Saturday, August 31, 2013

US Lacks Data on Antibiotic Usage in Livestock

There's a heated debate over the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Critics say farmers overuse these drugs; farmers say they don't.It's hard to resolve the argument, in part because no one knows exactly how farmers use antibiotics. There's no reliable data on how much antibiotic use is intended to make animals grow faster, for instance, compared to treating disease. Many public health experts say the government should collect and publish that information because antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasingly urgent problem. But many farm groups are opposed.

James Johnson, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Minnesota, is among those pushing for better data. He faces the problem of drug-resistant bacteria firsthand. When he prescribes antibiotics to patients, he increasingly has to ask himself, "Will this drug even work?"

"Resistance is turning up everywhere, and increasingly involves our first-line, favorite drugs," he says. "Everyone knows that we're in a real crisis situation."

There's no easy way out of the crisis because antibiotics are so valuable. Everybody wants to use them. Yet the more they're used, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to them.

Johnson preaches restraint, using the drugs only when they're clearly necessary. He also says that we need to know much more about how antibiotics are currently being used. "Otherwise, we're sort of flying blind," he says.

"Are we flying blind right now? Or do we have the information we need?" I ask.

"Not at all. I think we're mostly flying blind, at least in the U.S.," Johnson says.

There's no comprehensive source of data on how doctors prescribe antibiotics to people, and there's even less information about drugs that are given to chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle.

That's a big blind spot because antibiotics are commonly used on the farm to treat disease, to prevent disease and to help animals grow faster.
This stream of antibiotics does create drug-resistant bacteria. And people can be exposed to those bacteria through a variety of pathways.
It's set off a fierce debate over how much this contributes to the overall problem of drug-resistant infections. Morgan Scott, a researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, is trying to arrive at an answer. "As a researcher, it's a very intriguing area," he says. "But it's also frustrating because the data are really not there."

The only solid numbers on antibiotic use on the farm come from the Food and Drug Administration. Every year, the FDA lists the total quantity of antibiotics sold for use in farm animals, divided up by major drug class.
But Scott says those overall totals don't tell him what he'd like to know. "At the moment, we really can't identify whether certain uses of antibiotics are more or less risky than others," he says.

He'd love to know the patterns of antibiotic use — which drugs are used on each kind of animal, for what purpose, nationwide. If scientists tracked this over many years, they might be able to see which patterns of use create more drug-resistant bacteria.

There is a country that does collect this information. Denmark has led the world in efforts to control antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. Every year it publishes a big volume of numbers — and Scott can't get enough of them. "Diving into these data, and visiting Denmark, is kind of like Disneyland for those of us who like big data," he says.

There are lots of people who want something similar for farms in the United States. They include public health experts, but also activist groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists. Congress is considering a bill that would force the FDA to collect this data and publish it.

But pharmaceutical companies and agricultural groups don't like that idea. They don't believe antibiotic use in animals is causing much of a problem for human health. They also don't think that detailed national statistics would even be useful.

"The amount of antibiotic used does not correlate to the potential public health threat," says Ron Phillips, a spokesman for the Animal Health Institute, which represents companies that sell veterinary drugs.

According to Phillips, if you really want to figure out which agricultural practices produce drug-resistant bacteria, you should study them up-close. Look at a few individual farms, examining what drugs are used and how bacteria adapt.

But don't create a national data collection system, he says. It would be a waste of money, and the numbers would just be misused by advocacy groups that are campaigning to restrict the use of antibiotics by farmers. "The widespread quotes that you see about how much is used in animal medicine, as opposed to human medicine — those are meant to scare people, not to inform people," he says.

One the other hand, Scott thinks better numbers could actually mean less suspicion and fear. Many people want to know exactly what meat producers are doing, he says. When they can't find the information they want, they're inclined to assume the worst

Friday, August 30, 2013

Schools Promoting Healthier Foods, CDC Finds

An increasing number of school districts are promoting nutritious foods and cutting out the junk, according to a comprehensive study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of school districts that require schools to exclude junk food in vending machines rose to 43.4 percent from 29.8 percent, the 2012 School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS) found. Districts also are cracking down on soft drink advertisements on school grounds, with only about one third (33.5 percent) permitting such ads. Nearly half (46.6 percent) of school districts allowed soft drink companies to advertise in 2006.

More than half (52.7 percent) of school districts now grant families access to information on the nutrition and calories of foods that are available to students, CDC reported. By comparison, only 35.3 percent of districts did so in 2000.

The increasing focus on nutritious foods only tells part of the story that is unfolding on school grounds in the fight to improve the health of America's children. The CDC study also found more school districts are requiring elementary schools to teach physical education (93.6 percent in 2012 from 82.6 percent in 2000) and prohibit tobacco use during any school-related activity (67.5 percent from 46.7 percent).

On the nutritional front, CDC had more reason to cheer. Nearly three quarters (73.5 percent) of districts have food procurement contracts that address nutritional standards for foods that kids can purchase separately from school breakfast or lunch. That figure is up from 55.1 percent in 2006.
Although the report was encouraging, The Associated Press has revealed some schools are severing ties with the National School Lunch Program because cafeterias are losing money as students snub healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. USDA last year required schools under the program to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


"The truth is that the vast majority of schools across the country are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, which is so important to help all our Nation's children lead healthier lives," Janey Thornton, USDA's Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said. "Even before the new standards took effect and more resources were available, many schools across the country were leading the way with healthier options and appropriate portion sizes. In fact, schools that adopted the changes earlier report that participation increased as students and parents became accustomed to the healthier options."

The National School Lunch Program provided low-cost or free meals to more than 31 million kids in 2011 at a cost of $11.1 billion. Although schools participating in the program must meet USDA's nutrition standards, local officials have discretion to select the specific foods to serve and decide how to prepare them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Food Companies Fund Campaign Against GMO Labeling Initiative

The GMO labeling debate is heating up, with the Grocery Manufacturers Association contributing $1.75 million last Friday to help defeat Initiative 522.

The initiative, which will be on the ballot this November, would require labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.

The latest contribution more than doubled the No campaign’s war chest to $3.3 million.

The Yes campaign has $3 million in cash, $950,000 of it from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

Dr. Bronner’s was a major contributor to a similar GMO labeling measure that was defeated last year in California. The soap company already has contributed more to the Washington measure than it did there.

