Posts in category Food


ActualidadAlimentaciónDestacadosFoodSupermercado

¿Cuáles son los mejores Supermercados Online de España?

La transformación digital está llegando para quedarse al mundo de los supermercados. Comenzó hace unos años con la instalación de cajeros de auto pago como apoyo en las cajas de las grandes superficies. Pero si podían seleccionar los productos que habían comprado desde una pantalla, ¿por qué no hacerlo desde la pantalla de tu ordenador? […]

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¿Cuál es el papel de Amazon en el sector de la alimentación?

Hoy publicábamos con respecto de Amazon Fresh, la noticia de su alianza con la cadena de alimentación Tyson Foods, para la distribución a domicilio de kits para cocinar en casa recetas de expertos y afamados chefs estadounidenses, es decir, su particular Hello Fresh para crecer en el mercado de la alimentación.  Pero, ¿cuál es el […]

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FoodGreater MinnesotaHealthRural IssuesUniversity of Minnesota

As local groceries close, more rural areas in Minnesota may become ‘food deserts’

Almost two-thirds of the owners of rural grocery stores in Minnesota say they intend to leave the business within the next 10 years, and most have no transition plan to ensure that their stores will stay open after they’re gone, according to a study published this week by the University of Minnesota.

As the study points out, the permanent closure of a rural grocery store is not just a setback for a small town’s economy and sense of community, but also makes it harder for many in the town to access fresh produce and other healthful food.

“These stores serve populations in their areas that have limited mobility, especially the elderly who may not be able to drive long distances,” said Karen Lanthier, one of the study’s authors and an assistant program director for sustainable local foods at the U of M Extension, in an interview with MinnPost.

Sometimes, the next closest store selling healthful food is a 30- or 45-minute car ride away she added, a factor that is “a key reason why these rural grocery stores are so important.”

Rural grocery stores also often serve as important resources for community institutions that need reliable sources of fresh produce, such as schools, nursing homes, food shelves and daycare businesses, said Lanthier.

We tend to think of “food deserts” — communities where a substantial number of residents lack access to affordable, healthful food — as being in low-income urban areas. But, as this study makes clear, food deserts are present in many rural areas as well.

Survey’s key findings

The U of M study is based on data collected from a questionnaire that was mailed in July 2015 to the 254 grocery stores in Minnesota communities with populations less than 2,500.  Almost 70 percent — 175 — of the stores responded.

Of the grocers who returned the surveys, 85 percent said they own the building in which their store is located, and more than a third (36 percent) said they had owned it for more than 20 years.

Karen Lanthier

Karen Lanthier

A significant proportion (43 percent) of those stores were in buildings that are more than 50 years old, the survey also revealed.

As the survey’s responses make clear, rural grocery stores have large service areas. More than a quarter (28 percent) of the grocers surveyed said they have customers who travel 30 or more miles to shop in their stores, and 62 percent said the nearest discount grocery to theirs is 20 or more miles away.

But the key finding from the survey was the troubling revelation that 62 percent of the grocers do not intend to run their store for more than another 10 years — at most. And few (less than 30 percent) have a plan to hand off their business to a new owner.

When asked if she and her colleagues were surprised by those findings, Lanthier said, “Yes and no.”

“It was a hunch that we had, but at the same time, it definitely was astounding,” she said. “We thought, wow, this is something we really need to dig into more quickly and with people who can help in this area.”

Bucking the trend

Mike Wegner, 44, knows firsthand how challenging the running of a rural grocery can be — and how important such a store is to the health and social fabric of its community. Since February, he’s been the owner of Mike’s Market in Comfrey, a town with between 300 and 400 residents in southwestern Minnesota.

Wegner got into the grocery business only after a contingent of Comfrey residents approached him last December and asked him to run what was then called the Comfrey Market to keep it from closing. At the time, Wegner, who grew up in the nearby town of Butterfield, was working full time in the vocational training department at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center and part time at the Comfrey Bar and Grill.

So far, Wegner is not having any second thoughts about becoming a grocer. “It’s a lot of work, but I have the gift of gab, so it’s fun,” he told MinnPost.

