Thursday, May 31, 2012

Does treating obesity as a disease help?

Harping on people ad nauseam to lose weight is rather "sadistic", there's little evidence the treatment of obesity works and even the benefits of weight loss are debatable.

In arguments like these, being played out in the official journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, doctors are debating whether it's futile to try to treat obesity.

"The few patients who manage to lose weight and keep it off achieve something truly remarkable. From a public health standpoint, however, the treatment of obesity is a failure," writes Dr. Jana Havrankova, of Clinique familiale Saint-Lambert in Quebec, in the current edition of Canadian Family Physician.

One weight-loss drug after another has been pulled off the market over serious harms and the long-term effects of existing treatments remain controversial, adds associate scientific editor Dr. Roger Ladouceur in an accompanying editorial.

"Why, then, do we tell our patients to lose weight?" he asks.

"Why do we repeat, 'You should lose weight'? What's with that? Somewhat sadistic, don't you think? Do we do this as a way of shifting the guilt and transferring the responsibility of the therapeutic failure?"

The statements, observers say, reflect a remarkable and possibly significant shift away from the prevailing medical dogma that everyone who is obese needs to lose weight.

No one is claiming that obesity is harmless. Havrankova says the evidence of obesity's health-damaging effects is "irrefutable" and the costs to society and individuals "astronomical."

Yet, "there is very little evidence that the treatment of obesity works," Havrankova said. Of the studies done, most are of mediocre quality and, for the small percentage of patients who succeed, the weight loss is modest, and gradually regained over time.

"For every individual who wants to lose weight, I maintain hope," Havrankova stressed.

But prevention, starting in early childhood, "offers the best hope in the fight against obesity," she said.

In his editorial — "Should we stop telling obese patients to lose weight?" — Ladouceur says the genetic, environmental and societal factors linked to obesity are "deeply rooted" within us. "It is very difficult for us to change."

Given that, he asks, "Shouldn't we put a stop to this preoccupation with our patient's weight" and simply encourage healthy lifestyle habits, including a balanced diet and exercise, "even if it is simply walking?"

The debate reflects a "clear departure" from the message patients typically hear, said Dr. Arya Sharma, professor of medicine and chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta, and scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network.

"It's moving to a point where we are becoming much more realistic — simply telling people to lose weight and leaving them pretty much up to their own resources is not the way to go," he said. "We have to be much more reflective: For whom is there really likely to be a benefit?"

Sharma's group says that any discussion about weight must begin with the doctor first asking the patient's permission. It's one of the cornerstones of a new roadmap for doctors the network is launching Tuesday. Called the "5 A's of obesity management" — ask, assess, advise, agree, assist — the checklist is designed to help doctors and other health care workers broach the subject in a sensitive and non-judgmental manner.

Today in Canada, overweight and obesity are the new norm. There are more overweight Canadians than there are those of "normal" weight.

Currently, 59 per cent of adult Canadians are either overweight or obese. Unless trends change, by 2026 the proportion will reach 70 per cent, according to estimates presented in March at a federal-provincial summit on the issue.

At any given time, 36 per cent of the population is trying to lose weight.

But, according to a review article published in the same edition of the journal, people in the "high-normal" or overweight range have the lowest mortality, or risk of dying.

"In terms of your chances of dying related to your weight, your best bet is to be slightly overweight," said the study's author, Dr. John Bosomworth, an honorary lecturer in the department of family medicine at the University of B.C. in Vancouver and a retired family physician.

People whose weight remains stable at any level throughout adult life also tend to have a lower risk of dying, he said.

He cautions that most of the studies are observational — meaning researchers simply followed large populations over time, looking at who gained weight, lost weight or stayed the same. They don't prove cause and effect.

But evidence is mounting that a significant proportion of overweight people are metabolically healthy and that the risks associated with obesity require a more sophisticated approach.

"We don't seem to have to beat ourselves up about being overweight in terms of our health unless we have a health-related problem, such as diabetes or heart disease," Bosomworth said. Among the obese — meaning those with a body mass index of 30 or more — about 80 per cent have a weight-related health problem. In those cases, "you have an argument that perhaps weight loss, if you could ever achieve it, might be a good thing," Bosomworth said.

"But there's also the argument — why are you aiming for weight loss, since nobody's succeeding anyway? What's important is physical and metabolic fitness — and that can happen without weight loss.

"Maybe we should be giving them a pedometer and say, 'Why don't you increase your number of steps by 2,000 over the next two weeks every day, bring it back and show me what you've done,' and not worry about the weight."

In a counter-argument, Dr. Dominique Garrel, of Universite de Montreal in Quebec, argues that obesity "must be treated" given the consequences of excess weight. People can improve their health considerably, he said, by losing even five to 10 per cent of their weight.

Garrel said surgery "is very popular and increasingly simple and safe" and suggested patients be referred to specialized teams of nutritionists, psychologists and kinesiologists.

He acknowledged that the $2,000 to $3,000 cost of such care might represent an "insurmountable barrier" for some patients.

"If this is the case the patient can be referred to an organization in the community such as Weight Watchers or Choisir de maigrir."

In her rebuttal, Havrankova asks "where are these teams" and, "most important, what results do they achieve?"

"If there were 'simple' and effective ways to treat obese patients," she said, "we would know it."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

U.S., EU organic agreement takes effect June 1

Beginning June 1, certified organic products of the United States and the European Union (EU) can be represented as organic in each other's markets, according to USDA's National Organic Program (NOP).

