Friday, December 31, 2010

Researchers Crack the Cocoa Code

A team of international researchers has successfully sequenced the DNA of the Criollo variety of Theobroma cacao. The team's work identified a variety of gene families that may help improve cacao trees and fruit by enhancing their attributes or providing protection from fungal diseases and insects that affect cacao trees. As such, the sequencing and assembly of the chocolate tree genome will benefit the farmers who grow it, as well as the producers of high-quality chocolate.

"Our analysis of the Criollo genome has uncovered the genetic basis of pathways leading to the most important quality traits of chocolate—oil, flavonoid and terpene biosynthesis," said Siela Maximova, associate professor of horticulture, Penn State, and a member of the research team. "It has also led to the discovery of hundreds of genes potentially involved in pathogen resistance, all of which can be used to accelerate the development of elite varieties of cacao in the future."

The researchers identified two types of disease resistance genes in the Criollo genome. They compared these to previously identified regions on the chromosomes that correlate with disease resistance—QTLs—and found that there was a correlation between many the resistance genes' QTL locations. The team suggests that a functional genomics approach, one that looks at what the genes do, is needed to confirm potential disease resistant genes in the Criollo genome.

Hidden in the genome the researchers also found genes that code for the production of cocoa butter. Most cocoa beans are already about 50 percent fat, but these 84 genes control not only the amount but also quality of the cocoa butter.

Other genes were found that influence the production of flavonoids, natural antioxidants and terpenoids, hormones, pigments and aromas. Altering the genes for these chemicals might produce chocolate that is healthier, and has better flavors and aromas.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fried Fish Increases Stroke Risk

Individuals who eat fried fish dramatically increase their risk of stroke, according to a new study published online in the journal Neurology. The findings also concluded people living in the "Stroke Belt" states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee are 10 times more likely to have a stroke
The study, part of the long-running REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) trial, surveyed 21,675 people over the age of 45 between January 2003 and October 2007 and found that residents of these states are 30 percent more likely to eat two or more servings of fried fish each week.Fewer than one in four participants consumed two or more servings of non-fried fish per week; people in the stroke buckle were 17 percent less likely to meet the recommendations than those in the rest of the country
The study found that blacks were more than 3.5 times more likely to eat fried fish per week than Caucasian, with an overall average of about one serving per week of fried fish for blacks compared to half of a serving for Caucasians
"These differences in fish consumption may be one of the potential reasons for the racial and geographic differences in stroke incidence and mortality," said the researchers
Studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, especially fatty fish, may reduce the risk of stroke, but other research has shown that frying food reduces the amount of these fats and replaces them with artery-clogging saturated fats.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

‘Starvation Hormone’ Levels May Predict Disease Risk

Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered how the “starvation hormone" adiponectin works, which ultimately could lead to new treatments for a conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Researchers used models of inducible cell suicide in both pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin, and cardiomyocytes, which are specific muscle cells located in a part of the heart known as the myocardium, to determine how the single hormone could exert different influences.

“Until now, there wasn’t really an obvious connection between all these different phenomena," said senior author Dr. Philipp Scherer. “This paper shows that the common theme among all these different activities relies on adiponectin’s interaction with a specific subset of lipids known as ceramides."

Ceramides are known to promote cell suicide, or apoptosis. High levels of ceramides have been shown to promote diabetes by sabotaging signaling pathways induced by insulin and killing beta cells. When the researchers introduced adiponectin into cells, they found that the hormone triggers the conversion of ceramides from a destructive force into one that helps cells survive and inhibits cell death.

Adiponectin controls sensitivity to insulin and is known to play an integral role in metabolism and obesity. Prior research has shown that when adiponectin levels are high, the body stores excess fat in adipocytes, or fat cells, to protect against possible starvation during lean times. These fat deposits lie primarily in the subcutaneous tissue.

However, adiponectin levels decline as a person accumulates more fat. Once adiponectin levels start dropping, the body begins storing fat in dangerous places such as the heart, liver and muscle tissues where it can cause inflammation and pave the way for heart disease. Researchers think adiponectin levels could be a good predictor of whether someone is at risk of developing diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oranges Pack Powerful Antioxidant Punch

New research from Brigham Young University suggest eating oranges or drinking orange juice is the best way to squeeze all the antioxidants and nutrients from the tasty fruit. The best health-promoting combinations of those natural antioxidants were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Food Science.

“There’s something about an orange that’s better than taking a vitamin C capsule, and that’s really what we’re trying to figure out," said Tory Parker, BYU assistant professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science. “We think it’s the particular mixture of antioxidants in an orange that makes it so good for you."

Parker said every time we eat carbohydrates and fat, we increase the amount of free radicals in our blood. Over time, that increases our chance for hardened arteries and heart disease; however, eating fruit protects us from that effect for a few hours after every meal.

The team tested dozens of combinations of the antioxidants found in an orange at the same proportions they occur naturally. They identified several combinations of antioxidants that were the most synergistic—the compounds hesperidin and naringenin, in particular, appeared to contribute the most punch in the combinations.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Almonds Benefit Diabetics’ Heart, Glucose Health

Almonds may help pre-diabetics improve insulin sensitivity and decrease LDL-cholesterol, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

The study examined the effects of consuming an almond-enriched diet on factors linked to the progression of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults with pre-diabetes. After 16 weeks of consuming either an almond-enriched or regular diet, both in accordance with American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommendations, the group that consumed an almond-enriched diet showed significantly improved LDL-cholesterol levels and measures of insulin sensitivity, risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The almond-enriched intervention group exhibited greater reductions in insulin, homeostasis model analysis for insulin resistance, and homeostasis model analysis for beta-cell function compared with the nut-free control group. Clinically significant declines in LDL were found in the almond-enriched intervention group as compared with the nut-free control group. No changes were observed in body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure or for the other measured cardiovascular risk factors.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Healthy Lifestyle Boosts Eye Health

Women who exercise and consume a healthy diet are significantly less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), one of the most common causes of vision loss in the elderly, according to a new study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison reviewed data from the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an ancillary study of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study. Data was included for 1,313 participants, ages 55 to 74; the women provided information on physical activity and lifetime smoking history, and were assigned a score on a modified 2005 Healthy Eating Index (HEI) based on responses to a food frequency questionnaire administered at baseline of the WHI study. The HEI is a measure of diet quality that assesses the nutrient adequacy of the diet based on the five major food groups of the original Food Pyramid, aspects of the diet that should be limited, and a measure of variety in food choices.

Six years later, researchers took stereoscopic fundus photographs to assess the presence and severity of AMD. A total of 202 women had AMD, 94 percent of whom had early AMD, the primary outcome. In multivariate models, women whose diets were in the highest quintile compared to the lowest quintile on the HEI were 46 percent less likely to have early AMD. Further, women in the highest quintile compared to the lowest quintile for physical activity had 54 percent lower odds for early AMD. Finally, while smoking was not independently associated with AMD, having a combination of the three healthy behaviors—not smoking, consuming a healthy diet and getting physical activity—was associated with 71 percent lower odds for AMD compared to women with high-risk scores.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cocoa Silences Persistent Cough

A naturally occurring chemical ingredient in cocoa and chocolate could be converted into an opioid-free medicine for persistent cough. The breakthrough drug containing theobromine is entering the final stages of human clinical trials for the treatment of persistent cough, researchers announced Dec. 20.

