Coca-Cola and Cargill have teamed up to start marketing the sweetener, Stevia, in countries that allow it, places like Brazil and China. Europe and the U.S. do not allow it as a food additive although the U.S. permits its use as a dietary supplement. The FDA says companies have not produced evidence that the substance is safe; it considers Stevia an “unsafe food additive” and any product containing it to be adulterated. The entry on Stevia in Wikipedia explains most of what all this is about. Concerns about the safety of Stevia have not stopped Coca-Cola from filing 24 patent applications or petitioning the FDA for approval. Interesting, no?
Jack of Food and Bottle sends along this notice of the TV Food Network’s top 100 recipes of 2007. As he puts it, “Two Mac ‘n Cheese recipes to start you off…27 chicken recipes,7 casseroles, 2 soups, No stews, No ethnic food. (a couple of make-believes, though). Okay, so it is the worst Top 100 List I’ve seen. But hey, their millions of viewers must lop it up. Have a great 2008!”
Yum. Oh well. As someone on the TV Food Network once pointed out to me, food cooked on TV has no calories.
My previous post elicited a long and thoughtful comment from Dr. David Katz. His response is well worth reading. Take a look. And thank you David for writing in. Your scoring system is an interesting experiment. Will people routinely choose foods with higher scores? Will food companies change their product formulas in order to qualify for higher scores? Will people be healthier as a result? Will they be less confused about nutrition? I will be interested to follow the progress of your system and see how it works out. Thanks again for writing and happy new year!
My first question in the new year is from “fretful reader” who asks: “Esteemed Wise Woman Whose Writing Lights A Fire Under Me: …today’s [San Francisco] Chronicle has a story about the ONQI(overall nutritional quality index)…which purports to ‘make nutrition easy’. My college education (about 30 yrs old, damn near antiquated) is
inadequate to the task of combining “positive nutrients” , “negative nutrients”, dividing them, and why didn’t they remember to subtract the number of ingredients on the list altogether…as a way of penalizing the ‘foods’ that have those scary long lists in a designed to be unreadable, vertical typeface? Does it sound like I’m irritable? Probably.”
Dear irritable, fretful: Me too. I’m not much for scoring systems of any kind on food. I don’t think you need a score to know whether you are eating a junk food or not and is a slightly better junk food better for you? I can’t remember who started these things but PepsiCo has its Smart Spots and Kraft has its Sensible Solutions and companies like those can set up their own criteria for what is and is not “healthier.” It’s a lot of fun to go to supermarkets and look to see which products qualify. Kraft’s Lunchables are a good place to start. See if you can tell the difference between products that do and do not qualify. Hannaford supermarkets got some independent nutrition researchers to develop criteria for awarding one , two, or three stars to healthier products and guess what: less than one quarter of nearly 30,000 products qualified for even one star, and most of those were fruits and vegetables in the produce section. So when the criteria are tough, hardly anything qualifies. So now Dr. David Katz at Yale has gotten a committee together to develop his own set. You have to have a degree in mathematics to understand it but that doesn’t really matter. Do you really need a scoring system to tell you that General Mills’ Wheaties (score: 246.2403) is better than Barbara’s Puffins Peanut Butter (9.937892) or Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies (0.476746)? Never mind the apparent but misleading precision of the 4 to 6 decimal places. All of these are low scores. The problem with these systems is that the criteria are arbitrary and make some highly processed foods look better than others. This is a great marketing tool but will it help people eat more healthfully? I doubt it. I take an extreme position on all such systems. They should not be allowed. If we must have them, the FDA needs to step in and set up one set of criteria. And I don’t envy the committee that has to do that. So I am adding one more item to my list of “rules” for supermarket shopping in What to Eat. If it has a self-endorsement of nutritional quality, don’t buy it; such things are about marketing, not health.
I will end the year with the big issue of 2007: high fructose corn syrup. It is basically the same as sugar (sucrose). The “high fructose” is misleading. Sucrose is glucose and fructose (50/50). High fructose corn syrup is glucose and fructose (45/55 or 55/42). So whether you eat cane sugar, organic cane sugar, table sugar, or high fructose corn syrup, you are eating the same thing–glucose and fructose. Yes, fructose is metabolized differently, but most foods do not contain just fructose. The big issues are quantity and calories. Eating too much sugar (or starch, for that matter) is much more of a problem when there is lots of it and lots of calories from sugars or anything else. So we are back to moderation, alas. Enjoy your dessert and happy new year!
Here’s a quick question, just in: “I finally got the chance to finish What to Eat, and I noticed that you didn’t talk about non-hydrogenated margarine in your margarine section. I’m not wondering if it’s better for you because I’m sure it’s still soybean oil with a bunch of stabilizers, but I’m just wondering how it’s made.”
Response: I did actually, but in two other chapters, the next one and the one on fats and oils so the explanation is hard to find. Sorry about that. Here’s the deal: companies use variations of two methods: (1) substitute a highly saturated fat like palm kernal or coconut oils, or (2) mix a totally saturated fat (which will not have any trans) with an unhydrogenated fat (also trans-free) until you get the degree of thickness required. Both methods increase the amount of saturated fatty acids. Saturated fats raise the risk of heart disease, but not as much as trans. So the substitutes are likely to be marginally better than oils with trans.
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!