Tag Archives: nutritional information

USDA gets tougher on salmonella imposing stricter limits on bacteria in poultry products

salmonella chickenThe USDA has found salmonella on about a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts heading for supermarket shelves. That’s bad news for consumers. It’s certainly a good reason to handle raw chicken carefully, wash your hands afterward, and cook the meat well. But FoodFacts.com was happy to see that it’s also good reason for better regulation. The USDA gets tougher on salmonella imposing stricter limits on bacteria in poultry products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new, stricter limit on salmonella bacteria in poultry products. It’s a new attempt to make headway against one of the country’s biggest, and most intractable, food safety problems.

Salmonella bacteria on raw poultry and fresh produce are estimated to cause about 1 million cases of illness in the U.S. each year. It has proved difficult to reduce that number because the bacteria are so commonly found in the environment, and especially in poultry.

Even when companies wash chicken carcasses after slaughter, the USDA has found the bacteria on about a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts heading for supermarket shelves. It’s a good reason to handle raw chicken carefully, wash your hands afterward, and cook the meat well.

Under the USDA’s new standard, companies will be required to reduce the frequency of contaminated chicken parts to 15 percent or less. The new standard also sets limits for turkey and ground meat products. A separate standard covers another disease-causing type of bacterium, called Campylobacter.

Alfred Almanza, the USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety, says that after a year of testing, the USDA will start posting test results from each poultry processing plant online for consumers to see.

“[This] is not a good thing for them, if they’re failing,” Almanza says. “So those are pretty significant deterrents, or incentives for them to meet or exceed our standard.”

The USDA says that when companies meet this new standard, 50,000 fewer people will get sick from salmonella each year.

But there’s a lot of guesswork in that calculation, and some are not convinced that it’s really true. William James, for instance, the former chief veterinarian for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, thinks the USDA’s entire approach to controlling salmonella is flawed. James now works as a consultant for private companies.

James points to the agency experience with an earlier version of the salmonella standard, which he helped put in place. It did reduce the amount of salmonella bacteria that were found on poultry, yet illness rates did not drop.

The problem, he says, is that these USDA standards treat all salmonella alike, when there actually are more than 2,000 different genetic strains of the bacterium, and most of them don’t make people sick. In fact, the ones that don’t make you sick probably are beneficial, because they compete with the salmonella strains that really are dangerous, James says.

James wants poultry companies to take more accurate aim at their problem. “The key here is probably to focus on those few types that are causing illness, and get serious about trying to eliminate those,” he says.

He says that poultry companies should be testing their chicken houses for those specific bacteria, such as one strain called Salmonella Heidelberg. When the bacteria show up in a flock, those chickens should be slaughtered separately, he says, and the buildings where they lived should be decontaminated.

The USDA’s Almanza agrees that having a standard based on the prevalence of all salmonella is imprecise, but he thinks it still will help uncover food safety problems. “If you have a high level of salmonella, you are going to have some that are of significance to public health,” he says.

He believes that the new standard, and the power of posting test results online, will force companies to take additional measures to make sure their products are safe.

FoodFacts.com is sure that many will agree that the idea of bacteria present on the poultry products we’re all purchasing at the grocery store is exceptionally upsetting (and somewhat stomach-turning as well). We’re all aware, though, of the importance of resolving instances of foodborne illnesses. Any steps the USDA is taking towards that resolution are welcome.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/04/465530128/usda-imposes-stricter-limit-on-salmonella-bacteria-in-poultry-products

If you want to avoid foodborne illnesses, you may want to forgo a few different foods – and some of them may be veggies.

precut vegIn the last year or so, foodborne illnesses have been in the news all too often. After the multiple instances of illnesses that plagued Chipotle during 2015, FoodFacts.com has spoken to more than a few consumers actively looking to prevent foodborne illness. How can you do that? If you want to avoid foodborne illnesses, you may want to forgo a few different foods – and some of them may be veggies. Surprised? Read on.

As you might imagine, spending a career thinking about the food-borne illnesses that make people sick (or worse) would force a person to think about the kind of meals he puts into his own body.

