Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 11 2015

Holiday reading: Savoring Gotham

Andrew F. Smith, ed.  Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Oxford’s latest food encyclopedia celebrates the food of New York in 570 entries written by 180 foodies.    Full disclosure: two entries are mine—menu labeling and soda “ban.”  And I also turn up as an entry in the biography section (thanks Judith Weinraub).

The entries cover everything that Andy Smith and his team could think of,  in alphabetical order from A&P to Zeppole (following Zagat).  The entries cover specific foods and beverages, of course, but also history, politics, biography, museums, restaurants, retailers, publishing, media, holidays, neighborhoods, organizations, and bars.

As you might expect from anything edited by Andy Smith, the entries are written well and easy to read.  It’s lavishly illustrated and fun to browse.  A small sample from the “C’s” to illustrate the range: Cosmopolitan, Cotton Club, Cream Cheese, Cries of New York, Cronut, Cuban.

Something for everyone.  And it’s in paperback and affordable.

Dec 10 2015

Food Navigator-USA Special Edition: Time for Tea

I like the way FoodNavigator-USA collects its recent articles on single topics in one place.  This particular FoodNavigator-USA Special Edition explored the specialty tea business: green tea, innovative formats (e.g., tablets, pods, ready to drink, premium bags), and marketing strategies.

Given the new tea shops appearing one after the other in my neighborhood, the tea business must be booming.

Share |
Dec 9 2015

Arsenic in rice: another food safety worry?

I am often asked about the potential dangers of arsenic in rice.  As with all such questions, I start with the FDA.

The FDA says the amounts of arsenic it finds in foods do not pose a risk at current levels of consumption.  Brown rice, it finds, has levels of arsenic much higher than those in white rice.

Consumer Reports also tested rice samples.  It recommends against feeding rice cereals to children.  It calls on the FDA to set standards for arsenic levels in rice products.  These, according to the tests, vary widely.  Basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan and U.S.-grown sushi rice are “better choices.”  Just one serving of rice cereal or rice pasta could put a child over CR’s recommended weekly limit

On this basis, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation— The R.I.C.E (Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure) Act— to limit the amount of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of arsenic in rice foods.  The act would require the FDA to set limits on arsenic in rice.

Politico reported that the US Rice Federation questioned the science behind the Consumer Reports story:

Arsenic in our food supply is a challenging, yet unavoidable, situation which is why we support the FDA studying the issue carefully,” said Betsy Ward, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation.  “But CR’s new consumption recommendations aren’t supported by any science that we’ve seen.”

How does arsenic get into rice?  Lots of ways, apparently: naturally occurring, but also from arsenic pesticides that persist in soil.  The flooding makes rice especially susceptible.

What to do while waiting for a resolution to safety questions?  Prepare rice in a coffee percolator says a recent study.  This flushes out a lot of the arsenic.

And everything in moderation, of course.

Dec 8 2015

Three rare industry-funded studies with disappointing results. The score: 85:9.

Here are three rare studies sponsored by food companies with results that must have disappointed their funders.  Since mid-March when I started this collection, these bring the score to 85:9 (studies with results favorable to the sponsor’s interests vs. those against).

Acute Cocoa Supplementation Increases Postprandial HDL Cholesterol and Insulin in Obese Adults with Type 2 Diabetes after Consumption of a High-Fat BreakfastArpita Basu, Nancy M Betts, Misti J Leyva, Dongxu Fu, Christopher E Aston, and Timothy J Lyons.  J. Nutr. 2015; 145:2325-2332 doi:10.3945/jn.115.215772

  • Conclusion: Acute cocoa supplementation showed no clear overall benefit in T2D [type 2 diabetes] patients after a high-fat fast-food–style meal challenge. Although HDL cholesterol and insulin remained higher throughout the 6-h postprandial period, an overall decrease in large artery elasticity was found after cocoa consumption.
  • Funding: Supported by NIH Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence Program of the National Center for Research Resources at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center…a grant from The Hershey Company (to AB), and the Dean’s Research Incentive program in the College of Human Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

Associations between flavan-3-ol intake and CVD risk in the Norfolk cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC-Norfolk).  Vogiatzoglou A1Mulligan AA2Bhaniani A2Lentjes MA2McTaggart A2Luben RN2Heiss C3Kelm M3Merx MW3Spencer JP3Schroeter H4Khaw KT5,Kuhnle GG6.  ).  Free Radic Biol Med. 2015 Jul;84:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2015.03.005. Epub 2015 Mar 17.