The drug is being jointly developed by SEEK, a UK privately-owned drug-discovery group, and could be on the market within two years. Human trial research in Korea has shown that theobromine has none of the side effects associated with standard drug treatments for persistent cough
Theobromine has been shown to inhibit the inappropriate firing of the vagus nerve, which is a key feature of persistent cough. This peripheral mechanism of action differentiates theobromine from codeine and other centrally acting agents, and lessens its lower central nervous system side effects. Theobromine has been used as a vasodilator, a diuretic and heart stimulant. It is found in significant quantities in cocoa-based products, including chocolate, and is a metabolite of caffeine.

Following consultation with a European Medicines Agency (EMA), the single Phase III trial of theobromine (BC1036) is expected to begin in the United Kingdom in the first half of 2011. The drug has the potential to be on the market in Europe within two years from trial commencement, subject to receiving final marketing authorization.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

Wishing one and all Seasons Greetings and a prosperous New Year

Outsmart The Coffee Giants

With raw coffee prices up 41 percent since June and the restaurant industry’s biggest players eagerly snapping up market share, how can your coffee program compete? We’ve got a way that’s a lot less touchy-feely than it sounds: bird-friendly coffee.

Pre-BP oil spill, few people cared if a restaurant served bird-friendly coffee, or even knew such a thing existed. Post-BP oil spill, millions of people are newly aware that birds need help and that drinking bird-friendly coffee aids the cause. One byproduct of this: Operators who serve coffee bearing the imprimatur of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center have an instant point of differentiation in their battle against the coffee giants. What are you waiting for?

Coffee programs at most full-service operators struggle with visibility. They tend to be anonymous, lost between big national and regional coffee house chains on the high end and ubiquitous fast food feeders on the low. It’s a vast, lucrative market that’s hotly competitive. Forget Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts; now that Burger King has hooked up with Seattle’s Best and McDonald’s is serving Green Mountain-supplied Newman’s Own Organics coffee in thousands of its units, what’s a non-aligned restaurant operator to do?

How about tapping into a growing niche? Gruesome as the ecological damage caused by the BP oil spill has been, it has inadvertently given restaurant operators a simple way to differentiate their coffee program from competitors.

How? Your potential coffee customers have already seen too many heart-rending images of oil-soaked pelicans. Wait until they get a load of what’s going to happen as migratory birds come down the flyways later this year to overwinter in bespoiled wetlands. With BP’s Macondo well finally sealed, wildlife remediation has become the new focus of the clean-up effort.

So why not play the bird-friendly coffee angle? The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which has positioned itself as a third-part certifier of bird-friendly coffee growing practices, describes the end product this way:

“Simply put, "Bird Friendly®" coffee is coffee that comes from farms in Latin America that provide good, forest-like habitat for birds. Rather

than being grown on land that has been cleared of all other vegetation, "Bird Friendly®" coffees are planted under a canopy of trees.

“Because of the shaded, forest-like setting created by these canopy trees, coffee produced this way is called shade-grown. Not only are "Bird Friendly®" coffees shade-grown, they are also organic, meaning they're grown without the use of chemical pesticides which poison the environment.”

Who sells this stuff? Not the Smithsonian itself. But if you’re interested, check out the Organic Coffee Collaboration. Caffe Ibis, Elan Organic Coffees and Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters are three names to start with there. In all 44 roasters worldwide carry Bird Friendly coffee imported by 15 companies. Peru, Guatemala and Mexico account for 77 percent of all production. The U.S. consumes 61 percent of it, Japan 36 percent and Canada three percent.

Note that you might have to look outside the usual foodservice distribution channels to find some of this product. Quality, because the product is carefully handled and comes from premier coffee growing areas, tends to be high. But you’ll have to conduct your own taste tests to make sure your restaurant’s coffee taste standards will be met.

Who would give their coffee drinking business to restaurants that serve certified Bird Friendly coffee? Right off the bat, you’d get the eco-friendly crowd and the sustainability advocates. Then you’d also have appeal to the save-the-wildlife folks whose numbers, as we pointed out above, have swelled dramatically as of late. And you might even get duck hunters, whose prey are genetically programmed to return to the oil-laden marshes of Louisiana.

The key here is that these coffees have an unbeatable, recognizable co-brand: the Smithsonian. Some operators are going to figure this angle out and invigorate their coffee programs overnight. Since one object of the restaurant business is to offer something the other guy doesn’t, why not you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Healthy Diet Linked to Longevity in Older Adults

Older adults who eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, poultry and fish lower their risk of dying over 10 years, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The study compared the diets of 2,500 U.S. adults aged 70 to 79 who were divided into six different groups according to how often they ate certain foods—healthy foods; high-fat dairy products; meat, fried foods and alcohol; breakfast cereal; refined grains; and sweets and desserts.

The "healthy foods" cluster was characterized by relatively higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat. The "high fat dairy products" cluster had higher intake of foods such as ice cream, cheese, and 2% and whole milk and yogurt, and lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice and pasta.

The study evaluated participants' quality of life and nutritional status, through detailed biochemical measures, according to their dietary patterns. After controlling for gender, age, race, clinical site, education, physical activity, smoking, and total calorie intake, the "high-fat dairy products" cluster had a 40-percent higher risk of mortality than the "healthy foods" cluster. The "sweets and desserts" cluster had a 37-percnet higher risk. No significant differences in risk of mortality were seen between the "healthy foods" cluster and the "breakfast cereal" or "refined grains" clusters.

“The results of this study suggest that older adults who follow a dietary pattern consistent with current guidelines to consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have a lower risk of mortality," said lead author Amy L. Anderson, Ph.D., Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland. “Because a substantial percentage of older adults in this study followed the 'healthy foods' dietary pattern, adherence to such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population."


* American Dietetic Association: Eating Healthier Means Living Longer

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whole-Fat Dairy Products May Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk: Study

New research suggests that whole-fat dairy products -- generally shunned by health experts -- contain a fatty acid that may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The fatty acid is called trans-palmitoleic acid, according to the study in the Dec. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, and people with the highest blood levels of this fatty acid reduce their odds of diabetes by 62 percent compared to those with the lowest blood levels of it.

In addition, "people who had higher levels of this fatty acid had better cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lower insulin resistance and lower levels of inflammatory markers," said study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, co-director of the program in cardiovascular epidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health.

Circulating palmitoleic acid is found naturally in the human body. It's also found in small quantities in dairy foods. When it's found in sources outside the human body, it's referred to as trans-palmitoleic acid. Whole milk has more trans-palmitoleic acid than 2 percent milk, and 2 percent milk has more of this fatty acid than does skim milk.

"The amount of trans-palmitoleic acid is proportional to the amount of dairy fat," said Mozaffarian.

Animal studies of the naturally occurring palmitoleic acid have previously shown that it can protect against insulin resistance and diabetes, said Mozaffarian. In humans, research has suggested that greater dairy consumption is associated with a lower diabetes risk. However, the reason for this association hasn't been clear.