That’s because every year, there are approximately 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration. An estimated 128,000 people are hospitalized for these sicknesses, and about 3,000 die on an annual basis.

For Bill Marler, a Seattle-based products liability and personal injury attorney who has worked as a food safety advocate in the U.S. for the past two decades, there are some innocuous-seeming edibles that won’t ever make it into his grocery cart. The lawyer has represented the victims of major food poisoning cases against companies like Chili’s, Dole, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, prompting him to come up with some very specific rules about the food he eats.

In a recent article published in his firm’s blog, Food Poison Journal, Marler listed six food items he refuses to eat. Check out the list — and Marler’s science-backed reasonings — below, then ask yourself if you really want to go to that dollar oyster happy hour tonight.

1. Pre-cut and pre-washed produce.
Food poisoning expert Bill Marler does not take a bite of any produce that’s been pre-cut or pre-washed.

As convenient as packaged apple slices and pre-washed lettuce may be, Marler “avoids them like the plague,” he wrote. Food is more likely to be contaminated the more it is processed and touched, so Marler purchases unwashed and uncut fruits and veggies. Buying these items in bulk is the enemy, he says: to decrease the risk for listeria, Marler buys enough produce to last him only three to four days.

2. Uncooked sprouts.
Bean, alfalfa, clover and radish sprouts are increasingly popping up in grocery stores nationwide, but Marler won’t munch on them unless they’re cooked. He cited E. coli and salmonella outbreaks associated with the miniature veggies, arguing the risk isn’t work it. Marler said sprouts are particularly dicey because their seeds are prone to bacterial contamination.

3. Red meat cooked medium rare.
Are you picking up on a theme here? Marler seems to be all about the cooking process. While a medium rare burger yields glorious red juices that run on your plate, Marler said such meat also runs the risk of being contaminated with bacteria, especially when it’s ground.

“If it’s not cooked thoroughly to 160°F throughout, it can cause poisoning by E. coliand salmonella and other bacterial illnesses,” he said.

4. Raw shellfish.
How appealing do those $1 oysters seem right now? Oysters may be an aphrodisiac, but they’re not sexy to this lawyer.

“Oysters are filter feeders, so they pick up everything that’s in the water,” Marler wrote. If the water is contaminated, the shellfish will be, too. In 2008, the Center of Science for the Public Interest cited fish and shellfish as the number one cause of food-borne illnesses.

Food poisoning through seafood is on the rise: A 2015 report showed that vibrio poisonings, which often spread from the consumption of oysters, increased by a whopping 52 percent over the past decade or so. Vibriosis is one of the most serious kinds of food poisoning. Though it is rare, around half of the people inflicted by one of the specific strains ultimately die from it.

While some of these (uncooked sprouts and pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables) might appear surprising to some, it’s a great list to keep in mind for food safety. A safe food consumer is a happy food consumer. Let’s all stay happy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/food-bill-marler-food-safety-lawyer-wont-eat_us_56a77589e4b0172c659414ef

Weird Science. Federal dietary guidelines are based on a weak scientific framework

food pyramid collageIt would make sense that if the Federal Dietary Guidelines were adhered to by most Americans and the Guidelines were sound scientifically that the country wouldn’t have seen a rise in both obesity and any of several other conditions which lead to diabetes and heart disease. But we do have these problems. In fact, FoodFacts.com thinks it’s important to note that those problems have been increasing in frequency for Americans almost since the Federal Guidelines have been issued. Sounds like weird science. But it’s coming to light that Federal Dietary Guidelines are based on a weak scientific framework.

The federal government’s dietary guidelines have changed little since first being issued in 1980. A revised set of recommendations released this month includes a new cap on added sugar, but this is unlikely to end the guidelines’ failure for 35 years to check the rise of obesity and diabetes. The problem, simply put, is a reliance on weak science.

But a serious course correction may finally be on the horizon. Congress, concerned about the continued toll taken by nutrition-related diseases, recently mandated the first-ever outside review of the evidence underlying the dietary guidelines and the process that produces them. The National Academy of Medicine will conduct the review this year. Yet this effort could do more harm than good if the academy endorses the weak science that has shaped the guidelines for decades.