  • Conclusion:  There were no consistent associations between flavan-3-ol monomer intake and baseline systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP)…Flavan-3-ol intake in EPIC-Norfolk is not sufficient to achieve a statistically significant reduction in CVD risk.
  • Funding: The present study was supported by the EU (Grant 226588, “Flaviola”) and an unrestricted grant from Mars, Inc. Mars, Inc. had no role in the design and analysis of the study or in the writing of this article. EPIC-Norfolk is supported by Cancer Research UK (SP2024-0201 and SP2024-0204) and the Medical Research Council (G9502233). H.S. is employed by MARS, Inc., a member of the FLAVIOLA research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities. None of the other authors has a conflict of interest to declare.
  • Comment: This and the previous study are part of an effort to make chocolate seem like a health food.  Alas, these didn’t work.

No Change in 24-Hour Hydration Status Following a Moderate Increase in Fluid Consumption.  Matthew A. Tucker MA, J. D. Adams MS, Lemuel A. Brown MS, Christian B. Ridings MS, Jenna M. Burchfield MS, Forrest B. Robinson BS, Jamie L. McDermott MS, RD, LDN, Brett A. Schreiber MS, Nicole E. Moyen MS, Tyrone A. Washington PhD, Andrea C. Bermudez BS, Meredith P. Bennett BS, Maxime E. Buyckx MD & Matthew S. Ganio PhD.  Journal of the American College of Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2015.1046196.

  • Conclusions: Regardless of fluid volume or beverage type consumed, measures of 24-hour hydration status did not differ, suggesting that standard measures of hydration status are not sensitive enough to detect a 22% increase in beverage consumption.
  • Funding: This study was supported by a grant from The Coca-Cola Company. M.E.B., an employee of The Coca-Cola Company, contributed to study design and writing the article.
  • Comment: Coca-Cola has long advertised its products as promoting hydration.  In most people, thirst and normal food intake take care of hydration.  This study confirms that if you drink more than you need, you pee out the excess.
Dec 7 2015

Another five sponsored studies with expected results. The score: 85:6.

These are coming in so quickly that I am having a hard time keeping up with them.  Note that the first three are sponsored by Coca-Cola and that some of the investigators were involved with the ill-fated Global Energy Balance Network, now defunct.  As we now know from the e-mails obtained by the Associated Press, the statement that “the sponsor played no role…” is not necessarily correct.

As for the score: since mid-March, I have collected 85 sponsored studies with results just as the sponsor wanted, versus 6 with results that must have disappointed.  But stay tuned: tomorrow I will post 3 more in the disappointing category.

Low levels of physical activity are associated with dysregulation of energy intake and fat mass gain over 1 yearRobin P Shook, Gregory A Hand, Clemens Drenowatz, James R Hebert, Amanda E Paluch, John E Blundell, James O Hill, Peter T Katzmarzyk, Timothy S Church,11 and Steven N Blair.  Am J Clinical Nutrition November 11, 2015 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.115360.

  • Conclusions: These results suggest that low levels of physical activity are a risk factor for fat mass gain. In the current sample, a threshold for achieving energy balance occurred at an activity level corresponding to 7116 steps/d, an amount achievable by most adults.
  • Funding: Supported by an unrestricted research grant from The Coca-Cola Company.

Association between cardiorespiratory fitness and submaximal systolic blood pressure among young adult men: a reversed J-curve pattern relationship. Vivek K. Prasada, Clemens Drenowatza, Gregory A. Handb, Carl J. Laviec, Xuemei Suia, Madison Demelloa, and Steven N. Blair.  Journal of Hypertension 2015, 33:2239–2244.

  • Conclusions: There was a reverse J-curve pattern relationship between SSBP [submaximal systolic blood pressure] and CRF [cardiorespiratory fitness], with the lowest SSBP among men with fair or good CRF and highest among those with poor CRF.
  • Funding: Funding for this project was provided through an unrestricted grant from The Coca-Cola Company. The sponsor played no role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, or preparation and submission of this manuscript.

Relation of Body’s Lean Mass, Fat Mass and Body Mass Index with Submaximal Systolic Blood Pressure Among Young Adult MenVivek K. Prasad, MD, MPH, PhD, Clemens Drenowatz, PhD, Gregory A. Hand, PhD, Carl J. Lavie, MD, Xuemei Sui, MD, MPH, PhD, Madison Demello, MS, Steven N.Blair.  Am J Cardiology 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2015.10.060 .

  • Conclusion: there was a J curve pattern between SSBP [submaximal systolic blood pressure] and components of body composition whereas, a linear relation between SSBP and BMI.
  • Funding: Funding for this project was provided through an unrestricted grant from the Coca-Cola Company. The sponsor played no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation,or preparation and submission of this manuscript.

Sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages and intrahepatic fat: A randomized controlled trial. Vanessa Campos, Camille Despland, Vaclav Brandejsky, Roland Kreis, Philippe Schneiter, Arnaud Chiolero, Chris Boesch and Luc Tappy.  Obesity Volume 23, Issue 12, pages 2335–2339, December 2015.

