by Marion Nestle

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Apr 27 2015

Chipotle goes GMO-free: a brief comment

Chipotle’s announcement that it will only be sourcing GMO-free ingredients is eliciting much press (see the article in the New York Times, for example).

Here’s what I’m telling reporters:

No, this is not a safety issue.  GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick.

Yes, this is a matter of trust.  Chipotle customers are offended that GMO foods are not labeled and that they have no choice about whether to eat them.

The GM industry has fought labeling since 1994 when the FDA first approved GM foods for production.  Even then, there was plenty of evidence that the public wanted these foods labeled.  But the industry is still pouring million of dollars into fighting labeling initiatives.

This—and the rise in sales of organic foods—are a direct result of the industry’s own actions.

Apr 23 2015

Why we need regulation: education for SNAP participants?

PoliticoPro Morning Agriculture reports on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s speech to the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC.

About changing the rules so that SNAP benefits could not be used to buy unhealthy foods, Vilsack said:

[recipients] may buy a little bit more soda, but they might buy less salty snacks than we do.  They might purchase a little more of this than we do, than non-SNAP families, but we purchase a lot more sugary stuff than they do in other categories, so it’s kind of a wash…It’s also extremely difficult to set up a system that distinguishes between various items.  You set that system up, what’s going to happen is that people won’t be able to buy apple juice, they won’t be able to buy orange juice… Our thinking is that a better way to approach this is to educate people so they make the right choice, they make the healthy choice [my emphasis].

Ah yes.  Education.  As an educator, I’m all for it, but let’s get real.

For this analysis, I am indebted to Daniel Bowman Simon, who does the math:

  • SNAP benefits =  $70 billion in 2014, for about 46 million participants.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $1504 per year in SNAP benefits.
  • The USDA provides Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grants for SNAP (see section 241)= $375 million.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $8 per year in nutrition education.
  • The USDA also provides double-value awards ($31 million) to help SNAP participants buy fruits and vegetables.
  • This adds an average of 66 cents per year for each SNAP participant to make healthy choices.

Thought for today:  How much nutrition education does $8.66 buy?

This is why regulation of the SNAP package is a better approach—once we get past congressional attempts to cut the program out of existance (an exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

Apr 20 2015

Sugar politics: never a dull moment

Here are two more items on the endless disputes over sugar intake.

1.  The IOM’s 25% of calories from sugar “recommendation”

I was surprised to see the Institute of Medicine’s upper limit of sugar safety cited in a JAMA commentary on sugars and heart disease. The authors disagreed with the conclusions of a study by Yang et al. in JAMA Internal Medicine:

Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality.

The authors of the commentary say:

The relationship between added sugar intake and CVD mortality remains unresolved. The study by Yang et al1 does not support implementation of health policies limiting sugar intake because a relatively small fraction of the total population ingests excessive amounts of sugar by the IOM criteria….Laws attempting to limit excess sugar intake have been passed and overturned on legal grounds. Aside from the legal questions, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support pursuit of policies limiting sugar intake.

They then go on to say:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendation is that less than 25% of total kilocalories come from added sugar.

Oops.  The IOM made no such recommendation.

Instead, the IOM said 25% of calories was the upper limit of safe sugar intake for nutrient deficiencies.  The risk of nutrient deficiencies increases above that percentage.  That IOM report said nothing about the relationship of sugar quantity to risk of chronic diseases.

Most health authorities recommend no more than 10% of calories from added sugars as a means to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Most research shows that chronic disease risks increase with increasing sugar intake.

 2.  What is the FDA doing about “Added Sugars” on food labels?

According to all sources, the FDA is still working on what to do about Added Sugars on the new Nutrition Facts panel.  It is engaged in two studies of this question.

It says the added sugars study is complete and the data are being analyzed.  It says the format study is in the works.

The FDA was criticized for proposing added sugars on the label without having done the research first.  Apparently, the White House Office of Management and Budget took 9 months to approve the FDA’s proposal to do the sugar research.  The approval came after the FDA issued its label proposal.

The bottom line on sugar: Less is better.

Apr 14 2015

Sugar politics: the sagas never end

I’ve been collecting items on sugars.  Here are the first two.  Two more will come later this week.

1.  The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Nutrition has new guidance on sugars in schools.

Although access to junk foods remains an issue in schools, the Council blames the problem on students, parents, and staff.  It advises:

A positive emphasis on nutritional value, variety,appropriate portion, and encouragement for a steady improvement in quality will be a more effective approach for improving nutrition and health than simply advocating for the elimination of added sugars.

Really?  Evidence, please.

I ask because Kellogg could not be happier with this approach.  A little sugar, it says, may help kids eat more nutritious foods.

Surely it’s not a coincidence that one of the authors discloses receiving support from the National Dairy Council and the American Dairy Association, and the other receives support from the Nestle Nutrition Institute.