The crux of the problem is that many of the dietary recommendations are not based on clinical trials, which can reliably demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship. In a clinical trial, subjects are randomly assigned to one or more diets, whose health effects are then measured. Such studies are extremely challenging and expensive because subjects must be monitored closely or even provided food to ensure that they are adhering to the diet.

Instead, many of the dietary recommendations are justified by observational studies, using a scientific method known as prospective epidemiology. Researchers send out questionnaires to large numbers of people, asking about diet and lifestyle. They then follow up for years to record health outcomes.

This method cannot show causation, only associations. For instance, obesity might be associated with sitting in front of the television. But people who spend a lot of time watching TV might also eat more junk food. What’s making them fat: The TV-watching, the junk food, or something else entirely that no one thought to measure? Epidemiologists try to adjust for these variables, but there is always uncertainty.

It’s true that epidemiological science has had successes, most notably by linking smoking to cancer in the early 1950s. Yet heavy smokers had a risk of lung cancer 9 to 25 times greater than did nonsmokers, a big enough difference to give researchers confidence that the association was real. By contrast, studies that link nutrition with disease generally find differences in risk of 1 to 2 times.

Moreover, of the enormous number of associations generated by observational studies, only a small number are ultimately confirmed. In 2005 John Ioannidis of Stanford analyzed several dozen highly cited studies and concluded that subsequent clinical trials could reproduce only about 20% of observational findings. A 2011 paper published by the statistics journal Significance analyzed 52 claims made in nutritional studies, and none—0%—withstood the scrutiny of subsequent clinical trials. These are very poor odds on which to gamble public health. Yet policy makers have forged ahead anyway.

This has led to many flip-flops in dietary advice. At one point epidemiological data suggested that cholesterol might be linked to heart disease, and fat to cancer. For decades physicians told the public to avoid egg yolks and shellfish. Millions of Americans adopted low-fat diets and ate more carbohydrates. Yet these theorized links were later rejected. And a large body of evidence now suggests that eating excessive carbohydrates increases the risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Scientists should have known in 1980 that the recommendation to cut fat was unsound. Large clinical trials at the time did not support the theory, according to a systematic review published last year in the cardiology journal Open Heart. “It seems incomprehensible that dietary advice was introduced for 220 million Americans,” the authors wrote, “given the contrary results.”
What’s disturbing is how little this new evidence has been heeded. The guidelines continue to insist that Americans choose reduced-fat dairy products like skim milk. But even epidemiological evidence now contradicts this advice, and a randomized trialpublished last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people eating full-fat dairy, including whole milk, showed a number of better heart-disease outcomes.

The guidelines continue to place a cap on saturated fats—10% of total calories—based on what the authors consider “strong evidence.” But nearly a dozen meta-analyses or systematic reviews in recent years have found only a weak link between these fats and heart disease or cardiovascular mortality. So in many cases weak evidence supports the dietary guidelines, while strong evidence contradicts them.

Moreover, rates of obesity and diabetes remain stubbornly high, and this isn’t because dietary advice is ignored. Consider a 2008 report by the Agriculture Department that estimates changes in food consumption from 1970-2005: grains rose by 41%; vegetable oils by 91%; fish and shellfish by 37%; vegetables by 23%; and fruits by 13%. Eggs and red meat each fell by 17%, and whole milk by 73%. Yet during roughly the same period the incidence of diabetes doubled.
That’s why, as part of the budget bill that passed Congress in December, lawmakers appropriated $1 million for an independent review of the dietary guidelines. Congress wants to ensure that the next revision, due in 2020, will “better prevent chronic disease.” But we fear that the review, like the guidelines, will be dominated by epidemiology. Several members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are also on the National Academy of Medicine, and Congress has asked them to recuse themselves.

