Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 18 2008

The latest diet furor: a no brainer?

The New England Journal of Medicine has just published a new diet study that is already causing plenty of debate (see the Wall Street Journal’s take on it, for example). The investigators put about 100 people each on one of three diets: low-fat, low-carbohydrate, and Mediterranean. After two years, everybody lost about 6-10 pounds. The low-carb people did best, the Mediterraneans came next, and the low-fat people lost the least – but the differences were not great. The low-fat diet was not really low in fat (30% of calories) but it doesn’t matter. Everybody reduced caloric intake, increased physical activity, lost some weight, and made some metabolic improvements. One funny thing: the study was funded by the Atkins Foundation but the low-carb people were counseled to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein, not meat. So this was not a test of the Atkins diet. My interpretation: eat less, move more works, and you have choices about how to do the “eat less” part.

Jul 17 2008

Cargill’s Truvia (Stevia) comes to town

I missed the Rockefeller Center launch of Cargill’s new sweetener, Truvia, but the press people followed up by sending me a sensational press kit in a gorgeous garden tote, complete with gloves. What can I say. It’s another artificial sweetener (OK, it’s an extract of plant leaves, which they claim makes it “natural”), this time in a little green packet. The press kit included a chocolate bar “made with Truvia natural sweetener.” It tasted like a dark bitter chocolate of the waxy type. Andy Bellatti of Small Bites, who works in my department, pulled out a Lindt dark chocolate bar for comparison. Truvia 191 calories vs. Lindt 210. No contest, I’d say. One thing intrigues. The packets and chocolate have Nutrition Facts labels, but the FDA has never approved Stevia so it’s been marketed as a dietary supplement with Supplement Facts labels. Reports are that the FDA is considering its approval as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).  But to date the FDA has not approved it.  How is Cargill getting away with this? It plans to team up with Coca-Cola to seek international approval for it on the basis of research which they claim demonstrates its safety. But neither the website nor the press kit give the protocols for the studies or the actual data so it’s hard to judge. Cargill says it worked with FDA on this. FDA is letting Cargill use a Nutrition Facts label? On an unapproved product? Well, Cargill is a giant company and I guess it knows how to get what it wants. Oh. And how does Truvia taste? Sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. Is everyone waiting for this? Or is it just me who prefers sugar?

Jul 16 2008

My new column in the San Francisco Chronicle

I start a new column today – Food Matters – in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section. It’s a Q and A, with room for comments on the online version. I will answer a question or two whenever it runs (how often? I’m not sure). This first one deals with the editors’ question: “What’s the most pressing nutrition issue today, and why?” In a word: calories.

And while we talking about calories, today’s New York Times printed my letter about  last week’s post on the 500-calorie cookie recipe.

Jul 15 2008

CSPI guy video: why?

Thanks (I think) to Hugh Joseph for forwarding the YouTube video, “The guy from CSPI.”  When I see things like this, I assume they are bought and paid for by the Center for Consumer Freedom, but it doesn’t say who made it or who paid for it.  I’m curious: how much does it cost to produce something like this, and who paid for it?  Anybody know?

Jul 14 2008

School food environments: from bad to worse

A new study in Pediatrics finds most U.S. schools to sell junk food from food carts or vending machines. The situation isn’t too terrible in grammar schools but 97% of high schools sell junk food. I’m curious about that other 3%.

Jul 12 2008

Calorie labeling: the research

The Rudd Center at Yale has produced a handy summary of the research in support of calorie labels on menu boards.

Jul 12 2008

UK weighs in on food systems!

The government of Great Britain has produced a major report on the need for healthier food systems, meaning the effects of current trends in food production and consumption on health, society, food safety, and the environment.  It will be interesting to see if they do anything with it.  I wish we could do things like this.  Maybe soon?

Jul 11 2008

Another FDA scandal: big bonuses

CBS News reports that FDA bureaucrats collected $35 million in bonus pay last year, a year in which the agency was charged with gross incompetence. Who got the biggest one? The person in charge of giving them out. Sigh.

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