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Archive for the ‘Center for Science in the Public Interest’ Category

2011: A Year to Remember (and Forget!)

It wasn’t until I started compiling stories for this post that I realized just how much had taken place this year on issues of food, agriculture, and nutrition. While by no means a definitive list, I think it covers the most substantial events.

So, if you’ve been spelunking in Antarctica for the past twelve months — or just want a short trip down memory lane — let’s review 2011, the year where:
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In The News: San Francisco Doesn’t Toy Around!

Fast food KidsEarlier this Summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest generated headlines and buzz when they announced plans to sue McDonald’s if they continued to use toys to market unhealthy food to children,referring to the practice as “unfair, deceptive, and illegal.”

California’s Santa Clara county was the first government in the United States to implement their own “no toy” rule (though only in unincorporated areas, meaning Burger King and the like escaped unharmed), and it appears San Francisco is next.

San Francisco’s proposed rule, however, does include incorporated businesses.  Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health accurarely explains that “this is not an anti-toy ordinance; this is a pro-healthy-meal ordinance.”

See, toys are allowed in children’s meals considered to be “nutritionally fit”.  What makes a meal nutritionally fit?  Here are the suggested standards:

  • Less than 200 calories for a single item or less than 600 calories for a meal.
  • Less than 480 milligrams of sodium for a single item or 640 milligrams for a meal.
  • Less than 35 percent of its calories derived from fat (unless the fat is contained in nuts, seeds or nut butters, or from a packaged egg or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
  • Less than 10 percent of its calories derived from saturated fats (with the exception of nuts, seeds, packaged eggs or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
  • Less than 0.5 grams of trans fat.
  • Meals must include a half-cup of fruits and three-fourths of a cup of vegetables.
  • Beverages may not have more than 35 percent of their calories from fat or more than 10 percent of their calories from sugar.

Unless most fast-food chains decrease their portion sizes, they do not meet at least one of the above-mentioned guidelines.  My thoughts on the guidelines?

  • I like that not all fats are treated equal (a healthy item that consists of, say, sliced apples and a peanut butter dip would not be disqualified for being “too fatty”)
  • I also like that eggs are not shunned for high cholesterol levels.  Eggs are abundant in nutrients, and the whole “cholesterol in food causes high cholesterol in the blood” theory has been debunked time and time again.
  • Lastly, I like that they serve as motivators for fast food chains to truly revamp their respective children’s menus if they wish to continue promoting them with toys.
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In The News: More, More, More!

tour-italyThe Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that supersize portions are back — and bigger than ever!

Their “Extreme Eating Awards” highlight this year’s monstrosities, all containing four-digit calorie values and as much as two days’ worth of saturated fat and sodium.

Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy, pictured alongside this post, is composed of a combination of “lasagna classico, lightly breaded chicken parmigiana, and creamy fettuccine alfredo,” and clocks in at 1,500 calories and 165% of the daily saturated fat limit.

I’m most “fascinated” by the concept behind Applebee’s qusadilla  burger, in which “Applebee’s inserts a bacon cheeseburger into a quesadilla.”

You know, in case you’re feeling particularly masochisitic.

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In The News: Vitamin Water Called To The Mat

Less than two hours ago, Reuters reported that The Center for Science in the Public Interest “filed a class action lawsuit against Coca-Cola Co, accusing the company of making deceptive health claims about its Vitamin Water beverages.”

Can’t say I disagree.

It is precisely Vitamin Water’s cutesy and health-oriented advertising that has resulted in “I don’t drink soda” types buying into what is, essentially, vitamin-fortified sugar water.

For more information on this beverage, please read this “You Ask/I Answer” post
from August of 2007.

Coca Cola, meanwhile, is dismissing this as an attention-seeking move by CSPI, claiming their nutrition facts label tells an accurate tale.

Okay, but that is not what CSPI is challenging.

Rather, it is “the company’s claims [that] the drinks reduce the risk of chronic disease and eye disease, promote healthy joints and support immune function” that are being called out as deceptive.

There is also the issue of the particular names attributed to each flavor (including “defense”, “energy”, and “rescue”).

Obviously, Vitamin Water depends on those healthy-sounding terms for sales.

Otherwise, their fruit punch flavor would simply be named “fruit punch” rather than “revive.”

I strongly support more regulation surrounding health claims on these types of products. What are your thoughts?

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Dear Governor…

Several readers have e-mailed me over the past week asking what they can do — and who they should contact — to get mandatory calorie labeling in their state’s fast food chains.

The folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest kindly provide a form letter you can submit electronically to your Governor.

If advocacy writing is your forte, you can always use that letter as inspiration for your own missive.

