Is diet food healthy food? If you believe diet food brands, it is!

diet food collageIf you’ve been part of the FoodFacts.com community for a few years or more, you’re familiar with our stance on branded diet foods. We’re not fans. We truly believe that dieting done right requires adapting a healthy lifestyle – one which embraces fresh, healthy foods, exercise and the avoidance of ingredients that are distinctly unhealthy. If you’ve ever taken a look at the ingredient labels of any of the diet branded foods, you know they don’t fit that bill. It’s become obvious that many consumers agree with our approach as the sales of those foods are in decline. So, like any skilled and savvy manufacturer those diet brands have set out to reinvent themselves. Is diet food healthy food? If you believe diet food brands, it is!

For years, Americans cycled through one brand-name diet after another, each promising a sure method to lose weight. Along the way, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine made fortunes off their low-calorie, low-fat diet programs and products.

But it seems those days are over, according to industry analysts and nutritionists. “Dieting is not a fashionable word these days,” says Susan Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University. “[Consumers] equate the word diet with deprivation, and they know deprivation doesn’t work.”

According to Mintel, a market research firm, few people are purchasing diet products anymore. A survey of 2,000 people released by the firm in October found that 94 percent of respondents no longer saw themselves as dieters. They were also disillusioned with the industry: 77 percent of the consumers surveyed said that diet products are not as healthy as they claim to be, and 61 percent said most diets are not actually healthy.

“Consumers are not dieting in the traditional sense anymore – being on programs or buying foods specific to programs,” says Marissa Gilbert, an analyst from Mintel who worked on the report. “And there’s greater societal acceptance of different body sizes.”

That’s really hurt the dieting industry, Gilbert says. From summer 2014 to summer 2015, Lean Cuisine’s frozen meal sales dropped from around $700 million to about $600 million, or about 15 percent. Weight Watchers, Medifast and Jenny Craig have also seen revenues wither over the past few years. Sales of diet pills have dropped 20 percent in the last year, according to the Mintel report.

Roberts says it’s likely because many people who wanted to lose weight tried these diets and programs but weren’t successful. “They’ve tried Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig and books and things of their own design,” she says. “It didn’t work.”

As Jean Fain, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist and author, has noted, programs like Weight Watchers typically are just “a short-term fix and conditional support for long-standing eating issues” and can even exacerbate them.

With each subsequent failure, people become more skeptical about the products. Some give up on losing weight altogether, Roberts adds.

But many people do still want to lose weight, and increasingly they’re hoping good nutrition and “healthy eating” will get them there, says R.J. Hottovy, a senior equity analyst with market research firm Morningstar. “Consumers are looking for a more holistic, more health and wellness approach,” he says. “The shift in food trends is toward fresher and more natural ingredients.”

The problem is there’s a lot of disagreement over what a healthy, well-balanced meal looks like. Half of the people in Mintel’s survey said they didn’t know what to think about nutrition and wellness information.
As we’ve reported, even the federal government isn’t sure what “natural” means. And increasingly consumers have to contend with terms like gluten-free, vegan and non-GMO in the grocery store. These and other restrictive notions of eating have been quick to catch on, but often don’t have consistent scientific evidence backing them up as healthful or effective for weight loss.

Roberts, who also founded a weight loss start-up called iDiet but says she doesn’t currently make money from it, observes that food companies are taking advantage of the chaos. “Companies are bombarding [consumers] with gluten-free, sugar-free, cholesterol-free, and it’s got us to a very bad place because people don’t know what to think anymore,” she says. “I think what [consumers] want to do is lose weight by eating sensibly. That’s the holy grail of weight loss, and the companies say, ‘We’ll lock into that.’ ”

And while Weight Watchers’ point system emphasizes “natural” fare and home-cooked meals, it’s still manufacturing processed, high-sodium, low-fiber products.

According to Julie Lehman, marketing director for Lean Cuisine, the company, which is owned by Nestle, has put new labels on products that were already cholesterol-free or gluten-free without changing their formulations. “Lean Cuisine is an emblem of the diet culture that we’ve all grown up with. We know that and we want to walk away from that and focus on eating well and eating healthy,” she says. The brand has added “No Preservatives” and “Gluten-Free” and “Non-GMO” labels and a new line of frozen meals, certified organic by the nonprofit Oregon Tilth. “Consumers are demanding some of these things, and we want to offer it to them,” Lehman says.

Roberts is unconvinced. She doesn’t see the products getting any healthier. “They can relabel them, but the meals are not any different. If you open a box of Lean Cuisine or something like that, you’ll see about a quarter cup of veggies in there. Is that an outstandingly healthy meal? By my standards, it’s not.”

