by Marion Nestle

Search results: peanut

Apr 25 2022

Conflict-of-interest disclosure of the week

A reader, Effie Schultz, sent this one, with a comment that it comes with the longest conflict of interest statement she had ever seen (I’ve noted one that was two pages long in the first item in a post in 2015).

Association of Low- and No-Calorie Sweetened Beverages as a Replacement for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.  McGlynn ND, and 20 other authors.  JAMA Network Open, March 14, 2022. 2022;5(3):e222092.  doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.2092

The research question: Are low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages (LNCSBs) as the intended substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) associated with improved body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors similar to water replacement?

The conclusion: This systematic review and meta-analysis found that using LNCSBs as an intended substitute for SSBs was associated with small improvements in body weight and cardiometabolic risk factors without evidence of harm and had a similar direction of benefit as water substitution. The evidence supports the use of LNCSBs as an alternative replacement strategy for SSBs over the moderate term in adults with overweight or obesity who are at risk for or have diabetes.

Comment: Research on artificial sweeteners remains controversial.  I think we will be arguing forever about their safety and efficacy in helping people lose weight.  Studies with conflict of interest disclosures like the excessively extensive one here do not help resolve the research questions.

I strongly support revealing conflicted interests that might influence any aspect of research design, conduct, and interpretation.  For this study, I would be interested in financial ties or arrangements with companies that might either gain or lose sales or marketing advantages from results showing artificial sweeteners or diet drinks to be harmless or beneficial, as these do.  At issue here is whether financial ties to companies with corporate interests in the outcome of such research bias results or interpretation, consciously or unconsciously.

You have to search through this mess of unnecessary and distracting disclosures to find the ones that matter.  They are there.  You have to search for them.

Much of what is disclosed is irrelevant and, therefore, not helpful.