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In The News: Color Me Scared

Although the link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children has not made huge headlines in the United States, it is of paramount importance among British consumers (largely because the latest studies emerge from the United Kingdom).

It appears, though, that food dyes may very well be “the next trans fats” on this side of the Atlantic.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest “called on federal regulators to ban several colorings, claiming they’re linked to hyperactivity in children.”

These concerns sure proved effective in the UK, where “[the] Mars [company] banished artificial colors from its well-known Starburst and Skittles candies… [and] Kraft did the same in early 2007 with its British version of Lunchables.”

Whether this stems from a sense of social responsibility or simply a ploy to not keep profit margins steady will never be known, but this public outcry certainly did not fall on deaf ears.

Over in the US of A, the CSPI is calling for the ban of six particular artificial colorings, among them Red 40 and Yellow 5, found in cereals, chips, and baked goods.

Although the FDA doesn’t believe a link between food colorings and hyperactivity in children can be substantiated, they have banned certain ones in the past (i.e.: “Red Dye No. 3, which in high doses caused cancer in lab animals, in 1990″).

I predict this will be the “hot” public health and nutrition issue in about two years.

Over in Britain, meanwhile, they are taking no chances. “McDonald’s uses natural colorings for strawberry shakes and sundaes sold in the UK, while it uses artificial dyes for the same in the U.S.”

Thoughts?

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You Ask, I Answer: Gary Taubes

I would very much appreciate any thoughts you have regarding Gary Taubes.

– Karen Carabio
Reno, NV

This question arrived in my inbox on March 3, the same day I heard that Mr. Taubes was due to speak at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health on March 13.

I wanted to attend that event before answering Karen’s question, so as to truly familiarize myself with his theories and viewpoints.

If you are not familiar with Gary Taubes, he is a journalist and physicist who has contributed articles to Science magazine since the 80s.

He became a semi household name in August of 2002 when his article “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?” made the cover of The New York Times Magazine.

Its main point? Carbohydrates — and only carboydrates — are to blame for rising obesity rates in the United States.

Cut out carbs from your diet, Taubes claimed, and you won’t gain weight. And when he says “carbohydrates”, he’s even referring to whole grains.

His article paved the way for the 2002 rebirth of the Atkins diet.

And what a rebirth it was! Six hundred low-carb products were launched in 2003.

Even common products like oils, cheese, and diet sodas included large “Low Carb!” stickers on their packaging, capitalizing on consumers’ growing interest in shunning carbohydrate-rich foods.

By 2005, however, the hype died down, the Atkins company filed for bankruptcy, and “low carb” was out (thank goodness!).

That certainly didn’t change Taubes’ mind, though.

Last year, he pubished Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.

Its main point? Dietitians are blaming the wrong guy for this country’s increasing weight problems.

Obesity, Taubes claims, is not caused by overeating. Not only that — calories have nothing to do with weight gain or loss!

So what is the cause? Taubes attributes it to insulin.

The more insulin you produce, he believes, the more weight you gain.

Therefore, it follows that carbohydrates (which raise blood glucose levels more than fat or protein, thereby signaling the body to release more insulin) cause weight gain.

At his March 13 NYU talk, Taubes presented a few more points.

He first referred to animal studies demonstrating that when animals overfeed themselves, their metabolism revs up and burns more energy than usual; when they underfeed, their metabolism slows down.

Taubes went on to explain that the same concept can be attributed to humans.

If we overeat, he explained, our bodies are smart enough to know to burn more calories. If we undereat, our metabolism slows down.

In Taubes’ view, calories in and of themselves are irrelevant because our bodies can handle what comes their way.

Fair enough — one of the main flaws behind very low calorie diets is that they end up slowing metabolism down, thereby making it easier to gain weight when regular eating patterns are resumed.

And while it is true that our metabolisms can compensate if we overeat by 50 or so calories, don’t count on it to balance things out if you overeat by 300, 500, 1,000 or 1,200 calories.

Taubes claims that all overweight people are in such a state simply because of high carbohydrate consumption.

Okay, but can he point to examples of people overeating calories and NOT gaining weight?

Taubes believes that “portion control” only works because people are eating less carbohydrates.

Yes, but they are also eating less fat and protein, thereby discrediting his entire argument.

After the talk, a member of the audience asked Taubes how he explains many Asian cultures subsisting on “bad carbs” like white rice and having lower obesity rates than the United States.

His response? “Well, they’ve been eating rice for thousands of years, so their bodies are just used to it.” Huh?

At one point in his talk, Taubes claimed that sugar and refined carbohydrates are only approximately a hundred years old or so in much of Europe and North America.

I would love to know where he got that information from, since the most basic of research on sugar points to its existence in Persia around 650 AD, and its delivery by European Crusaders to their continent in 1100 AD.