The pro-labeling campaign in California raised more than $9 million, compared to $44 million for the anti-labeling side.

In California, Monsanto contributed more than $7 million, DuPont $4.9 million, Pepsico $2.1 million and Bayer CropScience more than $2 million.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chewing Gum Aids Depression Symptoms, Study

Chewing gum used in addition to prescribed medication may reduce somatic symptoms associated with mild depression such as loss of appetite and gastrointestinal upset, according to researchers from Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey (Appetite 2013; June(65):31-34).
Previous studies indicated chewing gum may relieve stress and depression. This clinical study observed 30 patients with mild to moderate depression given either medication combined with chewing gum or medication alone for six weeks. Depression assessments were conducted both before and after treatment.

Patients administered chewing gum responded better to treatment than patients who took medication alone. Results appeared in relationship to aiding loss of appetite and flatulence, among other somatic symptoms, however, the chewing gum did not affect mood.

The chewing gum used in the study was a "generic brand that can be found in any store." The gum had no flavor or nutritional value and was sugar-free. Researchers speculated the improvement in somatic symptoms related to the gastrointestinal tract might be explained by the modulatory activity of chewing. Various formulators are exploring the chewing gum category as carriers for functional ingredients.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mother Nature's Impact on Dairy, Meat Prices Better Than Previous USDA Forecast

The most severe drought in at least a quarter century is not having as great an impact on the prices of dairy products and meats as government officials initially predicted.
Based on current conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) anticipates that retail food prices will increase 1.5 to 2.5 percent through the end of the year. Those prices reflect annual inflation that is lower than average, USDA noted earlier this summer.
USDA observed increases in prices for meats and animal-based products in the fourth quarter of 2012. The agency initially thought consumers would bear the major brunt of the price hikes in 2013.
A stronger U.S. dollar, decreased exports of U.S. agricultural products and other factors have offset pressures of the 2012 drought.
Mother Nature last summer refused to rain in many parts of the country. The drought devoured field crops and pummeled cattle production.
Pricing for corn used in animal feeds skyrocketed to record highs, according to Great American Group, Inc., a company specializing in asset management and disposition.
The higher costs for animal feed forced many farmers to sell off their stock at the peak of the drought, Ken Bloore, chief operating officer of Great American Group's Advisory and Valuation Services division, said in a prepared statement last week. This move lowered the meat supply, he observed.
Earlier this year, USDA revealed that the U.S. beef cattle herd sunk to its lowest level since 1962.
But the drought is appearing to have subsided, and farmers are reporting improved growing conditions, according to Great American Group. USDA anticipates a record corn harvest of 13.95 billion bushels this year. That is a 29 percent increase from 2012, Great American Group wrote in an August report.
A potential drop in the price of animal feed could contribute to a more stable herd population, benefiting consumers.
"Lower prices for animal feed would enable farmers to restore their herds to normal levels; this, in turn, would result in ample supplies of meat and dairy products in 2014," Great American Group wrote in the report. "With that in mind, food prices could be expected to experience only minimal inflation in the years to come."
In June, poultry and egg prices were 5.5 percent and 6.9 percent higher than the previous year. According to Great American Group, wholesale beef values dropped to $3.05 per pound in June yet remained 1.4 percent higher than the previous year.
"The impact of high feed prices on retail beef prices was small, in percentage terms, because many beef prices had already attained record highs before the effects of the drought were realized," USDA has explained.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ranking America’s Favorite Burger Chains

Americans know hamburgers, and when it comes to ranking the best quick service restaurant (QSR) burger chain In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys and Whataburger top the list, according to burger brand findings from the 2013 Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Benchmark Study from Empathica Inc. Despite industry leadership in sales volume, the study revealed low customer satisfaction scores for the “Big 3"—McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.
The 2013 Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Benchmark Study surveyed 10,000 U.S. consumers and determined brand rankings in categories such as food, staff and atmosphere, as well as the drivers behind social media engagement and loyalty. American burger brand guests were asked to rate their recent visit to a burger chain on a number of factors, and a “percent delighted" score was calculated by averaging ratings of overall satisfaction, likelihood of revisiting, value for money paid and likelihood of recommending. The Benchmark then ranked America’s top QSR burger brands from highest percent delighted to lowest.

Findings show that the top three burger brands by sales—McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s—are ranked at or near the bottom of guest satisfaction in almost all categories including food, staff, menu and atmosphere. These results demonstrate that a high number of locations and visits do not necessarily lead to high customer satisfaction, which is a key driver in customer loyalty.

“Our findings reveal that the top drivers of burger chain visits include speed, price and menu followed by portion, staff and promotion," said Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer, Empathica. “However, these are not the same drivers of customer satisfaction. The ultimate goal for location managers is to keep their guests coming back. Most QSR burger brands are delivering a good product to guests, but this is table stakes in driving customer delight. To achieve this goal, burger QSRs must provide a continually exceptional experience in addition to a great-tasting, quickly served food item. Conversely, the smaller specialty burger chains like In-N-Out Burger, Five Guys and Whataburger do a consistent job on both product and service quality."

Benchmark results show factors important to Americans when selecting a burger QSR for dine-in, take-out and drive-thru experiences. Food taste was the top factor in each dining experience category, while menu variety was least important when making a burger chain choice. Americans continually cite “felt valued" and “attentive staff" as important factors when making their burger chain selection. Guests rely on previous experiences when selecting a burger QSR, whether they select a dine-in, take-out or drive-thru option.

Findings revealed marked differences in customer satisfaction for several QSR burger brands between lunch and dinner dining. While In-N-Out Burger and Five Guys held strong at the top two rankings for both meals, Krystal dropped from ranking seventh during lunch to fifteenth at dinner. Jack in the Box had an opposite switch, moving from thirteenth at lunch to sixth during dinner.

“Interestingly, several brands are really failing to deliver what customers expect across occasions. It is critical that brands deliver a high quality, consistent experience regardless of whether the guest comes into a location in Dallas for lunch or a late night snack in Des Moines," Edwards said. “We know that customer loyalty is the sum of all their experiences with the brand, so consistency really is king—customers have to know what they are getting, regardless of location or occasion."

