Monday, April 30, 2012

Reducing Added Sugars

You needn’t look far to see the attack on sugar. Take this recent internet headline: Sneaky sources of sugar. As if sugar is a wily ingredient sliding into foods undetected and wreaking havoc with our diets.

The sugar content of foods and beverages is a consumer hot button. The same week, my friend said, “There’s just so much sugar in orange juice. We’re better off eating an orange."

It had never occurred to me that the sugar in natural juice was a problem, so I looked up the nutritional breakdown in the USDA Nutrient Database.

One cup of raw orange juice has 112 calories, 20.83 grams sugars and 496 milligrams potassium. A Florida orange that weighs 141 grams has 65 calories, 12.89 grams sugars and 238 milligrams potassium.

The whole fruit wins with a lower calorie count, but are an extra 8 grams of sugar a diet buster? Isn’t the additional potassium beneficial?

If consumers are avoiding sugars that are naturally occurring in nutritious foods, the backlash is magnified against added sugars. And that at least is something food formulators can address.

Sugar wars

The battle to win customers’ favor begins with the label. A product with a front panel announcing lower-sugar content might win the customer’s attention. Information on the back panel may also help guide the purchasing decision. The buyer may be swayed by an ingredient statement that meets their expectations for natural, artificial or a specific sweetener preference. The nutritional panel will reflect the food’s actual sugar content.

What the consumer is actually looking for is as far ranging as their personal diversity. Some people will simply look at total sugars; others seek out low-calorie, artificial sweeteners. Still others want a label declaration.

Products that make a reduced-sugar claim need to follow FDA guidelines. In Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 101, Section 60(c), FDA proposes that, to warrant a reduced-sugar claim, products must contain "at least 25% less sugar per reference amount customarily consumed than an appropriate reference food." Sugars are defined by FDA as the sum of all free mono-and disaccharides such as glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose. A claim cannot be used on meals, main dishes or dietary supplements.

When working with honey, remember that it contains fructose and glucose and about 7% other disaccharides including maltose, tutanose and isomaltose. It also contains oligosaccharides, which are larger units of carbohydrates.

The terms “no added sugar," “without added sugar," or “no sugar added" applies only to products where no amount of sugar, or ingredient containing added sugars—such as jam, jelly or concentrated fruit juice—is used. The product cannot contain sugar alcohols, either. If the food is not “low calorie" or “calorie reduced" it must be stated.

The term "sugar" is used loosely, but it covers a lot of ground. The food developer must understand the nuances. Sugar is the common name for sucrose, disaccharides of glucose and fructose units. It’s a nutritive sweetener, meaning it provides 4 calories per gram. However, the sweet monosaccharide fructose, commonly found in fruit, also falls in this category. It’s about 10% sweeter than sucrose. Dextrose is a glucose isomer. It’s about 70% as sweet as sugar, and has a slight cooling effect on the tongue. Technically speaking, these are all "sugars," and they all are used in food and beverage formulation.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

There is a beneficial relationship between pistachio consumption and health-related outcomes

Results of new research presented at the American Society of Nutrition in San Diego contributes to the increasing amount of scientific evidence that underscores the health benefits of eating pistachios on a daily basis.

A study conducted at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the United Kingdom in conjunction with the University of Messina, Italy, confirms that key nutrients in pistachios are released during digestion and thus able to be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Polyphenols, carotenoids (vitamin A) and tocopherols (vitamin E), all with strong antioxidant qualities were quantified in the study.

Giuseppina Mandalari, Ph.D., research scientist at IFR and lead investigator says, “These results are significant as they are the first that show when the bioactive compounds in pistachios are released during digestion and are available to be taken up by the body.” She continues, “This research indicates these nutrients would contribute to the beneficial relationship between pistachio consumption and health-related outcomes, such as heart disease.”

“In addition, these results support the findings of the 2010 nationally-published study¹ and trials by researchers at Penn State University that addressed the positive effect of antioxidants from pistachios on LDL cholesterol,” added Constance J. Geiger, Ph.D., R.D. who serves as a nutrition research consultant with the American Pistachio Growers.

This new data helps connect the dots between the bioactive compounds in pistachios, their release into the digestive tract and absorption into the blood. The Penn State study showed an increase in lutein and gamma-tocopherol in the blood was related to a decrease in oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol, when pistachios were eaten daily, thereby contributing to a reduced risk of heart disease.

In the present study, researchers tested raw, roasted and salted pistachios and muffins made with raw pistachios in an in vitro model of digestion which simulates the human stomach and small intestine. The bioaccessibility of the nutrients in pistachios was evaluated at various stages during the digestion process. Each measurement was performed in triplicate for the three tested models.

No significant differences in bioaccessibility of the bioactive compounds were noted between raw and roasted salted pistachios in the stomach and small intestine. Only the presence of baked muffin limited the release of protocatechuic acid and luteolin in the gastric and duodenal compartments.

About the Study

The study began in 2010 and was completed in 2011. While a number of studies have demonstrated the positive effects of pistachio consumption in modifying lipid risk factors for coronary heart disease, this study is the first to characterize pistachio polyphenols, carotenoids and tocopherols and investigate their bioaccessibility during digestion.

A dynamic gastric model of digestion which provides a realistic and predictive simulation of the physical and chemical processing and accurately mimics both the transit time and the luminal environment within the human stomach was used for the digestion studies.

This work was funded by the American Pistachio Growers.

Pistachio Facts

Pistachios are a naturally cholesterol-free snack that contains just 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 13 grams of fat per serving, the majority of which comes from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. A one-ounce serving of pistachios equals 49 nuts, which is more nuts per serving than any other snack nut. One serving has as much potassium (300 mg, 8 percent) as an orange (250 mg, 7 percent), making it a nutritious snack choice or ingredient to incorporate into daily diets.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blueberries and Strawberries May Ward Off Mental Decline

Women who eat more berries may have a lower risk of cognitive decline in old age, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that women who had a higher berry intake delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years, as shown by their scores on memory and thinking tests.

