Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 20 2019

Should dogs eat pea and lentil proteins?

Plant proteins for dogs?  I’ve written about this before, but now there’s more.

Contrary to prevailing rumor, dogs are well documented to be able to digest grains.  Whether grains are optimal for dogs is another matter and I sure wish we had some decent research on the question.

What we do have is pet-food makers scrambling to sell pet foods to owners convinced that grains are bad for their dogs.  These products are often made with proteins extracted from peas and lentils.

The FDA has gotten reports that dogs fed such pet foods have developed a form of heart disease called  Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

The FDA is investigating whether grain-free pet food could be linked to DCM, and it posts the data on reported cases online.  

When the FDA asks owners what dogs with DCM ate, this is what it finds.

Not displayed here are cases of DCM among dogs eating standard commercial pet food.  Those are listed here.

What causes DCM and why so many cases are associated with plant proteins is not known.  One hypothesis is deficiency of taurine (synthesized from sulfur-containing amino acids) in pea and lentil proteins, but adding taurine to diets does not seem to help.

Pea and lentil farmers have complained to the FDA that its warning is hurting their business.  Pet Food Industry reports that sales of grain-free pet foods have declined since the FDA announcement.

The author of a 2016 book about obesity in pets and conflicts of interest in the veterinary nutrition community, who is also the founder of a plant-based pet food company thinks that plan-based ingredients have nothing to do with this.

While the arguments are raging and the FDA continues investigating, what to feed your pet?

Basic advice (from my book with Malden Nesheim, Feed Your Pet Right,” which is actually an analysis of the pet food industry):

  • If you are using commercial foods, make sure they say they are “complete and balanced” and have been tested at some point.
  • If you are cooking for your pet, make sure your recipe includes the needed nutrients (we give generic recipes in the book)
  • Know that no evidence exists that expensive pet foods are better than cheap ones (that research has never been done)
  • Vary the products you use.  Variety, balance, and moderation work just as well for pets as they do for people.
  • Most important: do not overfeed.  Calories count!
Nov 19 2019

Food crime? New term, old problem

Food crime is a new term in my lexicon.  I’m used to hearing it called food fraud or intentional adulteration.

As I learned from reading an article in Food Safety News, the Food Standards Agency in Great Britain established a National Food Crime Unit in the wake of the 2013 horsemeat scandal.

Examples of food crime include the use of stolen food in the supply chain, unlawful slaughter, diversion of unsafe food, adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation of food, and document fraud…Members of the public and those working in the food and drink sector can speak up about food crime through Food Crime Confidential.

The agency says it focuses on seven types of food crime:

  • theft – dishonestly obtaining food, drink or feed products to profit from their use or sale
  • illegal processing – slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques
  • waste diversion – illegally diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain
  • adulteration – including a foreign substance which is not on the product’s label to lower costs or fake a higher quality
  • substitution – replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior
  • misrepresentation – marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness
  • document fraud – making, using or possessing false documents with the intent to sell or market a fraudulent or substandard product

The unit is not particularly forthcoming about its findings.  According to, it took a freedom-of-information request to discover that the unit received 1193 reports of food crime in 2018, and 364 in the first three months of 2019.

The FOI request was filed by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, which reports these figures but does not seem to have a formal report online.

Bottom line: Food crime is the highest it has been in the UK since 2013.

Nov 18 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Pomegranates

The study: Matthews LG, Smyser CD, Cherkerzian S, Alexopoulos D, Kenley J, Tuuli MG, et al. (2019) Maternal pomegranate juice intake and brain structure and function in infants with intrauterine growth restriction: A randomized controlled pilot study. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0219596.

The findings (my emphasis): “There were no group differences in brain injury, metrics or volumes. However, treatment subjects displayed reduced diffusivity within the anterior and posterior limbs of the internal capsule compared with placebo. Resting state functional connectivity demonstrated increased correlation and covariance within several networks in treatment subjects, with alterations most apparent in the visual network in per-protocol analyses. Direct effects on health were not found.

Conclusion: In conclusion, maternal pomegranate juice intake in pregnancies with known IUGR was associated with altered white matter organization and functional connectivity in the infant brain, suggesting differences in brain structure and function following in utero pomegranate juice exposure, warranting continued investigation.