In any case, we aren’t talking about a little sugar in schools.  We are talking about candy, cupcakes, and drinks brought in for birthdays, treats, and after school celebrations.

2.  Sugar in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

This, you will of course recall, is the controversial multinational trade agreement currently under negotiation (see my previous post on this topic).

Japan wants to keep its tariff on sugar.

It now appears that the Japanese sugar industry gave a 1 million yen donation to a political group that supports Minister of Agriculture Koya Nishikawa, just before he became involved in the TPP talks in 2013.

As one commentator put it, considering Nishikawa’s central role in the TPP negotiations,

his receipt of a donation from an industry group brings his morals as a politician into question. Nishikawa stated that he returned the donation in light of his capacity as agricultural minister, but this is unlikely to resolve the situation…In March 2013, it was announced that the Japan Sugar Refiners’ Association would receive 1.3 billion yen in subsidies under a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ project.

At the very least, this situation looks like blatant conflict of interest.

Apr 13 2015

Write to Congress. File comments on the Dietary Guidelines.

Everyone I speak to in Washington, DC says the same thing: if you want policies to change in favor of healthy food systems, you must contact members of Congress and say what you think they should do.  If they get comments on issues, they listen.  If they don’t, nothing will change.

It’s not hard to send an e-mail or telephone your representatives.

Thanks to Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the invaluable Hagstrom Report, for producing instant guides and contact information to members of the Senate and House agriculture committees.

As for the contentious 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the comment period has been extended to May 8.  The agencies make it easy to file comments.  Do it here.

The comments don’t need to be long or complicated.  Just indicate identify yourself, state the topic you are concerned about, say what you’d like the guidelines to say, and if possible add a reference or two.

Do this and you will be encouraging the agencies to do the right thing.

If you don’t, who will?

Addition, April 14:  Here’s a video explanation of how to file comments on the dietary guidelines.

Apr 9 2015

Consumer advocates petition FTC to keep junk food advertising out of YouTube for Kids

A coalition of children’s and consumer advocacy groups (see list below) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charging that Google’s new YouTube Kids app violates restrictions on marketing junk foods to kids.

The coalition’s letter to the FTC details the charges.  YouTube Kids, it says:

  • Intermixes advertising and programming in ways that deceive young children.
  • Features “branded channels” for McDonald’s, Barbie, Fisher-Price, and other companies.
  • Distributes “user-generated” segments that feature toys, candy, and other products without disclosing the business relationships.

The Washington Post gives some examples:

On the American Greetings’ Strawberry Shortcake channel, for instance, a 37-second video features the red-haired doll describing the company’s “Food Fair” app, where characters pick ingredients for recipes. At the end, a banner appears showing the app can be downloaded on iTunes. McDonald’s has a 7-minute video dispelling myths about the contents of Chicken McNuggets. On another video, a deep-voiced announcer warns, “All vegetarians, foodies and gastronauts, kindly avert your eyes,” with a slow-cam close up of a juicy Big Mac. “You can’t get juiciness like this from soy or quinoa.”

Here’s the Coalition list: the Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, Corporate Accountability International, and Public Citizen.

This will be fun to watch.  Stay tuned.

Apr 8 2015

The latest supplement scandal: hidden amphetamine-like drugs

Today’s New York Times has a front-page story about how the FDA knew that certain weight-loss supplements contained unlabeled amphetamine-like substances but did nothing about it, perhaps because its head supplement official came from the industry (and has since returned to it).

Let’s start with the science.

In 2014, Pieter Cohen and his colleagues noted that several athletes had been disqualified from competition after tests found evidence of a methamphetamine analog (N,α-diethyl-phenylethylamine) in their urine.  The athletes said that the chemical must have come from their workout supplements.  Cohen et al. tested the supplements and identified the analog as one with entirely untested stimulant, addictive, or other adverse effects in humans.  They recommended its immediate removal from all dietary supplements.

Earlier that year, the FDA reported that 9 of 21 supplements containing Acacia rigidula to test positive for varying amounts of another methamphetamine analog, β-Methylphenethylamine (BMPEA).   The FDA investigators said this compound could be misidentified as amphetamine during certain kinds of analyses, but did not identify the products found to contain BMPEA.

Cohen et al. then did their own tests of the kinds of supplements the FDA had tested.  

The stimulant was present at quantities such that consumers following recommended maximum daily servings could consume a maximum of 93.7 mg of BMPEA per day. Consumers of Acacia rigidula supplements may be exposed to pharmacological dosages of an amphetamine isomer that lacks evidence of safety in humans. The FDA should immediately warn consumers about BMPEA and take aggressive enforcement action to eliminate BMPEA in dietary supplements.

The New York Times explains the context:

The controversy comes at a time when the supplement industry is under increased scrutiny. Last week, 14 state attorneys general, led by Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, called on Congress to provide the F.D.A. with more power to regulate supplements. Mr. Schneiderman’s office in February accused four major retailers of selling contaminated herbal supplements, and one of the companies, GNC, has agreed to extensive new testing and quality control procedures for its store-brand herbal products.

