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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 02/07/06

In this Issue:

Recommended Reading

I realize this is the only newsletter you’ll ever need, but if you want more in-depth detail, check out:

Stan Hustad’s
The Coaching Connection

Management Signature's
The Express Read

High Tech Food, Low Tech Science

As the boomers enter their silver years, they’re going to be watching what they eat much more carefully, according to research from my old employer, ACNielsen. ACNielsen compiles data on consumer purchases in grocery, drug, and mass merchandiser stores and also runs consumer panels.

Alert SNS Reader Roger Hamm sends along a fascinating ACNielsen newsletter that makes a variety of predictions about the consumer packaged goods industry (known as CPG in the US; Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) outside the US). One prediction that particularly caught my eye: Prediction: “Low GI” [low glycemic index] products are the next nutritional buzz; also, antioxidants will grab double-digit increase in sales.

According to ACNielsen’s LabelTrends™ service, which tracks product label health claims, “U.S. consumers will continue to obsess over their health in 2006 as growing rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure will have many Americans re-examining the foods they eat. This year, expect a surge in food and beverages touting low glycemic index (GI) claims.” The Glycemic Index is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood glucose levels compared to glucose or white bread, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Of course, not everyone will hop on the healthy food bandwagon. ACNielsen division, Spectra, using their BehaviorScape service, estimates that “50 percent of American consumers are “health neglectors” who care little about their health and tend to be overweight. They love convenience foods, which are often processed and unhealthy. ‘Any new food trend needs to get at least some traction among this mainstream group to truly break out,’ said Libbey Paul, Spectra’s Senior Vice President of Marketing.”

And adoption by neglectors seems to be happening for GI foods. “LabelTrends analysis shows sales of GI products among the neglectors market segment demonstrated an increase of almost 150 percent from December 2004 to December 2005, which is one of the biggest jumps among all health-related claims.”

Concerns about GI have stemmed from research showing high-GI diets are linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. However, this notion has been challenged by research published in the December issue of Diabetes Care magazine, the journal of the American Diabetes Association. The study, whose authors include Thomas M.S. Wolever, a Canadian professor who has been an advocate for the glycemic index for decades, found no connection between high-glycemic index diets and insulin resistance or obesity.

Of course, there doesn’t need to be any science behind a healthy food fad, and thus I don’t expect the low GI movement to slow.

At the other end of the spectrum are the “health activists,” primarily highly educated and more-affluent consumers. This group appears to be spending more on antioxidants, which are claimed to provide protection against cancer and other diseases.

“Look for antioxidants, led by liquid tea (up 1000 percent in dollar sales year-over-year), to make an even bigger splash in 2006. Why? In addition to their consumption by activists, antioxidants was also one of the fastest growing health claim among neglectors markets with 52 percent year-over-year increase in dollar sales, showing promise that along with GI goods, antioxidants will hit the mainstream in a big way.”

Health Neglectors

Health Activists

Health claim

$ Percent Change vs. Year Ago

Health claim

$ Percent Change vs. Year Ago

Glycemic Index








Whole Grain




Vitamin & Mineral






Vitamin & Mineral


Yet what’s a healthy food today could be tomorrow’s nightmare. Nutritional trends and fads can turn a good food into a bad food in an instant, regardless of the science, but I think the science is sorely lacking. Of all the technologies that advise our decisions currently, I think nutritional science is the least reliable but also the most influential.

Nutritional science lacks very basic tools common to other technologies. For example, there is no easy way to instantly assess whether you are well-nourished or not. Sure there are arcane techniques such as hair analysis and even iridology, but the current state of the art of nutritional assessment mostly consists of asking you what you eat and testing for various known ailments caused by poor nutrition.

Consider the voodoo that is FDA approval: Feed dozens of rats or other human analogs high doses of the chemical in question and see if they develop problems. This approach and the other popular technique, the research study, routinely produce conflicting results, the hallmark of immature science.

Let’s take a look at just one area: nutrition and cancer. A newsletter from New York Presbyterian Hospital sums up the evidence thusly:

Nevertheless, the scientific evaluation of these nutrition and cancer hypotheses is far from conclusive and considerable controversy prevails. For some seemingly established hypotheses (fruits and vegetables versus cancer at several sites, for example), the evidence has weakened in recent years. Other hypotheses (fiber versus colorectal cancer), thrown into question by one set of findings, have been ‘resurrected’, or at least rendered not yet dead, by new studies. Important nutrition-cancer links with consistent observational epidemiologic findings have been contradicted by those from experimental epidemiologic studies (randomized trials)--carotenoids versus lung cancer, for example. Conclusions from recent consensus panels are remarkable for how few nutrition-cancer hypotheses achieved a level of evidence considered ‘convincing’.

The uncertainty in the field of nutrition doesn’t stop food marketers from, for example, enhancing foods like pork, eggs, bread, and yogurt with Omega-3 oils, however. And scientists worldwide are genetically modifying foods to enhance their good traits, often to opposition and controversy.

As a technologist, though, the whole field of human nutrition feels like a pseudoscience. I’m used to tech that can be shown to work, not reams of controversial studies on both sides of a matter. The recent revamping of the government’s food pyramid is an especially egregious example of politics and commercial interests intervening in science.

Even the most basic biometric techniques for assessing nutrition and fitness are not universally accepted. Just take a look at all the various methods available to do body fat testing: waist-to-hip ratio, skinfold testing, bioelectrical impedance analysis, near-infrared interactance, underwater weighing, and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry; only the last two have been scientifically validated. We don’t even have a single accepted way to tell how fat we are!

When it comes to nutrition, we are at the mercy of fad, innuendo, and trends. All this ignorance sets the stage for one of the biggest struggles we’ll have to face in the next decade or so: Frankenfood. You think the current debates on genetically modified (GM) food are hairy today? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Leaving aside the whole thorny issue of being able to patent life (I think the patent applicant should demonstrate how to build its organism from dust, or just darkness and light, in order to qualify), tomorrow’s foods won’t just be enhanced naturally (feeding flax to chickens to enhance omega fats in eggs), or mildly genetically modified (like rice enhanced with protein, Vitamin A, iron and zinc), to entirely new categories of food, made like a rapper’s song – by sampling the cream of the crops.

On the way to these future foods, we’ll start producing variations of current foods in factories. Think that’s pretty far off? Well, in a paper in the June 29 issue of Tissue Engineering, a team of scientists proposed two new techniques of tissue engineering that may be the first steps toward industrial production of cultured meat. This picture is a shot of fish tissue cultured by NASA in a project to demonstrate the production of meat on a space voyage.

While this may sound a bit icky, there would be substantial benefits from cultured meat: control over bad nutrients (like cholesterol), food safety (no pesticides, no antibiotics), the environment (livestock produce 1.4 billion tons of waste each year), and animal welfare. Imagine if Texas didn’t need cows anymore.

"The benefits could be enormous," investigator Jason Matheny says. "The demand for meat is increasing world wide -- China 's meat demand is doubling every ten years. Poultry consumption in India has doubled in the last five years. With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply. And you could do it in a way that's better for the environment and human health. In the long term, this is a very feasible idea."

Some of the investigators have even created a new venture called New Harvest, a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat. Their Website contains a bold assertion: “Because meat substitutes are produced under controlled conditions impossible to maintain in traditional animal farms, they are safer, more nutritious, less polluting, and more humane than conventional meat.”

We’ll just have to see about that. But it’s obvious that nutrition science today is totally inadequate to meet the challenge of certifying such foods. We just have to hope that nutrition knowledge and techniques can rapidly come up to speed to keep these new foods safe, and make sure they provide the materials our bodies need.

Otherwise, we may be creating a frankenfood monster.


Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: I was interviewed for ManagementFirst’s Feature of the Month and got to toot my horn for a bit.

    The WiMAX Guys’ main business is new installs for people who want to set up wireless hotspots such as hotels, warehouses, apartment buildings, and office buildings or hotzones that cover cities. We also sell a knowledge-based Web portal called the MAX K-Base. Check out our main Website at

    The first chapter of my wife’s novel, Knowing What You Know Today is up on her Website. The other chapters cost money, but are well worth it, believe you me. Check it out at
    Many issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $111.48. Thanks Bill!

    And now that I’m partnered with one of the largest advertisers on the planet, Google, that should be kicking in serious coin to the StratVantage coffers. Let’s see. The current total is: $45.05. Great. BTW, I am informed that I can’t ask you to read this issue on the Web and click on the ads due to Google’s terms of service. So don’t. You can, however, shop at Amazon, pay nothing additional, and send a spiff to me.