Sugar is not new. It has been consumed by civilizations around the world for centuries. Following his logic then, why aren’t most humans “immune” to calories from sugar?

Overweight and obesity are clearly linked to a higher consumption of calories.

If you are skeptical, do me a favor and eat 1,000 more calories than usual (solely from pure fat or protein sources; absolutely no carbs) every day for a month.

Then, get on a scale.

Or, try the reverse and subsist on 400 calories of pure carbohydrates every single day for a month. According to Taubes, you would still gain weight.

Taubes was also asked by an audience member if he thinks it is possible for humans to live healthfully without consuming a single gram of carbohydrates.

His answer? A resounding “yes.”

At one point in his presentation, he even referred to fiber as “insignificant.” I thought my eyebrows were going to reach the ceiling.

I seriously wonder how he came to this conclusion; a thorough review of the evidence-based research on fiber consumption and its role in decreading cancer risks (particularly colon and prostate ones) clearly demonstrates the important role it plays in overall health.

Once again, this theory can easily be disputed by trying it out yourself.

If you think fiber is irrelevant to your health, go two weeks on a fiber-free diet — no laxatives allowed! I’m pretty sure you’ll soon realize just how crucial fiber is.

By the way, Taubes’ infamous 2002 article quickly received a response from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Washington Post health reporter Sally Squires (I am unable to find her excellent article online — can anyone help?).

Michael Fumento of Reason magazine also added his two cents at the time.

Gary Taubes fired back a response, which in turn was replied to by Fumento.

I have provided links to all these articles to enable you to read and form your own conclusions.

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

Share

You Ask, I Answer: Gary Taubes

I would very much appreciate any thoughts you have regarding Gary Taubes.

– Karen Carabio
Reno, NV

This question arrived in my inbox on March 3, the same day I heard that Mr. Taubes was due to speak at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health on March 13.

I wanted to attend that event before answering Karen’s question, so as to truly familiarize myself with his theories and viewpoints.

If you are not familiar with Gary Taubes, he is a journalist and physicist who has contributed articles to Science magazine since the 80s.

He became a semi household name in August of 2002 when his article “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?” made the cover of The New York Times Magazine.

Its main point? Carbohydrates — and only carboydrates — are to blame for rising obesity rates in the United States.

Cut out carbs from your diet, Taubes claimed, and you won’t gain weight. And when he says “carbohydrates”, he’s even referring to whole grains.

His article paved the way for the 2002 rebirth of the Atkins diet.

And what a rebirth it was! Six hundred low-carb products were launched in 2003.

Even common products like oils, cheese, and diet sodas included large “Low Carb!” stickers on their packaging, capitalizing on consumers’ growing interest in shunning carbohydrate-rich foods.

By 2005, however, the hype died down, the Atkins company filed for bankruptcy, and “low carb” was out (thank goodness!).

That certainly didn’t change Taubes’ mind, though.

Last year, he pubished Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease.

Its main point? Dietitians are blaming the wrong guy for this country’s increasing weight problems.

Obesity, Taubes claims, is not caused by overeating. Not only that — calories have nothing to do with weight gain or loss!

So what is the cause? Taubes attributes it to insulin.

The more insulin you produce, he believes, the more weight you gain.

Therefore, it follows that carbohydrates (which raise blood glucose levels more than fat or protein, thereby signaling the body to release more insulin) cause weight gain.

At his March 13 NYU talk, Taubes presented a few more points.

He first referred to animal studies demonstrating that when animals overfeed themselves, their metabolism revs up and burns more energy than usual; when they underfeed, their metabolism slows down.

Taubes went on to explain that the same concept can be attributed to humans.

If we overeat, he explained, our bodies are smart enough to know to burn more calories. If we undereat, our metabolism slows down.

In Taubes’ view, calories in and of themselves are irrelevant because our bodies can handle what comes their way.

Fair enough — one of the main flaws behind very low calorie diets is that they end up slowing metabolism down, thereby making it easier to gain weight when regular eating patterns are resumed.

And while it is true that our metabolisms can compensate if we overeat by 50 or so calories, don’t count on it to balance things out if you overeat by 300, 500, 1,000 or 1,200 calories.

Taubes claims that all overweight people are in such a state simply because of high carbohydrate consumption.

Okay, but can he point to examples of people overeating calories and NOT gaining weight?

Taubes believes that “portion control” only works because people are eating less carbohydrates.

Yes, but they are also eating less fat and protein, thereby discrediting his entire argument.

After the talk, a member of the audience asked Taubes how he explains many Asian cultures subsisting on “bad carbs” like white rice and having lower obesity rates than the United States.

His response? “Well, they’ve been eating rice for thousands of years, so their bodies are just used to it.” Huh?

