by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Kellogg

Sep 5 2009

Kellogg’s asks for a Froot Loops correction. More on Smart (?) Choices

Froot Loops

Earlier this week, I received a phone call from Dr. Celeste Clark, Kellogg’s senior vice president for global nutrition, corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer.

She had seen my previous blog post on the Smart Choices program, and wanted me to know that Froot Loops has been reformulated to contain 3 grams of fiber, not less than 1 gram, as I had posted, and that  in all fairness, I ought to post the new version.  Sure.  Happy to.  Here it is.Froot Loops_Nutrition Facts

This higher fiber product, of course, gets us into the philosophical question:  Is a somewhat-better-for-you, highly processed food really a good choice?  Does the additional 2.5 grams of fiber convert this product to a health food?  Whether Froot Loops really is a better choice than a doughnut as the Smart Choices program contends, seems debatable.

If I read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list correctly, Froot Loops cereal contains:

  • No fruit
  • Sugar as the first ingredient (meaning the highest in weight–41%)
  • Sugar as 44% of the calories
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and, therefore, trans fat (although less than half a gram per serving so the label can read zero)

But with an implied endorsement from the American Society of Nutrition, which is managing the Smart Choices program, I guess none of that matters.  Or maybe the added fiber cancels all that out?

I pointed out to Dr. Clark that I had just bought the fiberless Froot Loops at a grocery store in midtown Manhattan, which means the old packages must still be on the market.

I discussed this and other such products with William Neuman of the New York Times whose reporting on the Smart Choices program appears on the front page of today’s business section under the title, “For your health, Froot Loops.  Industry-backed label calls sugary cereal a ‘Smart Choice.'”

According to his well reported account, Kellogg’s and other participating companies pay up to $100,000 for that seal.  No wonder the American Society of Nutrition and everyone else involved in the program want to set nutrition standards so loosely that they can encompass as many products as possible.   The more products that qualify for the Smart Choices logo, the more money the program gets.  I’d call that a clear conflict of interest.

Neuman managed to find nutritionists who defend the program.  I am not one of them.

Update September 6: CBS did a story on Smart Choices (I’m interviewed in it)

Update September 9: The American Society of Nutrition must be getting a bit defensive about the negative publicity, as well it should be.  It has issued an explanation to members.

Jun 4 2009

The latest functional foods!

Functional foods, you may recall, are those to which nutrients are added beyond those already in the foods.  The latest example from Unilever: calcium-enriched ice cream!  The philosophy: “better-for-you” foods will improve health.  Maybe, but is functional ice cream a good choice?

Functional foods differ from fortified foods, in which nutrients lost during processing are replaced.  The addition of iron to white flour, for example, replaces the iron lost during the milling of whole wheat.  Its replacement helps prevent iron-deficiency anemia.

So I suppose you can consider Kellogg’s new fiber-enriched cereals to be a form of fortification.  The PR people tell me  that adding fiber “is another example of our continued commitment to improving the nutrition credentials of our products to meet consumers’ needs and preferences.”  Their press release explains that Kellogg is doing this as a public service to improve kids’ nutrition: it is starting with Froot Loops.

What kind of fiber and how much?  Kellogg is a bit vague on these points, but says the fiber will be a combination of whole grain corn and oat flours and fibers.  Metamucil anyone?  And why don’t they just make whole grain cereals in the first place?

That’s why I keep thinking that functional foods are about marketing, not health.

Jan 25 2009

Update on the peanut butter recalls

I was interviewed for 5 seconds on ABC News last night about the peanut butter recalls (look for Saturday, January 25, “Salmonella outbreak worsens”).  So far, nearly 500 people have become ill and there may be as many as 11 deaths.  ABC reporters were right on top of what’s happening, mainly because they participated in the FDA’s teleconference on January 21.  The transcripts of these sessions make interesting reading.  Here’s the take-home:

1.  How did Salmonella get into the peanut butter? They don’t know yet, and it’s a puzzle.  Investigators found traces of Salmonella in the plant, but  not the particular strain found in the peanut butter.

