by Marion Nestle

Search results: peanut

Feb 8 2021

Annals of industry-funded research: Peanuts this time

I recently received a letter (with my emphasis) making the rounds from the research director at The Peanut Institute (yes, such places exist):

Dear Colleague….

The Peanut Institute Foundation is a non-profit 501 (C)(3) entity that funds research in the area of peanut nutrition. We are requesting proposals from researchers across the country to enhance our understanding of how consuming peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut products improves health in various populations (eg. immune health, personalized nutrition, gut microbiome, brain health, chronic diseases, diet quality, etc.).

Suggested funding amount: $25,000 – $250,000

Deadline for submission: March 26, 2021

To download an application, visit: https://peanut-institute.com/nutrition-research/peanut-nutrition-grant-2021/

This is a classic example of how industry-funded research gets aimed at marketing, not science.  If the Peanut Institute were interested in science, it would request open-ended proposals about whether peanuts—as opposed to any other nut or legume—have any particular effect on health.  Big difference.

The Peanut Institute wants evidence of benefits.  It will not fund proposals unlikely to demonstrate benefits.

This is about marketing, not science.

And while we are on the subject of peanuts

Take a look at this Civil Eats’ superb investigative report on Big Peanut (yes, this too exists): “The Peanut Industry Has a Monopoly Problem—but Farmers Are Pushing Back.  Two shelling companies buy 80 percent of the nation’s peanut crop each year, allowing them to drive prices down while costing U.S. taxpayers millions in subsidies.

the peanut shelling industry is dominated by two powerful companies that together buy 80 percent of all peanuts grown in the U.S. The two companies, Golden Peanut and Birdsong, operate massive shelling facilities throughout the peanut belt, and together control or outright own nearly 200 buying points, where farmers must go to sell their raw peanuts. The system isn’t just unfair—it’s wildly expensive. Subsidizing the peanut industry cost U.S. taxpayers more than $2 billion from 2014 through 2018. It’ s the most costly per-acre crop to taxpayers in America, in large part because monopoly power controls pricing in the industry….For many growers, Birdsong and Golden are the only options, so they take whatever price the big shellers offer. Before 2002, growers received a more than $600-per-ton price guarantee; now that’s been replaced with a marketing loan system that guarantees just half that.

Looks like this industry could use even more scrutiny.

Oct 5 2020

Overhyped food of the week: peanuts!

The Peanut Institute is working overtime to convince you to eat more peanuts.

Disclaimer: I love peanuts and think they are great to cook with and make an excellent snack—peanut butter too—but I see no need to overhype them, as this press release does.

Research Reveals Daily Dose of Peanuts Delivers Body and Mind Benefits: Americans Encouraged to Pause for Peanuts…Peanuts are a superfood so just a small amount can fend off mid-morning hunger, help eliminate the afternoon slump and deliver much-needed brainpower.

“Superfood,” I must remind you, is a marketing term.  It has no nutritional meaning.  All fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and, yes, nuts, have nutritional value.  On that basis, all plant foods are “superfoods.”

The press release makes these claims, and provides references for most of them:

  • Regular peanut consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and numerous kinds of cancer.
  • An ounce of peanuts packs more protein than any other nut.
  • Peanuts stimulate peptide YY, a hormone that decreases appetite.
  • Peanuts also have a low glycemic index that helps stabilize blood sugar to prevent the feeling of ‘crashing’ in the afternoon.
  •  A single serving of peanuts is packed with 19 vitamins and minerals, including the antioxidant resveratrol, which has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain.
  • Peanuts also contain high levels of niacin and are a good source of vitamin E – two nutrients that support brain health and have long been known to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline
  • Eating peanuts twice a week can reduce the risk of premature death by 12% and reduce the risk for certain cancers, including colorectal, gastric, pancreatic and lung cancers.
  • Regular consumption can also reduce the risk of death due to heart disease by 24%, respiratory disease by 16%, infections by 32% and kidney disease by 48%.

As I read the research on peanuts, it associates eating nuts of all types with good health.   Is there something distinctive about peanuts as compared to other kinds of nuts?

I doubt it—all nuts are worth eating.

A basic prinicple of nutrition is to vary food intake.  You love peanuts (as I do)?  Eat them, but go easy on the salt.

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Jan 21 2019

Industry-funded request of the week: prove peanuts healthy

Peanuts are delicious when freshly roasted—I always keep some on hand—and they are highly nutritious, despite their calories.

But the peanut industry must not think sales are high enough (oh those sales-inhibiting peanut allergies).

Its trade group, The Peanut Institute, has issued a Call for Research Proposals.

We are currently requesting human peanut nutrition research proposals with an emphasis on the effect of consuming peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products on: (1) cognition/brain health, (2) chronic disease risk and outcomes, (3) diet quality, and (4) gut microbiome in various populations. Other research areas that increase the understanding of peanut consumption and human health are encouraged. All novel and noteworthy proposals that advance the health and wellness message of peanuts will be reviewed [my emphasis].

The Peanut Institute is not interested in funding open-ended research exploring the effects of peanuts on health.

Instead, it intends only to consider proposals designed to prove benefits.  This is marketing research, not basic science.

As I demonstrated in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, the basic observation is this: industry-funded research almost always favors the sponsor’s product.

I discuss similar requests from other trade groups in that book.  Guess what.  The funders usually get what they ask for.

Sep 13 2017

FDA approves “qualified health claim” for early introduction of peanuts

I was interested to see the FDA’s announcement that it “acknowledges” and will “exercise enforcement discretion” (translation: will not oppose) a qualified health claim linking the early introduction of peanuts into the diets of young children with severe eczema or egg allergies as a means to reduce their risk of peanut allergy.

Here’s the claim, which the FDA says manufacturers can use right away:

For most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age. FDA has determined, however, that the evidence supporting this claim is limited to one study. If your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.

The FDA’s decision is based on:

But why a qualified health claim?  Whenever you see one, you know that business interests are at stake.

In this case, the claim is in response to a petition filed by Assured Bites, Inc., maker of Hello Peanut products.  Check the astonishing prices of these products and you can see why this company wanted a health claim, and why it is already advertising it.

Really, you can do this at home.  We are talking here about starting high-risk kids out—under medical supervision—with a small taste of plain, ordinary peanut butter.

The FDA allows qualified health claims because industry wants them for marketing and pressures Congress to force the FDA to allow them.

What’s wrong with qualified health claims?  The qualifications get lost in the marketing.  Parents may think Hello Peanut works better than much less expensive alternatives.

 The FDA documents

Also see

Nov 16 2016

Sweet post-election thought: how much peanut butter (Nutella, really) is a serving?

I am just getting around to the burning question of how much peanut butter constitutes a serving size.

Earlier this month, the FDA put out a call for comments on this question.  In FDA-speak: “the Appropriate Product Category and Reference Amount Customarily Consumed for Flavored Nut Butter Spreads and Products that Can Be Used to Fill Cupcakes and Other Desserts.”

The FDA is inviting comments (note that a RACC is “Reference Amount Customarily Consumed”)

in part because it recently issued a final rule updating certain RACCs, and the agency has also received a citizen petition asking that it either (1) issue guidance recognizing that “nut cocoa-based spreads” fall within the “Honey, jams, jellies, fruit butter, molasses” category for the purposes of RACC determination, or (2) amend the current regulation relating to RACCs to establish a new RACC category for “nut cocoa-based spreads” with a RACC of 1 tablespoon.

What on earth is this about?  Ask: Who could possibly care?  The answer: Nutella.

As CNN explains, the “citizen petition” comes from Ferrero, the maker of Nutella, which has been trying for two years to get the FDA to reduce the serving size.

Why?  Because the current serving size is two tablespoons—200 calories.

Nutella thinks you might buy more if the serving size were one tablespoon and only 100 calories.

CNN quotes Nutella’s latest petition:

Ferrero’s most recent advertising and promotion has advocated the consumption of a balanced breakfast with the inclusion of Nutella as a tasty, complementary spread to add on to nutrient-rich whole grain breads, fruits, and dairy products.

CNN also notes that

In 2012, Ferrero settled a class-action lawsuit for $3 million after a 4-year-old’s mother claimed she was shocked to discover that the hazelnut-chocolate spread — whose first two ingredients are sugar and palm oil — was nutritionally similar to a candy bar despite being advertised as a healthy breakfast option.

I swear I am not making this up.

If you care to comment, go to http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2016-N-2938 in the search box.

The relevant documents:

Jun 27 2016

Israel’s solution to peanut allergies

While in Israel, I kept hearing that peanut allergies are virtually unknown in that country.  Nobody I met knows anyone with problems with peanuts—not Jews, Arabs, children, nor adults.

The explanation?

Bamba (and its Arabic equivalent).

These things are peanut puffs.

Because they melt in the mouth, they are often fed to babies as a first food.  Apparently, babies love them.

How do they taste?  Just as you might expect (peanut-flavored straw?  peanut-flavored Cheetos?).  They are sold everywhere as a snack and I met adults who love them too.

Do they really prevent peanut allergies?  Indeed, there might be something to this idea.

Introduction of peanut products into the diets of infants at high risk of developing peanut allergy was safe and led to an 81 percent reduction in the subsequent development of the allergy, a clinical trial has found…Researchers led by Gideon Lack, M.D., of King’s College London, designed a study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP), based on observations that Israeli children have lower rates of peanut allergy compared to Jewish children of similar ancestry residing in the United Kingdom. Unlike children in the UK, Israeli children begin consuming peanut-containing foods early in life.

