A Stop Sign for Obesity?

donuts fat obesity

We know it is important to eat well— but that doesn’t mean we don’t crave foods that aren’t good for us. When you’re hungry, bored, or feeling indulgent it is easy to wolf down the nearest food or treat available, despite the knowledge that it may not be very nutritious.

Obesity is a global health challenge that requires action.

25% of the world’s population is either overweight or obese— and eating too many empty calories has been a key contributor to this rising epidemic. In fact, the evidence is clear that if we exercised more, ate and drank less, and didn’t smoke, 40% of cancers and 75% of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases would be mitigated.

Is Labeling a Solution?

Over the past 10 years, studies have been performed to better understand the effectiveness of labeling for consumers. The results, thus far, have been mixed. Generally speaking, women are more likely than men to read labels. Additionally, consumers who did not exercise but read the labels on their food lost more weight than those who exercised but did not read the labels. Of course, the best health results occur if you check the labels on your food and exercise.

In 2016, the Journal of Public Health published a study that evaluated consumers’ knowledge and perception about food labels.  The study concluded what consumers care most about when purchasing food products is: “the global quality level rather than the nutritional values.” So, while nutritional labeling can be effective, overall it seems that a more aggressive approach is needed.

Traffic Alert! A Black Stop Sign?

In 2015, alarmed that 67% of their population was either overweight or obese, Chile began to take action. The Chilean government placed a mandate that all food companies put a black stop sign on the labels for food that were in excess of 275 calories, 400 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of sugar, and/or 4 grams of saturated fats, per a 100-gram serving size. To put this into perspective, 1 serving of peanut M&M’s has 240 calories, 13g of fat, and 23g of sugar. This qualifies for two black stop signs!! The law also prevents companies from advertising to children those products that exceed the labeling requirements.

Stop signs on these cream-filled pastries warn consumers of high saturated fat, high sugar and high calories. A triple warning!

Is the labeling program effective?

The desired outcome is that these labels cause consumers to stop and think before purchasing and overeating, and ultimately help change eating patterns. Even though the label was just recently implemented, it has been reported that nearly 40% of Chilean citizens use the labels as a purchasing guide. Additionally, children are also said to be responding well to the logos.

“We have shown that a simple message and a symbol is enough to communicate that you should be consuming less of certain foods. There’s nothing misleading about a warning logo, and clearly, this is what worries the industry.” (Dr. Camila Corvalán, a nutritionist at the University of Chile who helped develop the food labels)

Some food companies are reformulating rather than labeling

Certainly, these labels are getting attention, but what is even more impactful is that, according to The Food and Beverage Association of Chile, this new labeling has caused food processing companies to take note of their products and reformulate them to meet healthier standards.

More than 1,500 products have been reformulated to avoid carrying the black stop sign. For example, Nestlé has taken the lead and reformulated 6,500 products, globally, for better health and nutrition. For instance, Acticol, their alternative milk product, has been reformulated to help control cholesterol and support heart health. According to the company, “two glasses a day can help reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 10% in 30 days.”

If Chile can continue to successfully decrease their obesity problem, this program would be deemed a success and serve as an example for other countries in need. In fact, other Central and South American countries are already taking notice. Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, and Columbia are aiming to adopt the black stop sign labeling to help warn and educate their consumers about the risks associated with junk food.

Why aren’t more food companies labeling or reformulating their products?

Cost. Labeling costs are a steep proposition for food producers and have become a somewhat controversial topic. Food processing companies are not inclined to make costly labeling changes unless there are government mandates. In addition, many corporations will have to spend the R&D to make the same foods with the same taste…but with reduced ingredients. And from a government standpoint, officials are asking themselves if big brother needs to be in your lunchbox! It is clear that change is needed, but are labels the best solution?

Labeling can be misleading. For example, 100 grams of almonds contains more than 275 calories and would qualify for a black stop sign. But, almonds are a healthy snack that contains healthy fats and essential nutrients, such as Vitamin E and magnesium. So, D2D would argue that this should be exempt from such labeling!

What about youdo you read the labels on your food purchases? Would you pause and reconsider your food purchase if it had a black stop sign on it warning you of the high levels of sugar, salt, and fat? Or would you just buy it anyway and know it was a treat? Let the D2D team know on Facebook!

