by Marion Nestle

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Jul 18 2014

School Nutrition Association: junk foods galore (but they meet USDA’s nutrition standards)

Politico ProAg’s Helena Bottemiller Evich has been reporting on the School Nutrition Association (SNA) meeting in Boston this week (and see the video conversation with her editor, Jason Huffman, about the meeting).

One of her points: from the kinds of junk-food products exhibited, you would never know that the SNA was at war with the White House over USDA’s nutrition standards for school meals (see my previous posts).

As she explains, food companies have had no problem coming up with look-alike products that meet USDA standards:

More than 400 exhibitors showed off their innovations designed to meet the Department of Agriculture’s new regulations…PepsiCo, which owns Tropicana, Quaker and Lays, has a long list of products that meet the new rules, including Reduced Fat Doritos and Cheetos, Stacy’s Pita Chips and Munchies. Windsor Foods, which specializes in food service, has come up with whole grain-rich egg rolls that the company says kids love.

General Mills displayed a modified version of Chex Mix, a whole grain Betty Crocker cookie and a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal bar: “Snacks so good, kids won’t know they’re nutritious,” according to the marketing flyers.

…while the changes to lunch standards may be giving many school nutrition professionals fits, the food manufacturing industry is drooling over the opportunity to gain more sales inside what has been described as the nation’s largest restaurant: The school lunch program serves 30 million kids each day and represents a $30 billion per year market for the food industry, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

…SNA benefits from the food industry’s enthusiasm in school lunches. The largest chunk of the group’s revenue is generated at its annual conference, which brought in $4.7 million in 2012. The association charges $15,000 to sponsor an education session track featuring a company representative and $20,000 to put company logos on hotel key cards.

Evich quotes Michele Simon, who also attended the meeting.

Walking through that hall, it’s very hard to see where the changes are,” she said. “It’s still pretty appalling to see the types of junk food that can pass as acceptable food for school meals. It seems like there’s a disconnect between the uproar over the improved guidelines and all these vendors who seem to have no problem meeting them.”

Michele sent me a photo of one such product.

Gatorade

 

For photos of other such items, see Michele Simon’s other images on Time Magazine’s site, and Nancy Huehnergarth’s collection of what she calls “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly Food Exhibits.”

To understand what this is about, take a look at the Public Health Advocacy Institute’s report on Copycat Snacks in Schools.  The “better for you” versions are sold in schools, but you can hardly tell the difference between those and the “not so good for you” commercial versions from the nearly identical packages.

How can food and beverage companies get away with this?  This is the result of USDA’s setting nutrient-based, rather than food-based standards for school meals.  Setting nutrient standards allows food companies to tweak the formulas to give the USDA what it requires.

Is a slightly “better for you” option necessarily a good choice?  Surely, schools can do better.

Jul 17 2014

FDA’s proposed food label changes: comments on Added Sugars

The FDA is taking comments on its proposals to revamp the food label until August 1, 2014.

It has two sets of proposed changes:

Here is the first of my comments on several food label items.  Feel free to copy, edit, or file your own (see directions below).

July 16, 2014

TO:  FDA

FROM:  Marion Nestle, Professor, New York University

RE:  Nutrition Facts panel: ADDED SUGARS

1.  Retain the line for Sugars but call it Total Sugars

2.  Add a line for Added Sugars

Rationale:

  • Excessive intake of dietary sugars is well established to raise the risk of obesity and type-2 diabetes.[i]
  • Americans on average twice as much as is generally recommended.[ii]
  • The amount typically consumed comes close to the upper limit recommended by the Institute of Medicine on the basis of increased risk of nutrient deficiencies.[iii]
  • Sugars intrinsic to foods are accompanied by nutrients; added sugars are not.
  • Although there is no biochemical difference between intrinsic and added sugars, food and beverage companies know exactly how much sugar they add as part of the recipes for their products.
  • Listing the amount of added sugars on food labels would inform consumers about how much sugars are added to the foods they buy.
  • Randomized, controlled clinical trials to test the hypothesis that added sugars increase disease risk would violate ethical standards and, therefore, are impossible to conduct.