“The burger chain Benchmark results are consistent with what Empathica has found in our overall QSR findings," Edwards said. “It’s clear that location number and size do not equate with high customer satisfaction. National burger chains need to focus on improving the little things that make a guest’s experience exceptional, as well as making it seamless throughout the time of day or occasion choice."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tracking The Elusive 'Chocolate' Persimmon


When farmers from Japan settled in California more than 100 years ago, they brought Japanese persimmons, with their bright, shiny skins and sweet interiors.

Some Americans almost immediately caught onto the charm of these orange beauties, and with the help of a few prominent backers, passion for the Japanese varieties spread across the country, according to botanist Julia Morton.

"Seeds first reached the United States in 1856 when they were sent from Japan by Commodore Perry. Grafted trees were imported in 1870 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and distributed to California and the Southern states," she wrote back in the 1980s.

Private individuals imported the trees as well, either to stock their family farms or to stock their backyards.

To this day, people living in older homes across California are flummoxed in the fall by a sudden crop of persimmons somebody else planted years ago. It's not unusual for people to show up at the office with a shopping bag full of persimmons that must be eaten sooner, rather than later.

Even where persimmons are common, most consumers are familiar with two kinds: the apple-sized, crunchy Fuyu and the bulbous Hachiya, best enjoyed when it's so ripe, it's gooey. But there are other, more esoteric varieties worth hunting for.

One of them is the maru, or chocolate persimmon — so called because when you bite into a ripe one, the flesh inside is brown, like chocolate. The maru is juicy — and sweet without being cloying. It's a favorite of David Karp's.

Karp is the farmers market writer for The Los Angeles Times and a pomologist — a botanist who specializes in fruit. A few years back, Karp visited an old mentor of his, the late pomologist Art Schroeder of UCLA, in his home library. Karp wanted to know more about the history of persimmons in California for an article he was writing for the Times. Schroeder pulled out a fragile manuscript, yellowed with age and tattered at the edges.

"He showed me an ancient Japanese treatise written by a Japanese marquis in English in like 1907, or something like that," says Karp. Years before, this nobleman crossed the Pacific to survey persimmons in California. He laid down the details of his findings in a pamphlet that also described how to grow all sorts of varieties — far more than the ones Karp was used to seeing in the markets. "My eyes got wide. I looked at these various different varieties and I said, 'Where can we find these in California?' "

Karp got in his battered old truck nicknamed Bessie and canvassed the state, visiting Japanese family farms from San Diego County to the Sierra foothills. It took Karp a couple of years to get to a particular farm famous for its maru, and by that time, word had gotten out that there was a crazed pomologist combing the back roads.

"Tosh Kuratomi greeted me at the door," Karp recalls, "and he said, 'I always knew you'd find your way here someday.' "

Otow Orchard sits on 20 sunny acres east of Sacramento, in Granite Bay. A few decades after a Japanese family purchased the land in 1911, the suburbs around it began to spring up. If you weren't looking for the hand-drawn signs promising fruit, you might fly right past them.

On the day I turned up, I arrived just in time to join Kuratomi as he led a pack of local preschoolers on an orchard tour. As it happens, chocolate persimmons are his favorite. Kuratomi reaches into one likely looking tree to grab a round fruit the size of a tangerine and with skin almost as thin as that of a tomato.

"You see how the skin is?" he says to the pint-sized toddlers. "You see how it's starting to get brown? This nice orange fruit is starting to show brown, almost like bruises. That's the flesh inside. Anyone wants to take a bite?"

Debbie Doss, the woman leading the preschool group, breaks in. "Oh that's — you guys — that's to die for. It is so delicious."

With that endorsement, everybody's hands are out for a sample. Doss is right. The chocolate persimmon is delicious — juicy and sweet but not too much. There's a slight hint of spice, like nutmeg. I was set to inhale the whole thing, but a 2-year-old wanted my maru, so I relented and gave it to him.

So why aren't there maru piled high in every supermarket in the land? In truth, there are several reasons, starting with the fact that many Americans associate the color brown with spoilage.

"We've had calls from customers saying, 'Boy, you just sent us a box of rotten persimmons. We just threw them out,' " Kuratomi says. He urges them to go digging in the trash to retrieve the fruit.

Perhaps even more damning is that the maru require pollination, ideally from bees, to ripen. That doesn't always happen, and sometimes only some of the fruit is pollinated.

"If it's yellow, eat the brown part," Kuratomi warns the tour group. "You only want the brown part, because the yellow part will make your mouth feel funny."

You know what he's talking about if you've ever jumped the gun and eaten a Hachiya persimmon before it was fully ripe. The astringent flesh is an unforgettable experience. Capt. John Smith wrote famously in 1607 of his encounter with an American persimmon: "If it is not ripe, it will drive a man's mouth awrie with much torment."

You can't tell whether a maru has been pollinated from the outside. "Now that is the kiss of death commercially," Karp says.

In a world that favors big farms growing just a few products, Otow Orchard is a throwback to earlier times and traditions, but it's kept alive by modern financial strategies. Kuratomi is a retired schoolteacher, and his retirement allows him to indulge in the role of gentleman farmer. The plan is for his children to do the same, and their children after.

"We hang in there," Kuratomi says. "We figure the trees'll hang in there. I guess a lot of it is tradition. When your family does something and has a business, you kind of hate to see it go away."

Chocolate persimmons are not available in stores near you. If you know of a Japanese family farm nearby, that's your best bet. A number of well-stocked farmers markets in California carry them. Otherwise, look for mail order options. But order soon. The season only lasts through December.

 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New Limits for Arsenic Proposed by F.D.A.


Nearly two years after an outcry about arsenic in apple juice touched off by a segment on “The Dr. Oz Show,” the federal Food and Drug Administration is proposing a new limit on acceptable levels.

The new standard for arsenic, a carcinogen when consumed in large enough quantities, is 10 parts per billion, equal to the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has set for arsenic in drinking water. Experts said the allowable amount was relatively conservative since people typically drink far less apple juice than water.

Apple juice with arsenic levels that exceed the new target might be subject to action by the agency, including seizure, said Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner. The proposed target will be finalized only after comments from industry and the public, she said.

It is the first time that the agency has set a limit for arsenic levels in food.