The gift of gab helps, for his store serves as a gathering place for many of Comfrey’s residents. “It’s really big with the retired community,” Wegner explained. “I have families, too, but the majority are retired folks.”

Seven or eight older people drop by every morning for breakfast, and another group drops by in the afternoon to play cards, he said.

Many of these people also do most, if not all, of their food shopping at the store.

“They don’t want to drive out of town,” said Wegner. “The closest grocery store is about a 30-minute drive away.”

Wegner also supplies fresh produce and other groceries to a local assistant living facility. “I’m starting to work with the school as well,” he said.

Needed: broad support

Although the survival of rural grocery stores depends primarily on the support of people living in those communities, all of us — even those of us who reside in the state’s biggest cities — can play a role in helping Minnesota’s small towns from becoming food deserts, said Lanthier.

“When you’re traveling through Minnesota’s rural areas, stop by the small towns and check out the local grocer,” she said. “In fact, it’s a great place to learn about what’s going on in those communities.”

Wegner agrees. “People put their blood, sweat and tears into these shops to help their towns survive,” he said. “So, when you’re in the community, support the local store. Support the community.”

FMI: You can read more about the rural grocery store survey on the U of M Extension’s website.

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‘Ultra-processed foods’ contribute 90% of added sugar in U.S. diet, study finds

Americans get more than half of their calories and nearly 90 percent of their added sugar in their diet from “ultra-processed” foods, according to a study published online Wednesday in the journal BMJ Open.

The study also found that people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods were significantly more likely to exceed the recommendation from public health officials that no more than 10 percent of calories should come from added sugar.

In fact, of the 20 percent of people in the study who ate the most ultra-processed foods, 80 percent exceeded that recommended upper limit for added sugar.

“Our study suggests that in the USA, limiting the consumption of ultra-processed foods may be a highly effective way to decrease added sugars,” write the study’s authors. “A reduction in ultra-processed foods should also increase the intake of more healthful, minimally processed foods such as milk, fruits and nuts, and freshly prepared dishes based on whole grains and vegetables, which would produce additional health benefits beyond the reduction in added sugar.”

Yes, that may seem obvious. But this study is apparently the first one to look at the contribution of the entire category of ultra-processed foods to U.S. sugar consumption, rather than on the impact of individual elements within the category, such as soft drinks or fast food.

Definitions

Ultra-processed foods are those that contain not just salt, sugar, oils and other substances commonly used in cooking, but also flavorings, emulsifiers, colorings, sweeteners and additional additives  — ingredients whose purpose is to disguise undesirable features of the final product and to mimic real foods as much as possible.

It’s a category that contains a wide range of popular products, including breads, soft drinks, fruit drinks, milk-based drinks, cakes, cookies, pies, cakes, salty snacks, pizza and breakfast cereals.

It is different, however, from “processed foods,” which include cheese, smoked fish or meat, and vegetables preserved in brine (such as pickles), and from “unprocessed or minimally processed foods,” which include meat, fruit, plain yogurt, grains and vegetables. 

America’s sweet tooth

To determine the contribution of ultra-processed foods to the amount of added sugar in the American diet, researchers analyzed dietary data collected from more than 9,000 people who participated in the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an ongoing nationally representative survey of U.S. adults.

They found that ultra-processed foods made up an average of 57.9 percent of the total calories and 89.7 percent of the calories from added sugar consumed by the survey’s participants. 

By contrast, processed culinary ingredients (table sugar used by home cooks to prepare a dish or drink from scratch) contributed only 8.7 percent of the calories from added sugars in the participants’ diets. Processed foods contributed even fewer added-sugar calories: 1.6 percent.

Those percentages aren’t surprising, however, given that 21 percent of calories in ultra-processed foods — or 1 in 5 calories — come from added sugar. That rate is eightfold higher than the 2.4 percent of calories from added sugar found in processed foods, the authors of the study point out.

Exceeding the limit

Although health officials recommend that we limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent (or, better yet, 5 percent) of our total calories, research suggests that added sugars make up about 15 percent of total calories in the average American diet.

In this study, only those people who were among the 20 percent who consumed the lowest amount of ultra-processed food met the recommended limit on added sugar.

