by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

Nov 18 2009

Chocolate milk redux: Nutrifluff vs. Policy

First, the “Nutrifluff,” my term for research with results that are intriguing but of unknown clinical significance.  I thank everyone who sent me links to the New York Times account of the new study linking chocolate milk to reduced inflammation.  It quotes the lead author:  “Since atherosclerosis is a low-grade inflammatory disease of the arteries, regular cocoa intake seems to prevent or reduce [it].”   But the giveaway is the next magic words that cover all bases: “more studies needed.”

The study suggests – but in no way proves – that drinking chocolate milk reduces the risk of coronary artery disease.  Inflammation is an intermediate marker of suggestive but unconfirmed clinical implications.  More research is needed, indeed.

Next, policy.  Recall the fuss over chocolate milk (see previous post on the topic)?   Marlene Schwartz of the Rudd Center at Yale has posted an explanation of her views on the matter.

The “chocolate milk controversy” story this week is not about nutrition; it’s about marketing…They explain that “more than half of all flavored milk is sold in schools,” and “the importance of flavored milk goes beyond the school market because it is a key growth area for milk processors.”

They are trying to sell their product. There is nothing wrong with that as long as their marketing efforts are not misleading. Chocolate milk is not the nutritional equivalent of regular milk. It is significantly higher in calories, sugar (often high fructose corn syrup), sodium, and usually contains artificial colors and flavors.

In the promotional video on YouTube, expert dieticians acknowledged that chocolate milk has about 60 more calories per serving than regular milk, but then quickly added that “in the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing compared to the amount of nutrients they are going to be getting.”

That sounded really familiar.

“In the grand scheme of things, these calories don’t count” is exactly what we heard from David Mackay, the CEO of Kellogg in his defense of marketing his company’s high-sugar cereals: “Twelve grams of sugar is 50 calories. A presweetened cereal as part of a regular diet for kids is not a bad thing.”

50 calories here, 60 calories there, and pretty soon we are talking about real weight gain.

Our research has found that children will eat low-sugar cereals and drink white milk when these are the foods that are served. We also found that most children will also eat a piece of fruit if you prompt them to take it. School cafeterias are the perfect place to reinforce the nutrition lessons that begin at home and promote nutrient-dense foods.

If chocolate milk were the only treat children were exposed to in schools, it would not be nearly as much of a problem.  But it is not.  In many schools, kids are offered sweet treats all day long (birthday celebrations, rewards from teachers, etc) or exposed to those readily available from vending machines.  So sweet foods have become the norm.  Norms are hard to change, but let’s at least not make them worse.

Nov 10 2009

Raise your hand for chocolate milk?

Thanks to Marlene Schwartz of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale for alerting me to this Associated Press report about the new dairy industry campaign to rescue chocolate milk from the food police.  This, you will not be surprised to hear, is the latest activity funded by the milk checkoff program, a USDA-administered program that requires certain commodity producers to contribute funds to a kitty to be used for generic marketing.  One such program is MilkPep, the incredibly well funded marketing group that together with the Dairy Council invented the “Got Milk” mustache campaign.

MilkPep is now the proud defender of chocolate milk against efforts to get it out of schools.  Why would anyone be so mean as to want to do that?  Maybe because chocolate milk has more sugar and calories than plain milk?  No matter.  MilkPet is stepping up to the plate.  Its $500,000 to $1,000,000 “raise your hand for chocolate milk” campaign takes on those pesky nutrition advocates who think that kids ought to be eating something other than sweets in schools.

The rationale for the campaign?  If you get rid of chocolate milk, kids won’t drink milk.  You will deprive kids of the nutrients in milk and contribute to the “milk deficit.”   After all, this rationale goes, chocolate milk is better than soda (Oops.  Didn’t we just hear something like this relative to the Smart Choices fiasco?).

OK.  Let’s look at what this is really about:

  • Schools represent sales of 460 million gallons of milk – more than 7% of total milk sales
  • More than half (54%) of flavored milk is sold in schools
  • Chocolate milk is a key growth area for milk processors

MilkPep has produced a slide show to help companies take action (I apologize for not linking to it but I have not yet succeeded in uploading a large file, despite many attempts).  The slides advise allies to go on a “chocolate milk offensive”:

  • Do public relations
  • Get bloggers on board
  • Engage moms through social media
  • Take advantage of SuperBowl ads – the campaign intends to fund one
  • Reach out to media

Doesn’t this sound like something ripe for satire?  Colbert!  We need you!

