Sweet Beginnings

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I had this idea many months ago to start a blog about the people, places an issues relating to the food we eat, and since I’ve spent my life as an ag journalist and avid photographer, the name of my blog is “foodography.”

I had the idea, the name, the framework, but it seems I’ve been too busy to jumpstart it. Today, I’ve been prodded to do my first post because of the confusion I see lately about milk. So I’m kicking off my foodographic blog with an opportunity to shed light on some of the controversey about a dairy / sweetener petition that has been talked about in social media and mainstream media the past few weeks.

Below are my dozen points of light… Please read and then use the link at the end to go to the FDA website to read the petition and to tell FDA what you think about non-caloric sweeteners in flavored dairy products and while you are at it, ask FDA to talk to USDA about its school lunch rules. Chocolate milk – and whole milk for that matter – is not the cause of childhood obesity.

1) I am an advocate for real foods, whole foods. The less artificial, the better, in my opinion. But I am also a busy mom who raised three kids and worked full time. I know what it’s like to be going 100 directions and still strive to put a healthy meal on the table. Today, I have grandchildren. I care what they eat and drink. Whole milk is, was, and forever shall be a staple in our house, period.

2) THE MOST IMPORTANT TAKE-HOME POINT: ***Dairy farmers work very hard 24/7/365 to ensure they are producing wholesome high quality milk, but by the time it reaches the store or the school cafeteria, the lowfat and nonfat varieties are not the flavorful creamy product that came from the cow! Farmers I talk to are frustrated by this and they are frustrated even further when they see headlines about the mere suggestion that certain sweeteners with a bad reputation could be put into their product, even though said non-calorie sweeteners would only relate to flavorings like chocolate, strawberry or fruit, and not to the milk itself! I don’t blame them for being mad. They want to sell unfooled-around-with milk, the best kind of course!

3) I do not approve of using aspartame in drinks intended for children. However, I would allow my kids (grandkids) to use stevia. Both stevia and the maligned aspartame are considered non-nutritive (which means no-calorie) sweetener alternatives to traditional caloric or nutritive sweeteners called sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

4) Current FDA standards of identity for milk and certain other dairy products do not allow the use of non-nutritive (no-calorie) sweeteners and this includes the flavorings that are added to make variations of these products (i.e. chocolate milk, which to me is no different than a marinated steak vs. a plain steak. One is pure from the animal and the other has a recipe of flavoring added!)

5) Most consumers – and even pediatricians – do not realize that whole milk is less than 4% fat to begin with. People think it’s 10%, even doctors are so misinformed.

6) Furthermore, the USDA school lunch program forces schools to reduce the lunch fat percentage to the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet so the milk that is offered is nonfat or 1% in order to meet the total lunch requirement. This is by REGULATION, even though current studies show kids who drink whole milk are leaner and that whole milk is better for the brain.

7) Because nonfat white milk is essentially tasteless, kids opt for the chocolate nonfat in the school lunch line. Now we have another wrinkle in the milk story: Starting in 2013, the USDA school lunch program is mandating reductions in sugar content of school lunches, so schools are forced to give up flavored milk if they can’t make their menus work. The full impact of this rule is YET TO COME.

8) #7 above is essentially one of the reasons the 2009 petition filed by IDFA and NMPF on non-nutritive sweeteners was revived four years later in 2013 and why FDA is now looking at it. It’s because the sugar rules will affect FLAVORED yogurt and FLAVORED milk servings in the school lunch program. Furthermore, older adults may want to limit their sugar intake and yet they may love a strawberry or chocolate milk. They can buy a flavoring at the store that is made with a non-nutritive sweetener and add it to their real milk at home, and that’s okay, but a bottler can’t do that right now and still call it “milk.” They have to change the name to chocolate or strawberry “milkshake” or “drink” or find a different name. Or in the case of a flavored yogurt sweetened with non-nutritive (no calorie) alternative they have to call it something else, like “smoothie”. 

9) In the case of the flavored milk beverage, this failure to observe standard of identity on the flavoring not the actual milk, puts the beverage in another “class” other than “class 1” for the purpose of milk pricing back to the farm.

10) The root problem is that whole-fat milk gets an unfair bad rap and should be promoted for its health benefits and surprising lack of fat less than 4%. The industry needs to stand firm and battle the increasing levels of misinformation. Chocolate milk sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup gets a bad rap also, and should be touted for its perfect carb/protein ratio. The industry is doing that through promotion, but it needs to do more.

11) Sadly, the USDA school lunch regulators don’t care about the truth. They don’t care about whole foods or real foods. They are numbers people, bean counters, who want to see menus that add, subtract and multiply to the right mathematical answer! Meanwhile, Milk bottlers and dairy foods makers are trying to deal with these realities and to compete with other beverages and look-alikes that don’t have these standard-of-identity restrictions. For that matter, if milk has a standard-of-identity, how can crushed almond or soybean juice be called ‘milk’? But that’s another blog post!

12) For sure, Chocolate milk is not the cause of childhood obesity in this country. For that matter, kids could drink whole chocolate milk til the cows come home and it’s not the cause of childhood obesity. But, by the same token, the controversial sweetener petition is not affecting milk or yogurt or sour cream or any of the 17 products itself. It is specifically directed to the “use of any safe and suitable sweetener in the optional characterizing flavoring ingredients period.

13) This sweetener argument is sort of like arguing about what can be put in a marinade for a london broil if you want to call it beef at the grocery store. (i.e. London broil = real and pure beef) and the ingredients in a marinated London broil (beef plus whatever is in the marinade).  I read the label for those too, don’t you?

14) Read the petition here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2009-P-0147-0012

15) Tell FDA what you think here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FDA-2009-P-0147-0012

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