Get Hank's Healthy Tips, Then Chat Live!

Author and healthy eating expert Hank Cardello has some advice for eating nutritiously, regardless of your economic standing.

The secret, he said, lies in understanding the way the average consumer thinks and buys.

Check out his tips for healthy living below and then ask Hank your own questions in a live chat this morning. Go to the comments section at the bottom of the page to ask a brief question and he may answer you directly.

For more information on Hank's healthy tips and his book, head to his web site at and check out an excerpt of his book here.

VIDEO: Consumption NationPlay

So what IS making America fat—is it really just marketing?

Cardello: I think it's two things: marketing practices and secondly it's the consumer looking for value…they will super size things if they can get more for their money, so you have to give consumer value with the right products the right way.

Instead of super sizing with Coke, give incentive to super size with Coke Zero. I have no problem with Coke, it's just that when Coke morphs into weapons of mass consumption, when it's so huge. Like a double Big Gulp, consumers can't say no to combo meals…can't say no to super sizing. The 100 Calorie Packs are great—they have a big impact.

How do you sell these ideas to big food companies?

C: Companies like to make money, so we have to figure out a way to make money and do the right thing. It's a new paradigm; you make money with large quantities that are low cal. Part of my personal mission is to put the marketing muscle behind Coke Zero instead of the regular Coke for this reason. The consumer has a tough time resisting big portion and the combos of food, because it's the whole idea that I can make more for my money. Because it's a great deal—that's how consumers think.

What about other countries? How do we compare?

C: Obesity is worldwide now. I think Australia is going to surpass us now, which is really surprising, it's basically the anglicized countries. Europe isn't as thin as they used to be. The French aren't as bad.

Why not?

C: It's a good question. Fresh food might be a reason. They buy their food and consume it very quickly. That's usually less fattening and less fast-food oriented. Wherever the Western diet has seeded itself, that's where we see problems.

It's showing up in China, India…the middle class has the problem, but the poor people there can't afford anything so they are skinny. It's really a problem.

What about the paradox in America? Aren't poorer people more obese? C: Actually the rate of obesity is going up fastest for the most affluent, the percentage of people that are more overweight are among the less educated, poorer folks. Mainly it's because of availability of fresh food as I mentioned before, they do their grocery shopping in 7-11, not grocery stories.

Let's talk about that—why is it that lower income neighborhoods don't have a great selection of fresh fruits and veggies?

C: A lot of it is space, it's more expensive. Also, vegetables and fruit are not cheap so there isn't the demand for them either in those neighborhoods. Just remember that corn and soybeans get more government subsidies and so it's cheaper to produce food that have corn and soybean product in them. That's why soft drinks have been so cheap because they are made with high fructose corn.

Processed food are cheaper to make than spinach. The more internal you get in the store, the more processed the food gets and the more bargains.

Kids and obesity…how bad are we now? How can we solve this with them?

C: You are seeing the highest ever level of child obesity. The vending machines is a start, pulling out the soft drinks, reduce them, so you have less calories around them. So that's one thing…the incongruity happens at lunch time because the federal rules were made when children under nourished, and those rules haven't changed so they are still trying to give the kids more calories.

There are a lot of inconsistencies about what to serve the kids. The Mississippi school system, for example, they had free fruit and the kids wouldn't eat it. The schools are really really aching for solutions, trying to sneak veggies into burger patties. You have to bury the bad stuff and make it taste good.

Is most of what we eat because of the way it's marketed to us?

C: Yes, pretty much.

I'm just wondering then why stores like Whole Foods are so popular? They are marketing healthy alternatives and opening up all over the country, right?

C: You definitely have a segment of the population that really wants to eat healthier and can afford it. Whole Foods is a whole paycheck—it's very expensive, organic, natural, localvore. They are catching on, but they don't do anything for obesity. They seem to retain antioxidants, that's the big benefit, but if you walk down the aisle of whole foods, and you pick up that Pom juice…If you read the calories, that's more than Coke!

How do you get someone drinking a Coke to a water? It's really difficult! There is a segment of population that can shop at Whole Foods. I go to Whole Foods as a luxury. In most cities the supermarket really becomes the 7-11.

Supermarket chains are no longer locating in the inner city, people in the inner city have to go to a bodega…it's all basically junk food. The supermarkets have moved into the suburbs. They followed the migration of the middle class. It's a lot of fast food restaurants in the city.

So is the answer that these companies like Coke and McDonalds make their foods healthier without telling us? Is that what stealth health is all about?

C: I think that's one thing. McLean Deluxe was a failure, that's why you do the stealth thing. You can put Omega-threes in food, there are foods that make you fuller. There is a product that comes in something like that called Slim Shots, called palm oat oil; makes you feel full.

But what about all the artificial sweeteners, all the things that they do to make it taste good—are those things healthy?

C: I've talked to the top obesity experts in the world about this and they say that they can go along drinking a diet drink, but they don't like the sugar. They think that sugar is the bane of the obesity crisis.

The bottom line is aspartame is the preferred substance…then sugar. But of course they would rather people drink bottled water. They don't endorse aspartame, but they say that they'd rather you have that than any sugar beverage. So definitely Diet Coke over Coke.

Also another little known thing is that juices are really the faux healthy product of our society…just because they aren't brown doesn't mean that they are healthy. For example, Snapple has more calories than Coke, yet they banned Coke from school vending machines but not Snapple. This is where the consumer is really confused.

What do you say to these big food companies to convince them to do this?

C: Forget about altruism, I say this is how you make money. They know the regulatory machine is coming after them…the key is how do you make money? I'm pushing them to promote Coke Zero because they still make the same profit but they yield less calories. If they don't make money, I don t believe they'd do it.

We, as consumers, talk a good health game, except taste always trumps health. That's why I believe that to try to get someone to go from a Big Mac to broccoli on a Monday is not going to happen. We have to do it slowly, but it can be done over time.

Hot new diets--for example, they have a 30 day program with food--by 3 o'clock you glaze over with all this stuff. It's unrealistic to expect people to stick to these. Atkins doesn't work, because people don't stick to it forever.

Why is a food tax on say potato chips or Coke not a good idea in your mind?

C: It hurts the person who could afford it the least. It's regressive, if I can afford it then I'd buy it still. Potato chips and hamburgers are so ubiquitous. Soft drinks tend to skew young and diet drinks skew females, but they are so universal, everyone participates.

It's a misnomer that just poor people can afford and buy potato chips. I don't like it because it's regressive, it's a win-lose as opposed to a win-win. It hurts the corporations—I haven't seen corporations change their ways just because of taxing—and the consumer loses because they don't get the choice. I just have real issues with it.

I just wrote on a blog called "Taxation Without Carbonation." I think taxing it raises money for New York state and those who could afford it would continue going. I don't like the analogy of tobacco because everyone has to eat. Not like smoking, smoking is a choice. Government doesn't understand the business of what it takes…it's anti-corp.

I do like the trans fat law though. I think trans fats need to go bye-bye, but not eating trans fats doesn't help with the calories. New York has been the leader in this banning of trans fat movement.

What is the future of food?

C: It is going healthier, it has no choice. I also think that there are developments in making food products that have taste and health co-exist. It has to go there. Science is catching up to make food taste better.

What motivates me is that you hear people saying that our children aren't going to live as long as we do, because of child obesity….that's horrible.

Ask Cardello your questions by entering them in the comments section at the bottom of the page.