To assess whether this overlooked and relatively rare fatty acid might contribute to dairy's apparent protective effect, the researchers reviewed data from over 3,700 adults enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study.

All of the participants were over 65 and lived in one of four states: California, Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Blood samples were analyzed for the presence of trans-palmitoleic acid, as well as cholesterol, triglycerides, C-reactive protein and glucose levels. Participants also provided information on their usual diets.

People with higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid had slightly less fat on their bodies, according to the study. They also had higher "good" cholesterol levels and lower overall cholesterol levels. They had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. And they showed evidence of lower levels of insulin resistance, according to the study.

Most significantly, however, those with higher trans-palmitoleic acid levels had lower odds of developing type 2 diabetes. Those with the highest levels of trans-palmitoleic acid reduced their odds of type 2 diabetes by nearly two-thirds.

Mozaffarian said it's difficult to know exactly how many servings of dairy it would take to get to the highest levels of trans-palmitoleic acid, but said it was likely three to five servings a day, depending on the type of dairy consumed.

However, he said, it's too soon to make any dietary recommendations based on the results of just this finding.

"This study confirms that something about dairy is linked very strongly to a lower risk of diabetes, but no single study should be enough to change guidelines," he said, adding that he hopes this study will spur more research.

Dr. Sue Kirkman, senior vice president of medical affairs and community information for the American Diabetes Association, agreed that it's too soon to change dietary guidelines, but said the findings do suggest "that things may be more complicated than we might simplistically think. It looks like we can't say all trans-fats are bad, as this one was associated with decreases in diabetes, insulin resistance and C-reactive protein levels."

Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, concurred, noting, "this was a very nice, and very robust, association. Maybe whole milk isn't so bad, but I don't think there's enough evidence to show that we should start drinking whole milk. We need to understand the mechanism behind this association. Dietary changes in this country tend to be to extremes, but this study should not be used to make changes in the diet; it's just an observation right now."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Caffeine Negatively Affects Children’s Sleep

New research published in the Journal of Pediatrics found 75 percent of survey respondents reported their children consume caffeine on a daily basis and it may negatively impact the sleep of some children.

Researchers at University of Nebraska Medical Center surveyed parents of more than 200 children between ages 5 and 12 during routine clinical visits at a UNMC pediatric clinic. The parents were asked to report the types and amounts of snacks and beverages their child consumed on a daily basis.

“Some children as young as 5 years old were consuming the equivalent of a can of soda a day," they said. “Many children between the ages of 8 and 12 years consumed an average of about three 12-ounce cans of soda per day."

Researchers also found that caffeine was not linked to bedwetting in these children. “Even though caffeine is a diuretic, we didn’t find a statistically significant link between caffeine consumption and bedwetting," they said. “Given the preliminary nature of these data, until they are replicated, I will maintain my recommendation that children who wet the bed should curtail, if not abstain from caffeinated beverages, especially as bedtime approaches."

The concluded parents need to be more careful in monitoring what their children eat and drink. “Children don’t need to be drinking caffeine. If a child is having sleep difficulties, it becomes even more important for parents to be aware of caffeine intake," they said.


* University of Nebraska Medical Center: UNMC study shows 75 percent of children surveyed consume caffeine on a daily basis

Monday, December 20, 2010

1 in 10 Americans Go To Bed Hungry

One out of every 10 Americans has gone to bed hungry at least once this past year, and one in four Americans has been forced to make choose between buying food and paying their bills in the last year, according to sobering results of the 2010 Hormel Hunger survey.

The percentage who said they are very concerned about the number of Americans who do not have enough to eat rose to 46 percent from 38 percent one year ago. Approximately 65 percent donated to a food charity, and 61 percent of those surveyed do not think the hunger problem in the United States will be solved in the next 20 years.

"It is a tragedy that people around the world and in our country still suffer from hunger," said Julie H. Craven, vice president of corporate communications at Hormel Foods. "We hope this survey provides facts about hunger and makes clear that it is still a problem both in the United States and abroad."

According to the findings of the fifth annual study on hunger, 52 percent of Americans said their ability to pay their bills has not changed in the past year; however, five times as many Americans say it has become more difficult to pay bills (38 percent) than said it has become easier (8 percent) compared to a year ago.

A majority of Americans said large grocery stores with more fresh food options would benefit areas that only have small stores with limited choices. More fresh food options would help reduce malnutrition, hunger, obesity and healthcare costs while increasing life expectancy and school test scores.

According to USDA, 2.3 million Americans live more than a mile from a supermarket that offers many food choices and do not have access to a vehicle to get there.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The global market for organic food & drink expanded by 5% in 2009

The global market for organic food & drink is recovering from the financial crisis. After several years of double-digit growth, the market expanded by just 5 percent in 2009. Healthy growth rates are resuming as 'mainstreaming' of organic products continues. A major driver of market growth in all geographic regions is increasing distribution in mainstream retailers.

The European market for organic food & drink has been most affected by the financial crisis. Declining consumer spending power and rationalisation of organic product ranges in food retailers caused the UK market to contract in 2009. The German market, the largest in Europe, showed no growth. In contrast, the organic products market in some countries - including France and Sweden - showed resilience, expanding by over 15 percent.

Healthy growth is continuing in the North American market, which has overtaken the European market to become the world's largest this year. Supply continues to fall short in many organic product categories, leading to imports from various countries. Latin America has become a major source of organic fruits, vegetables, meats, seeds, nuts and ingredients.

The fresh produce category comprises most organic food & drink sales. Fruit & vegetables like apples, oranges, carrots and potatoes are typical entry points for consumers buying organic products. Their fresh nature appeals to consumers seeking healthy & nutritious foods. Dairy products and beverages are the next most important organic product categories.

The 3rd edition of this Global Organic Food & Drink market report gives a detailed analysis of the organic products market in each geographic region. Regional reports contain market size, revenue forecasts, market drivers & restraints, regulations & standards, category analysis, sales channels breakdown, consumer behaviour, competitive analysis, retailer profiles and business opportunities.

The report has been prepared by continuously researching the global organic food industry for almost 10 years. Expert analysis and insights are given to make key business decisions and marketing plans. Future growth projections are given in terms of organic food production, market growth rates, and industry developments. The business opportunities in each geographic region are highlighted for new entrants and exporters.

Research News: The Future of Organic Products: Brands or Retailer Private Labels?
Organic Companies Taking Sustainability Route

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Studies Support 3 Glasses of Milk Daily

Individuals who drink three glasses of milk a day decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease by 18 percent, according to new research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers at Wageningen University and Harvard University examined 17 studies from the United States, Europe and Japan and found no link between the consumption of regular or low fat dairy and any increased risk of heart disease, stroke or total mortality.

“Milk and dairy are the most nutritious and healthy foods available and loaded with naturally occurring nutrients, such as calcium, potassium and protein, to name a few," said Cindy Schweitzer, technical director of the Global Dairy Platform. “It’s about going back to the basics; maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn`t have to be a scientific equation."

Schweitzer said during the past three decades as research sought to understand influencers of cardiovascular disease, simplified dietary advice including consuming only low fat dairy products emerged. However, in 2010 alone, a significant amount of new research was published from all over the world, supporting the health benefits of dairy.