When exporting to the European Union, all products traded under the organic partnership must meet the following requirements:

• Organic apples, pears and ingredients from organic apples and pears must be produced without antibiotics. Antibiotics may not be used for at least three years prior to the harvest of the organic apple or pear

• Products must travel with an EU import certificate that has been completed by a NOP-accredited certifying agent

• Products must be either produced or have had final processing or packaging occur within the United States

When exporting from the European Union to the United States, all products traded under the partnership must meet the following requirements:

• Livestock must be produced without antibiotics

• Products must travel with a NOP import certificate that has been completed by an EU-authorized body

• Products must be either produced or have had final processing or packaging occur within the EU

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Caffeine May Reduce Memory Loss in Type 2 Diabetics

Moderate consumption of caffeine may help reduce memory loss associated with type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS. The findings reveal caffeine exhibited a protective effect on the brain’s hippocampus, which is crucial for memory and learning.

Researchers at the University of Coimbra used a novel animal model of type 2 diabetes to investigate the behavioral, neurochemical and morphological modifications present in the hippocampus and tested if caffeine consumption might prevent these changes. They used a model closely mimicking the human type 2 diabetes condition that can develop in adults as result of a high-fat diet. They also investigate a possible protective effect by caffeine.

The researchers compared four groups of mice—diabetic or normal animals without or with caffeine (equivalent to 8 cups of coffee a day) in their water—to find that long-term consumption of caffeine not only diminished the weight gain and the high levels of blood sugar typical of diabetes, but also prevented the mice's memory loss. This confirmed that caffeine could protect against diabetes as well as prevent memory impairment, probably by interfering with the neurodegeneration caused by toxic sugar levels.

Next, the researchers looked at a brain region linked to memory and learning, which is often atrophied in diabetics, called hippocampus. The diabetic mice had abnormalities in this area showing synaptic degeneration and astrogliosis—both phenomena are known to affect memory and caffeine consumption prevented the abnormalities.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Aaaah...Memorial Day weekend, a time for chilling, swilling and grilling. There's a lot to be said for any three-day weekend, but here's some news from the food front.

The long Memorial Day weekend falls during National Barbecue Month. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than a third of U.S. adults enjoy grilling out, and some 12.5 million do so at least twice a week. As for what they're cooking up, perhaps it's the 58 lbs. of beef and 56 lbs. of chicken that Americans eat on average each year.

May also happens to be National Hamburger Month. In honor of the All-American sandwich, Serendipity 3 in NYC is serving Le Burger Extravagant, a burger consisting of a mix of Japanese Waygu beef infused with 10-herb white truffle butter. The beef is seasoned with Salish Alderwood smoked Pacific sea salt, and topped with shaved black truffles, a fried quail egg and cave-aged cheddar cheese that was hand-formed by a famous cheesemaker in England. It's all sandwiched between a white truffle-buttered Campagna Roll, which is, in turn, topped with a blini, creme fraiche and Kaluga caviar. These last elements are held in place by one final touch: a solid-gold toothpick encrusted with diamonds. Total cost for this blinged-out burger is $295.00 (A Guiness World Record). Indulgent, yes, but profits from sales of Le Burger will benefit the homeless served by the Bowery Mission. So that's good.

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn't mention one beer fact in honor of the long weekend: U.S. adults are expected to buy (and likely consume) 21 million cases of beer from major supermarkets during the two weeks surrounding Memorial Day, according to data from The Nielsen Company. That's about $381 million worth of brewskis.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Eating raisins three times a day may significantly lower blood pressure among individuals with pre-hypertension compared to other snacks, according to new research presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session.

Researchers at the Louisville Metabolic and Atherosclerosis Center (L-MARC) conducted a 12-week randomized controlled study funded by the California Raisin Marketing Board to examine the effects of raisins on blood pressure. For the study, 46 men and women with pre-hypertension were randomly assigned to snack on California Raisins or pre-packaged commercial snacks that did not contain raisins or other fruits or vegetables, three times a day for 12 weeks.

Data analyses revealed that compared to other popular snacks, raisins significantly reduce systolic blood pressure at weeks 4, 8 and 12, ranging from -4.8 to -7.2% or -6.0 to -10.2 mmHg (p values <0.05). Within group analysis demonstrates that raisins significantly reduce mean diastolic blood pressure at all study visits, with changes ranging from -2.4 to - 5.2 mmHg (p values < 0.05). Pre-packaged snacks (including crackers and cookies) did not significantly reduce systolic or diastolic blood pressure at any study visit.

"Raisins have intrinsic properties that could support heart and vascular health; however, we believe this is the first controlled study to specifically and scientifically support raisins' blood pressure-lowering effects compared to other snacks," the researchers said.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


A new report published by Catalina, the leader in precise consumer-driven marketing, finds that only a tiny fraction of shoppers determine the success of new Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) product launches. The report explores the purchasing behavior of more than 41 million US consumers and shows that on average, just 1.5 percent, or 1 in 67 shoppers, accounted for 80 percent of volume during a 12-month window following their introduction.

The study, which examined 25 of the top product launches of 2010, also found that for line extensions, 63 percent of sales came from existing brand buyers, of which almost half of those sales cannibalized existing brand purchases.

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Study Confirms Cranberry Type-A PAC Content

Previous in-vitro research supports the connection between cranberry bioactives and reduced risk of urinary tract infections. Now, a new human study supports the anti-adhesion mechanism of cranberry polyphenols, specifically Type-A proanthocyanidins (PACs), based on their presence in the urine of test subjects.

The study, led by Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, at Tufts University, and supported by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., offers insight into the bioavailability and metabolism of cranberry bioactives.

Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition science and policy and director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University commented: “In the past, many observational studies have attributed various health benefits to the North American cranberry, including the prevention of urinary tract infections and stomach ulcers as well as cardiovascular health. This new evidence provides another step toward supporting the findings of past in vitro studies investigating the anti-adhesion mechanism of cranberry PACs, demonstrating how the high polyphenol content of cranberry juice may help maintain urinary tract health."

