Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 30 2016

Weekend Reading: From Farm to Canal Street

Valerie Inbruce.  From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace.  Cornell University Press, 2015.

I live in downtown Manhattan, love to wander through the open-air food markets in Chinatown, and have always wondered how the extraordinarily fresh and exotic vegetables and fruits get there.  Who grows them, and where?

The answers: supply chains based on family connections (of course), in Florida, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Inbruce views the supply chains as an alternative to industrial food systems, one that provides vegetables of outstanding quality at low cost, while supporting small farmers.

Instructors of courses in food systems: this book belongs in your syllabus.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in who produces food for urban areas and how it gets into cities.

 

Jan 29 2016

What does “natural” mean? One more time.

I’ve written repeatedly about the problem of “natural” on food labels, but the issue just doesn’t go away.  It won’t, until the FDA decides to rule on what it means.

Now Consumer Reports has done a survey of public understanding of the term.

The survey reveals that 62% of respondents want foods to be “natural.”   When they see the claim on a food package, they believe it has been verified independently.  Oops.

They also believe that “natural” means no artificial ingredients (correct, according to the FDA’s non-definition) or GMOs (incorrect).  The survey confirms the idea that many people think “natural” is the same as “organic,” which it is not.

Consumers, says Consumer Reports, are naturally confused.  And why wouldn’t we be, given the products labeled as “natural” (see the examples collected by Consumer Reports).

The FDA is currently collecting its own comments on this issue.  You can weigh in until May 15.  Please do. 

Jan 27 2016

Two industry-funded studies with results that must have disappointed sponsors. The score: 105/11

Sharp-eyed readers have sent in two studies sponsored by food companies with results that will be difficult to use for marketing.  This brings the score since mid-March to 105 sponsored studies useful in marketing to 11 that are not.

Effects of Pomegranate Extract Supplementation on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Physical Function in Hemodialysis Patients. Wu Pei-Tzu, Fitschen Peter J., Kistler Brandon M., Jeong Jin Hee, Chung Hae Ryong, Aviram Michael, Phillips Shane A., Fernhall Bo, and Wilund Kenneth R.. Journal of Medicinal Food. September 2015, 18(9): 941-949. doi:10.1089/jmf.2014.0103.

  • Conclusions: Systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure were reduced by 24±13.7 and 10±5.3 mmHg, respectively, in POM (P<.05). However, the BP differences in POM were no longer significant after controlling for baseline BP…However, pomegranate supplementation had no effect on other markers of cardiovascular disease risk, inflammation and oxidative stress, or measures of physical function and muscle strength. While pomegranate extract supplementation may reduce BP and increase the antioxidant activity in HD patients, it does not improve other markers of cardiovascular risk, physical function, or muscle strength.
  • Funding: This work was supported by the POM Wonderful, LLC.

The association between dietary saturated fatty acids and ischemic heart disease depends on the type and source of fatty acid in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Netherlands cohort.  Jaike Praagman, Joline WJ Beulens, Marjan Alssema, Peter L Zock, Anne J Wanders, Ivonne Sluijs, and Yvonne T van der Schouw.  Am J Clin Nutr. First published ahead of print January 20, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122671

  • Conclusions: In this Dutch population, higher SFA intake was not associated with higher IHD risks. The lower IHD risk observed did not depend on the substituting macronutrient…Residual confounding by cholesterol-lowering therapy and trans fat or limited variation in SFA and PUFA intake may explain our findings.
  • Authors’ disclosures: JP is financially supported by a restricted research grant from Unilever Research and Development, Vlaardingen, Netherlands. MA, AJW, and PLZ are employees of Unilever Research and Development. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest related to this study.
  • Comment: Unilever sells low-saturated fat/high-polyunsaturated fat margarines (e.g., Flora, Becel) for reducing coronary risk.  If higher saturated fat intake does not increase heart disease risk (perhaps because the study subjects were on statins), these products are unnecessary.
Jan 26 2016

Celebration food, Australia Day style

Here in Australia, yesterday was Australia Day (somewhat equivalent to the American Fourth of July) although many prefer to call it Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning and to make it an occasion for protest.  Hence: the fuss over the what Google Australia posted as the day’s Google Doodle.

Newcomer that I am, I celebrated with some Glebe Street gelato:IMG_20160126_1952109

Can’t read the sign?

“Celebrate Australia Day with Vegemite Gelato on toast!”

Yum.

Jan 25 2016

Milk marketing, Australian style

I’m in residence at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney for a bit and am getting the chance to learn the Australian version of food politics.

I like milk with my coffee.  Here’s all they had at a local corner store.

 

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The banner on the label says that it “NATURALLY contains A2 protein.*”

A2 protein?  What’s that?

The label, alas, is not much help.

