by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Processing

Nov 14 2018

Effects of ultraprocessing: fewer phenolics in corn flakes

In FoodNavigator, I read a report of a study finding that processing of corn into breakfast cereal flakes strips out phenolic compounds and tocopherols (vitamin E) associated with good health.

Just as processing of whole wheat into white flour removes the bran and germ, so does the processing of corn into corn flakes.

The germ and bran (hull) layers of grain seeds contain the vitamins and minerals—and the phenolics.  What’s left is the starch and protein (endosperm).

To replace these losses, manufacturers fortify corn flakes with 10% to 25% of the Daily Value for 12 vitamins and minerals.

This study is further evidence for the benefits of consuming relatively unprocessed foods.

Of particular interest to me is the authors’ disclosure statement:

This work was funded in part through gifts from the Kellogg Company and Dow AgroSciences.

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

This makes this study a highly unusual example of an industry-funded study with a result unfavorable to the sponsor’s interests.  The authors do not perceive Kellogg funding as a competing interest.  It is.  Kellogg (and maybe Dow) had a vested interest in the outcome of this study.

I would love to know whether these authors obtain further research grants from Kellogg and Dow.

Dec 13 2017

Canadians eat a lot of highly processed foods

The Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation has released a report on consumption of processed food consumption in Canada.

The report is based on the NOVA (not an acronym) system for classifying foods by their level of processing: unprocessed or minimally processed, processed ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods.  The last category is the one that matters; consumption of ultra-processed foods is highly correlated with obesity.

The report found:

  • Canadians consume nearly half their calories as ultra-processed foods.
  • This is true among all socioeconomic groups, except for immigrants.
  • Children aged 9-13 consume the most ultra-processed food (57% of calories)
  • The most frequently consumed ultra-processed products are pizza, burgers, sandwiches and frozen dishes, followed by packaged breads and sweetened drinks.

Lots of room for improvement here.

Mar 1 2016

PAHO issues nutrition standards for ultraprocessed foods. Beverage Associations object.

Cheers to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization for releasing nutritional profile standards for making it easier for governments to distinguish fresh and minimally processed foods from ultraprocessed.  The idea here is to encourage populations to consume traditional diets (see press release).

Ultra-processed foods are defined as industrially formulated food products that contain substances extracted from foods (such as casein, milk whey, and protein isolates) or substances synthesized from food constituents (such as hydrogenated oils, modified starches, and flavors). Drawing on the best scientific evidence available, the model classifies processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages as having “excessive” amounts of sugar, salt and fat according to the following criteria:

  • Excessive sugar if the amount of added sugars is 10% or more of total calories
  • Excessive fat if the calories from all fats are 30% or more of total calories
  • Excessive saturated fat if calories from saturated fats are 10% or more of total calories
  • Excessive trans fat if calories from trans fats are 1% or more of total calories
  • Excessive sodium if the ratio of sodium (in milligrams) to calories (kcal) is 1:1 or higher.

PAHO’s point in setting these standards is to encourage governments to:

  • Restrict the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children (see PAHO Plan of Action for the Prevention of Obesity in Children and Adolescents)
  • Regulate school food environments (feeding programs and food and beverages sold in schools)
  • Use front-of-package (FOP) warning labels
  • Define taxation policies to limit consumption of unhealthy food
  • Assess agricultural subsidies
  • Identify foods to be provided by social programs to vulnerable groups.

Yes!

Alas, not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about the profiles.  The International Council of Beverages Associations released this statement:

We agree that obesity is a global health challenge, and ICBA and its members welcome the opportunity to work with PAHO and other stakeholders to pursue effective and practical solutions. There are some areas, however, where we believe that use of PAHO’s Nutrient Profile Model may not provide helpful guidance to consumers.  There is not current scientific consensus in all areas that the Nutrient Profile Model addresses. It will not be useful if families find that nearly 80% of the foods and beverages in their grocery carts are unacceptable. Such a radical message is not likely to be followed by most individuals…we encourage governments and scientific bodies to offer food and dietary recommendations and national policies that are based on the totality of scientific evidence and provide realistic, positive encouragement to consumers to have a real impact promoting healthful diets and preventing obesity and non-communicable diseases.

 

The PAHO profiles may need tweaking, but they are a great first step.  Now let’s see how they get implemented.

Aug 25 2014

More money in food: USDA’s food dollar

While I’m thinking about the role of money in food, take a look at USDA’s new food dollar series.

Farm and agribusiness get 11.8 cents on the dollar.

The real money is in adding value through processing (18.6 cents) and food service (33.7 cents).

When farmers complain that it’s hard to make a living, they aren’t kidding.

Screenshot 2014-08-20 09.50.54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 13 2014

Sales of packaged, processed foods are declining: Three reasons why

Everybody agrees that the packaged food industry isn’t selling as much as it used to.  Here are three explanations for this trend.

1.  The packaging: The Wall Street Journal says it’s all about the old-style packaging that makes foods seem unnatural.  Clear packaging works better for sales.

