Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 16 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: whole grains

Here’s another study where I guessed its funder from its title.

Everyone knows whole grains are healthy and recommended.  Why do this study?  Maybe it helps to have more evidence?

Once you know the funder, you can also guess what the study will show.

To wit:

Whole Grain Wheat Consumption Affects Postprandial Inflammatory Response in a Randomized Controlled Trial in Overweight and Obese Adults with Mild Hypercholesterolemia in the Graandioos Study.  Hoevenaars FPM, et al. The Journal of Nutrition, 2019: nxz177, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxz177

Objective: “The health impact of WGW [whole grain wheat] consumption was investigated by quantification of the body’s resilience, which was defined as the ‘ability to adapt to a standardized challenge.’”

Method: “A double-blind RCT [randomized control trial] was performed with overweight and obese…men (= 19) and postmenopausal women (= 31) aged 45–70 y, with mildly elevated plasma total cholesterol…who were randomly assigned to either 12-wk WGW (98 g/d) or refined wheat (RW).”

Conclusion: “Twelve-week 98 g/d WGW consumption can promote liver and inflammatory resilience in overweight and obese subjects with mildly elevated plasma cholesterol.”

Funding: “Supported by the public private partnership entitled “Combining innovation with tradition: improving resilience with essential nutrients and whole wheat bread,” financed by Topsector Agri & Food (TKI-AF 12083). This project was sponsored by TNO roadmap Nutrition and Health and co-funded by Cereal Partners Worldwide, the Dutch Bakery Center, and GoodMills Innovation GmbH. The funders of the study had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation, nor the preparation of the manuscript.”

Comment: As I keep saying (see Unsavory Truth), funders do not have to be involved.  Their influence starts from the get-go, and usually shows up in the way the research question is asked, as seen in this example.  This study is not about finding out about how whole wheat affects health (basic science); it is about demonstrating benefits from whole wheat consumption (marketing).  I’m in favor of eating more whole wheat, rather than refined, but wish food companies selling whole grains would stay out of conflicted research.

Sep 13 2019

Weekend reading: how farm subsidies really work

The Environmental Working Group does a good job of tracking government payments to agricultural producers.  This makes fascinating reading.

The EWG documents what is happening with the bailout program intended to insulate farmers from the effects of the trade war with China.

Here is a question to ponder over the weekend:

Q: Who benefits from these payments?

A: Trump campaign advisors, of course.

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Sep 12 2019

FoodNavigator-USA’s articles on food litigation

Food law used to be so boring that hardly any law schools taught anything about it.  Now it’s a hot topic.  To understand why, take a look at FoodNavigator-USA’s collection of articles, titled Food in the dock: Food & beverage litigation 

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Sep 11 2019

USDA’s Nutrition Education programs

I was astounded to learn that the USDA spends more than $900 million a year on nutrition education since I can hardly recall seeing any of it.

But now we have a Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis of USDA’s expenditures on nutrition education.

The GAO says that USDA does not:

  • Coordinate its nutrition education efforts
  • Use the expertise of USDA nutritionists
  • Make nutrition education a priority
  • Have leadership with responsibility for nutrition education
  • Share information across sub-agencies and avoid duplicating efforts
  • Assign nutrition education experts to appropriate sub-agencies

No big surprise here—I’ve been hearing such complaints since I worked for the government in the late 1980s—but it’s good to see them documented.

Most of the report is about nutrition education for participants in WIC, SNAP, and other nutrition assistance programs.

Note that there is no line budget for promotion of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a statement of of federal nutrition policy, or for MyPlate, a food guide directed at the general public.  Funds to promote these documents have to be authorized by Congress.

Note also that while $900 million seems like a lot of money, it is considerably below what companies like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola each spend on advertising every year.

Sep 10 2019

Death by backyard chicken?

The CDC reports that more than 1000 people have been infected with a toxic form of Salmonella, almost certainly from contact with backyard poultry.

Among these cases of illness, 23% are among children under the age of 5 years.

