Food Bytes: Weekly Nibbles from Feb 25 - Mar 3

Food Bytes is a weekly blog post of “nibbles” of information on all things food and nutrition science, policy and culture.

Let’s look to the future but learn from the past of the American dietary guidelines. The 2020 USDA dietary guidelines are now in the works. Politico has unpacked who will serve on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of experts that “wields considerable influence over the guidelines.” Some are tied to the food and beverage industry. Tamar Haspel, one of my favorite journalists who writes on food for the Washington Post re-opened a can of worms about how the dietary guidelines have made Americans fatter, as opposed to promoting healthier diets. The argument goes: When the dietary guidelines decreased their recommendation on fat intake, Americans replaced those fats with added sugars and refined grains. Parallel to this, obesity increased. But Haspel points out that dietary guidelines always advised to limit sugar, and delves into the reasons why - was it calories? was it lower carb diets? She argues the guidelines are not the culprit. Thereafter a twitter war ensued.

Speaking of inducing obesity, taxes on soda have been adopted by many cities and countries now, and the question still remains, do they work? A study done on the soda tax in Berkeley showed a 52% reduction in self reported consumption of soda. Key words: SELF REPORTED, which we all know can bring about some skepticism of quality data. In Philadelphia, there was a 46% decrease in sales of soda, but just right outside the city, there was an increase in sales, insinuating that maybe people are driving outside the city to get cheaper soda. And people don’t want to call it crack…

The issues of unhealthy diets and their contributions to obesity and undernutrition are getting some mainstream press these days. Let food be thy medicine is a mantra that has some teeth. TIME magazine published an article about how health practitioners are starting to include healthy food and diets as part of the medical care they provide to patients. Cure no but maybe a miracle… This infographic from Tufts shows how the medical profession can take action. I also edited a special issue of the AMA Journal of Ethics in which David Katz explores “barriers to dietary counseling, strategies for improving medical education and clinical practice with respect to nutrition, and the ethical importance of sharing dietary information with patients.” He also did a great podcast on the ethical implications of NOT considering diets as part of medical care here.

Dan Glickman and colleagues are arguing that America needs an institute devoted to research on the top cause of poor health - that being nutrition. It would be called the National Institute of Nutrition, and it would be part of the National Institutes of Health. The institute will facilitate and help coordinate incisive research into nutrients, foods and their relationships to better health. They give some details in this NYT article. I could definitely be on board with that. Time for science to take nutrition seriously.

On the opposite end of the malnutrition spectrum, a new report published by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), show that 60% of the world’s hungry live in just 8 countries. They are: Yemen, the DRC, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, the Lake Chad Basin, The Central African Republic, and Somalia. What do these countries have in common? Man-made conflict. Sadly hunger and sometimes starvation is used a tool to fuel civil wars. Very tragic and very preventable.

Another war being fought is to protect and conserve the biodiversity on the planet. An epic, FAO report on biodiversity for food security and agriculture was released last week along with 91 country & 27 organization reports. No time to read 576 pages? The digital short read can be found here. Crux: Biodiversity is under severe threat which means we are too.

The EAT Lancet saga continues, and I speak to eating healthy, sustainable diets for Australia’s ABC radio new show here. We also did an Let’s Rethink Food podcast on the future of food production