Get the F out of the FDA, Erythritol, UPFs and the BMI, Nutritional Misinformation, and Authenticity

The F in the FDA. Bill Marler, the bane of Big Food, and the hero of the anti-food processing movement, is selling tee-shirts. He wants to get the F out of the FDA by separating food from drugs. The idea is to form a Food Agency that will more rigorously pursue a food safety agenda. The new agency would also bring all food safety and inspection issues handled by the USDA into its fold. The concept is that food illness is caused by microbial adulterants and the food industry is at fault. It ignores the principle that these microbes occur naturally in raw, whole foods. Processing operations that involve a kill step reduce the level of harmful microbes to safe levels. In my food microbiology classes we learned that any raw meat is contaminated and could only be made safe by thorough cooking.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, which Marler supported, helps prevent the spread of harmful microbes. We must realize that these adulterants are natural components of raw foods. What is the responsibility of handlers of raw agricultural products to ensure safety of these items? What responsibility does the restaurant or home cook have in ensuring the safety of the food? See the article on Salmonella from Food Technology Magazine for a more detailed look at the controversy. One other aspect of a new Food Agency could be to consider chronic disease as a food safety issue. Do we really want to bring together safety and health under the same umbrella? Will that make food-associated and chronic diseases easier or harder to address and solve?

Erythritol is the latest alternative sweetener in the news. First it is important to note that erythritol occurs naturally in fruits and our bodies. The journal article that stirred up all the controversy appeared in Nature Medicine. In it the sugar alcohol is described as an artificial sweetener.  A detailed defense of the study and its implications written by David Katz surfaced on my LinkedIn feed this week. Katz suggests that sugar be avoided in soft drinks and other processed foods and that alternative sweeteners can provide bridge to a less sweetened future. Two other articles call into question the conclusions of the erythritol study. The question is whether elevated levels of erythritol in the blood stream contributes to increased risk of heart disease in healthy people. Readers seem to believe what they hear and disregard the rest.

Personal disclosure: I avoid any sugar-free foods sweetened with sugar alcohols like sorbitol or erythritol as they tend to give me gas.

tee-shirt highlighting the advantages of food processing
Georgia Food Science Club tee-shirt embraces processed food

UPFs and the BMI are recent news topics showing up on LinkedIn. Rachel Batterham helps distinguish the difference between clinical obesity and the oft-used BMI. In treatment of obesity, practitioners need to work with and identify the true clinical state of the patient and measures to determine progress. The collective BMI has some merit in understanding the level of obesity in a population, but it does not provide useful information on individuals. In a related feed Fernanda Oliveira Martins reviews a study that shows dietary patterns higher in ultra-processed foods do not significantly increase weight or body fat in youth over a 10-year period. Speaking of obesity, Ted Kyle reports that, contrary to popular memes, food stores in a neighborhood do not drive bariatric surgery outcomes. Factors leading to bariatric surgery are much more complex than popular explanations.

Nutritional misinformation. I encourage everyone to read the excellent article about the dangers of nutrition misinformation by Stephen Guyenet. Food marketing is an obvious source of misinformation, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Diet books, the internet, and press releases churned out by university public relations specialists all contribute to our confusion about dietary patterns and health. I applauded the author through the whole article until I came to a line indicating that the Center for Science in the Public Interest was a place to find accurate information. I find the organization too quick to condemn food additives, but we all have our preconceived notions. I know of few go-to sites to get accurate nutritional information.

Authenticity is a buzzword for what we look for and want to believe! But, can we recognize it or do we fall for a good story? Is organic agriculture authentic? Henry Miller of ACSH doesn’t think so. He believes that it is overpriced and unsustainable. Most organic crops have lower yields requiring more land to produce the same amount of food. They are also not “chemical-free” as some proponents claim. Miller points out that much organic farming relies on tillage. In a video I watched the other night, Woody Harrelson urged me to support regenerative agriculture to pull carbon out of the air and sequester it in the soil. The three main points are to reduce synthetic chemical use, adopt no-till practices, and plant cover-crops on barren land. Not once did I hear the word organic farming mentioned. Is it going out of style or is it being rebranded?

Coming soon: Six months after Ian: a personal update

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