You may well disagree with that assessment.  Judge for yourself.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Ms McGlynn reported receiving a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-Masters Award during the conduct of the study and being a former employee of Loblaws Companies Limited outside the submitted work. Dr Khan reported receiving grants from CIHR, International Life Science Institute, and National Honey Board outside the submitted work. Dr Chiavaroli reported being a Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellow and receiving joint funding from the Government of Canada and the Canadian Sugar Institute. Mr Au-Yeung reported receiving personal fees from Inquis Clinical Research outside the submitted work. Ms Lee reported receiving graduate scholarship from CIHR and the Banting & Best Diabetes Centre at the University of Toronto outside the submitted work. Dr Comelli reported being the Lawson Family Chair in Microbiome Nutrition Research at the Joannah and Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition, University of Toronto, during the conduct of the study and receiving nonfinancial support from Lallemand Health Solutions, donation to research program from Lallemand Health Solutions, personal fees from Danone, sponsored research and collaboration agreement from Ocean Spray, and nonfinancial support from Ocean Spray outside the submitted work. Ms Ahmed reported receiving scholarship from the Toronto Diet, Digestive tract, and Disease Centre (3D) outside the submitted work. Dr Malik reported receiving personal fees from the City and County of San Francisco, Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP, and World Health Organization outside the submitted work and support from the Canada Research Chairs Program. Dr Hill reported receiving personal fees from General Mills and McCormick Science Institute. Dr Rahelić reported receiving personal fees from the International Sweeteners Association, Abbott, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, Merck, MSD, Salvus, and Sanofi outside the submitted work. Dr Salas-Salvadó reported receiving personal fees from Instituto Danone Spain, nonfinancial support from Danone Institute International, personal fees as director of the World Forum for Nutrition Research and Dissemination from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council Foundation, financial support to the institution from Fundación Eroski, and financial support to the institution from Danone outside the submitted work. Dr Kendall reported receiving grants and/or in-kind support from Advanced Food Materials Network, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CIHR, Almond Board of California, Barilla, Canola Council of Canada, International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, Peanut Institute, Pulse Canada, Tate and Lyle Nutritional Research Fund at the University of Toronto, and Unilever; receiving nonfinancial support from General Mills, Kellogg, Loblaw Brands Limited, Oldways Preservation Trust, Quaker Oats (Pepsi-Co), Sun-Maid, White Wave Foods/Danone, International Pasta Organization, California Walnut Commission, Primo, Unico, International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC), and Toronto Diet, Digestive tract, and Disease Centre (3D) outside the submitted work; receiving personal fees from McCormick Science Institute and Lantmannen; and being a member of the Diabetes and Nutrition Study Group (DNSG) Executive Board and Dietary Guidelines, a member of the expert committee of the DNSG Clinical Practice Guidelines for Nutrition Therapy, a member of the scientific advisory board of the McCormick Science Institute, a scientific advisor for the International Pasta Organization and Oldways Preservation Trust, a member of the ICQC, an executive board member of the DNSG, and being the director of the Toronto Diet, Digestive tract, and Disease Centre (3D) Knowledge Synthesis and Clinical Trials Foundation. Dr Sievenpiper reported receiving nonfinancial support from DNSG of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), grants from CIHR through the Canada-wide Human Nutrition Trialists’ Network (NTN), PSI Graham Farquharson Knowledge Translation Fellowship, Diabetes Canada Clinician Scientist Award, CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes and the Canadian Nutrition Society (INMD/CNS) New Investigator Partnership Prize, and Banting & Best Diabetes Centre Sun Life Financial New Investigator Award during the conduct of the study; receiving grants from American Society for Nutrition, International Nut and Dried Fruit Council Foundation, National Honey Board (the US Department of Agriculture [USDA] honey checkoff program), Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS; formerly ILSI North America), Pulse Canada, Quaker Oats Center of Excellence, United Soybean Board (the USDA soy checkoff program), Tate and Lyle Nutritional Research Fund at the University of Toronto, Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Disease in Type 2 Diabetes Fund at the University of Toronto (a fund established by the Alberta Pulse Growers), and Nutrition Trialists Fund at the University of Toronto (a fund established by an inaugural donation from the Calorie Control Council); receiving personal fees from Dairy Farmers of Canada, FoodMinds LLC, International Sweeteners Association, Nestlé, Abbott, General Mills, American Society for Nutrition, INC Nutrition Research and Education Foundation, European Food Safety Authority, Nutrition Communications, International Food Information Council, Calorie Control Council, Comité Européen des Fabricants de Sucre, International Glutamate Technical Committee, Perkins Coie LLP, Tate and Lyle Nutritional Research Fund at the University of Toronto, Danone, Inquis Clinical Research, Soy Nutrition Institute, and European Fruit Juice Association outside the submitted work; serving on the clinical practice guidelines expert committees of Diabetes Canada, EASD, Canadian Cardiovascular Society, and Obesity Canada/Canadian Association of Bariatric Physicians and Surgeons; being an unpaid scientific advisor for the Food, Nutrition, and Safety Program and the Technical Committee on Carbohydrates of IAFNS; being a member of the ICQC, executive board member of the DNSG of the EASD, and director of the Toronto Diet, Digestive tract, and Disease Centre (3D) Knowledge Synthesis and Clinical Trials Foundation; his spouse is an employee of AB InBev. No other disclosures were reported.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Nov 11 2021

Food prices are going up. Oh, the irony.

FAO says the world food price index is higher than it’s been in years, due to reduced harvests, fuel prices, climate change, and Covid-19.

FAO Food Price Index | World Food Situation | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

According to the New York Times, the prices of foods in the U.S. are also up—and by 15 percent since early 2020.

Steak, ground beef for hamburger, and turkey are especially costly.

The increases are due to supply chain shortages and higher labor costs and there is little relief in sight. In fact, some economists think prices could rise even more, given the increase in energy prices.

These increases may be hard on consumers, but they are also hard on food banks.

