by Marion Nestle


Mar 21 2024

The ultimate fusion diet: Chinese-Mediterranean?

I learned about this from reading a headline in FoodNavigator-Asia: Mediterranean diet linked to reduced neurodegeneration in elderly Chinese.

This got my attention: Why would anyone be studying the Mediterranean diet in Chinese people.  The traditional Chinese diet, like that of the Mediterranean diet, is largely plant-based and strongly associated with health and longevity.

But here we have it.  Basically, they want to know if this diet works in Chinese as well as North American and Oceanic populations.  As so it does.

The study: Association of adherence to the Chinese version of the MIND diet with reduced cognitive decline in older Chinese individuals: Analysis of the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey.  The Journal of nutrition, health and aging.  Available online 1 January 2024, 100024

  • Purpose: This study aimed to assess the correlation between the Chinese version of the MIND (cMIND) diet and cognitive impairment in older Chinese individuals.  [MIND = Mediterranean-Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay].
  • Method: The cMIND diet score (cMINDDS) was calculated by assessing dietary patterns based on survey responses.
  • Results: The increased cMINDDS was associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment. Higher consumption of fresh fruits and nuts was associated with a decreased risk of cognitive impairment (OR = 0.77, 95% CI: [0.66, 0.89] and OR = 0.70, 95% CI [0.58, 0.86], respectively).
  • Conclusion: Adherence to the cMIND diet was associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment in older Chinese individuals.

About the diets

The MIND diet recommended 10 brain-healthy food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, soybeans, whole grains, not fried fish, not fried poultry, olive oil, and wine) while avoiding five unhealthy groups (red meat and products, butter/margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fast fried foods).

The cMIND diet comprises 12 components: staple food composition, quantity, fresh vegetables, mushrooms or algae, fresh fruits, fish, cooking oil, soybeans, nuts, garlic, tea, and sugar.

Here’s a quick comparison:

Comment:  Both diets are healthy.

Bottom line (can’t be emphasized enough, apparently): Eating a healthy diet is good for health.

Mar 20 2024

Genetic modification of basic food-and-fuel crops: basically all

In case you haven’t been keeping track, virtually all corn, cotton, and soybeans (and sugar beets not on this graph) are genetically modified. 

Not only that, but they take up more than half of all cropland in the United States.

And half the corn is used to fuel automobiles.

Monoculture, control of the food supply, and lack of biodiversity, anyone?

Mar 19 2024

European Big Ag in action

Science Magazine has this editorial headline: Reverse EU’s growing greenlash**

After several weeks of violent protests, European farmers have achieved a tactical triumph that does not bode well for the future of environmental policies.
Let’s stop right here at “farmers.”  This is not the right word.
This editorial is talking about industrial agricultural producers—Big Ag—not small organic farmers using regenerative principles.
The editorial continues, “In response to the demonstrations, the European Commission has
  • Enacted a derogation in the European Union’s (EU’s) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to set aside 4% of farmland for biodiversity and landscape protection,
  • Withdrawn a bill to halve pesticide use,
  • Removed a target to reduce agriculture emissions by 30% by 2040, and
  • Called for further changes in the CAP to loosen environmental requirements.”
The editorial points out (my translation) that the EU spends about a third of its annual budget on subsidizing industrial agriculture.  This gives Big Ag plenty of political clout, making it “”impossible to modify the CAP in ways that reduce the environmental impact of modern agricultural practices and promote sustainable farming..”
Its bottom line: “Such capture of government by an interest group is dangerous.”
Well, yes.  If this sounds familiar, consider the US farm bill.  Its support money goes to Big Corn, Big Soy, and Big Ethanol fuel.
In this system food for people doesn’t stand a chance, and forget about mitigating climate change.
**Thanks to Brian Ogilvie, a historian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for alerting me to this.
Mar 18 2024

Industry-funded study of the week: Would you believe kimchi?

I learned about this one from a commentary from Yoni Freedhoff, MD: Kimchi: Not Magically Protective Against Weight Gain.