2.  Shouldn’t peanut butter be free of bacteria? Yes, in theory, because the peanuts are roasted (this should be a kill step) and bacteria do not grow well in foods that don’t have much water.  This plant roasted its own peanuts, but it also used peanuts that arrived already roasted.  These could have arrived contaminated or the contamination could have occurred at the plant.

3.  Why are so many products affected? The plant shipped two different kinds of peanut butter: the bulk kind that goes to institutions and a peanut butter ingredient that goes to factories to be turned into other products.  Both contained the particular toxic strain of Salmonella.

4.  Which products  have been found with this toxic strain? The bulk kind and Austin Sandwich Crackers made by Kellogg.  But give Kellogg credit for admirable behavior.  The company recalled its products the minute it heard about the potential problem.  By the time the FDA’s tests came back positive, Kellogg had already recalled the products.  The Kellogg website provides full disclosure.

Dec 26 2008

Do whole grains do any good?

At the request (and expense) of Kellogg’s, the Life Science Research Organization convened an expert panel to evaluate studies linking consumption of whole grains – as defined by FDA – to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Using the FDA’s definition, the panel judged the studies insufficient to support a claim that whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.  The FDA defines whole grains as whole: grains that are ground, cracked, or flaked but include all the parts in their original proportions.  When the panel expanded the definition of whole grains to include supplements of bran, germ, or fiber, the results came out better.   Supplements work better than the real thing!  Kellogg’s must be pleased with the results of its investment.

Sep 19 2007

Kellogg Unveils New Self-Promotion Campaign

Flying around the Internet is a press release from Kellogg announcing its new method for promoting the nutritional benefits of its products. Like PepsiCo’s Smart Spot and Kraft’s Sensible Solutions, Kellogg products will now have icons–based on the company’s own nutritional criteria, of course–indicating which products are “better for you.” Even better, you can participate in the launch of the new program. Register online for a panel discussion explaining how it all works. When Congress forced the FDA to permit health claims on food packages in 1990, it opened a Pandora’s box. I think we’d all be better off if companies weren’t allowed to do this. Surely, all the different methods of self-evaluation must be confusing, no?

Sep 6 2007

Kellogg’s Nutrition at a Glance?

I get sent lots of food company press releases and this one is just in. Kellogg’s is announcing its new nutrition labeling for cereal boxes. Useful? Or even more confusing?

Jun 29 2007

More on Kellogg’s Nutrition Announcement

I always worry that when it comes to preventing childhood obesity, food companies that make junk foods for kids are stuck. They must continue to increase sales every quarter in order to please stockholders. This requirement forces them to engage in contradictory activities. Take a look at what Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts, has to say on his blog about Kellogg’s new Froot Loops cereal straws and decide for yourself.

Jun 14 2007

Kellogg’s Nutrition Announcement

In an announcement quite similar to one made by Kraft a few years ago, Kellogg today said that it will stop promoting most of its junk foods to children under age 12 (see news release). Here is my comment:

Kellogg has been one of the most active companies in marketing junk foods to children—sugary cereals, Pop-Tarts, and Cheez-Its come to mind (see the chapter on “Foods Just for Kids” in What to Eat). That is why Center for Science in the Public Interest singled Kellogg out as a target for a potential lawsuit. Kellogg responded by taking a good hard look at company practices and agreeing to fix some of the worst. Let’s give the company credit for making impressive promises. But the proof will be in what it actually does. If Kellogg starts to lose sales as a result of the promised changes, the improvements are unlikely to last and the company will find other ways to market its products to kids. I say this because my conversation with a Kellogg official earlier this week was a word-for-word duplicate of one I had with an official of Kraft a few years ago when Kraft announced that it was reformulating its products and would be limiting its marketing to kids. Kraft did indeed make some of its promised changes but as some students of mine demonstrated last year, the company is still actively engaged in marketing junky foods to children (see paper by Lewin et al). I think food companies are in an enormously difficult position on this issue. Even if they want to do the right thing and really care about kids’ health, their primary responsibility is to meet stockholders’ investment expectations. If the reformulated products don’t sell, or if overall sales decline, the companies will be forced to find other ways to generate income. Let’s hope Kellogg is able to do what it promises, and that other companies immediately follow suit.

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