A case of peanut butter that was $13 to $14 before the pandemic now costs $16 to $19…Green beans that used to retail for $9 a case now sell for $14.

BUT, the New York Times also reports:

Despite higher prices, McDonald’s, Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola post solid earnings.

The Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s and Kraft Heinz all reported quarterly earnings on Wednesday that were better than expected, despite continuing challenges with the global supply chain and pandemic restrictions in many parts of the world. The enormous scale of each business, as well as their ability to pass on price increases to consumers, appears to have helped them during a time of uncertainty.

Ironic, no?

Nov 3 2021

Annals of marketing: promoting snacks

The best way to add unnecessary calories to your diet is to snack.

Snacks are often ultra-processed junk foods; they add calories in ways you don’t notice (“you can’t eat just one”).

Their sellers’ intention is to get you to eat them and not notice.  These are hugely profitable products.

Here are a few recent items about selling snack products.

Will eating “healthier” snacks help you avoid “Covibesity” [referring to pandemic weight gain, I guess]?  Not if they encourage you to take in more calories than you need.

Will eating sustainable snacks make you healthier?  I got an e-mail from a marketer at Mondelez telling me that the company is focusing on sustainable snacks and that a “Mondelez exec also just made presentation at Alliance Bernstein conf. where he discussed there will be more invest in digital marketing personalization to drive sales” [Sustainable snacks have calories, and increased sales mean increased calories].

How about starting your snacks in the morning?  Hershey, America’s largest confection company, is trying to gain market share by rolling out products designed for morning consumption. “We see this as a potential growth lever and way for us to potentially capture more total snacking occasions across all dayparts,” In a press release, the company declared, “Let’s face it, we’re already having morning dessert anyway, so the Reese’s brand decided to make it official. With new Reese’s Snack Cakes, Reese’s fans can enjoy a delicious combination of chocolate and peanut butter creme without having to wait until lunch.”

Or, you can just eat candied cereal:

Sep 30 2021

Recent food items of interest

Here is my latest collection of accounts of unusual or unexpected food items.  Ice creams are high on the list.

You are wondering what Clitoria ternatea looks like?  Good enough to eat, I guess.

Aug 20 2021

Weekend reading: the food politics of Afghanistan, 2001 version

Reading about Afghanistan sent me back to what I wrote about food aid to that country in my book, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (University of California Press, 2003, revised edition 2010: pages 260-265).  The World Food Programme has declared a hunger emergency  in Afghanistan that affects a third of the population, 14 million people.  This excerpt from my book illustrates a small part of the history of the current Afghanistan tragedies.

A New Emphasis for Food Security: Safety from Bioterrorism 

On October 13, 2001, New York Times photographer James Hill took this photograph of U.S. “Humanitarian Daily Rations” dropped over Afghanistan.  The photograph appeared in the Week in Review section on October 21.  Mr. Hill said the food packets were available in local markets for the equivalent of 60 cents each (Photographer’s Journal: War is a Way of Life, November 19, 2001)…©2001 New York Times Photo Archive.  Used with permission.)


Prior to the terrorist attacks [of September 2001], food security in the United States had a relatively narrow meaning that derived from the need to establish criteria for welfare and food assistance.  In the 1980s, the U.S. government expanded its definition of “hunger” (as a problem requiring food subsidies or donations) to include involuntary lack of access to food—the risk of hunger as well as the physical experience.   By this definition, food security came to mean reliable access to adequate food.[1]

The international definition is broader, however.  In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which said, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and the necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”[2]  Many interpret this provision to mean that people have a right to food security, in this case encompassing five elements: (1) reliable access to food that is not only (2) adequate in quantity and quality but also (3) readily available, (4) culturally acceptable, and (5) safe.  With respect to safety, the Geneva Convention of August 1949, an international agreement on the protection of civilians during armed conflict, expressly prohibited deliberate destruction or pollution of agriculture or of supplies of food and water.  These broader meanings derived from work in international development, where it was necessary to distinguish the physical sensation of hunger (which can be temporary or voluntary), from the chronic, involuntary lack of food that results from economic inequities, resource constraints, or political disruption.[3]