From dispelling the myth that dairy causes heart disease, to revealing dairy's weight loss-benefits, the following is a roundup of select dairy research conducted in 2010:

U.S. researchers examined 21 studies that included data from nearly 350,000 and concluded that dietary intakes of saturated fats are not associated with increases in the risk of either coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined 23,366 Swedish men and revealed that intakes of calcium above the recommended daily levels may reduce the risk of mortality from heart disease and cancer by 25 percent.

An Australian study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that overall intake of dairy products was not associated with mortality. The 16-year prospective study of 1,529 Australian adults found that people who ate the most full-fat dairy had a 69-percent lower risk of cardiovascular death than those who ate the least.

A Danish study published in Physiology & Behavior concluded that an inadequate calcium intake during an energy restricted weight-loss program may trigger hunger and impair compliance to the diet.

An Israeli study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a higher dairy calcium intake is related to greater diet-induced weight loss. The study sampled more than 300 overweight men and women during two years and found those with the highest dairy calcium intake lost 38-percent more weight than those with the lowest dairy calcium intake.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Future of Caffeinated Alcohol Drinks

Caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) have been growing in popularity for a number of years, especially among college students and young adults. However, reports of risky behavior, alcohol poisoning and deaths in the past year have generated a buzzing debate among state lawmakers and college administrators about the safety and legality of the products.

Experts have raised concerns that caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication. FDA said peer-reviewed studies suggest that the consumption of beverages containing added caffeine and alcohol is associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations. In fact, a study published Nov. 30 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggested substantial increase in the consumption of CABs among young adults has emerged as a public health problem.

The study was released just weeks after FDA warned four companies that the caffeinated alcoholic energy drinks they produce are unsafe and illegal, and could not remain in the marketplace in their current form. Specifically, FDA said the caffeine added to the malt alcoholic beverages is an “unsafe food additive," and the products were being marketed in violation of the FD&C Act. FDA noted that it is unaware of the basis upon which manufacturers may have concluded that the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages is GRAS or prior sanctioned. FDA has only listed caffeine as GRAS as an ingredient for use in cola-type beverages in concentrations of no greater than 200 ppm. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers’ Association has determined that caffeine is GRAS as a flavor ingredient in several food categories.

FDA sent warning letters to Charge Beverages Corp., Lake Oswego, OR; New Century Brewing Co. LLC, Boston; Phusion Projects LLC dba Drink Four Brewing Co., Chicago; and United Brands Company Inc., La Mesa, CA.

The scrutiny of such beverages is not new. In 2008, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors LLC, reformulated caffeinated alcoholic beverages under pressure from several states and regulatory bodies. However, smaller companies, like the manufacturers of Four Loko and Joose, managed to remain unnoticed. In 2009, 19 U.S. state attorneys general prompted FDA to send letters to nearly 30 manufacturers responsible for more than 40 alcoholic energy drinks asking them to prove their products are safe.

In July 2010, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer requested a full FTC review of the marketing of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to determine whether enforcement actions are warranted, and to ensure sufficient investigative and enforcement resources are focused on curbing alcohol marketing to underage consumers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

EPA Drops Saccharin from Naughty List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed the artificial sweetener saccharin and its salts from its list of hazardous substances, the agency announced Dec. 14.

EPA amended its regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to remove saccharin and its salts from the lists of hazardous constituents and commercial chemical products which are hazardous wastes when discarded or intended to be discarded. EPA also amended the regulations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to remove saccharin and its salts from the list of hazardous substances.

In response to a petition submitted to EPA by the Calorie Control Council (CCC) to remove saccharin and its salts from RCRA and CERCLA, EPA will no longer list these substances as hazardous on the above mentioned lists.

EPA granted CCC’s petition based on a review of the evaluations conducted by key public health agencies concerning the carcinogenic and other potential toxicological effects of saccharin and its salts. The agency also assessed the waste generation and management information for saccharin and its salts, concluding that the wastes do not meet the criteria for hazardous waste regulations.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kids Not So Stuck on Sugary Breakfast Cereals, Study Finds

Getting kids to happily eat nutritious, low-sugar breakfast cereals may be child's play, researchers report.

A new study finds that children will gladly chow down on low-sugar cereals if they're given a selection of choices at breakfast, and many compensate for any missing sweetness by opting for fruit instead.
Click here to find out more!

The 5-to-12-year-olds in the study still ate about the same amount of calories regardless of whether they were allowed to choose from cereals high in sugar or a low-sugar selection. However, the kids weren't inherently opposed to healthier cereals, the researchers found.

"Don't be scared that your child is going to refuse to eat breakfast. The kids will eat it," said study co-author Marlene B. Schwartz, deputy director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Nutritionists have long frowned on sugary breakfast cereals that are heavily marketed by cereal makers and gobbled up by kids. In 2008, Consumer Reports analyzed cereals marketed to kids and found that each serving of 11 leading brands had about as much sugar as a glazed donut. The magazine also reported that two cereals were more than half sugar by weight and nine others were at least 40 percent sugar.

This week, food giant General Mills announced that it is reducing the sugar levels in its cereals geared toward children, although they'll still have much more sugar than many adult cereals.

In the meantime, many parents believe that if cereals aren't loaded with sweetness, kids won't eat them.

But is that true? In the new study, researchers offered different breakfast cereal choices to 91 urban children who took part in a summer day camp program in New England. Most were from minorities families and about 60 percent were Spanish-speaking.

Of the kids, 46 were allowed to choose from one of three high-sugar cereals: Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Pebbles, which all have 11-12 grams of sugar per serving. The other 45 chose from three cereals that were lower in sugar: Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Kellogg's Corn Flakes. They all have 1-4 grams of sugar per serving.

All the kids were also able to choose from low-fat milk, orange juice, bananas, strawberries
and extra sugar.

The study findings appear in the January issue of Pediatrics.

Taste did matter to kids, but when given a choice between the three low-sugar cereals, 90 percent "found a cereal that they liked or loved," the authors report.

In fact, "the children were perfectly happy in both groups," Schwartz said. "It wasn't like those in the low-sugar group said they liked the cereal less than the other ones."

The kids in both groups also took in about the same amount of calories at breakfast. But the children in the high-sugar group filled up on more cereal and consumed almost twice as much refined sugar as did the others. They also drank less orange juice and ate less fruit.

Len Marquart, an associate professor of food science and nutrition at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, said the study findings "confirm for people that their choices in the cereal aisle do make a difference."

"The biggest challenges are taste and marketing. In the morning, kids are sleepy and cranky, and it's hard to get them to sit down and eat breakfast," he said. "The sugar cereals marketed with flash and color and cartoon characters help get kids to the kitchen table when nothing else seems to work. And, we have to be realistic, they do like the taste of presweetened cereals."

But one solution is to be creative, he said. "Take Cheerios and put some strawberries
and vanilla yogurt on top, and that's going to taste better than any presweetened cereal anyway," Marquart said.

More information

There's more on children's nutrition at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coffee Jumps Most in Three Weeks as Excessive Rains Damage Colombia Crops

Arabica-coffee futures jumped the most in three weeks as excessive rain hurt crops in Colombia, the second-largest grower.

Flooding has threatened crops, damaged roads and delayed agriculture shipments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service said on Dec. 10. The unusually heavy rain from a La Nina weather pattern is forecast to last until the first quarter of 2011, the agency said. Prices have surged 60 percent this year, heading for the biggest annual gain since 1994.

“Fundamentals are very supportive,” said Tom Mikulski, a senior market-strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago. “Technically, coffee looks strong, so it’s a green signal for coffee to rise.”

Arabica coffee for March delivery added 7.95 cents, or 3.8 percent, to settle at $2.1755 a pound at 2 p.m. on ICE Futures U.S. in New York, the biggest gain since Nov. 18. Earlier, the commodity climbed to $2.1795, the highest since Nov. 10.

A shortage of high-quality arabica coffee has led to “precariousness of the supply/demand balance,” the International Coffee Organization said in a report on Dec. 10.

A La Nina weather event is caused by cooling equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean. Brazil is the biggest producer of arabica beans.

In London, robusta-coffee futures for March delivery added $26, or 1.4 percent, to $1,934 a metric ton on NYSE Liffe.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beet Juice Benefits Brain Health in Elderly

Older adults who drink a glass of beet juice every day may help slow the progression of dementia because the nitrate-rich beverage has been shown to increase blood flow in the brain, according to a new study published online in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry.

According to researchers at Wake Forest University, high concentrations of nitrates are found in beets, as well as in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach and some lettuce. When you eat high-nitrate foods, good bacteria in the mouth turn nitrate into nitrite. Research has found that nitrites can help open up the blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen specifically to places that are lacking oxygen.

“There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain," said Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest’s Translational Science Center; Fostering Independence in Aging. “There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that’s believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition."

Translational Science Center researchers investigated how dietary nitrates affected 14 adults age 70 and older over a period of four days. On the first day, participants reported to the lab after a 10-hour fast, completed a health status report, and consumed either a high- or low-nitrate breakfast. The high-nitrate breakfast included 16 ounces of beet juice. They were sent home with lunch, dinner and snacks conforming to their assigned diets. The next day, following another 10-hour fast, participants returned to the lab, where they ate their assigned breakfasts. One hour after breakfast, an MRI recorded the blood flow in each subject’s brain. Blood tests before and after breakfast confirmed nitrite levels in the body. For the third and fourth days of the study, the researchers switched the diets and repeated the process for each subject.

MRIs revealed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes—areas of the brain commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive conditions.

“I think these results are consistent and encouraging – that good diet consisting of a lot of fruits and vegetables can contribute to overall good health," said Gary Miller, associate professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and one of the senior investigators on the project.


* Wake Forest University: Benefits of beet juice

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Low Glucose Levels Linked to Aggression

Researchers at Ohio State University say they have discovered a connection between glucose, diabetes and aggression. Their findings suggest a boost in glucose levels may help dampen a hot temper, especially in individuals who have difficulty metabolizing glucose.

The researchers conducted several studies showing that people who have trouble metabolizing glucose in their bodies show more evidence of aggression and less willingness to forgive others.

One study, published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, found that people who drank a glass of lemonade sweetened with sugar acted less aggressively toward a stranger a few minutes later than did people who consumed lemonade with a sugar substitute.

In the study, 62 college students fasted for three hours to reduce glucose instability. They were told they were going to participate in a taste-test study, and then have their reaction times evaluated in a computerized test against an opponent. Half of the participants were given lemonade sweetened with sugar, while the others were given lemonade with a sugar substitute. After waiting eight minutes to allow the glucose to be absorbed in their bloodstream, the participants took part in the reaction test.

Participants were told they and an unseen partner would press a button as fast as possible in 25 trials, and whoever was slower would receive a blast of white noise through their headphones. At the beginning of each trial, participants set the level of noise their partner would receive if they were slower. The noise was rated on a scale of 1 to 10—from 60 decibels to 105 decibels. In actuality, each participant won 12 of the 25 trials. Aggression was measured by the noise intensity participants chose on the first trial—before they were provoked by their partner.

Participants who drank the lemonade sweetened with sugar behaved less aggressively than those who drank lemonade with a sugar substitute. Those who drank the sugar-sweetened beverage chose a noise level averaging 4.8 out of 10, while those with the sugar substitute averaged 6.06.

“Avoiding aggressive impulses takes self control, and self control takes a lot of energy. Glucose provides that energy in the brain," said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study. “Drinking sweetened lemonade helped provide the short-term energy needed to avoid lashing out at others."

The findings are especially interesting for diabetics who have trouble metabolizing glucose. “Diabetes may not only harm yourself—it is bad for society," he said. “The healthy metabolism of glucose may contribute to a more peaceful society by providing people with a higher level of energy for self-control."

In two other studies in the same paper, the researchers showed how problems metabolizing glucose may translate to problems on a societal level. Using 2001 data, the researchers found that the diabetes rates for each of the 50 states were linked to violent crime rates. Those states with higher diabetes rates had higher rates of murder, assault, rape and robbery, even after controlling for poverty rates in each state.

“This suggests that diabetes did not predict violent crime simply because poverty contributes to both diabetes and violent crime," he said. “There is a real correlation between diabetes and violence."

In a separate paper, the researchers tested whether another medical problem related to glucose metabolism was linked to violence worldwide.

They examined the prevalence, in the populations of 122 countries around the world, of a deficiency in an enzyme called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. This enzyme is related to glucose metabolism. It is the most common enzyme deficiency in the world, afflicting more than 400 million people. Countries with higher levels of the disorder also had more violent killings, even outside of war.



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paper Money Contaminated by More Than BPA

It appears that water bottles and food cans are not the only places you can find the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA). A new study warns that paper money may be contaminated with the substance as well. But the money in your wallet may be harboring more than BPA.
Dollar bills can carry BPA, cocaine, and bacteria

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, which released its report “On the Money: BPA on Dollar Bills and Receipts,” warns that its investigators found BPA on 95 percent of the paper money it tested; that is, 21 of 22 samples. One source of BPA on money is the thermal receipts that are often handed to consumers with their change.

Although about half of the thermal paper in the United States contains BPA, Appleton Paper, which makes much of the receipt paper, has switched from using BPA to bisphenol sulfonate (BPS), which is chemically closely related to BPA. The Safer Chemicals report notes that while BPS has not been studied as well as BPA, “in vitro studies indicate it may also disrupt hormones.” Other studies have indicated that BPA is associated with male fertility problems and male sexual function, asthma in children, and heart problems.

Accoding to Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and the lead author of the report, “Our findings demonstrate that BPA cannot be avoided, even by the most conscious consumer.”

Money can also be contaminated by bacteria. In a recent study reported in the Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), investigators with the newspaper collected paper money and coins from local businesses and had them tested at a lab at the University of Florida College of Medicine at Jacksonville.

Yvette McCarter, professor of pathology, reported that she found Bacillus and Corynebacterium species, both of which are commonly found on the skin and rarely a problem for humans; and Staphylococcus coagulase-negative, also commonly found on the skin, and which has a higher probability of causing a staph infection.

A previous experiment conducted in 2001 in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center examined 68 old, worn dollar bills from a grocery store and sporting event. The investigators found five bills with bacteria that can cause infections like flu in healthy people, 59 were contaminated with bacteria that can cause serious illnesses in people who have a weakened immune system, and four were fairly germ-free.

You may also be hiding illegal drugs in your wallet. A study presented in August 2009 at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting reported that up to 90 pecent of American paper money is contaminated with cocaine. The study’s authors noted that as much as 1,200 micrograms of coke (about the size of 50 grains of sand) was found on some bills, although most money had much less.

What can consumers do? Washing your hands after handling money is one suggestion. If you want to help ban the use of BPA, you can contact your elected officials about two bills that would ban some of the worst chemicals, study the risks of chemicals and promote better regulation in consumer products. The bills are US Senate’s Safe Chemicals Act (S 3209) and the House’s Toxic Chemicals Safety Act (H.R. 5820).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fast Food Chains Can Cut Calories, Maintain Profits

Fast food chains often are maligned as a major cause of obesity; however, they have a unique opportunity to help consumers reduce caloric intake while maintaining profits, according to a new study published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

Researchers at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and Duke University found consumers place a perceived value on combo meals, even if it costs the same as choosing items á la carte. The researchers also suggest consumers may be subscribing to the underlying belief that a combo meal is considered a representative or appropriate meal size for the “average" consumer; this belief coupled with human beings’ tendency to converge to the average could be amplifying this effect.

They also learned that combo meals encourage consumers to “super-size" their orders, adding as much as 100 extra calories to their meal. As healthcare leaders caution the public about problems associated with overweight and obesity issues in America, part of the message is that consumers need to reduce their food portion sizes.

The researchers recruited 215 adults over age 21 who indicated that they ate at a fast food restaurant at least once a month. Fifty-four percent were female with an average age of 41.8 years. They were selected from a demographically diverse sample of the U.S. population. When presented with bundled and á la carte options from fast food menus, the researchers saw significant increases in the proportion of people who bought both a drink and fries when a combo meal is offered. Consumers also tended to purchase smaller portion sizes when they bought á la carte. For example, a consumer may purchase a 12-ounce drink when buying a la carte, but a 21-ounce drink (approximately a 100 calorie difference) when the combo meal was purchased. The same effect occurred with fries.

When they looked at consumers who chose larger size drinks (either the 32-ouce or 44-ounce drink) or large fries from an á la carte only menu they found these consumers were also more likely to choose the featured bundle option. Although this resulted in a decrease in consumption, the net effect across the population was that overall soft drink and fry consumption increased.

The researchers also studied the impact of proposed policies on consumer and firm behavior. They found providing nutritional information and taxing certain menu items do not significantly curb consumers’ desire for fast food items.

They did offer up a proposal to will help consumers shrink their portions without shrinking restaurants’ profits.

This choice includes having restaurants introduce a smaller drink size into the combo meal. As part of an industrywide effort, profits would not be adversely impacted and average caloric consumption would go down by 7 percent, since this substitution greatly increases the purchase of the smaller drink size.

“Each fast food firm continues to one-up each other as greater and greater sizes are introduced into the market place," they wrote. “If the entire industry adopted size standards firms could compete more on price and quality, rather than quantity, ultimately benefitting the customer."


* University of Virginia Darden School of Business: Super-Size Me? No Thanks. Darden Researcher Shows Fast Food Chains Can Help Consumers Save on Calories without Losing Profits

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Healthy Eating Varies by Generation

Healthy eating varies by generation, with older adults eating more healthfully than your generations, which creates an opportunity for food and beverage marketers to communicate specific product benefits, according to a new market report from the NPD Group. The findings reveal four out of five adults have a diet whose quality needs improvement.

According to the report, “Healthy Eating Strategies by Generation", Generation X, Y and younger Boomers range in age from 21 to54 and have the least healthful diets. Older consumers, ages 54 and up, often have the greatest need to eat healthy due to underlying medical conditions.

The report did find that adult consumers, across generations, define healthy eating consistently and are aware of the top characteristics of healthy eating and of a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, eating balanced meals, eating in moderation, limiting/avoiding foods with saturated fat or cholesterol or trans fats, and drinking at least eight glasses of water per day.

The findings also indicate nutritional value of foods is important to many adults. In fact, nearly 85 million adults ranked nutritional value/healthful as No. 1 or No. 2 in importance as a need driver in deciding what to eat and drink; taste and price/value are in the top three for the three younger generations. For older consumers, freshness replaces price/value in ranked importance.

While many aspects of their diets could use improvement, overall, the largest deficiencies in adults' diets are insufficient intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and over consumption of total fats. Consumption of total fats is the most critical for those 54 and older.

“Educating consumers about proper health and nutrition need not be the primary goal for food manufacturers," said Dori Hickey, director of product development at NPD and author of the report. “Connecting the dots for consumers in terms of a product benefit to a fundamental characteristic of healthy eating is more the challenge."


* NPD Group: U.S. Adults Understand Principles of Healthful Eating but the Practice of Eating Healthy Varies by Generation, Reports NPD

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Almost 85 million adults ranked nutritional value/healthful as No. 1 or No. 2 in importance

U.S. adults, across all generations, understand the principles of healthy eating. While the majority of adults recognize the need to eat healthy, their translation into healthy eating behavior varies by generation, according to a new report by The NPD Group, a leading market research company. The NPD food industry market research report finds that the older generations eat more healthfully than the younger generations, but still four out of five adults (nearly 170 million people) have a diet whose quality needs improvement.

The NPD report entitled, Healthy Eating Strategies by Generation, which identifies the gaps between actual consumption behaviors and intentions, finds that younger generations, Generation X, Y, and younger Boomers, ages 21 to 54, have the least healthful diets. Older consumers, ages 54 and up, often have the greatest need to eat healthy due to underlying medical conditions, and are driven to do so.

What the generations appear to have in common, the report found, is a shared understanding of what constitutes healthy eating. Adult consumers, across generations, define healthy eating consistently and are aware of the top characteristics of healthy eating and of a healthy lifestyle: exercise regularly, eat well balanced meals, eat all things in moderation, limit/avoid foods with saturated fat or cholesterol or trans fats, and drink at least 8 glasses of water per day.

“Educating consumers about proper health and nutrition need not be the primary goal for food manufacturers,” said Dori Hickey, director of product development at NPD and author of Healthy Eating Strategies by Generation. “Connecting the dots for consumers in terms of a product benefit to a fundamental characteristic of healthy eating is more the challenge.”

The nutritional value of foods is also front and center with many adults, according to the report, which draws on NPD’s continual tracking of actual consumption behavior over the past three decades. Almost 85 million adults ranked nutritional value/healthful as #1 or #2 in importance as a need driver in deciding what to eat and drink; taste and price/value are in the top three for the three younger generations. For older consumers, freshness replaces price/value in ranked importance.

While many aspects of their diets could use improvement, overall, the largest deficiencies in adults’ diets are insufficient intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and over consumption of total fats. Consumption of total fats is the most critical for those 54 and older.

“It comes down to adult consumers needing help to improve the healthfulness of their diets,” says Hickey. “Knowing which consumer groups need the most help and understanding how to address consumers’ current and future needs and desires for healthy food is the opportunity for food and beverage marketers.”

