Here are 10 common reasons you should consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist
Let’s get straight to the facts.
By HANS TAPARIA and PAMELA KOCH
IT’S easy to make fun of people in big cities for their obsession with gluten, or chia seeds, or cleanses.
But urbanites are not the only ones turning away from the products created by big food companies. Eating habits are changing across the country and food companies are struggling to keep up.
General Mills will drop all artificial colors and flavors from its cereals. Perdue, Tyson and Foster Farm have begun to limit the use of antibiotics in their chicken. Kraft declared it wasdropping artificial dyes from its macaroni and cheese. Hershey’s will begin to move away from ingredients such as the emulsifier polyglycerol polyricinoleate to “simple and easy-to-understand ingredients” like “fresh milk from local farms, roasted California almonds, cocoa beans and sugar.”
Those announcements reflect a new reality: Consumers are walking away from America’s most iconic food brands. Big food manufacturers are reacting by cleaning up their ingredient labels, acquiring healthier brands and coming out with a prodigious array of new products. Last year, General Mills purchased the organic pasta maker Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million — a price that was over four times the company’s revenues, likening it to valuations more often seen in Silicon Valley. The company alsointroduced more than 200 new products, ranging from Cheerios Protein to Betty Crocker gluten-free cookie mix, to capitalize on the latest consumer fads.
Food companies are moving in the right direction, but it won’t be enough to save them. If they are to survive changes in eating habits, they need a fundamental shift in their approach.
The food movement over the past couple of decades has substantially altered consumer behavior and reshaped the competitive landscape. Chains like Sweetgreen, a salad purveyor, are grabbing market share from traditional fast food companies. Brands such as Amy’s Kitchen, with its organic products, and Kind bars are taking some of the space on shelves once consumed by Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine and Mars.
For the large established food companies, this is having disastrous consequences. Per capita soda sales are down 25 percent since 1998, mostly replaced by water. Orange juice, a drink once seen as an important part of a healthy breakfast, has seen per capita consumption drop 45 percent in the same period. It is now more correctly considered a serious carrier of free sugar, stripped of its natural fibers. Sales of packaged cereals, also heavily sugar-laden, are down over 25 percent since 2000, with yogurt and granola taking their place. Frozen dinner sales are down nearly 12 percent from 2007 to 2013. Sales per outlet at McDonald’s have been on a downward spiral for nearly three years, with no end in sight.
To survive, the food industry will need more than its current bag of tricks. There is a consumer shift at play that calls into question the reason packaged foods exist. There was a time when consumers used to walk through every aisle of the grocery store, but today much of their time is being spent in the perimeter of the store with its vast collection of fresh products — raw produce, meats, bakery items and fresh prepared foods. Sales of fresh prepared foods have grown nearly 30 percent since 2009, while sales of center-of-store packaged goods have started to fall. Sales of raw fruits and vegetables are also growing — among children and young adults, per capita consumption of vegetables is up 10 percent over the past five years.
The outlook for the center of the store is so glum that industry insiders have begun to refer to that space as the morgue. For consumers today, packaged goods conjure up the image of foods stripped of their nutrition and loaded with sugar. Also, decades of deceptive marketing, corporate-sponsored research and government lobbying have left large food companies with brands that are fast becoming liabilities. According to one recent survey, 42 percent of millennial consumers, ages 20 to 37, don’t trust large food companies, compared with 18 percent of non-millennial consumers who feel that way.
Food companies can’t merely tinker. Nor will acquisition-driven strategies prove sufficient, because most acquisitions are too small to shift fortunes quickly. Acquired brands such as Annie’s Homegrown, Happy Baby and Honest Tea account for 1 percent or less of their buyers’ revenues. Moreover, these brands, along with their missions and culture, tend to get quickly lost in the sales and marketing machine of big food companies. It is easy for them to get orphaned.
For legacy food companies to have any hope of survival, they will have to make bold changes in their core product offerings. Companies will have to drastically cut sugar; process less; go local and organic; use more fruits, vegetables and other whole foods; and develop fresh offerings. General Mills needs to do more than just drop the artificial ingredients from Trix. It needs to drop the sugar substantially, move to 100 percent whole grains, and increase ingredient diversity by expanding to other grains besides corn.
Instead of throwing good money after bad for its lagging frozen products, Nestlé, which is investing in a new $50 million frozen research and development facility, should introduce a range of healthy, fresh prepared meals for deli counters across the country.
McDonalds needs to do more than use antibiotic-free chicken. The back of the house for its 36,000 restaurants currently looks like a mini-factory serving fried frozen patties and french fries. It needs to look more like a kitchen serving freshly prepared meals with locally sourced vegetables and grains — and it still needs to taste great and be affordable.
These changes would require a complete overhaul of their supply chains, major organizational restructuring and billions of dollars of investment, but these corporations have the resources. It may be their last chance.
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
Obese children who cut back on their sugar intake see improvements in their blood pressure, cholesterol readings and other markers of health after just 10 days, a rigorous new study found.
The new research may help shed light on a question scientists have long debated: Is sugar itself harming health, or is the weight gain that comes from consuming sugary drinks and foods mainly what contributes to illness over the long term?
