Added sugar labelling!

That exclamation point is not an accident. I’m looking forward to this. From the FDA:

Today, the FDA has finalized the new Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods with changes that will make it easier for consumers to make informed choices about what they’re eating.

Some groups aren’t too happy with the change:

The Sugar Association is disappointed by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ruling to require an “added sugars” declaration and daily reference value (DRV) on the Nutrition Facts Label (NFL). The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA.

But the FDA says:

And you can have confidence in the science on which it is based, including evidence used to support the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrition intake recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, and nutrition intake information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Whose interpretation of science is correct? Well, the Sugar Association is likely a little biased.

The EWG’s dirty dozen

I’m not sure what to make of the dirty dozen list of fruits and vegetables tested to have the highest level of pesticides, as reported by the Environmental Working Group. Certainly there needs to be constant monitoring of the industry and the products to ensure their safety. But I’m a bit skeptical of their presentation.

From the EWG FAQ:

Shouldn’t I try to buy everything organic?

EWG recommends buying organic whenever possible. Not only is it smart to reduce your exposure to pesticides, but buying organic sends a message that you support environmentally-friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.

However, we know that organics are not accessible or affordable for everyone, so we created the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ to help consumers make the healthiest choices given their circumstances.

EWG always recommends eating fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown, over processed foods and other less healthy alternatives.

Don’t organic food producers use pesticides as well? Do they use less pesticides than conventional food producers?

More:

Do we know enough about the effects of pesticide on people?

No. Americans are likely polluted with far more pesticides than current studies report. Agribusiness and pesticide companies are not required to determine whether their chemicals are present in people, not even for compounds that widely contaminate the food supply. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national biomonitoring program has likely only scratched the surface in its efforts to determine the human body burden of pesticides.

“likely”. Yes, it’s worth being skeptical about the use of pesticides. But the EWG report does not give any information about the tested levels found in produce, nor how it compares to the limits for human consumption.

The US EPA provides some information on the human health risk assessment they perform on pesticides.

 

Fat vs sugar

Ian Leslie at the guardian – The sugar conspiracy:

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a 2008 analysis of all studies of the low-fat diet, found “no probable or convincing evidence” that a high level of dietary fat causes heart disease or cancer. Another landmark review, published in 2010, in the American Society for Nutrition, and authored by, among others, Ronald Krauss, a highly respected researcher and physician at the University of California, stated “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD [coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease]”.

Many nutritionists refused to accept these conclusions. The journal that published Krauss’s review, wary of outrage among its readers, prefaced it with a rebuttal by a former right-hand man of Ancel Keys, which implied that since Krauss’s findings contradicted every national and international dietary recommendation, they must be flawed. The circular logic is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom.

More on GMO labeling

Marion Nestle for the Guardian – No amount of ‘free from’ labeling will make processed food good for you:

Let me add something about companies labeling their products GMO-free. In my view, the food biotechnology industry created this market – and greatly promoted the market for organics, which do not allow GMOs – by refusing to label which of its products contain GMOs and getting the FDA to go along with that decision. Whether or not GMOs are harmful, transparency in food marketing is hugely important to increasing segments of the public. People don’t trust the food industry to act in the public interest; transparency increases trust.

Healthy and overweight?

A doctor and a professor discuss – Are there health benefits to being overweight?

Carl J. Lavie:

The good news for those who may be struggling to lose weight and keep it off is this: As I explored in my book “The Obesity Paradox,” there can be surprising benefits to carrying around a few extra pounds. In fact, being out of physical shape and having low overall fitness is actually a far greater danger to health than fat, especially in people who are only slightly overweight.

Andrew Stokes:

Using information on weight history, it is possible to address this seemingly intractable source of bias. Weight history makes it possible to distinguish people who were slim throughout their lives from those who were formerly overweight or obese but lost weight.

In other words, Stokes is claiming that most studies include weight at the start of the study and throughout the study, but neglect the weight history of the person. The formerly overweight/obese who were ‘normal’ weight at the time of the study may have higher mortality due to issues related to the former excess weight, and therefore skew the results to look like overweight people have lower mortality (as a group). Interesting.

The study by Stokes and Preston goes into further depth on the weight history theory. The conclusions are stark (emphasis mine) :

Our results suggest the burden of overweight and obesity on mortality is likely substantially larger than commonly appreciated. If correct, this may have serious implications for the future of life expectancy in the United States. Although the prevalence of obesity may level off or even decline, the history of rapidly rising obesity in the last 3 decades cannot be readily erased (63). Successive birth cohorts embody heavier and heavier obesity histories, regardless of current levels. Those histories are likely to exert upward pressure on US mortality levels for many years to come.

Consumer Reports on GMO labeling

Consumer Reports on GMO labeling – What you need to know about GMO labeling:

“Safety is not the point. Almost all the labels required on food—such as ingredients and fat content—are informational. So is GMO labeling,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “The debate over GMO labeling is about consumers’ right to know what they are eating.”

In a recent nationally representative poll from Consumer Reports, 92 percent of people said they want GMO labeling. Halloran adds, “other polls have had similar findings. The food industry should stop fighting the public’s right to know in court and start listening to what their customers want.”

If it’s not about safety, then what’s the point? The “ingredients and fat content” are for people to make decisions about their health. With GMO labeling is health really the issue? Does the public really know what the issues are with GMOs or is it just fear of the unknown?

Why label GMOs?

Beth Skwarecki at Lifehacker – GMO Labels Won’t Make Your Food Safer:

Concerns like Hirshberg’s about pesticides demonstrate why GMO labeling is useless. It won’t even do what the people campaigning for labels want it to do. As we’ve mentioned before, the things people don’t like about GMOs are not GMO-specific problems. Here are some things labeling won’t help with:

  • It won’t help you avoid pesticides. Both the insecticidal Bt toxin and the herbicidal Roundup chemical, glyphosate, are used in both GMO and non-GMO crops.
  • It won’t eliminate superweeds, since this ecological problem is not GMO-specific either. (Non-GMO sunflower oil is another big creator of superweeds, by the way)
  • It won’t keep unpredictable mutations out of crops’ DNA, because mutation breeding introduces more DNA damage than any “GMO” technology, and nobody’s labeling that.
  • It won’t prevent allergies, or make allergies easier to track down. GMOs are already tested for similarities to common allergens before they can be approved. If you do have an allergic reaction to an unusual protein in a particular crop, a “partially produced with genetic engineering” label doesn’t do anything to help track down which ingredient is at fault.

Well researched.

Canadian Senate Report on Obesity – on sugars

From page 6 of the report:

Sandra Marsden of the Canadian Sugar Institute testified that sugar consumption has declined in recent years, however, as that organization represent the sucrose industry (the sugar extracted from beet and sugar cane), this decline seems to be only associated with sucrose and not all sugars combined.

(Zing!)

The Canadian Sugar Institute says the estimated added sugars* consumption in Canada is approximately 51 – 53 g per day.

A number of witnesses also told the committee that sugary beverages are the primary source of added sugar in our diet and are the primary driver of obesity. They noted that these beverages have little or no nutrient value while being calorie-rich. Further they indicated that these are ‘invisible’ calories as they do not contribute to satiety and are simply added calories over and above food intake. Some witnesses offered testimony that sugar is addictive and that it promotes overconsumption.

Addictive? Interesting.

From page 12 of the report:

At the same time, Manuel Arango, of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, indicated that as much as 62% of the Canadian diet can be categorized as highly-processed, a percentage that has been rising in recent decades at the expense of whole foods. As a consequence of the increased intake of highly processed foods, sugar consumption has increased dramatically from 4 bounds annually per person 200 years ago to 151 pounds annually per person today.

151 pounds per person is huge. That’s nearly 1 cup of sugar per day. I’m not sure where they get that figure.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s position statement on sugar cites that total sugar intake is 110 g per day, or about 1/2 cup per day.

As mentioned previously, Health Canada’s proposed limit is 100 g per day of total sugars.

Footnotes:
*"Added sugars" is defined as follows:

Sugars and syrups (Statistics Canada Category - Sugar and sugar syrups (from sugar cane or sugar beets), maple sugars, honey. Does not include corn sweeteners.
Corn sweeteners: high fructose corn syrup ("glucose-fructose"), glucose syrup, and dextrose.
Fruit juce/concentrated fruit juice or other ingredients that act as a functional substitute for added sugars.