The significance of the lack-of-access meaning of food security is evident from a health survey conducted in a remote region of Afghanistan just a few months prior to the September 2001 attacks.  Not least because of decades of civil strife, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its health indices are dismal: a life expectancy of 46 years (as compared to 77 years in the United States) and an infant mortality rate of 165 per 1,000 live births (as compared to 7).[4]   At the time of the survey, the United Nations World Food Programme estimated that 3.8 million people in Afghanistan lacked food security and therefore required food aid.   Investigators examined the health consequences of this lack and found poor nutritional status to be rampant in the population and a contributing factor in nearly all of the deaths that occurred during the survey period.  Half of the children showed signs of stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition.  Scurvy (the disease resulting from severe vitamin C deficiency) alone accounted for 7% of deaths among children and adults.  Because visible nutrient deficiency diseases like scurvy are late indicators of malnutrition, the investigators viewed the level of food insecurity as a humanitarian crisis—less serious than in parts of Africa, but worse than in Kosovo during its 1999 upheavals.[5]  After October 2001, when bombing raids led to further displacement of the population, the United Nations increased its estimate of the size of the food insecure population to 6 million and predicted that the number would grow even larger as humanitarian aid became more difficult to deliver.

In part to alleviate shortages caused by the bombings, resulting dislocations, and the collapse of civic order, the United States began a program of food relief through airdrops.  The packages, labeled “Food gifts from the people of the United States of America,” contained freeze-dried lentil soup, beef stew, peanut butter, jelly, crackers, some spices, and a set of plastic utensils, and provided one day’s food ration for an adult–about 2,200 calories.  Beginning in October 2001, airplanes dropped about 35,000 food packages a day.  The quantities alone suggested that their purpose had more to do with politics than food security.[6]  A British commentator did the calorie counts:

If you believe, as some commentators do, that this is an impressive or even meaningful operation, I urge you to conduct a simple calculation.  The United Nations estimates that there are 7.5 [million] hungry people in Afghanistan.  If every ration pack reached a starving person, then one two hundredth of the vulnerable were fed by the humanitarian effort on Sunday.…But the purpose of the food drops is not to feed the starving but to tell them they are being fed.  President Bush explained on Sunday that by means of these packages, “the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies.”[7]

Even with a possible exaggeration of the extent of food insecurity, this comment suggests that food aid is a complicated business, and at best a temporary expedient.   One problem is getting dropped food to the people who need it most. The Figure illustrates the fate of some of the food aid packages.  As often happens, enterprising people collect the packages and sell them on the open market; this gets the food into public circulation, but at a price.   In this instance, the packages also encountered unexpected safety hazards.  The Pentagon warned that the Taliban might try to poison the packages or spread rumors of poisoning as a means of propaganda against the United States, but Taliban leaders denied this accusation: “No one can be that brutal and ignorant as to poison his own people.”[8]  The packages themselves presented hazards.  They were packed in specially designed plywood containers that could be dropped from 30,000 feet without breaking, but several landed in the wrong place and destroyed people’s homes.  Children sent to collect the food packages died or lost limbs when they ran across fields planted with land mines.  While the food drop was in progress, the political situation made it impossible for food aid to get into the country through conventional routes.  Later, warlords stole shipments, and riots broke out when supplies ran out.[9]  Political stability depends on food security, and food security is inextricably linked to political stability.  Without such stability, food aid alleviates a small part of the humanitarian crisis—better than nothing, but never a long-term solution.[10]

Would increasing the amount of food aid alleviate the crisis?   Former Senator George McGovern, U.S. ambassador to the World Food Programme said, “If these people have nourishment for healthy lives, this is less fertile territory for cultivation by terrorist leaders.”  Bringing in another issue germane to this book, he said that the war on hunger in Afghanistan and elsewhere cannot be waged without biotechnology: “It is probably true that affluent countries can afford to reject scientific agriculture and pay more for food produced by so-called natural methods.  But the 800 million poor, chronically hungry people of Asia, Africa and Latin America cannot afford such foods.”[11]  As we have seen, biotechnology is still a remote solution to food security problems, and it is difficult to imagine how it might alleviate immediate food shortages in Afghanistan.