The issue came to the public’s attention in 2011 when the physician and television personality Mehmet Oz charged that total arsenic levels in apple juice were too high. He was criticized at the time for not distinguishing between the toxic, inorganic form of arsenic and its organic cousin, which is believed to be less toxic.

Several months later, Consumer Reports published an investigation that found elevated levels of the toxic type.

Children are of special concern. They tend to drink more juice per pound of body weight than adults, and they are undergoing rapid neurological development that could be hurt by high levels of arsenic.

Dr. Hamburg said the agency conducted its own analysis and found apple juice to be safe. About 97 percent of the 260 samples the agency tested from 2008 to 2011 were well below the new standard, she said.

A handful of samples came in above the new target. They would be considered outliers and potential candidates for agency action. All but one contained less than 20 parts per billion. The sample with the highest level, 43 parts per billion, was an import from Turkey that was seized.

The agency had previously said that 23 parts per billion was a “level of concern,” but that target was informal, based on a review of scientific literature, and not the result of the agency’s study, said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the F.D.A.

“We decided to set an action level in part because there was a level that was out there that F.D.A. had informally set, and we thought it was not the best level based on our analysis,” Dr. Hamburg said. The new level was also an effort “to respond to concerns of consumers” after the Consumer Reports investigation, she said.

Keeve Nachman, a scientist who studies arsenic in food at the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, said the policy made “good sense,” but he added that “the real question is how are they going to monitor and enforce this.”

The Juice Products Association, an industry group, said in a statement that the new limit might present problems for producers because the trace amounts of arsenic in concentrate could put total levels above the 10 parts per billion allowed, when combined with drinking water.

Mr. Taylor said the agency would continue to do what he called “surveillance sampling,” in which agency scientists collect samples of fruit juices and test them for arsenic. He said the new standard would “serve as a trigger for taking action.”

About 60 percent of all apple juice in the United States is imported from China, where lax environmental controls have sometimes led to high levels of contaminants in food. But Dr. Hamburg said the arsenic levels in Chinese juice were no higher than juice produced in other places.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Attempt to steer McDonald's diners towards you


Attempt to steer McDonald's diners towards you might think that customers buying their lunch at McDonald’s would order meals with fewer calories if someone handed them a slip of paper reminding them that women should eat no more than 650 calories at lunchtime and men should not exceed 800 calories. But you would be wrong.

Instead, researchers found that diners who received these supposedly helpful reminders actually purchased more calories than those who didn’t, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study authors — from the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Cornell University’s Department of Applied Economics and Management — stood outside two McDonald’s restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They approached diners on their way in and asked them to save their receipts and conduct a short interview after they ate their lunch.

In addition, some diners were handed information on the number of calories men and women should eat at lunch, and some were given information on the total number of calories men and women should eat in an entire day. A control group was not given any advice on the calorie front.

When they had finished their meals, diners were asked to estimate how many calories they had consumed. Those estimates were compared with the actual calories purchased, according to the receipts. The researchers also collected demographic information like age, gender, ZIP Code of residence and height and weight (to calculate each person’s body mass index).

Among the 1,094 diners included in the study analysis, the women who ate lunch (not just a drink or dessert) purchased an average of 824 calories and the men purchased 890 calories. Assuming they ate and drank everything they bought, the men consumed 11% more calories than they should have, on average. The women splurged even more — they downed 27% more calories than recommended, on average.

The researchers expected that the diners who got slips of papers with calorie advice to order lower-calorie meals than the diners who got no such guidance. Instead, they found that the recommendations had no effect on the way customers used the calorie information posted on menus.

Even worse, diners who got the slips of papers ordered higher-calorie entrees than diners who didn’t — 49 more calories, on average. The difference wasn’t great enough to be statistically significant, but it was close, according to the study.

It’s not exactly shocking that giving people the information they needed to order the right amount of food didn’t work. After all, it’s hard for anyone to stick to the rules when confronted with the aroma of McDonald’s French fries. But how did this seemingly sensible idea wind up making things worse?

The study authors have a theory. Perhaps their plan backfired because people compared the calorie count of their entree to the calorie information on their slip of paper and got “a false sense of staying within the calorie allowance,” they wrote. That, in turn, may have made them feel safe ordering a bigger soda or to supersize their fries. A Big Mac packs 550 calories, which doesn’t sound so bad, until you add in 500 calories for large fries and 280 calories for a large Coke.

A previous study that tested the value of posting calorie information on menus found that it did steer diners toward lower-calorie meals. But in that study, conducted at a Subway sandwich shop, it only worked for customers who had a healthy BMI, not those who were overweight.

The authors of the new study speculated that they got different results because Subway and McDonald’s “have different reputations for healthful fare, and, as a result, may attract different clientele.”

But that hardly made them optimistic that their approach would work better under different circumstances. “The results provide little hope that calorie recommendations will salvage the apparent weak or nonexistent effect of menu labeling,” they concluded.

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

5 Tips for Food Safety


1. Gain Food Safety Expertise—or an Expert
With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, remarkable talent, great ideas and a passion for great food is not enough to build a successful specialty food business. For entrepreneurs lacking a scientific background and a thorough understanding of the new food safety regulatory landscape, Coburn strongly recommends getting up to speed, which might include hiring outside consultants with expertise in food safety and compliance.
2. Know Your Co-packer
When using a co-packer, entrepreneurs need to familiarize themselves with the co-packer’s food safety protocols. Do they have independent audits? Ask to see the scores. Do they have liability insurance? How frequently do they test? Do they have certificates of analysis for every production run? Coburn suggests personally visiting the facility during production and especially during production of your products.
3. Establish Standards
In today’s world, entrepreneurs need to establish specific standards for their product and its production. Manufacturers and marketers must be intimately familiar and in compliance with regulatory criteria and consumer expectations. We are past the days of taking your grandmother’s recipe and sharing it with the world, Coburn says; we are putting products into commerce and will be held accountable for them.
4. Get Good Legal Advisory
It is essential to have excellent legal advice as part of one’s business plan, she says. Without adequate legal counsel, one can be held personally liable if something goes wrong.
5. Be Transparent
Make sure your business process is transparent. Transparency will immediately highlight problems and therefore ensure product safety; it also creates the kind of consumer confidence that traditional advertising and marketing can never buy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Micro-Bakeries Offer Bread That's Truly Fresh


