Emails Show How the Food Industry Uses ‘Science’ to Push Soda

Deena Shanker wrote . . . . . . . .

There are few federal food policies as contentious as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, developed every five years after a report by the independent U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The guidelines not only inform individual consumers about what’s healthy and what isn’t but are also used to develop approaches to everything from food labeling regulations to school lunch menus and food stamp benefits.

In other words, there’s a lot of money at stake.

So it’s not surprising that following the 2015 committee report, which had recommended that Americans reduce their consumption of red and processed meat and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, the food and beverage industry scrambled to respond.

But newly released emails suggest a broader strategy for shaping policy. The chain, which began with a mass email from the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), an industry-funded group, included a conversation between two former executives of Coca-Cola Co. and of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), also an industry-funded group.

Industry efforts to influence policy are nothing new, and efforts to shape the dietary guidelines have long been part of them. In addition, evidence of attempts to sway the scientific debate have surfaced recently.

These emails lay out “what appears to be the food industry’s roadmap for dealing with scientific challenges,” said Gary Ruskin, co-founder and co-director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit group that advocates transparency in the industry and that obtained the email chain through a request under a state open records act. “I’ve never seen such a document.”

U.S. Right to Know gets most of its funding from the Organic Consumers Association. Ruskin is an author of a report on the significance of the emails published today in the journal Critical Public Health.

The emails “reveal deliberate use of [the tobacco industry’s] ‘playbook’ tactics: cast doubt on the science, influence reporters, use front groups (e.g., ILSI and IFIC) to undermine concerns about the harmful effects of sugary drinks and head off dietary guidelines raising such concerns, and regulation,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Food Politics and Soda Politics, about the way those industries influence the American diet and, increasingly, the world’s.

Both IFIC and ILSI describe their missions as supporting scientifically sound policies on food. Both are funded by companies in the food, beverage, and agriculture industries, including Coke. In separate emailed statements, both said they weren’t lobbyists.

Coca-Cola said in an email that it had taken multiple steps to “be a more helpful and effective partner in efforts to address obesity,” including semiannual disclosures of its health-related research.

On February 20, 2015, the day after the release of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, IFIC sent an email to its directors, trustees, and staff describing its media outreach call from the morning. The conversation with more than 40 journalists, the email said, included topics like the “conflicting” science behind the recommendation to limit red meat and “insufficient evidence” behind recommendations to reduce added sugar. The group had more than 20 experts who could speak to those “hot-button” issues in the news media, the email said.

The email was then forwarded outside of the organization to Alex Malaspina, a former Coca-Cola executive and the founding president of ILSI. Malaspina, in turn, forwarded it to two current Coke executives, adding that “IFIC is coming through for our industry.” No response from the current executives is included in the released email chain. Malaspina didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The next morning, in an email to Malaspina, Michael Ernest Knowles, a former vice president of Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Coca-Cola and former president of ILSI, went further than media outreach, calling for “the generation of credible consensus science on the issues hitting the industry – obesity and causative factors, sugar, low/no calories sweetener safety – in particular we have to use external organisations in addition to any work we directly commission.” Knowles didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In other words, the industry should not only fund its own studies, a common practice, but also get outside organizations to do that work. The tactic may be working. An ILSI-sponsored review recently appeared in The Annals of Internal Medicine concluding that “guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence.”

Knowles also advised leveraging positions within scientific societies to promote this work.

“We all belong to one [or] more of these and we should have leadership roles in the key ones and push for individual issues to be addressed by public conferences/workshops,” he wrote to Malaspina. Those within the food industry should use contacts at medical associations and “encourage them to address public health matters and ‘suggest’ appropriate topics.” He listed his own membership in the the Society of Apothecaries of London as an example of how to pursue a possible venue. The Society didn’t respond to a request for comment.

IFIC said in its statement that it is “governed by a Board of Trustees whose members primarily represent universities, the public sector and government agencies” and that “we do not represent companies, products or brands; we are nonpartisan and nonpolitical; and we do not lobby or advocate for regulations.”

“ILSI believes experts from all sectors of society can and should work together on science and related health issues,” Michael B. Shirreffs, director of communications for ILSI, said in an email. “ILSI does not lobby or act on behalf of any business interest, but we do advocate the use of science to make informed decisions.”

That didn’t stop Knowles from recommending efforts to influence government policy.

“This is longer term of course but we should look ahead and [propose] work in those which could become ‘issues,’ ” he wrote to Malaspina. He mentioned the “EU Commission,” or the European Commission, which regulates nutrition and health claims on food labels, and the potential for its collaboration with the U.S. “We should encourage this through ILSI and our academic contacts,” he wrote.

The final guidelines received mixed reviews from health advocates like NYU’s Nestle and Walter Willet, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University. The criticism centered on the contentious issues of meat and sugar. Instead of the direct advice about consuming less red and processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages, the final version, as in earlier years, focused on cutting back on things like saturated fat and added sugar. “They obfuscate,” Nestle said.

“The industry did well,” Ruskin said of the final 2015 guidelines. But, pointing to the drive toward cleaner labels and healthier foods, he added, “In the realm of public perception, the consumer advocates are winning.”

Source: Bloomberg


What Is Fruit Concentrate? Is It Good For You?

Natalie Jacewicz wrote . . . . . .

If you look in your cupboard and start reading nutrition labels on your favorite box of granola or your gummy vitamins, there’s a good chance you’ll notice a popular ingredient: fruit concentrate.

“Fruit concentrate is not really something I thought about,” says Wendy Rae Little via Twitter. She is a blogger living in Belle Vernon, Pa. But once Little started going through her pantry and began noticing fruit concentrate listed as an ingredient, it influenced her purchases. For example, Little buys only orange juice that says “not from fruit concentrate” on the label, because it “sounds fresher.” But in other products — like the baby food pouches she gives her granddaughter — Little intuitively considers fruit concentrate a healthy ingredient, more-or-less interchangeable with fruit.

So, what is fruit concentrate, exactly? And should consumers avoid it or seek it out?

Fruit concentrate is “fruit with the water removed,” says Caroline West Passerrello, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It retains the sugar and calories, but it loses the volume, fiber and vitamin C.”

Fruit concentrate was developed in large part because lower volume makes products cheaper to ship and store. But to make it, one has to remove the pulp and skin from fruits, depriving consumers of the fiber they would get from an old-fashioned apple, according to Passerrello. Plus, making fruit concentrate requires heating fruit to remove the water, a process that destroys heat-sensitive vitamin C.

When fiber and vitamin C get squeezed out of fruit, so does much of its nutrition. Fiber helps slow digestion, so consuming fruit concentrate spikes blood sugar more quickly than munching traditional fruit. Vitamin C is a type of antioxidant that helps with a basketful of bodily functions, so losing vitamin C slashes benefits ranging from body tissue formation to immune system response.

In other words, people should view fruit concentrate as an added sugar, similar to high-fructose corn syrup, according to Vasanti Malik, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Even if the fruit concentrate is combined with fiber in the final product, Malik says its inclusion should still raise eyebrows.

“We’re seeing children’s cereals that are whole grain, but then have a lot of added sugar” in the form of fruit concentrate, says Malik. “Although it’s better than eating spoons of sugar, it’s not great” because the sugar is included in such large amounts.

She also says fruit juices and processed smoothies can contain a lot of added sugar, with little fiber benefit. Malik notes that fruit juices in general, even those without fruit concentrate, are naturally full of sugars and calories, making them less nutritious than some might believe.

One way to avoid that added sugar is to take matters into your own hands and make your food from scratch. For granola, Passerrello advises using dried fruit and just a little maple syrup. But she admits the time-consuming DIY method “isn’t always realistic.”

She proposes another option for the time-crunched grocery shopper: “If you pick up three granola bars at the store, pick the bar where fruit concentrate [or other added sugar] is last on the ingredient list.” The last item on the ingredient list is usually the smallest in amount. “Hopefully you can find one without it,” she adds.

