The U.S. Doesn’t Have Enough Of The Vegetables We’re Supposed To Eat – TRACIE MCMILLAN SEPTEMBER 19, 2015 9:50 PM ET

About 50 percent of the vegetables available today are tomatoes and potatoes. According to new USDA data. Lettuce is the third most available single vegetable. Legumes and all other vegetables make up 41 percent.

About 50 percent of the vegetables available today are tomatoes and potatoes. According to new USDA data. Lettuce is the third most available single vegetable. Legumes and all other vegetables make up 41 percent. Ryan Kellman/NPR

If you are looking for proof that Americans’ vegetable habits lean towards french fries and ketchup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has it: Nearly 50 percent of vegetables and legumes available in the U.S. in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes. Lettuce came in third as the most available vegetable, according to new data out this week.

And while the USDA’s own dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables a day, the agency’s researchers found that only 1.7 cups per person are available.

“The dietary guidelines promote variety,” Jeanine Bentley, a social science analyst at the USDA’s Economic Research Service, tells The Salt. “But when you look at it, there isn’t much variety. Mostly people consume potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce.” (The data technically tally domestic production and imports, then subtract exports, but researchers commonly use them as a proxy for consumption.)

The federal dietary guidelines do not recommend relying primarily on potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce for most of our vegetable needs. They prescribe a varied mix that includes dark leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables, and beans—along with those potatoes and tomatoes. And they want us to eat them because they help reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers as well as help keep us at a healthy weight.

So the vegetables that are available don’t really match what we’re supposed to be eating. What about what we are actually eating?

Some 87 percent of adults failed to meet the vegetable intake recommendations during 2007-2010, according to recent survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey found a lot of variation state to state — with 5.5 percent of people in Mississippi getting enough vegetables to 13 percent in California meeting the recommendations.

Most people are likely to be eating tomatoes and potatoes, but as the USDA has noted, we often get them in the not-so-nutritious forms of french fries and pizza. About one-third of potatoes, and two-thirds of tomatoes, were bound for processing — think chips, sweetened pizza sauce and ketchup.

All these numbers beg some questions: Do our lopsided habits mean that Americans are merely eating what’s on offer, a kind of supply-side theory of diet? Or are all those potatoes and tomatoes crowding out spinach and Brussels sprouts because they’re what consumers demand?

“We have a serious disconnect between agriculture and health policy in our country,” said Marion Nestle, a leading nutrition researcher and author at New York University. “The USDA does not support ‘specialty crops’ [like vegetables] to any appreciable extent and the Department of Commerce’ figures show that the relative price of fruits and vegetables has gone up much faster than that of fast food or sodas.” So while Americans are told to eat fruits and vegetables for their health, the government has meanwhile mostly just subsidized other crops that end up in cheaper, less healthy processed food. “Price has a lot to do with this,” she adds.

Although this week’s USDA report focuses on the limited variety of vegetables available to American shoppers, other agency data suggest that the country simply doesn’t offer enough vegetables, period. A 2010 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimated that the U.S. vegetable supply would need to increase by 70 percent — almost entirely in dark leafy greens, orange vegetables and legumes — in order for Americans to meet recommended daily allowances at the time.

With a dietary landscape like that, it’s entirely possible that Americans are choosing potatoes and tomatoes, at least for now, says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, a food systems and health analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“What I see here with lots of potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce … [is] that people are used to these items, and habits are hard to break,” says Maslow, adding that relying mostly on the potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce “doesn’t cut it,” nutrition-wise.

Still, she says, “If more Americans got used to eating more fruits and vegetables they might be demanding more of it,” she says. “But it’s really hard to demand something you’ve not grown up with.”

That’s why behavioral economists are so keen to figure out how to nudge kids to try and develop a taste for more vegetables — they’re researching everything from financial incentives to arranging food differently on the lunch line. And there’s some hopeful news in that department: The CDC recently reportedthat, since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, there’s been a big increase in the number of schools serving two or more vegetables and whole grain-rich foods every day.

Most interesting of all, that food isn’t just on kids plates: It’s getting eaten, too. A Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity study of kids’ lunch habits following the passage of the bill found that kids ate more fruit, threw away fewer vegetables and ate more of their now-healthier entrees, too.

Tracie McMillan is the author of The American Way of Eating, a New York Times bestseller, and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. You can follow her on Twitter @tmmcmillan.

