Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 4 2008

FDA to OK cloned animals for food?

According to rumors, the FDA is about to approve the use of cloned animals for food. The rumors originate from the Wall Street Journal, which warns everyone to “get ready for a food fight over milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring.” When it first approved cloned animals, the FDA asked producers of the cloned animals not to do this until consumers got used to the idea: “we are continuing to ask producers of clones and livestock breeders to voluntarily refrain from introducing food products from these animals into commerce so that we will have the opportunity to consider the public’s comments and to issue any final documents as warranted.” I guess they’ve done that and the time has come?

Jan 4 2008

Stevia is coming (maybe)

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?

Jan 3 2008

Michael Pollan’s new book

On Eating Liberally’s “Let’s Ask Marion” this week, I discuss Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food, his gift to the new year.  Enjoy!

Jan 3 2008

Happy new year! 100 great recipes!

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.

Jan 2 2008

More on nutrition scoring: David Katz responds

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!

Jan 1 2008

The first topic in 2008: food scoring systems

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.

Dec 31 2007

Question of the year: high fructose corn syrup

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!

Dec 31 2007

Trans-fat substitutes: How?

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.

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