Genetic Engineering: The Future Insecticide?

farmer spraying strawberry fields

Last month, we invited our readers to take part in a survey conducted by Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Science School students. The survey was part of a study on the perception of genetically modified insects used as a form of pest management in agriculture. These insects have the potential to combat crop insect pests without the use of pesticides and insecticides.

The survey had a total of 132 respondents. Most respondents completed the survey via social media or via the Dirt-to-Dinner email. The survey results show a wide acceptance of this type of genetic modification. Furthermore, the respondents support GE pest control over traditional pesticide methods. The results of the survey are below – thanks to our D2D readers who participated!

For more information on this study, please

visit https://shelton.entomology.cornell.edu/diamondbackmoth/diamondback-moth-project-atcornell-university-faq/


Milk and “Milk” Alternatives: Which one is right for you?

milk alternatives on a grocery store shelf

Since 2012, dairy milk sales have dropped 15% and non-dairy ‘milk’ sales have grown a whopping 61%. Yet, from a young age, we are told to drink our milk—that it will make our bones nice and strong! Milk is a nutrient-dense complete protein that is also rich in vitamins and minerals. So, why are people replacing milk in the first place? Lactose intolerance, dietary fads, and improved technologies all have spurred growth in the alternative milk market.

The alternative milk market now has more varieties than traditional milks. Packaged with colorful and enticing “fortified with” labels, it can be difficult to differentiate the nutritious value between all of the options. These alternative “milk” options include a variety of nut milks (almond, coconut, cashew, pistachio, hazelnut, etc.), legume-based milks (soy or pea), seed-based milks (hemp and flax) and cereal-based milks (rice or oat).

Because alternative milk options haven’t been around as long as milk, there are many mixed messages from both the media and food processing companies to shape our thoughts on these products one way or the other. And, as mindful consumers, we are constantly evaluating new options that may help to improve our health and eating habits.

The Market: Dairy and the Alternatives

According to Mintel Market Research, the dairy milk market was valued at $16.12 billion in 2017, a 15% decline since 2012. Comparatively, the non-dairy milk market is valued at $2.11 billion.  By 2023, the global dairy alternatives market is expected to reach $19.45 billion.

What our Dairy Farmers think…

The dairy industry is fighting against the misrepresentation of these new alternative ‘milk’ products.  Dairy farmers believe the labeling of these substitute products as “milk” is nutritionally misleading as they often have less protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals than traditional milk and also contains added sugars. According to the FDA, the “milk” label means the product comes from a dairy producing animal. In fact, in a recent legal case, a California resident sued Blue Diamond for deceiving and confusing the customer with their labeling!

What does the FDA say?

The FDA has a Standard of identity for food, which protects the consumer by ensuring a label accurately reflects what is inside. For instance, ice cream must be called ice milk if it has less than 10 percent of butter fat. In the case of milk, the description is as follows: “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows. Milk shall contain not less than 8 1/4 percent milk solids not fat and not less than 3 1/4 percent milk fat.”  In other words, milk comes from a dairy producing animal containing milk fats and solids –  and not a tree or plant!

Almond, Coconut, Pea, and Hemp…Oh my!

As previously mentioned, the non-dairy market has grown by 61% since 2012. Occupying the majority of the growth is almond milk, with 64% of the market share. This is followed by coconut and soy milk, which assume 12% and 13%, respectively. The almond milk industry alone is worth $5.36 billion and has a huge growth projection of $7.2 billion by 2020.

As the demand for milk substitutes continues to climb, there are more and more companies getting into the market. The French company Danone, whose brands include Dannon, Evian, and Bonafont, now includes Whitewave, the largest plant-based milk provider in the United States. Whitewave’s alternative milk products include Silk, SoDelicious, along with other plant-based food brands (Alpro & Vega). Other key players in the industry include Blue Diamond Growers (Almond Breeze), Eden Foods Inc., and Hain Celestial Group Inc. (Rice Dream, Almond Dream, Dream Blends). But, lets put their profitability into perspective— a jug of almond milk contains roughly 39 cents worth of almonds, plus filtered water and additives and it retails for $3.99+. No wonder there are so many players entering the market!

But why are we looking far and wide for healthy substitutes when milk itself is so nutrient-dense?