Additions:  Do not miss the YouTube version.  And here’s theofficial MilkPep press release.  Note the testimonials to the benefits of chocolate milk.  It’s a health food!

Jul 1 2009

Horizon organics alert: here comes “natural”

Horizon, the commercial organic milk producer, is introducing  its first new non-organic products for children.   These will be labeled “natural,” not organic.   Horizon’s press people say the products “don’t contain growth hormones and will be easier on the pocketbook…These are our first natural offerings in the marketplace, and Horizon always tries to provide great-tasting products for moms and for families.”  Really?

“Natural” is an odd term.  It has no regulatory meaning.   Meats that are “natural” are supposed to be minimally processed and if their labels say they were produced without antibiotics or hormones the statements have to be truthful and not misleading.  As I discussed in What to Eat, meat retailers can’t tell the difference between “natural” and organic and neither can a lot of consumers.  Retailers are happy to charge the same high prices for the “natural” products and consumers think they are buying organics.  This is not a good situation.

So why would a company ostensibly devoted to the principles and practice of organics suddenly decide to start marketing “natural” products?  For the answer, I defer to Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute who sent this message today:

The rumors have now been confirmed.  Dean Foods’ WhiteWave division has now announced that they will bring out “natural” (conventional) dairy products under the Horizon label.  This at a time when organic dairy farmers around the country are in financial crisis due to a glut of milk.

They are in essence creating a new product category, “natural dairy products,” that will directly compete with certified organic farmers and the marketers they partner with.

This move comes on the heels of the recent decision by Dean/WhiteWave to switch almost the entire product offerings of their Silk soymilk and soyfoods line to “natural” (conventional) soybeans.  They made the switch to conventional soybeans, in Silk products, without lowering the price.  Sheer profiteering.

The likelihood is that they will create this new category and enjoy higher profits than they currently realize having to pay those pesky organic dairy farmers a livable wage.

The news story below, from the Natural Foods Merchandise quotes Dean Foods/WhiteWave officials saying these products will be “easier on the pocketbook.”  Yes, they will be designed to undercut certified organic on price.

Horizon is the largest, in terms of dollar volume, organic brand in the marketplace.  Silk holds the leading market share in soyfoods and was once, prior to Dean Foods’ acquisition, a 100% organic company and brand.

SHAME!

Stay tuned.  Dean Foods has just declared war on the organic industry.  Although the first shot has been fired it will not be the last.

The organic farmers, consumers and ethical business people who built this industry did so in effort to create an alternative food system with a different set of values.  We will all work hard to defend what so many good people spent so many years to create.

Mark A. Kastel

Senior Farm Policy Analyst

The Cornucopia Institute

Apr 8 2009

Great news: probiotic ice cream!

Now here’s news we’ve all been waiting for: Brazilian food scientists have invented probiotic ice cream.  Probiotics, as you no doubt have heard, are bacteria like the ones that ferment milk into yogurt.  These are supposed to do great things for your health.  As I discuss in What to Eat, there is some – but not terribly compelling – evidence to back up this claim.

This product apparently looks and tastes like ice cream, but supposedly replaces nasty bacteria in your intestines with friendlier types.    But wait!  I thought freezing killed off most of those friendly bacteria.  Frozen yogurt has less fat than ice cream, but it also has way fewer bacteria than regular yogurt.

If this stuff ever gets onto the market, I’ll bet its makers advertise the number of bacteria they put into the ice cream, but don’t say a word about how few survived freezing and storage.

Functional foods (those designed to have some nutritional benefit beyond the nutrients in the food) are about marketing, not health.   They are supposed to make you feel good while eating lots of ice cream.

I don’t need probiotics to feel good about eating ice cream.  Especially ginger ice cream.  Or peach.

Added comment, April 9: Does freezing kill probiotic bacteria?  Yes it does, although “most” is an exaggeration.  As I discuss is What to Eat, the National Yogurt Association standards for regular yogurt require 100 million live bacteria per gram; its standard for frozen yogurt is 10 million bacteria per gram – a ten-fold decrease.   In bacterial terms, both are small numbers.  In any case, these bacteria may be good for you (and I emphasize the uncertainty), but watch out for the calories!

Mar 2 2009

Today’s chocolate problem: cow burps

Today’s snow storm has closed New York schools and cancelled my scheduled lecture on Staten Island.  This unexpected holiday gives me time to contemplate the latest challenge to marketers of chocolate candy: gas emissions from dairy cows.

Cadbury estimates that 60% of the carbon footprint created by its chocolate operations in the U.K. comes from dairy cows.  The average cow, it says, gives off 80 to 120 kilograms of methane annually, an amount equivalent to that produced by driving a car for a year.

The remedy?  Reduce cow burps.   How?  Cadbury is going to try feeding them more clover, more starch, and less fiber, and treating them better.

Will this work?  If it does, will you buy more Cadbury chocolate?

Feb 11 2009

The latest weird food idea: osteoblast milk product

I had never heard of OMP (osteoblast milk product or protein) until this morning when a reporter from the Associated Press in Beijing sent me an e-mail about it.  A milk company in China, it seems, is adding OMP to its milk and the Chinese food safety agency is investigating. The companies say OMP is safe and FDA-approved.

It didn’t take long to find out what this is about.  Japanese investigators isolated a protein, kininogen, from milk and demonstrated in laboratory experiments that it promotes bone growth.  These and other experiments in rats and people also show that it stimulates bone formation (I haven’t read them so I can’t comment on their quality).

FDA approved?  Not exactly.  In response to a petition from a company called Snow Foods, the FDA agreed that the use of milk proteins as additives to dairy foods is GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for human consumption.  But its “approval” letter assumes that the proteins are mainly lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase, which are pretty well known to be safe. The FDA’s letter says nothing about the use of kininogen as a bone-promoting agent.

I can see why the Chinese government is concerned.  It is one thing to demonstrate the effects of a protein in experiments, and quite another to add that protein to a food likely to be consumed by children.  The protein is already in milk and there is no evidence that adding more of it will make any difference to bone growth.   Without further studies to make sure that adding this protein does no harm, putting it into milk seems like a bad idea.

This seems like more about marketing than health, and it sounds like it is part of the huge current effort to sell more milk to the Chinese people.  I am bewildered by the pressure on the Chinese population to drink more milk and eat more milk products.  Aren’t most Chinese sensitive to undigested lactose?  None of this makes any sense to me.  Milk is not an essential nutrient or food and the Chinese have done fine for millennia without it.

I will be watching the unfolding of this story with much interest.  Stay tuned.

Jul 22 2008

Guess the sponsor: rbGH milk study

Even I am astonished by this one. Greg Miller of the National Dairy Council sends me all the studies that favor eating dairy products.  This one is a classic (of sorts) from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association .  The study compares the nutrient value of conventional milk, rbGH-free milk, and organic milk and finds–surprise!–no significant difference. In case you need a reminder, rbGH is recombinant bovine growth hormone, the genetically engineered hormone that increases milk production in cows.  Monsanto makes it.  OK, class: it’s quiz time.  The study has ten authors.  Guess who seven of them work for (or used to work for)? Guess who paid for the study?  And what are the other three authors doing there?

Mar 12 2008

Monsanto’s attack on no-BGH labels

Monsanto, the maker of recombinant bovine growth hormone (scientific name, recombinant bovine somatotropin or rBST; trade name, Posilac), is embarked on a national state-by-state campaign to get legislatures to rule that food products cannot be labeled that they are rBGH-free or rBST-free. In his weekend column, The Feed, Andrew Martin details how Monsanto has organized its very own “grass-roots” group, Afact, to campaign on the company’s behalf. As Martin puts it, “consumer demand for more natural products…has certainly interfered with Monsanto’s business plan for Posilac.” As I discuss in my book, Safe Food, Monsanto’s aggressive stance (in this and so many other issues that concern its products) has elicited much suspicion of its motives and of genetically modified foods in general. In 1994, Monsanto worked hard to convince the FDA that GM foods did not have to be labeled as such. Now, this company has only itself to blame for consumer resistance to its products.