Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 24 2008

Canada’s Health Check program, checkmated

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who directs a bariatric medical clinic in Ottawa, sends a video report (in which he stars!) of an investigation into the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program on food labels. This program is much like our American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart Check program. For both programs, companies pay the organizations for use of the Check on the package label. Both use saturated fat and sodium as cut points for use of the logo, but don’t care much about sugars. I’ve argued for years that putting the AHA’s Check on sugary cereals misleads consumers and is not a good idea. The video–and the press accounts–of this investigation ought to hugely embarrass the organizations, maybe even enough to get them to end the programs.

Jan 24 2008

Methylmercury in big, expensive tuna

So yesterday’s New York Times report on methylmercury in sushi tuna–a shocker because the most expensive tuna has the most of this toxin (of course it does; it’s bigger and accumulates more)–is now experiencing the expected backlash. Sushi eaters don’t seem to care much, and the tuna industry is fighting back through its public relations agency, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). What is a tuna lover to do? If you aren’t pregnant, about to become pregnant, or a very young child (if you are, you should avoid big predatory fish like king mackeral, swordfish, tilefish, shark, and albacore tuna) the FDA and EPA say up to 6 ounces a week is OK. That leaves plenty of room for spending a fortune on sushi.

Here’s what Newsweek has to say about the CCF complaints. It’s great to see a news magazine blow the whistle on that group. Every word CCF says is paid for, and some tuna association pays it to say that methylmercury is not a problem.

Jan 23 2008

Do dietary guidelines do more harm than good?

I wouldn’t even ask such a silly question if the American Journal of Preventive Medicine wasn’t going to publish a paper arguing just this point. Along with one of the editors of that journal, I wrote an editorial commenting on the paper, to which its authors added a rebuttal to our editorial. The authors argue that the government has no business issuing advice based on weak evidence. I would agree except that evidence will never be as good as we wish it would be because research on human nutrition is really, really hard to do. And when it comes to diet, dietary guidelines are not exactly radical; the basic advice hasn’t changed in 50 years. I summarize it like this: “eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food.” Michael Pollan gets it down to 7 words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The Dietary Guidelines published in 2005 may take 70 pages, but in general, they say pretty much the same thing.

Jan 23 2008

Welcome to Snickers Charged: Functional Candy Bar

Mars, which owns Snickers, brings us Snickers Charged, a line extension with more caffeine than a soft drink, taurine (an essential amino acid for cats), and a bunch of B-vitamins. Why do we need this? According to the public relations folks, “This new product responds to current marketplace trends and satisfies two need states craved by consumers who seek hunger satisfaction and a boost of energy.” Food, anyone?


		
Jan 22 2008

New York City tries calorie labeling again

As of March 31, the NYC Health Department will require chain restaurants with more than 15 outlets to prominently display calorie information. I can’t wait to see how this will look and whether it will have any effect. Stay tuned!  And check “calorie labels” to see previous posts on the history of this decision.

Jan 22 2008

Oh great. Vegetarian glucosamine made in China

I guess the world needs this. I know that lots of people think glucosamine helps relieve their arthritis pains, especially in the knees, but the science on it is really iffy. Any number of reviews conclude that glucosamine is ineffective but safe as a placebo. Well, at least you can get it now from vegetarian sources, made in China. Reassured? The manufacturer says “Most of the world’s glucosamine is manufactured in China anyway. What we’re doing is supplying a safer and purer glucosamine coming from the same geographical location.”

Jan 22 2008

Pepsi’s energy drink for the masses

Thanks to Ellen Fried for sending the latest info on energy drinks. I will never cease to be amazed by the money and effort that goes into designing “energy drinks,” in quotes because energy comes from calories and that usually means sugars of one kind or another accompanied by lots of caffeine.

So here’s Amp, in line to become PepsiCo’s “energy drink of the masses” or at least  “goal-oriented males 18-34.” Would you like to see what $10 million in advertising buys? Take a look. One of the draws will be a line extension of the drink that contains L-theanine. This compound, new to me, is an amino acid of some kind, but one that has nothing to do with body proteins.  It is something found in tea leaves. Will it give those guys energy? Only if they think so.

Ellen also points out that kids with $199 can buy Mountain Dew and Amp jackets. Cool.

Jan 21 2008

Scotland asks for input on food policy!

The Cabinet of Rural Affairs and the Environment of Scotland has just released a gorgeous pamphlet that requests public comment on how the government should develop a national food policy for the country, one that makes Scotland “wealthier & fairer, smarter, healthier, safer & stronger, and greener.” I’ve never seen anything like this before and I’m envious. Couldn’t we do something as smart as this?

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