This Week's Nutrition News Feed
In this week's news: Cravings could be a gut thing (if not a good thing); the outdated BMI system gets a checkup; and the "all-natural" label is, well, kinda fake.
Don't blame yourself if you can't resist that cupcake. Blame your gut bacteria. A new study, published in the journal BioEssays, has found that the bacteria living within us, which are 100 times more numerous than our own cells, may affect the foods we crave as well as our moods. The tiny bacterial overlords, the theory goes, compel us to eat the foods they live best on -- perhaps fat or sugar -- overriding our healthy eating efforts and propelling us toward obesity. "Bacteria within the gut are manipulative," says study co-author Carlo Maley, PhD. "There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not."
The commonly used body mass index, which factors in only height and weight, has been derided for making no distinction between fat and muscle mass -- and for seeming a little stuck in the 1980s. Yet, despite its limitations, experts say, it might be the best method of gauging obesity that we have. The index, in fact based on a formula devised by Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet in the early 1800s, was never intended to measure individual fatness. Yet major public health organizations adopted it as a standard obesity measurement because, the Wall Street Journal reports, it is "simple, cheap and accurate for assessing overall trends." For most people, the correlation between BMI and body fat holds, making it a useful proxy. "You can get very precise if you have a CT or MRI, but are we really going to go to that level for routine clinical practice?" Lawrence Appell, a Johns Hopkins University medical professor, wondered. "There's a value to BMI."
The term "all natural" on a package label conjures up images of foods that are organic, perhaps, or at least low in sugar. So it's not surprising that consumers gravitate toward such wording: In a recent study, "natural" tied for first place as the food-product claim people said meant the most to them. And yet it turns out the label may not actually mean much at all. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to clearly define or regulate the use of the term, leaving consumers open to being misled. The good news, according to the Chicago Tribune, is that packaged food makers themselves are striving for greater clarity and using more-specific language -- such as "no GMOs" or "no artificial colors" -- on labels. "Companies are talking more and more about what's in the product rather than slapping some ill-defined label on it," consumer researcher Lynn Dornblaser told the Chicago Tribune -- an evolution that seems only natural.