People will still be hungry and still feel deprived, and may ultimately not meet weight loss goals, she says. “They’ll give healthy eating a bad name just as they gave dieting a bad name.”

Healthy food is real food. You can easily determine how healthy your diet is by determining the contents of your grocery shopping. Are you purchasing meals with ingredient, or ingredients for meals? If you’re doing the latter, you’re on the right track!

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/20/462691546/as-diet-foods-tank-confusing-health-labels-replace-them

Tom Colicchio is revolutionizing the food industry, one Food Action Policy at a time.

Many of us at FoodFacts.com have been fans of Tom Colicchio for years. From dining at one of his innovative restaurants (the farm at Riverpark is one of the most amazing urban gems you will see at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan) to watching his smart and calm culinary demeanor as he guides somewhat egocentric chefs on Bravo Tv’s “Top Chef,” you know that his passion for food is more than just a career choice, it literally fuels him.

It’s no surprise that he added food activism to his resume when he co-founded Food Policy Action in 2012. Their mission is to make food policies even more substantial while upholding the rights of farmers and food workers and make healthier food more accessible for all. In recent months, Mr. Colicchio took Capitol Hill by storm with 30 other chefs to discuss the Childhood Nutrition Act (which needs to be reauthorized every 5 years). Since new nutritional guidelines have been introduced in recent years for school cafeterias, it’s now more important than ever that every state adopts these paths to make sure our children are educated on eating healthy and proper meals.

To say we are impressed with this Top Chef is an understatement. Most of the celebrity chefs we see in mainstream media are more concerned with hawking products and selling themselves as a brand than educating people on what they are eating. Mr. Colicchio has now opened up the conversation and garnered media attention…exactly what people like us need that are trying to fight the good food fight.

So Mr. Colicchio, we’d like to know how we can partner up?! If you take a look at FoodFacts.com you will see that knowing what you are eating is all that we are about. Our mission is so similar to the one that you have cultivated yourself. Our passion is educating people on what’s really in the foods they are eating…the less ingredients the better! Our all my foodfacts app focuses on showing people all the ingredients they are consuming in the processed foods they are eating and how it affects them. We truly believe that everyone should be entitled to affordable, healthy food to consume and that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients in a package, you probably shouldn’t be eating it! So please, tweet us, write us, anything. We’d love to work with you!

Campbells takes a stand in support of GMO labeling

campbells-gmosIn the long and arduous controversy surrounding proposed GMO labeling laws, FoodFacts.com has seen a variety of reasons why major food manufacturers are not supporting the new proposition. Most companies state that these efforts would cost far too much money and take far too much time to make sense for them or their consumers. Not so for the Campbell Soup Co. Campbells takes a stand in support of GMO labeling

Campbell Soup Co., splitting from major food-industry rivals on an increasingly contentious consumer issue, declared its support for a federal labeling requirement for genetically modified organisms and said it plans to cite GMOs on its packaging.

The maker of Goldfish crackers and Pepperidge Farm cookies said it would advocate for Congress to require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department to be “clearly and simply labeled” for genetically modified ingredients. It added that it would withdraw from all efforts led by industry groups that oppose such measures.

Campbell’s move comes as food makers face a looming requirement in Vermont, set to take effect in July, to label GMOs.

The company said it hopes a federal mandate could be established “in a reasonable amount of time.” But if not, a spokeswoman said, the Camden, N.J., canned-soup maker will begin to label FDA-regulated foods nationwide in time for the Vermont regulation.

“Now is the time for the federal government to act quickly to implement a federal solution,” the company said.

A consumer backlash over GMO ingredients in the U.S. has intensified over the past few years, with some people raising concerns about their safety and environmental impact. Consumer advocacy groups are pushing regulators to require food companies to label products containing GMOs, but most big food makers have pushed back. No federal mandate has gained traction in Congress, but some states have approved related legislation.

The packaged-food industry, led by its main trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has said it supports a national standard for GMO labeling rather than multiple state laws. But it says the standard should be voluntary for food companies and only mandated if regulators change their stance on the biotechnology and determine GMOs pose a health risk to people.

GMOs, used in the U.S. for about two decades with federal approval, are crops whose genes have been engineered to make them resistant to pests, better able to withstand drought and otherwise hardier. The vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered, and food companies estimate that about 80% of U.S. packaged-food products contain GMO ingredients in some form.

Campbell said it believes that GMOs are safe, and that “the science indicates that foods derived from crops grown using genetically modified seeds are not nutritionally different from other foods.”

But the company said it also recognizes that a Consumer Reports survey in 2014 found that 92% of Americans support GMO labeling.