For the 20 percent of the study’s participants who consumed the most ultra-processed foods, 82 percent exceeded the recommended limit.

Limitations and implications

The study comes with several caveats. Most notably, it relied on people recalling what they ate over the past 24 hours. Such recollections can be problematic.

Still, since previous research has shown that people tend to underreport the amount of sugar-sweetened foods they eat, the dietary contribution of added sugar from ultra-processed foods was most likely underestimated in this study.

So, what is the take-home message? Well, dietary guidelines say we should limit our consumption of added sugar, but they are not always clear on how we should go about that. And it’s quite complicated to determine from reading food labels when you have met the 10 percent added sugar threshold.

This study’s findings suggest a much simpler strategy: Avoid ultra-processed foods as much as possible.

FMI: BMJ Open is, as its name implies, an open-access medical journal, so you can download and read the study in full through the journal’s website

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Messy kitchens coupled with ‘out of control’ feelings may lead to eating more sweets, study finds

If you’re trying to cut back on calories, you might want to try keeping a cleaner, more organized kitchen, particularly if you’re feeling stressed about other matters.

A recent study found that a chaotic kitchen environment can make people more vulnerable to snacking on unhealthy foods, although primarily if they are already in an out-of-control mindset.

The study, which was published earlier this month in the journal Environment & Behavior, has implications beyond the kitchen, say its authors. “The notion that places — such as cluttered offices or disorganized homes — can be modified to help us control our food intake is becoming an important solution in helping us become more ‘slim by design,’ ” they write. 

That wording is also by design. The study was led by Brian Wansink, who is director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.  He’s also the author of a book titled “Slim by Design.”

But Wansink is not alone in suggesting that the design of our environments affects our food choices — and perhaps our waistlines. In 2013, a University of Minnesota study reported that people in a a tidy, orderly room were three times more likely than people in a messy, cluttered room to choose an apple over chocolate as a snack.

The importance of stress

Plenty of other studies have demonstrated that stress has an important impact on the quantity and quality of food we eat. When we’re feeling hassled, whether at work or at home, we tend to increase our intake of high-fat, high-sugar snack foods — most likely because the stress weakens our self-control.

Research has also shown that our frame of mind can influence our eating behavior at times of stress. A 2014 study by Wansink and his colleagues found, for example, that when people were asked about an event from earlier in the day that had left them feeling grateful, they tended to subsequently choose a more healthful snack.

For the current study, Wansink and his colleagues wanted to see whether people’s frame of mind — feeling “in control” or “out of control” — would affect how much they ate in a messy environment.

In other words, can feeling in control of things act as a buffer against making poor food choices in chaotic environments? 

Study details

The study involved 98 undergraduate women, aged 17 to 27. Their body mass indices (BMIs) ranged from “underweight” to “obese,” but most of the women fell within the “normal” range. (The mean BMI was 22.3.)

The women were randomly assigned to a “standard” kitchen (“organized, quiet room with no disruptions”) or a “chaotic” kitchen (“tables out of place, papers piled on tables, pots and dishes scattered around”). To add to the confusion of the chaotic kitchen, the female experimenter who greeted the women in that room indicated that she was running late.

While in the kitchens, the undergraduates were randomly assigned to spend five minutes writing an essay either about a time in their lives when they felt particularly chaotic and out of control or about a time when they felt particularly organized and in control. (To serve as a control group, some women were assigned a “neutral” essay: writing about a recent class lecture.)  During the essay task, the experimenter in the messy kitchen “proceeded to tidy up the room in a loud and disruptive manner,” Wansink and his colleagues write. People also kept popping into the room, ostensibly asking about the whereabouts of a professor.

After completing their essays, the undergraduates were told they were participating in a “taste-rating task.” Three bowls filled with cookies, crackers and carrots were placed in front of them. They were instructed to taste each food and rate it on a number of qualities. They were also told that they could eat as much of each snack as they liked, “because we have tons of this food.” The students were then left alone in the room for 10 minutes.

Each bowl had been carefully pre-weighed before being brought into the room and placed before the undergraduates.

More cookies

The study found that the consumption of carrots and crackers wasn’t much different, statistically speaking, in the clean and messy kitchens. But kitchen cleanliness did affect the women’s cookie consumption. 