3.  Establish a Daily Reference Value for Added Sugars of 10% of total calories

Rationale:

  • Since the 1977 Dietary Goals, health officials have consistently recommended an upper limit of 10 percent of calories from added sugars.[iv]
  • The 1992 USDA Food Guide Pyramid suggested an upper limit of 6, 12, and 18 teaspoons of sugars, respectively, for daily diets of 1,600, 2,200, and 2,800 calories, respectively.  This works out to 7, 10, and 13 percent of calorie intake, respectively, for an average of 10 percent.[v]
  • By 1992, health officials in several European countries had recommended much the same.[vi]
  • The Institute of Medicine’s 2002 upper safety limit of 25% of calories was based on risk for nutrient deficiencies, not obesity and chronic disease.[vii]
  • In 2009, the American Heart Association recommended that women consume no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars (25 grams), and men no more than 150 calories per day (38 grams).  These come to 5 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, of a 2000-calorie daily diet.[viii]
  • The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that no more than 5 to 15 percent of calories should come from a combination of solid fats and added sugars.  This implies that added sugars should be less than 10% of calories.[ix]
  • Dr. Robert Lustig says that a “dose” of added sugars up to 50 grams a day poses little risk for metabolic or chronic disease.  This amounts to 200 sugar calories and 10% of a 2,000-calorie daily diet (he says twice that much, the amount commonly consumed by Americans, is toxic.[x]
  • The World Health Organization in 2014 said that added sugars should make up less than 10 percent of total calories per day, and less than 5 percent would be even better,[xi] based on two research reviews, one on sugars and obesity[xii]  and one on sugars and tooth decay.[xiii]
  • Added sugars as 10% of calories represents about half the amounts currently consumed and comes close to consensus.

References

[i] Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohttp://steinhardt.nyu.edu/nutrition/hort studies. BMJ 2012;345:e7492.  doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7492.

[ii] USDA.  Loss-adjusted food availability documentation.  March 11, 2014.  http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system/loss-adjusted-food-availability-documentation.aspx#.UzlzcfldU6w.   USDA.  Food availability documentation: added sugar and sweeteners.  http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system/food-availability-documentation.aspx#sugar.   The tables used to construct figure 3D are at: Refined Sugar, Corn Syrup, Other Sweeteners.

[iii] Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients), Chapter 6: Dietary Carbohydrates: Sugars and Starches”, Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2002.

[iv] U.S. Senate Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs.  Dietary Goals for the United States, December 1977.

[v] USDA.  Food Guide Pyramid, 1992.

[vi] Cannon G:  Food and Health: The Experts Agree.  London:  Consumers’ Association, 1992.

[vii] USDA.  Is intake of added sugars associated with diet quality?  Nutrition Insights, Insight 21, October 2000.

[viii] Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al.  Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association.  Circulation. 2009;120(11):1011-1120.  doi: 10.1161/CirculationAHA.109.192627.

[ix] USDA and USDHHS.  Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010.  http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dgas2010-policydocument.htm.

[x] Lustig RH.  Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.  Hudson Street Press, 2012.

[xi] WHO.  Draft guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, March 2014. http://www.who.int/nutrition/sugars_public_consultation/en/.

[xii] Te Morenga L, Mallard S, Mann J. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ 2012;345:e7492 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7492.

[xiii] Moynihan PJ, Kelly SAM.  Effect on Caries of Restricting Sugars Intake. Systematic Review to Inform WHO Guidelines.  JDR 2014;93:8-18.  doi:10.1177/0022034513508954.

 

The FDA makes it easy to file comments. It provides:

Jul 16 2014

Annals of kids marketing: herbal tea

I know I live on another planet, and my kids are long grown, but is there really a void in the market that has to be filled by a half-juice, half-herbal tea drink in a box for kids?

