by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Diets

Oct 13 2021

Annals of international marketing: the future of Italian cuisine?

I am indebted to Bill Tonelli who took this photo on October 10 in Viterbo, Italy, about an hour outside of Rome.

The shop, he reports, sells American snacks—candy, chips, soda—with no pretense of worry about health or sustainability.

He sent me to the store’s website:

Benvenuti nel regno degli snack americani (Welcome to the kingdom of American snacks)

Tantissimi snack e bevande made in USA come Hershey’s, Reese’s, Monster Energy, Doritos, Cheetos, Dr. Pepper e tantissimi altri ti aspettano ! (And many others are waiting for you!)

This place doesn’t miss a trick: gift cards, mystery boxes (€24 to €45), gluten-free.

Mediterranean diet, anyone?

Mar 25 2021

Food company marketing for the elderly

I’m always interested in how the food industry tries to sell products to specific groups.  Here’s one of FoodNavigator’s Special Editions (collections of articles) on products the food industry is designing and trying to sell for older adults.

Special Edition: Healthy ageing: Food for an older population

Europe is ageing. By 2050 the population of over 65s is expected to reach almost 150m in the region. Gains are expected for products that cater to this older demographic by boosting immunity, as well as bone, joint, muscle, cognitive, heart, skin, eye and digestive health. FoodNavigator looks at some of the innovation strategies food makers are developing to meet the needs of older people.

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Jan 22 2021

Weekend Reading: What’s Missing from Medicine

Saray Stancic.  What’s Missing From Medicine: Six Lifestyle Changes to Overcome Chronic Illness.  Hierophant Publishing, 2021.

I don’t usually recommend books about topics other than food politics, but this one has dietary changes at its core and although I have never met the author, I greatly admire her and her work.

I first heard about Dr. Stancic, who has a practice in New Jersey, when I was invited to watch a documentary film about her, Code Blue.   I was interested to see it because I was told I appeared in it, which I did for about 10 seconds.  I don’t remember meeting her or filming it (I tend not to remember such things), but the film is impressive and well worth seeing.

It tells her personal story of how she was able to get control of her formerly debilitating multiple sclerosis with a plant-based diet and exercise—good advice for everyone.  The film goes beyond the personal and talks about why she never understood the importance of diet: lack of nutrition education in medical schools, media confusion, inadequate government policies, and the overwhelming influence of drug, food, and beverage companies.   The film moves quickly and I thought it was much better than most documentaries of this type.

What made it work for me is Stancic, who comes across as committed, but sane and likable.  I would send anyone who has MS to see her in a shot.  She’s my kind of doctor—one who listens to patients and works with them.  The film’s message leans toward veganism, but without ideology and pushed only softly even by the strongest proponents she interviewed.

The book makes the same points.  It’s great strength is that it makes lifestyle changes seem possible for anyone.

Here’s what drove her to healthier eating:

My physicians warned me that it was irresponsble to wean myself off of the ten to twelve medications I was taking daily (and that were making my life unbearable) and solely manage my MS with an “unproven lifestyle change” [i.e., diet]…I adoped a whole foods, plant-based diet becasue the overwhelming body of scientific literature pointed to those foods as the best diet for optimal health for all people.  At that point, I knew I could not face a lifetime of living as I was—with a huge pillbox, cane, diapers, and the other physical and psychological burdens of MS [p. 36].

Her advice about how to eat more plant foods is sensible and easy to follow.  I particularly like her lack of dogmatism.  In a section on common food myths, she has two about meat:

Myth 1: We need to eat meat and dairy to be healthy.  FALSE [p. 57].

Myth 2. Eating animal products of any kind is bad for your health.  FALSE [p. 59]

Most of the book is about other changes that  can help everyone cope with chronic disease: movement, stress management, sleep, avoiding substances, human connections.  All of these messages are aimed at giving us the power to control our own health, and to make doing so seem entirely possible.

I found the book inspiring.  Her wish for us:

May we eat well, relish physical and mental challenges, enjoy restorative sleep, and connect deeply with others [p. xxxiii].

This is good advice for all of us these days.

Mar 20 2020

Weekend reading: USDA’s food and agriculture charts

In this strange era of social distancing, I am catching up on items of interest, this one on USDA’s Selected Charts from Ag and Food Statistics, published in February this year.

These cover the ag and food sectors, the rural economy, land and natural resources, farm income, production, food spending and prices,  food consumption, trade, and food security.

I love charts.  These are especially informative (and date from when USDA’s Economic Research Service was still functional).

Examples:

This is one reason why China is so important to our food economy.

And here’s why the current Coronavirus crisis will be so tough on the restaurant industry:

At a glance, we can see what dietary recommendations ought to be saying, although the grouping together of meat, eggs, and nuts is not particularly helpful in understanding what’s going on here.

 

The other charts—there are lots of them—are worth a look and have much to teach.  They make me even sadder about the loss of two-thirds of ERS staff when USDA moved the agency to Kansas City.

Jan 8 2020

Millennial food purchases: in China, birds’ nests

I am indebted to FoodNavigator-Asia.com for this intriguing bit of food news: “Health is wealth: Younger Chinese consumers make up 60% of bird’s nest purchases on JD.com.”

According to data collected by JD….consumption of bird’s nest was growing fast among this group of highly educated younger generation. The data also found that the average annual growth rate of bird’s nest sales on JD.com grew at more than 50% over the past five years…. “the younger generation in China, especially those born after 1990s are paying more attention to health as they are busy and might not eat well or rest enough.”

While edible bird’s nest is a nourishing food long prized in Chinese culture for promoting good health and skin benefits, it used to be exclusively reserved for the Chinese royal family due to its rarity and high price. However…it was now much “easier and convenient for everyday consumers to buy high-quality bird’s nest at a good price online.”

