by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Plant-based

Jun 11 2024

Interesting study of the week I: diet and Alzheimer’s

This seems to be a slow news week so I’m going to get caught up on research papers I think worth reading.

I first heard about this study from this video, from Dr. Greger’s newsletter announcement (I subscribe).

Here’s the study: Ornish D, et al.  Effects of intensive lifestyle changes on the progression of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized, controlled clinical trial.  Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy volume 16, Article number: 122 (2024).

It put 50 or so people in their 70s or older on “an intensive multidomain lifestyle intervention compared to a wait-list usual care control group” for 20 weeks.

People on the lifestyle intervention—diet, exercise, stress management, group support—did better.

The first author, Dean Ornish, runs a lifestyle modification program.

Comment: Wouldn’t this be terrific!  At the very least it is further evidence for the health benefits of a largely (not necessarily exclusively) plant-based diet.  Eating plant foods is strongly associated with prevention of any number of undesirable conditions.  The Alzheimer’s Association already recommends the DASH or Mediterranean diet patterns; both are plant based.

Eat your veggies.  Do so cannot hurt and might help—a lot.

Feb 29 2024

How to sell plant-based products: Use red packaging?

The headline got my attention: New study finds meat eaters are more willing to try plant-based products when packaged in red.

This e-mailed press release came from ProVeg International, a German “food awareness organisation with the mission to replace 50% of animal products globally with plant-based and cultivated foods by 2040.”

A groundbreaking new report released by ProVeg International, titled, “The Power of Colour: Nudging Consumers Toward Plant-Based Meat Consumption,” reveals key insights into the hidden influence of colour on people’s perceptions of a plant-based product’s flavour and appeal. Remarkably, simply using appealing colours in product packaging has the power to reshape consumer behaviour and prompt a shift toward plant-based meat.

Survey participants associated red with good taste,  green with health and eco-friendliness, and blue (their favorite color) with budget consciousness, but also quality.

Food companies go to a lot of trouble to encourage sales.  I knew that package color and design influence sales, but had never seen the research.

In looking at this report, I’m not sure how ProVeg came to these conclusions (this graph shows the most profound differences), but it sure is interesting to see how these things are done.   Enjoy!

Feb 8 2024

The latest on plant-based meat and dairy substitutes

It continues to be hard to keep up with what’s happening with plant-based food alternatives.  They have their fans, but also detractors.  Much depends on sales trends and their consistency.  I’m keeping on eye on this one.



Jan 19 2024

The latest roundup on plant-based meat and dairy substitutes

I am endlessly fascinated by the plant-based industry producing products to substitute for animal foods.  Here are a few samples of what’s happening in this area.



Jan 2 2024

The Stanford Twin Study: Now on Netflix!

A press release from Stanford University announced: Twin research indicates that a vegan diet improves cardiovascular health.

A Stanford Medicine-led trial of identical twins comparing vegan and omnivore diets found that a vegan diet improves overall cardiovascular health.

In a study with 22 pairs of identical twins, Stanford Medicine researchers and their colleagues have found that a vegan diet improves cardiovascular health in as little as eight weeks.

If this sounds like the basis of a Netflix documentary, it is.  Here’s the trailer.  Here’s where to find the film.

The study: Cardiometabolic Effects of Omnivorous vs Vegan Diets in Identical TwinsA Randomized Clinical Trial.

Intervention  Twin pairs were randomized to follow a healthy vegan diet or a healthy omnivorous diet for 8 weeks. Diet-specific meals were provided via a meal delivery service from baseline through week 4, and from weeks 5 to 8 participants prepared their own diet-appropriate meals and snacks.

Findings:  In this randomized clinical trial of 22 healthy, adult, identical twin pairs, those consuming a healthy vegan diet showed significantly improved low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration, fasting insulin level, and weight loss compared with twins consuming a healthy omnivorous diet.

Conclusions and Relevance  In this randomized clinical trial, we observed cardiometabolic advantages for the healthy vegan vs the healthy omnivorous diet among healthy, adult identical twins. Clinicians may consider recommending plant-based diets to reduce cardiometabolic risk factors, as well as aligning with environmental benefits.

The study has its share of detractors, American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), for example: Stanford Medicine Releases Confirmation Bias Study; Media Takes The Bait.  Its chief criticisms

  • The improvements were in biomarkers, not health.
  • Both diets were healthy,
  • Obviously, diets without cholesterol will reduce cholesterol.
  • Vitamin B12 levels were ldeficient on the vegan diet.

Comment: The ACSH is an industry-funded front group.  Low B12 is an easy problem to solve, and vegans, who by definition eat no foods of animal origin, have to make sure they complensate for its absence.

The twin idea is clever and adorable—and the reason for the press attention and for the Netflix documentary.  The study shows that vegan diets improve cardiovascular risk biomarkers in healthy people.  Why not?  This is further evidence for the benefits of largely plant-based diets.

May 9 2023

Annals of Marketing: Oatly’s climate change numbers

Quaint as it may be, I still read the print edition of the New York Times.  That way, I don’t miss things like this (May 7, pages 16 and 17).