Blueberries and strawberries, which have high levels of compounds called flavonoids, seemed to offer the greatest benefit, the researchers said.

"We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women," said Elizabeth Devore, an instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Our findings have significant public health implications, as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults."

The study showed an association, not a cause-and-effect link, and more work is needed to confirm the findings.

Still, there are plausible ways to explain how berries protect cognitive function. Stress and inflammation may contribute to cognitive impairment, and flavonoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the researchers said. Increasing consumption of flavonoids could mitigate the harmful effects.

Previous research of flavonoids, particularly a group of compounds called anthocyanins, has been done with animals and very small trials in older persons, the researchers said. These studies have also suggested greater consumption of foods with these compounds improves cognitive function.

The researchers used data from 16,000 women taking part in the Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976 and is conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals. Participant completed health and lifestyle questionnaires, and between 1995 and 2001, researchers assessed their cognitive function every two years. Women included in the present study had a average age of 74.

Findings showed that increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries appear to slow cognitive decline in older women. A greater intake of anthocyanins and total flavonoids was also associated with reduce cognitive degeneration.

The authors caution that while they did control for other health factors in the modeling, they cannot rule out the possibility that the preserved cognition in those who eat more berries may be also influenced by other lifestyle choices, such as exercising more.

The findings are published Thursday (April 25) in the journal Annals of Neurology.

Pass it on: Eating more berries may be good for your brain.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Consumers should brace for higher grocery bills because after four months of consecutive price declines, global food prices are on the rise again threatening the food security of millions of people, according to the most recent World Bank Food Price Watch report. Higher oil prices, adverse weather conditions and Asia’s strong demand for food imports caused food prices to climb 8% from December 2011 to March 2012.

The index was 1% below one year ago and 6% below the historic peak set in February 2011. Prices of all key staples increased during the December 2011-March 2012 period, except for rice that dropped 6% due to both abundant supply and strong competition among exporters. Fats and oils increased 13%, followed by maize( 9%), soybean oil (7%), wheat (6%) and sugar (5%).

The World Bank said production outlooks remain strong for 2012/13 and a number of factors have kept pressures on prices at bay. Record prices in late 2010 and early 2011 led to increased production of major crops worldwide, and are a key factor in the strong projections for the 2012/13 season. The slowdown in maize use for ethanol production in the U.S. and weak global demand due to the euro crisis are contributing to keeping upward price pressures on check.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

More consumers asking for details about their food

At the meat counter, in the produce aisle and in the restaurant, consumers are asking more questions about their food.

If it is meat, many want to know where the animal was raised and how it was fed. If it is produce, they want to know what, if any, chemicals were used to grow and ship it or whether a local farmer tended the fruits and vegetables on their plates.

The recent controversy over a beef additive called “pink slime” by opponents did not create the trend, which restaurateurs, grocers and farmers say has gained momentum for more than a decade. However, the debate over lean, finely textured beef adds more voices to the chorus: What is in our food, and where did it come from?

“There was a time when people were pretty complacent about their food and just trusted someone else was going to take care of them,” said Kelly Foss, director of the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines. “The dialogue has changed a lot. Now people want to know who is growing their food.”

The controversy over beef trimmings is the latest in a series of nationwide concerns that have put consumers on edge. One factor is food safety. A salmonella outbreak in the past two months that has sickened scores of Americans is being blamed on tainted sushi. Beef products contaminated with E. coli forced the recall of at least 200,000 pounds of ground beef from January 2011 through last month. In 2010, Wright County Farms in Iowa recalled more than 380 million eggs tainted with salmonella, an outbreak linked to hundreds of illnesses.

Some consumers are focused primarily on a more healthful diet. They’re following the advice of the USDA and nutrition experts and opting for proteins like fish, beans and soy rather than so much red meat.

Others prefer supporting a local, small-scale farmer they know rather than a distant, industrialized operation.

“People want a more intimate understanding of their food,” said George Formaro, owner of Centro, Django and other eateries in the Des Moines metro.

Twenty years ago, a question about where meat or produce came from was “almost nonexistent,” Formaro said. “You would go to other cities and see the listing of farms where cattle were raised on the menus, but not here. Now, you’re seeing a lot more of that here. People care. They want to know what they are eating.”

More food options, but price still factor

Many Iowans are getting more creative in how they choose their food.

Andrew Kingsbury of Ames rarely buys meat at a grocery store. Instead, he buys a share of a grass-fed cow grown by an area farmer. After the animal is slaughtered, a local butcher processes the meat and gives Kingsbury and his family a freezer full of hamburger, T-bone steaks, roasts and other cuts.

“The meat comes out to be very inexpensive per pound,” he said. “It usually lasts us more than a year.”

Price remains a powerful factor in food choices.

Katherine Thomas has moved meat from the center of the plate for her Fort Dodge family.

“With grocery prices rising, we are eating more vegetables, beans and seasonal fruit and preparing more meals with meat as a side dish rather than the main course,” she said. “I try to balance price with quality, and organic meat is not readily available in our area.”

One argument in favor of using lean, finely textured beef is that it reduces the cost of hamburger. Because it’s leaner, it’s also considered a healthier option than regular ground beef.

Individuals and families who are struggling financially often choose the cheapest option — which frequently does not include fresh produce or higher grades of meat, said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University who writes the influential blog

“We have spent an inordinate amount of time making food cheaper rather than making food better,” she said. “It’s hard to argue food should cost more, but there are a lot of problems with the pressure to keep food cheap. Companies cut corners. Then you end up with big outbreaks of E-coli and salmonella.”

Nestle said some advocates want to shape the current farm bill in Congress to encourage eating more fruits and vegetables, which may include subsidies for lower-income families and individuals.

Buyers also seek information, choice

Price is important, but it’s not the only factor in food choices, said Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.

“For some people, cost is the only factor,” he said. “We also learned from the beef additive controversy there are other values in food: information and choice. We heard people saying they did not know the additive was there, and they wanted to know so they choose for themselves whether to buy it.”

Hamilton, who also owns a small farm in Dallas County, said the increasing popularity of farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (where consumers contract with farmers), urban farming and other efforts show consumers “want to be directly in touch with who is growing their food.”

Grocery stores have changed the way they present food to their customers to meet demands for more information about food. Hy-Vee, for example, has dietitians available in all of its 235 stores throughout the Midwest. The West Des Moines-based chain uses the NuVal nutrition rating system, which assigns a score for food on a scale with 100 being the highest. The idea is to give consumers a quick guide to the healthfulness of the items they’re buying.

“We do more training with our employees at the retail level so that they can answer the questions they are getting,” said Ruth Comer, Hy-Vee spokeswoman. “We want to reflect the reality that customers want more information about the foods they buy without inundating them with so much information that it makes it difficult to process. That’s why NuVal, with its scores, are very helpful.”

Dahl’s grocery employees are also taking more questions from customers, especially at the meat counter, said Mike Hoffman, Dahl’s meat director.

“Years ago, people just assumed their meat came from the Midwest,” he said. “Now we get a lot of people asking questions about where exactly the meat came from, how it was fed — grass or grain.”

He added: “People want to know. They don’t assume anymore

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Low-Fat Dairy Linked to Lower Stroke Risk

In what the researchers say is the largest study on the issue to date, adults who consumed higher amounts of low-fat dairy products also had a somewhat lower long-term risk of stroke.

The study involved nearly 75,000 Swedish adults who were tracked for an average of 10 years after completing a dietary questionnaire.

Those who consumed low-fat versions of products such as milk, yogurt or cheese had a 12 percent lower risk for stroke than those whose diet typically included high/full-fat versions of these dairy staples.

"I think this finding certainly makes sense," said Lona Sandon, a dietician and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "When you have more high-fat dairy you have more saturated fat, which we know is one of the types of fats that can affect LDL, or 'bad,' cholesterol levels. And eating saturated fat leads to clogging up arteries in the heart and the brain. So then you're more likely to have the clots breaking off and causing something like an ischemic stroke."

However, "when you're looking at stroke risk you'd really want to look at an individual's whole dietary pattern," said Sandon, who was not involved in the new research. "But it is certainly plausible that whole-fat dairy bumps up the risk that is out there."

A research team led by Susanna Larsson, from the division of nutritional epidemiology at the National Institute of Environmental Medicine at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, reported the findings April 19 in the journal Stroke.

The study authors noted that in the United States, about one-third of all adult men and women over the age of 18 have high blood pressure, which they describe as a "major controllable risk factor" for stroke. Still, they added, only about half of affected Americans have their blood pressure under control.

With that in mind, experts have long touted the benefits of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet), with its emphasis on low-fat dairy consumption.

In 1997, the Swedish team administered food surveys to almost 75,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 83, none of whom had a prior history of either heart disease or cancer.

From that point forward, the incidence of stroke among study participants was monitored via data collected by the Swedish Hospital Discharge Registry.

Over the course of about a decade, nearly 4,100 strokes occurred, the authors noted. People who stuck to low-fat dairy products appeared to have a somewhat lower risk for stroke. The study was only able to find an association between eating low-fat dairy products and lowered odds for stroke; it could not prove cause-and-effect.

The Swedish researchers called for further large studies to examine the apparent association, while at the same time suggesting that, if it holds up upon further scrutiny, the finding could have broad public health implications.

Larsson's team pointed out that when it comes to dairy consumption, the typical North American diet closely mirrors that of northern Europeans, so a snapshot of Swedish diets and stroke risk might be relevant to a U.S. population.

"The bottom line is that if you're consuming more fat in your day -- no matter where it's coming from -- it is going to increase your risk for atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries], and thereby your risk for stroke," said Sandon. "And that's what's behind the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that you get three dairy servings per day, in order to get enough calcium and potassium, but at the same time making sure that those servings are low-fat."

Larsson's study was funded by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and the Swedish Research Council.

More information

For more on how diet impacts stroke risk, head to the National Stroke Association.

SOURCES: Lona Sandon, R.D., dietician and assistant professor of clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; April 19, 2012, Stroke

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rice Eaters Have Healthier Diets

Eating white or brown rice helps improve diet and manage weight and other risk factors for disease, according to results from a study presented today at the Experimental Biology 2012 conference, in San Diego, CA.

 According to Hanqi Luo, research scientist at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, there are many reasons to encourage consumers to eat rice. "Rice is a staple enjoyed by most of the world. Our research shows that it contributes important nutrients to the U.S. diet, such as folate, iron and potassium, and may help improve overall diet quality and reduce the risk of becoming overweight."

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007-2008, the Tufts researchers compared the diets of more than 8,000 adults and children who reported eating rice versus those who reported not eating rice, for important health parameters, including risk for obesity, cholesterol levels and diet quality.

The results show that rice eaters, including children and adults, consume significantly more folate, iron, potassium, vitamins B6, B12 and A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc. Potassium and vitamind D are identified in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as two important nutrients for the the general population. Growing research supports higher daily intake of vitamin D as beneficial. Also, folic acid fortification of grains is responsible for a 27% decrease in certain birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control.(1)

Rice eaters also consumed a lower percentage of calories from fat and saturated fat compared to those who did not eat rice. In addition, adults who eat rice are less likely to be overweight or obese and have a smaller waist circumference.

"This study builds on and further confirms previous published rice studies that demonstrate that individuals who consume rice are less likely to be overweight and enjoy a healthier diet than those who don't consume rice," explained Luo. "And for the first time, there are data to support that rice is a positive addition to U.S. children's diets, which is important given the obesity epidemic. Taken together, the results suggest that the type of grain, as well as amount of grain, consumed may be an important influence on nutritional status," she concluded.

Two previous published studies have shown the positive contribution of rice to the U.S. diet. A 2009 observational study using NHANES datasets and Continuing Survey of Food intake by Individuals (CSFII), found that rice eaters consumed significantly less fat and saturated fat and consumed more iron, potassium, fiber, meat, vegetables and grains.(2) A follow-up study in 2010, also using NHANES datasets, included children in the study group and further confirmed that rice consumption was associated with greater intake of a range of healthier foods and nutrients.(3)

Rice is a naturally nutritious grain that provides about 100 calories per half-cup cooked serving. Brown rice is a 100% whole grain food and white rice is enriched with important nutrients including folic acid and iron. Wild rice, which was also included in this study, is a 100% whole grain. In addition, rice is versatile, safe for those with gluten or other wheat allergies and is enjoyed by children and adults, alike.

The Tufts study was funded by the Rice Foundation, which serves as the independent research and education program arm for the rice industry.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Nutrition experts at the University of Aberdeen believe adding vegetable extracts to processed food will prevent fat from being absorbed into the body. They haven't proven this yet, but intend to test the theory using a turkey and beetroot burger.

Professor Garry Duthie from the University’s Rowett Research Institute of Nutrition and Health who is leading the research said: “Processed food forms a major and increasing part of our diet. Consumption of high fat convenience foods in Scotland increases year by year.

"When we eat a fatty food, a process called oxidation occurs in our stomachs, where fats are transformed into potentially toxic compounds and absorbed into the body. These compounds are linked to cancer and heart disease," says Professor Garry Duthie from the University’s Rowett Research Institute of Nutrition and Health."We believe that adding a vegetable extract such as beetroot, which contains antioxidant compounds, will stop this oxidation of fat in the gut, and prohibit the body from absorbing the bad fat."

Duthie also believes vegetable extracts will help prolong the shelf life of processed foods.

The nutrition team is currently seeking males between the ages of 21 and 60 to test the turkey/beetroot burgers' effect on fat absorption.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Smartphone apps may help retail scanning catch on

In 2003, it seemed like the shopping technology of the future: portable computers that could scan bar codes and let customers ring up purchases as they strolled through supermarket aisles, without having to wait for a cashier to check it all out at the end.

Surely, millions of Americans would soon be shopping that way.

Not quite. Nearly nine years later, the supermarket chain Stop & Shop remains the only major US retailer whose customers can use the hand-held scanners, which were designed by Modiv Media Inc. But the Quincy company says the surging popularity of smartphones could now make the concept more practical for retailers.

About one in three Americans owns a smartphone, according to the market research firm comScore Inc. So retailers need not buy expensive hand-held scanners; they can ask customers to install an app on their digital devices.

“Your shoppers, in effect, are paying the cost of the hand-helds,’’ said John Caron, Modiv’s senior vice president of marketing.

Modiv has converted its system to apps that let customers scan bar codes with their smartphones.

A Boston-based rival, AisleBuyer LLC, offers a similar technology that is being used by the toy retailer Magic Beans.

And Apple Inc. offers an app that lets shoppers at its retail stores scan and buy products with their iPhones.

“I think that the concept of scanning while you shop will de facto become reality everywhere’’ as more apps become available, said John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia.

Such apps could not only ring up purchases but deliver discount coupons, display shopping lists, and let users tell friends what foods they are buying.

Since 2003, the Dutch supermarket giant Ahold has installed Modiv Media’s scan-it-yourself technology in about 350 of its Stop & Shop and Giant stores in the United States. Many consumers have embraced the system; Stop & Shop spokeswoman Suzi Robinson said the service handles about one million transactions per month.

Most other supermarket chains have balked at the price, however, since each hand-held scanner can cost up to $600.

“It can easily be $60,000 to $80,000 per store,’’ Caron said. That’s why the apps are generating interest; smartphones reduces the cost to the retailer by about 90 percent, he said.

Modiv Media has introduced smartphone scanning at about 50 Stop and Shop stores. The company’s Scan It! Mobile app is free and available for Apple Inc. iPhones and for smartphones that use Google Inc.’s Android software.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Water-related disease is a serious concern globally as many countries struggle to access to clean drinking water; however, new research published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene suggests the humble lime may provide an inexpensive and quick method to purifying water.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have discovered adding lime juice to water treated with a solar disinfection method removes detectable levels of harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli significantly faster than solar disinfection alone.

“Previous studies estimate that globally, half of all hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from a water-related illness," said Kellogg Schwab, PhD, MS, senior author of the study, director of the Johns Hopkins University Global Water Program and a professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “The preliminary results of this study show solar disinfection of water combined with citrus could be effective at greatly reducing E. coli levels in just 30 minutes, a treatment time on par with boiling and other household water treatment methods. In addition, the 30 milliliters of juice per 2 liters of water amounts to about one-half Persian lime per bottle, a quantity that will likely not be prohibitively expensive or create an unpleasant flavor."

One method of using sunlight to disinfect water that is recommended by UNICEF is known as Solar water Disinfection (SODIS), which requires filling 1 or 2 L polyethylene terephthalate (PET plastic) bottles with water and then exposing them to sunlight for at least 6 hours. In cloudy weather, longer exposure times of up to 48 hours may be necessary to achieve adequate disinfection.

To determine if one of the active constituents in limes known as psoralenes could enhance solar disinfection of water, the researchers looked at microbial reductions after exposure to both sunlight and simulated sunlight. They filled PET plastic bottles with dechlorinated tap water and then added lime juice, lime slurry, or synthetic psoralen and either E. coli, MS2 bacteriophage or murine norovirus.

They found lower levels of both E. coli and MS2 bacteriophage were statistically significant following solar disinfection when either lime juice or lime slurry was added to the water compared to solar disinfection alone. They did find that noroviruses were not dramatically reduced using this technique, indicating it is not a perfect solution.

“Many cultures already practice treatment with citrus juice, perhaps indicating that this treatment method will be more appealing to potential SODIS users than other additives such as TiO2 [titanium dioxide] or H2O2[hydrogen peroxide]," suggest the authors of the study. However, they caution, “additional research should be done to evaluate the use of lemon or other acidic fruits, as Persian limes may be difficult to obtain in certain regions."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Global consumption of chocolate is rising 2% to 3% each year, and increasing chocolate consumption in developing Asian economies paired with instability in cacao growing areas is making chocolate manufacturers anxious about meeting demand, according to new research conducted at the University of Sydney.

“Chocolate consumption trends are different around the globe. In Australia, Europe and North America total consumption—around 6 kg of chocolate per capita per year—is stable, but the trend is to dark chocolates or to niche marketed gourmet chocolates," said Professor David Guest of the university’s Agriculture and Environment department. “Consumption dropped slightly during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009."

During a public lecture, “The Chocolate Crisis," he outlined current research to improve the sustainability of smallholder cacao production. He said work with farmers in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Bougainville shows that good farm management increases yields, resulting in improved living standards, reduced rainforest clearing, political and social stability, and securing future supplies of chocolate.

“Cacao is grown in areas vulnerable to climate change, political instability, pests and diseases," he said, adding cacao production is also threatened by factors like aging plantations, poorly trained farmers, poorly managed trees and dependence on a narrow genetic base. In addition, cacao is being replaced by maize to meet the demand for bioethanol.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Red wine lovers have another reason to toast its benefits. Piceatannol, a compound found in red wine, grapes and other fruits, and similar in structure to resveratrol, blocks the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow, according to a new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The findings may lead to new strategies to help control obesity.

Resveratrol is converted to piceatannol in humans after consumption. Researchers at Purdue University found that piceatannol binds to insulin receptors of immature fat cells in the first stage of adipogenesis, blocking insulin's ability to control cell cycles and activate genes that carry out further stages of fat cell formation.

"Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early stage fat cells become mature fat cells," the researchers said. "In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or complete inhibition of adipogenesis." Over a period of 10 days or more, immature fat cells, called preadipocytes, go through several stages to become mature fat cells, or adipocytes.

"These precursor cells, even though they have not accumulated lipids, have the potential to become fat cells," they said. "We consider that adipogenesis is an important molecular target to delay or prevent fat cell accumulation and, hopefully, body fat mass gain."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

CDC Says Americans Need More Vitamin D

iThe majority of Americans are getting enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients in their diets, however, some groups still need to increase their levels of vitamin D and iron, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition report provides information specific to population groups defined by age, gender, and race/ethnicity to show how the factors affect nutrition status in the United States.

CDC’s Division of Laboratory Sciences in the National Center for Environmental Health measured 58 essential nutrients—including vitamins, iron, folate and iodine—in the blood and urine of thousands of people who are participating in the ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2006, with emphasis on newly available data for 2003-2006.

Data revealed deficiency rates for vitamins and nutrients vary by age, gender, or race/ethnicity and can be as high as 31% for vitamin D deficiency in non-Hispanic blacks.

"Research shows that good nutrition can help lower people's risk for many chronic diseases. For most nutrients, the low deficiency rates, less than 1% to 10%, are encouraging, but higher deficiency rates in certain age and race/ethnic groups are a concern and need additional attention," said Christine Pfeiffer, Ph.D., lead researcher, in the Division of Laboratory Sciences in CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.

The report found that the fortification of cereal-grain products with folic acid, which began in 1998, has had a sustained positive impact on blood folate levels. The report shows folate deficiency dropped to less than 1% after fortification. The report also shows that blood folate levels in all race/ethnic groups are 50% higher since fortification began.

The report found the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency in non-Hispanic blacks (31%) despite clinical data showing greater bone density and fewer fractures in this group. The vitamin D deficiency rate for Mexican-Americans was 12% and for non-Hispanic whites it was 3%.

The report also noted iodine levels in women aged 20 to 39 years were just above iodine insufficiency. The group also had the lowest iodine levels among any age group of women.

Using a new marker of iron status, the report indicates higher rates of iron deficiency in Mexican-American children aged 1 to 5 years (11%) and in non-Hispanic black (16%) and Mexican-American women (13%) of childbearing age (12 to 49 years) when compared to other race/ethnic groups.
The report provides first-time data on blood levels of fatty acids in the U.S. population. These include heart healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as saturated fatty acids that increase risk of heart disease. The report found heart healthy polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in plasma differ by rac

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Turmeric extract may protect heart after surgery

Extracts from turmeric spice, known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, may help ward off heart attacks in people who have had recent bypass surgery, according to a study from Thailand.

During bypass surgery the heart muscle can be damaged by prolonged lack of blood flow, increasing the patient's risk of heart attack. But the new findings, published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Cardiology, suggest that curcumins - the yellow pigment in turmeric - may ease those risks when added to traditional drug treatment.

