Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: July 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Good News About Obesity

The 2003 US Surgeon General Vice Admiral Richard Carmona said "The good news is that obesity as we understand it today is completely preventable through healthy eating - nutritious food in appropriate amounts - and physical activity." Most people do not like the idea of personal responsibility. It is so much easier to blame fast food, processed food, genetics, carbs, lack of time, etc for our growing waistlines. I include myself occasionally in this mindset; time is preciously short and there are a number of thing I need to, or would rather, do than exercise. And while I'm not obese, I could stand to lose a few pounds to benefit my health and I should exercise regularly to be healthier in general.

Current US obesity rates have been all over the news for the last couple of years, but with apparent little impact. And it is not just the US that is getting fatter, other industrialized countries are right there with us. In fact the WHO states that 400 million adults are obese worldwide. So why is our country's waistline an issue at all? Well, obesity is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, osteoarthritis and some cancers. The medical costs to treat these ailments and the lost productivity of the sufferers has been estimated by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) at $117 billion.

Given that so many people do not make wise food choices, don't practice healthy eating, do not watch portion sizes and do not exercise, we have the perfect combination for an obesity epidemic. My industry takes a lot of heat for causing this dilema (although I respectfully disagree), so many companies are working on ingredients and products to help consumers with weight managment. We can't necessarily change a consumers buying decision (McD does sell salads not just Big Macs), so we are trying to make what you buy healthier. Portion controlled packaging, sugar alternatives, whole grains, healthier fats and oils, and nutraceuticals are just some of the measures the industry is taking to help fight obesity. For the next few posts, I'll be looking at some of these individually to help you better understand the whys & hows of these and to make you a smarter consumer, and hopefully healthier eater.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bug Food

Welcome back and sorry for the long delay between posts. I just got back from a great vacation and am ready to continue our discussion about probiotics and prebiotics. If you remember from the last post, probiotics are ingestible microflora that provide benefits to your health. Those bugs need to be fed, which is obviously accomplished by the foods that you eat, but can be enhanced by feeding them their favorite foods - prebiotics.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates like fiber. You see these carbs aren't digestible by us, but the probiotics have no problem breaking down these molecules. Some of the products considered to be prebiotics include inulin, fructooligosaccharides, polydextrose, lactitol, resistant starches, corn fiber, and arabinogalactose. In addition to eating foods enhanced with prebiotics, some of these foods are also full of prebiotics: chicory, jicama, bananas, oats, whole grains, onion, garlic, leeks, honey, and artichokes. Fermentable carbs seem to work best, but not all prebiotics work equally with each probiotic.

There is quite a bit of research currently being conducted to determine which prebiotic works best with which probiotic; synergy is important here. Lactobacillus seems to prefer galactooligosaccharides while Bifidobacteria seems to prefer fructooligosaccharides. Scientists really want to find the optimum combinations because early research suggests that these "symbiotics" show great promise in prevention of colon cancers and increase our resistance to infections. In addition, they help increase calcium and magnesium absorption and help with intestinal regularity.

So, I hope you are not completely confused by all the prebiotic/probiotic/symbiotic talk and that you have a better understanding of beneficial bugs and what the food industry is doing to try to make food healthier for you. Keep an eye open for these enriched/enhanced products coming to a grocery shelf near you soon (if you want additional info -go here). And as always, please email me and tell me what topics you'd like to know more about - I'm here to help you become food literate!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's What Bugs You

Bugs - I'm not talking about the creepy crawly kind of bugs, I'm talking about good bugs, the kind that live in your gut. Bacteria & yeast bugs - probiotics to be exact. Yes we are full of bugs, most of which are beneficial; as many as 1,000,000,000,000 per gram of intestinal content. These bugs (intestinal microflora) help us guard against infections, digest fiber and oligosaccharides, take out potential carcinogens and toxins, and produce vitamins we can't make ourselves.

Probiotic means "for life" and they are defined by the WHO/FAO as "live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health benefit on the host". (You would be the host.) Probiotics, also by definition, have to show documented benefits at the specific strain level (genus4species4strain), be recognized by the international culture bank, have undergone appropriate in vitro (lab) trials, be able to survive (viable) at sufficient levels in a product over the product's shelf life, and perhaps most important - be safe.

Most probiotics are lactic acid producers like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, but there are others. It appears from the research that has been performed that each strain has its own benefits and that those benefits are strain-specific. So depending on what you are trying to treat or prevent you will need to consume a different probiotic strain or multiple strains to achieve the function desired. Not especially handy if you were suffering from a laundry list of ailments!

While it is thought that probiotics protect you from pathogens (bad bugs), research is still ongoing to make those direct connections. Currently, research is being done to see what mechanism probiotics use to confer benefits. Some of the theories under investigation say probiotics out compete pathogens (competitive inhibition), others think they work by increasing IG-A plasma and/or T-lymphocytes (white blood cells). Preliminary studies are showing some good results using probiotics to treat Helicobacter pylori (causes stomach ulcers), dental carries (cavities) and diarrhea (including that caused by antibiotic treatments).

You will primarily find probiotics added to dairy products (yogurts, milk, cheese) right now, although some supplements are also available in health stores, since these are great habitats for the live cultures. Just like us, these critters need water & food to be happy and reproduce. And since we are moving to the topic of probiotic food, the topic of the next post will be their favorite - prebiotics!