Campbell’s shift puts pressure on the rest of the industry to respond. The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, an agriculture industry group that is actively fighting mandatory GMO labeling, said Friday that it doesn’t back Campbell’s decision.

“While individual companies are free to make labeling decisions that are best for their businesses, it remains the overwhelming consensus that on-package labeling of foods made with GMOs is unnecessary, inherently misleading and will drive up food prices for consumers,” the coalition said in a statement.

FoodFacts.com will continue to monitor the manufacturer landscape regarding GMO labeling and keep our community updated on the diverse positions being established by the big food players.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/campbell-soup-backs-gmo-labeling-rule-1452283288

Where exactly is the government showing us we should drink more water?

nutrition infographicTo accompany the government’s latest set of guidelines, they’ve updated an infographic tip sheet. FoodFacts.com loves infographics as they are quick and easy visual reads that can’t be mistaken or assigned incorrect interpretations by those for which they are intended. One of the government’s biggest messages this year is to drink water instead of sugary drinks. It’s a simple, but important message that Americans need to be reminded of over and over and over again. Unfortunately we don’t know that this infographic does its job as well as it could. Take a close look. Where exactly is the government showing us we should drink more water?

Tucked inside the U.S. government’s latest update to its official eating advice is this recommendation: “Drink water instead of sugary drinks” — aka soda.

The bluntness of this statement is remarkable, in part, because the Dietary Guidelines released Thursday are, in other ways, anything but direct. For instance, as we’ve reported, instead of explicitly telling Americans to cut their intake of red and processed meats, as an advisory panel of nutrition experts had recommended, the final guidelines hint at meat reduction in subtle terms. That change in messaging may have been linked to pressure from the meat industry.

By contrast, the government’s language on choosing water over sugary drinks is as clear as a glass of H2O. It is not, however, all that easy to find. We spotted it inside this MyPlate, My Wins tip sheet, part of a new campaign the U.S. Department of Agriculture also launched Thursday.

MyPlate, if you recall, is the icon of a dinner plate divided into portions of fruits and vegetables, grains and proteins that replaced the food pyramid in 2011. Unlike the Dietary Guidelines, which are written for nutrition professionals, policymakers and the food industry, MyPlate is for the general public. It’s an image that ends up in nutrition education materials in doctor’s offices, textbooks, school cafeterias and lots of other places.

Last year, as we reported, a coalition of nutrition scientists and public health advocates called on the government to add water to the ubiquitous MyPlate icon. Numerous studies have linked sugary drinks like soda to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Adding some sort of water symbol to the MyPlate icon would really bring home the message that water, not soda, should be the beverage of choice, advocates argued.
That didn’t happen, and, in fact, the USDA says it has no plans to alter the MyPlate icon, which the agency says will remain the visual centerpiece of its healthy eating messaging.

Instead, we got the infographic above — what the USDA says is the first of several new tip sheets to be released.

As you can see, the message to drink water, not sugary drinks, shows up there — in the very bottom, right-hand corner. While the language is clear, the visuals around it are hardly compelling.

“Ideally, [the water symbol] would be part of the main MyPlate image. That’s the thing that’s going to get the most publicity,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in The Public Interest, who was among those who signed the letter calling for stronger language on water in the Dietary Guidelines.

It’s also worth noting that, while 100 percent fruit juices also pack a sugary wallop, the MyPlate, MyWins tip sheet lists them as an acceptable form of getting your daily fruit intake. (The actual guidelines add more nuance, advising that people get at least half their recommended fruit intake from whole fruits.) For the record, William Dermody of the American Beverage Association tells us that “moderation of beverages is something we’re in line with as well.”

Overall, the new tip sheet’s messaging is confusing, says New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, a noted critic of the influence industry exerts on government food policy. “It’s ugly and it’s hard to read,” she tells us.

In general, she wishes the government’s visual messaging on what Americans should and shouldn’t eat was much more explicit. Nestle points to guidelines from Brazil and Sweden (see below), which — as Julia Belluz has pointed out over at Vox — are breathtakingly easy to understand. Their virtue? Instead of talking about nutrients, they focus on what people really put in their mouths. “They’re about real food,” Nestle says.

With just a few simple changes this tip sheet can accomplish a whole lot more of the government’s goals … and a whole lot more for the population. Drink water. Eat real food. We’re getting there.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/08/462289710/uncle-sam-just-told-us-to-drink-water-not-soda-you-mightve-missed-it

How are you celebrating Big Block of Cheese Day?

ObamaFoodFacts.com would like to call your attention to one of the lesser-known American holidays – Big Block of Cheese Day! And yes, we’re serious. It’s a White House holiday and it’s been going on there for the last three years. So … How are you celebrating Big Block of Cheese Day? How about you take your turn chipping away at our current Big Cheeses in Washington?