[1]   Andrews MS, Prell MA, eds.  Second Food Security Measurement and Research Conference, Volume II: Papers.  USDA/ERS, July 2001.

[2]   United Nations.  Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, December 10, 1948).  Reprinted in JAMA 1998;280:469–470.

[3]   Oshaug A, Eide WB, Eide A.  Human rights: a normative basis for food and nutrition-relevant policies.  Food Policy 1994;19:491–516.  Drèze J, Sen A.  Hunger and Public Action.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

[4]   The World Factbook–United States, 2001. Central Intelligence Agency. Online:

[5]   Assefa F, Jabarkhil MZ, Salama P, et al.  Malnutrition and mortality in Kohistan district, Afghanistan, April 2001.  JAMA 2001;286:2723–2728.  Ahmad K.  Scurvy outbreak in Afghanistan prompts food aid concerns.  Lancet 2002;359:1044.

[6]   Perlez J.  Individual meals from the sky.  NYT, October 8, 2001:B3.

[7]   Monbiot G.  Folly of aid and bombs. Guardian (London), October 9, 2001.  Online:

[8]   Hungry for peace: with winter near, starving Afghans need more than air-dropped relief.  San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2001:A1,A18.  Shanker T, Schmitt E.  U.S. warns Afghans that Taliban may poison relief food.  NYT, October 25, 2001:B2

[9]  Dao J.  Sergeant designs a better box for dropping food to Afghans.  NYT, October 10, 2001:B3.  Waldman A.  Food drops go awry, damaging several homes.  NYT, November 21, 2001:B2.  Becker E.  Even with roads still open, security fears are choking the flow of food aid.  NYT, November 30, 2001:B4.  Chivers CJ, Becker E.  Aid groups say warlords steal as needy wait.  NYT, January 4, 2002:A1,A15.

[10]  Nestle M, Dalton S.  Food aid and international hunger crises: the United States in Somalia.  Agriculture and Human Values 1994;11(4):19–27.  Lewis P.  Downside of doing good: disaster relief can harm.  NYT, February 27, 1999:B9.  McKinlay D.  Refugees left in the cold at “slaughterhouse” camp. Guardian (London), January 3, 2002.  Gall C.  Pleas for food, help and a way out.  NYT, January 20, 2002:A15.

[11]   Truelsen S.  Food aid and the war on terrorism.  The Voice of Agriculture.  American Farm Bureau Federation, November 5, 2001. Online: Online: 

Aug 5 2021

Response to my conflicts-of-interest post on July 19

On July 19, I did a post on a recent study comparing the nutrient composition of plant-based meat alternatives to that of grass-fed beef.  I was not surprised that the study found nutritional differences; they are to be expected.

I was surprised that “From the abstract and conclusion, the study appears to suggest that meat is nutritionally better,” but the authors said the two types “could be viewed as complementary in terms of provided nutrients. It cannot be determined from our data if either source is healthier to consume.”   That confused me.  I also was confused by the authors’ reported conflicts of interest and said so.

One reader wrote to say that I was being unfair to the authors, who are excellent scientists.

Indeed, the authors followed up with an explanation, which I offered to post here without further comment.  They agreed to that.