Food industry braces for Obama trans fat ban – By Helena Bottemiller Evich 5/16/15 6:15 AM EDT

Miami, UNITED STATES:  A dozen doughnuts are pictured outside a Dunkin' Donuts store 27 September 2006 in Miami, Florida. Three years after New York City banned smoking in restaurants, health officials are talking about prohibiting something they say is almost as bad, artificial trans fatty acids. The New York City health department announced a proposal 27 September that would bar cooking at any of the city's 24,600 food service establishments using ingredients that contain the artery-clogging substance, commonly listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated oil which would create a huge problem for national fast food chains. Artificial trans fats are found in some shortenings, margarine and frying oils and turn up in foods from pie crusts to French fries to doughnuts. AFP PHOTO/ROBERT SULLIVAN  (Photo credit should read ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The Obama administration is expected to all but ban trans fat in a final ruling that could drop as soon as next week, killing most uses of an ingredient that has been put in everything from frozen pizza to Reese’s Pieces but since deemed harmful to human health.

The agency may create some very limited exemptions, but the ruling could force food companies to cut trans fat use beyond the 85 percent reduction already achieved over the past decade — a key piece of the Obama administration’s broader agenda to nudge Americans toward a healthier diet.

The food industry believes low-levels of trans fats are safe. Industry leaders have banded together behind-the-scenes to craft a food additive petition that will ask FDA to allow some uses of partially hydrogenated oils, such as in the sprinkles on cupcakes, cookies and ice cream. The industry hasn’t shared details, but officials maintain the uses will represent “very limited amounts.”

For more than 60 years, partially hydrogenated oils have been used in food products under the status generally recognized as safe, which does not require FDA’s approval. But since the 1990s, reams of studies have linked trans fat consumption to cardiovascular disease, causing somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 premature deaths before the industry started phasing it out.

In late 2013 the Obama administration issued a tentative determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not generally recognized as safe. The move sent shock waves through the food industry, which has already brought down average consumption from more than 4 grams per day to about 1 gram per day — an exodus largely fueled by mandatory labeling imposed a decade ago. Scores of popular products, including Oreos and Cheetos, have quietly dropped partially hydrogenated oils over the years, but it remains an ingredient in many products, including Pop Secret microwave popcorn, Pillsbury Grands! Cinnamon Rolls and Sara Lee cheesecake, as well as some restaurant fryers and commercial bakery goods.

If FDA sticks to its guns in its final determination — and most in food policy circles assume it will — the agency will be taking a firm step toward pushing out more of the remaining uses of trans fat.

“This is a massive win for public health,” said Sam Kass, the former senior adviser for nutrition at the White House and executive director of Let’s Move!, noting that FDA has estimated removing trans fat could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and some 7,000 deaths.

“There are few targeted actions you can take in this space that have that kind of direct impact,” said Kass. He said he expects FDA will ultimately allow negligible uses of trans fat, because there’s no science that shows such levels are harmful.

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Would You Buy a Fancy Hamburger From McDonald’s? – By Alison Griswold APRIL 8 2015 5:49 PM

Last month, McDonald’s took a moment for some much-needed self-reflection. “McDonald’s current performance reflects the urgent need to evolve with today’s consumers, reset strategic priorities and restore business momentum,” the company wrote in a release accompanying its ugly February sales figures. “The goal going forward is to be a true destination of choice around the world and reassert McDonald’s as a modern, progressive burger company.”

Yum? — Photo Illustration by Jamie Rector/Getty Images

Now, in what’s presumably intended as a step toward that goal, McDonald’s says it will reintroduce a premium sirloin burger to U.S. restaurants for a limited time. The so-called Angus Third Pounder will reportedly appear on the menu from May 12 until late June, but might hit some locations even sooner. From the Wall Street Journal:

The sirloin burgers—one with bacon, another with mushrooms, and a third with classic lettuce-and-tomato toppings—are served on a wooden surface similar to a cutting board, aiming to signify freshness—an attribute McDonald’s image has been lacking lately.

The keyword here is reintroduce, because the Angus Third Pounder has been on the McDonald’s menu before. It first launched in 2009 but was pulled in May 2013 as beef prices rose and sales failed to take off. Customers seemed to feel that, at $4 to $5 apiece, the Angus Third Pounder wasn’t different enough from the Quarter Pounder or Big Mac to merit its significantly greater price. Around the same time, McDonald’s also did away with its upscale Fruit & Walnut Salad and Chicken Selects.