A CRACKLING CRUST and a moist crumb. A deep, earthy, wheaty flavor. The ineffable complexity of natural fermentation, its whiff of alcohol, its merest hint of natural sugar. True artisanal bread, made with wholesome ingredients and passionate craftsmanship and available fresh, locally, is easily one of life's great pleasures. Yet even amid the nationwide embrace of all that is authentic and healthful in food, it's been hard to come by. We can read about famed bread makers in Berkeley, Calif., or New York City, but what good does that do for the rest of the country? Most bread doesn't ship well. And the best bakeries rarely franchise

Yet quietly, just in the last year or two, there's been a subtle revolution in American bread. Around the country, in Phoenix and New Orleans, Tulsa and Portland, Asheville and Austin, and cities throughout Ohio, Connecticut and Utah, tiny bakeries are cropping up. The bakers are self-taught: Most of them got started by reading books by master bakers like Peter Reinhart or Nancy Silverton, and gleaning tips online. They sell at farmers' markets, on local food websites or to nearby shops and restaurants. Many operate out of their residences, under new laws that allow them to sell food made in home kitchens.

 

Mark Stambler, 60, who hand-kneads whole-grain b√Ętards (shorter, wider baguettes) and sourdough rye boules at his home in L.A., exemplifies how these microbakers are putting pressure on legislators to greenlight this homespun mode of production. A few years ago, the non-profit consultant began selling the naturally fermented breads—made with freshly milled flour and baked in his backyard oven—to a few local shops. Two years ago, the health department caught on and shut him down. He lobbied for a change in the law, in the process helping to form Los Angeles Bread Bakers, a meet-up group for serious amateurs, and successfully shepherded California's first Cottage Food law into being in January of this year.

Such laws are now on the books in more than 30 states—about twice the number there were five years ago, according to the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a non-profit legal-aid and advocacy group. The laws vary widely in detail, but nearly always allow bread baking in a home kitchen that passes inspection. "Now, it's back to business," Mr. Stambler said.

In addition to the changing legal landscape, microbakers are aided by the proliferation of farmers' markets and by new websites such as Good Eggs, an online local-food grocer where Mr. Stambler now sells his bread. Started two years ago in San Francisco, the site expanded this year into New York, New Orleans and L.A.

 

Social media is also juicing the movement. Jason Raducha, 29, launched a Kickstarter campaign last year to seek funds for a home bakery. The former IT consultant raised just over $20,000, which allowed him to commission the 10,000-pound, mobile, wood-fired bread oven now parked in his garage in Phoenix. Like many microbakers, he markets his Noble Bread via a Facebook page, with images of crusty, golden loaves as they emerge from the oven and alerts regarding which farmers' market the bread is heading to that day. "I'm up all night, I bake, I put the bread in the customer's hand," Mr. Raducha said of his new life. "I'm the happiest I've ever been."

Microbakers are encouraging the next step in American bread, too, by seeking out unique strains of grain and doing the milling themselves, using processes that allow oils in the grain to permeate the flour with flavor and aroma. David Bauer, whose bakery, Farm & Sparrow, is attached to his home in the Asheville, N.C., area, grows seed plots of heritage grain—Turkey Red wheat, Wren's Abruzzi rye—then gives the seeds to local farmers to grow for him. "We mill our own flour no more than 24 hours before we make the bread," Mr. Bauer said. Fresh milling is catching on: Newly opened Tabor Bread in Portland, Ore., and Josey Baker Bread in San Francisco have also invested in mills.

 

Some bakers are graduating to larger businesses with wider reach. Five years ago, Graison S. Gill, 25, "got to New Orleans on the Greyhound bus with 20 dollars on me." He read up on baking in the public library, then began selling his experiments at the farmers' market. Realizing there was more to learn, he enrolled in the San Francisco Baking Institute in 2011 and apprenticed with great Bay Area bakers. Today, Mr. Gill is back in town making 1,000 handmade loaves a week; his crusty bread is so full of character it would pair well with a rich wine—with or without cheese. He just hired two new bakers in anticipation of a busy fall.

"There is a great need and desire down here for the style of bread that I'm doing," he said. "It's part of a bigger trend." The same could be said of practically everywhere—which is why microbakers, like their handcrafted breads, will only continue to rise.

 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

High blood sugar increases dementia risk, regardless of diabetes status


Seniors with higher than average blood sugar levels have an 18% increased risk for dementia, according to a new study.

In people without diabetes, an average glucose level of 115 milligrams per deciliter led to an increased risk when compared to an average of 100 mg/dl. In people with diabetes, the dementia risk was 40% higher for people with an average glucose level of 190 mg/dl, when compared to an average of 160 mg/dl, the study found.

Researchers from various universities, including the University of Washington and Harvard University, tested more than 2,000 seniors' glucose levels. After about seven years, they retested the older adults and found that slightly more than 500 had developed dementia. Almost all had higher average glucose levels, which correlated with an increased risk for dementia.

The report notes that ditching vending machine snacks and sugary treats might not help in warding off high blood sugar levels.

"Your body turns your food into glucose, so your blood sugar levels depend not only on what you eat but also on your individual metabolism: how your body handles your food,” said first author Paul K. Crane, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine, adjunct associate professor of health services at the UW School of Public Health, and affiliate investigator at Group Health Research Institute.

 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Exercise improves sleep, but not overnight


It can take four months of regular aerobic exercise to help insomnia sufferers get a good night’s sleep, researchers say.

 

“If you have insomnia you won’t exercise yourself into sleep right away,” says lead study author Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s a long-term relationship. You have to keep at it and not get discouraged.”

 

This is the first long-term study to show aerobic exercise during the day does not result in improved sleep that same night when people have existing sleep problems. Most studies on the daily effects of exercise and sleep have been done with healthy sleepers.

The study also showed people exercise less following nights with worse sleep. “Sleeping poorly doesn’t change your aerobic capacity, but it changes people’s perception of their exertion,” Baron says. “They feel more exhausted.”

“This new study shows exercise and sleep affect each other in both directions: regular long-term exercise is good for sleep but poor sleep can also lead to less exercise. So in the end, sleep still trumps everything as far as health is concerned,” says senior author Phyllis Zee, a neurology professor at Feinberg and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Wait for it

Baron decided to analyze the daily effect of exercise after hearing her patients with insomnia complain the exercise she recommended didn’t help them right away. The findings are detailed in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“They’d say, ‘I exercised so hard yesterday and didn’t sleep at all,’” Baron says. “The prevailing thought is that exercise improves sleep, but I thought it probably wasn’t that simple for people with insomnia.”

