Flavour of the Week

Nutrition Newsmakers of 2013


FotW new yearHere’s our continuation of  the highlights (and lowlights!) in food, nutrition and health from the last 12 months.

Savvy consumers and a new awareness of potentially harmful food additives caused much outcry in 2013. Check out our Blinded by Science: Abnormal and Unnatural Foods parts 1 and 2 as a primer. From food additives to continuing “miracles” and fad diets, the final installment of our 2013 in review awaits!

6. The thinning veil of food marketing. Early in 2013, Coca-Cola released their “Coming Together” TV commercial to scathing criticism from most health and advocacy groups. While the TV spot was  designed to “show people what [Coca-Cola] is doing to help fight obesity”, most viewed the ad as merely damage control, some even suggesting that the soft drink company was taking a page out of the “Big Tobacco playbook”.

And is “Big Food” keeping to their promise to scale back on marketing junk to children? Not really! The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity released their follow-up Fast Food FACTS 2013 showing the fast food industry continues to spend billions on marketing, much of which is directly targeted to children and teens. Despite small and slow improvements, researchers conclude that fast food has actually “stepped up advertising to children and teens,” despite claims to the contrary. Here’s a great post on 2013’s failures and successes in holding the food industry accountable.

Plain-M&Ms7. Not-so-delicious dyes. Currently nine artificial food colours are approved for use in the US, all of which are derived from petroleum. These dyes are most commonly found in candy, beverages, desserts, cereals, and snack foods, i.e., foods targeting children.

Despite several studies suggesting that artificial food colouring agents, particularly yellow#5 and yellow #6, can promote hyperactivity in children with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, only the European Union has issued a consumer warning. When in doubt, go with plant-based colouring agents like beet, carrot, annatto, and paprika extracts if you are at all concerned.

8. Benign mineral to additive menace? New population-based evidence suggests that excessive dietary phosphorus intake may lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Where is all of this excess phosphorus in our diet coming from? Phosphate additives in processed foods, of course! While the possible negative health effects of phosphate additives in the general population are a newer public health concern, we think concerns will grow louder with with growing awareness.

Chicken-NuggetsThere are two distinct sources of phosphorus in the diet – organic, which is found naturally in food, and inorganic, which is present as phosphate additives. This is one place where a food label will not help you – phosphorus IS NOT listed on the Nutrition Facts table – you need to go right to the ingredient list. Look for anything with “phos-“ on the ingredient list to pick out the phosphate additives.

9. Dr. Oz continues to sell. Last year we harped on his endorsement of raspberry ketones and green coffee bean extract; this year it was Garcinia cambogia! The Garcinia cambogia fruit, a relative of tamarind, is small and resembles a pumpkin and extracts from the rind of this tropical fruit are now being touted as the “newest, fastest fat buster”. Unfortunately, most clinical studies don’t support this – no weight loss, no clinically significant change in body fat, no decrease in cholesterol. Even WebMD lists it as “possibly ineffective” and only “POSSIBLY SAFE” for most people. Not exactly a ringing endorsement based on the evidence!

Our advice? Always be suspicious when a TV health expert begins every year with their “miracle” endorsements…

10. Another year, another diet. Going gluten free reigned supreme in diet plan popularity in 2012 (and is still embraced by many) but 2013 seemed to belong to The Fast diet, aka intermittent fasting (not to be confused with Nutrition for a F.A.S.T. Marathon). Intermittent fasting was among the top diet-related Google searches, second only to The Military Diet (hot dogs? really?).  Intermittent fasting involves alternating “normal” eating days with days where caloric intake is severely restricted… and we mean severe at a maximum of 500 Calories per day on most plans…

There is growing evidence that intermittent fasting is successful at achieving weight loss but there is no real evidence that fasting is any better than standard calorie restriction. And this kind of diet is not for everyone. For people who live to eat like us, going without food for six hours is cruel and unusual, let alone 1 – 2 days!

What’s in store for 2014? Maybe the top recipe-related Google searches by Canadians in 2013 will give us a clue of things to come – spaghetti squash, lasagna, hollandaise, borscht soup and hamburgers definite improvements on last year’s bacon, poutine and maple syrup!  The most frightening trend according to Google’s 2013 zeitgeist? The top “how to…” Google search by Canadians: how to… twerk!

Happy New Year from No Baloney!

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