by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Chocolate

Nov 18 2009

Chocolate milk redux: Nutrifluff vs. Policy

First, the “Nutrifluff,” my term for research with results that are intriguing but of unknown clinical significance.  I thank everyone who sent me links to the New York Times account of the new study linking chocolate milk to reduced inflammation.  It quotes the lead author:  “Since atherosclerosis is a low-grade inflammatory disease of the arteries, regular cocoa intake seems to prevent or reduce [it].”   But the giveaway is the next magic words that cover all bases: “more studies needed.”

The study suggests – but in no way proves – that drinking chocolate milk reduces the risk of coronary artery disease.  Inflammation is an intermediate marker of suggestive but unconfirmed clinical implications.  More research is needed, indeed.

Next, policy.  Recall the fuss over chocolate milk (see previous post on the topic)?   Marlene Schwartz of the Rudd Center at Yale has posted an explanation of her views on the matter.

The “chocolate milk controversy” story this week is not about nutrition; it’s about marketing…They explain that “more than half of all flavored milk is sold in schools,” and “the importance of flavored milk goes beyond the school market because it is a key growth area for milk processors.”

They are trying to sell their product. There is nothing wrong with that as long as their marketing efforts are not misleading. Chocolate milk is not the nutritional equivalent of regular milk. It is significantly higher in calories, sugar (often high fructose corn syrup), sodium, and usually contains artificial colors and flavors.

In the promotional video on YouTube, expert dieticians acknowledged that chocolate milk has about 60 more calories per serving than regular milk, but then quickly added that “in the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing compared to the amount of nutrients they are going to be getting.”

That sounded really familiar.

“In the grand scheme of things, these calories don’t count” is exactly what we heard from David Mackay, the CEO of Kellogg in his defense of marketing his company’s high-sugar cereals: “Twelve grams of sugar is 50 calories. A presweetened cereal as part of a regular diet for kids is not a bad thing.”

50 calories here, 60 calories there, and pretty soon we are talking about real weight gain.

Our research has found that children will eat low-sugar cereals and drink white milk when these are the foods that are served. We also found that most children will also eat a piece of fruit if you prompt them to take it. School cafeterias are the perfect place to reinforce the nutrition lessons that begin at home and promote nutrient-dense foods.

If chocolate milk were the only treat children were exposed to in schools, it would not be nearly as much of a problem.  But it is not.  In many schools, kids are offered sweet treats all day long (birthday celebrations, rewards from teachers, etc) or exposed to those readily available from vending machines.  So sweet foods have become the norm.  Norms are hard to change, but let’s at least not make them worse.

Mar 2 2009

Today’s chocolate problem: cow burps

Today’s snow storm has closed New York schools and cancelled my scheduled lecture on Staten Island.  This unexpected holiday gives me time to contemplate the latest challenge to marketers of chocolate candy: gas emissions from dairy cows.

Cadbury estimates that 60% of the carbon footprint created by its chocolate operations in the U.K. comes from dairy cows.  The average cow, it says, gives off 80 to 120 kilograms of methane annually, an amount equivalent to that produced by driving a car for a year.

The remedy?  Reduce cow burps.   How?  Cadbury is going to try feeding them more clover, more starch, and less fiber, and treating them better.

Will this work?  If it does, will you buy more Cadbury chocolate?

Sep 29 2008

Oh no! Melamine in chocolate!

In Hong Kong, Cadbury’s is recalling 11 China-made chocolate products found to contain melamine.   I hope everyone is testing everything made in China that might have milk or protein in it.  Soy anyone?

Update: According to the Wall Street Journal, Indonesia says it found melamine in M&M’s and Snickers bars.  Mars says that’s not possible.

Sep 20 2008

Farewell Robert Steinberg


My friend Robert Steinberg died this week after a 20-year bout with lymphoma, and I am much too sad to write about anything else.  Robert, a physician whom I met briefly when he was a resident at UCSF, was already well into his illness when he gave up his medical practice to co-found Scharffen Berger chocolates with John Scharffenberger in the mid-1990s.  We got reacquainted around then at a Chefs Collaborative meeting in Walpole, New Hampshire, where he introduced me to Burdick’s chocolates and, over the years, to much else about high-quality chocolate (see the book that he and John wrote).   As a doctor, he had no illusions about the state of his health but there was no question that chocolate gave him reason to live.  I managed to see him on most of my trips to San Francisco, but this last time – the weekend of Slow Food Nation – he didn’t feel well enough.  He had been ill for so long, and complained about it so little, that I thought he would live forever.  No such luck.  Robert, farewell.  This world will miss you. 

May 2 2008

Nestlé (no relation) advertises to kids, cleverly

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area giving a bunch of talks. An agricultural engineer who works for USDA – and must have sneaked off work to come to one of them yesterday – tells me that if you look up the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) schedule, you get a message from Nestlé’s Nesquik “inviting all BART riders to take the Chocolate Line to their own Happy Place on Sunday, May 4, 2008.” Cartoon characters! Free rides for kids! Yummy marketing!

Apr 17 2008

Big surprise: chocolate is not a health food

Oh dear. Chocolate is heavily hyped as a health food these days, but a new study says it doesn’t do much when compared to a placebo and has no measurable benefits for neuropsychological or heart health. Too bad. I haven’t seen the full study yet but I’ll bet it wasn’t sponsored by Mars. No matter. I’ll take chocolate over a placebo any time.

Here’s one explanation for these results: the flavonols are destroyed in the process of making cocoa.   So just because a chocolate is high in cocoa, doesn’t mean it retains active components.

Feb 14 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day: Chocolate is price-fixed?

With perfect timing for the romantic occasion, federal investigators are looking into the possibility that Big Food is fixing chocolate prices, and in three different countries yet.  The allegations?  “Top executives at Hershey Co., Mars, and Nestle [no relation] met secretly in coffee shops, restaurants and conventions to set prices.”   Although, as I discussed in Food Politics, it seems obvious from supermarket prices that such things must go on all the time, price-fixing is illegal.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Jan 15 2008

Oh no! Chocolate-eating linked to weak bones?

Ordinarily I don’t pay too much attention to studies of single foods or nutrients on health because so many of them are “nutri-fluff”–attention getting, but not necessarily meaningful to health. But this one is such a good example of the genre that I thought I’d share it. Today’s foodproduction.com (Europe) talks about a study of chocolate consumption and bone density in 1000 older women (aged 70 to 85). Those who consumed the most chocolate (type not specified) had the thinnest and weakest bones.  Does this mean that eating chocolate is bad for bones?  Of course not.  It could mean that women who eat a lot of chocolate are not eating healthfully, getting enough physical activity, or doing any number of other things that do not promote bone strength.  When it comes to studies of single foods or nutrients, context is everything!

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