  • The study: Association between kimchi consumption and obesity based on BMI and abdominal obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional analysis of the Health Examinees study.  BMJ Open.  2024 Jan 30;14(2):e076650.  doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2023-076650.
  • Participants: “This study analysed 115 726 participants aged 40-69 years enrolled in the Health Examinees study in Korea.”
  • Results: “In men, total kimchi consumption of 1-3 servings/day was related to a lower prevalence of obesity (OR: 0.875 in 1-2 servings/day and OR: 0.893 in 2-3 servings/day) compared with total kimchi consumption of <1 serving/day. Also, men with the highest baechu kimchi (cabbage kimchi) consumption had 10% lower odds of obesity and abdominal obesity. Participants who consumed kkakdugi (radish kimchi) ≥median were inversely associated with 8% in men and 11% in women with lower odds of abdominal obesity compared with non-consumers, respectively.”
  • Conclusions:  “This large cross-sectional study described the association between kimchi consumption and obesity. In conclusion, total kimchi consumption of 1–3 servings/day was shown to be reversely associated with obesity in men. Regarding the type of kimchi, baechu kimchi was associated with a lower prevalence of obesity in men, and kkakdugi was associated with a lower prevalence of abdominal obesity in both men and women. However, since all results showed a ‘J-shaped’ association, excessive consumption suggests the potential for an increase in obesity prevalence. As kimchi is one of the major sources of sodium intake, a moderate amount of kimchi should be recommended for the health benefits of its other components. In addition, further investigation and prospective studies are needed to confirm the relationship between kimchi consumption and obesity.”
  • Competing interests: “HJ and SS have no conflicts of interest to declare for this study. Y-RY and SWH are members of the staff at the World Institute of Kimchi.”
  • Funding: “This research was supported by grants from the World Institute of Kimchi (KE2201-1) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT, Republic of Korea.”

Dr. Freedhoff ‘s analysis of the data:

According to the paper, men who reported eating two to three servings of kimchi per day were found to have lower rates of obesity, whereas men who reported eating three to five servings of kimchi per day were not. But these are overlapping groups! Also found was that men consuming more than five servings of kimchi per day have higher rates of obesity. When taken together, these findings do not demonstrate a statistically significant trend of kimchi intake on obesity in men. Whereas in women, things are worse in that the more kimchi reportedly consumed, the more obesity, in a trend that did (just) reach statistical significance.

Comment: Why anyone would expect kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables such as cabbage) to affect obesity one way or the other is beyond me, but the World Institute of Kimchi must want more people to eat it.  Does anyone need an excuse to eat kimchi?  It’s great on its own without needing this kind of claim.  This study is about marketing, not science.

Mar 15 2024

Weekend reading: Compassionate Eating

Tracey Harris and Terry Gibbs. Food in a Just World: Compassionate Eating in a Time of Climate Change. Polity Books, 2024. 

I blurbed it:

Food in a Just World is an up-to-the-minute introduction to issues of class, race, and gender—and species—in what we eat, as well as to how larger issues of economics and capitalism affect workers in the meat industry.  Whether you eat meat or not, the book convincingly argues that these issues demand serious attention.

Here’s what the publisher says about it:

Food in a Just World examines the violence, social breakdown, and environmental consequences of our global system of food production, distribution, and consumption. From animals in industrialized farming – but also those reared in supposedly higher-welfare practices – to low-wage essential workers, and from populations being marketed unhealthy diets to the natural ecosystems suffering daily degradation, each step of the process is built on some form of exploitation. While highlighting the broken system’s continuities from European colonialism to contemporary globalization, the authors argue that the seeds of resilience, resistance, and inclusive manifestations of cultural resurgence are already being reflected in the day-to-day actions taking place in communities around the world. Emphasizing the need for urgent change, the book looks at how genuine democracy would give individuals and communities meaningful control over the decisions that impact their lives when seeking to secure this most basic human need humanely.


Mar 14 2024

Foods of the future: Yum?

I’m constantly being asked what food will look like in the future, so I’ve been collecting items about new-and-unusual foods headed our way.

Do these bode well for the future of food?  You decide.

New Foods

Cultivated meat

Comment: It’s a brave new world out there.  Two issues:  (1) Is this stuff delicious?  (2) Will it make money?  Stay tuned.

Mar 13 2024

An update on Nutri-Score: despite food industry opposition, it’s doing well

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post explains why the FDA should establish front-of-package nutrition labeling here and now: These countries are doing nutrition labels the right way

Christina Roberto, Alyssa Moran, and Kelly Brownell contrast the “stop signs you’ll see in Mexico, the Nutri-Score system used in France, or the Health Star Ratings in New Zealand” with the current lack of a system like those in the United States.