Following President Obama’s last State of the Union, the White House will host a day-long question and answer session Wednesday online.

Americans will have the opportunity to chat with White House staff, members of Congress and senior cabinet members during the White House’s third annual Big Block of Cheese Day. Throughout the day, the White House invites users to ask questions using the hashtag #BigBlockOfCheeseDay on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

Answers will be provided by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and many more in a list that includes over 40 names.

In its third year, Big Block of Cheese Day is a clever riff on an open house Andrew Jackson hosted in 1837 at the White House, featuring a 1,400-pound block of cheese that he invited participants to chip away at. It also pokes fun at a tradition from the fictional White House drama The West Wing, where staffers hosted an annual open house to allow lesser heard groups to voice their opinions.

You can find the full list of participants at the White House site, as well as instructions on how to participate in Big Block Cheese Day.

And while you’re participating in this truly fun interpretation of an old-fashioned idea, you might want to keep a few things in mind about cheese.

Cheese contains a host of nutrients like calcium, protein, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12. Calcium is one of the nutrients most likely to be lacking in the American diet. According to government statistics, nine out of 10 women and six out of 10 men fall short of calcium recommendations. The high-quality protein in cheese provides the body with essential building blocks for strong muscles. For a complete listing of the nutrients in cheese, see the table below.

If you are lactose intolerant, many cheeses, particularly aged cheeses such as Cheddar and Swiss, contain little or no lactose and are often well tolerated.

For the past 30 years or so, saturated fat—found in meats, eggs, cheese, butter, whole milk, lard and some oils—was considered a primary cause of heart disease. New research, however, is showing that saturated fat has a minimal impact on heart disease risk, which is changing the “saturated fat is bad” paradigm and allowing people to enjoy more cheese and other favorite foods. Further research is needed showing significant scientific agreement.

Think cheese today … our American Big Cheeses in D.C. and the smaller cheeses we can put on our plate that deliver some serious health benefits!!!

http://www.healthyeating.org/Milk-Dairy/Nutrients-in-Milk-Cheese-Yogurt/Nutrients-in-Cheese.aspx

http://time.com/4177369/white-house-big-block-cheese-day/

New dietary guidelines advise on sugar but not red meat

dga-2015Every five years, the U.S. government updates Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines evolve over time as they take into consideration the latest research and findings in nutrition science. Last month, the Obama administration released its much anticipated update. Some of it was expected. The government’s official advice on what to eat (and not eat) included sugar limitations (sugar was in the news a lot last year, so FoodFacts.com wasn’t surprised). What the official advice left out, though, was a surprise. Our new dietary guidelines advise on sugar but not red meat.

Many Americans consume up to 22 teaspoons a day. To meet the new 10 percent target, they’d need to cut their sugar intake by nearly half — to no more than 12 teaspoons a day on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

Over the past five years, a growing body of evidence has linked high levels of sugar consumption to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, even among Americans who are not overweight or obese.

Much of the dietary advice included in the new guidelines will sound very familiar and remains unchanged from 2010. For instance, there’s a focus on consuming more fruits and vegetables, more fiber and whole grains, and less salt.

Top administration officials within the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, who were tasked with writing the guidelines, decided not to include some of the recommendations made by a Dietary Guidelines advisory panel that reviewed the latest nutrition science.

For instance, the advisory committee had recommended including sustainability as a factor in making food choices. But administration officials nixed that idea.

The committee had also advised telling Americans to cut back on red and processed meats. But that recommendation sparked a vigorous challenge from the meat industry, and the final dietary guidelines do not include any specific advice to cut back on these sources of protein.

The recommendation “was certainly controversial,” says Tom Brenna, a nutrition professor at Cornell University and member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

“The red and processed meat recommendation, I think, has morphed a bit into a different kind of message,” Brenna tells us. “A little bit like turning a coin over, in a sense, where if you eat less red meat, one is eating more of other protein foods.”

Instead, the guidelines emphasize a “shift towards other protein foods” — including more nuts and seeds and about 8 ounces of seafood per week, based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.

The suggestion to limit meat intake comes in more subtle form. For instance, the guidelines point out that many teen boys and adult men consume more than the recommended 26 ounces a week of protein from animal sources, so they should “reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meat, poultry, and eggs.”

There’s also an overall recommendation — unchanged from 2010 — to reduce saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of daily diet, a shift that could, in practice, require limiting intake of red meat.

“The message to eat more seafood, legumes and other protein foods really does mean substitute those for red meat,” Brenna says. “So I think the message is more or less there, it’s just not as clear.”

