by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fruits-and-vegetables

Nov 11 2010

Three reports: eat more fruits and vegetables

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has just published a review and assessment of the nutritional needs of the populations served by the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), with recommendations for revising the program’s meal requirements.

CACFP supports the nutrition and health of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals—more than 3 million infants and children and more than 114,000 impaired or older adults, primarily from low-income households. CACFP meals must meet regulations designed to ensure that participants receive high-quality, nutritious foods.

The IOM says that USDA should:

  • Fix the meal requirements to promote eating more fruits and vegetables,  whole grains, and foods that are lower in fat, sugar, and salt.
  • Offer training and technical assistance to providers.
  • Review and update the Meal Requirements to maintain consistency with current dietary guidance.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation, the non-profit educational arm of the fruit and vegetables industries, recently issued its 2010 State of the Plate Report.  The major findings:

  • Only 6% of individuals achieve their recommended target for vegetables; 8% achieve their recommended target for fruit in an average day.
  • Vegetable achievement levels (vs. targeted levels) follow a standard bell-shaped curve, with half of individuals consuming between 40-70% of their target. The picture is less favorable for fruit, however, as two-thirds don’t even consume half of their recommended number of cups of fruit.
  • Children under the age of 12 and females 55 and older are most likely to achieve their fruit target. Males ages 55 and older, teens, and children under the age of 6 are most likely to achieve their vegetable target.The average person consumes 1.8 cups of fruits and vegetables per day or about 660 cups annually. Vegetables account for 60% of this average, while fruit represents 40%.
  • Per capita fruit and vegetable consumption (in cups) has remained fairly stable overall during the past 5 years….Berries, apple juice, and bananas have all shown growth since 2004.
  • Several groups have increased their fruit consumption by at least 5% since 2004. These include children ages 2-12, males 18-34, and females 18-54.
  • Older adults are eating fewer fruits and vegetables compared to just 5 years ago. Men and women aged 65 and over have decreased their intake nearly 10% vs. 2004 levels.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation’s 2010 GAP Analysis,  correlates the gap between consumption and recommendations to the ways in which USDA funding priorities ignore fruits and vegetables.  The report is hard to read and goes on and on, but its thrust is understandable.

The Foundation wants the USDA to spend a greater proportion of its dollars on fruits and vegetables, rather than on meat and dairy foods. USDA’s current allocations for subsidies look like this:

  • Meat: 54.7%
  • Grains (which mostly go to feed animals): 18.0%
  • Dairy (non-butter): 11.4%
  • Fats and oils: 6.2%
  • Fruits and vegetables: 9.8%

These reports aim to align agricultural policy with health policy, and about time too.

Sep 11 2010

The latest in marketing genius: “Baby” Carrots

Eat them like junk food! That’s the slogan of the new, over-the-top advertising campaign for “baby” carrots. I put “baby” in quotes because they aren’t.

I hate to be the one to break this to you but baby carrots are plain old ordinary adult carrots, cut and scraped into baby-size pieces.

Mind you, I’m a nutritionist and we do love carrots. And the CDC says only about one-quarter of Americans eat three servings of vegetables a day.

But $25 million to sell them on the basis of sex (I’m not kidding) or, violence (sigh)?

Well, at least they aren’t marketing these to kids.  For that, we have to go back a few years to the Sponge Bob “baby” carrots of 2006 or so (see below).  I haven’t seen those packages lately.  Guess that idea didn’t work.

Will this new campaign work any better?

[Thanks to Michael Bulger for sending the links.]

Mar 13 2010

The fate of vitamins in vegetables, stored and cooked

Nothing about nutrition is simple.

I was intrigued by the Observatory column in the New York Times last week.  USDA researchers showed that supermarket spinach stored under continuous fluorescent light retained more vitamins than spinach stored in the dark for at least 9 days.  Their hypothesis: the light promotes continued photosynthesis and protects against degradation.

I was curious to know whether they measured vitamin C.  I checked the article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (February 2010, DOI: 10.1021/jf903596v).  Indeed they did.  This seems odd because this vitamin is well known to be degraded by light.  That is why orange juice is usually stored in opaque containers.  One explanation might be that orange juice is stored a lot longer than 9 days.

Cooking also destroys vitamin C.  While I was looking for that article I came across this one, which describes experiments looking at the effects of common cooking practices (boiling, microwaving, and steaming) on beneficial antioxidants and phytochemicals in Brussels sprouts.

Steaming increased phytochemicals in fresh and frozen sprouts.  Boiling did too, but only in the fresh vegetables.  Cooking reduced phytochemical content in frozen samples.  Microwaving was the best cooking method for retaining color and vitamin activity.  As expected, all cooking methods destroyed vitamin C.

So what to make of this?  Eat a mixture of cooked and uncooked vegetables and the vitamins will take care of themselves.  If you do cook, steaming is great and microwaving is better for preserving vitamin activity.  For vitamin C, raw wins every time.

Happy weekend!

Feb 12 2010

Bagged salads: safe or not?

Consumers Union tested a couple of hundred samples of bagged salads, organic and not.   The results? Nearly 40% contained levels of coliform bacteria higher than safety standards.  Coliforms indicate fecal contamination.  This is disgusting to think about but does not make anyone sick.

So the Consumers Union results could be reassuring or not, depending on whether you are an optimist or pessimist.  Yes, the coliform levels were high, but none of the samples contained toxic forms of E. coli, such as O157:H7.

Still, the high frequency suggests that bagged salads need either much better washing or much better maintenance of the cold chain (so the bacteria don’t grow), or both.  If nothing else, the report is a good reason why it’s important to give bagged salads a thorough washing before you eat them or serve them to anyone.

Consumers Union makes a big point of the need to get food safety legislation moving.  The House passed its version of a bill at the end of last July.  The Senate hasn’t budged on its bill.   In the meantime, we still have major national outbreaks and recalls.

The most recent?  225 people in 44 states plus the District of Columbia ill from Salmonella because they ate salami coated with contaminated black pepper. We still don’t have a food safety system that works.  We need one fast.

Nov 23 2009

You heard it here: the hot trend is cupuaçu (?)

What, you may well ask, is cupuaçu?  I confess never having heard of it but thank heavens for Wikipedia, which explains in somewhat limited detail that it is a chocolate-like tree with a sweet fruit.  Botanically, it is a Theobroma in the chocolate family.

Mintel, the market research firm, identifies it as the newest antioxidant-rich fruit craze.  It says this fruit is not only rich in antioxidants, but also in vitamins, essential fatty acids and amino acids.  Well, yes, but so are all fruits to a greater or lesser extent.  But never mind.  Anything this exotic has to be a marketers’ dream “superfruit,” no?

Can’t wait to taste it.  If you know anything about this, do say, especially about how it might taste.

Mintel has six other predictions for upcoming hot trends:  sweet potato, cardamom, rose water, hibiscus, and Latin spices. Yum.  Aren’t you happy to be the first to know?

Oct 27 2009

More veggies for kids and communities

For kids:

The Institute of Medicine has a new report out on setting standards for school meals.  As easily seen in the report summary, the committee offered three main recommendations:

* Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

* Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories

* Focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium

Its report comes with a handy table summarizing the differences between current breakfast standards and those recommended by the IOM committee.  These are refreshingly food-based and follow the three main principles noted above.

For communities:

New York City’s ever active health department did a study on the availability of fruits and vegetables in low-income areas and found just what you might expect – few, if any, supermarkets carrying fresh produce.  To address the gap, the city has instituted the FRESH program, “Food Retail Expansion to Support Health,” to get healthier foods into the inner city.

So much is going on these days that it is hard to keep up with it.  Enjoy!

Aug 12 2009

What the FDA is doing while waiting for Congress to get busy

The FDA must be in a bit of a quandary as it waits to see what Congress orders it to do about food safety (see previous post).  But it is not sitting around doing nothing.  Instead, it seems to be unblocking regulations that have been in the works for a long time.

On July 9, the FDA announced a final rule for prevention of Salmonella Enteriditis contamination of shell eggs during production, storage, and transportation.  This might seem unremarkable except for two points: (1) it requires science-based food safety procedures – with pathogen testing – from farm to table (an all-time first), and (2) it was first proposed in 2004 and has been stuck ever since (that’s politics for you).

On July 31, the FDA proposed safety guidance for melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens that would apply to everyone involved in the supply chains for these foods – growers, packers, processors, transporters, retailers, and others.  Guidance, alas, is just that: voluntary.  But this puts the producers of such foods on alert that the guidance could swiftly turn into rules  if Congress gets busy and does what it ought to be doing about food safety.  The guidance is open for comment but it is designed to be implemented within two years.  This is quick in FDA regulatory time.

And now the FDA announces that it is speeding up its system for issuing warning notices to companies in violation of safety regulations.  This is a good step, although it falls far short of recall authority.  For that, Congress must act.

Applaud the FDA and keep fingers crossed that no new outbreaks occur while Congress takes its own sweet time to act.

Aug 4 2009

USDA carrot stats

The USDA does wonderful reports on arcane agricultural matters (maybe specialized is a better word than arcane?).  Whatever.  This one is about carrots.  Anything you want to know about carrot production and use?  Here it is.