Edible bird’s nests are widely available for purchase in the U.S., imported, and not cheap.

See, for example:

  Venture capitalists: I see an opportunity here.

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Sep 3 2019

For the record: I am an omnivore

My Twitter feed over the Labor Day weekend was full of messages like this one:

It took me a while to figure out what they were talking about, but eventually I was sent a link to a story in Vice about people who became ill on vegan diets. The article quotes me:

“Most healthy people should be able to adapt to an all-plant diet,” says Marion Nestle, nutritionist, professor, and James Beard Award-winning author. She emphasizes eating a “variety of plant food sources, taking in enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, and finding a good source of vitamin B12.”

The article describes the health problems reported by some followers of vegan diets.  It quotes me again:

Nestle notes these problems are more associated with “starvation” than a standard plant-based diet, which “should not cause people to lose weight or have any of those issues.” However, Nestle adds that a diet high in fibrous plants can take time to adapt to, and people who have been advised to eat a low-fiber diet “will have problems eating a wide enough variety of plant foods to meet nutrient needs.” In other words, many of these influencers may be masking disordered eating habits that are unsustainable.

So, in answer to the tweets:

  • I am an omnivore.
  • I do not endorse vegan or any other kind of diet.
  • I believe that many widely different dietary patterns can support good health.
  • It is possible, but not always easy, to eat healthfully on a vegan diet.

Healthy diets generally contain a wide variety of relatively unprocessed foods in adequate but not excessive amounts.

There are lots of good ways of doing this.  Enjoy!

Apr 15 2019

Industry-funded opinion of the week: diets for diabetes

This is one of an ongoing series of examples of how industry funding skews, or to be more precise, is strongly associated with skewing, of research and opinion about matters of diet and health.

This example is an analysis of the scientific rigor of dietary approaches to controlling type 2 diabetes through diet.  The authors looked at the evidence for efficacy of the DASH, Mediterranean, Plant-Based, and Low-Carb diets.

Improving the Scientific Rigor of Nutritional Recommendations for Adults with Diabetes: A Comprehensive Review of the American Diabetes Association Guidelines Recommended Eating Patterns.  Hallberg S, Dockter NE, Kushner J, Athinarayanan S.  Preprints 2019.  Online March 5.  doi: 10.20944/preprints201812.0187.v2

Conclusion: “Our review of the current Standards and Recommendations finds significant shortcomings regarding scientific review methodologies, which are likely to translate to suboptimal clinical care decisions for patients with T2D.”  The study dismisses most studies of the DASH, Mediterranean, and Plant-based diets as poorly done or otherwise inappropriate for their review.  For the DASH diet, it says more research is needed.  It calls for more research on whether the benefits of Mediterranean diets are due to low carb or healthy fats, and suggests that the benefits of plant-based diets may be due to weight loss.  The best evidence supports the Low-Carb diet: “Evidence from 30 trials and 10 follow-up studies demonstrates that a low-carbohydrate diet is an effective dietary approach for addressing dyslipidemia.”

Conflict of Interest Statement:  SJH is an employee and shareholder of Virta Health, a for-profit company that provides remote diabetes care using a low-carbohydrate nutrition intervention, and serves as an advisor for Atkins Corp.  NED is a paid consultant for Virta Health.  JAK serves as medical director of McNair Interests, a private equity group with investments in type 1 diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and is also an advisor for Sanofi and Lexicon.

Comment:    All authors are employed by or consult for a company that uses low-carb dietary approaches in its for-profit business.  As I explain in Unsavory Truth, the influence of industry funding is often unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized.  Nevertheless, the opinions of the authors can be predicted from their financial connections to Virta Health.

 

Mar 22 2019

Weekend reading: Gandhi’s dietary aspirations

Nico Slate.  Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet: Eating with the World in Mind.  University of Washington Press, 2019.  

Image result for Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet: Eating with the World in Mind

Let’s start with my blurb:

Nico Slate’s fascinating account reveals Gandhi as an evidence-based, self-experimenting nutrition guru who tried one diet after another—vegan, raw, calorie restriction–in his quest for physical and spiritual health.  Above all, Slate explains Gandhi’s use of fasting as a political means to inspire India to achieve independence.

Gandhi, it seems, was a food faddist well ahead of his time.  The author says:

As his commitment to vegetarianism deepened, Gandhi grappled with whether he should also forgo eggs and milk.  Ultimately, he became convinced that he should become vegan, and renounced all animal products.  Living without eggs was relatively easy.  Doing without milk, by contrast, proved to be one of the greatest challenges of his life.  He experimented with almond milk, peanut milk, and other vegan alternatives.  In 1914, he vowed to abstain from all dairy products.  But after contracting a serious illness, he decided that his pledge did not include goat’s milk. [p. 47]

The book explains how Gandhi’s dietary choices were tightly linked to his politics.

The social potential of a raw diet led Gandhi to explore the cheapest source of sustenance for the poor: wild food…The greatest ethical challenge stemmed from the limitations of wild food as a remedy for poverty.  If the goal was to end hunger, changes in diet would be insufficient if they were not linked to changes in land ownership and the distribution of wealth—change that seemed as impossible as eating ginger nonviolently. [ p. 97]

And one more:

In a world marred by inequality, charity could only do so much.  Ultimately, Gandhi did not want to help the poor; he wanted to end poverty.  Over time, he developed a deeper understanding of the link between famine and imperialism.  “India suffers from starvation because there is dearth not of grain,” he explained, “but of purchasing power.”  The absence of purchasing power was, in turn, a direct result of the economic structures of British rule…Recognizing famine as a result of empire inspired Gandhi to demand India’s freedom. [p.127]