The conclusions are based on a relatively small group of subjects and needs to be confirmed in larger studies, said researchers led by Wanwarang Wongcharoen from Chiang Mai University. Turmeric extracts have long been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine.

Research has suggested inflammation plays an important role in the development of a range of diseases, including heart disease, and curcumins could have an effect on those pathways, said Bharat Aggarwal, who studies the use of curcumins in cancer therapy at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

"It's very, very encouraging," said Aggarwal of the study, which he did not take part in.

The researchers studied 121 patients who had non-emergency bypass surgery at their hospital between 2009 and 2011.

Half of those patients were given one-gram curcumin capsules to take four times a day, starting three days before their surgery and continuing for five days afterwards. The other half took the same number of drug-free placebo capsules.

The researchers found that during their post-bypass hospital stays, 13 percent of patients who'd been taking curcumins had a heart attack, compared to 30 percent in the placebo group.

After accounting for any initial pre-surgery differences, Wongcharoen and his colleagues calculated that people on curcumins had a 65 percent lower chance of heart attack.

Researchers said it's likely that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumins may have helped limit heart damage in the patients.

"Curcumin has for many years now been shown to reduce inflammation and to reduce oxygen toxicity or damage caused by free radicals in a number of experimental settings," said Jawahar Mehta, a cardiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, who didn't work on the study.

"But that doesn't mean that this is a substitute for medication," he said, noting that drugs like aspirin, statins and beta blockers have been proven to help heart patients and people in the current study were taking those as well.

One limitation was that the study was relatively small. Another is that while curcumins are thought to be safe, there could be side effects at very large doses.

"Taken in moderation or used in cooking, (curcumins) are quite useful. But I wouldn't go to a health food store and start taking four grams of curcumin a day, as was done in this study," Mehta said.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Wegmans, Trader Joe's, Publix and Fareway earned top scores from U.S. consumers for having the best grocery store experiences, according to Consumer Reports’ 2011 Annual Questionnaire that rated customer satisfaction among 52 of the nation's major grocery stores. While most respondents were quite satisfied with their experiences, the survey also revealed some of the high-rated chains gave plenty of shoppers something to complain about.

The survey, based on responses from 24,203 Consumer Reports’ subscribers who made more than 42,695 visits to grocery stores, revealed more than half the readers had at least one complaint about their current store; almost one-third cited two or more. The biggest gripe overall: Not enough open checkouts (cited by 27% of shoppers), followed by congested or cluttered aisles and advertised specials that were out of stock. Other complaints included inept bagging, missing prices and scanner overcharges.

When it came to the worst shopping experiences, 75% of those surveyed had major complaints with Walmart Supercenter, Pathmark (Northeast) and Pick 'n Save (Wisconsin). Shoppers who frequented Walmart, the nation's largest grocer and the chain with the most shoppers in our survey, were most likely to be upset about the lack of open checkouts, out-of-stock regular items, indifferent employees, spotty pricing, and confusing store layout. Thirteen percent of respondents shopping at Pathmark said they'd been overcharged, almost twice the average rate in Consumer Reports survey.

National grocers Costco and Trader Joe's, along with Fareway Stores (Midwest) and Wegmans, earned props for offering quality meat and produce, a clean shopping environment, and very good or exceptional prices. All but Costco also earned the highest possible marks for service, defined as employee courtesy and checkout speed. Service is minimal at warehouse clubs such as Costco, and lengthy lines are a trade-off for day-in, day-out deals.

One-third of those surveyed said stopped shopping at their local grocery store—43% changed in search of lower prices; 25% cited poor selection, long lines or lousy food; 17% blamed employee rudeness; and 14% blamed the crowds.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Fueled by rapid economic growth, population and rising food inflation, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest food and grocery retail market, according to market data from food and grocery market analyst IGD. China's grocery sector was worth $970 billion in 2011, while U.S. market value was $913.5 billion.

China's grocery market is forecast to expand to nearly $1.46 trillion by 2015, nearly a threefold increase in value from 2006; the United States is forecast to expand to $1.07 trillion by 2015. IGD predicts Brazil, Russia, India and China will make up four of the top five grocery markets by 2015.

China’s grocery growth story is phenomenal. Between 2006 and 2015, the Chinese grocery market is forecast to triple in value and to be worth nearly 1 trillion pounds. This rapid expansion has been fueled by three main factors—rapid economic growth, population and rising food inflation," said Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive, IGD. “Despite its various logistical and bureaucratic challenges, China is a crucial growth market for many of the world’s largest grocery retailers. Even beyond the major cities there are huge opportunities: forecasts suggest there will be over 200 Chinese cities with a population over 1 million people by 2025. But given China’s size and diversity, it’s essential not to treat the country as one homogenous market."

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Individuals who eat a protein-rich breakfast have increased satiety and decreased caloric intake at later meals, according to new research presented at IFT Wellness 12. The findings are especially important for children who tend to skip nutritious breakfasts.

University of Missouri researchers conducted a clinical trial involving teen girls who had a habit of skipping breakfast. By having them eat a normal protein breakfast and then a protein-rich breakfast after a wash-out period, they were able to observe the positive results that protein was making in their ability to concentrate and their diet throughout the rest of the day.

For the trail, the “normal protein" breakfasts consisted of ready-to-eat cereals and contained 13 grams of protein. The protein-rich meals consisted of protein-enhanced waffles or breakfast burritos and contained 35 grams of protein. Both the normal protein and protein-rich breakfasts contained 350 calories. While both breakfast meals led to increased feelings of fullness throughout the morning compared to those who skipped breakfast, the protein rich breakfasts also led to an even greater feeling of satiety and less snacking throughout the day.

