Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 15 2007

Lower Your Cholesterol with Cheerios? Oh Please

My neighborhood grocery store is displaying a wall of Cheerios boxes with this banner over the inevitable heart: “You can lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks (see back for details).” I immediately turned to the back to learn that “Cheerios is the only leading cold cereal clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1 and 1/2 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” I like Cheerios, but come on? What clinical study? A footnote gives the reference to a study published in Nutrition in Clinical Care (1998;1:6-12). I immediately went to look for it but alas, the journal ceased publication in 2005 and is not available online or in the NYU or Cornell libraries. Want to take a guess at who might have funded the study? If anyone has a copy, please send. The FDA used to be able to demand serious scientific substantiation for health claims like this one, but no more. Congress says one study is sufficient, no matter how old, designed, or paid for. The courts say advertising is a form of free speech and protected by the First Amendment. Caveat emptor.

Update: Andy Bellatti of Small Bites reminds me that as always, Center for Science in the Public Interest was there first. Nutrition Action Healthletter talked about the study–surprise! funded by General Mills–in 2005.

Sep 14 2007

Burger King Joins the Group; Will Stop Marketing to Kids (Sort of)

The last holdout, Burger King, says it too will stop marketing the worst of its junk foods to kids. This means it will only advertise kids’ meals that meet these criteria:

  • No more than 560 calories per meal;
  • Less than 30 percent of calories from fat;
  • Less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat;
  • No added trans fats; and
  • No more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars.

It’s agreed to cut back on some other practices too. A big step forward? Will this do any good? Let’s wait and see?

Sep 13 2007

How’s This for a Use for Peanut Butter?

Peanut butter, it seems, is the basis of a “ready-to-use therapeutic food” (RUTF) for aiding recovery of severely malnourished children in Africa. The announcement of these results doesn’t say what kind. The study itself is published in Maternal and Child Nutrition and the authors make the point that people administering this RUTF do not need to be medically trained so this therapy can be used at home. I’m always amazed when researchers discover that feeding malnourished children helps them to recover. Peanut butter is highly concentrated in calories and the investigators mixed in some vitamins along with it, so I guess it can be considered a superfood.

Sep 12 2007

The Aspartame Controversy: Will it Never End?

I’ve just gotten a notice that a big study in Critical Reviews in Toxicology gives aspartame a clean bill of health; the reviewers judge it safe at current levels of intake and find “no credible scientific basis” to think otherwise. This comment refers to contrary studies first published a year or so ago and confirmed again this summer by an Italian group (see their paper in Environmental Health Perspectives). This group claims that aspartame causes cancer in rats when consumed at levels typical of those in soft drinks. The Critical Reviews analysis is the most recent of many other such studies discounting the methods and opinions of aspartame critics. Will this latest study–at long last–put the matter to rest? I doubt it. The Critical Reviews analysis was funded by the maker of aspartame, Ajinomoto. Even though its authors were not told this, and the sponsor was not involved in the review, the study gives the appearance of conflict of interest. This kind of sponsorship is not helpful. My own view (which I discuss in detail in What to Eat) is that aspartame probably is safe at current levels of intake. But so what? It is an artificial sweetener. I don’t like anything artificial when it comes to food and I much prefer sugar (in moderation, of course).

Sep 11 2007

Judge Strikes Down NYC Calorie Labeling, Sort Of

Without having to get into First Amendment issues, a federal judge agrees with the National Restaurant Association that New York City may not require fast-food restaurants that already have nutrition information available to post information about the calories in their products on menu boards. BUT: the judge also says that cities and states certainly can require calorie labeling as long as the rules apply to all chain restaurants with 10 or more outlets whether or not they make nutrition information available voluntarily. Good news? Will this encourage more cities to pass such rules? Can’t wait to see.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal has to say about this. And the New York Times.

Sep 11 2007

No More Fast-Food Restaurants in South L.A.?

My son, who lives in Los Angeles, says the L.A. City Council is considering a 2-year moratorium on putting more fast-food restaurants in poor neighborhoods where obesity is a big problem. According to the L.A. Times, fast-food places are about the only restaurants in South L.A., a neighborhood which–surprise–also doesn’t have many grocery stores. So residents don’t have much of a choice. Do you think L.A. will do this? Do you think fast-food companies will stand for it? Stay tuned!

Sep 11 2007

Nutrient Levels Down in Industrial Crops?

A press release today from the Organic Center announces publication of a major study by Brian Halweil examining changes in nutrient levels of farmed crops in the United States. Halweil summarizes evidence that food crops are less nutritious now than they used to be and that organic crops are more nutritious than conventional. While such findings seem intuitively obvious, they are very difficult to prove. For one thing, methods for evaluating the nutritional content of foods were not as accurate 50 years ago as they are now. For another, the samples may not really be comparable. Even so, this report is worth having for addressing the questions in a serious way. Read and enjoy!

Sep 10 2007

Lock Kids in at Lunch?

Ah, the British are way ahead of us. Chef Jamie Oliver, who singlehandedly is trying to fix school lunches in the U.K., thinks kids should be locked in at lunch and not allowed to go off campus to buy fast food. If all kids ate meals at schools in the U.S., there might be enough money to provide healthier meals. Well, it’s a thought.