That message to cut the red meat should have been stated more directly, says Barry Popkin, a nutrition researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “I am disappointed that the USDA once again is cutting out recommendations to truly limit red meat intake,” he tells us in an email.

The other major change to the government’s nutrition advice: dietary cholesterol. The new guidelines drop a longstanding recommendation to limit cholesterol from foods to 300 milligrams a day.

As Alice Lichtenstein, vice chairwoman of the expert panel that advised the government on the guidelines, told us last February, there isn’t strong evidence that limiting cholesterol-rich foods lowers the amount of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol that ends up in the blood.

The guidelines also call on Americans to cut sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. Most of us consume far more — about 3,440 milligrams daily on average — much of it in the form of foods like pizzas, soups, breads and cured meats.

The Dietary Guidelines have clear implications for federal nutrition policy, influencing everything from the national school lunch program to the advice you get at the doctor’s office. But they are written for nutrition professionals, not the general public.

Perhaps the new guidelines DO reference limiting red meat consumption – by emphasizing the consumption of other proteins. But we know there have been several specific studies in the last year or so that speak directly to the adverse effects of red and processed meats in American diets. Food industry influence – or broader, more effective statements? More transparent, straight forward statements leave less room for guesswork on the part of the consumers relying on the guidelines. A little food for thought.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/07/462160303/new-dietary-guidelines-crack-down-on-sugar-but-red-meat-gets-a-pass

Could there be a link between processed foods and autoimmune diseases?

Processed foodsFoodFacts.com is well aware that there are diseases and conditions that weren’t as prevalent in our population as they were some decades back. Autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and multiple sclerosis weren’t as high up on our radar screens simply because we didn’t always hear about them. Unfortunately for those who suffer from autoimmune disorders, that’s no longer true. We’re all more aware of the conditions because more and more people have been affected by them. How did that happen, exactly? In just a few decades instances of autoimmune conditions have increased dramatically. It certainly makes FoodFacts.com step back and consider the possibilities. Could there be a link between processed foods and autoimmune diseases?

After a hard day at work, it is tempting to reach for foods that are quick and easy to prepare. For many of us, this means turning to processed foods, such as microwave meals, which are usually high in fat, salt, sugar and other additives.

Processed foods are defined by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing,dehydration or milling.”

This means that it is not only microwave meals that meet the “processed” definition; cheese, breakfast cereals, canned fruits and vegetables, bread, savory snacks and meats such as bacon and sausages are also examples of foods that have been subject to some form of processing.

A number of studies have reported the negative health effects of consuming some processed foods, including increased risk of weight gain and heart disease. And last October, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that eating processed meats can cause colorectal cancer.

Now, Prof. Aaron Lerner, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and Dr. Torsten Matthias, of the Aesku-Kipp Institute in Germany, suggest the consumption of processed foods may be associated with development of autoimmune diseases.

An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body, mistaking them for foreign invaders. This can lead to destruction of body tissue and abnormal organ growth and function.

There are more than 100 types of autoimmune disorders. Some of the more common forms include celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis(MS), Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Prof. Lerner and Dr. Matthias note that there has been a rise in both the prevalence of autoimmune diseases and consumption of processed foods in recent years. For their study, they set out to determine whether there is a link between the two.

Specifically, the researchers looked at how certain additives in processed foods – used to improve the taste, texture, smell and shelf life – affect the intestines and the development of autoimmune diseases.

The team explains that many autoimmune diseases are triggered by dysfunction of “tight junctions” in the intestine, which are sealants between epithelial cells that protect the mucosa – the lining of the gastrointestinal tract that helps food pass through.

Normal-functioning tight junctions help protect the immune system from bacteria and other foreign bodies, but any damage to the tight junctions can lead to what is called “leaky gut” – in which toxins can enter the bloodstream, potentially leading to the development of autoimmune diseases.

In their study, the researchers identified at least seven common food additives – including glucose, gluten, sodium, fat solvents, organic acids, nanometric particles and microbial transglutaminase (an enzyme used as a food protein “glue”) – that weakened tight junctions in the intestine.

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that consumption of processed foods may increase the risk for autoimmune diseases. They note that the food additive market is not highly regulated, making such findings a cause for concern.

Prof. Lerner says:

“Control and enforcement agencies such as the FDA stringently supervise the pharmaceutical industry, but the food additive market remains unsupervised enough. We hope this study and similar studies increase awareness about the dangers inherent in industrial food additives, and raise awareness about the need for control over them.”
In June of last year, the FDA revealed they are banning a key source of artificial trans fats in processed foods called partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), with the hope that doing so will reduce Americans’ risk of heart attack and heart disease.

