The FDA has just announced the opportunity for anyone interested to comment on how the agency plans to evaluate the scientific validity of health claims on food labels as a basis for allowing them. In case you haven’t noticed, just about every product in supermarkets boasts some health benefit, no matter how absurd the idea that eating a particular breakfast cereal might really prevent you from getting heart disease. Health claims are not really about health. They are about selling food products. So any time the FDA tries to deny a health claim, the company takes the agency to court. The courts say the First Amendment protects commercial speech so food companies can say pretty much anything they want to about the health benefits of their products. The FDA keeps trying to require some basis for scientific substantiation of health claims and this is its latest effort. I put “rules” in quotes because its new guidance document represents the FDA’s “current thinking on this topic. It does not…operate to bind FDA or the public.” My opinion: health claims should be allowed on food products. Foods are foods; they are not drugs and health claims are invariably misleading. Never mind. It’s too late for that. But at least let’s require some evidence for health claims. If you want to weigh in on this issue, here’s your chance. The FDA wants comments by September 7.
A reader writes: ”
I am a fan of your work, and am writing to ask your opinion of an idea.
Can you think of an appropriate lobbying group to consider demanding that all TV food advertisements carry a listing of calories, fat, and sugar content? I was watching a TV show that had several ads for restaurant meals, hefty desserts, etc and realized how seductive such ads can be. Perhaps, if we viewers saw that a certain ice-cream creation had over 1,000 calories and 40 grams of fat, we might not hop in the car for a fix.
If alcohol ads have ‘Drink Responsibly” all over them on TV, and cigarettes only show up in print ads but still with the Cancer warnings, could not food ads have a simple listing of the three common obesity triggers?”
Opinions, please. Would something like this be useful?
Today’s USA Today has several terrific stories about how hard it is to know where our food comes from and why it matters that we do. The cover story in the Life section follows Phil Lempert, the supermarket guru, around a store reading package labels to try to figure out the origins of ingredients. A second piece lists where specific foods come from. Dairy, peanut butter, bread, and soda pop are All-American, but Brazil is the number one source of orange juice. And who knew that fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables head the list of imported foods and Mexico is the leading source? A third story, in which I am quoted, discusses Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), a law passed by Congress years ago but endlessly postponed under pressure from food industries. Only supermarket fish are required to list the country that caught or farmed them, and as far as I can tell, this is a law ignored more often than not. If Congress doesn’t get its act together and put COOL into action, we won’t have a clue where our food comes from. Why do we need to know? Safety and miles traveled, for starters. Ever heard of COOL? It’s worth writing your representatives for this one.
I’ve just been asked if I’ve seen King Corn. Indeed I have and highly recommend it. It’s great fun. Two guys buy an acre of land, plant corn on it (a scene well worth the price of admission), watch it grow, harvest it, and film the process. I adored the scene that shows how they make their very own high fructose corn syrup, the planting scene of course, and the very last one (which I won’t spoil). You can read about it on the King Corn website. It’s going into distribution. Has anyone else seen it? What did you think?
I am at the Festival of Ideas in Adelaide this week and checked out the local supermarket. Shrek was everywhere. I counted at least ten special displays of Shrek-illustrated foods positioned at the ends of 5 aisles, along one entire wall (with a blow up Shrek doll), and in stand-alone areas. Shrek III has arrived in Australia but does Australia really need a store full of Shrek-green Froot Loops (devoid of fruit, of course), Shrek cheese-flavoured snacks, Shrek-illustrated chocolate flavoured biscuits, and Shrek candies? And a local McDonald’s also has a Shrek tie-in. This is about one thing and one thing only: marketing junk food to kids. Not a good idea.
This question just in: “
I try to steer clear of medical nutrition advice (see your doctor for that) but the general approach to diets is easy because the same way of eating works for just about any health problem: Eat less (if you have a weight issue); move more; eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; don’t eat too much junk food; and enjoy what you eat! Although I wrote What to Eat as a guide to thinking about food issues, more and more readers tell me they are losing weight after reading the book—the range is 5 to 80 pounds so far. That’s terrific, if true. Let me know!
I always worry that when it comes to preventing childhood obesity, food companies that make junk foods for kids are stuck. They must continue to increase sales every quarter in order to please stockholders. This requirement forces them to engage in contradictory activities. Take a look at what Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts, has to say on his blog about Kellogg’s new Froot Loops cereal straws and decide for yourself.
A reader asks what might be the ideal percentage of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in diets. It’s not an easy question to answer because the percentages could vary a lot, depending on the amounts of good fats (monounsaturated, for example) and good carbohydrates (whole grains). In any case, it’s too hard to have to look up the nutrient composition of every food you eat. But I sometimes have fun using the USDA’s food composition tables. They do require interpretation though as the numbers may or may not reflect what you are actually eating. Carrots grown in California may or may not have the same nutrient composition as those grown in upstate New York. I consider these tables a national treasure and wish the USDA would put more resources into making them even more comprehensive.