The only thing standing in the way: the food industry. It favors a label that displays grams or milligrams of key nutrients along with percent Daily Values — much like the Nutrition Facts Labelcurrently on the back or side of packages. ..By using symbols, colors and simple language, front-of-package labels adopted by other countries have educated people about what’s in their food, helped them make healthier choices and even encouraged companies to reduce salt and sugar in their products.

And here’s Fortune on the same topic, especially Nutri-Score.

This makes me think it’s time to review what’s happening in Europe with Nutri-Score.  I’ve written about this system previously, most recently here and about Its founder, Serge Hercberg’s, fights with the food industry here.

As a reminder, Nutri-Score accounts for nutrients but also sugar, salt, and saturated fat, in a composite grade A (eat) to E (avoid).

The food industry hates it.  For example, an article by authors with ties to industry argues that there is no independent evidence to support the value of Nutri-Score.  This induced Hercberg et al to rebut those points.

In response to some of these criticisms, the Nutri-Score team is updating its algorithm to respond to concerns about ultra-processing, among other matters.  See: Nutri-Score 2023 Update in Nature Food.

And despite the arguments, support for Nutri-Score is growing.  Authors not connected to Nutri-Score recommend it over other types of labeling for adoption by 27 EU nations.  See: Establishing an EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition label: Review of options and model-based evaluation.  Obesity Reviews, 07 February 2024.

Nutri-Score is currently used in seven European countries.  It is backed by the European Public Health Association and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The food industry can complain all it wants, I’m guessing Nutri-Score is here to stay.  It may not capture all ultra-processed foods, but it comes close and revising the design like this should help solve that problem.

Mar 12 2024

FDA allows health claim on yogurts, sugary and not

The FDA Announces Qualified Health Claim for Yogurt and Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

FDA intends to consider exercising its enforcement discretion for the following qualified health claims:

“Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. FDA has concluded that there is limited information supporting this claim.”

“Eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes according to limited scientific evidence.”

FDA intends to consider exercising enforcement discretion for the above qualified health claims for when all other factors for enforcement discretion identified in Section IV of this letter are met.

All I can do is laugh.  As I told CNN,

Qualified Health Claims are ridiculous on their face.

Why would any sensible person think that all you have to do to prevent type 2 diabetes is eat 2 cups of yogurt a week?…All we can hope is that the yogurt is at least unsweetened, but since it’s really hard to find unsweetened yogurt [in small cups], this is telling people who want to avoid type 2 diabetes that sweetened yogurts are good for them…According to the FDA’s review of the studies, the amount of sugar in the yogurt made no difference to the results…Therefore, according to the FDA, sugar is a non-issue.”

The reason for my amusement?  Limited evidence.  Translation: if you want to believe this, go ahead, but it’s not on the basis of compelling evidence.

Take a look at the Danone petition.  The company asked for—and got—the qualified claim on the basis of observational evidence along with consumption data indicating that Americans currently do not eat much yogurt.

Given this low consumption, such a QHC is important to encourage food companies to increase yogurt in the food supply and inform consumers of current evidence in order to help them make informed choices.

It’s not that the FDA is ignoring the sugar issue despite its allowing the claim no matter how much sugar the yogurt contains.  In its letter of acceptance of Danone’s petition, the FDA said,

we are concerned that the use of a qualified health claim on yogurts that contain a significant amount of added sugars could contribute empty calories to the diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories and note that added sugars account on average for almost 270 calories, or more than 13 percent of total calories per day in the U.S. population.

…Consequently, while there is currently no disqualifying level for added sugars, given that Americans are exceeding recommended limits on added sugars, and some yogurts on the market are high in added sugars, FDA encourages careful consideration of whether to use the claim on products that could contribute significant amounts of added sugars to the diet.

Is this a warning to Danone to avoid using the claim on sugary yogurts?  We shall have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Danone is delighted: Danone North America Announces the FDA’s Decision on Their Petition for the First-Ever Qualified Health Claim for Yogurt, Linking This Dairy Aisle Staple to a Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

In response to efforts led by Danone North America, the new claim states that “eating yogurt regularly, at least 2 cups (3 servings) per week” may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a condition 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with every year.

Qualified Health Claims are about selling food products, not science.