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Archive for the ‘Food industry’ Category

Sugar v fat

Across the pond, twin doctors Alexander and Chris Van Tulleken attempted to “answer the hottest question in nutrition” for the BBC documentary Sugar v Fat. In a piece for the Daily Mail, they share their take on the sugar vs fat question:

The most interesting thing we found was that we were asking the wrong question. It’s not which is worse for you, fat or sugar, but rather which foods are making so many of us gain weight and why? …

What we discovered is that the real reason we’re all getting fatter isn’t fat or sugar.

Furthermore, sugar alone isn’t very addictive – only horses snack on sugar cubes and very few people gorge on boiled sweets or dry toast.

And fat isn’t really addictive either: when did you last sneak a spoonful of butter from the fridge late at night?

The modern processed food industry knows this and that’s why you’re rarely sold the two separately – what is addictive is the combination.

As it turns out, the relatively short duration of the experiment — one month — meant that the low-carber had issues with adaptation (ref his comment that ketones aren’t “great brain food” or his performance problems in tests against his twin). OTOH, he had more weight loss thanks to the loss of his stored glycogen.

But it turns out that neither diet was palatable to either twin: “both of these diets were miserable.”

Their conclusion?

If you want to lose weight it will be much easier if you avoid processed foods made with sugar and fat. These foods affect your brain in a completely different way from natural foods and it’s hard for anyone to resist eating too much.

And any diet that eliminates fat or sugar will be unpalatable, hard to sustain and probably be bad for your health, too.

Their experiment has its flaws, but on the other hand, I think it does show that for the average person, either diet is too restrictive for the long term. That said, I suspect that the real truth is that any diet that has you minimizing hyperpalatable foods is a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping this program helps get that message across.

HT Stephan Guyenet

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Claus Meyer, “gastronomical entrepreneur” and founder of Noma (the world’s best restaurant from 2010 to 2012), on his New Nordic cuisine movement:

If our movement is a threat against anything, I believe it is the transnational junk and fast food industry dominated by massive corporations that tend to ruin our health, undermine our independence, and potentially damage the planet.

The quote comes from Meyer’s contribution to week one of Coursera’s The New Nordic Diet – from Gastronomy to Health. I initially thought it was really a course about a specific diet, but it’s actually much more than that: it’s about taste, pleasure, seasonality, sustainability, and more. What’s particularly cool is that they are trying to take the lessons learned in Denmark and reproduce their success in Bolivia.

The class just started, so if you’re into real food, sustainability, and interesting public health experiments, check it out. It’s free!

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Annoyed woman So I’ll bet you heard the news. A professor and some of his students found that Oreos are “just as addictive as cocaine” in rats.

Why is this annoying? For one, it’s not particularly innovative … research like this has been done (and done better) years ago.

For another, it’s misleading. As Emily Deans pointed out yesterday on Twitter:

just because a substance hits the pleasure centers doesn’t mean ‘as addictive as cocaine.’

Or as Yoni Freedhoff pointed out on his blog this morning:

Putting aside any concerns with experimental methodologies, if our pleasures centres didn’t light up like Christmas trees when faced with sugars and fats then I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be over 7 billion of us walking the planet, because up until only about a millisecond or so in the grand scheme of time, those who were more driven to eat were the only ones who survived.

Understanding our brain’s reward system is important, but it’s also important not to overstate the case and, like some, conflate normal behavior with addiction.

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Harvard’s School of Public Health and the Huffington Post presented a forum last month titled Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity. The discussion is a bit long and a bit wonky, but it’s well worth a watch — especially for those who think this issue is primarily about personal responsibility.

I particularly liked the last few minutes where David Kessler pointed out that the panelists in the room (Kessler was on via satellite) are “too fit, too thin” and need to “talk with someone who really struggles with their weight.”

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Quote of the day

Mother Jones talks about food quality, fast food, and those Chipotle ads, concluding that Chipotle’s ads paint a rosier picture than reality suggests. MJ’s suggestion:

So if you’re headed off to lunch after reading this article, and you want to eat organic, avoid GMOs, and get food that’s locally sourced—your best best is to go to a grocery store, read the labels very carefully, and make a sandwich. But if that’s not an option, you’re far better off going to Chipotle than McDonald’s, where if you order a burger—literally just a bun, meat, and Big Mac sauce—you’re eating more than 60 ingredients. Good luck, America.

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So, saw this advertised the other day. It’s Kellogg’s Raisin Bran® Omega-3 from Flaxseed cereal. Both the ingredients list and the picture make it clear you’re getting whole flaxseed:

raisinbran

Well, at the risk of being indelicate, the only thing getting 250mg of ALA (an omega 3 fatty acid) from flaxseed is your poop. Whole flaxseeds are not digestible! Boy, they should put this picture in the dictionary next to “healthwashing.”

