Managing Weight: Good Foods vs. Bad Foods

Posted on:August 1, 2011
Weight Control and French Fries

Certain foods such as fried foods and refined grains were associated with weight gain; fruits, vegetables and yogurt with weight loss.

In the food industry, healthcare community, governmental policy arena and certainly among consumers from a personal concern, one of the biggest issues is how the American (and indeed global) population can control its weight. A recently published study in the New England Journal of Medicine casts interesting insights into the “Battle of the Bulge.”
The research reviewed data from three separate studies (the Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study), involving 120,877 healthcare professionals who were not obese at the start of the study. The study participants were followed for 12 to 20 years. Every four years, the study participants completed questionnaires about what they ate, lifestyles and current weight.
What they found was that certain foods (French fries, potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, red meats and processed meats, other forms of potatoes, sweets and desserts, refined grains, other fried foods, 100 percent fruit juice and butter were associated (from most to least) with the greatest increase in weight. Foods resulting in no weight gain or even weight loss included dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The researchers noted that “Differences in weight gain seen for specific foods and beverages could related to varying portion sizes, patterns of eating, effects on satiety, or displacement of other foods or beverages.” I can only image the ad line for one potato chip company of years past “I bet you can’t eat just one,” exemplifies a “pattern of eating.” As for “displacement of other foods or beverages,” by eating a lower calorie, higher-fiber grain or vegetable-based foods, the thinking is that you’ll end up eating less of higher calorie foods like fried foods.
In the end, I still believe “everything in moderation” generally works best. It just that the research seems to say that by eating certain foods, it’s easier to “be moderate” in your diets.
The reference for the study: Mozaffarian, D, et al. 2011. Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. N Engl J Med. 364:2392-2404. For the actual article, click here.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

What’s the New Food Claim?

Posted on:July 20, 2011

A recent survey by the Sheldon Group (Knoxville, Tenn.) that queried 1,013 Americans finds Americans most want to see “Natural,” “Organic” or “Grown in the USA” claims on their food products.

Asked “Which is the best description to read on a food label?”, 25 percent of consumers said “100 percent natural” or “All natural.” Another 24 percent said “USDA Certified Organic” or “100 percent organic.” However, some 17 percent preferred “Grown in the USA.”
“…we believe the popularity of ‘Grown in the USA’ reflects three important trends,” said Suzanne Shelton, president of Shelton Group. “First, Americans are increasingly worried about food contamination, and they’re concerned about water treatment and crop fertilization in other countries. Second, there is growing support for family farms and local sourcing — a trend that’s gone mainstream in the last several years, including at Wal-Mart.
“And finally, people are concerned about the economy and job losses, so buying ‘Grown in the USA’ is a way to help fellow Americans,” Shelton said. “Red, white and blue is the new green.”
So, a previous Global Food Forums blog noted that consumers often reach for “natural” claims since they often offer a less expensive alternative to “organic,” without understanding they mean two different things. The question that remains is “Are Americans willing to pay more for ‘Made in America’ foods and food ingredients?

Sheldon Group

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Rats are not Little People

Posted on:July 1, 2011
Mouse dressed like a person

Studies using rodents as "stand ins" for people are useful, but in the end, rodents and people are different.

Rats have tails about the same length as their bodies. People don’t. Rats become sexually mature at six weeks. Babies don’t. Men and rats are different internally as well. Humans have gall bladders, rats do not; and, some metabolic pathways are different.
People forget this. Reporters forget this. Consumer advocacy groups forget this. Even some scientists forget this.
It’s cheaper, faster, and more ethically acceptable to experiment on rats than on people. Sometimes a compound or treatment seems safe for rats, but with more studies we find it is harmful for people. Sometimes a compound or ingredient is harmful for rats, but with more studies we find it to be safe for people.
Such appears to be the case with the sweetener saccharin. In the early 1970s, studies linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer in lab rats. As a result, foods with saccharine were required to carry a warning.
But, rats are not little people. Wikipedia explains on its website that “unlike humans, [rats] have a unique combination of high pH, high calcium phosphate, and high protein levels in their urine. One or more of the proteins that is more prevalent in male rats combines with calcium phosphate and saccharin to produce microcrystals that damage the lining of the bladder.” This over time can lead to tumor formation in rats, but not people. In the U.S., the National Cancer Institute confirms this as it reports on its website “…studies in rats showed an increased incidence of urinary bladder cancer at high doses of saccharin, especially in male rats. However, mechanistic studies (studies that examine how a substance works in the body) have shown that these results apply only to rats.” The warning labels on foods came off in 2000.
When foods have saccharin in them, they must say that on their labels in the ingredient statement. This gives consumers a choice. They can choose to eat foods and drink beverages sweetened with sugar, sucralose, stevia, agave syrup, honey, or many other sweeteners including saccharin. This gives people with diabetes or weight concerns an option. Is that bad?

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Consumers 1, Big Business and the Environment 0

Posted on:
With sustainability, the enemy is us

Walt Kelly’s poster for the first Earth Day in 1970 reminds us of one consumer group that often does not want to be held accountable, ourselves.

An environment under stress, obesity, unsafe foods and many other ills of today’s society often are easily and conveniently blamed on corporations, the government, big agriculture and other institutions. While organizations have a huge role to play in bettering our world, we, the consumer, must also be accountable.
On page B6 of today’s Wall Street Journal (July 1, 2011), an article entitled “Little Packages, Small Problems” notes that:
– despite newly launched Windex refillable pouches using 90% less plastic than the 26-oz. Windex bottle (containing the premixed cleaning fluid)
– despite the pouches costing consumers only some $2.50 vs. up to $3.50 for the bottle
– despite the bottle containing about 1.5 pounds more water than the pouch (think higher shipping costs, more gas consumption, etc.)…
WSJ reports that Fisk Johnson, chief executive of S.C. Johnson & Sons, maker of Windex, does not have high hopes for a hugely successful product.
Why? According to the article “…the home chemistry project of pouring cleaners like Windex into narrow spray bottles and then adding water can be taxing.”

To quote a generation younger than myself… “OMG!” Are we truly that lazy?

It apparently is easier to whine about gas prices, landfills, cost of living and so on rather than having to pick up a funnel, pour a concentrate into a bottle, then fill with water. (You don’t even have to measure. Stop when the water starts to oveflow!) WSJ reports that Europeans widely use refills. They don’t have as much space to dump garbage nor as large areas to store goods at home.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” – Pogo cartoonist, Walt Kelly (1913–1973)

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

Fat Kids, Fast Foods and Advertising: Who’s to Blame?

Posted on:
Overweight child with fast food

Will banning fast food ads help children eat better?

Children are increasingly overweight in many countries around the world. Overweight kids can lead to health problems in childhood, and even more as they age. Fast food is one of the most heavily advertised product categories that targets children. Studies show that advertising impacts behavior and several countries are considering banning fast food advertising to kids due to concerns over a link between fast foods and obesity.
A 2009 study published online on April, 2011 by the Journal of Market Research investigated fast food purchases in Quebec, Canada, which had instituted a ban against advertising fast foods to children a number of years ago. In particular, the researchers, Tirtha Dhar and Kathy Baylis, looked at whether fast food purchases were lower in households affected by the advertising ban. Indeed they found it had decreased the “propensity” to consume fast food by 13%, and they also believed that this tendency to eat less fast food lasted into adulthood. Overall, the authors estimate that the ban reduced fast food consumption by US$88 million per year.
So, advertisements were banned, less fast foods were consumed, but did this mean less children were overweight? The researchers said they were not sure, although they noted that Québec has one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in Canada even though the kids also have one of the most sedentary lifestyles.
Is banning advertising the answer to less overweight kids? Are there others as well? Should healthier fast foods be offered in restaurants? Fruits, vegetables and whole grain products can be really fast. Should children be taught how to eat better?

Dhar, T and Baylis, K. 2009. Fast Food Consumption and the Ban on Advertising Targeting Children: The Québec Experience. J Market Res. Posted online April 2011.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer

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