejorative has been leveled at some of CSPI's own studies.
Nonetheless, the suit makes for juicy reading, arguing as it does that Nestlé-Coca-Cola's new product might actually lead to weight gain and that the companies are engaged in "unconscionable commercial practices, deception, fraud, false pretence [and] false promise."
OK, so cracking open a can of berry-flavored Enviga may not be an anaerobic calorie-burning experience. It is, on the other hand, a thoroughly satisfying gustatory experience. Light and crisp with a pleasant nose and deep green-tea undercurrents, Enviga is at least as good as any of the green-tea hybrids out there.
So take Enviga for what it is: a diet soda. It probably won't make you gain weight. But nor is it likely to shave 100 calories a day from your lumpy frame.
For that, you're gonna have to lose the fudge.