  • Conclusion: In subjects with overweight or obesity and a high SSB intake, replacing SSB with ASB decreased intrahepatic fat over a 12-week period.
  • Disclosure:  LT received research support from Nestlé SA, Switzerland, and Ajinomoto Co Inc, Japan, for studies unrelated to this work and speaker’s honoraria from Nestlé SA, Switzerland, Ferrero, Italy, and C3 collaborating for health, UK. The other authors declared no conflict of interest.

Probiotic supplementation attenuates increases in body mass and fat mass during high-fat diet in healthy young adults. Kristin L. Osterberg, Nabil E. Boutagy, Ryan P. McMillan, Joseph R. Stevens, Madlyn I. Frisard, John W. Kavanaugh, Brenda M. Davy, Kevin P. Davy and Matthew W. Hulver.  Obesity Volume 23, Issue 12, pages 2364–2370, December 2015.  DOI: 10.1002/oby.21230.

  • Conclusion: VSL#3 [the probiotic] supplementation appears to have provided some protection from body mass gain and fat accumulation in healthy young men consuming a high-fat and high-energy diet.
  • Funding agencies: This study was funded by VSL Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Disclosure: The authors declared no conflict of interest.
Dec 4 2015

Weekend Reading: Digesting Recipes

Susannah Worth.  Digesting Recipes: The Art of Culinary Notation.  Zero Books, 2015.

I did a blurb for this unusual book:

Digesting Recipes takes an off-beat and highly refreshing post-modern look at cookbooks as markers of cultural identity.  Recipes, it makes clear, are far more than cooking directions.  After reading this, I have a whole new appreciation for what recipes can tell us about the deeper meanings of modern society.

Dec 3 2015

The soda industry is having a very bad month: a roundup of events

It’s been a tough month for the soda industry.

  • Yesterday, members of Mexico’s Nutritional Health Alliance held a press conference to complain that a Coca-Cola Christmas television ad violated the human rights of the indigenous people of the Mixe community of Totontepec.

    The ad, released by Coca-Cola in late November on social media as part of its “OpenYourHeart” Christmas advertising campaign shows young people who are outsiders to the Mixe indigenous community arriving to build a Christmas tree of wood and Coca-Cola bottle caps, distributing Coca-Cola to young people from the community and transmitting the message “Stay United” in the Mixe language.

    Coca-Cola removed the ad from its social media channels, but you can watch a version produced by the Alliance in which Mixe youth comment on the ad. The Alliance also has produced a translation.

Al Jazeera produced a video analysis.

  • On November 6, the New York Times reported that the University of Colorado was returning a million dollar grant that had paid for the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), the group funded by Coca-Cola that said you didn’t need to worry about what you ate as long as you were active.
  • On November 24, AP reporter Candice Choi published e-mails between the U. Colorado scientist behind the GEBN.  These revealed that “Coke helped pick the group’s leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website.”
  • Coca-Cola’s chief scientist, Rhona Applebaum, immediately resigned.
  • On November 29, Helena Bottemiller Evich wrote in Politico how health advocates are running endless campaigns for so taxes, and that these will soon be coming to a polling place near you.
  • On November 30, the UK’s Commons Health Committee called for a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • On December 1, the GEBN closed shop as a result of loss of funding.
  • This week’s issue of The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology contains an opinion piece by U North Carolina professor Barry Popkin and Corinna Hawkes of City University London arguing that the world is eating too much sugar and that changes in policy are needed to encourage reduced consumption of sugary drinks.  According to Politico Morning Agriculture, the American Beverage Association (ABA) is most unhappy about the piece.  It claims that the prevalence of obesity and diabetes are rising but soft drink sales are falling in the U.S., saying “This proves that beverages are not driving these epidemics.”  [Comment: as I discuss in Soda Politics, only half the population drinks sugary beverages meaning that those who do drink them drink a lot.  Also, diabetes rates are falling in the U.S.]
  • The ABA won a battle in San Francisco, but is surely losing the public relations war.  It sued the city over a Board of Supervisors ban on ads for sugary drinks on city property and requiring warning labels on all billboards and other surfaces within the city.  The ABA argued that both laws violate the First Amendment.  You might think this argument would get thrown out of court immediately, but you would be wrong, as the Supreme Court is becoming more hostile to such laws.  If you want to hear how the Board of Supervisors reacted to this, click here for the meeting transcript. (thanks to Politico Morning Agriculture for this item too and to Michele Simon for clarifying the legal issues).