Compared to the alternative milk products, cow’s milk is the most well-balanced source of key nutrients like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Milk is a rich source of calcium and contains high levels of B Vitamins. It is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. And while many milk alternatives have some of the beneficial aspects of traditional dairy, they also lack in areas where milk exceeds, while also having sugar added to the product.

Soil Microbes in the Spotlight

magnifying glass showing soil microbes in soil

Microbes sustain life on earth. In fact, we live in their world! Microbes (also called microorganisms) grow and reproduce in and on your body, in soil and on rocks, within plant roots and on their leaves, in wetlands, oceans and fresh waterways, and even in space! Microbes decompose and recycle the dead; keep us healthy, make the oxygen we breathe, fix nitrogen, control pollution, are a source of renewable fuel, and feed the world!

microbiome is a community of microbes living in the same habitat.  Your gut microbiome, for instance, is specific to you, and the right balance of prebiotics and probiotics plays an important role in the digestion of food, metabolism, inflammation and immune function. (read our post: Your Second Brain: Gut Microbiota).

Likewise, soil microbiomes play a vital role in the health of plants. When a soil microbiome is alive with interacting bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and earthworms, plants are able to better absorb and hold water, nutrients, and minerals.

Microbes perform critical functions in soil food webs, such as decomposing organic materials, cycling nutrients, and improving soil structure. (USDA NRCS).

Did you know? Penicillin, tetracycline, and streptomycin are just a few of the several hundred antibiotics originating from soil microbes.

Video: The Living Soil: How Unseen Microbes Affect the Food We Eat

Harnessing the Power of Microbes

“Agriculture is the original biological technology, and the more we can learn to work with the soil microbiome, the more we can discover new ways to add value to farmers and return to its biological, and more sustainable, roots,” Jason Kelly, co-founder of Joyn Bio and CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks.

Microbes help plants fix nitrogen from the air for growth and maturity, absorb phosphorus for health and vigor, preserve water to shield from drought, or can protect a plant from fungal disease.

Ever wonder why plants are able to grow in the desert? The microbiome in and around the roots of that plant help it survive amidst drought and heat. Scientists can isolate these microbes and apply them to crops which face drought conditions. For example, Indigo Ag has developed microbial treated seeds for wheat to increase plant health in the face of water stress.

Reducing the application of nitrogen fertilizers is a high priority for sustainable farming. Nitrogen is necessary for plant growth and maturity but can have environmental downsides. Some plants, like legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), naturally “fix” nitrogen with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Scientists at Joyn Bio are engineering the DNA of the naturally nitrogen-fixing bacteria found in legumes to provide meaningful levels of nitrogen to other crops, such as corn, wheat, and rice.

The startup Pivot Bio focuses on enabling microbes to fix and supply more nitrogen to corn. In the future, their ON Technology™ will be used to provide crops with better access to phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients.

BioAg Alliance, representing the combined forces of Monsanto and Novozymes, creates microbial-based fertilizers, fungicides, and insecticides that help plants take up nutrients and defend against pests, disease, and weeds.

BASF, BayerBioWorksCertis, DowDuPont and SyngentaAgbiomeAgrinos ArystaLifeScience BioconsortiaMarrone Bio InnovationsPlant Impact and Valent BioSciences and Holganix are some of the other companies involved with agricultural microbial-based solutions for crop protection and enhancement.

The Agricultural Microbial Market is Booming

According to marketing research firm Research and Markets, this market is projected to reach $6.01 billion by 2022 from $3.09 billion in 2017. Additionally, since microbial crop protection poses fewer risks than conventional pesticides, the EPA generally requires less data and has shorter review times. This reduces the timeline to development by years and the cost of product development by millions of dollars.

“Nature’s toolbox of beneficial bacteria and fungi can help us produce healthier crops with higher yields while reducing the need for fertilizer and other chemicals.”Ejner Bech Jensen, Novozymes’ Vice President for BioAg Research.

Bringing Microbes Home — What does this mean to you?

If you maintain a lawn or a garden, you have hard-working soil microbes already as friendly neighbors! If any of these areas struggle with pests and diseases, there is most likely an imbalance in the soil microbiome. Look into soil micro biologicals to help you alleviate pest and disease pressure without the use of chemicals.