The academy might go further by appointing a disinterested referee, someone from outside the field of nutrition, to lead the review. Ideally, this person would have a background in systematic methodology or evidence-based medicine, fields that focus on how to evaluate and prioritize varying results from scientific studies. This expertise would assure the public that the review is to be a serious, objective weighing of the evidence.

Diseases caused by poor eating habits destroy lives and cost the nation trillions in health care. When wrong nutritional advice is dispensed to the public, scientists lose credibility, opening the door to dietary cults. The current guidelines clearly aren’t working. This review offers a chance to steer them on a surer course.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-food-pyramid-scheme-1454022514#livefyre-comment

Sugary drink warning labels may make parents stop and think twice

Sugary Drink WarningWe know what’s not good for us. Yet we still continue to do it. If those things weren’t true, FoodFacts.com knows that there would be several world conditions that would completely self-correct. We would all consistently choose not to smoke, never to consume too many calories and to avoid all kinds of controversial ingredients. We would all choose to exercise. And we wouldn’t overindulge in anything, ever. The world, however, is not a perfect place. Sometimes we need reminders to help us remain committed to our health and well-being. Consider, for a moment, the idea of a warning label on sugary beverages. Sugary drink warning labels may make parents stop and think twice.

Eating healthfully in America is hard. We have to contend with constant sugary and oily temptations, while pervasive ads coax us to eat these items day in and out.

The public health community generally agrees that regulations and taxes could help remind us of the potential health toll of the unhealthiest items — like beverages high in sugar — and keep us from consuming too much of them.

Lately, the idea of affixing a health warning label to sugary beverages also has been getting traction. So far, no city or state has been able to pass such a measure. But several are trying. California, New York and Baltimore all have legislation in the works requiring these labels on sugary drinks.

Until now, the effectiveness of such a label has been presumptive, drawing from the large body of research showing that warning labels on tobacco and alcohol products work.

But research appearing in the journal Pediatrics Thursday suggests that a warning label on sugary beverages might indeed deter people from buying the products.

The study was an online survey of about 2,400 parents from diverse backgrounds who were asked to choose a beverage for their child from an imaginary vending machine. The participants were randomly assigned one of six possible beverages: one with no label, one with a calorie label and four with different variations on a text warning label. The criteria for the (imaginary) beverages were drawn from proposed California legislation: any sweetened nonalcoholic drink with added sweeteners with 75 or more calories per 12 fluid ounces.

According to the researchers, led by Christina Roberto, assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, significantly fewer parents in the study chose sugar-sweetened beverages if there was a warning label on it: just 40 percent, versus 60 percent who chose one with no label, and 53 percent who chose one with a calorie label.

“We were surprised that the warning labels had as big an impact as they did,” Roberto tells us. “I think the study shows us that calorie labels aren’t terribly effective, and warning labels might have a bigger impact.” The impact was actually two-fold: The labels educated consumers about the health harms of drinking sugary beverages and influenced their purchasing behavior as a result.
But while promising, the study offers only a vague idea of how warning labels might work in the real world, if a city like Baltimore or a state like California were to implement them. Roberto says she suspects the effect wouldn’t be as strong. “We certainly need more data to know for sure,” she says.

On Monday, a Baltimore councilman introduced legislation that would require businesses “that sell or advertise sugar-sweetened sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, juices, coffees and teas to post signs warning consumers that they contribute to tooth decay, obesity and diabetes,” the Baltimore Sun reported.

Leana Wen is the city’s health commissioner, and she’s hearing a lot of support from physicians and parents in Baltimore for the proposed policy. “Parents are telling us they would like information to level the playing field. They want to have accurate information for themselves and their children,” says Wen. “The evidence tells us that [other kinds of] warning labels on tobacco and alcohol products do have an effect on parents and consumer choices.”

But, Wen says, the beverage industry has been pushing back hard in Baltimore, lobbying legislators to reject the warning label policy and “frightening our small businesses, telling them they’re going to be hurt by this and lose business.”