“Patients with insomnia have a heightened level of brain activity and it takes time to re-establish a more normal level that can facilitate sleep,” Zee says. “Rather than medications, which can induce sleep quickly, exercise may be a healthier way to improve sleep because it could address the underlying problem.”

The study participants were older women, who have the highest prevalence of insomnia. Exercise is an optimum approach to promote sleep in an older population because drugs can cause memory impairment and falls. Baron thinks the results also could apply to men because there is no evidence of gender differences in behavioral treatments for insomnia.

For the study, Baron performed an analysis of data gathered by the team during a 2010 clinical trial that demonstrated the ability of aerobic exercise to improve sleep, mood, and vitality over a 16-week period in middle-age-to-older adults with insomnia. She and colleagues examined the daily sleep data from 11 women ages 57 to 70.

The key message is that people with sleep disturbances have to be persistent with exercise. “People have to realize that even if they don’t want to exercise, that’s the time they need to dig in their heels and get themselves out there,” Baron says. “Write a note on your mirror that says ‘Just Do It!’ It will help in the long run.”

 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Heavy coffee consumption linked to higher death risk


The debate over coffee's health risks continues to brew. A new study, out Thursday, finds that heavy coffee consumption is associated with a higher death risk in men and women younger than 55.

In the study published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, men younger than 55 who drank more than 28 cups of coffee a week (four cups a day) were 56% more likely to have died from any cause. Women in that age range had a twofold greater risk of dying than other women. The study looked at 43,727 men and women ages 20-87 from 1971 to 2002.

"From our study, it seems safe to drink one to three cups of coffee a day," says the study's second co-author Xuemei Sui. "Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may endanger health," says Sui, assistant professor of exercise science with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She defines a cup of coffee as 6 to 8 ounces.

The study did not find a higher death risk for adults 55 and older. Sui says there may be a bias — the research may not include unhealthy older people because they might have already died.

The reasons for the higher death risk among younger adults are not clear since experts through the years have found both health benefits and problems associated with coffee.

Sui says the caffeine in coffee can elevate heart rate as well as raise blood pressure and blood sugar levels. However, coffee is a major source of antioxidants, she says.

Sui says the study didn't find a significant association between coffee consumption and heart disease death. Further research is needed to look at any connection between coffee and cancer, she says.

Gregg Fonarow, co-chief of clinical cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says, "Differences in other dietary factors, marital status and other socioeconomic factors that were not adjusted for in this study may account for some or all of these observations."

Fonarow, who was not involved in this research, says observational studies that survey people about their coffee intake and tie that to how many died from any cause have yielded mixed results.

Consider a 2012 study that found that coffee drinkers ages 50-71 had a lower risk of death than their peers who did not consume coffee. In that study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, and AARP found that the more coffee consumed, the more a person's death risk declined.

Joseph DeRupo, a spokesman for the National Coffee Association of USA, says the new study "presents findings that are out of step with prevailing science as well as with widely accepted research methods."

Because coffee still stirs debate, Sui says more research is needed. In the meantime, people should watch their coffee intake, she says. "Avoid excessive coffee drinking."

 

 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Adults whose moms were obese may die sooner, study says


Middle-aged adults whose mothers were obese or overweight in pregnancy have increased risks for developing serious cardiovascular problems and dying young, a new study shows.

The study, based on the health records of more than 37,000 people born in Scotland between 1950 and 1976, does not explain why a mother's weight would affect the health of an adult child decades later. Genes and upbringing may play roles. But the results also add to growing evidence that adverse conditions in the womb might have profound effects on offspring long after birth, says the study, published Tuesday in the British medical journal BMJ.

"It's very difficult to tease out," causes and effects when it comes to intergenerational health problems, says lead researcher Rebecca Reynolds, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Edinburgh. But she says the results lend credence to a theory that "over-nourished" fetuses may develop differences in their brains, blood vessels, hearts or metabolisms that make it more likely for them to become obese, unhealthy or both.

The study focused on adults ages 34 to 61 and linked their records with those from their mothers' first prenatal visits. After accounting for socioeconomic status, mothers' ages and other differences that might matter, researchers found that those born to obese women were 35% more likely to die, for any reason, and 29% more likely to be hospitalized for heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular problems when compared to adults who had normal-weight mothers. Cardiovascular diseases and cancer were the most common causes of death.

More modest increases in illness and death were seen among the grown children of women who were overweight but not obese.

The researchers defined overweight and obese by body mass index (BMI), a measure that takes weight and height into account. Mothers were considered obese if their BMIs were 30 or higher and overweight if their BMIs were between 25 and 29. It's not known whether the adults who got sick or died tended to share their mothers' weight problems. The study did show that the results held up whether or not babies were born heavy, Reynolds says.

The study "is certainly intriguing," though it lacks crucial information "on what happens between birth and midlife," in homes where children are raised by overweight and obese mothers, says Pam Factor-Litvak, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, New York. It also lacks information on fathers, she notes. Genes, shared diets and other factors need to be studied, she says.

But the suggestion that the womb environment sets the stage for later-life cardiovascular health and mortality is important to pursue, she says in an editorial accompanying the study.

In any case, there already are many good reasons for women to enter pregnancy at healthy weights and not to gain too much during the nine months, says Jeanne Conry, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The college recommends that women talk with their doctors about weight at every routine check-up, before and between pregnancies. Women who start a pregnancy obese have an increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, having a Cesarean section and having a baby with birth defects, she says.

"You see an immediate effect on the fetus, so it's not too much of a leap to say we may see long-term impacts," says Conry, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento.

The issue is pressing, she says, because obesity among pregnant women has risen 70% in just the past decade in the United States.

Reynolds notes that just 4% of the mothers in her study were obese — but that 35% of reproductive-age women in the United States today are obese and that rates are similar in Europe.

 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weight loss coffee could help you shed pounds


It's no secret -- we all love our coffee! But what if this stimulating beverage could also stimulate weight loss -- without diet or exercise?