*Dairy Farmers milk naturally contains A2 protein as well as A1 protein.  Of those proteins, our tests to date confirm that 50-7-% is A2.

So?  Should we care?  YES, according to the A2 Milk Company:

The two main types of milk proteins are the casein and the whey proteins. These make up to 80% and 20% of the protein content of cows’ milk respectively. Other proteins present at low levels in milk include antibodies and iron carrying proteins.

Beta-casein makes up about one third of the total protein content in milk. All cows make beta-casein but it is the type of beta-casein that matters. There are two types of beta-casein: A1 and A2. They differ by only one amino acid. Such small differences in the amino acid composition of proteins can result in the different protein forms having different properties.

According to a press account,

For nearly 20 years, there have been claims that the A2 beta-casein protein is easier to digest than A1, but it’s been dismissed as unscientific.  This pilot study at Curtin University…found subjects on an A2 milk diet reported less bloating abdominal pain, and firmer stools, by staying off A1 beta-casein.

But this milk contains both A1 and A2 proteins.

In any case, guess who funded this research!

Comparative effects of A1 versus A2 beta-casein on gastrointestinal measures: a blinded randomised cross-over pilot study.  Ho S, Woodford K, Kukuljan S, Pal S.  Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;68(9):994-1000. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.127. Epub 2014 Jul 2.

  • Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest differences in gastrointestinal responses in some adult humans consuming milk containing beta-casein of either the A1 or the A2 beta-casein type, but require confirmation in a larger study of participants with perceived intolerance to ordinary A1 beta-casein-containing milk.
  • Funding: This study was supported by a grant from A2 Dairy Products Australia, who also supplied the milk.  A2 Dairy Products Australia had no role in the data analysis of this study.

The label has more to say:

Of course, it’s made here in New South Wales and it’s Permeate Free—so it’s less processed and simply delicious.

Permeate Free?   What’s that?  A local website explains:

Permeate is simply a collective term for the natural lactose, vitamin and mineral components which are separated from fresh milk by a process called ultrafiltration. Because milk is a natural food (and tastes different from cow to cow) filtering the permeate out (before putting it back in) allows processors to regulate their milk so they can control the taste, protein and fat content.

Apparently, Australian labeling authorities allow this process to qualify as “natural?”

The label lists these ingredients: Skim milk, milk, milk solids [the source of the extra A2 proteins and the Permeate?].

Next time, I’ll look for a product with precisely one ingredient: milk.

Jan 22 2016

Weekend Reading: Ingredients

Dwight Eschliman, Text by Steve Ettlinger.  Ingredients: A Visual Exploration of 75 Additives & 25 Food Products.  Regan Arts, 2015.

The photographer and writer went through the grocery store and jotted down every food ingredient they could find—from Acesulfame potassium to xanthan gum.  Dwight Eschliman acquired samples of each ingredient in its pure form, arranged them in piles, and took photographs.  Steve Ettlinger provided their Code of Federal Regulations numbers, chemical structures, and brief descriptions of how they are used. The photographs are gorgeous.  Even though all the ingredients look like piles of salt, their textures and colors are sufficiently different to make this book weirdly fascinating.

Jan 21 2016

This week’s five industry-funded studies. The score: 105/9.

I’ve collected five more studies funded directly or indirectly by food companies or trade associations, with results useful for marketing purposes.  This brings the total to 105 that I’ve noticed since last March versus only 9 with results that must have disappointed the sponsors.

Canned Vegetable and Fruit Consumption Is Associated with Changes in Nutrient Intake and Higher Diet Quality in Children and Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010Marjorie R. Freedman, PhD; Victor L. Fulgoni III, PhD.  J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.10.013.

  • Conclusions: Results suggest CVþCF consumption was associated with higher intake of select nutrients, a higher-quality diet, and comparable adiposity measures and blood pressure.
  • Funding for this project was received from the Canned Food Alliance.  As senior vice president at Nutrition Impact, LLC, V. L. Fulgoni III provides food and nutrition consulting and database analyses for various members of the food and beverage industry.  No potential conflict of interest was reported by M. R. Freedman.

Regular Fat and Reduced Fat Dairy Products Show Similar Associations with Markers of Adolescent Cardiometabolic Health.   O’Sullivan, T.A.; Bremner, A.P.; Mori, T.A., Beilin, L.J., Wilson, C., Hafekost, K., Ambrosini, G.L., Huang, R.C., Oddy, W.H..Nutrients 2016, 8, 22.

  • Conclusion: Although regular fat dairy was associated with a slightly better cholesterol profile in boys, overall, intakes of both regular fat and reduced fat dairy products were associated with similar cardiometabolic associations in adolescents.
  • Conflicts of Interest: Therese A. O’Sullivan received a grant from The Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium Australia…which provided funding for the analysis and write up of this study. No other authors declare a conflict of interest.