It’s not clear whether the bill will make it out of committee. But Roberto says that her study revealed that support for such policies might be broad. Some 73 percent of the participants said they were in favor of a policy requiring a warning label on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The idea that similar labels do have powerful effects certainly makes this a worthwhile effort. It’s a reminder that may have a great impact on the public health … a small reminder might just go a long way.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/14/463061869/warning-labels-might-help-parents-buy-fewer-sugary-drinks-study-finds

The science guy has changed his mind about GMOs

Magic City Comic ConFoodFacts.com has a serious question, worthy of your consideration. Is changing your mind a testament to your ever-evolving, constantly-learning, exceptional intellect, or, rather, is it the inability to make up one’s mind? We’re constantly posing this question during any political season, as every word every candidate has ever uttered is questioned over and over again. It is a serious question for other arenas as well and needs to be considered in science. Bill Nye, for example, is in the news right now for this precise discussion. The science guy has changed his mind about GMOs.

“The first principle [of science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics, 1965.

When Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) publicly changed his mind recently about genetically modified organisms − he now says they “are an important, and perhaps, essential component of modern farming” − many were quick to pounce.

Besides attacking his reasoning and his credentials, some of his critics even alleged – with absolutely no evidence or justification – that Bill’s change of position must have involved a payoff by Monsanto.

The simple, innocent truth, however, is laid out plainly in the recently published revised edition of Bill’s book “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation.” In a new chapter, Bill explains that after publishing the first edition of the book, in 2014, he “has spent a great deal of additional time investigating the issues surrounding GMFs (genetically modified foods).” His investigation, he explains, included a deeper exploration of the scientific literature, as well as a visit to our company.

“I was not there to be charmed,” he comments on that visit. “I was there to see if Monsanto scientists had hard data to address the issues about GMFs and the ecosystems in which they grow. I now believe they do.”

In other words, Bill dug deeper into the issue and then recognized he’d been mistaken. And then he had the courage to admit it.

Who else has trod this path? Well, lots of people. After all, to err is human, and scientists and those who, like Bill, study and write about science, are human. For science to move ahead, therefore, it’s critical that the people who pursue it be willing to recognize and correct their mistakes. Otherwise science – and humanity – get stuck.

I know I’ve made mistakes as a scientist – for example, in being slow to recognize the seriousness of climate change. When the data documenting this trend became overwhelming, however, I studied it – and shifted my position – because I knew that for a scientist, the real sin is not in making a mistake, but in refusing to acknowledge it. That’s all Bill has done in this case.

And that puts him in some very good company.

Thomas Edison, for example, famously had to work his way through thousands of failures to achieve some of his great technological inventions.

“I have not failed,” he once said. “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

That attitude is typical among great scientists. They know that, as Niels Bohr said, “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”

Albert Einstein was one such expert. As a recent article in Scientific American shows, the greatest physicist of the 20th century made several important mistakes. But as the article also shows, he was not unwilling to admit it, most notably in connection with his general theory of relativity, introduced in 1915.

Consistent with the prevailing belief of the time, Einstein assumed then that the universe was static – neither expanding nor contracting. That circumstance, however, was a problem for him, because gravity dictated contraction. So the great man inserted into his calculations a “cosmological constant” – a fudge factor he thought was needed to ensure a universe in balance.

Some years later, however, evidence began to mount that the universe was not in balance, that it’s actually expanding. So Einstein withdrew the constant – and called it “the biggest blunder he ever made in his life.”

My final example of mistakes made and acknowledged concerns Stephen Hawking, the British astrophysicist who comes closest, perhaps, to being Einstein’s successor in today’s world. Hawking, who helped create modern black-hole theory among countless other contributions, is best known to the public as the author of A Brief History of Time and the subject of the movie, “The Theory of Everything.”

Like Einstein, Hawking has admitted some big mistakes. My favorite concerns time:

A few decades ago, some of the world’s leading theorists speculated that if the expansion of the universe were to reverse itself and things would begin to contract, time’s arrow would flip. Instead of pointing forward, it would run backwards, like a movie in reverse. People, if they still existed, would live from the grave to the cradle.

