Peanut butter, it seems, is the basis of a “ready-to-use therapeutic food” (RUTF) for aiding recovery of severely malnourished children in Africa. The announcement of these results doesn’t say what kind. The study itself is published in Maternal and Child Nutrition and the authors make the point that people administering this RUTF do not need to be medically trained so this therapy can be used at home. I’m always amazed when researchers discover that feeding malnourished children helps them to recover. Peanut butter is highly concentrated in calories and the investigators mixed in some vitamins along with it, so I guess it can be considered a superfood.
I’ve just gotten a notice that a big study in Critical Reviews in Toxicology gives aspartame a clean bill of health; the reviewers judge it safe at current levels of intake and find “no credible scientific basis” to think otherwise. This comment refers to contrary studies first published a year or so ago and confirmed again this summer by an Italian group (see their paper in Environmental Health Perspectives). This group claims that aspartame causes cancer in rats when consumed at levels typical of those in soft drinks. The Critical Reviews analysis is the most recent of many other such studies discounting the methods and opinions of aspartame critics. Will this latest study–at long last–put the matter to rest? I doubt it. The Critical Reviews analysis was funded by the maker of aspartame, Ajinomoto. Even though its authors were not told this, and the sponsor was not involved in the review, the study gives the appearance of conflict of interest. This kind of sponsorship is not helpful. My own view (which I discuss in detail in What to Eat) is that aspartame probably is safe at current levels of intake. But so what? It is an artificial sweetener. I don’t like anything artificial when it comes to food and I much prefer sugar (in moderation, of course).
Without having to get into First Amendment issues, a federal judge agrees with the National Restaurant Association that New York City may not require fast-food restaurants that already have nutrition information available to post information about the calories in their products on menu boards. BUT: the judge also says that cities and states certainly can require calorie labeling as long as the rules apply to all chain restaurants with 10 or more outlets whether or not they make nutrition information available voluntarily. Good news? Will this encourage more cities to pass such rules? Can’t wait to see.
My son, who lives in Los Angeles, says the L.A. City Council is considering a 2-year moratorium on putting more fast-food restaurants in poor neighborhoods where obesity is a big problem. According to the L.A. Times, fast-food places are about the only restaurants in South L.A., a neighborhood which–surprise–also doesn’t have many grocery stores. So residents don’t have much of a choice. Do you think L.A. will do this? Do you think fast-food companies will stand for it? Stay tuned!
A press release today from the Organic Center announces publication of a major study by Brian Halweil examining changes in nutrient levels of farmed crops in the United States. Halweil summarizes evidence that food crops are less nutritious now than they used to be and that organic crops are more nutritious than conventional. While such findings seem intuitively obvious, they are very difficult to prove. For one thing, methods for evaluating the nutritional content of foods were not as accurate 50 years ago as they are now. For another, the samples may not really be comparable. Even so, this report is worth having for addressing the questions in a serious way. Read and enjoy!
Ah, the British are way ahead of us. Chef Jamie Oliver, who singlehandedly is trying to fix school lunches in the U.K., thinks kids should be locked in at lunch and not allowed to go off campus to buy fast food. If all kids ate meals at schools in the U.S., there might be enough money to provide healthier meals. Well, it’s a thought.
I haven’t thought carefully about this question since I first read Francis Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet in the 1970s: “I have a question…about growing grains for livestock feeding: When corn, for example, is grown, it has a k/cal value, or an amount of caloric energy that I assume can be counted for human nutrition. As it is used for feed, is caloric energy lost in the transfer? In other words, is the resulting food (all the butchered and eaten parts of a cow, for example) similar in energy content to the edible feed that went into it? I assume we lose some caloric value along the way, but how much? To me, this has all kinds of implications that I’d like to ponder, including the implications of this from the (admittedly broad) prospective of global hunger.”
This is about “feed efficiency ratios”–the amount of food it takes to make a pound of animal or a pound of us. Let’s hear it for Wikipedia, which has a nice summary with a reasonable reference. It takes more grain to make beef than pigs, chicken, or fish. A lot of those animals are not usable for food (maybe half a beef carcass, for example) and we have our own problems with efficiency. The calories listed in food tables are pretty much what we can use and the better tables specify how well the meat is trimmed. Good question!
The FDA is meeting this week to consider a red, yellow, green system for labeling foods according to their degree of healthfulness. Here’s what the New York Times has to say about this. This is, of course, would be much like the Hannaford supermarket “follow the stars” program, about which several of you have strong feelings (see comments under entries for Supermarkets and Labels). In the early 1990s, Center for Science in the Public Interest did a fold-out pyramid designed to be put on school cafeteria tabletops. This listed foods on green (anytime), yellow (once in awhile), and red (seldom) sides of the pyramid. As is always the case with these kinds of approaches, the line between categories is a thin one and subject to much argument and manipulation. The FDA proposed something much simpler about five years ago: to put the entire number of calories on the front of packaged foods. What a good idea! It still hasn’t happened. Don’t hold your breath for this one either.