At one point in his talk, Taubes claimed that sugar and refined carbohydrates are only approximately a hundred years old or so in much of Europe and North America.

I would love to know where he got that information from, since the most basic of research on sugar points to its existence in Persia around 650 AD, and its delivery by European Crusaders to their continent in 1100 AD.

Sugar is not new. It has been consumed by civilizations around the world for centuries. Following his logic then, why aren’t most humans “immune” to calories from sugar?

Overweight and obesity are clearly linked to a higher consumption of calories.

If you are skeptical, do me a favor and eat 1,000 more calories than usual (solely from pure fat or protein sources; absolutely no carbs) every day for a month.

Then, get on a scale.

Or, try the reverse and subsist on 400 calories of pure carbohydrates every single day for a month. According to Taubes, you would still gain weight.

Taubes was also asked by an audience member if he thinks it is possible for humans to live healthfully without consuming a single gram of carbohydrates.

His answer? A resounding “yes.”

At one point in his presentation, he even referred to fiber as “insignificant.” I thought my eyebrows were going to reach the ceiling.

I seriously wonder how he came to this conclusion; a thorough review of the evidence-based research on fiber consumption and its role in decreading cancer risks (particularly colon and prostate ones) clearly demonstrates the important role it plays in overall health.

Once again, this theory can easily be disputed by trying it out yourself.

If you think fiber is irrelevant to your health, go two weeks on a fiber-free diet — no laxatives allowed! I’m pretty sure you’ll soon realize just how crucial fiber is.

By the way, Taubes’ infamous 2002 article quickly received a response from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Washington Post health reporter Sally Squires (I am unable to find her excellent article online — can anyone help?).

Michael Fumento of Reason magazine also added his two cents at the time.

Gary Taubes fired back a response, which in turn was replied to by Fumento.

I have provided links to all these articles to enable you to read and form your own conclusions.

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

Share

In The News: It Seemed Just A Tad Too Easy, Didn’t It?

Remember the recent news I shared of mandatory calorie labeling about to become a reality at chain restaurants in New York City?

Ah, those were the days. I was so optimistic and full of life.

Well, bad news — Marion Nestle reports that the entire proposal is under litigation.

The National Restaurant Association (the other NRA) pitched a fit and will do whatever it takes to stop it from happening.

Luckily, the folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are ready to counter-attack.

Game on! This should be a fun one to keep an eye on.

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In The News: Exotically Expensive

The Center for Science in the Public Interests’ Nutrition Action newsletter is one of my favorite publications.

I received the January/February issue in the mail yesterday and wanted to share a “right on!” tidbit on exotic juices from a larger feature article on health claims and juice.

The article begins by asking, want to make a million dollars?”

It then instructs readers to “find an exotic fruit,” “turn it into juice,” attribute extraordinary healing powers” to it, and then “get Whole Foods to carry it and charge what the market will bear.

This last point is expanded upon even further.

“Don’t be shy. Start with four or five times what regular juices go for,” they advise.

The article makes the excellent point that the antioxidants and phytochemicals billed so highly in these juices can be found in those of more conventional (and less expensive!) fruits’.

Yes, I am aware that acai juice contains the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit.

That alone, however, is not necessarily a testament to it being “healthier” or “better”.

CSPI took a look at the research backing up these products and found that with both acai and goji berry juice, “not a single study published has looked at whether people who drink it are any healthier than people who don’t.

As far as pomegranate juice is concerned, they refer to a preliminary study done by the University of California in Los Angeles in which 46 men consumed 8 ounces of pomegranate juice for three years.

End result? 38 of them had their PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels — rising levels “can indicate a growing tumor” — slowed down.

However, the folks at CSPI are quick to point out that “the study didn’t include a placebo group.” Oops!

The article does not mention noni juice, another supposedly miraculous beverage that supposedly helps with everything from impotence to arthritis to Alzheimer’s, if you believe the press releases.

No need to fork over $40 for a 32 ounce bottle, though, since no studies have shown any health benefits from drinking noni juice.

Besides, I remember trying noni juice several years back and thinking I had accidentally poured myself a glass of red wine vinegar. It’s absolutely repulsive.

If it is health benefits you seek, you’re better off biting into a real piece of fruit (anything from a peach to a blueberry to a kiwi or even a handful of goji berries — your choice!) than downing most store-bought juices.

No matter how exotic, many contain added sugars.

And, while some foods are certainly healthier than others (and offer unique combinations of key nutrients), I don’t believe in the concept of “miracle” foods.

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In The News: Are You Being Fooled?

The folks over at the Center for Science in the Public Interest have compiled eight food frauds — products that promise, but certainly don’t deliver.

To wisen up before your next supermarket venture, check out the list here.

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