Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 28 2015

Vilsack: Guidelines committee members are like 3-year-olds

Yesterday’s Hagstrom Report quotes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s comments to the Commodity Classic on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

The “folks who put those reports together … have freedom. They are like my 3-year-old granddaughter. She does not have to color inside the lines.”

His 5-year-old grandson, he said, “is learning about coloring within the lines.”

“I am going to color inside the lines,” Vilsack said.

Sounds like the USDA has no intention of doing what the DGAC recommends.

This is why it’s so important to file comments @ www.DietaryGuidelines.gov by April 8.  You can also register there for the public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 24.

Addition, March 10: Secretary Vilsack’s speech and press conference remarks are here.

 

Feb 27 2015

Weekend cooking: Nancy Jenkins’ Virgin Territory

Nancy Harmon Jenkins.  Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

Although I don’t usually do blurbs for cookbooks, this one goes into so much depth about why olives and their oil matter—and how the olives are grown, harvested, and extracted—that I couldn’t resist.  Jenkins is a wonderful writer as well as a splendid cook.

Virgin Territory takes a deep dive into the history, culture, and taste of olive oil.  Jenkins grows olives, harvests them, and cooks with her own oil.  A terrific cook, she passionately wants everyone to know the difference a high quality extra-virgin olive oil can make to any dish.  I learned so much about olive oil from this book and can’t wait to try every one of her recipes.

 

Feb 26 2015

Fingers crossed: good news about preventing peanut allergies

The New England Journal of Medicine has a new study that suggests the need to rethink whether to feed peanuts to babies.

As the Wall Street Journal explains, peanut allergies can be life-threatening and they are increasing among the population.

Dr. Gideon Lack and his colleagues randomly assigned infants to be fed peanuts (really, peanut butter) until they were five years old.  The children fed peanuts had far fewer peanut allergies than those who were not exposed to peanuts.

Of the more than 500 infants who showed no signs of peanut allergies at the start of the trial, the prevalence of peanut allergies at age 5 was 13.7% in the avoidance group and only 1.9% in the consumption group (see the journal’s video for an easy explanation).

A result like this is extremely unlikely to have occurred by chance.

Dr. Lack got the idea for the study when he noticed that peanut allergies were rare in Israel.  Israeli infants are routinely offered foods made with peanuts, whereas British and American parents have been told not to feed peanuts to young children.

The authors conclude:

Our findings showed that early, sustained consumption of peanut products was associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants. Conversely, peanut avoidance was associated with a greater frequency of clinical peanut allergy than was peanut consumption, which raises questions about the usefulness of deliberate avoidance of peanuts as a strategy to prevent allergy.

The implications are clear: expose young children to peanut butter (the accompanying editorial explains how to do this safely).  And to prevent choking, don’t give them peanuts until they can chew.

Other newspaper articles on this topic:

 

 

Feb 25 2015

The Kool-Aid Museum!

I gave a talk last week at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska.

Before I left, Michael Moss, who wrote the New York Times investigative report about Hasting’s USDA animal research facility, mentioned the Kool-Aid museum.

The Kool-Aid museum?

As it happens, I adore museum exhibits devoted to single food items.  The Hastings Museum houses a permanent collection of Kool-Aid historical materials and artifacts.

Capture

A Hastings resident, Edwin Perkins, invented this product in 1927.

Kool-Aid, in case this isn’t on your usual shopping list, is a flavored and colored powder that comes in small packets.  You add the 4.6 gram contents—plus one full cup of sugar—to two quarts of water.

What’s in the packets?  I was given a cherry limeade flavor: contains citric acid, maltodextrin, calcium phosphate, vitamin C, natural and artificial flavor, salt, artificial color, red 40, tocopherol [a form of vitamin E], BHA, and BHT (preservatives).

The less said about nutritional value, the better.