The study participants, healthy men and postmenopausal women ages 50-70, consumed a low polyphenol diet for three days followed by a serving of a cranberry beverage equivalent to two servings of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail. Collected at set intervals, urine samples were assessed for flavanols, phenolic acids, anthocyanins and Type-A PACs. Along with the presence of the first three classes of compounds, the results also revealed a measurable concentration of PAC phenolic compounds in the participants’ urine samples. These results suggest that different phenolic constituents found in cranberry juice are absorbed and metabolized at different locations along the gastrointestinal tract in healthy adults.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

'Good cholesterol' may be overstatement

The name alone sounds so encouraging: HDL, the "good cholesterol." The more of it in your blood, the lower your risk of heart disease. So bringing up HDL levels has got to be good for health.

Or so the theory went.

Now, a new study that makes use of powerful databases of genetic information has found that raising HDL levels may not make any difference to heart disease risk. People who inherit genes that give them naturally higher HDL levels throughout life have no less heart disease than those who inherit genes that give them slightly lower levels. If HDL were protective, those with genes causing higher levels should have had less heart disease.

Researchers not associated with the study, published online Wednesday in The Lancet, found the results compelling and disturbing. Companies are actively developing and testing drugs that raise HDL, although three recent studies of such treatments have failed. And patients with low HDL levels are often told to try to raise them by exercising or dieting or even by taking niacin, a drug that raised HDL but failed to lower heart disease risk in a recent clinical trial.

"I'd say the HDL hypothesis is on the ropes right now," said James A. de Lemos, a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center professor of medicine who was not involved in the study.

Michael Lauer, director of the division of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, agreed. "The current study tells us that, when it comes to HDL, we should seriously consider going back to the drawing board -- in this case meaning back to the laboratory," said Dr. Lauer, who also was not connected to the research. "We need to encourage basic laboratory scientists to figure out where HDL fits in the puzzle -- just what exactly is it a marker for?"

But Steven Nissen, the Cleveland Clinic's chairman of cardiovascular medicine, who is helping conduct studies of HDL-raising drugs, said he remained hopeful. HDL is complex, he said, and it is possible that some types of HDL molecules might in fact protect against heart disease. "I am an optimist," Dr. Nissen said.

The study's authors emphasize that they are not questioning the well-documented finding that higher HDL levels are associated with lower heart disease risk. But the relationship may not be causative. High HDL levels may be a sign that something else is going on that makes heart disease less likely. But HDL itself may not be directly reducing risk.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Does treating obesity as a disease help?

Harping on people ad nauseam to lose weight is rather "sadistic", there's little evidence the treatment of obesity works and even the benefits of weight loss are debatable.

In arguments like these, being played out in the official journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, doctors are debating whether it's futile to try to treat obesity.

"The few patients who manage to lose weight and keep it off achieve something truly remarkable. From a public health standpoint, however, the treatment of obesity is a failure," writes Dr. Jana Havrankova, of Clinique familiale Saint-Lambert in Quebec, in the current edition of Canadian Family Physician.

One weight-loss drug after another has been pulled off the market over serious harms and the long-term effects of existing treatments remain controversial, adds associate scientific editor Dr. Roger Ladouceur in an accompanying editorial.

"Why, then, do we tell our patients to lose weight?" he asks.

"Why do we repeat, 'You should lose weight'? What's with that? Somewhat sadistic, don't you think? Do we do this as a way of shifting the guilt and transferring the responsibility of the therapeutic failure?"

The statements, observers say, reflect a remarkable and possibly significant shift away from the prevailing medical dogma that everyone who is obese needs to lose weight.

No one is claiming that obesity is harmless. Havrankova says the evidence of obesity's health-damaging effects is "irrefutable" and the costs to society and individuals "astronomical."

Yet, "there is very little evidence that the treatment of obesity works," Havrankova said. Of the studies done, most are of mediocre quality and, for the small percentage of patients who succeed, the weight loss is modest, and gradually regained over time.

"For every individual who wants to lose weight, I maintain hope," Havrankova stressed.

But prevention, starting in early childhood, "offers the best hope in the fight against obesity," she said.

In his editorial — "Should we stop telling obese patients to lose weight?" — Ladouceur says the genetic, environmental and societal factors linked to obesity are "deeply rooted" within us. "It is very difficult for us to change."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Red meat and butter 'could raise Alzheimer's risk'

Eating too much red meat, butter and other foods that contain high levels of saturated fats could increase the risk of Alzheimer's, according to a study.

US researchers linked to Harvard University found older women who ate lots of food high in saturated fats had worse memories than others.

By contrast, those who ate more monounsaturated fats - found in olive oil, sunflower oil, seeds, nuts and avocados - had better memories.

Dr Oliva Okereke, from the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., which is affiliated to Harvard Medical School, said: "When looking at changes in cognitive function, what we found is that the total amount of fat intake did not really matter, but the type of fat did."

She and fellow researchers made their conclusions after looking at results from 6,000 women over 65, who carried out a series of mental tests over four years and answered questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle.

Dr Okereke added: "Substituting in the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory."

Having a poor memory can be a harbinger of Alzheimer's in elderly people, although the former by no means always leads to the latter.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Foods carrying nutrition labels or heart healthy logos touting sodium reduction can negatively affect taste perception and salt use, according to a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

Researchers at Deakin University conducted a study to investigate the effect of nutrient labels and health logos on expected and perceived liking and salt intensity of sodium-reduced soups. The study involved 50 participants, more than half of which had stated that health labels affect their food choices. Three variations in sodium content of a commercially available chicken noodle soup were tested: the benchmark product with no sodium reduction; 15% sodium-reduced soup; and 30% sodium-reduced soup. The remaining ingredients were the same. Each of the soup products was labeled with one of three labels: no health label; a nutrient label stating “Now reduced in salt, great taste"; or the “Tick" health logo.