So if a product includes whole flaxseeds, you might as well consider that an insoluble fiber.

BTW, you don’t really want to buy ground flaxseed either, since the fatty acids can oxidize quickly (not a good thing!). If you want to add flaxseed to your diet, my suggestion is to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them yourself with a nice ceramic spice grinder.

But unless you are vegetarian or vegan, you’re better off with animal sources of omega 3 like salmon.

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I’m only a half-hour in to the first episode of The Men Who Made Us Thin, a four-part series from the BBC on the diet industry. Pretty amazing stuff. In the first episode, reporter Jacques Peretti learns how the diet industry was formed (it was earlier than you may think) and why it turned out that lack of long-term success didn’t derail the industry [23:20]:

If a diet is going to fail long term, the dieter will come back to the product again and again.

The fact that people kept putting on weight and coming back turned out to be a good, not a bad, thing for the diet industry.

Consumers’ failure was a recipe for business success.

You can watch below.

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Quote of the day

Across the pond, The Guardian looks at how the food giants accused of making us fat are also profiting from the slimming industry:

When obesity as a global health issue first came on the radar, the food industry sat up and took notice. But not exactly in the way you might imagine. Some of the world’s food giants opted to do something both extraordinary and stunningly obvious: they decided to make money from obesity, by buying into the diet industry. …

You would think there might be a problem here: the food industry has one ostensible objective – and that’s to sell food. But by creating the ultimate oxymoron of diet food – something you eat to lose weight – it squared a seemingly impossible circle. And we bought it. Highly processed diet meals emerged, often with more sugar in them than the originals, but marketed for weight loss, and here is the key get-out clause, “as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. …

So what you see when you walk into a supermarket in 2013 is the entire 360 degrees of obesity in a single glance. The whole panorama of fattening you up and slimming you down, owned by conglomerates which have analysed every angle and money-making opportunity. The very food companies charged with making us fat in the first place are now also making money from the obesity epidemic.

HT Asclepius.

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Truth in advertising?

I’ve recently been seeing the Keebler ad embedded below. It starts off showing an older commercial for one of their traditional cookies, but finishes with a description of their new Simply Made cookies … cookies which are “made with the same ingredients you’d find in your kitchen.”

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 3.25.01 PMAfter viewing this a couple of times (with my BS detector going off each time), I checked out the nutrition info for their Simply Made Chocolate Chip cookies. I fully expected to find that while some of the ingredients might be in my kitchen, there’d be loads of other non-food ingredients in there too.

But if I was going to blast them for that (and I would have), I think I have to give them props, as the bulk of the ingredients are found in most folks’ kitchens: flour, chocolate, sugar, butter, canola oil. I’m not a fan of the last one, but other than that, it’s a pretty decent list (click image at right for full-size).

Something that makes me go ‘hmmm’ wrt the whole debate about food and the food industry.

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Social policy researcher Helen Lee thinks food activism is leading public health astray (emphasis mine):

Much of the American public health and medical establishment came to believe that one of the most powerful ways to overcome the [obesity] epidemic was to radically remake our school and neighborhood food environments­­, reducing­­ access to unhealthy foods and increasing access to healthy ones.

But in their rush to condemn corporate agribusiness, food marketers, and neighborhood food environments, public health advocates have too often allowed their policy and ideological preferences to race ahead of the science. This has fostered a reductive story about obesity that appeals to liberal audiences but doesn’t comport particularly well with much of what we know about why people choose to eat unhealthy foods, what the health consequences of being overweight or obese actually are, or why health outcomes associated with obesity are so much worse among some populations than others.

Against the current popular discourse, obesity is better understood as an unintended consequence of affluence than as a disease epidemic.

It’s a long read and I had a couple of knee-jerk responses in places, but I think it’s well worth a thoughtful read. In particular, I find one of her conclusions intriguing:

The focus on food environments also led school-based efforts themselves to be too limited. “If the framing of the public remains around individual willpower,” Wallack and Dorfman wrote in their analysis for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2004, “approaches that seek to improve environments are less likely to be understood by the public.” But if environments, as measured by food deserts and fast food proliferation, have little or no impact on obesity rates, and are unlikely to be expunged of unhealthy foods, the public health focus should rightly consider ways of empowering children to exercise more willpower.

… As such, nutrition education and school gardening programs are probably a lot less valuable than curriculums that show young people how to manage desires for unhealthy foods.

HT Linda Bacon.

Update, 7/16: Interesting timing re Lee’s comment above re affluence … here’s Yoni Freedhoff’s summary of a recently published study looking at body composition among Vanuatu inhabitants:

Risk of obesity, increased body fat percentage, increase waist circumferences and waist to hip ratios all went up in lock step with degree of economic development.

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