In the new study, which was financed by the National Institutes of Health and published Tuesday in the journal Obesity, scientists designed a clinical experiment to attempt to answer this question. They removed foods with added sugar from a group of children’s diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so that the subjects’ weight and overall calorie intake remained roughly the same.
After 10 days, the children showed dramatic improvements, despite losing little or no weight. The findings add to the argument that all calories are not created equal, and they suggest that those from sugar are especially likely to contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases, which are on the rise in children, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Benioff Children’s Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco.
“This paper says we can turn a child’s metabolic health around in 10 days without changing calories and without changing weight – just by taking the added sugars out of their diet,” he said. “From a clinical standpoint, from a health care standpoint, that’s very important.”
Added sugars — the extra sweeteners food companies put in their products, not the sugar that occurs naturally in foods like fruit – are a topic of growing debate. In February, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans limit their intake of added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories.
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration proposed that food companies include a line on their nutrition labels listing the amount of added sugars in their products. After the dietary guidelines committee issued its report earlier this year, the agency expanded on its 2014 proposal, saying that companies should also list a “daily percent value” for added sugars on their labels in line with the 10 percent recommendation.
The proposed changes have been strongly opposed by the food industry as unscientific. The Sugar Association, a trade group, said the F.D.A. was “making assertions that lack adequate scientific evidence,” and the Grocery Manufacturers Association criticized the standards the agency used to establish the daily value as being “inadequate.”
The newly released study is timely in part because it lowered sugar intake among children to roughly 10 percent of daily calories, the amount recommended by the dietary guidelines committee.
For their study, the scientists recruited 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were considered at particularly high risk of diabetes and related disorders. All the subjects were black or Hispanic and obese, and had at least one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that includes hypertension, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol and excess body fat around the waist.
On average, the subjects had been getting about 27 percent of their daily calories from sugar. By comparison, the average American takes in about 15 percent, though children typically consume much more than this in part because they have the highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.
The study authors paired the subjects with dietitians. They then replaced the sugary foods in their diets with other foods purchased from local grocery stores. The goal was not to eliminate carbohydrates, but to reduce sugary foods and replace them with starchy foods without lowering body weight or calorie intake.
“Wherever there was food with added sugar in their diets, we took it out and we replaced it with a no-added-sugar version,” Dr. Lustig said.
So instead of yogurt sweetened with sugar, the children ate bagels. Instead of pastries, they were given baked potato chips. Instead of chicken teriyaki – which typically contains a lot of sugar – they ate turkey hot dogs or burgers for lunch. The remaining sugar in their diet came mostly from fresh fruit.
Because the scientists were working on a tight N.I.H. budget, they could only carry out the costly intervention for nine days. But in that short space of time, they saw marked changes.
On average, the subjects’ LDL cholesterol, the kind implicated in heart disease, fell by 10 points. Their diastolic blood pressure fell five points. Their triglycerides, a type of fat that travels in the blood and contributes to heart disease, dropped 33 points. And their fasting blood sugar and insulin levels – indicators of their diabetes risk – likewise markedly improved.
One expert who was not involved in the new research, Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that the study “strengthens the existing evidence on the relationship between added sugar intake and metabolic disease.”
“This kind of study is very difficult to do,” he said. “But it provides a proof of concept that in a high risk population, reducing consumption of added sugar can have multiple metabolic benefits.”
Dr. Sonia Caprio, a pediatric endocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at Yale Medical School, said that although the study was small, “it addressed the issue in an original way and tried to isolate the effect of sugar on metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.”
“This is an important area of research that might solve some of the metabolic issues that we are facing in children, particularly in adolescents,” she said. “This study needs to be taken seriously, and we need to expand on it.”
Is there a health difference between eating grass-fed beef and conventional beef?
by Anahad O'Connor
Grass-fed beef tends to be higher in some nutrients, and studies suggest it may contain fewer bacteria that can cause food poisoning — which could be good for your health.
Grass-fed can mean a lot of things. But the American Grassfed Association, which has a certification program, refers to grass-fed animals “as those that have eaten nothing but grass and forage from weaning to harvest, have not been raised in confinement, and have never been fed antibiotics or growth hormones.”
Conventionally raised cattle are typically fed primarily corn and soy, which causes them to fatten more quickly, said Glenn A. Nader, an emeritus livestock and natural resources farm adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension.
In 2010, Mr. Nader and his colleagues at California State University, Chico, published a review in Nutrition Journal that found that on a gram-for-gram basis, grass-fed beef contained higher levels of beneficial fats such as omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, or C.L.A. It also contained more antioxidants and higher levels of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that can give grass-fed beef a yellowish appearance.
“When people go to their retail store and see yellow fat, they think there’s something wrong with it,” Mr. Nader said. “That’s not some bad piece of meat. That’s actually vitamin A you’re looking at.”
In a report earlier this month, Consumer Reports tested 300 samples of beef purchased at stores across the United States and determined that beef from conventionally raised cows was three times as likely as grass-fed beef to contain bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics, posing a food poisoning threat. The report recommended that consumers choose grass-fed organic beef “whenever possible.”
Consumers who wish to buy grass-fed beef can find that information on package labels, as required by the United States Department of Agriculture.