Dear Dr. Nestle,

Many thanks for posting about our work. We have the utmost respect for your work and we have cited your work in our papers and books (e.g., Provenza’s Nourishment). You are an influential and well-respected person, and as you noted, your followers wanted you to inform them about this paper. When reading the post about our work, we were particularly surprised that you didn’t send us an email to fact-check your points, especially since we were introduced by email on 7/7 that noted: “I’ve copied two of the researchers involved Stephan van Vliet and Fred Provenza. That way if you have any further questions, you can pose those to the researchers directly.” If you disagree, c’est la vie, but at least that would have enabled you to write an informed critique, rather than one that is speculative and, at times, incorrect.

An off-hand and speculative statement such as this one: “maybe the vegetarian was responsible for the hedging comments?” would easily have been addressed by simply sending us an email inquiring about this. We would have gladly told you that it was three of the omnivores (SVV, FDP, SK) who were particularly concerned that people would over extrapolate the data. We were especially concerned that people would interpret our data as beef being “better”. That is not what the data indicate (more on what the data does indicate below). Hence our clear and repeated statement: “It cannot be determined from our data if either source is healthier to consume.”

We are writing you this friendly note to put some context to the points that you made. We hope that you will take them as our attempt to reinforce points that we were careful to develop so our paper was not one-sided.

“So, they’re framing everything with the baseline that animal meat is “proper nutrition” which seems like a pretty obvious bias right out of the gate…”

The two words you quoted are from a much more nuanced sentence, which reads: “This has raised questions of whether plant-based meat alternatives represent proper nutritional replacements to animal meat”. This statement refers to a number of papers by different research groups (see our paper for citations) who pose that very question, which we were interested in exploring. This is much more nuanced statement than what you suggest in the blogpost, which simply states animal meat is “proper nutrition”, which, to us, feels like a twisting of our carefully chosen words.

That we are not framing meat as “proper nutrition” is further illustrated by the stated goal of this work at the end of the introduction: “Given the scientific and commercial interest in plant-based meat alternatives, the goal of our study was to use untargeted metabolomics to provide an in-depth comparison of the metabolite profiles of grass-fed ground beef and a popular plant-based meat alternative, both of which are sometimes considered as healthier and more environmentally friendly sources of “beef”.

Furthermore, we also have to be realistic here and not dance around the obvious; the goal of plant-based meat alternatives is to provide a sensory and nutritional replacement for meat, as illustrated in press releases such as Impossible’s “We are Meat”. If one were to add carotenoids and fiber to a meat sausage (see Arby’s Marrot and consider this a replacement to a carrot…. We would ask the same question: to what extent do a carrot and a meat-based carrot alternative differ nutritionally? It would be reasonable to take the carrot as the benchmark. All in all, we argue that our framing of the research question is much more nuanced than you suggested in your blogpost. “

To the question of nutritional differences, duh, indeed. Why would anyone not expect nutritional differences? From the abstract and conclusion, the study appears to suggest that meat is nutritionally better.”

As we acknowledge in the abstract “Important nutritional differences may exist between beef and novel plant-based alternatives; however, this has not been thoroughly assessed.” Please give us some credit. One of us (Fred Provenza) has studied plants and animals for over 50 years. Of course, we expected meat from a cow to differ from meat from soybeans, but the extent to which this may be the case had not been studied. Nor is this clear to the consumer who is simply looking at Nutrition Facts panels, another very important reason why we did the research. Another issue is that foods are often considered equivalent simply based on their protein content (even in dietary guidelines), but “protein foods” can be vastly different in terms of the non-protein nutrients they provide. We recommend Dr. Courtney-Martin’s editorial in AJCN titled “Is a peanut really an egg”. ( She discusses these issues in such an elegant way.

We do not suggest that meat is nutritionally better, we clearly state the following in the abstract (something you cite in your blogpost): “Amongst identified metabolites were various nutrients (amino acids, phenols, vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids, and dipeptides) with potentially important physiological, anti-inflammatory, and/or immunomodulatory roles—many of which remained absent in the plant-based meat alternative when compared to beef and vice versa. Our data indicates that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but could be viewed as complementary in terms of provided nutrients. It cannot be determined from our data if either source is healthier to consume.