We’re happy to see attention being paid to the controversial food additives that have no place in our food supply. The ban on trans fats in our foods should only be the beginning of much needed changes to the ingredient lists in our grocery stores. Until that day comes, FoodFacts.com wants to urge everyone to shop for ingredients for meals instead of meals with ingredients. Let’s concentrate on clean eating in the new year!

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/304645.php

Vegetables take center stage on dinner plates across America in 2016

salad barVegetables are trending this New Year. As consumers become more aware and educated they’re making some serious changes to their diet and lifestyle. Part of those changes is the reframing of the main course of a meal. In years past, FoodFacts.com the main course of an American meal focused on the protein – whether that protein was meat, poultry or fish, the protein was the star of the show. The times are changing though. Vegetables take center stage on dinner plates across America in 2016. Consumers everywhere are assigning new value to the vegetable component of the meal.

About a decade ago, food writer Michael Pollan issued a call to action: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. As 2016 opens, it looks like many American cooks and diners are heeding that call.

Vegetables have moved from the side to the center of the plate. And as another year begins, it appears that plants are the new meat.

Bon Appetit magazine named AL’s Place in San Francisco the best new restaurant of 2015. Meats at AL’s Place are listed under “sides.” The rest of the menu features vegetable-centric dishes sometimes featuring animal protein as an ingredient – pear curry, black lime yellowtail, persimmon, blistered squash. The hanger steak (with smoked salmon butter), however, is a side dish.

This and other restaurants are also using the whole vegetable. What used to go in the compost heap is now fermented, roasted or smoked and used in other dishes. The stem-to-leaf approach follows the example of nose-to-tail eating.

WastED is a project that brings together chefs, farmers, fishermen and food purveyors to “reconceive waste” in the food chain, according to the group’s website.

The WastED salad has been available at Sweetgreen restaurants, making use of the restaurants scraps – broccoli leaves, carrot ribbons, roasted kale stems, romaine hearts, roasted cabbage cores, roasted broccoli stalks and roasted bread butts all mixed with arugula, Parmesan, spicy sunflower seeds and pesto vinaigrette.

Food waste has become a concern to the U.S. government as well as chefs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have set a goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030, calling in a joint statement to “feed people not landfills.” The statement says that food loss and waste account for about 31 percent (133 billion pounds) of the nation’s food supply.

The ascendance of vegetables has added a new word to the food lexicon: spiralizing. Piles of spiralized vegetables – produced with, yes, a spiralizer – are replacing pasta in some home and restaurant kitchens. Cookbooks, blogs and tools are available to help.

Eaters in 2016 also are likely to see more dried beans, peas and lentils on their plates. The United Nations has declared this the International Year of Pulses to raise consumer awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of the edible dry seeds. Chickpeas seems to be the rising star of the pulse world. They’re not just for hummus anymore.

The rise of vegetables and focus on food waste are the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of government, consumer and food and environmental activists’ concerns that have finally trickled into the mainstream. Sustainability issues are becoming particularly visible in the fish we’re eating. More overlooked fish and some invasive species are being offered to diners.
So-called “clean labels” are another expression of these concerns. Both consumers and food purveyors are focused on removing GMOs, artificial ingredients, preservatives, antibiotics and growth hormones from food. Even fast-food outlets are using more eggs from cage-free chickens and dumping ingredients that have been genetically modified.

There are generational shifts, too, in the way we eat.

Millenials – now more numerous than Baby Boomers – have a huge impact. The corporate food world is keenly interested in how and what this large group of consumers eats. And they do buy and eat differently than older generations. They order ingredients online, learn to cook from You Tube as well as cookbooks and websites. They care about the environment, ethical treatment of animals and community. They frequently use food delivery services rather than going to the supermarket, and order meal kits that deliver prepared ingredients.

Whatever your age, expect 2016 to be the year not only of the vegetable, but of more awareness of what we spear with our forks.

FoodFacts.com is looking forward to a new take on the dinner plate. We’ll be following this important trend closer as we get further into the new year!

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/01/461704287/vegetables-likely-to-take-more-of-your-plate-in-2016

Happy New Year … a look at 2015 in food

foodcollageHappy New Year! As FoodFacts.com looks forward to a healthy, educational 2016 in a world with fewer unhealthy ingredients, and more nutritionally aware consumers, we’re looking back at 2015 to see what we can find in terms of trends and important food issues that came to the forefront this year. Here’s a look at 2015 in food.

Cage-free, antibiotic-free, artificial-free. Sound familiar?

Many of the world’s biggest food companies announced major changes this year — in what they purchase and how they manufacture their food.