And, apparently, so did their state of mind after writing the essay.

Women in the chaotic kitchen who wrote about being out of control averaged 103 calories from the cookies. That compared to an average of 38 calories for those who wrote about being in control.

Women in the orderly kitchen who wrote about being out of control averaged 61 calories from the cookies. That compared to an average of 50 calories for those who wrote about being in control. 

This study has several limitations. It involved a small number of women who were similar in age and occupation (student). Most were also of normal weight. Findings in other populations might be very different. In addition, the study did not directly assess the perceived stress of the kitchen environment (messy or clean) or of the tasks themselves (writing the essay and judging the food) on the students.

The mind as a buffer

Still, the results are interesting. They suggest that “an individual’s mind-set can moderate the impact of a chaotic environment on food intake, particularly for sweet foods,” write Wansink and his colleagues. “Although a chaotic environment may be a risk factor for making unhealthy choices, one’s mind-set in that environment can either trigger or buffer against that risk factor.”

“There is a solution to eating less if you have a cluttered kitchen,” says Wansink in a video released with the study.

Clean Kitchens Cut Clutter video

Before you enter your kitchen, you can do what the people in this study did: sit and think about a time when you were in control in your life.

“But you know,” he adds, “it’s a whole lot easier to just keep your kitchen clean when you can.”

FMI: Wansink’s study can be read in full on the Environment & Behavior website until March 31, 2016. After that date, the study goes behind a paywall.

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The arguments for why the calorie is ‘broken’

For decades, health officials have given us a straightforward message about what to do if we want to shed unneeded and unhealthful body fat.

“To lose weight,” they say, “you must use up more calories than you take in.”

Of course, for that strategy to work, we have to be counting the calories we consume correctly. Yet, as journalists Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley report in an article published last week on the science website Mosaic, our current system of calorie-counting is broken.

“A calorie isn’t just a calorie,” they write. “And our mistaken faith in the power of this seemingly simple measurement may be hindering the fight against obesity.”

At best, the numbers printed on food labels are just “good guesses,” they say. “Worse yet, as scientists are increasingly finding, some of those calorie counts are flat-out wrong.”

The ‘bomb calorimeter’

Scientists use a two-chambered “bomb calorimeter” to determine the calorie counts of various foods. Food is placed inside the inner chamber, and the outer chamber is filled with water. The food is then burned, and the rise in temperature in the outer chamber is recorded.

As Graber and Twilley explain, “Roughly speaking, one calorie is the heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.”

This way of calculating calories is known as the “Atwater method,” a name derived from the Department of Agriculture chemist, Wilbur Olin Atwater, who first developed it in the late 1880s. Although the method has been modified since then, some of the calorie counts given foods today can still be traced back to that period.

Wilbur Olin Atwater

USDA
Wilbur Olin Atwater

Yet despite the upgrades, any “aura of scientific precision” behind the method “is illusory,” argue the two reporters.

“Even if the calorie counts themselves were accurate,” they say, “dieters … would have to contend with the significant variations between the total calories in the food and the amount our bodies extract. These variations, which scientists have only recently started to understand, go beyond the inaccuracies in the numbers on the back of food packaging. In fact, the new research calls into question the validity of nutrition science’s core belief that a calorie is a calorie.”

Why calories are not all alike

Graber and Twilley describe the various reasons why the calories currently attributed to foods may not be all that meaningful, including the following:

[O]ur bodies sometimes extract fewer calories than the number listed on the label. Participants in [recent nutrition] studies absorbed around a third fewer calories from almonds than the modified Atwater values suggest. For walnuts, the difference was 21 per cent. This is good news for someone who is counting calories and likes to snack on almonds or walnuts: he or she is absorbing far fewer calories than expected. The difference, [one researcher] suspects, is due to the nuts’ particular structure: “All the nutrients – the fat and the protein and things like that — they’re inside this plant cell wall.” Unless those walls are broken down — by processing, chewing or cooking — some of the calories remain off-limits to the body, and thus are excreted rather than absorbed. …

