by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

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.

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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.

Jan 19 2008

After an outcry from consumers…

  • Pennsylvania backs down from its decision to ban labels on milk cartons that say the cows were not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone.
  • A European ethics panel says cloned animals should not be allowed on the market.
  • McDonald’s backs down from its “food prize” program (Happy Meals for good grades) in Florida.
    All that in just one day. Signs of a social movement anyone?
Jan 16 2008

Today’s question: calcium absorption

Amanda asks: “I also read that once you take the fat out of milk, it is difficult to absorb the calcium from it. Marion, can you state whether this is true?”

Oops. No. Where this idea came from, I can only guess. Fat is required for absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and E but minerals like calcium are water-soluble so would be expected to be absorbed better from watery solutions. As it turns out, calcium absorption has been measured under all kinds of fat conditions. The result: about the same proportion is absorbed from dairy products–about 30%–no matter how much fat they have. We tend to absorb smaller proportions of calcium from foods that contain a lot of oxalates (spinach and rhubarb for example). When dairy products are added to spinach, more of the spinach calcium is absorbed, so maybe that’s where the idea came from. Does this help?

And while we are on the subject, how’s this for a proposed solution to the non-problem of calcium absorption: genetically modified carrots! Bet you never thought of that one.

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