Many of the big moves we saw came from companies striving to bring more transparency to their supply chain. McDonald’s pledged to source chickens raised without antibiotics. Dunkin’ Donuts and Costco are switching to cage-free eggs.

Some companies signaled to customers that they were “cleaning up” and simplifying their ingredient lists. Panera ditched dozens of additives. Even Lucky Charms and Butterfingers are getting minor makeovers: General Mills and Nestle said they’re removing artificial colors and flavors from their products.
“Big Food is definitely feeling the pressure,” Scott Allmendinger, who consults with food companies for the Culinary Institute of America, told us. Packaged-food companies lost $4 billion in market share last year, according to a Fortune analysis.

A 2015 Nielsen survey found an increasing number of consumers say they’re willing to pay a premium for “all natural,” “clean” and minimally processed foods. (As we’ve reported, it’s hard to know what any of these terms actually mean. The federal government is soliciting input for how to define “natural.”) And, it seems, these foods marketed as cleaner and more natural are blending into mainstream grocery stores. One example: the success of Kroger’s Simple Truth line of products, which focus on “simpler” and organic ingredients.

“Consumers are slowly migrating away” from the center aisle of the grocery store that’s filled with processed baked goods and canned foods, says Jack Russo, an analyst with Edward Jones, a financial advisory firm.
At the same time, the sales of foods marketed as “local” have surged to $11 billion a year. The organic and natural sector, including GMO-free and gluten-free, is growing at about 8 to 10 percent a year, says Russo.
Russo sees this trend continuing, with growth continuing in the 6 to 8 percent range for the next few years, he says.

Food Waste
Another issue that gained traction this year: the 133 billion pounds of food wasted in the U.S. annually.

To put a visual to this estimate, imagine filling a huge skyscraper such as the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) 44 times.

That’s the image that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack used when he announced in October a new national goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.

Everyone who eats could play a role in reducing waste. And we have plenty of moral imperatives to do it. As Pope Francis once said, some food waste is akin to “stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.” The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the typical American family tosses out about $1,600 a year in groceries.

There’s plenty wasted on farms, too, some of which is entirely unavoidable. But as we documented in this story, a lot of food isn’t harvested simply because it’s not quite up to our cosmetic standards. Often, bags of salad and plenty of other edible food items end up in landfills because they won’t stay fresh long enough to be shipped across the country. A number of NGOs and startups are trying to figure out how to get more of it into the hands of the hungry and the people happy to pay less for imperfect produce.

The environmental footprint of food waste is significant. As we’ve reported, all that food we toss out is creating billions of tons of greenhouse gases, and costing us precious water and land.

Foodborne Illness
This year also brought some high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness. If you’re a Chipotle stockholder, you’re probably well aware of the fallout.

As we’ve reported, Chipotle Mexican Grill is linked to two separate outbreaks of E. coliinfections. The first outbreak sickened 53 people in nine states and prompted the temporary closure of many Chipotle locations in Washington and Oregon.

Then, in early December an outbreak of norovirus sickened at least 120 people in Boston, mostly students at Boston College. Most of the sick students reported eating at a nearby Chipotle.

As our colleague Dan Charles reported, city health inspectors cited Chipotle for allowing a sick employee to work his shift. In the violation report, the inspectors specified that the restaurant should follow its employee illness policy.

Though the Chipotle outbreak got a lot of attention, there are thousands of outbreaks of norovirus each year.

The CDC says norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne disease in the U.S. It’s estimated that about 20 million people a year get sick with it.

The vast majority of outbreaks are caused by infected workers. So, hopefully, the lesson learned in 2015 is this: Restaurants need to keep sick workers off the job.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 5 food service workers has gone to work while sick with vomiting or diarrhea. “It is vital that food service workers stay home if they are sick,” says the CDC’s Aron Hall. He says businesses should consider measures such as paid sick days.

Innovation And Investment In Food And Agriculture
While Big Food is hustling to keep up with changing consumer tastes and values, hundreds of new and nimble companies are entering the marketplace to compete with them. A report by the Dutch banking group Rabobank found that investment in food and agriculture is set to surpass $4 billion by the end of the year.

Rabobank thinks we’re headed toward a “smarter food system.” And plenty of companies and investors want to help us get there. How? Mainly, with technology and (big) data tools for both consumers and farmers.

Venture capitalists are excited about food and agriculture, too, and are pouring money into startups. Entrepreneur reported earlier this year that “startups all along the food chain — from farmers and tech companies to home cooks — are reaping huge rewards [from venture firms]: $2.06 billion invested in the first half of 2015 … nearly as much as the $2.36 billion total for 2014.”