Funding: This work was supported by National Institute of Health Grants R01 HD29190 (D. M. Nelson), K02 NS089852 (C.D. Smyser), U54 HD087011 and P30 HD062171 (T.E. Inder), The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital (D. M. Nelson) and an unrestricted gift to Washington University School of Medicine from POM Wonderful, Los Angeles, CA. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Comment: This is a classic example of interpretation bias.  Studies of bias associated with industry funding find that it shows up mostly in the framing of the research question or in the interpretation, as this one demonstrates.  The study did not find anything significant but concluded that drinking pomegranate juice during pregnancy is good for the growing fetus.

Bottom line: Fruit juices (of any kind) are good for health as long as volumes are small.  Eating the fruit itself is better–less sugar, more fiber.

Nov 15 2019

Weekend reading: Meat, Cultured and Not

I’ve been seeing lots of books about meat lately.  Here are two recent ones.

Josh Berson.  The Meat Question: Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food.  MIT Press, 2019.

The author is an Australian social scientist, a vegan, who has produced a deep dive into the history of the use of meat as food and as cultural symbol.  As he puts it,

The aim of this book is to unpack what I’ve come to call the Meat Question–Should humans be eating meat, and if so who, and what kinds, and how much?–in the most comprehensive way possible.  The perspective…is deep deep in that it encompasses the history of human meat eating and human relationships with other gregarious vertebrates over a span of more than 2 million years.  (p. 2)

This [book’s] perspective is centered on my conviction that the economic violence of meat has less to do with who can and cannot afford it than with how meat serves to prop up a system of asymmetric benefits from all forms of human activity, not just that related to food.  Growing demand for meat is not simply an outcome of growing affluence.  It is a symptom of the inequality and oppression that have accompanied that affluence. (p. 294)

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft.  Meat Planet: Artificial Flesh and the Future of Food.  University of California Press, 2019.

This book examines the brand-new industry creating lab-based meat.  These products are not yet on the market but are of such enormous public and economic interest that they are well worth book-length treatment.

This book tells the story of what I found, and what I did not find, in the course of my time in the small, strange world of cultured meat, during what seemed to be the early years of an emerging technology.  I expected to spend time in laboratories…This did happen in some measure, but for the most part I found myself with very little laboratory science to observe and a great many public conversations about cultured meat to participate in and sort through.  (p. 15)

But cultured meat, too, raises moral questions.  Not questions about our moral regard for harvested cells, but questions about the implications cultured meat may hold for our moral regard for animals….It is relatively easy to see how cultured meat would or would not suit different philosophical arguments for animal protection….But assuming that cultured meat leads to abolition of animal agriculture, it will change our sense of what these creatures, these nonhuman animals, are doing in the world. (p. 133)

Both of these books deal with the moral, philosophical, cultural, historical, and socioeconomic implications of meat-eating, although from quite different perspectives.

Nov 14 2019

Lab-based meat and dairy: recent trends

No lab-based meat or dairy product is yet on the market, but lots of people are working on such things.  Here are some recent examples, starting with my favorite.

Nov 13 2019

The latest on the dietary supplement industry alerted me to a study by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the main trade group for the dietary supplement industry.

Its conclusion: 77% of American adults say they take dietary supplements.

Here are selected results.

Who Takes Dietary Supplements? 77 percent of U.S. adults take dietary supplements.

  • 79 percent of female adults
  • 74 percent of male adults 
  • 81 percent of adults 35 – 54
  • 79 percent of adults 55+ 
  • 83 percent of adults with children under 18 in the household
  • 68 percent of adults without employment
  • 73 percent of adults who live in the Northeast
  • 80 percent of adults who live in the South

Everybody takes this stuff, apparently.  What are they taking?

What to say?

I wish we had better evidence—how about any evidence—that supplements make healthy people healthier, but we do not.

Supplements, as far as I can tell, are about nutritional magic.

Whatever works, I guess.

In the meantime, NutraIngredients cites data that the dietary supplement market was worth nearly $125 bilion in 2018.


For the record: I don’t take supplements.  I prefer my nutrients from food and sunshine.


A reader, Charlene Elliott, sends her study of supplement marketing to Canadian children.

This study is the first of its kind to examine the nutrient levels of vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements specifically marketed as for children in the Canadian retail environment. On the one hand, the promotion of gummy and chewable supplements using cartoon and licensed characters and claims that the products are “fun to eat” simply extends contemporary strategies found in child-targeted packaged foods. Yet vitamins are not foods, nor are they regulated as foods in Canada, and this study questions the logic of recommending that children consume up to 15 gummy candies per day in order to “improve” their health.  Beyond this, the substantial variation in dosage depending on the supplement is problematic, given that all of these supplements use the same kinds of appeals on the package.
Do Canadian children really need chewable gummy vitamins?  Or vitamin supplements at all?  I have my doubts.
Nov 12 2019

SNAP: A special section in the American Journal of Public Health:

I guest-edited a series of papers on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).  The papers are now online and will be in print in the December issue of the journal.


Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, served as Guest Editor for the special section: “AJPH Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.” M. Nestle oversaw peer review for the articles, provided input on peer reviewer selection and peer review evaluation, suggested which articles would appear in the special section, and wrote the lead Commentary.

Conflicts of interest disclosure: Marion Nestle’s retirement benefits and a small fund from New York University support her research, publications, and Web site ( She receives royalties from books—and honoraria, travel, and meals related to lectures—about matters relevant to this special section.


Alfredo Morabia, the executive editor of AJPH, interviewed one of the authors, Joanna Cruz Simmons, and me in his monthly podcast.


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): History, Politics, and Public Health Implications.  Marion Nestle.  109(12), pp. 1631–1635.


Links of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program With Food Insecurity, Poverty, and Health: Evidence and Potential.  Brynne Keith-Jennings, Joseph Llobrera and Stacy Dean.  109(12), pp. 1636–1640.  Supplemental Material


Importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Rural America.  Lisa Harnack, Sruthi Valluri and Simone A. French.  109(12), pp. 1641–1645.


SNAP at the Community Scale: How Neighborhood Characteristics Affect Participation and Food Access.  Nevin Cohen.  109(12), pp. 1646–1651


College Students and SNAP: The New Face of Food Insecurity in the United States.   Nicholas Freudenberg, Sara Goldrick-Rab and Janet Poppendieck.  109(12), pp. 1652–1658.


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Data: Why Disclosure Is Needed.  Jennifer L. Pomeranz. 109(12), pp. 1659–1663


Recommendations From SNAP Participants to Improve Wages and End Stigma.  Tianna Gaines-Turner, Joanna Cruz Simmons and Mariana Chilton.  109(12), pp. 1664–1667.


Alternatives to SNAP: Global Approaches to Addressing Childhood Poverty and Food Insecurity.  Lia C. H. Fernald and Wendi Gosliner.  109(12), pp. 1668–1677.   Supplemental Material

Nov 11 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Dairy foods again and again

The Study:  Dairy Foods and Dairy Fats: New Perspectives on Pathways Implicated in Cardiometabolic Health.  Kristin M Hirahatake; Richard S Bruno; Bradley W Bolling ; Christopher Blesso; Lacy M Alexander, et al.  Advances in Nutrition, nmz105,  Published: 25 September 2019

The Conclusions: Most observational and experimental evidence does not support a detrimental relationship between full-fat dairy intake and cardiometabolic health, including risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Indeed, an expanded understanding of the dairy food matrix and the bioactive properties of dairy fats and other constituents suggests a neutral or potentially beneficial role in cardiometabolic health.

The Conflicted Interests (my emphasis): SHA’s research is funded in part by USDA-Agricultural Research Project…Support for RSB is provided by USDA-NIFA…the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at the Ohio State University, and the National Dairy Council. BWB’s research is funded in part by the National Dairy Council. Author disclosures: SHA has received honoraria from ILSI North America, the National Dairy Council (NDC), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Herbalife, and the Council for Responsible Nutrition as a presenter and participant at sponsored scientific conferences. RSB has received honoraria from NDC to serve as an external research advisor and from Abbott Nutrition for serving as a presenter at a sponsored scientific conference. BWB has received honoraria from NDC and Nederlanse Zuivel Oranisatie for presenting research at scientific conferences. CB has received honoraria from NDC and the America Egg Board as a presenter and participant at sponsored scientific conferences. LMA has received funding from NDC, NHLBI, and Performance Health. KMH has received funding from NDC to coordinate author contributions and to write the article. The National Dairy Council (NDC) sponsored the 2018 Scientific Summit: A New Look at Dairy Foods and Healthy Eating Patterns. The sponsor reviewed this manuscript prior to submission. All editorial decisions were solely left to the authors, and this report reflects the independent opinions and views of the authors.

Comment: The National Dairy Council funded this study and reviewed its manuscript.  The authors receive funding from the Dairy Council.  This review should be considered a paid advertisement.  Do dairy foods have any special role in cardiometabolic health?  I doubt it, but we are unlikely to find out until such questions are investigated independently.