Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 19 2007

Do Artificial Sweeteners Induce Sugar Cravings?

This is an interesting follow-up question on post #83: Diet Sodas and Metabolic Risks: “I have heard that the intense sweet flavor of artificial sweeteners signals the body that there are a lot of carbohydrates coming. Since the diet soft drink provides none, a craving for them may be stimulated – hence the weight gain associated with sodas, diet or not. Have you heard this explanation before?”

Indeed, I have. I’ve seen a couple of studies suggesting that artificial sweeteners encourage the taste for sweet. I think these are preliminary and need further confirmation but the idea is consistent with trends. As I explain in the chapter on diet drinks in What to Eat, rates of overweight have risen in parallel with the increase in use of artificial sweeteners, so on a population basis, the chemicals don’t seem to do any good for weight trends. Individuals may find them helpful to control calorie intake, but on average most people seem to compensate–and overcompensate–for calorie savings from artificial sweeteners. After all, a teaspoon of sugar is only 16 calories and it doesn’t take much to compensate. When it comes to food, I don’t like anything artificial and I don’t like the way artificial sweeteners taste, so they are pretty low on my recommended list. I much prefer sugar, especially the brown crystalline kind.

Aug 19 2007

More Pesticides in Dried Fruit?

It’s a slow news Sunday, so I’ll just answer a couple of questions, both of them using USDA’s food composition data. Here’s a question from a reporter: “There seems to be consensus from the sources I’ve so far read that dried fruit contains higher levels of pesticides than fresh. What I can’t figure out is if that is only because typically one eats more dried fruit in a sitting (6-8 dried apricots as opposed to 1-2 fresh, for example) and that when you dry fruit there’s less volume but the same amount of pesticide, or if more pesticides are used on dried fruit for some reason.”

Answer, of sorts: This is a concentration issue. There can’t be more pesticides on dried fruit than there were on the fresh; there is just less water so the amount per weight appears greater. The same is true of nutrients. Some will be more concentrated (calories!). Others will be lower because of losses during processing (vitamin C, for example). For nutrient composition, USDA data are easy to use. Unfortunately, no such thing exists for pesticides.

Aug 18 2007

Want to know where food comes from?

If so, you are not alone, according to a recent Zogby poll. Just about everyone responding to the poll not only would like country of origin labeling, but believes American have a right to know where food comes from. Do you agree? Write your congressional representatives!

Aug 17 2007

Whole Foods Scores a Win

Despite the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to block purchase of Wild Oats stores by Whole Foods on anti-trust grounds, a federal judge is allowing the merger to go through. As reported in today’s New York Times, Whole Foods believes that it needs the purchase to keep the company competitive. If Whole Foods’ competitiveness seems distasteful and inappropriate to its stated mission (as reportedly documented in FTC filings and reports of its CEO’s sometimes covert bloggings) , consider that it is a publicly traded company. Like all such companies, its primary responsibility it to stockholders and that means that it not only must make profits, but must grow and report growth to Wall Street every 90 days, or else. Shares of Whole Foods stocks rose yesterday by $3.33 so Wall Street thinks it’s doing something right. And you?

Aug 17 2007

Nutrition Policies to Prevent Cancer?

A most unusual presidential panel on cancer prevention, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, has just weighed in with a report asking for better policies to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully. The Washington Post views the report as taking on the food industry (also tobacco). It quotes the chair of the panel as saying that the country has a moral obligation to protect the health of Americans. Indeed it has, but it is surprising that a panel reporting to this president puts so much of the responsibility for healthful eating on the food industry. The report itself is worth reading for its strikingly candid comments–“Ineffective policies, in conjunction with limited regulation of sales and marketing in the food and beverage industry, have spawned a culture that struggles to make healthy choices – a culture in dire need of change”–and its emphasis on the need to eat less and move more (my philosophy, precisely). The committee had only three members: it’s chair, Dr. LaSalle Leffall of Howard University, Margaret Kripke (M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas), and none other than Lance Armstrong.

Aug 16 2007

Michael Jacobson vs. Stephen Colbert?

Several people have sent me the link to the video of Michael Jacobson’s appearance on the Colbert Report. Jacobson is the director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, the venerable organization for healthy nutrition policy. Take a look at it and let me know how do you think he did.

Aug 16 2007

Job Ad: Food Systems Director, Chicago

This seems like such a good job that it deserves wide publicity. Feel free to send it around to whoever might be interested and qualified.

The Fresh Taste Initiative was formed to advance the growth of diverse local agriculture and healthy eating in Chicago and across Illinois. Initiative partners, including a number of Illinois foundations and the City of Chicago, are committed to changing the manner in which food is produced, distributed, and consumed in Illinois. Funded by the partners and a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, the three-year Initiative will provide leadership that brings together stakeholders across all sectors of the state’s food system for conversations and action that will lead to this change.

The Initiative seeks a director to convene, connect, and enable the public, private, philanthropic, and not-for-profit actors who will be key in reaching its goal of growing 10% of the region’s food locally. Core responsibilities will include identifying opportunities to advance the Initiative’s objectives, recommending priorities for partner funding, developing a long-term strategy for achieving the 10% goal, increasing the level of investment in the Initiative’s work, and connecting potential actors, investors, and funders.

For additional information please visit The Himmelfarb Group (search consultant) website, www.himmelfarbgroup.com or contact Meghan Strubel at 708-848-0086.

Aug 15 2007

Sponsored Science

While I am on the subject of food company sponsorship of nutrition and medical professionals, I might as well say something about sponsored research. Analyses of the phenomenon show that when research is sponsored by food companies, it almost always produces results that favor the sponsor’s products. Two recent examples from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: a study comparing the effects of soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sugar (sucrose) finds no difference in perceived sweetness, hunger, or calorie intake. I wouldn’t expect it to, but the study was funded by a grant from the American Beverage Association, which has a vested interest in proving that soft drinks have no effect on obesity. This next one is even better: here is a study showing that if you eat corn or tortilla chips fried in corn oils, which are largely polyunsaturated, your blood cholesterol will be healthier than if you eat chips fried in saturated and trans fats. I thought we knew that already. But doing a study like this gives the sponsor a usable conclusion: “Therefore, if chosen wisely, even snack foods that are often considered to be ‘junk food’ can contribute to a heart-healthy diet.” Would it surprise you to learn that the study was funded in part by Frito-Lay/PepsiCo? I wonder how long it will take to see this research celebrated in Frito-Lay ads.

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