Now, as spectacular as that thought is, what is almost equally spectacular to me is that for a while, Stephen Hawking believed it. Yes, the man who is arguably the smartest person in the world thought time would reverse – which I gather means the Beatles would reunite, the Great Depression would quickly be followed by World War I, and my St. Louis Cardinals would have another chance at winning the 1985 World Series, which they would have won the first time but for a terrible call by the umpire.

But I digress. As The New York Times reported years ago, Hawking has now “announced that he had changed his mind. Recent research had led him to conclude that time would still march forward, even if the universe began to contract, he told a conference in Chicago on astrophysics.”

Never changing one’s mind does seem to be a limiting concept – one which assumes that after a hypothesis is made or an opinion is given, there will be no change, no discovery and no greater depth of knowledge on the given subject. That strikes us as a sad thought. On the other hand, we are talking about GMOs. Food for thought.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-robert-t-fraley/bill-nyes-change-of-heart_b_9055296.html

Obesity is less about race and more about resources

kids nutritionSometimes science brings up touchy subjects. Science deal with facts and sometimes facts aren’t politically correct. Happily though, there are times that the politically correct viewpoint was the right viewpoint all along … science just wasn’t advanced enough to see it yet. FoodFacts.com finds that to be the case here and we couldn’t be happier about it. It seems that Obesity is less about race and more about resources – regardless of past research claims.

As researchers have searched for ways to explain the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S., many have posited that a child’s race or ethnicity alone can put them at greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Kim Eagle, a professor of internal medicine and health management and policy at the University of Michigan, was skeptical of this thinking. His hunch was that poverty was a much more important part of the equation.

And he saw an opportunity to parse the connections between childhood obesity, poverty and race in Massachusetts, where public health officials have been collecting race, body mass index and other data on about 112,000 students from about 70 of the state’s school districts. Eagle and colleagues decided to compare that data to numbers to students’ eligibility for free school lunch programs, an indicator of poverty, to find out what predicts whether a child might become overweight or obese.

“At first glance it looked like childhood obesity was more common among African Americans or Hispanics,” Eagle says. When they accounted for poverty, though, the trend vanished. What his findings, which appeared in December in the journal Childhood Obesity, show is that, “[obesity] is not about our race or ethnicity at all. It’s about resources,” he says.

It’s far from the first study to reach this conclusion. A 2012 paper published in the American Heart Journal that also looked at kids in Massachusetts found that prevalence of obesity and overweight in children rose in communities with lower household income.

While not entirely surprising, this is an important insight for our understanding of attitudes about childhood obesity. “When you have particular groups with higher rates of a problem, people start to think that they’re doing something wrong that’s specific to them,” says Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “This [data] helps fight against that bias.”

For Eagle and his colleagues, understanding that it’s poverty, not race, that can help explain obesity rates is also useful for addressing the crisis. Viewed through the lens of genetics or culture, the issue can feel intractable, Eagle says, but reframing it as a matter of resources points towards tangible solutions. “This is something communities can wrap their arms around,” he says. “It’s not something a child is born with.”

In 2004, Eagle founded Project Healthy Schools, a curriculum-based program aimed at curbing obesity in middle schoolers. Kids learn about nutrition, but they also get healthier options at school: Eagle’s team has taken on vending machines and cafeteria menus — nixing two-for-one hot dog days and Pop Tarts for breakfast. They also work on sports programs and school gardens.

Eagle says students at first complained about salad carts and yogurt in the cafeteria, but over time, they’ve turned out to be hugely popular. “It’s not that students want to eat un-healthfully,” he says. “A lot of times [unhealthy food is] all they have.”

The program is now at more than 50 middle schools in Michigan. Eagle says while most kids of all income levels benefit within three months, he sees the most dramatic improvements in low-income students. And, he says, being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re destined to be overweight and in poor health – if you intervene in communities with few resources, health outcomes can improve.

Science corrects its mistakes and refocuses itself – and the rest of us – on problem solving and discovery. And that takes us all one step closer to unraveling and reversing the obesity crisis once and for all.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/01/22/463074965/why-poverty-may-be-more-relevant-than-race-for-childhood-obesity

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

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/