Google has made it even easier to compare two types of foods. Just type the names of those foods versus one another into the search bar (for example: “wheat bread vs white bread”) and the nutrient composition for the two foods will pop up. This side-by-side comparison includes the total calories, macronutrients and micronutrients. There are of course some limitations of the tool, you can only compare two foods at a time for example, and the information may not be completely accurate, but this tool does allow for some quick and easy comparisons. Try it out and see what you discover!
You probably already know that nutritional needs change as we grow older. A healthy diet for an infant, teenager and older adult can all differ dramatically since the body is in different stages of growth. A new study highlights one of these dietary differences and how consuming it at different points in your life may actually change overall health: protein. In this study researchers found a correlation between the amount of protein study participants ate and cancer and premature death. In middle aged people, a low protein diet was associated with lower incidence of cancer and overall mortality, but in older aged adults it was the high protein diet that associated with health. Why would protein needs change so much as we grew older? It may be that a certain molecule in our body that triggers growth is not as responsive to protein intake in older age, so we need more protein to activate it. Read more about this study and the explanation at NPR’s coverage here.
The nutrition facts label that we see on the sides of food packages is getting a make-over, after over 20 years of its use. The new labels are meant to be easier to understand for the consumer through changing what is on the label and altering the format. One major change is altering what is considered a serving size, so that it more closely follows what a person actually eats. For example, a bottle of soda or juice is currently labeled as 2 1/2 servings, so the consumer has to multiply the calories by 2.5 to determine how many calories and added sugars are actually contained in the bottle. Under the new guidelines, food products that are commonly consumed in one sitting will be listed as one serving. Some other important changes reflect research findings over the past decades, including research on vitamin D. It has recently been reported that a large portion of the U.S. population is deficient in vitamin D, therefore the new Nutrition Facts label will require food companies to list the amount of vitamin D in their product. So what do you think? Is the label more user-friendly? Read about the changes and view an example of the label at the FDA’s press release here.
Vitamins are essential nutrients that are required for the function of several proteins in our body. If we become deficient in one or more vitamin entire cellular processes will shut down, leading to sometimes deadly diseases like scurvy, beriberi and pellagra. The body has developed intricate systems to ensure that vitamins are absorbed and stored correctly, preventing deficiency if we go too long without eating our fruits and vegetables. While vitamin storage is helpful, have you ever stopped to think about why the human body requires consumption of specific nutrients in the first place? After all, several other mammals can make many of the vitamins that we must eat. At some point in human evolution the genes that are needed to synthesize vitamins have been silenced or lost. A report from The New York Times looks at this relationship between human evolution and food consumption.
A study has found that organic milk may contain a better balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than conventional milk. Both types of fatty acids are essential, but it is the omega-3 fatty acids that may have beneficial health effects, like preventing heart disease and lowering inflammation. The typical western diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in oily fish and some nuts and seeds, like flaxseed. Claims that pasture raised meats and animal products contain larger concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids compared to grain-fed animals have been made, but this study published in PLoS One is the most clear example to date. In the study, samples of organic and conventional whole fat milk sourced from around the country were analyzed. Organic milk was found to contain 62 percent more omega-3 and 25 percent less omega-6 fatty acids than conventional milk. The study’s authors conclude that drinking the recommended servings of organic whole milk everyday would improve the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood, decreasing heart disease risk.
To read more about this study, as well as about why some prominent nutrition scientists question the conclusions of this study check out the article at The New York Times.
The anti-bacterial resistant superbug MRSA has been documented in the U.S. food supply, but until recently other countries have yet to find the superbug in their food. Unfortunately MRSA has recently shown up on a poultry farm in the U.K., which may be the first sign that MRSA is taking over the U.K.’s meat industry as well.
Overuse of antibiotics in the food supply is blamed for the development of the resistant strain of bacteria. Constant exposure to antibiotics kills off the strains of bacteria that are affected by the drug, leaving the stronger, resistant strains to take over. These resistant strains can spread from livestock to humans working with the animals either at the farm or at the slaughterhouse, causing a risk for human disease. Some bacteria can also travel to produce growing nearby via migratory animals or irrigation systems. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is attempting, for the first time, to limit the use of antibiotics in meat production. Under the new policy farmers and ranchers are no longer able to use antibiotics to make animals grow larger, a practice that is commonplace today. Farmers and ranchers will now need a prescription from a veterinarian to purchase antibiotics, a large change from the current practice where antibiotics are available for purchase at animal feed stores.
Click here to read more about the MRSA found in the U.K. poultry farm, and here to read about the FDAs decision to restrict antibiotic use in livestock in the United States.
An observational study here at Tufts University has found that a deficiency in vitamin B12 is associated with cognitive decline in older adults, even if that deficiency is mild. Adults over the age of 75 were followed for 8 years, during which time dementia was assessed by screening. The adults that had lower vitamin B12 blood levels were more likely to experience cognitive decline during the 8 years. This is an important finding because older adults have a harder time absorbing vitamin B12 from food, which is found in meats, poultry and eggs. Read more about the study here.
It’s not often that nutrition scientists agree as to whether a food or nutrient is good or bad for you, so when an agreement is met it’s worth paying attention to! Synthetic trans fatty acids are one of those nutrients that nutrition scientists can agree is unhealthy since it can lower the “good” HDL cholesterol and increase the “bad” LDL cholesterol. Due to this overwhelming evidence the Food and Drug Administration has proposed a banning of trans fats in food products, which has the potential of eliminating them from the American diet completely. This new regulation does not come without its criticism however, as some nutritionists and dietitians fear that the real problem in American’s diet is saturated fat. Dr. Scott Grundy, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center says “In the push to reduce trans fats, people have been forgetting that saturated fats are much worse because there is a lot more saturated fat in the diet than trans fat”. Read more at The New York Times.
There is plenty of controversy surrounding the safety and usefulness of food additives and GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms. Golden Rice – the rice that is genetically manipulated to contain a precursor to vitamin A – is no exception. Proponents of the GM crop say that bringing Golden Rice to underdeveloped countries can provided a means to prevent blindness and death caused by vitamin A deficiency. Plus Golden Rice is a sustainable intervention, as it can be grown in the countries in need by local farmers. On the other hand, opponents argue that introducing a GM crop is a risky endeavor, as the GM seeds may cross pollinate with “normal” strains of rice, resulting in a local extinction of non-GM rice species. You can read about some of the latest problems the Golden Rice industry has faced in this New York Times article.