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Salty diet does harm in heart failure

People who've experienced heart failure and eat a high-salt diet are more likely to end up in the hospital, a new study finds.

"High salt intake is particularly dangerous for heart failure patients, even for those who are doing well and are stable on their medications," author Dr. Gary E. Newton of Mount Sinai Hospital in Ontario told Reuters Health.

In the study, people who ate an average of 3.8 grams of sodium per day -- equivalent to nearly 2 teaspoons of salt, and more than twice the maximum recommended by the American Heart Association for healthy people -- were twice as likely to be hospitalized for heart failure within a 3-year window as people who ate fewer salty foods.

Health experts generally suggest that people limit their salt intake, but the scientific evidence to support that recommendation for people with heart failure is generally "scant," Newton said.

The American Heart Association, for one, recommends that healthy people eat less than 1.5 grams of sodium per day. However, on average, Americans consume nearly 3.5 grams per day.

Sodium is dangerous in heart failure because it causes water to be retained in the body, which is already a problem in people with heart failure, who have fluid buildup in their lungs, abdomen, and ankles, Mary Knudson, co-author of "Living Well with Heart Failure," told Reuters Health in an e-mail. As a result, patients often take diuretics, which rid the body of excess fluid and sodium, and are advised to limit their salt intake, Knudson noted.

To investigate what effect a saltier diet might have on heart failure, Newton and his team followed 123 people with stable heart failure, the final stage of cardiovascular disease marked by shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling.

A small percentage of people with heart failure die each year, Newton explained, but many take medication and live with the condition, at which point it becomes chronic. Indeed, approximately 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with heart failure.

Among people with heart failure who ate an average of 3.8 grams of salt per day, nearly half were hospitalized for heart failure over an approximately 3-year period. In contrast, only 12 to 15 percent of the people with lower-salt diets - between 1.4 and 2.4 grams per day on average -- ended up in the hospital during the same time span.

People who ate the highest amounts of salt were also three times more likely to die during the study period, the authors report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

It's difficult to establish that the excess salt is to blame, Newton said in an interview. For instance, people who ate more salt may have been less healthy overall, eschewing exercise and not getting enough sleep, perhaps. "We don't have proof that it was the salt that was putting them in the hospital."

However, given the effect of salt on the cardiovascular system, it makes sense for people with heart failure to watch their salt intake, Newton added. The current study isn't large enough to establish exactly how much salt is too much, so the safest bet is to limit salt as much as possible, he noted.

Thankfully, people don't need to eat only bland food to avoid salt, Newton noted, because it's not the salt shaker that people have to worry most about. Rather, the bulk of sodium in our diet comes from restaurants and processed foods, such as cold cuts and other processed meats, Newton said.

Rather than hiding the salt shaker -- which would be largely "ineffectual" -- people should check the labels of every food product they buy, Newton said, since salt can sneak in everywhere from vegetable drinks to bread. Cooking more at home, and avoiding cheap restaurants, is another good step, the researcher added.

He also encouraged researchers to perform similar studies to investigate the effects of salt in people with other chronic health problems. "Every disease state really needs its own set of recommendations."

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online November 17, 2010.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Magnesium Boosts Women’s Heart Health

Women who consume a diet high in magnesium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, beans and seeds, may reduce their risk of dying from sudden heart failure, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The findings suggest women who had the most magnesium in their diets were significantly less like to die from heart failure than those who ate the least, and the researchers also found each 0.25-mg/dL increment of magnesium blood concentration was associated with a 41-percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death.

Harvard researchers examined the association for magnesium intake in 88,375 women within the Nurses' Health Study who were free of disease in 1980. Information on magnesium intake, other nutrients and lifestyle factors was updated every two to four years through questionnaires. During the 26-year follow-up, 505 cases of sudden or arrhythmic death were documented. For plasma magnesium, a nested case-control analysis including 99 sudden cardiac death cases and 291 controls matched for age, ethnicity, smoking and presence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) was performed.

The relative risk of sudden cardiac death was significantly lower in women in the highest quartile compared with those in the lowest quartile of dietary (relative risk: 0.63; 95 percent CI: 0.44, 0.91) and plasma (relative risk: 0.23; 95 percent CI: 0.09, 0.60) magnesium, even after multivariable adjustment for confounders and potential intermediaries. The linear inverse relation with sudden cardiac death was strongest for plasma magnesium (P for trend = 0.003), in which each 0.25-mg/dL (1 SD) increment in plasma magnesium was associated with a 41-percent (95 percent CI: 15, 58 percent) lower risk of sudden cardiac death.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

2011 National Restaurant Trends

Local sourcing of ingredients, healthy children’s meals, sustainable seafood and gluten-free cuisine will be the hottest trends on restaurant menus in 2011, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot" survey of more than 1,500 professional chefs.

The association surveyed 1,527 American Culinary Federation member chefs in October 2010, asking them to rate 226 individual food/beverage items, preparation methods and culinary themes divided into categories as a “hot trend," “yesterday’s news" or “perennial favorite" on restaurant menus in 2011.

The top 10 menu trends for 2011 will be locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, sustainability as a culinary theme, nutritious kids’ dishes, hyper-local items, children’s nutrition as a culinary theme, sustainable seafood, gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items, back-to-basics cuisine and farm-branded ingredients.

Rounding out the top 20 hot menu trends are artisan liquor, locally-produced wine and beer, smaller portions for a smaller price, organic produce, nutrition as a culinary theme, culinary cocktails, newly fabricated cuts of meat, fruit/vegetable children’s side items, ethnic-inspired breakfast items and artisan cheese.

The survey also found 30 percent of the chefs said that mobile food trucks and pop-up restaurants will be the hottest operational trend in 2011; 18 percent said restaurants with gardens will be the top trend, and 17 percent said social media marketing.

Fifty-five percent of the chefs said they are currently using social media for professional purposes, and another 16 percent said they plan to start using such channels.

Micro-distilled spirits is the top item on the drinks menu, followed by locally produced beer and wine, culinary cocktails, food-beer pairings and beer dinners. Specialty iced tea top the nonalcoholic beverage category.

The chefs also were asked how chefs and restaurateurs can best promote health and nutrition. Twenty-one percent said create diet-conscious menu selections (including lower-sodium, -calorie and -fat items); 19 percent said increase fresh produce options on menus; and 17 percent said get involved in school nutrition/children's education efforts.


* National Restaurant Association: National Restaurant Association reveals hottest menu trends in 2011

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Acidification of the seas linked to climate change could threaten fishery production

Acidification of the seas linked to climate change could threaten fisheries production and is already causing the fastest shift in ocean chemistry in 65 million years, a U.N. study showed on Thursday.

Production of shellfish, such as mussels, shrimp or lobsters, could be most at risk since they will find it harder to build protective shells, according to the report issued on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Mexico.

It could also damage coral reefs, vital as nurseries for many commercial fish stocks.

"Ocean acidification is yet another red flag being raised, carrying planetary health warnings about the uncontrolled growth in greenhouse gas emissions," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

"Whether ocean acidification on its own proves to be a major or a minor challenge to the marine environment and its food chain remains to be seen," he said in a statement.

A UNEP booklet reviewing scientific findings about ocean acidification, caused by water soaking up greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, said that it adds to threats to food security that already include overfishing and pollution.

"It's the speed of change ... that is the cause of concern," said Carol Turley, of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme.


"We don't think it has been experienced by the marine environment for 65 million years," when the dinosaurs vanished, she said, presenting a booklet entitled "Environmental consequences of ocean acidification: a threat to food security."

About 25 percent of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, are absorbed by the seas, where it converts to carbonic acid. The pH value of the oceans, a scale from alkaline to acidic, has fallen 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution in a shift to acidity.

"We are speaking about a threat especially to the shellfish industry," said Joseph Alcamo, the chief scientist of UNEP. Aquaculture production ranges from French mussels to shrimp in Thailand.

It would also damage coral reefs, and fish that swim around reefs. About a billion people worldwide rely on fish as their main source of protein.

There was evidence that acidification had other effects, for instance impairing the sense of smell of bright-colored clown fish and making it harder for them to avoid predators.

And there were other puzzling findings. Some adult lobsters were apparently increasing shell-building even though juveniles were less able to build healthy skeletons.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Eating more seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to slow advanced macular degeneration in seniors

Dishing up fish and shellfish more often at meals could help some older adults protect their eyesight longer.

Eating more seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids — such as oysters, crabs and tuna — appears to slow advanced macular degeneration, a common cause of age-related blindness, according to new research published in this month's Ophthalmology.

The findings are consistent with previous research suggesting omega-3 supplements and omega-rich diets protect vision in some people, says study author Bonnielin Swenor of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"Our study shows a dietary effect, that people who had the highest weekly intake of fish and shellfish high in omega-3 fatty acids were significantly less likely to have advanced disease," Swenor says.

The observational study included 2,390 participants ages 65 to 84 on Maryland's Eastern Shore. They were asked to complete a questionnaire about diet habits in the previous year, including how much fish and shellfish they ate. Then they were evaluated for macular degeneration.

Although all of the participants averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish a week, 68 people who had advanced macular degeneration, including blood vessel problems and atrophy in the retina, were significantly less likely to consume high omega-3 fish and seafoods. That suggests a fish-rich diet helps vision, Swenor says. Another 153 had intermediate-stage disease and 227 had early stages, while 1,942 had no macular degeneration.

"It's an important piece of evidence in the omega-3 story," says Steven Schwartz, Ahmanson professor of ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. "It's biologically plausible that the protective effect is from the omega-3s, but it's important to keep in mind that there are potentially other factors at play — genetics, environment and unknowns."

"The fact that it's consistent with other published reports makes it more credible," Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary retina specialist Ivana Kim says. She cautions that the small percentage of people in the study with advanced disease (3%) may lead to false conclusions.

Nixing tobacco, controlling blood pressure, eating leafy green vegetables and nuts, and seeing a retina specialist if you've already been diagnosed with macular degeneration are other lifestyle recommendations Schwartz says he offers patients. He cautions against self-dosing with omega-3 supplements, though.

"We don't recommend patients go out on their own and supplement like crazy. Talk with your ophthalmologist and get a personalized plan," Schwartz says.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Probiotics may have limited benefits for certain illnesses in children

A leading medical group says there's some evidence that probiotics, or "good" bacteria, may have limited benefits for certain illnesses in children.

But the group says the science isn't yet strong enough to advocate infant formulas containing probiotics. And probiotics shouldn't be given to children who are seriously ill.

That's according to a new American Academy of Pediatrics report published Monday in the journal, Pediatrics.

About 500 different bacteria live naturally in a healthy human's intestinal tract, and there's a growing understanding of the role they play in health. For years, companies have been making claims that their probiotic pills, yogurts, milks and juices help digestive health and the immune system.

The new report summarizes findings from high-quality scientific studies on some of the active ingredients in the products. The report says probiotics taken early during diarrhea from a viral infection may shorten the illness in otherwise healthy children.

And probiotics also may prevent diarrhea in children who are taking antibiotics, which can sometimes cause the condition.

On the other hand, more evidence is needed before AAP can recommend probiotics for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease. And there's not enough evidence for recommending probiotics in pregnant women or infants to prevent eczema or asthma.

Future research may find more benefits, the report says. And "prebiotics," which contain fiber and other nutrients that feed probiotic bacteria, also may someday prove helpful.

One warning: Children with compromised immune systems or who use intravenous catheters should not receive probiotics because serious infections have been reported.

The bacteria in the products are only helpful if they're alive, which isn't always the case.

"Consumers should keep in mind that a large percentage of organisms in a probiotic supplement may die before the product is even purchased and labels can be misleading or incorrect," said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of, which tests products and reports on their quality.

The company tested probiotic supplements last year. Two children's probiotics contained only 7% and 21% of the listed amounts. Cooperman suggested that products be stored in sealed containers out of heat, light and humidity. He said it's best to refrigerate them.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Children who consistently eat lots of fruits and vegetables lower their risk of having stiff arteries

Children who consistently eat lots of fruits and vegetables lower their risk of having stiff arteries in young adulthood, according to research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Arterial stiffness is associated with atherosclerosis, which underlies heart disease. When arteries are stiff, the heart works harder to pump blood.

Researchers compared childhood and adulthood lifestyle factors -- including consumption levels of vegetables, fruit, butter and alcohol, as well as smoking and physical activity status -- with pulse wave velocity in young adulthood. Pulse wave velocity assesses arterial stiffness.

"When the heart beats, the blood's ejection causes a pulse wave, which travels along the wall of the arterial tree," said Mika Kahonen, M.D., Ph.D., senior study author and professor and chief physician for the Department of Clinical Physiology at Tampere University Hospital in Tampere, Finland. "The velocity of this pulse wave is dependent on the stiffness of the arterial wall; the stiffer the wall, the higher velocity. It is well known that the arterial stiffening process has a major role in the development of cardiovascular diseases.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study looking at the associations between childhood lifestyle risk factors and pulse wave velocity in young adulthood."

The researchers examined lifestyle factors and measured arterial pulse wave velocity of 1,622 participants in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, which followed children ages 3 to 18 for 27 years. They found:

* A pattern of eating fewer vegetables in childhood was associated with higher pulse wave velocity as an adult. The association remained significant when adjusted for traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, (good cholesterol) and low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol).
* The group with the persistent pattern of eating more vegetables and fruit from childhood to adulthood, had an average 6 percent lower pulse wave velocity compared to those who ate the least vegetables and fruits.
* The number of lifestyle risk factors (low vegetable consumption, low fruit consumption, low physical activity and smoking) in childhood was directly associated with pulse wave velocity as an adult. This association remained significant when adjusted for the number of lifestyle risk factors in adulthood.

"These findings suggest that a lifetime pattern of low consumption of fruits and vegetables is related to arterial stiffness in young adulthood," Kahonen said. "Parents and pediatricians have yet another reason to encourage children to consume high amounts of fruits and vegetables."

Among limitations of the study, researchers derived the data from a self-reported food frequency questionnaire of monthly consumption instead of daily, which could underestimate associations. The study also was limited to white European participants.