But take a look at its corporate history:

  • 1953   General Foods buys Kool-Aid
  • 1985  Philip Morris buys General Foods and, therefore, Kool-Aid
  • 1988  Philip Morris buys Kraft
  • 1989  Philip Morris combines Kraft and General Foods to create Kraft General Foods (Kool-Aid is now owned by a cigarette company)
  • 1995  Philip Morris names the combined entity Kraft Foods
  • 2003  Philip Morris changes its name to Altria (Kool-Aid is still owned by a cigarette company)
  • 2007  Philip Morris splits Kraft—and, therefore, Kool-Aid—off as a separate company
  • 2012  Kraft splits into two companies, Kraft Foods Group (with Kool-Aid) and Mondelez International
  • 2012  Kraft Foods Group cuts a deal with SodaStream International to use Kool-Aid with SodaStream devices

I loved the exhibit, even though you have to go through rooms full of guns to get to it.

The exhibit didn’t mention the Jonestown massacre, the source of the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” because Kool-Aid was not involved.

Feb 23 2015

Dietary guidelines shouldn’t be this controversial

The uproar caused by the release of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has been even noisier than I predicted, so noisy that USDA Secretary Vilsack appears to have pulled back on it.  He told Jerry Hagstrom (HagstromReport.com) that:

He wants people to realize that the process of writing the dietary guidelines “is just beginning today,” and that he and [HHS Secretary] Burwell will consider input from federal agencies and the general public. He said he wants to be sure that people “know that I know my responsibility.”

In this, Vilsack was referring to the directive by Congress in the 2015 appropriations bill blocking him from considering sustainability in the guidelines.

As for the DGAC report: It concluded:

…the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.

Predictably, this did not go over well with the meat industry or, for that matter, other industries affected by such advice or groups funded by such industries.

Less predictably, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Nina Teicholz, the journalist author of “The Big Fat Surprise,” a work based on her own review of the science of fat.  In her view, mainstream nutritionists have badly misinterpreted this science to the great detriment of public health.

Her conclusion:

…we would be wise to return to what worked better for previous generations: a diet that included fewer grains, less sugar and more animal foods like meat, full-fat dairy and eggs.

But Teicholz’ book has been the subject of a line-by-line analysis by Seth Yoder (whom I do not know personally).  Mr. Yoder did what graduate students in science are trained to do: read the references.

He looked up and examined the references Teicholz cites in the book as the basis of her views.  He documents an astonishing number of situations in which the references say something quite different from what Teicholz gets out of them.  At the very least, his analysis raises serious questions about the credibility of her views on the science of fat.

Let’s grant that the science of nutrition is difficult to do and complicated.  The New York Times should know this, which is why I’m surprised that it would give Teicholz so prominent a platform without countering them with point-counterpoint views of a respected nutrition scientist.

It does little to foster the health of the public to make nutrition science appear more controversial than it really is.

The basic advice offered by 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee boils down to plain common sense:

  • Eat plenty of foods from plant sources
  • Eat foods from animal sources in moderation
  • Balance calories
  • Avoid overeating junk food

Unfortunately, this kind of advice doesn’t make headlines or, apparently, merit op-ed space in the New York Times.

Feb 22 2015

Cookie Couture from tonight’s Red Carpet

Dorothy Cann Hamilton of the International Culinary Center in New York sends this video in celebration of tonight’s Oscar’s event:

And the winner is…the latest creation from ICC: “Celebrity Cookie Couture From The Red Carpet”!

Enjoy!

Feb 20 2015

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee releases its courageous report

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) issued its more than 500-page report yesterday.

Before I say anything about it, please note that this report informs, but does not constitute, the Dietary Guidelines. The agencies—USDA and HHS—write the actual Guidelines and are not expected to do so until the end of this year.

Here are what I see as the highlights (these are direct quotes)

  • A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.
  • A diet higher in plant-based foods…and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.
  • It will take concerted, bold actions…to achieve and maintain the healthy diet patterns, and the levels of physical activity needed to promote the health of the U.S. population. These actions will require a paradigm shift to an environment in which population health is a national priority and where individuals and organizations, private business, and communities work together to achieve a population-wide “culture of health” in which healthy lifestyle choices are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative.

Some facts and statements from the report (not direct quotes).

  • Half the energy intake in U.S. diets comes from a combination of burgers and sandwiches (~14%), desserts and sweet snacks (8.5%), sugary beverages (6.5%), mixed dished made with rice, pasta, and other grains (5.5%, savory snacks (~5%), pizza (4.3%), and meat, poultry and seafood mixed dishes (~4%).
  • Nearly half of total sugar intake comes from beverages other than milk and 100% fruit juice

The report comments on issues under current debate.

