Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
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 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 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.

Feb 18 2015

And now a word from our sponsors: The Dietitians Association of Australia

Michele Simon’s latest investigative report deals with sponsorship by food corporations of the Australian Dietetics Association.



Consistent with her previous report on corporate sponsorship of the American dietetic association (now The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), this one finds that the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA):

  • Is sponsored by Meat and Livestock Australia, Nestlé, Unilever, Dairy Australia, and the Egg Nutrition Council
  • Is a partner in the “Nestlé Choose Wellness Roadshow”
  • Has important members who work for Kellogg and PepsiCo
  • Has a spokesperson who is paid by Coca-Cola to present his research denying a connection between sugars and obesity
  • Displays recipes from corporate sponsors with branded products despite policies against such things
  • Is believed to have stripped a dietitian of her earned credential for speaking out against such conflicts of interest [*but see additional comments below].

The DAA offers its corporate sponsors the following benefits:

  • Credible, independent, expert partner for nutrition communications
  • Unparalleled opportunity to inform the Australian public through members and the DAA profile
  • Access to members and interest groups for advice
  • Information and expert advice on all nutrition and health issues
  • Opportunities to sponsor DAA programs

This is a good deal for food and beverage corporate sponsors.

It’s not such a good deal for DAA members.  At best:

  • They appear in conflict of interest.
  • Their advice appears bought.
  • They lose credibility.

As Simon concludes:

The health of all Australians depends upon the independence of the nutrition profession and its leadership’s ability to operate free of conflicts of interest and be the nutrition leaders they claim to be, free from sponsorship money.


February 19:  Dr. Sara Grafenauer APD PhD of the DAA wrote me an e-mail detailing charges of error in this account.  She also wrote to Michele Simon.   Food company sponsorship of nutrition professional societies deserves far more critical attention than it usually gets and I am glad to see this debate.

February 20: Dr. Grafenauer writes again: “Thank you for considering our concerns however, with all due respect, the following statement is factually incorrect and should be removed:

  • Is believed to have stripped a dietitian of her earned credential for speaking out against such conflicts of interest.

DAA’s credential, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is very important to the association and its members. It has rigorous processes around its maintenance and integrity and would never be used for purposes other than it is designed (for such as ‘gagging’ a member as is suggested here). There is no basis for this potentially defamatory statement and DAA will take whatever steps are necessary to defend the credential.”

Feb 17 2015

The School Nutrition Association’s bizarre saga continues

Nancy Huehnergarth and Bettina Siegel (the Lunch Tray) forwarded the latest information about the hard-to-believe efforts of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) to roll back USDA’s nutrition standards, in particular those requiring school meals to serve fruits and vegetables.  Not everyone at SNA agrees with the leadership’s retrogressive position on encouraging kids to eat their veggies:

You may be interested in this open letter, signed by 86 members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) that was just forwarded to SNA’s CEO and President…These 86 SNA members were courageous enough to sign the open letter even after SNA leaders sent an urgent email to all members urging them not to sign.

As you know, the SNA continues to work towards rolling back the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act nutrition standards, now through the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization, as evidenced by their recently released 2015 position paper:

As to what all this is about, see Dana Woldow’s explanation in Beyond Chron.  As she bluntly puts the matter,

It would be comforting to think that SNA members are making those decisions based on what is most nutritious and healthy for growing kids, but unfortunately they are just as likely to be influenced by the recommendations of Big Food companies peddling processed crap.

Dana also takes on the SNA’s claim that the majority of its members want the nutrition standards rolled back.  She does the math and comes to quite a different result.

I continue to find it incredible that an organization of people whose job it is to feed school kids would do everything it can to make sure those kids are deprived of fresh, healthier foods, which is what the nutrition standards require.

SNA members: it’s time to recall your leaders and install some who put kids’ interests first.

Feb 13 2015

Sugar politics: The BMJ’s series “Spinning a web of influence”

BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) has just released an editorial and four papers on ties between the sugar industry and public health scientists who advise the government on health policy.  Some health policies involve recommendations about intake of sugars.