This brings us to the politics.

The supplement industry, of course, is doing everything it can to oppose and stop Schneiderman’s work.

Recall that Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994, essentially deregulating the industry.  The act allowed absurd health claims for supplements and essentially removed much of the FDA’s authority to regulate these products.

The result was an increase in sales despite remarkably little evidence for efficacy.

As for conflicts of interest at FDA:

  • Daniel Fabricant, the head of the FDA’s dietary supplement division at the time this was happening, came to the agency from the Natural Products Association, “Over 75 years of serving the natural products industry.” He has since left the FDA and now heads the NPA.
  • The NPA spent nearly $1.5 million on lobbying in 2013 and 2014.
  • The current head of the FDA’s dietary supplement division, Cara Welch, also came to FDA from the NPA.

Since DSHEA, the dietary supplement industry has gotten a pass.  Suggestions:

  • Congress should rescind DSHEA and give the FDA the authority to regulate supplements as it does food.
  • The FDA should appoint officials who are independent of the industries they are supposed to regulate.
Apr 7 2015

Sponsored research inevitably favors the sponsor’s vested interests

I am increasingly concerned about the proliferation of research studies sponsored and funded by food, beverage, or supplement companies with a vested interested in the outcome.  These almost invariably come to conclusions in favor of the sponsor’s food product.

You must understand that I am not searching for sponsored studies in any systematic way.  They just appear in the tables of contents of journals I typically read and are easily identified by their titles.

My plan is to post a list of sponsored research studies every time I accumulate 5 examples.  My first post in this series appeared March 16.

Recent examples

1.  Purified palmitoleic acid for the reduction of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and serum lipids: A double-blinded, randomized, placebo controlled study, by Adam M. Bernstein, MD, ScD, Michael F. Roizen, MD, Luis Martinez, MD, MPH.  Journal of Clinical Lipidology 2014;8:612–617.

  • Conclusion: Purified palmitoleic acid may be useful in the treatment of hypertriglyceridemia with the beneficial added effects of decreasing LDL and hs-CRP and raising HDL.
  • Sponsor: Tersus Pharmaceuticals (maker of Provinal palmitoleic acid).  Dr. Roizen is chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of Tersus Pharmaceuticals and chair of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

2.  Whey Protein Supplementation Preserves Postprandial Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis during Short-Term Energy Restriction in Overweight and Obese Adults, by Amy J Hector, George R Marcotte, Tyler A Churchward-Venne, Caoileann H Murphy, Leigh Breen,Mark von Allmen, Steven K Baker, and Stuart M Phillips.  J Nutrition 2015;145:246–52.

  • Conclusion: We conclude that whey protein supplementation attenuated the decline in postprandial rates of MPS [Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis] after weight loss, which may be of importance in the preservation of lean mass during longer-term weight loss interventions.
  • Sponsor: The Dairy Research Institute through the Whey Protein Research Consortium.

3.  Natural cocoa consumption: Potential to reduce atherogenic factors? By Brian K. McFarlin, Adam S. Venable, Andrea L. Henning, Eric A. Prado, Jill N. Best Sampson, Jakob L. Vingren, David W. Hill.  J Nutritional Biochemistry 2015: in press.

  • Conclusion: Collectively, these findings indicate that acute natural cocoa consumption was associated with decreased obesity-related disease risk.
  • Sponsor: The Hershey Company

4.  The effect of a high-egg diet on cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) study—a 3-mo randomized controlled trial, by Nicholas R Fuller, Ian D Caterson, Amanda Sainsbury, Gareth Denyer, Mackenzie Fong, James Gerofi, Katherine Baqleh, Kathryn H Williams, Namson S Lau, and Tania P Markovic.  Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101:705-713.

  • Conclusion: High egg consumption did not have an adverse effect on the lipid profile of people with T2D [type 2 diabetes] in the context of increased MUFA [monounsaturated fatty acid] and PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acid] consumption. This study suggests that a high-egg diet can be included safely as part of the dietary management of T2D, and it may provide greater satiety.
  • Sponsor: Australian Egg Corporation

5.  Dietary Flaxseed Independently Lowers Circulating Cholesterol and Lowers It beyond the Effects of Cholesterol-Lowering Medications Alone in Patients with Peripheral Artery Disease.  Andrea L Edel, Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva, Thane G Maddaford, Stephanie PB Caligiuri, J Alejandro Austria, Wendy Weighell, Randolph Guzman, Michel Aliani, and Grant N Pierce.  J. Nutr. 2015; 145:749-757.

  • Conclusion: Milled flaxseed lowers total and LDL cholesterol in patients with PAD [peripheral artery disease] and has additional LDL-cholesterol–lowering capabilities when used in conjunction with CLMs [cholesterol-lowering medications].
  • Sponsor: Flax2015, the Canola Council of Canada, and others.
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