My phone security system would not allow me to use the QR link so I went to Oatly’s climate website to find out what this was about.

Oatly’s product climate footprints are expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents (shortened to ‘CO2e’) per kilogram of packaged food product, calculated based on a life cycle assessment approach from grower to grocer. CO2e considers the effect of different greenhouse gasses, including, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The calculation, which is validated through a partnership with a leading climate change organization CarbonCloud, aggregates the emissions into one single unit based on how much of each of those greenhouse gasses is emitted and their global warming potential over a 100-year period.

This required a detour to Carbon Cloud, which, alas, does not give away its algorithm for calculating. CO2e.

The Oatly explanation continues:

Unlike nutrition labels, there is no common or mandated methodology for CO2e labeling. Until standardization and a mandate become reality, Oatly wants to encourage other companies in the food industry to put their CO2e figures on their packaging. If Oatly is only one of a few to make this commitment, it’s difficult for consumers to make informed purchases against other products in the market.

But Oatly: if there is no agreed upon methodology for these calculations, and Carbon Cloud gives no details, how are we supposed to know how seriously to take this challenge?

Cute.  Will it increase Oatly sales?

Oatly, according to Food Business News, lost money in 2022.

While management sees better days ahead, the company struggled in fiscal 2022, ended Dec. 31. Oatly incurred a loss of $393 million, greater than the loss of $212 million the year before.

Maybe two-page ads in the New York Times will help?  We will find out today.

Additions May 10

Oatly posted reduced losses in the first quarter, 2023.

Oatly’s communications director sent further information about its climate calculations:

CarbonCloud’s growth marketer sent this information:

Most of the products we have calculated footprints for – unfortunately not Oatly products – have their own footprint page on our ClimateHub with traceability through ingredients and methodology descriptions. Here’s an example from Dole:

Here’s also a couple of links to our methodology description, if you would rather read up on it on your own.

The short version / The long version

Thanks to both for sending all this.  Most helpful.

Feb 28 2023

The FDA rules on plant-based milks: a caving in pleasing nobody

At long last, the FDA revealed its proposed decision about whether plant-based milks can be called milk.

As the FDA puts it:

This draft guidance, when finalized, will represent the current thinking of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA or we) on this topic. It does not establish any rights for any person and is not binding on FDA or the public. You can use an alternative approach if it satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations.

What this is about

Simple.  The dairy industry does not like concoctions made from soy, almonds, cashews, macadamias, oats, peas, or other such plants to get to be called “milk.”  It argues that they are not as nutritious as milk and will confuse consumers into thinking they are the same.  Most surveys show that the public understands the difference quite well and has reasons for choosing plant-based alternatives that may or may not have anything to do with nutrient contents (think: animal welfare, dairy fat, environmental protection, industrial production, or what have you).

This puts the FDA in the awkward position of trying to please the public and the dairy industry at the same time.  Its solution to this dilemma is to invoke nutritionism (the use of nutrients to stand for the whole food):

  • Plant-based milks can use the word “milk” (the dairy industry doesn’t like this)
  • But they have to say which nutrients they don’t have as much of (producers of plant-based milks don’t like this).

What this will look like

The FDA says this is a voluntary, non-binding recommendation.

In case that’s too small to see:

Really, people who buy plant-based dairy alternatives are not at nutritional risk and don’t need to be told about single nutrients in products that have a great many.  This is an out-and-out caving in to the dairy industry’s fears that plant-based alternatives will further cut into milk sales at a time when milk sales are declining.

It puts plant-based milk manufacturers at risk of lawsuits if they use Milk without confessing nutritional weaknesses (for an excellent discussion of this liklihood, see Elaine Watson’s account in AgFunderNews.  She quotes lawyer Rebecca Cross:

the draft guidance, “is actually quite shocking, as it treats plant-based milks unlike any other food product.  If finalized, the guidance should not survive a First Amendment challenge.”

She added: “Although the recommended nutrient statements are not mandatory—or finalized—the draft guidance here may, unfortunately, result in frivolous class actions [plaintiffs would claim brands are misleading reasonable consumers if they choose not to make the nutrient statements recommended in the guidance]. The FDA should recognize this as well, but it seems they have unfortunately succumbed to dairy industry pressure.

So it seems.

My opinion, for whatever it’s worth: The FDA should permit plant-based milks to be called milks.  They are what they are and most people should have no trouble telling the difference between them and dairy milk.

For the record, I like dairy products.  But the dairy industry is a mess (overproduced, increasingly consolidated, fighting public health and animal welfare concerns) and needs to get its act together.  The FDA is not helping it get there with this decision.

Feb 2 2023

Update on plant-based foods: Yes, another one

I don’t care what the arguments are about plant-based meats (see Deena Shanker’s riveting piece in Bloomberg News), they and other plant-based alternatives to animal foods still look like a hot trend to me.   I base this on what pours into my inbox.

One view of the trends:

The new products:

Funding and expansions:

Marketing innovations:

Even so, the criticisms continue:

I am ever fascinated by all this. You too?  Stay tuned.


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