So why does newly appointed McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook seem to think the Angus Third Pounder could work this time around? Again, from the Journal:

“They are trying this again because a decent burger place has to have a premium burger,” said John Gordon, principal at Pacific Management Consulting Group. “Consumers are more sophisticated and expect better,” plus the company needs some pricier products to boost profitability.

That’s all well and good, but the Angus Third Pounder is no Egg McMuffin. Adding another burger to the menu will also presumably complicate things in the kitchens that McDonald’s is known to be trying to simplify. The point is, it’s a little strange for a chain ostensibly trying to pare down its offerings to now be bringing back an option that failed after four years on the menu. But hey, you can’t be a “modern, progressive burger company”—one that earns back market share from, say, Five Guys and Shake Shack—without a modern, progressive burger. Maybe 2015 will be the Angus Third Pounder’s year to shine.

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9 Ways to Eat Better Without Really Trying – By Kiera Butler | Mon Mar. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Willpower not your strong suit? No problem, says Cornell food psychologist BrianWansink. His research suggests that by making a few simple tweaks to your surroundings, you can trick yourself into cutting calories.

Photo by Tristan Spinski

  1. Shove that breakfast cereal in the kitchen cabinet! In Wansink’s studies, people who kept their cereal visible—even the healthy hippie stuff—weighed 21 pounds more on average than those who keep it out of sight.
  2. Serve yourself from the stovetop rather than family style on the table. People who did so ate 19 percent less.
  3. Pick red wine instead of white (subjects who did so poured 9 percent less); drink it from a tall, thin glass instead of a short, fat one (12 percent less); and set the glass on a table when you pour, rather than holding it (12 percent less).
  4. Make sure the color of your food contrasts that of your plate. When they matched, Wansink found, people consumed 22 percent more food.
  5. At restaurants, request a table near the front door. People sitting far from the entrance were 73 percent more likely to order dessert.
  6. If a restaurant offers high-top bar tables, snag one. Wansink predicts you’ll be less likely to order fried food.
  7. Want your kid to choose apple slices instead of fries at McDonald’s? Ask her, “What would Batman choose?” Even if she answered “fries,” she’ll be more likely to order the apples. “Simply having to answer for anyone else seems to make them think twice—and often change their order,” Wansink notes.
  8. Chew gum while grocery shopping. (Mint-flavored seems to work best.) People who did so bought 7 percent less junk food.
  9. Pack a lunch for work. In Wansink’s studies, bag lunchers consumed less food than did people who ate out.

What’s French for Chicken Nugget? The Truth About School Lunches Around the World – By Tom Philpott| Sat Feb. 28, 2015 6:00 AM EST

This depiction of a school lunch in Greece looks delicious, but it’s not based in reality. Photo: Sweetgreen

By now you’ve probably seen the viral slideshow called “School Lunches Around the World,” in which a heavily processed American school lunch is contrasted against an array of fresh, healthy-looking victuals from Italy, France, Greece, etc. It’s a compelling argument against the puny resources spent on school lunch in the United States, where, once labor and overhead are accounted for, schools get less than a dollar per daily lunch to spend on ingredients.

But as the great school-food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel points out, those sumptuous photos don’t depict actual meals being served in actual schools—but, rather, staged shots that oversimplify a complex topic. As it turns out, Sweetgreen, a chain of health-food eateries located mainly on the East Coast, produced the photos, but didn’t make that clear on its Tumblr.

In case you haven’t seen them, here’s a sampling:

Photo: Sweetgreen

Photo: Sweetgreen

Photo: Sweetgreen

So we see images of appetizing lunch from countries around the world contrasted against a relatively grim platter of pale chicken nuggets, potatoes, and peas from here in the good ol’ USA. Siegel writes that many of her readers sent her a link to the gallery, “understandably but mistakenly” under the impression that the images depicted real-deal lunches, not a corporate photo shoot. The UK’s Daily Mail even took them at face value, blaring in a headline that “Photos reveal just how meager US students’ meals are compared to even the most cash-strapped of nations.”

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How big food brands are boosting profits by targeting the poor -By Roberto A. Ferdman February 7

Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.