FoodFacts.com likes the direction in which we’re headed. We’re excited to see consumer trends following a healthier, more natural path. And we couldn’t be more pleased about how food manufacturers are reacting to that consumer path. We’re expecting to see more of the same in 2016 and beyond!

Happy New Year!

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/12/29/460589462/the-year-in-food-artificial-out-innovation-in-and-2-more-trends

Is there another side of the GMO debate?

gmo_tomato-300x207There’s always a different way to look at a topic. There’s always another way to solve a problem. There’s always a different side to consider in an argument. That’s true for everything. They’re all sweeping statements, but FoodFacts.com knows that the world isn’t necessarily a black and white place. It’s why we try to stay neutral on most subjects – there may be a new point of view we have yet to discover and that might be important. So we do need to consider this … is there another side of the GMO debate? We have to admit, that’s a hard one for us, but there may be some points to consider. Here’s a view through a different lens.

Over the next two years, McDonald’s will stop buying chickens raised with antibiotics that are also used in humans These antibiotics are not used to treat disease in animals—rather, they are added to animal feed because they cause animals to grow more quickly using less feed.

Following McDonald’s lead, Costco, which sells 80 million rotisserie chickens per year, made the same announcement just a few days later. Then in April, Tyson Foods, one of McDonald’s major suppliers of chickens, announced they would phase out use of human antibiotics in its chickens by September 2017.

Chain Reaction, responding to growing public pressure, created a report card in September grading 25 restaurant chains on their policies of using meat from suppliers that use antibiotics. Only two restaurants, Chipotle and Panera, received an A. Chic-fil-A got a B, and McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts got C’s. Everyone else, including Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Starbuck’s, failed because they have not publicized any antibiotic policy.

Around 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used not to treat diseases in humans, but to add to animal feed to promote growth. Overuse of antibiotics has without a doubt contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and eliminating them from routine use makes perfect sense.

However, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a different story. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that any GMO has ever harmed a human ever, there is undeniably an aura of fear surrounding these so-called “frankenfoods”—a thoroughly unearned nickname.

In April, Chipotle announced their “G-M-Over It” campaign, claiming, “When it comes to our food, genetically-modified ingredients don’t make the cut.” In doing so, they became the first national restaurant chain to go non-GMO—though they admit their soft drinks still contain high fructose corn syrup, which is nearly all made with GMO corn.

Studies have been done in animals. Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal geneticist at the University of California Davis, studied the health of over 100 billion animals who consumed well over a trillion GMO meals over a 29-year period since GMOs were introduced into their feed. She and her team found no evidence of “unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity”

While Chipotle has been spending time and money eliminating GMOs from their food, there was an outbreak of E. coli at their restaurants, which sickened more than 50 people—20 of whom required hospitalization—in nine states since October. And the chain is currently still dealing with an outbreak of norovirus in one of their Boston franchises, which caused over 140 people to become acutely ill.

Just last month, after 20 years of evaluation, the FDA approved the sale of the AquAdvantage salmon, the first genetically-modified animal approved for human consumption. The salmon was created by taking a growth gene from Chinook salmon and a gene promoter from an ocean pout and adding them to the Atlantic salmon. These genes allow the fish to grow much more quickly without changing any other traits, meaning potentially more food to feed hungry people faster. No other “foreign” DNA was used, the fish are all female and nearly 99 percent are sterile, and they will only be raised in land-based aquaculture farms, so mixing and reproducing with wild salmon will be nearly impossible.

Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Aldi are among 60 supermarket chains that have all stated that they will not sell the AquAdvantage salmon.

FoodFacts.com is not a fan of GMOs. We don’t fall somewhere in the middle on this issue. But like we said, we do feel it’s important to look at every available side. It IS vitally important that human antibiotics aren’t used in animal feed because we’ve got a tremendous problem in in regard to antibiotic resistant superbugs. It IS vitally important for Chipotle to address the foodborne illness outbreak stemming from their restaurants because the more restaurants like Chipotle adopt safer food handling practices, the more other restaurants will follow suit. But we don’t think that makes Chipotle’s efforts to remove GMOs from their ingredients a smaller endeavor by comparison. We don’t think it’s any less important to remove GMOs from the food supply than it is to remove human antibiotics from animal feed. And we don’t think the absence of foreign DNA in AquAdvantage salmon will make us feel any more comfortable about eating it.

But these are reasonable, valid points to make … even if we don’t agree with them. Being an educated consumer means understanding as many sides of an issue as humanly possible. It help us solidify our position on an issue. In this case, it reminds us, yet again, that we don’t want to consume GMO ingredients and we think we have a right to refuse them in our foods.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/19/the-year-the-food-industry-gave-in-to-anti-gmo-fear-mongering.html