I keep getting asked “why pick on sodas?”  The answer: they are an easy target, low-hanging fruit in public health terms.  They contain sugars but nothing else of redeeming nutritional value, are strongly associated with diets that raise the risk of obesity and its consequences, and are heavily marketed as what you need to be happy.  The industry is fighting hard and on many fronts to maintain sales.  Advocates are keeping its lawyers and lobbyists busy.

All this was just in the last month.  Expect more to come.

Dec 2 2015

Funded study with negative result: Are ruminant trans fats healthier than industrial trans fats? Alas, no. The score: 80:7

Let’s take a look at a rare industry-funded study with results contrary to the interests of the funders.

It addresses the question: Is naturally occurring trans fat from meat and dairy products healthier than industrially produced trans fat?

The answer: not really.

The study

Vaccenic acid and trans fatty acid isomers from partially hydrogenated oil both adversely affect LDL cholesterol: a double-blind, randomized controlled trial.  Sarah K Gebauer, Frédéric Destaillats, Fabiola Dionisi, Ronald M Krauss, and David J Baer.  Am J Clin Nutr, November 11, 2015,  doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.116129.

  • Conclusions: Total cholesterol (TC), LDL cholesterol, triacylglycerol, lipoprotein(a), and apolipoprotein B were higher after VA [vaccenic acid] than after iTFA [industrial trans fatty acids]; high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and apolipoprotein AI also were higher after VA. Compared with control, VA and iTFA both increased TC, LDL cholesterol, ratio of TC to HDL cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B…VA also increased HDL cholesterol, apolipoprotein AI, apolipoprotein B, and lipoprotein(a)…whereas iTFA did not. c9,t11-CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] lowered triacylglycerol…and had no effect on other lipoprotein risk factors.
  • Funding:  Supported by USDA, Dairy Management Inc., Nestlé, and Dairy Australia. The funding organizations had no role in the conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or decision to submit the manuscript for publication.


Everyone agrees that hydrogenated fats containing trans fatty acids (industrial trans fatty acids or iTFAs) raise the risk of LDL-cholesterol (the bad one) and, therefore, the risk of coronary artery disease.  But what about the naturally occurring trans fats that occur in meat and dairy products as a result of bacterial hydrogenation of fats in the rumens of ruminant animals (ruminant trans fatty acids or rTFAs)?

Some studies suggest that rTFAs do not raise the risk of coronary disease.  This study tests that hypothesis.  It found that the major rTFA, vaccenic acid, does indeed raise risk factors for coronary artery disease almost or more than do iTFAs.

To make sense of the study, you need to know:

  • In iTFAs, the two major trans fats are elaidic acid 25%, and vaccenic acid 10%
  • In rTFAs, the trans fats are vaccenic acid 45% and elaidic acid 5%
  • Therefore, vaccenic acid is the major trans fat in rTFAs

What about Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA, or rumenic acid)?

The study also looked at intake of another rTFA, conjugated linoleic acid, which seems to have more benign properties but is present in such small amounts that it hardly makes a difference.  Although this study found CLA to have no effect on risk factors for coronary heart disease, a study from independently funded investigators judged it to have effects similar to that of other rTFAs.

What took so long to get this study published?

David Baer, who works for USDA, is the senior author on this paper.  I saw a slide presentation he did on this study in 2010.  Its results were already available.

In 2011, his group wrote a review of ruminant trans fats, but did not report these results (they were known, but not published).

In 2012, Dr. Baer wrote about ruminant trans fats, disclosed his dairy industry funding, but also did not report these results.  He concluded:

It is still difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the role of rTFAs in modulating risk of cardiovascular disease as mediated through changes in LDL and HDL cholesterol. Intake of these fatty acids is typically low in the diet.

I heard about this study last summer and wondered whether its funders were holding up publication.  I called Dr. Baer and asked.  He said the funders had nothing to do with the delay.  Instead, life had intervened—collaborators left, he was busy with other things, and was having trouble getting the paper published.

The bottom line

The study was done with purified vaccenic acid, not dairy fat, in amounts higher than those likely to be consumed in diets.  The authors say

Evidence…suggests that VA [vaccenic acid] consumed in amounts and foods typically found in the diet is inversely or not associated with CVD risk.

That’s one possible interpretation, but check the title of the editorial accompanying the paper: “In equal amounts, the major ruminant trans fatty acid is as bad for LDL cholesterol as industrially produced trans fatty acids, but the latter are easier to remove from foods.”

The funders of this study must be disappointed.  It was undoubtedly difficult and expensive to do, since it involved synthesis of pure vaccenic acid and a clinical trial of more than 100 subjects.

The funders must have hoped the study would show vaccenic acid to be as benign or even healthier than conjugated linoleic acid.  They bet wrong on this one.

This brings the score to 80:7 (sponsored studies with results favorable to the sponsor vs. those unfavorable).

Page 27 of 339« First...2526272829...Last »