  • Top 10 Funny Spammer Names – I recently received spam from the following preposterously named individuals:

    10. Iberia I. Roomier
    9.   Trigonometry F. Rubin
    8.   Statutory P. Steamy
    7.   Difficult Warner
    6.   Kuznets Q. Daubers
    5.   Groundswells R. Accountancy
    4.   Pigeonholing E. Changeling
    3.   Typewriter H. Dividers
    2.   Enrollment U. Diversionary

    And the number 1 Top Funny Spammer Name:
    1.   Underdeveloped A. Val

  • FISH of the Day: Alert SNS Reader Seth Freeman sends along the latest Forwarded Internet Serial Humor:

    Language on Venus and Mars:
    1. Yes = No
    2. No = Yes
    3. Maybe = No
    4. We need = I want
    5. I am sorry - You'll be sorry
    6. We need to talk = you're in trouble
    7. Sure, go ahead = you better not
    8. Do what you want = you will pay for this later
    9. I am not upset = Of course, I am upset, you moron!
    10. You're certainly attentive tonight = is sex all you ever think about?


    1. I am hungry = I am hungry
    2. I am sleepy = I am sleepy
    3. I am tired = I am tired
    4. Nice dress = Nice cleavage!
    5. I love you = Let's have sex now
    6. I am bored = Do you want to have sex?
    7. May I have this dance? = I'd like to have sex with you.
    8. Can I call you sometime? = I'd like to have sex with you.
    9. Do you want to go to a movie? = I'd like to have sex with you.
    10. Can I take you out to dinner? = I'd like to have sex with you.
    11. I don't think those shoes go with that outfit - I'm gay

  • GoogleWatching: Google and Skype Invest in a Wi-Fi Startup:  Google and Skype (an eBay company) along with some leading venture capitalists are investing in a new Spanish company that offers a peer-to-peer network of Wi-Fi hotspots.

    Four-month-old FON Technology SL, based in Madrid, Spain, allows users to share each other's Wi-Fi connections via special software. This concept, known as wireless community networking, has its beginnings in grassroots efforts in which users allow others to use their wireless hotspots in exchange for similar courtesy when they are mobile. However, most broadband providers specifically prohibit this type of sharing, for obvious reasons. The idea has been around for years, even causing some controversy when industry pundit Robert X. Cringely proposed it as the ultimate Wi-Fi aggregator business model, dubbing it WhyFi.

    It may not be the ultimate Wi-Fi aggregator business model, but it’s a heck of a way to sell advertising, if you ask me.
    Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

  • Every OS Sucks: And ain’t it the truth?
    Three Dead Trolls

  • What Exactly Has Microsoft Contributed? For those companies that believe you must innovate to succeed, I present the case of Microsoft. A recent reader posting at ponders the question, "What did Microsoft ever invent or even innovate?"

    Not the spreadsheet. Not the wordprocessor. Not the database. Not the office suite. Not the GUI. Not the web browser. They bought DOS from SCC. I think there was only one true thing, we all concluded, that Microsoft innovated with and the [answer]
    was "the cascading style sheet." Yeah, now that's a huge contribution to the history of computing. Major!

    So I guess the answer to the question of Microsoft innovation is: Marketing.

    There’s more at the link below.

  • If You’ve Made it This Far: Alert SNS Reader Ken Florian was the winner of our first Obscure Reference Contest and was awarded not one, but two sticks of completely useless memory. Here’s a picture of the coveted prize.

    Ken said, “In accepting this prize of two sticks of totally useless memory I want to thank….all my friends and yadda yadda.” Here’s a picture of the presentation ceremony.

    The next Obscure Reference Contest is an easy one, but oddly, there have been no submissions yet. What is the name of the song that I mangled a bit elsewhere in the previous newsletter? You also need to tell me who was the artist, when was it released, and, if you can tell me who did my favorite cover of the song’s chorus you’ll get double points.

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Can’t Get Enough of ME?

In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

I’ve dubbed my Weblog entries “Stratlets”, and they are available at Let me know what you think.

Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of the latest emerging trends.

In Memoriam

Gerald M. Ellsworth

March 14, 1928 - July 5, 2003

In Memoriam

Jane C. Ellsworth

July 20, 1928 - July 20, 2003