The italicized portions are key: we state that some nutrients are not found in the plant-based meat alternative and some nutrients are not found in the meat. Nothing more and nothing less. We also clearly state that we cannot determine from this metabolomics analysis if one is healthier than the other. We intend to pursue that question in research with people, but based on current research we also have to be realistic and we, therefore, highlight the following: “Further work is needed to inform these discussions; however, we consider it important to not lose sight of the “bigger picture” in these discussions, which is the overall dietary pattern in which individual foods are consumed. That is arguably the predominant factor dictating health outcomes to individual foods. Of note is a recent 8-week randomized controlled trial that found that a “flexitarian approach” (swapping moderate amounts of meat with novel plant-based alternatives as part of an omnivorous diet) may have positive benefits in terms of weight control and lipoprotein profiles (e.g., LDL-cholesterol).” (

We are not particularly touting the superiority of meat in the discussion. We mention many of the potential health benefits of the compounds found in plant-based meat alternatives such as phytosterols, tocopherols, and other phenolic anti-oxidants, which were more abundant or exclusively found in the plant-based meat alternative.

“Really? If they can’t figure out which is better, why do this study?”

It is not a question of which one is better. It is about understanding potential similarities and differences. Is an almond better than an orange? That depends on the types of nutrients you are looking to get. If you want Vitamin C, an orange is preferred over an almond. If you want Vitamin E, consume the almonds. But there is also nutritional overlap, because both provide fiber and they have complementary phytonutrient profiles. A silly example perhaps when you put it like that, but that’s analogues to what we are stating in the paper.

“As for the conflicted interests: My first reaction to seeing this study was to ask: “Who paid for this?”

No funding was received for this work. The cost of the meat and plant-based meat alternatives (~$600) was paid with my [Dr. Stephan van Vliet] personal credit card (I am a post-doc and had no grant or start-up funds when I first arrived at Duke). The cost of metabolomics (~$200 per sample) was waived by Duke Molecular Physiology Institute’s Metabolomics Core. This was generously done to provide an early career investigator like myself to generate pilot data for a publication and grants.

The North Dakota Beef Association grant that I am the PI on [Dr. Stephan van Vliet] is $135k (not a very big grant) and supports a 4-week RCT that studies cardiovascular risk biomarkers and metabolome profiles in response to eating beef as part of a traditional (whole food) vs standard American diet. Various epidemiological studies suggest that when red meat is consumed as part of a whole foods diet, the associated risk with CVD becomes neutral, whereas eating red meat as part of a standard American diet is associated with increased disease risk. We are testing/falsifying this hypothesis prospectively in a short-term RCT and are exploring potential mechanisms by which this may or may not be the case. This work has nothing to do with plant-based meat alternatives.

The Turner Institute of Ecoagriculture ($27.5k) and the Dixon Foundation ($12.5k) are pilot grants to run metabolomics on grass-fed vs grain-fed bison and beef, respectively. The USDA-NIFA-SARE grant is collecting both plant (crops + fruit) and animal (eggs + beef) food samples from farms that use agroecological principles such as integrated crop-livestock systems. Here we are asking the question: How do practices that potentially stimulate soil health and plant diversity impact the healthfulness of animal and plant foods for human consumption? To be clear, we are also studying crop samples (soy, corn, and peas) some of which may go into alternative protein production.

My [Stephan van Vliet] conflict-of-interest policy is also essentially similar to yours: I accept funding for travel, hotels, meals, and meeting registrations, but I do not accept personal honoraria, consulting fees, or any other financial payments from such groups. A simple email could have cleared that up, but I will make sure that I state this more clearly in future papers.