According to Food Navigator, the CEO of Drazil (lizard spelled backwards) Kids Tea thinks this product

pinpoint[s] a void in the kids’ beverage marketplace for a naturally healthy, reduced-sugar ready-to-drink beverage line as US consumers started falling out of love with 100% juice….There’s a huge need for healthy beverages that actually appeal to kids, so I thought, why not tea?…“I’ve studied how habits are formed when doing product development,” she said. “How do you get more adult tea drinkers? You get them to start drinking it regularly when they’re young. Tea is perfect because it’s relatively inexpensive to brew, so healthy—all those antioxidants, nutrients. Why not develop those habits young?”

OK.  The concept is adorable.

But is tea really loaded with antioxidants and nutrients?  Not like fruit juices.  This product is a juice drink that dilutes juice and its nutrients by half.   Yes, it also dilutes the fruit sugars by half but the boxes are 6.75 ounces and that much 100% juice is not unreasonable for school-age kids.

What ever happened to tap water?

This product is about marketing, and marketing to kids and hooking them early at that.

As I said, I live on another planet.

Jul 15 2014

Food packaging materials contain a lot of iffy chemicals

Authors employed by the Food Packaging Forum Foundation, funded by the packaging industry but working “independently of donors’ special interests,” have produced a surprising analysis of chemical in food packaging that comes into contact with food during production, handling or storage.

Why surprising?  Because the results are indeed against donors’ special interests.

Such chemicals, the authors say, can contaminate food through migration from the packaging.  About 6000 such substances exist, some of which are associated with disease.  These are Chemicals of Concern (COCs).

This study identified chemicals used in packaging that are considered to be COCs.  It found 175 such chemicals in use.  Of these, 54 are “candidates for Substances of Very High Concern.”

From a consumer perspective, it is certainly unexpected and undesirable to find COCs [chemicals of concern] being intentionally used in FCMs [food contact materials], and thus it seems appropriate to replace substances case by case with inherently safer alternatives.

This comes from people in the industry.  I hope makers of packing materials—and food safety regulators—pay close attention.

Jul 8 2014

Conflicts of interest in nutrition research:

Over the July 4th weekend, a reader sent a link to a paper about to be published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition titled Increased fruit and vegetable intake has no discernible effect on weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

I took a look at the abstract:

Studies to date do not support the proposition that recommendations to increase F/V intake or the home delivery or provision of F/Vs will cause weight loss. On the basis of the current evidence, recommending increased F/V consumption to treat or prevent obesity without explicitly combining this approach with efforts to reduce intake of other energy sources is unwarranted.

This would seem to make some sense, no?  But the dismissal of recommendations to increase fruit-and-vegetable consumption sent up red flags.

My immediate question: who paid for this study?

Here’s the conflict of interest statement.

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Note the presence of companies making processed foods whose sales would decline if people ate more F&V.

A coincidence?  I don’t think so, alas.

More evidence: just today, Bettina Siegel sent me her post on a paper sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association, once again with a predictable outcome.

When it comes to nutrition research, “guess the sponsor” is a game that is all too easy to win.

Jul 7 2014

Use of menu labeling: baseline data from USDA

USDA has a report out on consumers’ use of nutrition information in restaurants before the menu labeling law goes into effect.

What law?  The menu-labeling provision that is part of the Affordable Care Act still—four years later—waiting for the FDA to get around to issuing final rules (I last wrote about this in April 2013).

In 2011, the FDA proposed rules for public comment, and proposed final rules in 2013:

These too were opened for public comment with the process expected to be completed in February 2014.  Oops.  Missed that one.

Rumors are that the FDA is under pressure from pizza chains and movie theaters to be exempt from the final rules, and that the White House is holding them up.  The White House has had them for 90 days.  That’s supposed to be the limit.