“This shows that while eating breakfast is beneficial, the calories are not the most important factor – a breakfast containing higher amounts of quality protein takes the health benefits of breakfast a step further," the researchers said. “Parents and children must be sure to select breakfasts that are higher in protein in order to help regulate food intake for the rest of the day."

“When selecting a higher protein breakfast, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated," said Colleen Conley, lead sensory scientist and associate science fellow, Solae. “During a recent children’s taste test, Solae found that both parents and children focused on flavor and taste as important qualities affecting whether they would buy something again. Sugar content, price and protein content also were very high on the list of parent priorities."

During the testing, children between the ages of 8 and 14 sampled a selection of three soy protein bars prepared by Solae. Children conducted blind taste tests on the bars at home and were able to score them on a range from “super good" to “super bad" and then record how much of the bars they were able to finish. The same bar scored high with both parents and children.

“Children will give detailed feedback if asked in the right way. If you ask why they like something and why they don’t like it you’ll get a better idea of what appeals to them," she said. “Parents can read labels and select a few options at the store and conduct taste tests at home to get the children more invested in their


Friday, April 13, 2012

Do McDonald's burgers and fries belong in hospitals?

Talk about your mixed messages. Go to grab a bite in some hospitals and you will see cafeterias offering salad bars and other healthful fare right next to McDonald's outlets offering burgers and fries.

Nearly two dozen hospitals that host McDonald's restaurants just got a letter from an advocacy group asking them to evict their fast-food tenants and to "stop fostering a food environment that promotes harm, not health." The group, Corporate Accountability International, is leading a larger campaign to get McDonald's to stop marketing to kids. That effort has been endorsed by nearly 2,000 health professionals, some of which work at the very hospitals still housing the fast food giant, says campaign director Sara Deon.

"We hear from physicians saying kids come in for their diabetic check-ups and they hear the parents saying 'If you are well-behaved, we'll take you for a treat at the McDonald's down the hall,' " Deon says. And McDonald's doesn't just get business in these deals: It gets a healthy image boost, Deon says.

But breaking these ties is easier said than done, NPR reports. In many cases, long-standing contracts -- created before hospitals adopted what some call a "culture of wellness" -- keep unwelcome food vendors in place. Doctors at prestigious Cleveland Clinic tried to oust McDonald's back in 2005; it is still there - even though one of the doctors who led the effort is now the hospital's CEO.

McDonald's says it still has 27 outlets in hospitals (nine fewer than reported in 2005) and that it offers plenty of balanced choices. "Today, we offer more variety than ever in our menu and we trust that our customers will make the appropriate choices for them, their families and lifestyles," a spokesperson tells NPR.

In all fairness, McDonald's isn't the only seller of fatty, salty or sugary fare in hospitals: Pizza Hut, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and other chains have in-hospital outlets. And a review by the vegan advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found several hospitals that gave space to multiple fast food outlets and also had staff cooks serving such dishes as fried chicken and country-fried steaks in their own cafeterias.

Deon admits her group is picking on McDonald's because it is big: "They profit most and they lead the way."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Consumers often ignore food allergy labels: study

The different allergy labels in common use may be confusing consumers instead of helping them decide whether to buy a food product, a new Canadian study shows.

"We should narrow (various allergy labels) to only one which will be clear," said Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan, a professor of allergy and immunology at McGill University Health Center in Montreal, who worked on the study.

An estimated 2.5 million Canadians and 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, which can cause reactions ranging in severity from itchiness and vomiting to breathing problems, loss of consciousness and even death.

Allergy labels are governed in the U.S. by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, and in Canada by the Food Allergen Labelling Regulations, a new version of which will go into effect in August.

Although all these labels warn that a product could harm a person with allergies, they present that message in various ways. Researchers found that some labels are less effective than others in helping consumers to avoid potentially dangerous foods.

Ben-Shoshan's team recruited more than 2,400 subjects from the general public and from allergy registries and advocacy groups for the new study, conducted between May 2007 and March 2009. The work was funded by Health Canada, a federal agency, and AllerGen, a network of allergy experts, and published in a letter to the editor in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The participants included "directly affected" households in which at least one family member had a food allergy, as well as "indirectly affected" households which supply food to others with allergies such as students and preschoolers.

They answered questions about their likelihood of buying a food product depending upon various types of allergy alerts, including "may contain" foods to which people are allergic, "manufactured in a facility" that processes such foods, and "not suitable" for people with food allergies.

Researchers found people were more likely to ignore warning labels if their households were directly rather than indirectly affected by food allergies. Those who belonged to advocacy groups were most vigilant about their food purchases.

About 44 percent of directly affected consumers from the general public said they would buy a product which warned it "may contain (peanut/tree nut/sesame)." Only about 10 percent of those recruited from allergy associations, and 16 percent of consumers indirectly affected by food allergies, said they would buy a product with this label.

Across all groups, the "not suitable" label had the greatest effect in preventing purchase of a product. Participants in households were less vigilant if only adults had a food allergy than if a child had an allergy.


The finding that consumers were less diligent about heeding labels when buying for their own households surprised researchers, said Ben-Shoshan.

"They may feel more responsibility when preparing food for other people," he explained. Food purchases for an allergic person in one's own household are also made much more frequently, which might make it harder to exercise caution, he added.

Adults may indeed take more chances with their own health than they would if the food allergy involves a child or someone outside their household, agreed Dr. Rauno Joks, chief of allergy and immunology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

"They think they can get away with a certain amount (of restricted foods) before having a reaction," said Joks. "I really caution them not to take chances with their health."

The greater motivation to heed allergy labels among advocacy group members highlights the need for more awareness, he told Reuters Health.

"The more educated people are, the more likely they are to be proactive in avoiding food allergens," said Joks, who was not involved in the study.

The findings in Canada should apply to the United States, given their similarities in labeling standards and public awareness, he added.

The disorder appears to be on the increase in several countries, especially among children. According to a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of food allergy rose 18 percent among children between 1997 and 2007.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, coffee and apple juice are the seven most likely food ingredients to be targets for intentional or economically motivated adulteration of food, or food fraud, according to analysis of the first U.S. public database created to compile information on risk factors for food fraud published in the Journal of Food Science.

The database was created by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and provides baseline information to assist interested parties in assessing the risks of specific products. It includes a total of 1,305 records for food fraud based on a total of 667 scholarly, media and other publicly available reports.

Food fraud is a collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain. A more specific type of fraud is the fraudulent addition of nonauthentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances without the purchaser’s knowledge for economic gain of the seller.

According to the authors of the paper, food fraud may be more risky than traditional threats to the food supply because the adulterants used in these activities often are unconventional and designed to avoid detection through routine analyses.

“The vast majority of food fraud is primarily technical and economical," said John Spink, associate director with the anti-counterfeiting and product protection program at Michigan State University. “However, there are some cases where there can be serious health consequences as illustrated when melamine was added to infant formula and pet food in order to falsify the level of protein content in these products."

The database provides information that can be useful in evaluating current and emerging risks for food fraud. In addition to providing a baseline understanding of the vulnerability of individual ingredients, the database offers information about potential adulterants that could reappear in the supply chain for particular ingredients. For example, records in the database regarding melamine as an adulterant for high-protein-content ingredients date back to 1979.

“Perhaps if this information had been readily available to risk assessors before the 2007 and 2008 incidents of melamine adulteration and wheat gluten and milk powders, it could have helped risk assessors anticipate these adulteration possibilities," the authors wrote. This information also could have stimulated research aimed at developing new methods to measure protein content, which could signal adulteration with melamine and other unexpected constituents—an effort that has only recently gained substantial interest.

“Food ingredients and additives present a unique risk because they are used in so many food products and often do not have visual or functional properties that enable easy discrimination from other similar ingredients or adulterants throughout the supply chain," the authors wrote. Glycerin, for example, is a sweet, clear, colorless liquid that is difficult to differentiate by sight or smell from other sweet, clear, colorless liquid syrups—including toxic diethylene glycol, which in the past has been substituted for glycerin with deadly consequences. Diethylene glycol has been fraudulently added to wines, and also used as an adulterant of glycerin used in pharmaceuticals.

In addition to identifying specific food ingredients and food categories vulnerable to adulteration, the researchers also analyzed the types of analytical detection methods used to discover the fraud, as well as the type of fraud using three categories: replacement, addition or removal. They found 95% of records involved replacement—an authentic material replaced partially or completely by another, less expensive substitute. Examples include partial substitution of olive oil with hazelnut oil, substitution of toxic Japanese star anise for Chinese star anise, and the partial replacement of low-quality spices with lead tetraoxide or lead chromate to imitate the color of higher-quality spices.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Merchandisers who emphasize convenience in value-added offerings will have an advantage

Retailers face an increasingly competitive market for fresh foods and those merchandisers who emphasize convenience in value-added offerings will have an advantage in the marketplace.

That was one key concept explored in an April 3 web seminar by Chicago-based Nielsen and Nielsen Perishables.

The event, hosted by Jeff Gregori, vice president of consumer and shopper practice, Nielsen retail and Sherry Frey, vice president of account services, Nielsen Perishables Group, also exlored how retailers can use center-store brand power in joint promotions with the produce, meat, bakery and deli.

“There are huge growth opportunities for the fresh market from where we have been and where we see it going,” Gregori said.

Total fresh food retail sales in the U.S. are estimated by Nielsen at $216 billion, Gregori said. The perishables departments (deli, produce, meat, bakery and seafood) have been gaining contribution to total store sales, Nielsen statistics show. The share for the fresh segment is up 2% since 2006 to nearly 30% of the store,

The speakers suggested retailers can create “meal solution centers” that cross-merchandise fresh and center store categories.

Gregori said U.S. consumers are focused on food, and food at home. He said food and cooking websites are attracting between 67 million and 91 million unique visitors per month. The Food Network attracted a viewership of 1.2 million people in the fourth quarter of 2011, and cookbook sales are outperforming the general book market by a wide margin.

“Shoppers are much more engaged and interested in food preparation,” he said.

In fact, Nielsen research reports that 50% of households fall into either the “foodie” category (extremely interested in cooking) or the “young family cook” (interested in cooking but values convenience). Nielsen research reveals “foodies” spend nearly twice as much on fresh vegetables as the average household.

Reflecting the interest in fresh food, consumers now have access to fresh foods in all channels and all forms, such as premium salads in quick-serve operations, or sushi in a Walgreens.

“There really are no rules, it is just about who your shopper is and what their needs are and delivering on that need,” Gregori said.

The strongest sales growth in fresh produce categories has been seen in organic produce, which posted double-digit dollar growth and positive volume growth on the fourth quarter of 2010. Nielsen reports that the value-added vegetable category saw a 7% increase in dollars and volume.

Other retail outlets

Gregori said that grocery stores control 71% of fresh produce sales, compared with 13% for mass merchandisers, 9% in club stores and 7% in all other channels.

Looking ahead, Gregori said Nielsen project a decline for grocery stores’s market share of all fresh food, from 64.2% in 2011 to 62.2% in 2015. Club stores are expected to increase their market share for fresh food from 9.7% in 2011 to 11.2% in 2015. Mass merchandisers will also grow their share of total fresh sales, from 13.5% in 2011 to 14.4% in 2015.

“While there is a lot of upside for club and mass in the future, it is going to be tough in some of these markets where they have a real tough competitor among leading grocers,” he said.