A new product promises to help you shed pounds with every sip.

It's called Javita "A lot of people don't like to take pills or they can't take pills or they forget to take pills, but they will drink coffee," says Dr. Kenneth Gelman, an endocrinologist who's based in South Florida.

The company says that the secret is garcinia cambogia -- a tropical fruit extract that's been show to boost metabolism and lower cholesterol.

"There are some initial studies that show this particular compound actually works in the liver and inhibits fat synthesis," says Dr. Gelman.

Doctors say that the extract turns sugars into energy, instead of fat.

It also suppresses your appetite and controls cravings, and manages the stress hormone, cortisol.

Another key ingredient is yerba mate -- a plant extract that's praised for its ability to boost energy and burn calories.

The company claims that drinking just two cups of Javita Burn & Control coffee a day can cut two inches of belly fat in a month.

One woman named Louesa Estrada has been drinking the coffee for a week, and she says she's dropped a pound.

"I'm going to keep doing it. It tastes great, I enjoy it, so why not?" says Estrada.

Keep in mind -- doctors warn that drinking too much of the main ingredient, garcinia cambogia, can lead to stomach problems like nausea and vomiting.

As for the price -- a box of Javita Burn & Control costs around $40 for 25 pre-measured packages.

Burn & Control Weight Loss Coffee, made by a company in Boca Raton.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Salty foods, BMI to blame for more children with high blood pressure


Salty meals, combined with higher levels of body mass indexes (BMIs) and obesity, are triggering a scary side effect among young people: high blood pressure.

The risk for elevated blood pressure levels among children and adolescents has increased 27 percent in the past 13 years, according to a new study in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

“It is a public health issue that our children, their blood pressures are higher,” study co-author Dr. Bonita Falkner, professor of medicine and pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, told FoxNews.com. “Though it may be only a 4 to 5 mm Hg (increase), that extra pressure burden at a young age, carried through life, can become a large burden.”

Doctors have long known that factors like obesity, high BMI and excess belly fat can lead to an increased risk for high blood pressure among both adults and children.  Yet researchers have had difficulty pinpointing other factors contributing to high blood pressure – until now.

In this study, researchers were able to pinpoint for the first time another clear culprit contributing to high blood pressure levels: sodium intake.

Researchers examined the records of over 11,500 children between the ages of 8 and 17 participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They analyzed data from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2008.

Through this analysis, researchers were able to clearly identify the relationship between high salt intake and the risk for higher blood pressure levels.

“It has (previously) been very difficult to identify any relationship of salt and blood pressure in children or adolescents for some time,” Falkner said.

More than 80 percent of children, from both time periods, had a daily sodium intake in excess of 2,300 milligrams. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.

Falkner and her fellow researchers said increased consumption of processed foods is likely to blame.

“The salt content of the food supply has increased markedly over the past few decades, and there’s been a progressive rise in the proportion of the average daily diet that is processed food,” Falkner said. “There’s probably much more salt exposure in children now.”

While doctors are still examining the repercussions of children developing high blood pressure at such a young age, there is some preliminary evidence that shows hypertension could cause damage to some of the body’s key organs.

“Children who already have confirmed hypertension, a good portion of them already have enlargement of the heart; they may have some albumin in the urine suggesting they have kidney strain; they are beginning to show they have thickening in carotid artery and a stiffening of aorta,” Falkner said. “The implication is that the blood pressure level is causing some stress or injury to the cardiovascular system.”

When a doctor discovers high blood pressure in a child, they first check for other health problems that could be exacerbating the blood pressure levels, like cardiovascular or kidney disease. If no underlying issues are identified, they will encourage parents and children to adopt lifestyle changes – such as eating fresh foods and exercising more.

“If it cannot be controlled by lifestyle changes, diet, physical activity and weight control, then we treat them with medication,” Falkner said.

Overall, Falkner hopes people will take note of the role that sodium is playing in increased blood pressure levels.

“It had been difficult to prove this, and now that we know it really is there, we have to pay attention to it,” Falkner said.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Speciality Coffees are the new wine


Hold the milk and sugar — specialty coffee is the latest beverage meant to be savored for its complex flavor notes, mouth feel and aroma.

Sound a little like fine wine?

Bob Funk of Maywood's Moon Doggie Coffee Roasters thinks so.

"Depending on the way I roast it, coffee can show 20 different flavors from fresh butter and caramel to earthiness and rice," he says. "The more different coffees you drink, the more you start to notice these things."

For those used to paying for their morning caffeine with pocket change, the prices for these premium brews may come as a shock: Starbucks' specialty reserve coffees cost up to $7 a cup. At Maywood's Moon Dog Coffee Roasters, a 1-pound bag of their most expensive beans — the Kona Special Private Reserve — costs more than a dinner for two: $60.

Robert Gamer, a retiree from Franklin Lakes, cares so much about the taste of his coffee, he drives to Ridgewood every morning to have a cappuccino at the Ridgewood Coffee Company. He can find a cup of Joe closer to home, but to him it's just "dark brown water with caffeine."

On a recent morning at the Ridgewood cafe, he sipped his cappuccino, which was made from freshly ground single-origin beans with notes of "cherry, red wine, dark chocolate and toffee." He paid $3.50 for his hot beverage, but it's worth it for the "taste and the experience," he said. "Even when I go out of town, I look for a place that looks like they're serving the authentic stuff," he said.

Since the first Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971, coffee has been evolving from its roots as the workingman's brew. The recent mainstream interest in high-end coffee beans is part of a wider trend across the food world. People are happy to pay more for heirloom tomatoes on their grass-fed burger, served with artisanal cheese. Experts say the higher price for specialty coffee beans comes because they're grown on small farms, and extra attention is paid in the entire production process from the farmer to the roaster.

"In America 20 years ago you couldn't find a decent cup of coffee," said Benny LanFranco, Fairway Market's coffee director. "But because of demand, farmers are producing better coffee and there is a new wave of brewing methods. Coffee is becoming more flavorful. Once you taste a good cup of coffee, you can't go back."

LanFranco travels the globe tracking down the best coffee growers. Among his favorites is an estate coffee from the Galapagos Islands that retails for $25 a pound at Fairway. "It's very clean and smooth with nice fruit and flora notes and a beautiful aroma," he said.