2.  More sophisticated consumers: The Hartman Group research and consulting firm has a new report analyzing this trend: “Recipe for Growth in Packaged Foods:”

The biggest long-term challenge facing the U.S. food industry is that taste preferences are changing. This is most apparent among highly urbane and educated consumers, where the arbitrary boundaries of “too sweet” and “too fatty” are altering in ways inimical to the core food science paradigm of the U.S. food and beverage industry.

The U.S. food industry routinely serves crude flavor profiles associated with the unsophisticated farm cuisine of Middle America: heavy on salt, dairy and animal fat and, in the past half century, sugar…For years, there was growing demand for these flavors in all sorts of foods, primarily because U.S. preferences were not changing.

Now they are. The increasing multiculturalism of the U.S. population plus the globally well-traveled, savvy upper-middle class have created a large population of consumers intentionally seeking complex flavor profiles imported from much more sophisticated food cultures.

3.  Not enough corporate social responsibility: Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign achieved two coups in the last week or so.  First General Mills and now Kellogg have signed on to its Climate Declaration which commits them to reducing greenhouse gases produced in their processing chains.  Oxfam organized more than 200,000 signatures on a petition—and produced a report, Standing on the Sidelines—to induce these companies to pay more attention to their effects on climate change.

Food advocacy is making headway.  Keep at it!

May 24 2013

Weekend viewing: A food politics story for kids—Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory

I’ve been waiting for the weekend to write about the kids’ story by Bettina Elias Siegel, the school food advocate who writes The Lunch Tray blog  (and who put “pink slime” on the map).

Her video story—in rhyme yet—is titled Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory: A Tale of Processed Food and is worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch it (try it out on your kids!).

I wondered about the back story: how did she come to write it, who did the illustrations, how did she put it together?    Fortunately, Dana Woldow, also a long time food advocate, has just posted an interview with Ms. Siegel on just those points (the interview starts about half way down the post).  Ms. Siegel says:

If kids could see more clearly how the processed food, fast food and soda industries are earning profits at the expense of their health, I do think they might grow resistant to those industries’ marketing tactics. That was the idea behind Mr. Zee and his apples.

The interview explains the details of how the story got written, illustrated, and posted.

Ms. Woldow’s column concludes:

Of course, not everyone has the equipment, the confidence, or the patience to make their own video, but anyone can use social media. Watch Bettina’s video (with your children, if you have any), and if you like it, share it with your friends. It won’t undo all the marketing that Big Food does to kids, but it’s a start.

Try it out on your kids.  What do they think of it?

May 25 2012

Memorial Day Weekend reading: food biography

A couple of books, just in.  Happy reading!

Kurlansky, Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Doubleday, 2012.

Kurlansky is the author of several distinguished books, notably Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, and Salt: A World History.  Here, he takes up the story of Clarence Birdseye, the man who invented and gave his name to frozen vegetables.  Anything that Kurlansky writes is worth reading, and Birdseye—an multitasking explorer, trapper, and inventor—is worth writing about.  The book is illustrated with Birdseye’s patent drawings.

Thomas McNamee, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance, Free Press, 2012.

I thought McNamee’s previous biography, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, was a great read, wonderfully gossipy and entertaining.   Like so many others, I learned to cook from Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook.  In 1980, I met Claiborne while doing a segment of an Over Easy program on San Francisco’s public television station, KQED.   Claiborne has recently had some health problems, had been told to eat better and lose some weight, and had just published Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet with Pierre Franey (with an introduction to principles of healthy eating by Jane Brody).  He cooked lemon chicken.  I commented on how healthy it was.  Claiborne was a fascinating character and McNamee’s account makes me wish I’d been part of the New York food scene back then.

Mar 7 2012

U.N. Special Rapporteur: Five Ways to Fix Unhealthy Diets

Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has issued five recommendations for fixing diets and food systems:

  • Tax unhealthy products.
  • Regulate foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar.
  • Crack down on junk food advertising.
  • Overhaul misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others.
  • Support local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.

De Schutter explains:

One in seven people globally are undernourished, and many more suffer from the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiency, while 1.3 billion are overweight or obese.

Faced with this public health crisis, we continue to prescribe medical remedies: nutrition pills and early-life nutrition strategies for those lacking in calories; slimming pills, lifestyle advice and calorie counting for the overweight.

But we must tackle the systemic problems that generate poor nutrition in all its forms.

Governments, he said:

have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed…We have deferred to food companies the responsibility for ensuring that a good nutritional balance emerges.

…Heavy processing thrives in our global food system, and is a win-win for multinational agri-food companies…But for the people, it is a lose-lose…In better-off countries, the poorest population groups are most affected because foods high in fats, sugar and salt are often cheaper than healthy diets as a result of misguided subsidies whose health impacts have been wholly ignored.

Much to ponder here.  Let’s hope government health agencies listen hard and get to work.

For further information, the press release adds these links: