Friday, June 20, 2008

Poor food safety, say health officials

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has failed to fulfill its promise of making the food supply safer, say US health officials.

Following well publicized food recalls and health scares over the past few years, which have left hundreds ill and affected consumer confidence, the FDA announced wide sweeping plans to improve the safety of the nation's food supply, with measures including more stringent inspections, stronger penalties and mandatory recalls.

These included the FDA's Food Protection Plan, which was proposed last November, and is built around prevention, intervention and response.

However, with food scares continuing, including the recent detection of salmonella in tomatoes, there are concerns on whether improvements will begin to appear.

This week, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing called American lives still at risk: when will FDA's food protection plan be fully funded and implemented?

Rep John Dingell, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, said the overriding theme of such meetings is FDA's "inadequate resources or incompetent management".

Food Protection Plan

The FDA's Food Protection Plan is built around three core elements: prevention, intervention and response.

It will promote increased corporate responsibility, increased collaboration and communication with stakeholders, and a broad risk-based approach to food protection.

Under the plan, FDA will also be able to issue additional preventive controls for high-risk foods, accredit third parties for voluntary food inspections, increase access to food records during emergencies, and issue a mandatory recall if voluntary recalls are not effective.

Both the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) expressed concerns over the lack of details in achieving the aims of the plan. Dingell said: "The Food Protection Plan is a solid first step in articulating how to fix our broken food safety system. If, however, the Administration is serious about implementing this plan, it must work with us to provide the details and draft the legislation to fix the current system, including a realistic assessment of its resource requirements."

A statement from the GAO said: "Since FDA's Food Protection Plan was first released in November 2007, FDA has added few details on the resources and strategies required to implement the plan. FDA plans to spend about $90 million over fiscal years 2008 and 2009 to implement several key actions, such as identifying food vulnerabilities and risk."

This amount, it said, is insufficient.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cooking method key to potatoes' potassium level

Last Updated: 2008-06-13 13:00:31 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Cubing your potatoes before boiling them can cut down on cooking time, but it will also shortchange you on potassium, a new study demonstrates.

Potassium is an important mineral that helps regulate the heartbeat, conduct nerve impulses and contract muscles. Most adults need 4,000 to 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day -- with potatoes, tomatoes and bananas among the major sources.

In the new study, Drs. Paul Bethke and Shelley Jansky of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that cubing or shredding potatoes, then boiling them, drained the vegetable of much of its potassium.

This is important not only for the average consumer looking to get enough of the mineral, the researchers say, but also for people with kidney impairment, who generally have to limit their potassium intake.

The kidneys normally flush excess potassium from the blood so it cannot accumulate to toxic levels. People with kidney disease can risk serious side effects -- like weakness, numbness or even heart attack -- if they take in too much potassium.

Bethke and Jansky evaluated a few different potato preparations. In one test, they "leached" cubed potatoes by soaking them in water for hours; this tactic is often recommended to kidney patients as a way to drain potassium from potatoes before cooking them.

However, the researchers found that leaching did little to lower the tubers' potassium content, regardless of the potato variety they used.

In contrast, boiling alone reduced cubed potatoes' potassium levels by half, and lowered potassium in shredded potatoes by 75 percent.

The findings, according to Bethke and Jansky, suggest that simply boiling cubed or shredded potatoes is enough for kidney patients to reduce the potassium content.

"The data presented here show that it is not necessary to complicate the process by leaching tuber slices before boiling them," the researchers write.

On the other hand, healthy people would do well to opt for a different cooking method, Bethke and Jansky say. They note that boiling potatoes whole, rather than cut, reduces the potassium content by a much smaller percentage.

Similarly, baking, roasting and microwaving all seem to have minimal effects on potatoes' potassium content.

SOURCE: Journal of Food Science, June/July 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Better Sleepers Are 'Successful Agers'

Less daytime napping, fewer complaints of insomnia predicted a healthier life, study finds

Normal sleep is associated with healthy aging, a new study found.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego assessed 2,226 women aged 60 and older for use of sleeping aids, daytime sleepiness, napping, insomnia, early morning awakening, snoring, overall sleep quality, and sleep duration. Based on the results, 20.8 percent of the women were categorized as "successful agers."

Less daytime napping and fewer complaints of insomnia best predicted successful aging, according to the researchers, who found no direct relationship between the use of sleeping aids and successful aging.

Increased severity of sleep disturbances predicted lower self-rated successful aging and a greater difference between perceived and actual age.

"Our findings that reports of better sleep are related to successful aging reinforce the idea that good sleep is of utmost importance for good health. Health care professionals need to ask their patients -- of all ages -- about sleep and help those with poor sleep to find ways for improvement," study author Sonia Ancoli-Israel said in a prepared statement.

The study was presented June 11 at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, in Baltimore.

Many older adults get less sleep than they need, and one major reason is difficulty falling asleep. Previous research of people over age 65 found that 13 percent of men and 36 percent of women take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, according to background information in a news release about the study.

Older people often sleep less deeply and wake up more often throughout the night, and they tend to get sleepier earlier in the evening and awaken earlier in the morning than younger people.

Poor sleep can lead to a number of problems such as depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls and increased use of sleep aids. Lack of sleep is also associated with increased risk of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Trans fat substitutes to offer diet therapy

Trans fats will soon be replaced by edible oils that can be used for "diet therapy" to help halt the progress of illness or disease, a research analyst claims.

Trans fats and their affect on human health is the biggest issue facing the edible oils and fats industry today, according to W F Kee, analyst at Frost & Sullivan, which looks at market trends.

Kee said the trend is expected to steer towards "heart healthy and brain healthy" foods, with essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and other natural lipids such as sterols becoming more widely used.

Edible oils and fats will also be used on a wide scale as diet therapy where they can "halt the progress of diseases or regress the progress of illnesses", according to Kee.

An example of this is MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) found naturally in coconut and other oils, which are believed to deliver nutritional benefits, particularly for people who have problems with absorption of fats or lipids. This is because MCTs are more easily absorbed, digested, and used as energy than normal fats and oils which contain long-chain fatty acids.

Trans Fats

Trans fats are formed during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil that converts the oil into semi-solids for a variety of food applications. It is widely accepted that they are linked to health risks, predominantly cardiovascular disease, and studies have also shown links to prostate cancer.

On average people in the US consume 5.6 grams of trans fats per day compared with 2.4g in the EU. The main sources are cakes, margarine, cookies, fried foods and snacks

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling in 2006 required trans fat labeling on all packaged foods. Kee said: "The ruling has caused the majority of consumers to switch to food products offering low-trans and zero-trans fats.

"Since partially hydrogenated food products are the main source of trans fats in the human diet, thus oils and fats producers are now contemplating the alternatives to partial hydrogenation.

"The two leading replacement technologies appear to be blending with tropical oils such as palm oil and coconut oil, and interestification (a process which changes a fat's physical characteristics) of a mixture of oils."

Another options is to modify the genetic sequence of the oilseeds so that a more desirable fatty acid profile is expressed.

However, there are health concerns about the benefits of replacements. One new US-Malaysian study showed that interesterified fats may raise blood sugar levels and decrease insulin levels, as well as adversely affecting so-called 'good' cholesterol levels.

Action against risks

The risk factors of tran fats has led to a well-publicized bans in New York City restaurants and other cities such as Boston and Philadelphia will introduce similar measures this year.

It follows Denmark which effectively abolished the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils four years ago.

A growing number of firms have recently rolled out ingredients to food manufacturers eager to slice the trans fats out of their formulations, including the dairy ingredients group Land O'Lakes, vegetable oil giant Bunge and Iowa firm Asoyia.

The fast food group McDonald's has also started to use a blend of canola, corn and soybean oils to cook fries and other deep fried products.

Meanwhile Nestle's trans fats policy is that it will not make up more than three per cent of a normal consumption of its products, or one per cent of the total daily energy intake as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Med diet gathers momentum

An initiative to promote the Mediterranean style of eating amongst US households has gathered speed as the science supporting the diet continues to stream through.

The olive-oil-rich diet first appeared as a nutritional concept in the 1990's, but it is only in recent years that it has started to take a hold within the American consciousness.

This has largely followed the publication of numerous new scientific studies that back its healthfulness. As a result, the nutrition group responsible for waving the med flag in 1993 is now expanding its efforts, which are finally being met by response and action from the food industry.

Mediterranean Foods Alliance

Oldways, which is the same group behind the popular Whole Grains Stamp, in March launched the Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA), a network amongst health professionals, scientists, industry and media.

The alliance - launched after 15 years of Med diet education efforts - is an expansion of the group's Med Mark program, which allows food manufacturers to flag up foods that fall into the diet plan using an easily-recognizable symbol.

One year after its launch, the Med Mark appears on 150 products, and Oldways projects this figure to triple by the end of the year. According to the non-profit group, the MFA provides manufacturers with one more channel of support and promotion for products within the category.

"Membership in the Alliance benefits food industry players by deepening their involvement and visibility in this consumer supported food trend," said Nicki Heverling, registered dietitian and program manager of the MFA.


A flood of studies published in the past year have added support to following a Mediterranean style of eating. A few examples of the most recent findings are as follows:

A new study published earlier this month on the British Medical Journal's website found that consuming a Med diet can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent.

In December 2007, a study of almost 400,000 people with an age range of 50 to 71 reported that greater adherence to a Med-style diet reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer by 22 and 17 per cent in men, and 12 per cent for women. The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In September, another study in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that the diet could help in alleviating pain in female sufferers of arthritis.

Again in September, a report in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet could extend the life of people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The diet has already also been associated with the prevention of Alzheimer's.

In August, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that adhering to the eating plan may reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 30 per cent. The diet has been repeatedly linked to lower incidence of heart disease, as well as a lower risk of obesity and certain types of cancers.

What's in the diet?

The Med diet is rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil. Its main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals.

Common foods of the eating plan include bread, pasta, rice, couscous and potatoes; olives, avocados and grapes; eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, nuts and beans; and cheese and yogurt. Moderate consumption of fish and poultry is also encouraged, whereas consumption of red meat is advised only a few times a month.

Foods that carry the Med Mark include pasta and pasta sauce, hummus, olives, extra virgin olive oils, dipping oils, soups and avocado oils.

Mediterranean pyramid

In 1993, Oldways launched a Mediterranean nutritional pyramid, fashioned on the idea of the US government's dietary pyramid. The pyramid was supported by the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization.

The copyrighted pyramid has since appeared in millions of impressions in nutrition books, newspapers, magazines and television, and has even been licensed for use on some food products.

A new website set to be launched as part of the MFA will feature an interactive Med diet pyramid. To access the pyramid, click here. An adapted version for children is available here.

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