The BMJ press release explains

Recipients of research funding from sugar and other related industries include members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which is currently updating official advice on carbohydrates consumption, and researchers working for the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit (HNR).  HNR scientists have received research funding and funding in kinds from companies including Coca-Cola, Mars, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Weight Watchers International and others…Of the 40 scientists affiliated with SACN between 2001 and 2012, only 13 have had no interests to declare.

This, of course, is no different than what we see here.  Food and beverage companies support food and nutrition research as well as professional societies, and conflicts of interest are rampant.

Even so, these well documented studies are alarming and worth serious attention.  And be sure to look at the map.

MedPage has a nice summary (I’m quoted).

The furor over these articles

Feb 12 2015

What’s up with the cholesterol guideline?

The Washington Post says that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is about to drop the long-standing guideline about restricting dietary cholesterol.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines said “Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.”

This is about the amount in one egg.

I have no idea what’s going on.  The Advisory Committee report has not yet been released so I don’t know what it says (I’ve heard rumors that it is to be released this week, which could mean late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend).

Recall: no matter what the Advisory Committee says in its report, it does not write the Dietary Guidelines.  The agencies—USDA and HHS—do whatever they choose with the committee’s research report.

If the Committee really is dropping the guideline, I’d like to see its research rationale.

I’m wondering if research sponsored by the egg industry could have anything to do with this.

See, for example, this recent study concluding that people with coronary heart disease don’t have to worry about eating eggs.

We found no evidence of adverse effects of daily egg ingestion on any cardiac risk factors in adults with CAD over a span of 6 weeks.

You have to read the study carefully to find the funding source (these are usually at the end of articles, but this one is in the middle):

Disclosures. This study was conducted with funding from the Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Grant
No. 5U48DP001945-05).

And you have to read the tables carefully to find out that 90.6% of the subjects in this study were taking statins, nearly 90% were taking drugs to lower blood pressure, and nearly 80% were taking aspirin.  The discussion, however, does not mention this point making this study a classic example of the problems with conflicts of interest in research.

If the Advisory Committee is dropping the cholesterol recommendation, could it be because so many people are taking statins that dietary cholesterol doesn’t appear to matter so much anymore?

This story is getting a lot of press.  Here’s one from USA Today that quotes me and changes my name as it goes along (they have now fixed that).

Can’t wait to see what the report really says.






Feb 11 2015

The buying and selling of pet food brands

Dave Love @davelove1 sent me a tweet: @marionnestle what do you think about big food companies buying pet food brands?

His question referred to an article in the Washington Post titled the McDonaldization of pet foods.

The New York Times also covered the issue that triggered this question: the purchase by Smucker of Big Heart Pet Brands, “the company once known as Del Monte.”

That rang a bell.

In my book with Malden Nesheim about the pet food industry, Feed Your Pet Right, we were so intrigued by how big food companies buy and sell pet food brands that we did a figure using Del Monte as an example.

I can’t figure out how to make this diagram bigger but you get the idea: current Del Monte (now Smucker Big Heart) holdings are the result of the merger and acquisition of five original companies and many in between.

Companies trade pet food brands like baseball cards.

pet food

There’s gold in them thar hills.

Feb 9 2015

Red meat politics

I was interested to read Clare Foran’s piece in The National Journal on The Political Battle Over Red Meat.   It nicely summarizes the lobbying to stop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee from saying that diets would be healthier and more sustainable if they included less red meat.

Her piece includes this illustration of why the meat industry objects to such ideas.


Since 2000, the meat industry has been relatively quiet over the Dietary Guidelines, mainly because—as I discussed in Food Politics—this industry had won most of the political battles.

The 2000 Dietary Guidelines recommended 2-3 servings a day of 2-3 ounces of meat for a total of 4-9 ounces a day—an increase over previous recommendations.

But then:

  • The 2005 Guidelines folded meat in with other sources of protein: “When selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk or milk products, make choices that are lean, low-fat, or fat-free.”
  • The 2010 Guidelines said “Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.”

If current trends in Guidelines continue, the meat recommendation might disappear entirely.

Meat industry lobbyists want to make sure meat maintains its historic place in the center of American plates.

What will the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee say?  Its report is due out soon.  Stay tuned.

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