Tuesday, April 30, 2013

FDA will investigate added caffeine in foods

The Food and Drug Administration says it will launch a new investigation into foods with added caffeine and their potential impact on the health of children and adolescents.

The FDA's new look at added caffeine is in response to a caffeinated gum introduced this week by Wrigley. Called Alert Energy Gum, it promises "The right energy, right now."

Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner of foods, said in a statement Monday that the proliferation of caffeine added to foods is "beyond anything FDA envisioned."

Taylor said the agency will look at the potential impact these "new and easy sources" of caffeine will have on children's health and will take action if necessary. The agency previously launched an investigation into the safety of energy drinks.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Consumers Sour on Taxes for Sugary Drinks, Candy

A recent poll by Harris Interactive/HealthDay of 2,100 adult respondents reveals more than 56% oppose government taxes on sugary drinks and candy, with slightly more than 21% saying they were in favor of such a tax.
“This is a strong vote against the “nanny state,"" said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll.

“The idea of taxing calorie-rich candies and sodas may be popular with some public health advocates, who see them as major causes of the nation’s obesity epidemic, but it is very unpopular with the public," Taylor said.
The poll results come at a time of rising debate over the potential health impact of taxing “junk food." Many U.S. states do have sales taxes on soda, but they are small and not aimed at driving down Americans’ thirst for sugary drinks, said Kelly Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale University and co-founder of the school’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity,

“Sales taxes were intentionally kept small so they wouldn’t affect consumption," said Brownell, a long-time advocate of a bigger tax that would make consumers think twice about that sugary drink

For several years, Brownell and his colleagues have pushed for a penny-per-ounce excise tax on sweetened beverages (not just soda). That would ultimately boost the cost of sweet drinks by about 20 percent. And unlike sales taxes, which consumers do not see until they get to the cash register, excise taxes show up on the sticker price—when people are making the decision to buy or not.

In a 2011 study, Brownell’s team estimated that a national penny-per-ounce tax would cut Americans’ sugary drink intake by one-quarter. The researchers also projected that the tax could generate $79 billion in revenue over five years.

A number of states and local governments have proposed such a tax but they’ve gone nowhere.

The proposals have popped up in states like Vermont and Texas, big cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in smaller communities. Last year, voters in two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, rejected ballot initiatives that would have levied sugary-drink taxes.

The respondents in the Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll echoed those voters. Besides disliking the taxes, many doubted the potential health benefits—51% disagreed with the statement, “Sales taxes on candies and sodas would help to reduce obesity." Only 26% agreed.

A bigger percentage seemed to have a philosophical opposition to such taxes: Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “It should not be the role of government to influence what we eat and drink to make healthier choices."
J. Patrick Mohan, Interim President of the Corn Refiners Association poses an industry position that dovetails with those consumer sentiments, “As we continue to debate the root causes of our nation’s obesity epidemic, we need to rely on science and facts. Not look for quick fixes such as attempting to legislate behavior through arbitrary consumption limits that draw focus away from developing real solutions to complex issues."

Chris Gindlesperger, senior director of public affairs for the American Beverage Association said about the poll, "The data here shows people don't want the government telling them what to eat or drink," adding, "taxes don't make people healthy, diet and exercise do that."

Justin Wilson, senior research analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) argued that, “People prefer incentives to penalties."

The Washington, D.C.-based CCF opposes soda taxes and other “sin" taxes, saying there’s no evidence they would actually help curb the U.S. obesity problem—and that no single food can be pinpointed as a cause of obesity.
Says Mohan in agreement, “Decades of scientific research have produced overwhelming data showing that establishing a healthy overall dietary pattern and lifestyle is a more effective strategy for decreasing obesity than singling out or restricting one particular nutrient or food."

Wilson said government “incentives" could include building more sidewalks and “green spaces" so that Americans, especially kids, can get outside and exercise.

“Creating more green spaces is a perfect role for government," he said.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Imported Cucumbers Linked to Salmonella Outbreak in 18 States

Can we ever eat was in grown in theUSA

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a total of 73 persons in 18 states have been confirmed infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul that has been linked to cucumbers imported from Mexico.

Preliminary epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations conducted by officials in local, state, and federal public health, agriculture, and regulatory agencies indicate that exposure to imported cucumbers supplied by Daniel Cardenas Izabal and Miracle Greenhouse of Culiacán, Mexico and distributed by Tricar Sales, Inc. of Rio Rico, Ariz., is the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul infections.

On April 24, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed Daniel Cardenas Izabal and Miracle Greenhouse of Culiacán, Mexico on Import Alert. Cucumbers from the two firms will be denied admission into the United States unless the suppliers show that they are not contaminated with Salmonell

Among persons for whom information was available, illness onset dates range from Jan. 12, 2013, to April 6, 2013. Ill persons range in age from less than 1 year to 80 years, with a median age of 23 years. Illnesses have been confirmed in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Coffee May Help Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence

Drinking coffee may help decrease the risk of breast cancer recurring in patients taking the widely used drug Tamoxifen, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer Causes Control. The findings suggest patients who took the pill, along with 2 or more cups of coffee daily, reported less than half the rate of cancer recurrence, compared with their Tamoxifen-taking counterparts who drank 1 cup or less.

Researchers at Lund University investigated the impact of coffee consumption on tumor characteristics and risk for early events in relation to breast cancer treatment and CYP1A2 and CYP2C8 genotypes. They followed more than 600 breast cancer patients from southern Sweden for an average of five years. Approximately 300 took Tamoxifen, which is a common hormone therapy after breast cancer surgery that reduces the risk of new tumors by blocking oestrogen receptors. How coffee interacts with the treatment, however, isn’t immediately known.

“One theory we are working with is that coffee ‘activates’ Tamoxifen and makes it more efficient," said Maria Simonsson, doctoral student in oncology at Lund University.

The same researchers have previously linked coffee consumption to a decreased risk of developing certain types of breast cancer. Caffeine also has been shown to hamper the growth of cancer cells. The latest observational study involving coffee’s role in cancer prevention and treatment underlines the need for more research, the researchers said.

Friday, April 26, 2013

1 Sugary Soft Drink A Day Ups Diabetes Risk by 22%

Individuals who drink one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soft drink a day have a 22% increased risk for diabetes compared to those who don’t consume any sugar drinks, according to a new study published in Diabetologia.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the InterAct consortium conducted the study to determine whether an association between drinking juices, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and artificially sweetened soft drinks and type 2 diabetes existed in Europe.

They used data on consumption of juices and nectars, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and artificially sweetened soft drinks collected across eight European cohorts participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study involving some 350,000 participants.

As part of the InterAct project, the researchers did a study that included 12,403 type 2 diabetes cases and a random sub-cohort of 16,154 identified within EPIC. After adjusting for confounding factors, they found consumption of one 12-ounce (336ml) serving size of sugar-sweetened soft drink per day increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 22%. This increased risk fell slightly to 18% when total energy intake and body-mass index (BMI) were accounted for. This could indicate that the effect of sugar-sweetened soft drink on diabetes goes beyond its effect on body weight.

The researchers also observed a statistically significant increase in type 2 diabetes incidence related to artificially sweetened soft drink consumption; however, the association disappeared after taking into account the BMI of participants. They said it probably indicates the association was not causal but driven by the weight of participants. Pure fruit juice and nectar consumption was not significantly associated with diabetes incidence; however, it was not possible using the data available to study separately the effect of 100% pure juices from those with added sugars.

They found the increased risk of diabetes among sugar-sweetened soft drink consumers in Europe is similar to that found in a meta-analysis of previous studies conducted mostly in North America that found a 25% increased risk of type 2 diabetes associated with one 12-ounce daily increment of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

In March 2013, research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions blamed sugary drinks, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks, for approximately 180,000 deaths globally each year. The study was released just one week after study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found children who consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) have higher caloric intakes of foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods compared to children who do not drink sugary drinks.

In 2010, results of a meta-analysis conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) showed that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is clearly and consistently associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, drinking two sugar-sweetened drinks per day increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%, and increases the risk of metabolic syndrome by 20% compared with those who consumed less than one sugary drink per month. Drinking one 12-ounce serving per day increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 15%.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What You Can Learn from Century-Old Businesses

You don’t stay in business for a century or more by staying the same. Here’s what a few long-running businesses did to successfully cope with huge disruptions in their core markets that might have put them out of business, courtesy of Joe Taylor Jr. at Small Business Computing.

Bagmaker J.W. Hulme spent much of the 20th century manufacturing luggage and handbags sold under other companies’ brands. But by 2003, clients had shifted manufacturing to less expensive operations based in China, and the company was running out of money fast. A new owner and CEO gambled that consumers would buy into the company’s century-old heritage of American craftsmanship, and the company began selling under its own name through its website and a network of high-end retailers. The company built relationships with customers and expanded its market to include technology accessories like iPad cases.

British cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield can trace its heritage to a London market stall in 1742. With supermarkets cutting into the market for specialty food makers, a new owner embraced ecommerce and used overnight courier services to ship its handmade cheese direct to customers throughout the UK. Beating competitors to the online market helped the company build customer loyalty and expand its market from its bricks-and-mortar storefronts.

Ironrock Capital abandoned its original line of paving bricks to keep up with evolving market demands. Today, the company makes quarry, decorative tile, and structural bricks that support modern construction and design methods.

What is interesting about all three examples is they were all logical market expansions, not huge leaps into new areas. These are things all businesses should be thinking about every day, not just when creditors come knocking.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tackle diet and exercise at the same time to effectively lose weight

A new study shows the best way to lose weight is to focus on changing your diet and exercise at the same time, Medical News Today reported.

Previously, weight-loss experts have said you should focus on your diet first and then concentrate on exercise; but the study, which appears in this month’s Annals of Behavioral Medicine, said focusing on both right up front is the way to go.

However, study author Abby King, a professor of health research and policy and of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, said “if you need to start with one, consider starting with physical activity first.”

King and her team looked at published studies in which more than one change was made to health habits – and the results were conflicting. She also noticed researchers hadn’t really looked at what happens when people attempted to change more than one habit at a time. That’s what made her decide to start her own investigation.

King’s focus was on people who said they didn’t have enough time to think about changing their diet and exercise at the same time. She thought if she could find it worked for that group, then it could work for any group.

Researchers recruited 200 people over the age of 45 who were not regularly exercising or eating healthy for the study. The participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups, and all of them were coached over the telephone for one year.

One coach helped the group make changes to both diet and exercise – at the same time. A second coach tackled diet first, then exercise. A third coach encouraged the group to worry about exercise first and their diet later.

The fourth group was a control group – so they didn’t concentrate on diet or exercise, but rather how to manage stress.

All the groups had to maintain the U.S. guidelines of eating five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day, making sure calories from saturated fats were less than 10 percent of their total intake, and exercise for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity.

The most successful group was the one who changed their diet and exercise at the same time, despite having a busy lifestyle. The group who concentrated on fitness first found the next-best results.

King said she thought coaching over the phone played a key role, since the study’s participants were already so busy. Telephone sessions did not last more than 40 minutes at a time, and sometimes they lasted only 10 minutes.

King’s study was funded by grants, which were provided through the National Institute on Aging and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Drought Creates Global Olive Oil Shortage and Increasing Price Expectations

Harsh weather conditions in 2012 have drastically reduced this year’s olive oil crop throughout Southern Europe, especially in Spain, creating a global shortage of olive oil and increasing prices. In Spain, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, it barely rained from late April through October 2012, and desiccated Spanish olive trees are producing less fruit as a result, says Javier Marquez, marketing director of Hojiblanca U.S.A., which comprises 65,000 farmers in the olive oil–producing region of Andalusia, Spain. Due to this drought, olives the trees did produce were smaller in size and less juicy. Two weeks of extreme cold in November, which froze olives on the trees, exacerbated the problem.

Spanish production for 2013 is now expected to be 600 million tons, down 63 percent from 1,614 million tons in 2012, Marquez says. The decreased production has led to a hike in prices in Spain where a liter of extra-virgin olive oil is one euro more than it was last year, he adds. This year’s low output follows three seasons in which Spanish olive oil production was very high, according to the International Olive Council.“Everybody is going to be affected by this drop in production because Spain supplies more than half of the world’s olive oil,” says Marquez. “Countries like Italy and Greece, Morocco and Tunisia, which were also affected by drought conditions, don’t have enough supply to make up for this.”

“The prices will have to rise,” he continues. “Paying the same price as last year is just not possible. We are making sure our customers understand the reason why prices are higher in the industry.”

Demand for olive oil has been on the rise in the U.S., fueled most recently by studies documenting significant health benefits from the olive-oil–heavy Mediterranean diet. During the 2011-2012 season, the U.S. imported 317,095 tons of olive oil, an 8.6 percent increase over the previous year, according to the IOC.

Greg Bernarducci, owner of O Live in Brooklyn, has built his business on this demand for high-quality olive oil. His store carries 50 varieties and balsamic vinegars on tap, many from Spain, Italy, Portugal, Tunisia and Greece. So far, he has not experienced an increase in prices from his distributor, Veronica Foods, Oakland, Calif., which supplies extra-virgin olive oil to 430 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“My guess is that’s because I don’t do a huge volume,” says Bernarducci.

Veronica Bradley, owner of Veronica Foods, says she was able to secure her needed volume of 50,000 gallons of premium Spanish extra-virgin olive oil by ordering early. “We knew there was a shortage, and we made our contracts early before the prices skyrocketed,” says Bradley. “We’ve gotten calls from some of the big suppliers about the shortage and they are scrambling.”

While Spain’s crop was hit the hardest, shortfalls have been felt across Southern Europe, leading to price hikes, according to the IOC and industry barometer poolred.com. In Greece, the IOC reports, the price for olive oil recently rose 34 percent, and production is down. Tom Doukas, owner of Ariston Specialties, L.L.C., a distributor in New Britain, Conn., says he expects to sell at least 25 percent less Greek olive oil than last year. Ariston distributes Greek Olive oil from the Kalamata region of Messinia, Greece to more than 1,000 stores in 32 states.

So far, the yield of Greek olive oil, the world’s third largest producer, according to IOC data, is expected to produce between 250,000 and 275,000 tons, down from 386,000 tons in 2012, Doukas says. In Europe, a liter of Greek extra-virgin olive oil is running a euro higher, currently costing about 3 to 3.25 euros. But, Doukas says, he does not plan to increase prices in the U.S., due, in part, to the U.S.’s still recovering economy. “We will mostly absorb the increased price. It’s better to make a lot less one year than to lose customers because you raised the price,” Doukas says.


Monday, April 22, 2013

What’s “Healthy” at Restaurants? Consumers’ Definitions are Evolving

Consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious, but their perceptions of what is considered healthy eating at restaurants are also changing. Contemporary definitions of health are strongly associated with local, natural, organic and sustainable food and drink. Additionally, consumers are taking more of a balanced and personal approach to healthy eating—seeking out better-for-you foods, while enjoying occasional indulgences.

“More consumers than ever before tell us that eating healthy and paying attention to nutrition is important,” says Darren Tristano, Vice President of Technomic. “However, there’s a shift happening in terms of what actually defines healthy for them. We’re seeing more consumers gravitate toward health-halo claims—such as local, natural and organic, as well as whole-wheat and free-range. Operators can leverage this growing interest in the health halo by developing the kinds of menu offerings that can underscore health without detracting from the taste perception.”


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Forget Gold, the Gourmet-Cupcake Market Is Crashing

The icing is coming off America's cupcake craze

The dessert became a cultural and economic phenomenon over the last decade, with gourmet cupcake shops proliferating across the country, selling increasingly elaborate and expensive concoctions.

The craze hit a high mark in June 2011, when Crumbs Bake Shop Inc., CRMB -8.72% a New York-based chain, debuted on the Nasdaq Stock MarketNDAQ -0.92% under the ticker symbol CRMB. Its creations—4" tall, with fillings such as vanilla custard, caps of butter cream cheese, and decorative flourishes like a whole cookie—can cost $4.50 each.

After trading at more than $13 a share in mid-2011, Crumbs has sunk to $1.70. It dropped 34% last Friday, in the wake of Crumbs saying that sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections, and the stock slipped further this week.

Crumbs in part blamed store closures from Hurricane Sandy, but others say the chain is suffering from a larger problem: gourmet-cupcake burnout.

"The novelty has worn off," says Kevin Burke, managing partner of Trinity Capital LLC, a Los Angeles investment banking firm that often works in the restaurant industry.

Crumbs now has 67 locations, nearly double the number it had less than two years ago. "These are singularly focused concepts," says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago research and consulting firm that specializes in the food industry. "You're not going to Crumbs every day."

"It's a short-term trend and we're starting to see a real saturation," he adds. "Demand is flat. And quite fraCrumbs last week warned that it now expects 2013 sales to reach about $57 million, sharply off its previous estimate of $73 million.

Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Jason and Mia Bauer opened the first Crumbs bakery in 2003 on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Today, the company, which also sells $42 "colossal" cupcakes that serve six to eight, is one of the largest players in the gourmet-cupcake industry, with locations in at least 10 states and the District of Columbia.

Crumbs went public in June 2011 after a shell company bought it. The buyer, 57th Street General Acquisition Corp., had raised money the previous year for its Crumbs purchase. 57th Street changed its name to Crumbs Bake Shop shortly after the merger.

Some investors appear to have been spooked when Crumbs last week disclosed it had to raise $10 million in financing. Crumbs recently signed a term sheet to sell not less than $10 million in convertible promissory notes to a company controlled by the family of Michael Serruya, a Canadian entrepreneur and co-founder of Yogen

Some investors appear to have been spooked when Crumbs last week disclosed it had to raise $10 million in financing. Crumbs recently signed a term sheet to sell not less than $10 million in convertible promissory notes to a company controlled by the family of Michael Serruya, a Canadian entrepreneur and co-founder of Yogen Fruz, a chain of 1,300 frozen yogurt stores in 35 countries.

Mr. Serruya disputes the notion that gourmet cupcakes are losing their appeal. "I don't believe that for a second," he said. "This category isn't going away, the category is here to stay. We wouldn't have committed our money to this deal, if we believed otherwise."

The transaction "will give us the money to execute our plans to move into the suburban mall arena where we have experienced growth," said Julian Geiger, president and CEO of Crumbs. "The decreases in business are in the metro markets where the stores have existed for quite a while."

As a business, making cupcakes has a relatively low barrier to entry and the field has become saturated with competitors, including individual bakeries, chains and grocery stores. Gigi's Cupcakes USA, based in Nashville, Tenn., has opened 85 stores in 23 states since 2008 through its franchising system.

Crumbs rivals include people like Cynthia Hankerson, owner of the three-year-old Cupcake Salon in Jersey City, N.J. Sales at her bakery cafe are slipping and she said she suspects the cupcake fad may be waning. Last year, a typical Saturday brought in an average of $600 to $700 in sales for her signature cupcakes, which come in flavors like pistachio, amaretto vanilla and strawberry banana. But now "we're lucky if we get $300," she says. "People get tired of things," the 42-year-old adds.

Even so, at least two other specialty cupcake businesses have opened up in her area within the past year, selling cupcakes at higher prices. "It's very competitive," she says.

Demand for gourmet cupcakes exploded in the early 2000s after Magnolia Bakery, another popular New York cupcake chain, was featured in the HBO series "Sex and the City." The sweet treats have since become central characters in TV shows like the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" and TLC's "DC Cupcakes."

Magnolia, now with seven stores in urban areas of North America and four overseas, remains consistently profitable through "close attention to managing expenses," according to Sara Gramling, a spokeswoman. Sales are up over last year, she said, though she declined to say by how much. Less than half of sales at the closely held company are cupcakes, which cost up to $3.50 each. The remainder are desserts such as cheesecakes, pies and pudding.

In the Crumbs earnings report last week, Mr. Geiger said the Sandy-related closures cost the company $700,000 in lost sales in the last quarter of 2012. Crumbs also indicated that certain locations "incapable of reaching acceptable levels of financial performance" would need to close. The report didn't specify how many might close.

Jiordan Castle, a former Crumbs assistant manager, says the New York outlet where she worked from 2009 to 2010 was "pretty disorderly." While the company says its cupcakes are baked fresh daily, "it doesn't mean the cupcake you're eating was made that day," the 22-year-old says.

Crumbs' Mr. Geiger said, "I dispute the allegation that the cupcakes are not sold fresh."

Crumbs perhaps grew too fast into suburban markets that couldn't support the brand, suggests John Gordon, principal at Pacific Management Consulting Group, a restaurant-industry analysis firm. "There are only 15 to 20 metro areas in the country where it would work," he says of the gourmet concept. "There is only so large of a market."


Saturday, April 20, 2013

'Western' Diet Doesn't Make for Healthy Seniors

A diet high in fried, sweet, and processed foods is not associated with healthy aging, a large cohort study found.

Participants on a Western-style diet had lower odds of ideal aging, defined as the absence of chronic diseases and mental health problems, as well as good cardiometabolic, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and cognitive function, according to Tasnime Akbaraly, PhD, of INSERM in Montpellier, France, and colleagues.

The odds of participants in the Western diet group aging ideally were low (OR 0.58 for top tertile versus bottom tertile, 95% CI 0.36 to 0.94, P=0.02), researchers wrote in an early online release of a study in the May edition of the American Journal of Medicine.

Researchers characterized the Western diet as one consisting of fried food, processed food and red meat, pies, sweetened desserts, chocolates, refined grains, high-fat dairy products, and condiments.

Although the impact of diet on specific age-related diseases has been studied extensively, few investigations have adopted a more holistic approach to determine the association of diet with overall health at older ages, researchers said.

They therefore sought to identify dietary factors assessed in midlife that can not only prevent premature death, but also promote ideal aging.

"Identifying predictors of exceptional health in old age ... may provide new insights into optimal levels of established risk and protective factors," Akbaraly and colleagues wrote.

The investigators suggested that new thresholds and targets for intervention may surface when more research into ideal aging is commenced.

Akbaraly and colleagues used data from the Whitehall II cohort (phase III) and included 3,775 men and 1,575 women (mean age 51 at baseline) whose baseline assessment spanned 1991-1993. Diet was ascertained at baseline, and health status was ascertained every 5 years from various sources.

The research team created five potential phenotypes to characterize aging outcomes after 16 years of follow-up: ideal aging (comprising 4% of the cohort), nonfatal cardiovascular event (7.3%), cardiovascular death (2.8%), noncardiovascular death (12.7%), and normal aging (73.2%).

For a comparator, the investigators relied on dietary patterns and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI).

The AHEI is a "validated index of diet quality, originally designed to provide dietary guidelines with the specific intention to combat major chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases," diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome, according to the study. High AHEI scores have correlated with reduced risk of these conditions.

"Analyses were adjusted successively for age, sex, total energy intake (model 1), and health behavior: smoking and physical activity (model 2)," the authors explained.

They found that a diet with high intake of vegetables, fruits, and fish (the "healthy-foods" diet) was significantly inversely associated with noncardiovascular mortality (model 1; OR per 1 standard deviation [SD] increment 0.76).

However, when researchers adjusted for smoking status and physical activity (model 2), the association was no longer significant (OR 0.90).

Participants in the highest tertile of Western diet were nearly 50% less likely to reach ideal aging compared with the bottom tertile (model 1), and 42% less likely using model 2.

The Western diet conferred a 53% greater chance of cardiovascular death and a 36% greater chance or noncardiovascular death in model 1 (per 1 SD increment on the OR), which lost significance after further adjustments.

Other disadvantages associated with the Western diet (top versus bottom tertile) included poorer musculoskeletal status, measured by walking speed (OR 1.45), and worse cognitive function (OR 1.58).

However, researchers did not find any significant association with the Western diet and indicators of cardiometabolic and respiratory functioning and mental health.

"While our results indicate that low adherence to healthy recommendations of the AHEI guidelines is associated with increased premature death, the 'Western-type' diet significantly reduced the likelihood of achieving ideal health at older ages ... independent of other health behaviors such as physical activity and smoking," they concluded.

Limitations of the study included a lack of generalizability of the results to a more ethnically diverse population; the exclusion of participants with missing values; questionnaires with only specific foods represented; and the possibility for unmeasured confounders, researchers said.

The Whitehall II study is supported by grants from the British Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, the British Health and Safety Executive, the British Department of Health, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Aging, and the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Low-Sodium Food Labels Woo, And Confuse, Consumers

The general consensus is that food labels that advertise lower sodium are a good way to help people make more healthful choices. But after that, what we think those labels mean gets a bit fuzzy, according to a new study.

Nutrition researchers were wondering just how we interpret the various sodium-related claims slapped on food packages: claims like "low in sodium" but also how a food product will reducing the risk of disease like hypertension, or "help lower blood pressure."

"Governments have gone out of their way to set different criteria for the different types of claims," says Mary L'Abbe, a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the study. "But the consumer wouldn't necessarily see that."

Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration goes after companies that don't have data to back up claims on disease and lowering blood pressure, but not on claims about sodium. Canada's food labeling policies are similar to those in the U.S.

When L'Abbe and her colleagues questions asked 506 Canadians about a fake tomato soup can with various label claims, they found that any claim about sodium, preventing disease or lowering blood pressure made the product more appealing.

About one-third of the people polled had high blood pressure. They tended to be more positive about sodium labeling overall.

Most of them also weren't snowed by the "Tastes great!" claim. But people were also a bit fuzzy on why reduced sodium was good.

When asked about a variety of health issues, including losing weight, constipation, and diabetes, participants in the survey said that lower-sodium products would prevent all of them. Alas, reducing sodium helps only to reduce blood pressure.

"What we saw there was a halo effect [with the low-sodium claim]," says Christina Wong, a graduate student and lead author of the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "They see a whole range of health benefits that are totally unrelated to the nutrient."

Second bit of good news: People are positive about reduced sodium foods overall. Manufacturers have been lowering sodium levels in foods but fear to advertise that because customers might shun them, NPR's Dan Charles reports.

But L'Abbe says: "Some manufacturers say consumers have negative impressions toward reduced-sodium foods, but our research doesn't show that."


Thursday, April 18, 2013


I have had many requests for gluten free recipes. Here is one, enjoy.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

·                 2/3 cup of White or Golden Quinoa

·                 1 1/3 cup of water

·                 1/3 cup of milk

·                 4 large eggs

·                 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla

·                 3/4 cup melted butter at room temperature

·                 1 1/2 cups white or cane sugar

·                 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa

·                 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

·                 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

·                 4 oz of dark chocolate

·                 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook Quinoa and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease two 8-inch round or square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper. Combine milk eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor. Add two cups of cooked quinoa and butter and combine to blend until smooth.

   Whisk together sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add contents of the blender and mix well. Divide the batter and add to the cake pans (or, if using one cake pan, add batter). Bake in center of the oven for 40-45 minutes. Let cool completely before adding chocolate ganache or leave plain. Store in sealed container in refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for up to one month.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boiled Greek coffee may be the secret to a longer life

Many studies have advocated drinking coffee to receive numerous health benefits – and now a new study suggests that Greek coffee may be the key to living a longer life.

Researchers from the University of Athens Medical School in Greece analyzed the link between Greek coffee and its potential benefits on cardiovascular health and found those who drank boiled Greek coffee had significantly better heart function, Counsel & Heal reported.

According to the study, only 0.1 percent of Europeans live past the age of 90. However, on an island off the coast of Greece called Ikaria, the number of people living past the age of 89 is 10 times higher than the rest of the European population. The Athens Medical School researchers were curious to understand if the islanders’ coffee consumption played a role.

The study involved 71 men and 71 women, all over the age of 65. Researchers performed medical checks and gave the participants health questionnaires about their medical history, lifestyle and coffee drinking habits.

Specifically looking at the individuals’ endothelial function – relating to the layer of cells lining blood vessel – the scientists found those who drank boiled Greek coffee had much better endothelial health.

“Boiled Greek type of coffee, which is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants and contains only a moderate amount of caffeine, seems to gather benefits compared to other coffee beverages," lead researcher Gerasimos Siasos, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Athens Medical school, said in a statem

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Food Industry Recognized for Corporate Social Responsibility

The food industry was well-represented in a list recognizing companies who demonstrate corporate social responsibility (CSR), accountability and transparency.

Campbell Soup Co., Coco-Cola, Hormel Foods Corp., General Mills, Inc., Monsanto Co., Starbucks Corp. and Pepsico are among the top 50 companies named in Corporate Responsibility Magazine's list of "100 Best Corporate Citizens 2013."

The magazine's Ranking and Rating Committee evaluates companies based on seven categories: climate change, employee relations, environment, financial, governance, human rights and philanthropy. "By advancing accountability and transparency through this research we empower those closest to these companies to make better decisions and ultimately judge these companies and their behaviors. In that way, we move us all closer to a world where everyone has the information they need and markets function more effectively."

Click here to view the complete list.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cocoa Polyphenols Fight Neurodegenerative Diseases

Cocoa polyphenols trigger neuroprotection by activating BDNF survival pathway, both on Aß plaque treated cells and on Aß oligomers treated cells, resulting in the counteraction of neurite dystrophy, according to a new study published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. The findings may have important implications for prevention of cognitive impairment in elderly and in neurodegenerative diseases in counteracting disease’s progression.

“Our studies indicate for the first time the cocoa polyphenols do not act only as mere anti-oxidant but they, directly or indirectly, activate the BDNF survival pathway counteracting neuronal death" said lead author Annamaria Cimini of the University of L’Aquila.

Researchers from the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO, Center for Biotechnology at Temple University), Lombardi Cancer Center, Georgetown University and the University of L’Aquila collaborated on the study.

“Understanding the preventive potential and the mechanism of action of functional food may provide a means to limit cognitive impairment progression" said Antonio Giordano, founder and director of the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine.

Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain higher amounts of polyphenols and flavanols than fruit juice, according to a 2011 study published in the Chemistry Central Journal. Researchers at the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition compared antioxidant levels in cocoa powder, chocolates and superfruits and found the total flavonol and polyphenol content, as well as antioxidant activity components of cocoa powder and dark chocolate, are superior compared to acai berry, blueberry, cranberry and pomegranate.

In 2010, a study published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences found consuming a diet rich in polyphenols may reduce elevated homocysteine levels in adults with Alzheimer’s disease, possibly reducing the oxidative stress load and benefiting brain health.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

High Levels of Lead Found in Rice Imported From China, Taiwan

New research presented at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society found rice imported from certain countries—most reportedly Taiwan and China—contains high levels of lead that could pose health risks, particularly for infants and children and adults of Asian heritage who consume large amounts of rice.

Researchers at Monmouth University found that levels of lead in rice imported into the United States ranged from 6 to 12 milligrams/kilogram. From those numbers, they calculated the daily exposure levels for various populations and then made comparisons with the FDA's PTTI levels for lead. They detected the highest amounts of lead in rice from Taiwan and China. Samples from the Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India and Thailand had significantly high levels of lead as well. Analysis of rice samples from Pakistan, Brazil and other countries were still underway.

Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, Ph.D., who led the analysis of rice imported from Asia, Europe and South America, noted that the United States is a major producer and exporter of rice and imports account for only 7% of the rice consumed in the United States. However, imports of rice and rice flour are increasing—by more than 200% since 1999—and rice is the staple food for 3 billion people worldwide.

"Such findings present a situation that is particularly worrisome given that infants and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning," Tongesayi said. "For infants and children, the daily exposure levels from eating the rice products analyzed in this study would be 30-60 times higher than the FDA's provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels. Asians consume more rice, and for these infants and children, exposures would be 60-120 times higher. For adults, the daily exposure levels were 20-40 times higher than the PTTI levels."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Can We Solve the Dietary Sodium Conundrum?

All the experts point to the processed foods and foodservice industries as the major contributor of sodium in the diet. The CDC cites 1991 data that concludes these foods provide 77% of the sodium we consume. So this is an issue the food industry takes seriously, with many private and public initiatives to reduce sodium in place.

Sodium reduction is challenging from both a flavor/acceptability and a functionality perspective. And research indicates that, for Americans, it might be equally difficult from a general eating-pattern perspective, too.

According to the CDC, Americans eat an average of about 3,300 mg of sodium a day. This is well above the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended limit of less than 2,300 mg sodium per day for the general population and a large group of adults that should be limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day (people who are 51 years or older, African Americans, and those with high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease).

But a new study indicates that achieving that lower level, which the CDC says applies to about 60% of adults, might be impossible without drastic changes in the typical American diet.

The study, conducted by the Nutritional Sciences Program and Center for Public Health Nutrition, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle pretty much sums up the problem: “A Conflict Between Nutritionally Adequate Diets and Meeting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Sodium" (Am J Prev Med. 2012 February; 42(2): 174–179, doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.10.009). The researchers used U.S. federal nutrient-composition and dietary-intake databases and made model food patterns for six gender–age groups to determine what diets were suitable to meet the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended sodium limits.

The results? Not encouraging: “For adults aged <50 1500="" 2300="" a="" achievable="" and="" authors="" behaviors="" but="" concluded="" consistent="" current="" day="" deviations="" diets="" eating="" feasible="" food="" from="" fruit="" goal="" goals="" grains="" high="" hit="" in="" juices="" large="" low="" lowest-sodium="" mathematical="" meats.="" mg="" modification="" no="" not="" nutrient-adequate="" nuts="" obtained.="" of="" or="" p="" patterns.="" patterns="" profound="" require="" required="" seeds="" sodium="" solution="" supply.="" that="" the="" theoretically="" to="" u.s.="" very="" was="" were="" with="" would="" years="">
Not that we should abandon the quest to lower the collective sodium level in processed foods and in restaurants and other foodservice venues. But achieving the public health goals might be harder than we thought.

Friday, April 12, 2013

At-Home Meals Increase, Kids' Influence Varies

Food and beverage manufacturers' target audience may be shifting, with the number of in-home meal occasions increasing, kids' influence over mealtime foods is varying from as much as 31% choosing what they eat for breakfast to a far less percentage of kids controlling what they eat for dinner, according to a report by the NPD Group.

The report, "Generation Mom: How Moms Provide and Kids Influence Consumption Patters in the Home," found that kids have most influence over food and beverage choices at breakfast and the morning snack. Twenty-four percent of kids, ages 2 to 17 years, choose what they eat at lunch; 3% decided what they eat at dinner; and 46% of kids choose what they eat for between meal snacks.

Tight budgets limiting the amount of restaurant meals families can afford have kids eating 43 more meals at home each year than they did a decade ago, with teens being more than twice as likely to influence any in-home meal occasion.

"More kids plus more meals being eaten at home represents a growing opportunity for food and beverage manufactures. By understanding who controls the meal and what is commonly consumed at each meal, you can more effectively target your audience," said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Egg Whites Help Lower Blood Pressure

There’s more good news for the “incredible, edible egg." Peptides found in egg whites have been found to reduce blood pressure about as much as a low dose of a common high blood pressure medication, according to new research presented at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Scientists previously discovered the peptide called RVPSL, like the family of medications that includes Captopril, Vasotec and Monopril, was an angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitor. It has a powerful ability to inhibit or block the action of ACE, a substance produced in the body that raises blood pressure.

Researchers at Jilin University in China and colleagues at Clemson University set out to further document RVPSL’s effects, using laboratory rats that develop high blood pressure and are stand-ins for humans in such early research on hypertension. The results of feeding the substance were positive, showing that RVPSL did not have apparent toxic effects and lowered blood pressure by amounts comparable to low doses of Captopril.
“Our results support and enhance previous findings on this topic," said study leader Zhipeng Yu, Ph.D., Jilin University. “They were promising enough to move ahead with further research on the effects of the egg white peptide on human health."

Yu said the research was done with a version of the peptide that was heated to almost 200 degrees Fahrenheit during preparation—less than the temperatures typically used to cook eggs. He cited evidence from other research, however, that egg whites may retain their beneficial effects on blood pressure after cooking.

He said egg white peptides, either in eggs or as a supplement, could become useful as an adjunct to high-blood-pressure medication.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Run or Walk: Gains in Heart Health Similar

Walking and running have about the same health benefits, researchers found – you just have to walk more to get them.

Spending the same amount of energy yielded similar reductions in the risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, according to Paul Williams, PhD, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and Paul Thompson, MD, of Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn.

But analysis of two large cohorts suggested that runners usually expend about twice as much energy as walkers and therefore reap greater health benefits, Williams and Thompson reported online in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

"The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits," Williams said in a statement. "If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable."

"Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people when compared to running," he added. "However, those who choose running end up exercising twice as much as those who choose walking ... probably because they can do twice as much in an hour."

Walking and running, the researchers noted, involve the same muscle groups and the same motions, but are performed at different "intensities" – where intensity is defined in terms of "metabolic equivalents," or METs.

Exercise has moderate intensity if it uses 3 to 6 times the oxygen needed to sit at rest, usually defined as 3.5 ml of oxygen per kg of body weight per minute. That amount is 1 MET.

On that scale, walking is moderate intensity exercise and running, which uses more than 6 METs, is vigorous, they noted.

What hasn't been clear is whether equivalent doses of moderate and vigorous physical activity have the same health benefits over time. To help fill that gap, Williams and Thompson turned to the National Runners' Health Study II and the National Walkers' Health Study.

In those cohorts, they looked for any associations of incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and coronary heart disease with reported exercise, with energy expenditure measured in MET-hours per day.

After excluding people with those conditions at the start, they were left with 15,945 walkers (21% of them men) and 33,060 runners (51.4% men). During 6.2 years of follow-up, there were 3,874 cases of incident hypertension, 6,637 cases of high cholesterol, 647 new cases of diabetes, and 530 cases of coronary heart disease.

Overall, they reported, male runners expended an average of 5.29 MET-hours per day while female runners expended 4.74. In contrast, male walkers expended 2.2 MET-hours per day and females expended 2.14.

The difference in average energy expenditure was reflected in lower health risks for runners, compared with walkers -- 38% lower for hypertension, 36% lower for hypercholesterolemia, and 71% lower for diabetes, they reported.

But equivalent energy expenditures cancelled out the differences. Specifically, per MET-hour per day, running and walking significantly decreased the risks for:

  • Incident hypertension by 4.2% for running and 7.2% for walking (P<10 sup="">−7
  • Hypercholesterolemia by 4.3% (P<10 sup="">−14
  • ) and 7% (P<10 sup="">−8)
  • Diabetes by 12.1% (P<10 sup="">−5
  • ) and 12.3%, (P<10 sup="">−4)
  • Coronary heart disease by 4.5%(P=0.05) and 9.3% (P=0.01)

  • The risk reductions were not significantly different for running than walking for diabetes (P=0.94) or coronary heart disease (P=0.26).

    The researchers cautioned that the study cohort is a sample of convenience.

    Although it's "unlikely" that the observed interaction would be different in a less-selected population, they wrote, "we cannot exclude" the possibility that people who exercise have lower innate risks for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, or coronary heart disease.

    Finally, information on diet and other possible confounding variables wasn't collected.

    The study had support from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The journal said the authors reported no conflicts of interest.


    Tuesday, April 09, 2013

    Margaret Thatcher: Soft-Serve Ice Cream Inventor

    Margaret Thatcher died at the age of 87. While some of her achievements over her long career have been and remain controversial, there is one accomplishment that has proven purely and Platonically beneficial -- to Britons, to Americans, to lovers of dairy the world over. Margaret Thatcher, the legend goes, helped invent soft-serve ice cream.

    Yes. The Milk Snatcher, who was also an ice cream inventor. The Iron Lady of Soft Serve. Thatcher, you see, before she was a politician, was a research chemist. The future prime minister, then Margaret Roberts, received a degree in chemistry from Oxford in 1947. And she put it to use first in work at a glue factory, and then with a research job at food manufacturer J. Lyons and Company, a "foodstuff conglomerate" in Hammersmith. Thatcher's task in that role? To help figure out a way to whip extra air into ice cream using emulsifiers -- so that the ice cream could be manufactured with fewer ingredients, thereby reducing production costs. (And so that, additionally, the dairy-y result could flow from a machine rather than being scooped by hand.) While Thatcher's exact contribution to the effort remains, in a way that would foreshadow her future political career, a matter of controversy, her team ultimately succeeded. And the work resulted, ultimately, in the swirly stuff we know today as soft serve. (Or, if you're in Britain, "soft scoop.") J. Lyons's airy dairy was served from ice cream trucks -- under the brand Mr. Whippy -- in Great Britain. And then, as soft serve is wont to do, it quickly spread.

    Despite her work in the field, though, Thatcher didn't love chemistry. ("I just didn't like staying in the laboratory that long," she once explained. "I wanted to have more direct work to do with people.") But her work in food engineering led to her introduction to Denis Thatcher, then the managing director of his family's chemical and paint company. Denis encouraged Margaret to switch careers -- from chemistry to the field that would prove her real, if not her first, love: the law.

    Monday, April 08, 2013

    Social isolation 'increases death risk in older people'

    Social isolation is associated with a higher risk of death in older people regardless of whether they consider themselves lonely, research suggests.

    A study of 6,500 UK men and women aged over 52 found that being isolated from family and friends was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years.

    Whether or not participants felt lonely did not alter the impact of social isolation on health.

    Age UK says cuts to services for older people are compounding the problem.

    It is not the first time that loneliness and social isolation has been linked with poor health.

    But researchers wanted to find out if it was the emotional aspect of feeling lonely that was having an impact or the reality of having little social contact.

    Those who were socially isolated - that is had little or no contact with friends or family - were more likely to be older and unmarried and have long-standing illnesses limiting their mobility, such as lung disease and arthritis.

    People who described themselves as feeling lonely were more likely to be female and have a wider range of health conditions, including depression.

    'Surprise' findings

    Both social isolation and feeling lonely were associated with a higher chance of death.

    Sunday, April 07, 2013

    Male baldness 'indicates heart risk'

    Men going thin on top may be more likely to have heart problems than their friends with a full head of hair, according to researchers in Japan.

    Their study of nearly 37,000 people, published in the online journal BMJ Open, said balding men were 32% more likely to have coronary heart disease.

    However, the researchers said the risks were less than for smoking or obesity.

    The British Heart Foundation said men should focus on their waistline, not their hairline.

    A shifting hairline is a fact of life for many men. Half have thinning hair by their 50s and 80% have some hair loss by the age of 70.

    Researchers at the University of Tokyo sifted through years of previous research into links between hair loss and heart problems.

    It's more important to pay attention to your waistline than your hairline”

    Doireann Maddock British Heart Foundation

    They showed that hair that went thin on the crown was associated with coronary heart disease. This was after adjusting for other risk factors such as age and family history.

    However, a receding hairline did not seem to affect the risk.

    Any explanation for the link is uncertain.

    There are ideas about increased sensitivity to male hormones, insulin resistance and inflammation in blood vessels affecting both the heart and the hair.

    Doireann Maddock, a cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, said: "Although these findings are interesting, men who've lost their hair should not be alarmed by this analysis.

    "Much more research is needed to confirm any link between male pattern baldness and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In the meantime, it's more important to pay attention to your waistline than your hairline.

    "Hereditary hair loss may be out of your control, but many of the risk factors for coronary heart disease are not. Stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and being as active as possible are all things that you can do to help protect your heart."

    Patrick Wolfe, a professor of statistics at University College London, said: "Right now the link that is seemingly responsible for this relative risk increase is not well understood, and so in future we might look forward to a day when understanding more about the various mechanisms underlying heart disease will tell us more about those underlying male pattern baldness, and vice versa.

    "In the meantime it's a case of focusing on the things that we can control - our diet, exercise regimens and other risk factors - to lower our overall risk for heart disease."


    Saturday, April 06, 2013

    The paradox of Vietnamese coffee

    VietNamNet Bridge – When selling a kilo of coffee beans, Vietnam earns two dollars, which is equal to the price of a cup of coffee sold in foreign countries. Meanwhile, 50 cups of coffee can be created from the one kilo of coffee beans.

     Big exports can bring modest income

    The figures show that coffee growers can receive a very small proportion of the profit chain, while the majority of the profit falls into the hands of roasters and distributors.

    Being a big coffee producer and exporter, Vietnam cannot earn much money from coffee exports. A report showed that in the 2011-2012 coffee crop, Vietnam grew coffee on 600,000 hectares of land which had the yield of 2.3 tons per hectare. And despite the big amount of export, about 1,667,000 tons, Vietnam could earn 3.74 billion dollars only in export turnover.

    In the crop, Vietnam’s coffee amounted to 30 percent of total coffee transaction volume, but the export turnover only amounted to 10 percent of the total global trade value. The problem was that Vietnam could not make deeply processed products which have high added values. Instant coffee and roasted coffee products just accounted for 10 percent of the total exports.

    Nguyen Thanh Tung, Deputy General Director of Vinacafe Bien Hoa, said when selling one kilo of coffee beans, Vietnam can earn two dollars only, the sum of money foreign distributors can earn by selling only one cup of coffee.

    Tung went on to say that there exists a big gap in the development of the coffee industry in Vietnam and in Brazil. While Vietnam only has four instant coffee brands and 20 roaster brands, Brazil has 20 and 3,000 brands, respectively.

    Brazil once met similar problems like Vietnam’s 20 years ago. However, a big scaled campaign to restructure the coffee industry which lasted 10 years has created a new face to the industry. Analysts believe that Vietnam should also undertake such a restructuring process to earn more money in the world market.

    Big challenges waiting

    According to Luong Van Tu, Chair of the Vietnam Association of Coffee and Cocoa Association, Vietnam’s coffee industry has been facing a lot of challenges.

    The area of the coffee plants--older than 20 years now, accounts for 30 percent of the total growing area. If these cannot be re-cultivated quickly, Vietnam’s area of old coffee plants would account for 50 percent, which would make Vietnam fall out of the position as the biggest coffee exporter in the world.

    Tu also said that though the coffee growing area in Vietnam is big, coffee plants have been grown in separated areas, which makes it difficult to apply advanced techniques in growing and processing. Besides, there are too many coffee export companies (more than 150), but the coffee quality remains unstable, while the exports have been mostly unprocessed coffee beans.

    According to Nguyen Van Hoa, a senior official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in 2012, the rain fall in the central highlands was very low if compared with the average rain falls in previous years, because of which the area of coffee growing area suffering from drought has been increasing rapidly.

    “It’s necessary to draw up a plan to get adapted to the climate changes in order to minimize losses,” Hoa suggested.

    Meanwhile, the current difficulties have discouraged people to farm coffee. People manage more than 80 percent of the coffee area, but since they lack market information, they have to sell products at low prices and face high risks.

    Friday, April 05, 2013

    The Future of Chocolate

    Unwrap the world of chocolate and things aren't always sweet. The cacao plant's legacy is ancient and complex, while the business surrounding it is bitter, messy and even ruthless. Its future, meanwhile, is both exciting and uncertain.

    Back in the Mayan age, around 1100 BCE, cacao was recognized as a "super" food, traded as a precious currency with a value on par with gold. By the 17th century the Spanish added sugar (cane) to sweeten it and the rest is history. As other European countries clamored to get in on the action -- and started exporting cacao trees to their colonies -- Africa soon became the world's most prominent grower of cacao, even though it's not native to that continent.

    Today, cacao has devolved into a byproduct of itself. Instead of being viewed as the sacred fruit that it is, with all its nutritional benefits, cacao is largely seen as a candy bar, a mid-day fix, loaded with sugar, milk and other substandard ingredients.

    "Most people think of chocolate as a commodity and not a food," says Jim Eber, co-author of Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. "And the reason goes beyond process and back to a lack of connectivity between consumer and farmer and the work that goes into producing a great bean before a manufacturer can even produce great chocolate."

    Yet, demand continues to soar, in part because more and more unconventional markets (think China and India) are joining the chocolate craze. Currently, the global chocolate confectionary market is worth an astounding $102.3 billion, according to Euromonitor International. In 2012, the head of the United Kingdom's Food and Drink Federation estimated that in about seven years, we'll need another million tons of cacao beans in order fulfill consumer desire -- that's the equivalent of another Ivory Coast, the world's largest cacao producer.

    Supply just can't keep up with demand for long. Companies like Mars, and Nestlehave also expressed concern about the sustainability of the cacao supply. Big Agriculture, climate change, crop rotation, deforestation, cacao's susceptibility to disease, child labor and dollar signs are just some of the plagues attacking cacao. Still, there is hope.

    Chocophiles, scientists and "Big Chocolate" believe that the chocolate center to this tootsie pop of impending economic disaster is the sequencing of the cacao genome.

    Hershey vs. Mars: 1- 0

    In 2010, a collaborative research team led by Mars (M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way) scientists, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and IBM sequenced a type of cacao called Theobroma Matina 1-6.

    Rather than keep the genome a secret, they released their preliminary findings online by creating the Genome Database (CGD).

    "The [genome] map opens our understanding of the organism for the first time," says Jimmy Lin, a computational genomics researcher onfaculty at Washington University in St. Louis. Lin is part of the team that sequenced the human genome at Johns Hopkins. "Like the sequencing of the human genome, endless possibilities are now open. However, further work is needed to decipher the genome to possibly modify it for pesticide resistance, flavor enhancement, longer survival, etc."

    Dark Side of Chocolate

    To fully understand the scope of chocolate, you need to understand the enigmatic, high-maintenance, and pesky nature of cacao. For starters, the plant flourishes in a specific limited geography, says Eber. No one has been able to grow it outside of the so-called "20/20 zone," which is 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

    Meanwhile, except for some of the hybrids and clones, which we will get to later, cacao needs shade. Plus, it's a slow-growing tree, meaning even though it needs cultivating all year round, it takes at least five years to mature. When it does bloom, the fruit pods grow on the trunk rather than the leaves, making it tricky to harvest with mechanized systems. Instead, dedicated farmers and intense manual labor are required.

    As Eber says, you can't just shake the tree and expect cacao to fall like olives; the pods must be hacked down. And you can't just put seeds in the ground and grow more; the plants must start in a nursery or be grafted.

    No wonder cacao was regarded as sacred in past times!

    Furthermore, cacao is highly susceptible to disease and insects even in the best conditions, says Eber. Indeed: Mars told the Washington Post that cacao farmers suffer about $750 million in damages each year.

    If cacao does survive, then the demands only escalate through harvest and post-harvest -- particularly fermentation and drying. Human touch is essential.

    "Pardon my French, but cacao is a pain in the ass," says Eber. Which is why a growing number of farmers chop down their cacao trees every year, while gladly accepting seeds and chemicals from agribusiness.

    Got Genetically Modified Cacao?

    We must begin asking: will our chocolate supply be subject to genetic modification? When it comes to genetic research, scientists exhibit a no-holds-barred attitude, adopting all efforts "to gain a better understanding of agricultural products." As a result, many foods have been sequenced -- rice, grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, papaya, soybean, and sugar beets, for starters. And often, when a crop has been mapped, genetically modification follows. Is chocolate next?

    Many agree we're not ready for genetically modified chocolate. Chocolate is one of those foods people are enamored with. Plus, adds Eber, it's extremely expensive to develop and nobody's lining up to fork out that kind of money with the near-guarantee of a backlash.

    "The real issue at hand is changing the entire way we think about [chocolate] from gene to bean to bonbon," maintains Gary Guittard of the Guittard Chocolate Company, the oldest family owned and operated chocolate company in the United States. "GMOs? That's probably a long, long way away, if at all. Better living through chemistry and other stuff? That's still science fiction."

    But it's not. Certain labs are currently playing with genetically modified chocolate. They're not yet creating plants to give to farmers, but they do use modification to test and study genes.

    Fortunately, resistance is high when it comes to genetically modifying cacao, but that doesn't mean it's off the table. After all, do you know the staggering amount of GMO crap goes into making candy, says Eber.

    "Given the circumstances and the type of tree we are dealing with, scientists are focusing on selectively breeding cacao more than genetic modification," says Eber. Unfortunately, selective breeding doesn't sound much better than genetic modification.

    CCN51~ The Bugaboo of Fine Chocolate

    After thousands of years, hybridization has become a "natural" part of our agricultural landscape. Scientists like Linn firmly believe this is the route "to understand the plant in finer molecular detail than ever before."

    But some would strongly argue that playing God has disadvantages; it can poison humans and ruin the eco system. Take wheat. In its 8,000-year history as a domesticated food, it has been manipulated, forced and accelerated so much so that the plant we eat today bears little resemblance to its ancestral roots. It possesses completely different nutritional components (i.e. higher amounts of starch and gluten) and many more chromosomal codings, creating all sorts of odd new proteins. No wonder gluten intolerance is becoming epidemic.

    Conveniently, cacao is already a hybrid by nature. "If one cacao plant is compatible with another, they will mate," says Adler. "Cacao is a slut. A cacao pod can even have more than one varietal strain inside of it. It can be pollinated multiple times."

    According to Jim Eber, there are more than 14,000 known varieties of cocoa beans around the world.

    The most devious variety however -- threatening the integrity of the cacao supply -- is the increasingly popular "CCN-51." This high-yield, low-flavor hybrid "is the bugaboo of the fine chocolate industry," says Eber. The plant is grown in collaboration with companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Eber says.

    Increasingly, growers are replacing high quality varieties with this substandard one. Unlike its relatives, CNN-51 doesn't require shade in its early years. It's tolerant to both disease and difficult climate conditions. Farmers earn more to grow it and it has the highest sustained production record of any cacao ever planted anywhere, outperforming all but the more recently planted and far less widespread variety called Super Cacao in Ecuador. Who cares that CCN-51 requires more labor, maintenance, water, chemicals and fertilizer (its root system rapidly depletes the soil of nutrients). With this craze, we run the risk that diseases will become hyper-vigilant and completely wipe out the region's supply.

    As far as flavor profile, words such as "crap," and "acid dirt" have been used to describe the taste. But have no fear, the bulk of big chocolate and candy companies can burn off tastes in the manufacturing process. And by the time they've removed any lingering residue, there's actually very little cacao left in the candy.

    Fine Flava Flava

    The genetics of cacao are a modern dialect few can yet speak, says Eber. Many suspect that regardless of the sequencing of chocolate, the industry will continue to be divided between the big guys purchasing bulk commodity cacao and the small guys purchasing fine flavor cacao. Basically, it's those focused on candy and cash against those who care more about flavor and the environment.

    After witnessing the cozy relationship between the FDA and Big Chocolate, the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) partnered with the USDA/ARS to create the "Heirloom Cacao Preservation" (HCP). Their objectives: to identify the finest flavor beans, to tie their flavor to genetics, and to use that information to improve cacao quality and help ensure fine favor and diversity for future generations.

    "Providing farmers with the ability to plant/graft cacao strains of superior quality can provide farmers with a better living and improve the quality of life for their whole family," says Adler. "I hope the project spurs more consumer interest in chocolate made with fine flavor cacao."

    Adler raises an important point. Everyone who purchases chocolate can play a large role in this initiative. As Eber says, chocolate should not be a cheap indulgence. Consumers can vote with their palates and dollars for high integrity chocolate.