September 27th, 2011

Big Food exerts unhealthy influence on America’s nutritionists


It’s the second day of the Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE), the annual conference of The American Dietetic Association (ADA)—often dubbed “the world’s largest meeting of food and nutrition experts.” One of the morning’s sessions—titled A Fresh Look At Processed Foods—is well attended by around 200-300 registered dietitians (RDs), researchers, policy makers, and health-care providers.

Victor Fulgoni, a 15-year Kellogg’s veteran, who now runs a consulting firm called Nutrition Impact, asks the audience for help. “Rather than removing [processed foods] from the diet, let’s use the power in this room to get consumers to choose the best processed foods available,” he says.

Fulgoni and his co-presenters Connie Weaver and Lindsey Loving tell the audience that not all processed foods are created equally. Furthermore, they say advances like pasteurization have brought important gains in terms of food safety, while stealth nutrition tactics have successfully upped American’s intake of nutrients like vitamin D and folic acid.

It’s no secret that processed foods have taken a real beating in the eyes of the public—which makes the pleas from the panel all the more startling. “Processed foods have become the default for everything negative, and their benefits are often taken for granted,” says Ms. Loving, whose employer, the International Food Information Council, has a board of trustees that includes representatives from Dannon Co., General Mills, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Mars, Inc. Processed foods, she adds, “represent sources of important nutrients for consumers and should be eaten along with fresh fruits and veggies.”

Dr. Weaver concurs. She works for Purdue University, where her department has secured funding from the likes of Kraft, Nestle, and Monsanto. Repeatedly during the session, panelists urge the audience to “help get the word out” on just which processed foods are better choices, though exactly which ones they mean are never clearly pointed out.

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