Suboptimal Plasma Long Chain n-3 Concentrations are Common among Adults in the United States, NHANES 2003–2004. Rachel A. Murphy, Elaine A. Yu, Eric D. Ciappio, Saurabh Mehta and Michael I. McBurney   Nutrients 2015, 7, 10282–10289; doi:10.3390/nu7125534.

  • Conclusion: Suboptimal LCn-3 [omega-3] concentrations are common among U.S. adults. These findings highlight the need to increase LCn-3 intake among Americans.
  • Conflicts of Interest: M.I.M., E.D.C. and R.A.M. are employees of D.S.M. Nutritional Products, L.L.C., manufacturers and suppliers of omega-3 nutritional lipids. E.Y. and S.M. have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Red Raspberries and Their Bioactive Polyphenols: Cardiometabolic and Neuronal Health Links.  Britt M Burton-Freeman, Amandeep K Sandhu, and  Indika Edirisinghe.  Adv Nutr January 2016 Adv Nutr vol. 7: 44-65, 2016. doi: 10.3945/​an.115.009639

  • Conclusion: The body of research is growing and supports a potential role for red raspberries in reducing the risk of metabolically based chronic diseases.
  • Funding: Supported in part by various donors and the National Processed Raspberry Council.

Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction. Aedín Cassidy, Mary Franz, and Eric B Rimm.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. First published ahead of print January 13, 2016 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122010.

  • Conclusions: These data suggest that a higher habitual intake of specific flavonoid-rich foods is associated with reduced ED incidence. Intervention trials are needed to further examine the impact of increasing intakes of commonly consumed flavonoid-rich foods on men’s health.
  • Authors’ disclosure: AC and EBR received funding from the US Blueberry Highbush Council for a separate project unrelated to this publication.
  • Comment: The University of East Anglia, where the lead author works, sent out a press release “Blueberries associated with reduced risk of erectile dysfunction.”
Jan 20 2016

Congratulations to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ for its new sponsorship policy

Several members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND–formerly the American Dietetic Association) sent me a letter from the Academy’s president, Evelyn Crayton, announcing its new policy on sponsorship.

AND’s previous policy, which encouraged sponsorship by food companies selling fast food, salty snacks, and sugary drinks, has been the subject of a critical investigative report and induced members of the Academy to create Dietitians for Professional Integrity to get the policy changed.

This advocacy worked.  It induced AND’s leadership to appoint a Sponsorship Advisory Task Force (SATF) to recommend a less conflicted policy to AND’s Board of Directors.

The SATF delivered its report to the Board on January 13.  As Evelyn Crayton explains,

The Board voted to implement a pilot program encompassing many of the SATF’s recommendations. The one-year pilot program includes appointing a Sponsorship Committee to review national-level sponsor opportunities and to develop assessment tools that will support the sponsorship process.

The Board of Directors approved the following newly revised sponsorship guidelines, which take effect immediately for all Academy organizational units. Dietetic Practice Groups and Member Interest Groups will be required to adhere to these guidelines and Affiliates are encouraged to adopt them.

Sponsorship approval requires that:

  • The sponsor’s vision and mission align with the Academy’s Vision, Mission and Strategic Goals.
  • The sponsor’s product portfolio is broadly aligned with the Academy’s Vision: Optimizing health through food and nutrition.
  • The sponsor relationship and sponsor product portfolio are broadly aligned with official Academy positions.
  • All aspects of the sponsorship (such as research, consumer messaging or professional education for members) align with the Academy’s Scientific Integrity Principles.
  • The Academy does not endorse any company, brand or company products, nor does the Academy’s name or logo appear on any product. Such endorsement is neither actual nor implied.
  • The Academy maintains final editorial control and approval of all content in materials bearing the Academy name or logo.
  • There is clear separation of Academy messages and content from brand information or promotion.
  • Relevant facts and important information are included.
  • The Board is confident that these revised guidelines and the new Sponsorship Committee pilot program will enable the Academy to better serve the organization and our members.

This looks impressive and deserves congratulations.  The policy calls for transparency, separation, and alignment—all laudable goals.

I have only two concerns:

  • What did the SATF report actually say?  How about making it available?  [If anyone has a copy and can send, please do.]
  • What is the definition of “alignment with the Academy’s goals and principles?”

As always, the devil is in the details.  As Andy Bellatti explains,

Some of these guidelines (i.e.: “the sponsor’s mission and vision align with AND’s”) already exist in the current policy — the same policy that considered PepsiCo (and former sponsors Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, and General Mills) an appropriate sponsor.

The Academy’s Board can start the process by making the SATF report public (at least to members) and then explaining its process for setting the policy.*

It also needs to explain how “alignment” will be defined.  What are the actual criteria for deciding whether AND will accept food-industry sponsorship.

But this is a great first step and deserves much praise.

*Update: the Academy released the report.

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