September 5, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Saturated Fat, Perdue Eggs, Tracing Seafood

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Should we - or should we not - embrace butter?

Should we – or should we not – embrace butter?

Saturated fat is complex. In June, TIME Magazine published “Eat Butter,” which highlighted research suggesting that we humans have been worrying too much about the fat in our diets. (As I did in June, I refer to you to our colleague Marion Nestle’s response to that study.) And now a major study from Tulane and the Bloomberg School of Public Health (Dean Michael Klag is a co-author) is pointing to a similar conclusion: that following a low-carbohydrate diet contributes to more weight loss and fewer cardiovascular risks than following a low-fat diet. That study has made news, including this story in The New York Times. The original journal article doesn’t specify what kind of carbohydrates were consumed by those in the low-fat arm of the study, but I suspect they were mostly refined carbs, a diet of which has a different impact on human health through the glycemic effect than a diet composed of whole grain carbohydrates. I think the study certainly will make a case for encouraging people to eat fewer carbohydrates, especially in the form of processed food, and to favor mono- and poly-unsaturated fats over saturated fats. As for the “embrace fat” message that seems to be percolating in the nutrition universe, a couple of thoughts. First, not all fats are the same: mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are inarguably beneficial, as our colleague Allison Righter, RD, has pointed out, while saturated fats such as those found in red and processed meats are associated with more harms than just fat content, such as heme iron content, L-carnitine, sodium, high calories, and nitrates and nitrites. (CLF staffer Raychel Santo writes about L-carnitine and TMAO in this April blogpost.) My second point is that, as we at CLF know from working with the Meatless Monday campaign for more than ten years, there’s more than just a health angle when it comes to saturated fat. The environmental harms of a high-meat diet become increasingly significant in this era of climate change, population growth, and resource depletion. In fact, reducing your personal meat consumption may be the best action that a person can take for mitigating the devastating effects of climate change (Here’s a blogpost explaining why.). There are many different impacts that result from food choices. I’m glad we’re talking about them—but let’s not just say, “Embrace fat” and leave it at that. Diet, human health, and the health of our planet are connected in myriad, complex ways. Our take on the study? Reduce consumption of saturated fats, transfats, and carbohydrates in the diet in favor of more mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. @MeatlessMonday

Perdue’s eggs. Yesterday Perdue Farms made an announcement that a lot of people are excited about. A common practice in egg hatcheries is to inject every egg with an antibiotic known as gentamicin, to protect the chicks from infection and to preserve antivirals—and Perdue says it won’t be using that antibiotic in its eggs any more. Public health advocates agree that this is an important step, especially since we know that the use of antibiotics in farm animals can increase antibiotic resistance in bacteria that can infect humans as well as the farm animals. We applaud Perdue for this step. Perdue also stated that 95 percent of its chickens will never receive “human antibiotics.” On the face of it, this sounds good, but some deeper examination may be required to truly understand the changes in policy. CLF will publish a blogpost next week to unpack the situation. Here’s the NPR story. Stay tuned for our blogpost. @PerdueChicken

More on meat. A BBC story reports on research from Cambridge and Aberdeen universities estimating greenhouse gases from food production will go up 80 percent if meat and dairy consumption continues to rise at its current rate. The current trends in meat consumption spell out more deforestation and environmental degradation, resulting in more severe climate change. The study urges eating two portions of red meat and seven of poultry per week for a total of nine portions spread out over 21 meals – or Meatless Monday plus another meatless day or two or three of your choice Check out the Meatless Monday campaign for other ideas.@rharrabin

Seafood traceability. As this Food Safety News story reports, earlier this summer, the White House established a Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud and requested comments from the public to help inform and advise the task force in developing recommendations for the president. On Tuesday, with 12 other organizations including Food and Water Watch and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, we submitted a comment recommending “robust traceability requirements” for all seafood sold in the U.S. With these requirements in place, fishing companies would provide information about the location of catch or harvest, species-specific names for seafood, and information about how the seafood was caught or farmed.Read the FSN article to find out more about “seafood fraud” and the public comment.

Mysteries in Maine. The Gulf of Maine’s temperature is expected to rise more than 4 degrees by the end of the century—this according to an AP story picked up by the San Francisco Gate. According to the research cited, Maine waters are heating up faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, and scientists are not certain why. The rest of the oceans are also warming, albeit not as fast, as increased carbon dioxide in the air has contributed to rising temperatures, says one of the study authors. An abundance of just-under-size lobsters in the traps in June led the Maine lobstermen to anticipate a good haul in July and August but as of this writing, the lobstermen are wondering what happened to all of those June just-under-size lobsters because they aren’t showing up in their traps.

Diet and children. This New York Times story taps into a conversation about how we create food preferences in children. From the story: “Research published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that early preferences for fruits and vegetables or, conversely, sugary drinks last into age 6.” The findings from the study are just one more reason why we need to think carefully about policies around sugar and nutrition assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP.

Food Day is Friday, October 24. As a Food Day Board member, I encourage you to check out what’s going on in your neck of the woods for the event and how you can support this nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. In celebration of Food Day, we’ll be hosting an exciting event on Tuesday, October 29, at the Bloomberg School—details will come in the next few weeks. In the meantime, check out the website at and join the conversation on Twitter via #FoodDay2014.

Food policy databases. CLF’s Food Policy Network, led by program director Anne Palmer, just launched two new incredible databases with food policy resources. Read Raychel Santo’s blogpost about the databases and how they can help activists, planners, policymakers, and educators.

#MeatMatters. In just ten days, Healthy Food Action will kick off its four-part webinar series, Meat Matters. Check out their website to register for one or all webinars. Our own director of Food System Policy, Bob Martin, will be moderating the first one, and CLF program directors Roni Neff and Keeve Nachman will be participating in the forthcoming events.

Image:Buttered crumpet.jpg by LoopZilla, wikicommons.

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