Sometimes there’s only the illusion of cheapness at dollar stores. (Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

Several of America’s largest food manufacturers have been shifting their retail strategy, selling less of their packaged foods in traditional grocery stores and more of those foods in dollar and discount stores, according to a recent Reuters story. Kraft, which sells Veveeta sauce, has turned its attention to the cheaper retailers. So too have General Mills and Campbell’s Soup.

“We’re in the business of feeding all American families, and that’s where consumers are going,” Tom Lopez, vice president of growth channels at Kraft, told Reuters on Thursday.

That’s mostly true. Packaged food sales have been lagging at supermarkets—sales of packaged food were flat last year, largely because of a trend in which Americans are opting for fresher alternatives at the grocery store. Dollar stores have been the rare exception—food sales at discount stores have greatly outpaced their higher priced counterparts, prompting chains like Dollar Tree to add more room for food products. General Mills’ sales at discount stores rose by nearly 10 percent last year.

But there’s a reason why large food companies are selling more of their packaged foods to America’s poor: they have figured out a way to do it at a much higher profit margin.

In order to offer the facade of affordability, manufacturers like Kraft are selling food in smaller packages. These granola bars, sauces, cereals, and prepared meals look like they cost less, but actually are far more expensive on a per ounce basis, according to Reuters.

Shrinking package sizes allows Kraft to reach higher profit margins on products, though it won’t sell as many as it would in a larger store. For instance, a 12-ounce package of Velveeta Shells & Cheese cost $2.50 at the a Dollar Tree store in New York City. Meanwhile, a 2.4 ounce cup cost $1.25. That’s 21 cents an ounce versus 52 cents an ounce.

There are caveats, of course. Charging less per ounce for bulkier packages is nothing new: entire business models—say, Costco’s—are predicated on that strategy. Packaging is often a significant contributor to price, making it difficult if not impossible to change size and price on a similar scale. Bulk sellers make up for smaller profit margins by selling more product.

So long as the people you’re selling to are actively deciding whether or not to stock up at a discount or buy only for the week at a sight mark-up, it’s just a value proposition. But it’s unclear whether most of the people who shop at dollar stores have that luxury. In fact, it’s doubtful. As Dollar General’s chief executive Rick Dreiling said on a recent earnings call, “the low to middle income consumer who is our core customer continues to look for ways to manage her budget.”

In other words, people go to Dollar General to save, because they have to. And according to this Reuters story, they’re buying food that looks cheaper but is ultimately costing them more.

Low oil prices are good for 42 states — and bad for the other eight – Updated by Brad Plumer on December 23, 2014, 8:00 a.m. ET

How will the big plunge in oil prices affect the US economy? Stephen Brown, an economist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offers a simple mapbreaking things down. On the whole, cheap oil will likely boost economic activity in 42 states (in green and yellow) while hurting it in the remaining 8 (in red):

(Resources for the Future)

(Resources for the Future)

Brown’s calculus is fairly simple. On the one hand, low oil prices mean lower gasoline prices. For people who consume a lot of gasoline — most of the United States, basically — the price plunge is a major boon. Estimates of the average household benefit range from $550 per year to $1,100 per year or more. Plus there are lower energy costs for airlines, shipping, and so on.

Alaska is now facing a $3.5 billion deficit as a result of lower oil prices

But the picture is different for eight states that rely heavily on oil production: namely, Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma Texas, Wyoming and West Virginia. Lower oil prices means less revenue — and, in places like North Dakota or Texas, could force shale producers to scale back their drilling. (Oil-producing states with diversified economies, like California, are much less vulnerable overall.)

On top of that, some of these oil-producing states could find themselves in a budget hole. Alaska, for one, is now facing a $3.5 billion deficit and may have to make it up by shelving infrastructure projects, increasing tuition fees, and so on. (The state has socked away a $13 billion rainy day fund for this eventuality, but that will run down if low prices persist for a long while.)

“These eight states,” Brown writes, “have economies that depend on energy production for export to other states. The extent of the [negative] effects depends the prominence of oil in the state’s energy mix and the lack of diversity in the state’s economy.” You can read more on these nuances here.

The overall economic impact in the US should be positive

So how does this all shake out? Assuming oil stays well below $80 per barrel, as futures markets currently predict, Brown offers some back-of-the-envelope calculations:

Taking into account the income losses for US oil companies, the net gain in US income will amount to $920 per year for each household. The average propensity to consume is around 90 percent, so the average US household could spend around an additional $825 per year.