The link to backyard poultry comes from epidemiologic and laboratory evidence.

The CDC warns owners of backyard poultry to take steps to avoid acquiring Salmonella from their poultry

This problem has become so serious that the CDC has a webpage devoted to the safety of backyard poultry.

Best to follow its advice.

Sep 9 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: circumin

Curcumin is a flavonoid antioxidant isolated from turmeric, the spice used in Indian curries, among other foods.

It is about as overhyped as any ingredient I have encountered lately for its “proven ability” to fight Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and anything else that ails you.  If only this could be true.  If it were, people in India who use this in their cooking would all live exceptionally long and healthy lives.

But to convince skeptics like me—and to sell curcumin supplements of course—the makers of such supplements fund studies.

I learned about this study from the industry newsletter, NutraIngredients-Latam.

It reported on a an abstract of a clinical trial of a curcumin supplement, Longvida,™ made by Verdure Sciences. 

The study:  This was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-groups clinical trial in which participants were given Longvida™ (400 mg daily containing 80 mg curcumin) or a matching placebo.

Results: After 12 weeks, the curcumin group did better on memory performance and other tests, and after 4 weeks showed less tension, anger, confusion and total mood disturbance.

Conclusions: “These results confirm that Longvida™ improves aspects of mood and working memory in a healthy older cohort. The pattern of results…may hold promise for alleviating cognitive decline in some populations.”

Funding: Surprise! “This study was funded by a grant from Verdure Sciences.”

Comment: I see three problems here with the Nutraingredients report.

(1) When funders have a vested interest in the outcome of studies, biases tend to creep in.

(2) The report is based on an abstract, not on a complete account of the trial; this makes the methods difficult to assess.

(3) The report did not mention that study was funded by a company with a vested interest in the result; it should have.

Sep 6 2019

Weekend reading: Reducing food waste

The World Resources Institute has issued this report.

Here’s what it does:

  1.  We encourage countries and companies to adopt the global SDG 12.3 target as their own, measure their  food loss and waste (since what gets measured gets managed), and take action on the hotspots identified. Although simple, this “Target-Measure-Act” approach is proving effective.
  2.  We identify a short-list of “to do’s” for each type of actor in the food supply chain. If you don’t know which actions to take, start with this list and go from there.
  3.  To scale up the impact and pace of these actor-specific interventions, we recommend 10 interventions that tackle food loss and waste across the entire supply chain, target a handful of food loss and waste hotspots, and help
    set the enabling policy and financial conditions that are necessary for success.

It has a great laundry list of recommendations, some of which we can all do right now.

Others will require systems change.

Food for thought.

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Sep 5 2019

Industry-influenced study of the week: dairy and blood pressure

A reader, Gema Flores Monreal, who holds a doctorate in Food Science and Nutrition, pointed me to this study.  She noted that it examines the effects on blood pressure of eating 5 to 6 servings of dairy per day, twice what is typically recommended. 

it is easy to understand why a dairy company would want research like this.  People are consuming less dairy food, and the industry wants to reverse the decline.

The study:  Effect of high compared with low dairy intake on blood pressure in overweight middle-aged adults: results of a randomized crossover intervention studyRietsema S, and 11 other authors.  Am J Clin Nutr 2019;110:340–348.

Conclusions: “This intervention study shows that an HDD [high dairy diet] results in a reduction of both systolic and diastolic BP [blood pressure] in overweight middleaged men and women. If the results of our study are reproduced by other studies, advice for high dairy intake may be added to treatment and prevention of high BP.”

Funding: “Supported by the Public–Private Partnership Topconsortium voor Kennis en Innovatie (TKI) Agri & Food (TKI-AF-12104).”  FrieslandCampina, a Dutch multinational dairy cooperative, is part of the partnership.  Two of the authors are employed by FrieslandCampina.

Comment: As I discuss in Unsavory Truthresearch like this has a high probability of producing biased results.  I’m reserving judgment about dairy foods and blood pressure until results like these are confirmed by independent research.