Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 31 2007

Nutrient composition: philosophy

This question comes from Sheila: “Recently, I was served a plate of “salad” that consisted entirely of several varieties of vegetable sprouts and grain sprouts, dressed with a fresh herb dressing. It was delicious. The salad maker stated this small plate of sprouts held the nutrient content of several cups of fresh whole vegetables, stated the nutrients are quite concentrated in the sprouts. Is this true? The only “literature” I can find on this subject is from seed companies who obviously have a vested interest in selling the seeds for the sprouts. I would appreciate knowing the true comparison of nutrient content. Thank you.”

Food composition: My immediate question is “which nutrients?” Sprouts have so much water that their nutrient content cannot possibly equal that of vegetables with less water. But certain antioxidants–sulforaphane, for example–are more concentrated in sprouts than in adult plants. Ordinarily, questions about food composition are easy to answer. Look up the food on the USDA’s food composition data base. But I can’t find anything about sprouts on the USDA site. A Google search turned up bean sprouts on a data base from the Australia and New Zealand food standards agency. Sprouts are 93% water, and 100 grams contain 9 mg calcium, 129 mg potassium, and 10 mg vitamin C. In contrast, broccoli (according to USDA) is 89% water, and has 47 mg calcium, 316 mg potassium, and 89 mg vitamin C. So broccoli beats sprouts for those particular nutrients. Sprouts are fine to eat and the small amounts of nutrients they contain are useful. So enjoy them! And happy new year!

Dec 31 2007

whole grains: philosophy

It’s the end of the year and snowing in upstate New York and a good day to respond to some questions. How about this one from Migraineur about whole grains: “What I would like to see is evidence that shows that whole grains are a better place to spend part of our daily calorie budget than are vegetables, meats, dairy products, fish, eggs, high quality fats, and fruits. That is to say, am I better off consuming whole grains or omitting grains entirely?”

My philosophy: the answer, of course, is “it depends.” Nutrition is about two things–calories and nutrients. Humans are omnivores. We can get calories and nutrients from just about anything we eat, plant and animal. If getting enough calories is the problem, grains are a big help because they are relatively concentrated in calories. Whole grains are better choices because they provide more nutrients than processed grains. But: if eating too many calories is the problem, then foods with fewer calories are better choices. Whole grains may have more nutrients, but they are just as caloric as processed grains. The science shows that people who eat whole grains are healthier, but good health practices track: people who habitually eat whole grains tend to eat better diets, stay active, and behave in other healthier ways. So it is impossible to tease out the effects of whole grains or any other single food or nutrient from dietary patterns as a whole. What does all this mean? If you like eating grains (and I do), then it’s fine to eat them. If you do not or don’t want to, you don’t have to. I cannot think of one single food or food group that is essential in human diets. And single foods and nutrients always have to be considered within the context of calories. That’s how I see it. Happy new year!

Dec 30 2007

The Marilyn Manson Pyramid

While we are all debating the merits of grains, whole and not (my bottom line: they are too delicious to give up; like everything else, eat in moderation), how about this version of the USDA’s Pyramid, courtesy of Eminem? Happy new year!

Added comment: oops

Dec 29 2007

Coca-Cola is promoting exercise!

Coca-Cola is announcing its new partnership with ExerciseTV. The press statement explains: “Coca-Cola continues to make great strides in educating the public about the importance of exercise, and how its broad range of products can benefit health-conscious consumers.” This must be part of Coke’s new strategy as a wellness company (see previous comments on the “Pomegranate-Blueberry” drink and Minute Maid Orange Juice). What do we think of this?

Dec 29 2007

Today’s question: whole grains

Katherine asks about whole grains: “This whole argument makes my head hurt. As some one who is currently needing to make changes in their lifestyle, whether or not to include grains is a question for which I can find no clear answer on. Frankly at this point, I am just confused….”

I agree that the labeling is confusing but the dietary advice is pretty clear and well backed by research: whole grains are good to eat. Whole grain means just what it says–the entire seed of wheat, rice, or whatever. Whole grains contain all of the nutrients–vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants–in the seed. Processing removes much of these, leaving just the calories and starch. So you want to look for 100% whole grain. I’m not aware of any controversy over the benefits of whole grains; the evidence for their nutritional benefits is quite strong. The arguments are about processed grains that have much of their nutritional value removed. Does that help?

Dec 28 2007

A new pyramid for older adults?

I’ve been hearing lots of media announcements of the food guide pyramid for old folks produced by Alice Lichtenstein and her colleagues who do research on aging at Tufts University. This one is for adults age 70 and over and is published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The press announcement from Tufts compares it to the USDA’s MyPyramid of 2005. The differences: even greater emphasis on eating healthfully and staying active (because older adults don’t need as many calories to maintain weight) and, maybe, some supplemental vitamin D (bone health) and vitamin B12 (to overcome losses in absorption ability).

Dec 27 2007

GMO corn in Europe?

Yesterday’s New York Times carried an excellent article about the fuss in Europe over genetically modified (GM) corn. Europe has managed to stave off the introduction of GM crops but is under huge pressure to accept them from the World Trade Organization and the U.S. The argument: Because GM crops are safe for people and the environment (a scientific issue), trade rules must apply. But, as the article quotes Benedikt Haerlin of Save Our Seeds, “Science is being utterly abused by all sides for nonscientific purposes…It would be helpful if all sides could be frank about their social, political, and economic agendas.” This precise point is the theme of my book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (UC Press, 2004), which despite its title is about the politics of food safety and biotechnology. Its conclusion: even if GM foods are safe, they are not necessarily acceptable.

Dec 26 2007

Another Coca-Cola Product: Simply Orange

Right after I put up the previous post about Coca-Cola’s new “pomegranate-blueberry” juice drink I saw the full-page, full-color ad in today’s New York Times, this one for Simply Apple, advertised as 100% pure-pressed apple juice (“never sweetened & never concentrated”). I don’t really know how much such ads cost but I know they cost enough so only really big companies can afford them (I’m guessing 80,000 more or less). But this ad provides no information about who owns the product other than some tiny print which says that Simply Apple is a trademark of the the Simply Orange Juice company. So I looked up Simply Orange; if its site gives a clue as to who owns it, I missed it. A Google search, however, produced entries from the ever-amazing Wikipedia as well as the company’s proud advertising company. These explain that Simply Orange is simply Minute Maid, and, therefore, simply Coca-Cola. I wonder why Simply Apple isn’t advertising its parentage?

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