As the interest in high-end coffee increases, Funk of Moon Dog Coffee Roasters is trying to educate customers that these beans are best enjoyed freshly roasted and ground. At his small batch operation, he roasts beans three times a week and advises customers to buy only a week's portion of what they need.

"I hate to overuse the wine comparison, but if you left a bottle of wine sitting open on a shelf during the week it wouldn't taste as good. Coffee starts to lose its flavor the longer it sits around," he said.

Another common misconception is that specialty coffee needs milk and sugar to taste good, said Funk. "It covers up all the delicate flavors. If you're drinking fresh coffee it shouldn't be so bitter you have to add sugar," he said.

The brewing process has also become more sophisticated. The Englewood and Edgewater Starbucks are among a limited list of the chain's branches that have $11,000 Clover coffee machines, a high-tech contraption the squeezes every last bit of flavor out of fresh grounds. A specialty reserve coffee prepared on the Clover is more than double the price of a normal drip coffee. At the Edgewater branch the Maui Mokka — a reserve coffee "with warm brown spice notes and a chocolaty mouth-feel" — brewed on the Clover is $4.95 for a Grande, compared to $1.95 for a regular coffee of the same size.

Josh Alberg, head barista at The Ridgewood Coffee Company, also prepares specialty cups of coffees using a labor-intensive process that is the antithesis of the high-tech Clover machine. Their hand-poured coffees are brewed to order. The beans are weighed and ground, and then dripped into a glass cone with a filter. The process takes longer than a machine brewed cup, but Alberg says customers enjoy watching their drink being hand-crafted. "It's meant to be enjoyed for the taste rather than the utility of the caffeine. There are plenty of places you can get a cheap cup of coffee, but more than anything this is a high-end culinary approach," said Alberg.

 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

WEATHER, SUPPLY ISSUES HIKE DAIRY PRICES


Dairy prices will continue to increase in the near future due to global weather, supply issues in the feed markets and strong demand from developing countries, according to speakers at the INTL FCStone's Dairy Outlook Conference in Chicago.


Experts in the dairy industry gathered for the 10th year to offer their views on macro-economic issues affecting the dairy markets as well as the impact of global supply and demand. Presentations covered the influence of markets like Ireland, New Zealand and India on the production and consumption of dairy products around the globe and how the changing tastes of consumers are shaping the dairy industry.

In a key point from the meeting, Robert Chesler, vice president of FCStone LLC's Food Division, explained, "we're seeing milk production increase in the U.S. with fewer cows and we're estimating total U.S. production reaching nearly 201 billion pounds in 2013."

"Through April of this year, the majority of our exports were bound for Mexico followed by Southeast Asia," he added, and Oceania increased its imports of U.S. dairy products 43% over last year.

In terms of production, Chesler estimated world milk production to increase by 170 metric tons in 2022, the majority of which, 70%, should come from developing countries like India. However, water remains the biggest threat to growing dairy production and developing countries need to solve some of their infrastructure issues before realizing those gains, said Chesler. Such a forecast calls for a growth rate of 1.8% per year which is far below the 2.3% growth rate of the previous decade resulting in increased prices.

"Consumption will increase at an average of 2.1% per annum based on robust international income growth, population growth and further westernization of diets," concluded Chesler.

 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Coffee Drinking Linked to Lower Suicide Rate


It's a fact Swedes and Seattlites have long depended on: Coffee makes you less likely to kill yourself, a new study has confirmed.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say that adults who drink two to four cups of coffee a day have a 50 percent lower risk of suicide than adults who drink decaffeinated coffee, very little coffee or no coffee at all, according to Medical News Today.

They came to the conclusion by analyzing data from three large U.S. studies involving over 200,000 people: 43,599 men involved in the Health Professionals Follow-up study (HPFS), 73,820 women in the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and 91,005 women in the NHS II. They looked at consumption of caffeine, coffee and decaffeinated coffee every four years through food-frequency questionnaires, while the deaths from suicide were analyzed by reviewing death certificates.

The amount of caffeine consumption was assessed from both coffee and non-coffee sources, including chocolate, tea and caffeinated soft drinks. But the researchers found that coffee was the main source, accounting for a minimum of 71 percent in all three studies.

The researchers report in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry that as well as stimulating the central nervous system, caffeine acts as a mild antidepressant by stimulating the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

However, the authors caution that this does not mean the more coffee, the better. People should max out at 2-4 cups a day, they say.

"Caffeine is known to affect the brain," said study co-author Dr. Albert Ascherio. "It modulates the release of mood transmitters." He also pointed out that coffee may cause or worsen anxiety.

Too much caffeine can result in insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, muscle tremors and rapid heartbeat.

Interestingly, The Atlantic took these findings to their ultimate conclusion by combining them with other recent studies to come up with the four characteristics of the (hypothetically) happiest person on Earth.

According to the article, this fictitious person would be a 23-year-old coffee-drinking Republican from San Jose, Calif.

Take a swig of coffee quick before you kill yourself.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

OBESITY DECLINES IN LOW-INCOME CHILDREN


Obesity in low-income preschoolers has declined 19% from 2008 to 2011 in 19 of 43 states and territories, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Obesity has been a common trend. With sugary drinks, increased meal portions and nutrition lacking lunches in school cafeterias, 1 in 8 preschoolers is obese in the United States. Those numbers increase in black children to 1 in 5 and to 1 in 6 in Hispanic children between the ages of 2 and 5.

Children that are obese at a young age are more likely to be obese as adolescence. Children that reach adolescence have a higher probability of obesity-associated illnesses such as high cholesterol, high blood sugar, asthma and mental health problems.

Although the rates declined in 19 of the 43 states and territories, more work needs to be done to continue this downhill trend. Three of the 43 states and territories had a slight increase in obesity and 21 faced no changes. Utah, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Maine were not included in the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System.

There are many things that can be done to promote health, starting with a healthy breakfast at home, participating in outdoor activities, and shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious food through programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and partnering with community members to promote healthy eating and lifestyles are some ways to get children healthy and continue the declining obesity trend.

Even reading to a young child will promote healthier food options. A recent study that came out showed children, ages 4 to 5, who for three months listened to five stories emphasizing key concepts about food and nutrition during snack time, voluntarily consumed more vegetables than students who followed a typical snack time.