Of course, we understand the public suspicion about research funding and undue influence. If a certain funding agency doesn’t like the data or the proposal and they don’t want to fund any of our projects then that is what it is, but we would not risk our reputation and career for a few research dollars or to please the funding agency. That’s why we are pushing back on this. Fred Provenza, especially, has been critical of the way beef is produced in confinement feeding operations (e.g., see recent paper, so the suggestion that we are beef industry defendants rather than independent scientists does sting a bit.

At the same time, we would also be lying if we didn’t think about where funding comes from. However, the harsh reality is that without foundation/commodity funds for scientific research, there would be much less research, much of which has also proven valuable over time. Even with our USDA grant, one could argue that the reason we are funded is because we wrote a good proposal, but also because our proposed work can presumably benefit the US Farm Bill. Is that true independence? All we know is that we should be transparent (hence our detailed competing interest statement) and let the data speak for itself (hence we attached our full data set as supplementary materials and deposited raw data files on metabolomics workbench), which is what we aimed to do in our Sci Rep paper.

We appreciate your concerns. We will certainly take these into account as we move forward and continue to be critical of our work. We hope you also consider our concerns and are willing to keep an open and friendly dialogue.


Stephan van Vliet

Fred Provenza

Scott Kronberg

Jun 28 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: Almonds

By this time, a great many research studies have associated eating nuts—of any kind—with good health.  Nuts have fats and, therefore, calories (150-200 per ounce).

The nut industry would like to minimize concerns about fats and calories.  It funds research to demonstrate that nut fats are healthy (which they are) and that you don’t have to worry about the calories (which you do, depending on what else you eat).  Hence:

The study: Almond Bioaccessibility in a Randomized Crossover Trial: Is a Calorie a Calorie?  Nishi SK, et al.  Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2021;nn(n):1-12, Published April 11, 2021.

Methods: This is a clinical trial in which subjects with hyperlipidemia consumed about 1 or 2 ounces a day of almonds versus muffins with equivalent calories.

Results: “Almond-related energy bioaccessibility was 78.5%±3.1%, with an average energy loss of 21.2%±3.1% (40.6 kcal/d in the full-dose almond phase).”

Conclusion:  “Energy content of almonds may not be as bioaccessible in individuals with hyperlipidemia as predicted by Atwater factors, as suggested by the increased fat excretion with almond intake compared with the control.”

Comment #1: The authors went to a lot of expensive trouble to demonstrate what has been known for a long time: almonds as typically consumed have only about 80% of the calories listed in standard tables.  This is because some of the fat is excreted rather than absorbed.  Chewing is not as efficient as machine grinding in separating fat from fiber.  When nuts are machine ground, their fats are more fully released and their calories similar to values obtained in calorimeters.

So guess who paid for this?

Grant Support: …the Almond Board of California…[and several other sources].

Potential competing interests: Where to begin?  The list takes three full columns of printed page.  Several of the authors report grants or consulting arrangements with entities such as the Almond Board of California, American Peanut Council, International Nut & Dried Fruit Council (INC), International Tree Nut Council Research and Education Foundation, California Walnut Commission, Peanut Institute, and the International Tree Nut Council.  But authors also report funding relationships that seem irrelevant to this study, such as the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Ocean Spray, the Saskatchewan & Alberta Pulse Growers Associations, and Beyer Consumer Care.  Even odder are reports of an honorarium from the USDA for a lecture; travel support from the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism to produce mini cases for the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA); and, most unnecessarily, a book about vegetarian diets published by the daughters of one of the authors.

Comment #2:  I think disclosure statements like these are disrespectful of the disclosure requirement.  In this case, because several of the authors have so many financial relationships with food and drug companies, a listing of the nut-industry connections would have sufficed.  These alone would make it clear that these authors have conflicted interests that might deserve consideration in interpreting the study results.

Feb 4 2021

A collection of unusual food items

I like posting collections of items on Thursdays.  Here are some fun ones.

Food anyone?  Enjoy!