Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 15 2008

Fat politics video game?

I’ve just been sent a link to a videogame said to be about the politics of nutrition.  The game supposedly explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition and socioeconomics in the United States.  I can view the trailer but can’t get it downloaded on the computer I’m currently using.  I’m curious to see what it’s like?  Interesting?  Useful?  For what age groups?  Give it a try?  Thanks!

Jan 15 2008

Oh no! Chocolate-eating linked to weak bones?

Ordinarily I don’t pay too much attention to studies of single foods or nutrients on health because so many of them are “nutri-fluff”–attention getting, but not necessarily meaningful to health. But this one is such a good example of the genre that I thought I’d share it. Today’s (Europe) talks about a study of chocolate consumption and bone density in 1000 older women (aged 70 to 85). Those who consumed the most chocolate (type not specified) had the thinnest and weakest bones.  Does this mean that eating chocolate is bad for bones?  Of course not.  It could mean that women who eat a lot of chocolate are not eating healthfully, getting enough physical activity, or doing any number of other things that do not promote bone strength.  When it comes to studies of single foods or nutrients, context is everything!

Jan 15 2008

Food allergies

This week’s “Ask Marion” question on Eating Liberally is about food allergies, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone–too little known, and too much at stake.  Take a look.

Jan 15 2008

What’s natural?

Without a precise FDA definition, “natural” can be practically anything a food producer says it is. Is high fructose corn syrup “natural?” Candy makers think so.  The FDA says it isn’t sure whether “natural” is an issue for consumers.  Oh.  Is it?

Jan 14 2008

USDA seeks food industry action against obesity

According to Food Chemical News (this link may only be available to subscribers), the USDA is about to launch “Project M.O.M” (Mothers and Others and MyPyramid), a program that challenges food businesses to develop plans to counter childhood obesity through diet and activity. One problem: programs must be based on the Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid. It will be interesting to see what they come up with. Stay tuned.

Jan 14 2008

Low-calorie restaurant meals: really?

I’m just getting caught up with the Wall Street Journal’s report on calories in “low-calorie” meals served in chain restaurants. It’s worth a look. The reporter sent meals to a laboratory to test for calories. The good news: most calorie contents were as advertised. The not so good news: the calories are as advertised if–and only if–you don’t eat side dishes or additions like bread, cheese, or salad dressing. If you do, the calories go way up. And calories count. Alas.

Jan 12 2008

Cinnamon for diabetes control?

It never would have occurred to me that cinnamon had anything to do with type 2 diabetes one way or the other–calories are what matter–but earlier studies suggested that a gram or so a day helped control blood sugar levels. Apparently, enough of such studies were available to take a look at them as a group and do a “meta-analysis.” Alas, this analysis “found no significant benefits of cinnamon supplement on glycated hemoglobin (A1C), fasting blood glucose (FBG), or other lipid parameters,” a conclusion perhaps disappointing, but not surprising.  Watch the calories! 

Jan 11 2008

What’s the deal on saturated fat?

A reader, “rj,” sends a link to an article in Men’s Health (“What if bad fat isn’t so bad”), and asks about: “The supposed inconclusive evidence for sat fat being the culprit in atherosclerosis. Personally, I couldn’t find any credentials of the author but nevertheless would be much interested in your thoughts on the matter.”

My thoughts: As I keep saying, nutrition science is complicated and this article, by an excellent science journalist, is the latest in a series by excellent science journalists (see, for example, the recent books by Gary Taubes and Michael Pollan) to point out the inconsistencies in data on saturated fat and heart disease risk. Let me make several quick points: (1) All fats–no exceptions–are mixtures of saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (2) Saturated fats occur in greater proportions in animal fats–meat and dairy foods, (3) Some epidemiologic evidence–but not all–suggests that people who eat a lot of meat and dairy foods have a higher risk of heart disease than people who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables (this is correlation, not causation), (4) The same clinical studies that show how trans fats do bad things to blood cholesterol levels also show that saturated fat does too, although not as much (But: people take in a lot more saturated fat than trans fat), and (5) Saturated fat is a single nutrient and the studies reviewed and discussed by the journalists take saturated fat out of its dietary context.

Out-of-context studies of single nutrients are exceedingly difficult to interpret. At the moment, today’s dietary (not single nutrient) advice is the same as it has been for the last fifty years. As I put it in What to Eat, “Eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food.” Michael Pollan gives exactly the same advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Do this, and you really don’t need to give a thought to single nutrients.

I discuss the politics of diet and disease recommendations in my book, Food Politics (now out in a new, expanded edition), and this particular question in “Ask Marion” on Eating Liberally.

Does this help at all? Thanks for asking.

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