On three separate days, participants tasted three soups with the three different labels in random order, with the option to add salt at their discretion from a salt shaker. Expected and perceived saltiness were measured with a 9-point just-about-right scale (1= ‘not salty enough at all’, 5= ‘just about the right amount of salt for me’, 9= ‘far too salty for me’), whereas expected and perceived liking were measured with a 9-point hedonic scale (1= ‘not liked at all’ to 9= ‘extremely liked’).

Participants were shown the packaged soup and asked what they expected of it in terms of liking, desire and saltiness. Soups were then freshly prepared from the shown packs. While tasting each soup, the study participants were requested to rate it on perceived liking and salt intensity. After tasting a spoonful, they were permitted to add as much salt as they wanted from the salt shakers. Between different soups, participants had to rinse their mouth with water. In total, all participants sampled all nine combinations of soup and label.

For all types of soup, more participants added table salt when the soup carried the reduced-salt label compared to when the same soup carried either the health logo or no label. Those who did add salt, additionally added more salt when soups carried the reduced-salt label, independent of the actual sodium content of the soup. When 30% sodium-reduced soup was labeled with a reduced-salt label, participants over-compensated the reduction in sodium by adding table salt beyond benchmark levels.

The mere exposure to the reduced-salt label resulted in lower expectations and lower actual taste experience of the soups in terms of liking and saltiness. The perceived saltiness of the soups with a salt-reduction label was lower than would be expected based on the actual amount of salt in the soup. Providing the health logo or no label did not influence taste perception. Only 28% of the participants added salt to the 15% sodium-reduced soups, indicating that such a reduction may be feasible to implement if consumers are not made aware of the modification.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Zinc is an essential mineral in the human diet serving a number of functions from the formation of essential enzymes to strengthening the immune system.

“Zinc helps in the production of around 100 enzymes in your body, supports the immune system and helps maintain your senses of smell and taste," states Jayesh Chaudhari, senior formulation scientist, Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, NY. In addition, zinc is essential for protein synthesis and supports normal growth and development. Because the body does not store zinc, a daily intake is required to maintain zinc levels.

Our nutritional requirements for zinc increase with age from birth, when we need 2 mg per day, to age 14, when males need 11 mg per day and females 9 mg per day, with the greatest RDAs indicated for boys and men over age 14 (11 mg per day), and pregnant and lactating women (needs range from 11 to 13 mg per day, depending on age). Though most life stages have an RDA for zinc, the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Washington, established an Adequate Intake for infants ages 0 to 6 months that is equivalent to the mean intake of zinc in healthy, breastfed infants. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for zinc ranges from 4 mg for infants 0 to 6 months of age to 40 mg for adults 9 years of age or older.

Sources and bioavailability of zinc

“Most nonvegetarian foods that are good sources of zinc include beef, lamb, pork, crab, turkey, chicken, lobster, clams and salmon," Chaudhari says. "Vegetarian sources include dairy products, such as milk and cheese, yeast, peanuts, beans, whole-grain cereals, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, potato and yogurt. Additionally, pumpkin seeds are one of the most-concentrated vegetarian sources of zinc." Though the zinc in plant-based foods is less bioavailable, bioavailability can be increased by soaking beans, grains and seeds for several hours and letting them sit until sprouts form prior to cooking (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2003;103:748-765). In addition, leavening increases zinc bioavailability by partially breaking down the naturally occuring phytates, compounds that bind zinc, inhibiting its absorption.

Bioavailability refers to the efficiency of absorption and utilization, or retention, of the nutrients that are present in food. Several factors affect bioavailability, including components found in the food itself, food processing, human physiology and a persons’ health status. Also, nutrients compete with other nutrients for absorption. Some nutrients will enhance or reduce the amount of other nutrients being absorbed by the body. Because there are many factors that affect the bioavailability of zinc, it is not possible to accurately compare the bioavailability of zinc from two different sources of the nutrient.

Zinc and health

Zinc deficiency is prevalent in the developing world, though both zinc deficiency and toxicity are rare in the United States (Molecular Medicine, 2008; 14:353-357). Zinc deficiency typically results from inadequate zinc intake or absorption, an increase in zinc requirements or excess zinc losses. Some diseases, certain digestive disorders, gastrointestinal surgeries and chronic diarrhea can all lead to excessive zinc losses. In addition to diseases and conditions that lead to greater zinc losses, some people have increased zinc needs, including vegetarians, who may need 50% more than the RDA, because plant-based sources of zinc are less bioavailable. Additionally, pregnant and lactating women (11 to 13 mg per day), infants ages 7 to 12 months who are exclusively breastfed (3 mg per day; the amount of zinc in breast milk does not meet the zinc needs of this age group), those with sickle cell disease and alcoholics all have increased zinc needs.

Zinc deficiency can lead to growth retardation, hypogonadism, cognitive impairment and immune dysfunction (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2009; 28:257-265).

Zinc deficiency also adversely affects several aspects of immune functioning, decreases resistance to pathogens and impairs wound healing (Annual Reviews of Nutrition, 1990;10:415-31; Wound Repair and Regeneration, 2007;15:2-16). A review of 13 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials found that supplemental intake of zinc within 24 hours of the onset of a cold was associated with a significant reduction in the duration and severity of common cold symptoms in healthy people. In addition, zinc supplementation for at least five months was found to reduce cold incidence, school absenteeism and prescription of antibiotics in children (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011; (2):CD001364). In addition, a meta analysis of 17 randomized, controlled trials of zinc supplementation in infants and children found that zinc supplementation significantly reduced both the frequency and severity of diarrhea and respiratory illnesses in this population (Pediatrics, 2007; 119:1,120-1,130).

Zinc supplementation doesn't just impact immune functioning. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that a supplemental combination of zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E slowed the progression of age-related macular degeneration (Current Opinion in Ophthalmology, 2010; 21:184-189).

Zinc toxicity in humans is rare, although long-term intake at levels above the tolerable upper limit can result in adverse health effects. And, consuming large quantities of zinc can lead to a copper deficiency (Food and Nutrition Board, IOM).

Fortification caveats

Zinc fortification is an effective approach to improving a population’s zinc status, increasing both dietary zinc intake and total daily zinc absorption. In addition, the majority of studies also show that adding zinc to food does not adversely affect the absorption of other minerals (Food Nutrition Bulletin, 2009;30:S79-107).

However, different forms of zinc added to foods can impact the taste and overall sensory quality of the finished product, depending on the amount of zinc added and type used. According to Chaudhari, “most zinc salts do contribute typical “metallic taste," which could be easily minimized with the use of encapsulated or coated forms, along with a combination of the right flavor and sweetener."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Men think meat is macho and salad is for wimps, claims research

MEN are put off eating a healthy diet because they feel meat is masculine and vegetables are for wimps, new research suggests.

Researchers found men have a strong psychological association between meat and being macho and have the opposite association to salads and greens.

They conducted a number of experiments that looked at the metaphors and words men used in connection with certain foods, like meat and milk.

The psychologists also analysed 23 languages that use gendered pronouns to see if there was a connection between manly words and certain meats.

Results showed meat generated more masculine words when people discussed it, like strong and tough, with most languages relating meat to the male gender.

People also saw male meat eaters as more manly than non-meat eaters.

One of the research team, Professor Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania, said: "We examined whether people in Western cultures have a metaphoric link between meat and men.

"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food.

"Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy."

But Liz O'Neill of the Vegetarian Society said there was "misconception" that vegetarianism was a "bit girlie".

"It’s absolute nonsense," she said.

"You don’t need to be a meat eater to be a red-blooded male. I can’t comment on my own vegan husband’s masculinity but I am very happy.”

She pointed out that factors such as obesity and high blood levels of blood pressure and obesity linked to erectile dysfunction were less likely to be suffered by vegetarians.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Study finds java drinkers live longer

One of life's simple pleasures just got a little sweeter. After years of waffling research on coffee and health, even some fear that java might raise the risk of heart disease, a big study finds the opposite: Coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer. Regular or decaf doesn't matter.

The study of 400,000 people is the largest ever done on the issue, and the results should reassure any coffee lovers who think it's a guilty pleasure that may do harm.

"Our study suggests that's really not the case," said lead researcher Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute. "There may actually be a modest benefit of coffee drinking."

No one knows why. Coffee contains a thousand things that can affect health, from helpful antioxidants to tiny amounts of substances linked to cancer. The most widely studied ingredient - caffeine - didn't play a role in the new study's results.

It's not that earlier studies were wrong. There is evidence that coffee can raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, and blood pressure at least short-term, and those in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.

Even in the new study, it first seemed that coffee drinkers were more likely to die at any given time. But they also tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less than non-coffee-drinkers. Once researchers took those things into account, a clear pattern emerged: Each cup of coffee per day nudged up the chances of living longer.

The study was done by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. The results are published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Careful, though - this doesn't prove that coffee makes people live longer, only that the two seem related. Like most studies on diet and health, this one was based strictly on observing people's habits and resulting health. So it can't prove cause and effect.

But with so many people, more than a decade of follow-up and enough deaths to compare, "this is probably the best evidence we have" and are likely to get, said Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. He had no role in this study but helped lead a previous one that also found coffee beneficial.

The new one began in 1995 and involved AARP members ages 50 to 71 in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Atlanta and Detroit. People who already had heart disease, a stroke or cancer weren't included. Neither were folks at diet extremes - too many or too few calories per day.

The rest gave information on coffee drinking once, at the start of the study. "People are fairly consistent in their coffee drinking over their lifetime," so the single measure shouldn't be a big limitation, Freedman said.

Of the 402,260 participants, about 42,000 drank no coffee. About 15,000 drank six cups or more a day. Most people had two or three.

By 2008, about 52,000 of them had died. Compared to those who drank no coffee, men who had two or three cups a day were 10 percent less likely to die at any age. For women, it was 13 percent.

Even a single cup a day seemed to lower risk a little: 6 percent in men and 5 percent in women. The strongest effect was in women who had four or five cups a day - a 16 percent lower risk of death.

None of these are big numbers, though, and Freedman can't say how much extra life coffee might buy.

"I really can't calculate that," especially because smoking is a key factor that affects longevity at every age, he said.

Coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart or respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, injuries, accidents or infections. No effect was seen on cancer death risk, though.

Other research ties coffee drinking to lower levels of markers for inflammation and insulin resistance. Researchers also considered that people in poor health might refrain from drinking coffee and whether their abstention could bias the results. But the study excluded people with cancer and heart disease - the most common health problems - to minimize this chance. Also, the strongest benefits of coffee drinking were seen in people who were healthiest when the study began.

About two-thirds of study participants drank regular coffee, and the rest, decaf. The type of coffee made no difference in the results.

Hu had this advice for coffee lovers:

- Watch the sugar and cream. Extra calories and fat could negate any benefits from coffee.

- Drink filtered coffee rather than boiled - filtering removes compounds that raise LDL, the bad cholesterol.

Researchers did not look at tea, soda or other beverages but plan to in future analyses.

Lou and Mariann Maris have already compared them. Sipping a local brew at a lakefront coffee shop, the suburban Milwaukee couple told of how they missed coffee after briefly giving it up in the 1970s as part of a health kick that included transcendental meditation and eating vegetarian.

Mariann Maris switched to tea after being treated for breast cancer in 2008, but again missed the taste of coffee. It's one of life's great pleasures, especially because her husband makes it, she said.

"Nothing is as satisfying to me as a cup of coffee in the morning," she said.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Americans remain supportive of existing federal rules for labeling foods produced through biotechnology

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) 2012 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology & Sustainability” survey shows that Americans remain highly supportive of existing federal rules for labeling foods produced through biotechnology and very few cite biotechnology as an information need on the food label.

According to the survey, satisfaction with current food labels remains high, despite extensive coverage of biotech labeling and modern food production issues in traditional and social media. Seventy-six percent of consumers could not think of any additional information (other than what is already required) that they wish to see on food labels. Of the 24 percent who wanted more information, 36 percent wanted information related to nutritional content; 19 percent wanted more information about ingredients; and 18 percent wanted more food safety related information, such as possible allergens. Only three percent of the 24 percent subset (or about five people and less than one percent of all surveyed) wanted more information about biotechnology. In addition, eighty-seven percent of Americans say they have not taken any action out of concern about biotechnology.

And when consumers were presented with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current labeling policy for foods produced using biotechnology, which calls for labeling only when the food’s nutritional content or its composition is changed, or when a potential safety issue is identified, 66 percent of respondents indicated their support for the policy.

IFIC President and CEO David Schmidt said the strength of the methodology used in the IFIC survey sets it apart from other surveys looking at food technology issues.

“In the public landscape, we often see polling that tries to provoke or frighten people into giving a certain desired response,” Schmidt said. “We don’t believe in leading consumers to any conclusion. We believe our open-ended methodology used at the beginning of our survey provides a more accurate view of concerns on Americans’ minds, and the survey is the most objective and long-term publicly available data set on U.S. consumer attitudes toward food and agricultural biotechnology.”

Perceptions of biotechnology: The majority of Americans, 74 percent, have some awareness of plant biotechnology and almost 40 percent are favorable toward the use of biotechnology in food production. Of the 35 percent of consumers who expect biotechnology will provide benefits to them or their families in the next five years, 36 percent expect nutrition and health benefits, while 22 percent listed improved quality, taste and variety as beneficial characteristics to expect. In terms of biotech foods consumers would be likely to purchase based on specific attributes, 77 percent indicated they would be somewhat or very likely to purchase foods produced through biotechnology that required fewer pesticide applications; and 71 percent indicated they would likely purchase biotech foods that provided more healthful fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids.

In addition, a majority (57 percent) of Americans have some awareness of animal biotechnology, while 33 percent say they view the technology somewhat or very favorably. Of those who are “not favorable” (i.e. not very or not at all favorable, or neutral) toward animal biotechnology, 55 percent say not having enough information about the technology is the reason for their answer.

Importance of sustainability: The 2012 survey found that awareness of the concept of sustainable food production remains relatively high, with 56% who have heard or read something about sustainability in food production. In 2010, 50 percent had heard or read something about it, and in 2008, 41 percent were aware of the concept. New this year, most consumers (69 percent) say it is important that foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way. However, only 33 percent of consumers say they are willing to pay more for products that fit their concept of sustainability.

“Not surprisingly, awareness of sustainability among consumers is high,” said Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, IFIC Senior Vice President, Nutrition and Food Safety. “Consumers expect that the foods they purchase will be produced sustainably. The catch is that we see from survey responses that consumers have many different definitions of sustainability, which can make meeting that expectation a challenge.”

Among those consumers perceiving sustainability as important, the top four characteristics of sustainability are conserving the natural habitat (35 percent), ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing global population (32 percent), reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food (30 percent) and ensuring an affordable food supply (24 percent).

Additional insights regarding perceptions of animal genomics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology can be found in the “2012 Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey” Executive Summary on

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yogurt Makes Mice Slimmer and Sexier, Study Finds

Scientists studying the power of probiotics to fight obesity got more than they bargained for: They found that yogurt not only makes mice slimmer, it also makes them sexier.

Studies in humans suggest eating yogurt may help stave off age-related weight gain. But Massa­chusetts Institute of Technology researchers Eric Alm and Susan Erdman wanted to know why.

“Maybe it has to do with the healthy bacteria that live in our guts,” said Alm, an evolutionary biologist, explaining how there are 10 times more bacteria in the body than human cells. “Maybe probiotics in the yogurt have something to do with the effects on weight.”

To test the theory, Alm and Erdman fed one group of mice a normal mouse diet and another group the same diet with a mouse-sized serving of vanilla yogurt.

“One of the first things we noticed was their fur coat,” said Erdman, assistant director of comparative medicine at MIT. “It was so thick and shiny; shockingly shiny.”

But shiny fur wasn’t the only thing that set the yogurt-eating mice apart from their siblings: They were also slimmer, and the males had “swagger.”

“We knew there was something different in the males, but we weren’t sure what it was at first,” Erdman said. “You know when someone’s at the top of their game, how they carry themselves differently? Well, imagine that in a mouse.”

A lab technician would soon discover what was giving these males their sexy strut.

“She noticed their testicles were protruding out really far,” Erdman said.

It turns out their testicles were 5 percent bigger than those of their non-yogurt eating counterparts, and 15 percent bigger than those of mice on a diet designed to mimic “junk food” in humans. And in this case, bigger was better.

“Almost everything about the fertility of those males is enhanced,” Erdman said, explaining how yogurt-eating males mated faster and produced more offspring. “There were legitimate physiological differences in males fed probiotics, not just the extra sexiness.”

And let’s not forget the ladies. Female mice that ate yogurt were even shinier than the males, and tended to be better moms to their larger litters.

“We think it’s the probiotics in the yogurt,” Alm said. “We think those organisms are somehow directly interacting with the mice to produce these effects.”

Although the study is ongoing, the findings could have implications for human fertility, not to mention weight control and hair health.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Red wine compound can combat Alzheimer’s

More than two dozen academic institutions will recruit volunteers in the coming months for a national, phase II clinical trial to examine the effects of resveratrol on individuals with mild to moderate dementia due to Alzheimer's disease.

Resveratrol is a compound found in red grapes, red grape juice, red wine, chocolate, tomatoes and peanuts.

Pre-clinical and pilot clinical research studies suggest that resveratrol may prevent diabetes, act as a natural cancer fighter, ward off cardiovascular disease, and prevent memory loss, but there has been no large definitive study of its effects in humans.

The risk of all of these diseases increases with aging. Animal studies suggest that resveratrol may impede molecular mechanisms of aging. Human population studies suggest several health benefits from modest daily consumption of red wine, but the mechanisms of action in the body are unknown.

R. Scott Turner, M.D., Ph.D., director of Georgetown University Medical Center's Memory Disorders Program, is the lead investigator for the national study.

"Most resveratrol studies showing any health benefits have been conducted in animal models, such as mice, and with doses that far exceed intake from sipping wine or nibbling on chocolate," said Turner.

"With this clinical trial, we'll find out if daily doses of pure resveratrol can delay or alter memory deterioration and daily functioning in people with mild to moderate dementia due to Alzheimer's.

"During this study, we will also test whether resveratrol improves glucose and insulin metabolism in older individuals -- although those who already have diabetes will not be included in this study," he stated.

Resveratrol is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of Alzheimer's. It is not known if resveratrol can change the course of the disease.

Not everyone who enrolls in the study will receive resveratrol. Half of the participants will receive a placebo (a sugar pill made to look like the resveratrol pill) to allow researchers to more objectively test the benefits of resveratrol. Neither the patient nor the clinical staff will know if the study participant is receiving the placebo or resveratrol until the end of the study.

"This is the gold-standard for conducting a clinical study because it allows us to objectively determine if resveratrol is offering any benefits," explained Brigid Reynolds, NP, lead investigator for the study at Georgetown.

In addition, the phase II study will examine the safety and tolerability of resveratrol administered twice daily with a dose increase planned at three-month intervals, she noted.

The resveratrol study will be conducted at 26 U.S. academic institutions that are affiliated with the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study.

The research is sponsored by the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), through a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Monday, May 14, 2012


Largely fueled by convenience and time restraints, the demand for microwaveable foods continues to grow, according to a new report from Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA). The research report titled "Microwaveable Foods: A Global Strategic Business Report" announced by GIA, provides a comprehensive view of the market, impact of recession, current market trends and issues, key growth drivers, product profile, recent product introductions, recent industry activity and profiles of major global, as well as regional, market participants.

The report highlights that, in addition to changing lifestyles—including working women, time constraints and trends in ethnicity— is leading to an increased growth in the microwave cooking market, while new trends are also emerging in the related packaging market worldwide. Several types of packaging are being developed using patterned susceptors technology, new tray-lidding methods and new cook bag techniques. In upcoming years, food-packaging companies are expected to use sensors, logic, digital displays and other automatic features aimed at offering increased benefits out of microwave cooking.

In addition, developed economies of the United States and Europe represent the largest worldwide microwavable foods market, as stated by the recent research report on Microwavable Foods. As one of the world's leading technology driven economies, innovations in meal solutions are the most dynamic in the United States, driven primarily by the reluctance of Americans to prepare time consuming meals. In Europe, United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy are the individual countries that will hold the most lucrative growth potential for additional convenience "occasions" in the upcoming years, driving forth high sales in the market. Strong growth is envisioned from the developing countries in Asia, and South and Central America. In the Asian market, an appetite for new and advanced technologies displayed by first time buyers is expected to provide increased growth. The Asia-Pacific market is set to forge ahead at a strong growth pace of 7.4% through the analysis period.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Value-Added Fresh Vegetables Positioned for Growth

Health and convenience will be the leading drivers of increased demand for fresh vegetables in the next five years, according to a report released today from Rabobank's Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory (FAR) group. The report cites the growing U.S. health crisis and consumer desire for easy-to-prepare meals among the reasons.

The report notes that even though Americans are concerned about the U.S. obesity epidemic, the stand-alone marketing of a "healthy benefit" to mainstream consumers isn't enough to increase consumption of fresh vegetables -- evident by the overall flat consumption rate of fresh vegetables in recent years. The report recommends that produce firms put more emphasis on creating value-added products that are not only healthy, but easy to prepare.

"As grower-shipper processors look to increase sales of fresh vegetables, we believe the solution really lies with the concept of healthy convenience," said the report's author, Karen Halliburton Barber, assistant vice president and senior agricultural analyst for FAR. "The idea is to give consumers the best of both worlds: the healthfulness of fresh vegetables and the convenience of processed foods."

The report references a recent argument posed by the New York Times, stating that fresh, unprocessed, so-called 'real food' is no more expensive than processed 'junk food.' Rather, the deterrent from healthy food eating among mainstream consumers has been the inconvenience of time it takes to prepare the food.

Furthermore, the report recommends that grower-shipper processors invest in more product differentiation, including producing vegetables with naturally enhanced micronutrient content and bolder flavors; offering more ethnic vegetables and flavorings; and catering to local and regional appeal. The report identifies that to achieve this differentiation, some producers will likely need to change their product mix and adjust their production and sourcing partnerships -- including recognizing the continuing rising popularity of private labels in a post-recession world.

"As stores develop and expand their own private label offerings, it creates a challenge for established brands," said Barber. "Though some leading branded processors are supplying private labels, there's a risk of diminishing their own heavily invested brands."

Rabobank believes that overall, grower-shipper processors are uniquely positioned to compete by creating new products and possess the means to grow the market for fresh vegetables by adapting to consumers' evolving demand for healthy, convenient foods.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

'Coffee war' brewing in China

A coffee war is breaking out in China as Starbucks goes head-to-head with Britain’s Costa Coffee and a handful of Asian chains.

Starbucks, the world's biggest coffee chain, is opening cafés in China at a rate of one every four days in its quest to expand from about 570 shops currently to more than 1,500 by 2015.

The company's rivals in China include Costa Coffee, South Korean-owned bakery chains Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours, and Hong Kong’s Pacific Coffee.

They are also battling it out with US giants McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for a lucrative share of China’s coffee drinking market which includes both foreigners and locals.

James Roy, senior analyst at China Market Research, a Shanghai-based consultancy, said: “Coffee shops are opening everywhere in China. While you used to only see a Starbucks in first-tier cities and larger coastal cities in Hangzhou, they are now in more of the smaller provincial capitals like Changsha and Guiyang and are expanding into third-tier cities as well.”

Pacific has about 55 outlets so far, mostly concentrated in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, with a few others in a handful coastal second-tier cities like Hangzhou and Qingdao.

Mr Roy added: “In their first few years Starbucks had been targeting expats and foreigners more. They and their competitors are now clearly focusing on locals as interest in coffee-drinking has grown. In particular, Starbucks has done an excellent job of positioning itself as an aspirational brand in China.”

Britain’s Costa has positioned itself as slightly premium to Starbucks and has more luxurious shop environments, including more sofas and plush seats.

Prices are slightly higher than Western prices - a grande cappuccino, for instance, costs about 60p more. Joe Drury, a British expat living in Shanghai, said: “I don’t mind paying a bit extra for my morning shot of caffeine as it tends to be more about the experience and environment. A price war may help drive prices down a bit but most expats don’t mind paying these prices for a home comfort like freshly brewed coffee.”

Amy Moir, who works for a British accountancy firm in Shanghai, added: “The Chinese don't drink coffee as a morning pick-me-up but as a social activity for relaxing with friends or business meetings, so the peak times are in the early afternoon rather than the morning.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Curry may help in fight against bowel cancer, study finds

Curry may help to boost the chances of fighting bowel cancer, according to researchers in the UK.

Laboratory tests suggest curcumin, a compound found in the yellow spice turmeric, can increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and has traditionally been used as an alternative remedy for a host of illnesses.

Now early test results suggest it may be able to reduce the development of bowel cancer.

The studies began after it was noticed that British Asians -- referring to Indians and Pakistanis -- were significantly less likely to develop the disease than non-Asians.

Now a two-year trial by scientists from Cancer Research UK and the University of Leicester aims to recruit for further tests about 40 patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver.

"We are very hopeful. You don't often see results like the ones we have had in the laboratory," chief investigator Professor Will Steward said.

"Certainly it is very, very promising and we are cautiously optimistic that we might see an improvement in outcome not just in terms of treating the cancer, making people live longer, giving people a better quality of life but also possibly reducing some of the nasty side-effects of chemotherapy."

Researchers hope that within three years they will have established once-and-for-all that one of our favorite curry ingredients is helping to prevent bowel cancer.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

U.S. Ice Cream Market Tops $25 Billion

Edvard Munch's iconic "The Scream" just sold for a record $120 million at auction in New York, but that's peanuts compared to the very voluble demand for ice cream, as indicated by Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts in the U.S. , a just-released market research report from Packaged Facts.

According to Packaged Facts, sales topped $25.1 billion in 2011, up 2.4% over the previous year--representing a small upswing after two years of flat sales. Because ice cream and frozen desserts purchased in foodservice channels have a higher ticket price per serving than do their counterparts purchased in retail channels, foodservice is the larger of the two sectors in dollar terms, accounting for 57% of overall sales. Within the retail mass market for packaged products, packaged ice cream is the largest category, accounting for 55% of total retail sales, followed by frozen novelties at 36%. The fastest dollar growth, however, came from the frozen yogurt/tofu specialty segment.

In the mature U.S. marketplace for ice cream and frozen desserts, according to Packaged Facts publisher David Sprinkle, marketers, retailers, and foodservice providers can grow their businesses by creating and marketing products that speak to today's consumers on an emotional level. Along with localized strategies and niche products representing true differentiation, integrating new media into the marketing mix can create buzz and communicate brand attributes that are responsive to the desires of economic downturn-weary Americans wanting to indulge without breaking the bank.

Ice cream and frozen desserts is a highly competitive market, with two multinational conglomerates--Nestlé and Unilever--at the top of the heap. Across the country, nonetheless, are hundreds of regional and local competitors that often go head-to-head with the industry giants in particular geographic markets, with many local and regional brands commanding the loyalty of generations of customers. In addition, a slew of niche companies run by entrepreneurs are making more than a blip on the radar screen with innovative and truly differentiated products. Also in the mix is a generous swirl of private label, with the improved quality of store brands making them an attractive price/value alternative to premium brands.