[C]ooking unlaces microscopic structures that bind energy in foods, reducing the work our gut would otherwise have to do. It effectively outsources digestion to ovens and frying pans. [A scientist] found that mice fed raw peanuts, for instance, lost significantly more weight than mice fed the equivalent amount of roasted peanut butter. The same effect holds true for meat: there are many more usable calories in a burger than in steak tartare. Different cooking methods matter, too. In 2015, Sri Lankan scientists discovered that they could more than halve the available calories in rice by adding coconut oil during cooking and then cooling the rice in the refrigerator. …

There’s also the problem that no two people are identical. Differences in height, body, fat, liver size, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and other factors influence the energy required to maintain the body’s basic functions. Between two people of the same sex, weight and age, this number may differ by up to 600 calories a day — over a quarter of the recommended intake for a moderately active woman.

A ‘gut reaction’

Recent research also suggests that intestinal bacteria and other microbes influences how many calories we receive from a food, write Graber and Twilley:

The microbes in our intestines digest some of the tough or fibrous matter that our stomachs cannot break down, releasing a flow of additional calories in the process. But different species and strains of microbes vary in how effective they are at releasing those extra calories, as well as how generously they share them with their host human.

In 2013, researchers in Jeffrey Gordon’s lab at Washington University tracked down pairs of twins of whom one was obese and one lean. He took gut microbes from each, and inserted them into the intestines of microbe-free mice. Mice that got microbes from an obese twin gained weight; the others remained lean, despite eating the exact same diet.

“That was really striking,” said Peter Turnbaugh, who used to work with Gordon and now heads his own lab at the University of California, San Francisco. “It suggested for the first time that these microbes might actually be contributing to the energy that we gain from our diet.” 

Time for a replacement

“All of these factors introduce a disturbingly large margin of error for an individual who is trying … to count calories,” report Graber and Twilley. “The discrepancies between the number on the label and the calories that are actually available in our food, combined with individual variations in how we metabolise that food, can add up to much more than the 200 calories a day that nutritionists often advise cutting in order to lose weight.”

That’s why some scientists are calling for innovative ways of labeling foods, such as by giving individual foods rankings for satiety (the ability of a food to make us feel full) or for their calorie-by-calorie nutritional value.

Other scientists are also working toward an even more revolutionary and personalized approach to nutrition — “a future,” explain Graber and Twilley, “where you could hold up your smartphone, snap a picture of a dish, and receive a verdict on how that food will affect you as well as how many calories you’ll extract from it.”

“None of these alternatives is ready to replace the calorie tomorrow,” they add, “yet the need for a new system of food accounting is clear. …  Science has already shown that the calorie is broken. Now it has to find a replacement.”

FMI: You can read the article by Graber and Twilley on the Mosaic website and check out the latest episode of the authors’ podcast, Gastropod: “The End of the Calorie.” Mosaic is published by the Wellcome Trust, a British-based “independent global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health through science, research and engagement with society.”

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New dietary guidelines ‘represent a nearly evidence-free zone,’ says a leading cardiologist

In a scathing commentary published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, one of the country’s leading cardiologists — Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic — rips apart the supposed scientific rationale for the latest installment of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were released in their finalized form to the public earlier this month.

“A detailed review of the new guidelines confirms a disturbing reality: the nearly complete absence of high-quality randomized, controlled clinical trials (RCTs) studying meaningful clinical outcomes for dietary interventions,” he writes. “The report repeatedly makes recommendations based on observational studies and surrogate end points, failing to distinguish between recommendations based on expert consensus rather than high-quality RCTs.”

“Unfortunately,” he adds, “the current and past U.S. dietary guidelines represent a nearly evidence-free zone.”

It is long past time, Nissen says, for the nutrition establishment to transition from the evidence-free zone “to an era where dietary recommendations are based on the same quality evidence that we demand in other fields of medicine.”

If not, he adds, dietary advice will continue to be left “to cult-like advocates, often with opposite recommendations.”

The Minnesota ‘misadventure’

In the commentary, Nissen focuses his criticism primarily on the guidelines’ recommendation about dietary fat and cholesterol. That particular “decades-long misadventure,” he says, can be traced back to the famous Seven Counties Study led by University of Minnesota physiology professor and obesity researcher Ancel Keys.

Writes Nissen:

Begun in 1956 and funded by a grant from the U.S. Public Health Service, the study was first published in 1970 and linked intake of saturated fat and cholesterol to the risk for coronary disease. Before the study, Keys had already aggressively promoted the concept that dietary fat and cholesterol were closely related to the development of heart disease. He even appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1961, advocating a low-fat diet as the solution to the coronary heart disease epidemic.

Critics have suggested that the Seven Countries Study was biased in favor of the hypothesis that dietary fat and cholesterol were critical factors in coronary disease. The study examined heart disease rates in Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Finland, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States. Yet data were available for 22 countries. The researchers omitted countries, such France, where consumption of total and saturated fat are very high but the risk for heart disease remains low.

So convincing was Keys that even before his study was published, “the American Heart Association (AHA) took up the cause, recommending that Americans reduce dietary fat intake and substitute corn or soybean oil for butter,” Nissen adds. “Soon, margarine (with large amounts of trans fats) became the “heart-healthy” alternative to butter, eggs synonymous with unhealthy eating patterns, and low-fat diets the answer to the soaring rates of heart disease.”

Consequences and remedies

The promotion of low-fat, low-cholesterol diets has had serious consequences, according to Nissen.

“We reduced dietary fat but binged on carbohydrates and became increasingly obese,” he writes. “Type 2 diabetes grew into an epidemic that is now threatening to reverse decades of progress in reducing coronary heart disease incidence.”

“The obsession with low-fat diets has resulted in some extraordinary and bizarre food-marketing practices,” he adds. “I recently observed a large bag of fat-free gummy bears sitting on a grocery store shelf with the unmistakable implication that ‘fat-free’ equates to heart-healthy.”

In reality, says Nissen, we know very little about whether low-fat diets prevent heart disease. “The best available evidence,” he says, “does not clearly support the widely held belief that Americans should limit saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet.”

Nissen calls for federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to fund randomized, controlled clinical trials that test various dietary interventions.

“Properly performed studies may demonstrate that saturated fat and cholesterol are indeed nutrients of concern, but the opposite conclusion is also possible,” he says.

Until we have good, solid evidence, the American public is left, he adds, with “the current state of confusion.”

FMI: Unfortunately, the Annals of Internal Medicine has the full commentary behind a paywall, but you can read the first page on the journal’s website.

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New dietary guidelines urge Americans to limit sugar and meat

The new U.S. dietary guidelines were released Thursday, and — surprise! surprise! — they are not any less controversial than the previous ones.

Charges are once again being made that the guidelines, which were developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), went either too far — or not far enough — in regards to certain foods and food groups.

In reality, the new guidelines are very similar to the last ones, which were issued in 2010. The new set, however, places a larger emphasis on healthful dietary patterns rather than on individual foods. 

Indeed, the guidelines seem to be saying, albeit in thousands of words, what writer Michael Pollan managed to express in seven: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” 

I intend to write more about specific aspects of these guidelines in the coming weeks, but here is a quick summary of two of the biggest changes found in them: 

1.  Cut back on added sugars.
As the guidelines point out, a growing and, frankly, compelling body of scientific evidence has associated the consumption of added sugars (including honey and syrups) with an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

So the fact that the new guidelines call on Americans to limit added sugars is not all that controversial. What is under debate, however, is how much we should cut back on them.

The guidelines recommend, for the first time, that we should consume less than 10 percent of our daily calories from added sugars. That’s about 12 teaspoons of sugar a day for the average American. (Most Americans consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of sugar daily.)

The no-more-than-10-percent recommendation is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s twice as high as the 5 percent goal (no more than 6 teaspoons daily for women, 9 for men) suggested by the American Heart Association.  

Cutting back isn’t going to be easy, as sugar is ubiquitous in the American diet, particularly in processed foods. (Just read the label on that “healthful” whole-wheat bread you buy and note how high up and on frequently on the label the word sugar or one of its many pseudonyms, such as dextrose, maltose, or lactose, appears.)

Yet the guidelines do not recommend cutting back on processed foods.

2.  Cut back on saturated fat and on red meat (particularly if you’re a male teen or adult). 
Primarily to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, the guidelines recommend, for the first time, that all Americans get no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat (found in foods such as steak, butter and other high-fat dairy products).

The guidelines also single out teenage boys and adult men as needing in particular to reduce their consumption of red meat and poultry.

The new guidelines’ recommendations on meat seem to represent different things to different people. The North American Meat Institute sees them as affirmation that “meat and poultry can play an important role in a healthy balanced diet.”

On the other hand, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest, which has long advocated for less meat consumption, says the guidelines’ “overall advice on eating less meat indicates USDA and HHS partially resisted the political pressure” from the meat industry to give meat consumption a green light.

The science on meat and health is complicated — and evolving. As I’ve reported in Second Opinion many times before (including here), a growing body of evidence suggests that saturated fat is not the real villain in heart disease.

But the evidence linking the consumption of meat — particularly processed meat — with an increased risk of cancer is also growing. Indeed, the World Health Organization has called processed meat “probably carcinogenic” and red meat “possibly carcinogenic.”

The new U.S. dietary guidelines do not, however, recommend that Americans cut back on their consumptions of processed meats.

The entire 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans has been published online in an easily searchable format. 

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How often do Minnesotans get sick from their food?

It’s been a really bad a week for a lot of college students in Boston.

Since last Sunday, more than 120 poor souls have reported to the college’s health services with symptoms of Norovirus — known in the United Kingdom by the more descriptive moniker: “winter vomiting bug.”

Also having a bad week is Chipotle, the restaurant that appears to be responsible for outbreak. The popular fast food chain has been linked to nine outbreaks of E. Coli since November, leading to precipitous declines in the company’s stock.

The news in Boston got us here at the MinnPost data desk thinking: how often do these outbreaks occur in Minnesota?

Quite frequently, it turns out.

From 1998 to 2014, Minnesota saw 860 reports of food-borne illness outbreaks, which puts us seventh in the nation for most outbreaks, according to the data. Calculated as a rate — per 100,000 residents — we’re third in the country for outbreaks, with almost twice as many reported incidents than our neighbors in Wisconsin and nearly three times those in South Dakota.

Food-borne disease outbreaks by state, 1998—2014
Minnesota has been affected a relatively high number of reported food-borne disease outbreaks for the period in question — 860. Taking population into account, Minnesota ranks even higher nationally.

The data come from an interactive tool created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (we highly recommend exploring the data here). This represents the most up-to-date information, though the reporting agencies, such as state and local health departments, can modify reports after the fact, meaning some data may be subject to change.

About 470 of cases in Minnesota were confirmed or suspected to be some form of Norovirus, similar to the recent Boston case. Salmonella accounted for 127 outbreak. E. Coli: 57.

Causes of food-borne illness outbreaks, 1998-2014

Collectively, including the 80 cases that crossed state lines, these outbreaks have been responsible for sickening a reported 23,804 people. The worst case came in 2010, when eggs linked to a farm in Iowa caused 2,000 illnesses nationwide, including in Minnesota.

In 1998, lettuce contaminated with C. jejuni, a bacterium commonly found in animal feces, caused 300 people to get sick, the largest single Minnesota outbreak that didn’t involve multiple states. More recently, Minnesota saw a Chipotle Salmonella outbreak in September, which sickened at least 45 people.

Illness cases by cause for food-borne illness outbreaks, 1998-2014
Note: Some data come from multi-state outbreaks, so the illnesses might not all have affected people from Minnesota.

The outbreaks have led to thousands of hospitalizations and, in some extreme cases, deaths. An example of the latter occured in 2008, when a peanut butter manufacturer distributed product contaminated with Salmonella, killing nine people, including at least one Minnesota woman. The owner of the company was convicted of 72 federal charges, including conspiracy and fraud, following detailed evidence and witness accounts that he knew about the contamination and shipped the peanut butter anyway. 

Random Acts of Data is an occasional series by MinnPost reporter Andy Mannix and news editor Tom Nehil. The goal: to answer questions about all things Minnesota using the vast amount of data at our disposal. If you have a question you’re wondering about, send an email to data@minnpost.com with the subject line, “Random Acts of Data.”

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