Because low-income households spend a greater percentage of their income on energy consumption, and are less likely to own stocks in oil companies, such households will see larger gains and spend more. High-income households will spend less. The overall effect should amount to a one-time increase in US GDP of about 0.7-1.0 percent.

There’s a lot more in Brown’s policy brief, written for Resources for the Future, about the various implications of falling oil prices — it’s worth checking out.

That Takeout Coffee Cup May Be Messing With Your Hormones – —By Mariah Blake | Mon Dec. 1, 2014 6:30 AM EST

A new study suggests that whole classes of BPA-free plastics—including the kind in styrofoam—release estrogenic chemicals.

Mike G/Thinkstock

Most people know that some plastics additives, such as bisphenol A (BPA), may be harmful to their health. But an upcoming study in the journal Environmental Health finds that entire classes of plastics—including the type commonly referred to as styrofoam and a type used in many baby products—may wreak havoc on your hormones regardless of what additives are in them.

The study’s authors tested 14 different BPA-free plastic resins, the raw materials used to make plastic products, and found that four of them released chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen. That’s not surprising. As Mother Jones reported earlier this year, many BPA-free plastic goods—from baby bottles and sippy cups to food-storage containers—leach potentially harmful estrogenlike chemicals. But until now, it wasn’t clear what role the resins played. The new study suggests that sometimes the resins themselves are part of the problem, though additives such as dyes and antioxidants can make it worse.

In the case of polystyrene, the resin used in styrofoam and similar products, the authors tested 11 samples and consistently found estrogen seepage after exposure to intense steam or ultraviolet rays.

Styrofoam is a registered trademark of Dow. The company stresses that its product is used for crafts and building insulation, not food and beverage containers. (“There isn’t a coffee cup, cooler, or packaging material in the world made from actual Styrofoam,” according to Dow’s website.) But generic polystyrene foam, which most people call styrofoam anyway, is ubiquitous in the food services industry, where its found in everything from meat trays to takeout containers. Polystyrene resin—which the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled a suspected carcinogen—is also used to make hard plastic items, including utensils and toothbrushes.

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This scientist thinks cancer can be prevented— and even cured — through diet

“Diet can be used to prevent and reverse cancer just like it prevents and reverses heart disease,” he said. “A diet high in animal protein increases the amount of carcinogens going to the cells. It increases the enzyme MFO (mixed function oxidase) that causes increased carcinogenic activity.”

T. Colin Campbell (Gage Skidmore)

But in the end, T. Colin Campbell is a consummate researcher. When his findings belied one of his own foundational beliefs about nutrition, Campbell found himself standing alone at a crossroads: continue a respected and tenured academic career at a prestigious school or go public and advocate for scientific findings that counter established tenets of nutrition, contradict government dietary guidelines, are misunderstood by the medical establishment and belie the marketing claims of major food corporations.

Campbell says he chose the truth. In response to a comment that he picked a fight with a billion-dollar industry, Campbell said, “No, it’s a trillion-dollar industry.”

The professor emeritus in nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University said research has proven that consumption of animal products, including meat, fish and dairy, triggers chronic diseases and impaired health and poses a greater risk than heredity or environment. He has linked casein, a protein in milk, with breast cancer. His lifelong professional focus has been cancer and nutrition, and Campbell says that our national and global fight with cancer has targeted the wrong enemy.

Though he is scholarly and genteel, Campbell is not reserved. He’s impatient and blunt. He dismisses the Atkins diet, Paleo diet, South Beach diet and high protein diet. He’s not a supporter of celebrity physicians who prescribe diets of wild salmon, expensive grass-fed beef and costly nutritional supplements. He comes down firmly on the side of health for everyone, not just the wealthy who can afford pharmaceutical supplements of questionable health benefit and expensive prescription medications for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Campbell advocates disease prevention at the end of a fork. He was prominently featured in the award-winning documentary Forks Over Knives, and is the focus of a new documentary Plant Pure Nation, due out in early 2015 and produced by his son Nelson Campbell.

Colin Campbell discounts physicians as reliable sources of nutritional advice for their patients. Physicians, he said, received minimal to no nutritional education in medical school and have not generally conducted investigative laboratory research themselves.

Campbell, however, has spent more than five decades in laboratory research, much of it publicly funded. He’s adamant the public has a right to know his results.

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