According to Politico Pro Agriculture

It was three months ago today that the White House first received FDA’s final rules for calorie labels on menus and vending machines, and by the Office of Management and budget’s own rules, that means time is up. Interagency review at OMB is supposed to take no more than 90 days before the final release of a measure, though that timeframe is often extended with little explanation on more controversial initiatives. While OMB is always mum on its schedule for rule reviews and releases, the end of the standard review period is sometimes a hint that something will be coming, if not today — the day before a long weekend — then soon. In the meantime, brush up on the issue here: http://politico.pro/1mKNcFr and here: http://politico.pro/1lzZLDe

In the meantime, the USDA has done some research and come up with some interesting findings:

Among people who eat out, the ones most likely to use nutrition information on menu boards are those who:

  • Eat out less frequently
  • Have other healthy behaviors (such as having dark green vegetables at home).
  • Rate their diets as good.
  • Are women.
  • Participate in SNAP.

SNAP participants?  Really?  If true, SNAP participants are more eager for calorie information than the general population, and good for them!

These results explain much about the confusing findings from studies of New York City’s menu labeling law.  These generally find no overall effect although calorie labels have a big effect on people who are conscious of health to begin with (me, for example).

FDA: how about getting out the final rules?  Then we can sit back and watch USDA economists compare what’s happening to these baseline results.

Jul 1 2014

Summer reading and cooking: Calories In, Calories Out

Catherine Jones and Elaine Trujillo.  The Calories In, Calories Out Cookbook: 200 Everyday Recipes That Take the Guesswork Out of Counting Calories – Plus, the Exercise It Takes to Burn Them Off.  The Experiment, 2014.

Screenshot 2014-07-01 09.08.14

Ordinarily, I don’t blurb or review cookbooks, but this one is introduced with a chapter on “Understanding the World of Calories” by my Why Calories Count co-author, Dr. Malden Nesheim.

Why Calories Count recommends understanding calories but most definitely does not recommend counting them.  They are too difficult to count accurately unless you weigh everything you are eating, and that’s not much fun for most people.

But if you happen to enjoy counting calories, this book is for you.  It does several clever things:

  • It arranges the recipes by calories from 0-199 per serving to 300-399 per serving.
  • For every recipe, it gives calories, a few other nutrients, and diabetes exchanges.
  • For every recipe, it also lists the kinds and duration of physical activity needed to balance the calories.
  • It gives ways of fiddling with the recipes to adjust calories.
  • It answers FAQs about calories.
  • It lists gluten-free options.

On top of all that, the book is beautifully designed and illustrated, exceptionally easy to read, and scientifically sound.

Even better, the recipes are easy to follow and look delicious.

Let me give one example: creamy chocolate pots (Pots de Crème)

  • 148 calories in: These have 3 grams of protein, 16 of carbohydrates, 8 of fat, and 2 of fiber; 24 milligrams of sodium, 1 carb choice, 1 whole milk diabetic exchange.
  • 148 calories out: Women need to walk 36 minutes or jog 17 minutes.  Men need to walk 30 minutes or jog 14 minutes.

Anyone reading this book will learn a lot about nutrition and calorie balance.

Anyone who enjoys calorie numerology, will have a lot of fun with this book.

Jun 27 2014

Lobbying in action: pizza!

This just in from Politico Morning Agriculture:

At their recent Capitol Hill fly-in, members of the American Pizza Community — which included representatives from Domino’s Pizza, Godfather’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut — met with more than 70 congressional offices, according to a statement from the APC. Part of their ask was for lawmakers to back the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. The bill, which was introduced about a year ago by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), would exempt grocery stores from the ACA menu labeling requirements and allow restaurants to disclose calorie counts online.

American Pizza Community?  Indeed, yes.

The American Pizza Community is a coalition of the nation’s largest pizza companies, regional chains, local pizzerias, small franchise operators, supplier partners and other entities that make up the American pizza industry. This joint effort will highlight the importance of the pizza industry on American communities and promote policies that permit its continued success, including reasonable menu labeling standards, including small business owners in tax reform, commodity policies and employment and labor policies.

The APC knows how to work the system.  Meeting with 70 congressional offices takes some hefty organizational work.

This is, no doubt, how pizza came to be counted as a vegetable in the school lunch program.

Happy weekend!

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