Sounds nuts to me

August 17, 2009

AmondsFlickr user somebody 3lse chose this $4.99 package of almonds at a store in Canada “because it was the cheapest.” Going by the information on the label, the almonds, she estimates, traveled approximately 22,000 km or 13,670 miles during processing and packaging (California to Vietnam to Canada).

So does this make you want to go locavore, since so much fuel was likely used in transporting them around the globe, and maybe they’re not the freshest almonds? Or does it support the global food economy: fuel costs are a small part of the production budget, and packaging them in Vietnam probably kept down the price.


RedWineGlassA glass of red wine each day may be providing you with more than just a little relaxation. For over 10 years, research has indicated that moderate intake of alcohol improves cardiovascular health. In fact, in 1992 Harvard researchers included moderate alcohol consumption as one of the “eight proven ways to reduce coronary heart disease risk.” However, research has suggested that specifically red wine is the most beneficial to your heart health. The cardioprotective effect has been attributed to antioxidants present in the skin and seeds of red grapes.

Scientists believe the antioxidants, called flavonoids, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in three ways:

  • by reducing production of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (also know as the “bad” cholesterol)
  • by boosting high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
  • by reducing blood clotting. Furthermore, consuming a glass of wine along with a meal may favorably influence your lipid profiles following that meal

Recently, researchers have found that moderate red wine consumption may be beneficial to more than just your heart. New research published in the August 2009 print issue of The FASEB Journal, not only explains resveratrol’s one-two punch on inflammation, but also show how it—or a derivative—can be used to treat potentially deadly inflammatory disease, such as appendicitis, peritonitis, and systemic sepsis. An older study had discovered that the antioxidant resveratrol may inhibit tumor development in some cancers. And still another reason to toast nature’s powerful antioxidant, resveratrol has been shown to aid in the formation of nerve cells, which experts believe may be helpful in the treatment of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Researchers at the University of California, at Davis tested a variety of wines to determine which types have the highest concentrations of flavonoids. Their results concluded that the flavonoid favorite is Cabernet Sauvignon, followed closely by Petit Syrah and Pinot Noir. Both Merlots and red zinfandels have fewer flavonoids than their more potent predecessors. White wine had significantly smaller amounts than the red wine varieties. The bottom line is the sweeter the wine, the fewer the flavonoids. Dryer red wines are your best bet for a flavonoid boost.

A four-ounce glass of wine is equivalent to one serving. Men will benefit from consuming one to two servings per day. Women should consume only one serving per day to reap the maximum benefits. This is not to say that you should start drinking alcohol if you presently do not. Occasional or binge drinkers have higher mortality rates than those who drink moderately on a regular basis. In those who consume three or more drinks per day, there is an increased risk for elevated serum triglycerides (fat in the bloodstream). Long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can damage nerve cells, the liver and the pancreas. Heavy drinkers are also at risk for malnutrition, as alcohol may substitute for more nutritious foods.

obese_kids_booksThe rate of severe obesity among U.S. children and teenagers more than tripled over the last 25 years, a new study finds. Researchers at Brenner Children’s Hospital analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on more than 12,000 U.S. children and adolescents ages 2 to 19. For the study, severe childhood obesity was classified as having a body mass index equal to or greater than the 99th percentile for age and gender.

The researchers found that the prevalence of severe obesity tripled from 0.8 percent between 1976 and 1980 to 3.8 percent between 1999 and 2004. Based on the data, the researchers estimated that there are 2.7 million children in the United States who are severely obese. They noted that the increases were most pronounced among African-American and Mexican-American children, as well as among those living below the poverty level.

Examining the health impact of severe obesity, the researchers noted that one-third of children classified as severely obese have metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

wheatAccording to crop samples taken from a London area research station ranging from 1844 to the present day, the nutrient levels of wheat crops have been continually deteriorating since the late 1960s, when many farmers changed the variety of wheat they harvested. 

Compared to the older crops, the recently harvested wheat plants hold 20-30 less zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium.  The data is consistent with several other studies, including one done in 2006 by the USDA that listed a substantial decrease in iron, zinc, and selenium levels.

This is particularly sad since wheat is the principal food grain produced in the United States. Americans consume approximately 150 pounds of wheat per person per year, nearly 20% of the calories in an average U.S. adult meal plan come from non-organic, highly processed wheat flour.

“We can’t put it down to soil impoverishment, so my guess is that the nutrient decline is related to plant physiology,” said Rothamsted researcher Professor Steve McGrath.

Prof. McGrath said there has been little apparent interest in the finding, and making a case for further research in a restricted funding environment is a long and complicated process with no guarantee of success. However, he understands that micronutrient deficiency, zinc and iron in particular, are implicated in health problems across the developed and developing worlds alike.

“People are suffering growth, health and effects on mental development from lack of zinc and iron,” he said.

Dr Carole Hungerford, author of the Australian medical nutrition textbook “Good Health in the 21st Century”, wrote that zinc is an essential nutrient for fertility, bone and joint health and immunity. It is also essential for the structural integrity of the DNA molecule, which has led some researchers to speculate that zinc deficiency may contribute to cancer.


farmer ca,1910ca. 1910, Unidentified

Cost_Kids-Piggy_BankThe USDA today released a new report, finding that a middle-income family with a child born in 2008 can expect to spend about $221,190 ($291,570 when adjusted for inflation) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child over the next seventeen years.

The report by USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion notes that family income affects child rearing costs. A family earning less than $56,870 per year can expect to spend a total of $159,870 (in 2008 dollars) on a child from birth through high school. Similarly, parents with an income between $56,870 and $98,470 can expect to spend $221,190; and a family earning more than $98,470 can expect to spend $366,660. In 1960, a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 ($183,509 in 2008 dollars) to raise a child through age seventeen.

Housing costs are the single largest expenditure on a child, averaging $69,660 or 32 percent of the total cost over seventeen years. Food and child care/education (for those with the expense) were the next two largest expenses, each averaging 16 percent of the total expenditure. The estimates do not include the cost of childbearing or the cost of a college education. In addition, some current-day costs, such as child care, were negligible in 1960.

The report notes geographic variations in the cost of raising a child, with expenses the highest for families living in the urban Northeast, followed by the urban West and urban Midwest. Families living in the urban South and rural areas have the lowest child-rearing expenses.

Read the full report, “Expenditures on Children by Families.”

Beef Packers, Inc., a Fresno, Calif., establishment, is recalling approximately 825,769 pounds of ground beef products that may be linked to an outbreak of salmonellosis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The ground beef products were produced on various dates ranging from June 5, 2009 through June 23, 2009 and bear the establishment number “EST. 31913” printed on the case code labels. The ground beef products were distributed to retail distribution centers in Arizona, California, Colorado and Utah. Because these products were repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names, consumers should check with their local retailer to determine whether they may have purchased any of the products subject to recall.

This particular strain of Salmonella Newport is resistant to many commonly prescribed drugs, which can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

Consumers with questions about the recall should contact the company’s Consumer Line at (877) 872-3635

improving-memory-2High consumption of fructose in the diet may lead to spatial memory problems, according to a new study from Georgia State University.

Rodents fed a diet where fructose represented 60 per cent of calories ingested during the day were found to perform poorly in tests of memory, compared to rodents fed a control diet, say findings in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

The researchers, led by Marise Parent, suggest their findings are relevant to humans, and nod towards the use of fructose-containing sweeteners used by the food industry. Table sugar (sucrose) contains 50 per cent fructose and 50 per cent glucose, while high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS 55) contains 55 per cent fructose and 42 per cent glucose.

“Fructose, in many forms, is added to countless foods including carbonated beverages, fruit products, baked goods, cereals, and dairy products,” wrote lead author Amy Ross. “Indeed, North Americans would be greatly challenged to purchase processed foods not containing some form of fructose.”

“Rats are an excellent animal model to study the effects of fructose intake because their metabolism of fructose closely resembles that of humans,” explained the researchers. “The present research focused on male rats, given that men are the greatest consumers of fructose.”

The rats were placed in a pool of water to test their ability to learn to find a submerged platform, which allowed them to get out of the water. Two days later, the animals were returned to the pool with no platform present to see if the rats could remember to swim to the platform’s location.

“What we discovered is that the fructose diet doesn’t affect their ability to learn,” said Parent. “But they can’t seem to remember as well where the platform was when you take it away. They swam more randomly than rats fed a control diet.”

Commenting on a potential mechanism, the researchers note that fructose, unlike glucose, is processed almost exclusively by the liver, and produces an excessive amount of triglycerides, which may interfere with insulin signaling in the brain, and affect the brain’s ability to adapt based on new experiences.

“The bottom line is that we were meant to have an apple a day as our source of fructose,” said Parent said. “And now, we have fructose in almost everything.”

home-imgA new study suggests seven out of 10 children and young adults don’t get enough vitamin D, which could increase their risk for bone and heart problems. Results from researching more than 6,000 children and young adults were published online in the journal Pediatrics had striking results, says lead author Michal Melamed, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology and population health. The study was led by scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.

“Seventy percent of children — millions of kids — have inadequate levels for bone health,” Melamed says.

Researchers analyzed data on people ages 1 to 21 collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2004. They discovered that 9% of the study sample — which would project to 7.6 million people 21 and under in the USA — were vitamin-D-deficient. Another 61%, the equivalent of 50.8 million nationwide, had insufficient D levels.

Vitamin D deficiency is defined as a blood level of less than 15 ng/mL (nanograms/milliliter). Vitamin D insufficiency is the term used when that figure falls between 15 and 29 ng/mL). Anything over 30 ng/mL is considered a healthy range.

D-deficiency was more common in older children as well as female, African-American, Mexican-American, obese kids, and in those who drank milk less frequently than once a week, Melamed says. D-deficiency was also more common in kids who spent more than four hours a day watching TV, playing video games or using computers, she says.

“The study has enormous public health implications and heightens the concern about the health status of children,” says Vitamin D researcher JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Low vitamin D levels at such a young age could predispose them to other diseases later in life linked to D deficiency, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer, Manson says.

Melamed says today’s culture of computers, TV and video games, less milk drinking, and increased use of sunscreens, which block UV-B rays — the kind that help the body convert a form of cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D — are likely culprits in waning vitamin D levels among youngsters.

Mother nature does it best. Ten minutes in the sunshine helps raise Vitamin D levels significantly. Turn off the TV and send the kids outside to play. It’s the healthy thing to do.

burger_recall_070926_mnU.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., last week introduced legislation giving the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) authority to initiate mandatory meat product recalls.

Under current law, USDA does not have the authority to issue a mandatory recall of meat believed to be dangerous. The decision to recall or comply with requests from the USDA to recall unsafe products is voluntary (left in the hands of food processors.) This forces the USDA to engage in time-consuming negotiations with meatpackers before pulling tainted meat from store shelves, and it gives meatpackers an effective veto on recalls. Udall first introduced the legislation in 2003.

“When the USDA cannot get tainted meat off the market swiftly, all our consumers are at risk,” said Udall. “This legislation will give USDA the authority to act quickly and decisively to protect the public.”

Last week, the Denver-based King Soopers grocery chain recalled 466,236 pounds of ground beef products that were distributed to stores in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Only one store in New Mexico received the recalled meat, but in Colorado fourteen cases of salmonella were reported and six people were hospitalized.

Last year, the USDA requested a recall of 143 million pounds of beef from a slaughterhouse that was being investigated for unsafe practices. USDA’s Commodity Foods Program had sent 3,000 cases of the questionable beef to New Mexico’s Human Services Department to be distributed to school lunch programs. Most of the recalled beef was found before it was served.

Udall noted that:

  • 5,000 people die each year from food-borne illnesses,
  • 325,000 people are hospitalized each year from food-borne illnesses, and
  • 76,000,000 people get sick each year from food-borne illnesses.