  • Saturated fat: “replacing SFA with unsaturated fats…significantly reduces total and LDL cholesterol…Strong and consistent evidence…shows that replacing SFA [saturated fatty acids] with PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] reduces the risk of CVD [cardiovascular] events and coronary mortality…For every 1 percent of energy intake from SFA replaced with PUFA, incidence of CHD [coronary heart disease] is reduced by 2 to 3 percent. However, reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD risk.”
  • Sugars: “Strong and consistent evidence shows that intake of added sugars from food and/or sugar sweetened beverages are associated with excess body weight in children and adults…Strong evidence shows that higher consumption of added sugars, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes among adults and this relationship is not fully explained by body weight.[Theae findings are] compatible with a recommendation to keep added sugars intake below 10 percent of total energy intake.”
  • Food labels: “Consumers would benefit from a standardized, easily understood front-of-package (FOP) label on all food and beverage products to give clear guidance about a food’s healthfulness.” [This refers to the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine that I’ve written about previously; they disappeared without a trace.]
  • Soda taxes: “Economic and pricing approaches, using incentives and disincentives should be explored to promote the purchase of healthier foods and beverages. For example, higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.”
  • SNAP: “Policy changes within the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), similar to policies in place for the WIC program, should be considered to encourage purchase of healthier options, including foods and beverages low in added sugars. Pilot studies using incentives and restrictions should be tested and evaluated.”

The DGAC recommends (these are direct quotes but not necessarily complete):

  • Establish local, state, and Federal policies to make healthy foods accessible and affordable and to limit access to high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and sugar-sweetened beverages in public buildings and facilities.
  • Set nutrition standards for foods and beverages offered in public places.
  • Improve retail food environments and make healthy foods accessible and affordable in underserved neighborhoods and communities.
  • Implement the comprehensive school meal guidelines (National School Lunch Program) from the USDA that increase intakes of vegetables (without added salt), fruits (without added sugars), and whole grains.
  • Limit marketing unhealthy foods to children.
  • Make drinking water freely available to students throughout the day.
  • Ensure competitive foods meet the national nutrition standards (e.g., Dietary Guidelines for Americans).
  • Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages [from schools].
  • Nutrition Facts label should include added sugars (in grams and teaspoons).

And for all federal nutrition programs, the DGAC recommends:

  • Align program standards with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans so as to achieve the 2015 DGAC recommendations and promote a “culture of health.”

Congratulations to this committee for its courageous recommendations.

Why courageous?  See my previous comments on the objections to such advice.

The next step: public comment:

The public is encouraged to view the independent advisory group’s report and provide written comments at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov for a period of 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The public will also have an opportunity to offer oral comments at a public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 24, 2015. Those interested in providing oral comments at the March 24, 2015, public meeting can register at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Capacity is limited, so participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Here’s your chance to support this committee’s excellent ideas and demonstrate public approval for diets that promote the health of people and the planet.

Note: the reactions to the report are pouring in and I will deal with them next week.  Enjoy the weekend!

Feb 19 2015

Nestlé USA says its chocolates won’t have artificial colors or flavors by the end of this year

Nestlé (the giant food company, not me) announces that it is removing all artificial flavors and colors from its chocolate candies this year.

Nestlé USA announced today its commitment to removing artificial flavors and FDA-certified colors, like Red 40 and Yellow 5, from all of its chocolate candy products. By the end of 2015, more than 250 products and 10 brands including NESTLÉ® BUTTERFINGER®, CRUNCH® and BABY RUTH® will be free of artificial flavors and certified colors. Products will begin appearing on store shelves by mid-2015, and will be identified by a “No Artificial Flavors or Colors” claim featured on-pack.

Just to put this in perspective.  According to figures in Advertising Age (June 2014), this company took in revenues exceeding $99 billion in 2013, with a profit of more than $11 billion.  The U.S. accounted for $25 billion of that amount.

If  Nestlé USA does this, the rest of Nestlé is likely to follow.

And “No Artificial Flavors or Colors” ought to encourage other companies to do the same.

Artificial flavors and colors are totally unnecessary in food products.  Think of them as cosmetics.

Whether they do or do not induce behavioral problems in kids—a problem not easily resolved—getting rid of them makes good sense.

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