Translation:  Bamba.

These researchers also found that allergic reactions did not return even if the children in that trial stopped eating Bamba for a year.

Their studies were funded mainly by NIH and the UK Department of Health, but the researchers also report that their clinical trials unit was supported by the National Peanut Board, Atlanta, and that the manufacturer of Bamba supplied the products.  The lead author, Gideon Lack, reports holding stock in DBV Technologies, the maker of Viaskin Peanut, a product that helps people with peanut allergies tolerate exposure to peanuts.

I’d like to see these studies repeated by fully independent researchers.

In the meantime, pediatric allergists are advising parents to let their babies eat peanut butter (but not peanuts because babies can choke on them).

These allergists—and the authors of the Bamba studies—participated in an American Academy of Pediatrics consensus statement:

There is now scientific evidence (Level 1 evidence from a randomized controlled trial) that health care providers should recommend introducing peanut-containing products into the diets of ‘‘high-risk’’ infants early on in life (between 4 and 11 months of age) in countries where peanut allergy is prevalent because delaying the introduction of peanut can be associated with an increased risk of peanut allergy.

If these studies are right, introducing babies to the widest possible variety of foods as soon as they can handle solid foods (usually at 4 to 5 months) may well help prevent allergies later on.

Addition

A reader just sent another paper from the same authors, this one a randomized trial of six allergenic foods given to breastfed babies at 3 or 6 months of age.  By one analysis, allergies developed 1 to 3 years later in 7.1% of the later-introduction group and 5.6% of the earlier-introduction group—a result that was not statistically significant.  By another, allergies were much lower in the early-introduction group (2.4% vs 7.3%), especially with respect to peanut and milk allergies.  

Jul 29 2015

Court asks for life in prison in peanut butter Salmonella case

Federal court officers are recommending what attorneys are calling an “unprecedented” sentence of life in prison for a Stewart Parnell, the former owner of the Peanut Corporation of America.  He was convicted last fall of selling bulk peanut butter from his plant in Georgia to food processors—even after the peanut butter tested positive for Salmonella.

The CDC associated the tainted peanuts with the deaths of 9 people and illnesses among more than 700.

The government’s sentencing recommendations say:

The Government submits that the U.S. Probation Office correctly calculated the Sentencing Guidelines adjusted offense level for Stewart Parnell to be 47 with criminal history category I, which results in a life sentence Guidelines range; for Michael Parnell, to be adjusted offense level 37 with criminal history category I, which results in a 210 to 262 months Guidelines range; and for Wilkerson to be adjusted offense level 30 with a criminal history of I, which results in a 97 to 121 months Guidelines range.

Does the punishment fit the crime?  Bill Marler’s discusses of the legal issues related to this conviction as opposed to the results of similar cases.  Marler is usually unsympathetic to owners of companies producing foods that kill people, but in this instance he says:

I find it a bit hard to parse out why some have been targeted – OK, perhaps the Parnell prosecution is a bit easier because it was so clearly intentional – and some have not, or at least not yet.  Honestly, what are the differences in prosecuting the Jensens, DeCosters and ConAgra and leaving the others – so far – unmolested…Is it the number of sick, the number of dead? Is it the economic consequences? What really are the criteria, or, should it simply be left to the discretion of the prosecutor as to who or what feels the sting of the criminal justice system?

Feb 26 2015

Fingers crossed: good news about preventing peanut allergies

The New England Journal of Medicine has a new study that suggests the need to rethink whether to feed peanuts to babies.

As the Wall Street Journal explains, peanut allergies can be life-threatening and they are increasing among the population.

Dr. Gideon Lack and his colleagues randomly assigned infants to be fed peanuts (really, peanut butter) until they were five years old.  The children fed peanuts had far fewer peanut allergies than those who were not exposed to peanuts.

Of the more than 500 infants who showed no signs of peanut allergies at the start of the trial, the prevalence of peanut allergies at age 5 was 13.7% in the avoidance group and only 1.9% in the consumption group (see the journal’s video for an easy explanation).

A result like this is extremely unlikely to have occurred by chance.

Dr. Lack got the idea for the study when he noticed that peanut allergies were rare in Israel.  Israeli infants are routinely offered foods made with peanuts, whereas British and American parents have been told not to feed peanuts to young children.

The authors conclude:

Our findings showed that early, sustained consumption of peanut products was associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants. Conversely, peanut avoidance was associated with a greater frequency of clinical peanut allergy than was peanut consumption, which raises questions about the usefulness of deliberate avoidance of peanuts as a strategy to prevent allergy.

The implications are clear: expose young children to peanut butter (the accompanying editorial explains how to do this safely).  And to prevent choking, don’t give them peanuts until they can chew.

Other newspaper articles on this topic: