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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: nutrition

FDA Reviews Food Labels such as “Smart Choice”

In his September 24th talk, Michael Pollan talked about the way foods were labeled as healthful in ways that are misleading. The example he gave was the “Smart Choices” Check Mark on a box of Froot Loops, which are nearly 44% sugar.

The Los Angeles Times published an article today entitled, “FDA Clamps Down on Nutrition Labels on Food Packaging.” The article discusses nutritionists’ role in influencing these types of programs, “Smart Choices has emerged as a lightning rod among some nutritionists, who say its ratings are too lax and intended to give processed foods undeserved nutritional standing.” The article quotes NYU nutrition profession Marion Nestle, “I think Smart Choices was the final straw for the FDA. The idea that its check could go onto Froot Loops made it clear that the bar had to be set higher. [….] Good for the FDA.”

Have All Our Foods Become Fake Foods?

In Michael Pollan’s book he suggests that we lost control of what is in our foods and now we have stores full of fake foods or food-like products. Hence he called the book in defense of (these real) foods.

As a food scientist I feel that some clarification of the actual situation is needed regarding his claim. In the US we have federal standards of identity (CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/SCRIPTs/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm) for a wide range of food products including categories such as: Milk and cream, Canned fruits, Bottled Water, Canned vegetables, Food dressings and flavorings, Chocolate products, Cheeses, Cereals and flours, Frozen desserts, Bakery products, etc. Fruits and vegetables are not included in these standards. Standards of identity define what a given food product is, its name, and the ingredients that must or may be used in the manufacture of that food. Food standards ensure that consumers get what they expect when they purchase certain food products. For example, to be called Ice Cream a product must be made from cream (derived from milk) and not some other fat source (e.g. vegetable oils). These food standards prescribe aspects such as the minimum amounts of certain ingredients; maximum fat and water contents and methods of processing or preparation. It is not correct of Pollan to suggest in his book that yogurt is now made with hydrogenated fat. The only type of fat that can be used in yogurt according to its standard (21 CFR Part 131.200) is milk fat. Pollan is correct in his comment that many ingredients are now added to some foods that were probably not in these products back in the 1980s. Much of these concern “nutrients” added to foods to improve its nutritional profile, e.g. cholesterol-lowering plant sterols which is an FDA approved claim (21 CFR 101.83). The FDA allows several types of claims to be made on foods, these are (a) health claims that meet significant scientific agreement (e.g. that plant sterols can reduce cholesterol claim), (b) qualified health claims (e.g., some limited evidence supporting the claim but not considered conclusive by the FDA) and (c) nutrient content claims (the usage of terms like lowfat, lean, etc. See the FDA website http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/default.htm for more details.

The addition of nutrients and the inclusion of “claims” is of course largely driven by marketing (to increase sales). If you, as a consumer, do not want Omega-3s in a food product, then just don’t purchase it. Most of the new food products that are introduced each year fail and are withdrawn within a short period and of course, companies that want to stay in business, will launch another product to take its place. The important point is food products, that are regulated by a standard of identity (and most “traditional” foods have standards while novelties like Twinkies do not), still have to comply with the requirements of that standard even if the manufacturer wants to add some additional nutrient like Omega-3 to the product. I would recommend anyone interested in the ingredients or nutrients permitted in our foods to visit the FDA website (www.fda.gov). Anytime that the FDA considers changing a standard (or regulation) for a food, you as a consumer can post your comment on this website and this comment will be considered by FDA before any change is made. I just do not understand the view that adding a nutrient (e.g. vitamin D) to a traditional food like breakfast cereal somehow makes it an inferior quality product! I agree, however, that just because a food is called lowfat does not make it a very healthy product if it contained lots of calories from carbohydrate! I do not believe there is reasonable evidence to conclude that all our foods have become fake foods although many consumers are confused about the claims and labels on foods.

Although it is obviously not what Pollan believes in his personal manifesto, the comprehensive food standards we have in the US are envied (and often used as a reference) in many other part of the World.

Professor John A. Lucey
Department of Food Science
University of Wisconsin-Madison

On numerous occasions Pollan refers to the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Campbell is the author of countless articles, but also the author of a well known and very controversial book called The China Study. While Campbell’s book and lectures do ultimately support the mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The science employed to make the claim is considerably different. Campbell also takes a much firmer position on animal products that has earned him an interesting reputation. In some ways, Dr. T. Colin Campbell represents the scientist that Pollan criticizes in the first section of his book. Campbell is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. A read of his position and the controversy surrounding his position might be interesting to readers of In Defense of Food. Much of the controversy surrounding Campbell has come from the Weston A. Price Foundation. However, thoughts and opinions about his work can be found all over the internet.

Recipe for Victory: Food and Cooking in Wartime

Mock fish created from hominy grits and nuts? Or better yet, a bratwurst made of beans? To quote Rachel Ray, “Yummo!”

On behalf of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center (UWDCC), I’d like to share with you one of our digital collections that complements some of the key issues and themes raised in this year’s Go Big Read selection, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan.

Created from materials housed at Steenbock library and selected by Information Services Librarian Barbara Hamel, Recipe for Victory: Food and Cooking in Wartime (http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/HumanEcol.WWIHomeCook) presents books and government publications documenting our national effort to promote and implement a plan to make food the key to winning World War I.

This online collection contains materials that explain the world food situation, the nutritional value of foods, how to grow productive gardens in less than ideal conditions, and cookbooks with recipes for dealing with scarcity of various commodities such as meat and wheat. Many of the materials in this collection were published by the University of Wisconsin, Agricultural Extension Service between 1917 and 1919.

As head of the U. S. Food Administration, Herbert Hoover launched a campaign to conserve food at the onset of World War I. Americans were urged to cut food waste, substitute scarce for plentiful ingredients and participate in a food-conservation program popularly known as “Hooverizing,” which included wheatless Mondays and Wednesdays, meatless Tuesdays, and porkless Thursdays and Saturdays.

While circumstances for this particular attention to our nation’s food and consumption issues may differ from those inspiring Pollan’s recent works, titles such as Vernon Kellogg’s The Food Problem (1918) and Edmund Spriggs’ Food and How to Save it (1918) provide historical context for better understanding nutrition, conservation, food industry and economics and Americans’ eating habits, in general, during that period.

And, nearly 100 years later, the lessons ring oddly familiar. In her forward to Wheatless and Meatless Days (1918), Pauline Dunwell Partridge advises readers to “more extensively use vegetables and fruits, eliminate waste and consume more freely, locally grown perishable foods.”

For a complete list of titles included in this online library collection, visit:

Recipe for Victory: Food and Cooking in Wartime
http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/HumanEcol.WWIHomeCook

For more information about the UWDCC, visit our Web site at http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu