Monday, December 1, 2014

Turkey's No Snooze

The notion that eating turkey will make you sleepy has been around for a long time, but it’s not true.

This myth started because turkey contains tryptophan, which human bodies use to make serotonin - a brain chemical that helps make melatonin, a hormone that can control sleep/wake cycles. So it makes some sense to blame the turkey for sleepiness after a Thanksgiving dinner.

However, turkey doesn’t contain much tryptophan. Pork and cheddar cheese contain more, as do eggs, fish, milk, nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, soy and tofu.

And unless the tryptophan is consumed in high doses and on an empty stomach, its unlikely to have much affect on the brain.

So what's causing that after-dinner drowsiness? Most scientists believe its the heavy portions of carbohydrates in the typical Thanksgiving meal: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce — and pumpkin pie to top it off. Those food items alone provide more carbohydrates — and calories — than most people eat in an average day. That kind of over-indulgence diverts the body’s blood supply to the digestive system and away from the brain and other parts of the body.

Source: Science 360 News, National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society.
Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

Artwork: Smoked Whole Turkey

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Peanut Skins Make a Better Butter

While 60 percent of the 3 million metric tons of peanuts grown in the U.S. each year goes into peanut butter, virtually none are processed with their skins.

"They're discarded as waste, which is a shame because peanut skins are high in antioxidants, specifically phenolics, and dietary fiber," according to Ruthann Swanson, University of Georgia associate professor of foods and nutrition.

Swanson and a team of UGA scientists say peanut skins can be incorporated into traditional peanut butter without alienating consumers.

Historically, consumers have found the presence of particulates in peanut butter to be objectionable, she said. "But what has happened in recent years is a movement towards healthier products in general, including nut butters, and an increased emphasis on natural (products), and the peanut butters than contain some skin particles are perceived to be more natural by the consumer."

Source: The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Science.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Green Beans Not Really Beans?

Green beans are not really “beans,” according to U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The primary difference is in protein content. A cup of green beans contains just 2 grams of protein, whereas a cup of black beans contains 15 grams of protein.

Green beans are usually harvested before the bean in the pod has fully matured — that’s why they don’t have as much protein as black beans, kidney beans or other types of dry beans.

Consequently, when paired with rice in a meal, they won't combine to make a complete protein like other beans do.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is It Really Organic?

Researchers at the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority in Oberschleissheim, Germany have found a way to use nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to answer the question "Is it really organic?"

The technique has previously been used to authenticate foods like honey and olive oil. The scientists analyzed tomatoes grown in greenhouses and outdoors, with conventional or organic fertilizers and their data showed a trend toward differentiation of organic and conventional produce.

The test is a good starting point for the authentication of organically produced tomatoes, they conclude, and its further refinement could help root out fraudulently labelled foods.

The global market for organic foods nearly tripled in value between 2002 and 2011, reaching $62.8 billion. But because organic food can fetch prices often twice as high as conventionally produced food, the risk for fraudulent labelling has grown just as fast.


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Okra in Your Ice Cream

While okra is widely used as a vegetable for soups and stews, a new study suggests that okra extracts can be used as a stabilizer in ice cream.

Ice cream quality is highly dependent on the size of ice crystals. As ice cream melts and refreezes during distribution and storage, the ice crystals grow in size causing ice cream to become courser in texture which limits shelf life. Stabilizers are used to maintain a smooth consistency, hinder melting, improve the handling properties, and make ice cream last longer.
The study found that water extracts of okra fiber can be prepared and used to maintain ice cream quality during storage. These naturally extracted stabilizers offer an alternative food ingredient for the ice cream industry as well as for other food products.

Artwork: Okra
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Monday, July 7, 2014

Good Microbes Love Chocolate

Many of the health benefits of eating dark chocolate are a consequence of bacteria in the stomach that gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.

Researchers at Louisiana State University have identified two kinds of microbes in the human gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones.

Good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate. When a person eats dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory. When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.

The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli.

The study was the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. Researchers tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, comprised of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria.

Cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over. The fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity.

Combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person’s overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds. When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods like raw garlic and cooked whole wheat flour that humans can’t digest but that good bacteria like to eat.

American Chemical Society

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Spitting in the Face of Danger

A chemical compound in human saliva, along with the common proteins in the body's blood and muscle, protects cells from the powerful toxins found in tea, coffee and liquid smoke flavoring, according to a study led by investigators at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The findings, reported in Food and Chemical Toxicology, suggest that people naturally launch multiple defenses against plant chemicals called pyrogallol-like polyphenols or PLPs found in teas, coffees and liquid smoke flavoring. The presence of these defenses help explain why PLPs are not crippling cells and causing illness as would be expected from their toxic punch and widespread use.

Johns Hopkins investigator Scott Kern, M.D., and his colleagues previously demonstrated that PLPs found in everyday foods and flavorings could do 20 times the damage of chemotherapy drugs delivered to cancer patients. The researchers sought to find out why there wasn't more damage, and subsequently looked for ways that cells might be fighting back.

"If these chemicals are so widespread--they're in flavorings, tea, coffee -- and they damage DNA to such a high degree, we thought there must be defense mechanisms that protect us on a daily basis from plants we choose to eat," Kern said.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Can Red Wine Prevent Cavities?

A new study published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that red wine, as well as grape seed extract, could help prevent cavities.

In their study, researchers grew cultures of the bacteria responsible for dental diseases as a biofilm. Then they dipped the biofilms for a couple of minutes in different liquids, including red wine, red wine without the alcohol, red wine spiked with grape seed extract, and water and 12 percent ethanol for comparison.

Red wine, with or without alcohol, and wine with grape seed extract were the most effective at getting rid of the bacteria.

Sources: American Chemical Society

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Decaf Green Tea Promotes Weight Loss

Mice on high-fat diets while consuming decaffeinated green tea extract and exercising regularly experienced significant weight loss and improvements in overall health during a study at Penn State University.

Researchers believe people can expect similar benefits.

Following a 16-week regimine, high-fat-fed mice that exercised regularly and ingested green tea extract showed an average body mass reduction of 27.1 percent and an average abdominal fat mass reduction of 36.6 percent.

The mice on the green-tea-extract-and-exercise regimen also experienced a 17 percent reduction in fasting blood glucose level, a 65 percent decrease in plasma insulin level and reduction in insulin resistance of 65 percent -- all substantial improvements related to diabetic health.

Mice that ingested green tea extract but did not exercise or those that exercised but were not given green tea extract experienced less significant changes in weight and health measurements, noted lead researcher Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science.

"What is significant about this research is that we report for the first time that voluntary exercise in combination with green tea extract reduced symptoms of metabolic syndrome and diet-induced obesity in high-fat-fed mice more significantly than either treatment alone," he said.  "The changes in body weight and body fat may result from increased fat metabolism and decreased fat synthesis. Green tea seems to modulate genes related to energy metabolism."

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Edible Flowers Nip Disease in the Bud

Edible flowers, which have been used in the culinary arts in China for centuries, are receiving renewed interest.

A new study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists, found that common edible flowers in China are rich in phenolics and have excellent antioxidant capacity.

Flowers can be used as an essential ingredient in a recipe, provide seasoning to a dish, or simply be used as a garnish. Some of these flowers contain phenolics that have been correlated with anti-inflammatory activity and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

The findings of this study show that common edible flowers have the potential to be used as an additive in food to prevent chronic disease, help health promotion and prevent food oxidization.

Source: Institute of Food Technologists

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Foods Shape Cultural Identity

Like other immigrant enclaves around the world, a Puerto Rican community in Hartford, Connecticut, has created a home away from home through a cuisine so authentic it caught the attention of scientists.

Botany researchers recently took a close look at the fresh crops in the Puerto Rican markets of Hartford and uncovered evidence that gives new meaning to a familiar phrases: home is in the kitchen.

"Culinary preferences tell us a good deal about human culture, what is important, and what constitutes a feeling of well-being," says David W. Taylor of the University of Portland. "As biologists, and specifically as botanists, what really struck us was the diversity of fresh plant crops, mostly of subtropical/tropical origin, that were available in ethnic markets in the northern U.S."

"The similarities between the market foods in temperate Hartford and tropical Puerto Rico demonstrate the great cultural value that the Puerto Rican community places on its cuisine — which they have recreated after moving to a climatically, culturally, and agriculturally different environment," explains Gregory J. Anderson of the University of Connecticut. "This shows that everyone has a commitment to cultural foundations, and food is one of the most important."

 CasavaLike their ancestors who immigrated from Europe, Africa, and Asia with favorite foodstuffs, the Puerto Ricans of Hartford have maintained cuisine as an important component of their identity. Such a strong relationship to food has had a profound impact on human health by reshaping environmental biodiversity, influencing the diets of neighbors, and preserving elements of culture.

Over the course of nearly two decades, Taylor and Anderson carefully and patiently measured the diversity of crops in the marketplace, their availability over time, the proportion of market space dedicated to each, and the willingness of consumers to pay for preferred items. The study, published in the American Journal of Botany, includes an analysis of nearly 100 tropical crops and offers a new approach to understanding their meaning.

 MalangaResults showed that the Puerto Ricans were often willing to pay more for culturally significant crops despite the availability of less-expensive nutritional equivalents. Fresh starchy plants, called viandas, were most essential for re-creating a sense of home. These include true yams, cassava, breadfruit, and malangas. Their preparation - fried, mashed or boiled - was also important.

The researchers' observations identified what they call "Culinary Cultural Conservation," or the preservation of cuisine over time and distance, and "Cultural Keystone Food Groups," or foods that prove to be more vital to the cuisine than others.

These concepts are helping scientists nderstand how market crops are being utilized by migrant communities worldwide and showing how foods shape our identity and create an essential connection to home.

David W. Taylor and Gregory J. Anderson. Key plants preserve elements of culture: A study over distance and time of fresh crops in Puerto Rican markets in Hartford, Connecticut, "A moveable feast" American Journal of Botany April 2014 101:624-636.

Artwork: Casava
Artwork: Malanga
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Friday, March 21, 2014

Disappearing Trans Fats

Partially hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats or oils, may be eliminated in processed foods by steps being taken now by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has directed that these artificial trans fats be taken from the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list of approved food additives. As a result, these fats will not be able to be used in food products following a waiting period and finalization of the initiative.

Trans fats are strongly linked to the development of cardiovascular disease. They raise LDL, which most Americans know as “bad” cholesterol, and lower HDL, known as “good” cholesterol. Additional reports indicate that these fats contribute to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.

Trans fats have also been shown to contribute to certain types of cancer, have adverse effects on cell membranes and the immune system, and promote inflammation and aging. Trans fat is considered the worst type of fat for health.

The Institute of Medicine has concluded that trans fat does not provide any known health benefit, and more importantly, there is no safe level of consumption for trans fat.

Source: Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sweet Antibiotic

Honey could be a sweet solution to the serious, ever-growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, according to researchers studying its antibacterial qualities.

Medical professionals sometimes use honey successfully as a topical dressing, but it could play a larger role in fighting infections.

"The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance," said study leader Susan M. Meschwitz of Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.

Honey has combination of traits which actively kill bacterial cells. An osmotic effect, the result of its high sugar concentration, draws water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.

Several studies have shown that honey inhibits the formation of biofilms, or communities of slimy disease-causing bacteria.

"Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics," Meschwitz said. Quorum sensing is the way bacteria communicate with one another, and may be involved in the formation of biofilms. In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria's pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease.

Another advantage of honey is that it doesn't target the essential growth processes of bacteria. This type of targeting, which is the basis of conventional antibiotics, often results in the bacteria building up resistance to the drugs.

Honey is effective because it is filled with healthful polyphenols, or antioxidants. These include the phenolic acids, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and ellagic acid, as well as many flavonoids.

"Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics," Meschwitz pointed out. A large number of laboratory and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties of honey.

Source: 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, in Dallas, Texas.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Give a Healthy Valentine

Studies continue to show the remarkable health benefits of dark chocolate (with 70% or higher cocoa content). Made from cocoa, it is loaded with health-promoting compounds that function as powerful antioxidants.  In fact, dark chocolate has been shown to contain more antioxidant activity than several well-known super fruits like blueberries and Acai berries.

Studies show that dark chocolate may improve blood flow, improve insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, raise “good” HDL cholesterol, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, and protect LDL from unhealthy oxidation.

Additional observational studies have shown dark chocolate consumption is associated with an overall lower risk for cardiovascular disease. In addition to blood sugar and cardio-vascular benefits, human studies indicate the consumption of dark chocolate benefits human skin.  Cocoa consumers show a decrease in skin roughness and scaling, improved dermal blood circulation, and better “cosmetic” skin surface and hydration.

The flavonoid compounds that are high in cocoa and dark chocolate have also been associated with protection of brain function.  Specifically, the compounds appear to increase blood flow to gray matter, improve cognitive function, and help maintain cognitive health.  Other benefits include mood improvements, as brain serotonin and endorphin levels are boosted.

Sources: Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.  (417) 881-8909.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Coffee To Remember

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University have found that caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory in humans. Research published by the journal Nature Neuroscience demonstrates that caffeine enhances certain memories at least up to 24 hours after it is consumed.

"We've always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans," says Michael Yassa, senior author of the paper. "We report for the first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours."

The memory center in the human brain is the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area in the medial temporal lobe of the brain. The hippocampus is the switchbox for all short-term and long-term memories. Most research done on memory -- the effects of concussions in athletics to war-related head injuries to dementia in the aging population -- are focused on this area of the brain.

Until now, caffeine's effects on long-term memory had not been examined in detail.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 90 percent of people worldwide consume caffeine in one form or another. In the United States, 80 percent of adults consume caffeine every day. The average adult has an intake of about 200 milligrams -- the same amount used in the Yassa study -- or roughly one strong cup of coffee or two small cups of coffee per day.

"The next step for us is to figure out the brain mechanisms underlying this enhancement," Yassa said. "We can use brain-imaging techniques to address these questions. We also know that caffeine is associated with healthy longevity and may have some protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer's disease. These are certainly important questions for the future."

Sources: Michael Yassa

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