And Passerrello says the Food and Drug Administration’s updates to nutrition labels will soon make it easier for consumers like Little and the rest of us to figure out how to think about fruit concentrate. Sugar from fruit concentrate, she says, will be called out as an “added sugar.”

Source: npr

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Why Expensive Wine Appears to Taste Better

When a bottle costs more, the reward center in the brain plays a trick on us

Price labels influence our liking of wine: The same wine tastes better to participants when it is labeled with a higher price tag. Scientists from the INSEAD Business School and the University of Bonn have discovered that the decision-making and motivation center in the brain plays a pivotal role in such price biases to occur. The medial pre-frontal cortex and the ventral striatum are particularly involved in this. The results have now been published in the journal “Scientific Reports”.

Previous work from INSEAD Associate Professor of Marketing Hilke Plassmann’s research group did show that a higher price, for instance for chocolate or wine, increased the expectation that the product will also taste better and in turn affects taste processing regions in the brain. “However, it has so far been unclear how the price information ultimately causes more expensive wine to also be perceived as having a better taste in the brain,” says Prof. Bernd Weber, Acting Director of the Center for Economics and Neuroscience (CENs) at the University of Bonn. The phenomenon that identical products are perceived differently due to differences in price is called the “marketing placebo effect”. As with placebo medications, it has an effect solely due to ascribed properties: “Quality has its price!”

The researchers assessed how different prices are translated into corresponding taste experiences in the brain, even if the wine tasted does not differ. 30 participants took part in the study, of which 15 were women and 15 were men, with an average age of around 30 years.

Wine tasting while lying down

The wine tasting took place lying down in an MRI scanner, allowing brain activity to be recorded “online” while participants were tasting the wines. Each time, the price of the wine was shown first. Only then around a milliliter of the respective wine was administrated to the test person via a tube in their mouths. The participants were then asked to rate via a button on a nine-point scale how good the wine tasted to them. Their mouths were then rinsed with a neutral liquid and the next identical wine sample was given for tasting. All of the experiments were performed in the brain scanner at the Life & Brain Center at the University of Bonn.

“The marketing placebo effect has its limits: If, for example, a very low-quality wine is offered for 100 euros, the effect would predictably be absent,” says Prof. Weber. This is why the researchers conducted the tests using an average to good quality red wine with a retail bottle prize of 12 €. In the MRI scanner, the price of this wine was shown randomly as 3, 6 and 18 €. In order to make the study as realistic as possible, the participants were given 45 euros of initial credit. For some of the tastings, the displayed sum was deducted from this account in some of the trials.

“As expected, the subjects stated that the wine with the higher price tasted better than an apparently cheaper one,” reports Professor Hilke Plassmann from the INSEAD Business School, with campuses in Fontainebleau (France), Singapore and Abu Dhabi. “However, it was not important whether the participants also had to pay for the wine or whether they were given it for free.” Identical wine leads to a better taste experience when a greater quality expectation is associated with the wine due to its price.

The measurements of brain activity in the MRI scanner confirmed this. The research team discovered that above all parts of the medial pre-frontal cortex and also the ventral striatum were activated more when prices were higher. While the medial pre-frontal cortex particularly appears to be involved in integrating the price comparison and thus the expectation into the evaluation of the wine, the ventral striatum forms part of the brain’s reward and motivation system. “The reward and motivation system is activated more significantly with higher prices and apparently increases the taste experience in this way,” says Prof. Weber.

How can placebo effects be inhibited?

“Ultimately, the reward and motivation system plays a trick on us,” explains INSEAD post-doctoral fellow Liane Schmidt. When prices are higher, it leads us to believe that a taste is present that is not only driven by the wine itself, because the products were objectively identical in all of the tastings. “The exciting question is now whether it is possible to train the reward system to make it less receptive to such placebo marketing effects,” says Prof. Weber. This may be possible by training one’s own physical perception – such as taste – to a greater extent.

Source : University of Bonn