Amazing benefits of Malaysion palm oil

Every few years we rediscover a new, healthier cooking oil. About 20 years ago, we abandoned vegetable for canola, and 10 years back we forsook canola for olive. Today many people tout coconut or avocado oil for their healthy cooking needs. Waiting in the wings? Malaysian palm fruit oil.

Red palm oil, as it’s also called, is produced in several areas, including Malaysia, West Africa and Ecuador. It’s derived from the fruit of the oil palm, not to be confused with palm kernel oil. Ancient Egyptians regarded the palm fruit oil as sacred healing oil. The dark red oil is about 50 percent saturated and 40 percent oleic acid, an unsaturated fat present in higher quantities in olive oil and believed to be partially responsible for its health benefits.

A tablespoon of red palm oil is about 130 calories, similar to other oils, but it’s loaded with carotenes, like beta-carotene and lycopene.

These are the same antioxidants that give tomatoes and carrots their deep color. The tropical oil may have other benefits as well. “Malaysian palm fruit oil is a rich source of beta carotene (much more than carrots and tomatoes), vitamin E and may have benefits for patients with breast cancer, fatty liver disease, and more,” says Dr. Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, author of “Living Skinny in Fat Genes.”

What’s the hubbub about?

Unlike other oils, Malaysian palm fruit oil doesn’t lose its nutritional value when it’s cooked in high heat. It can be cooked at a higher temperature than butter, corn oil or virgin olive oil. Plus, most oils only keep for four to six months after they’re opened. (Olive oil can last for a year, if refrigerated.) Malaysian palm fruit oil can be stored at room temperature for 12 months without going rancid.

The oil is cholesterol-free and is touted as heart-healthy. Preliminary studies show that adding palm oil to your diet may help remove plaque build-up in arteries. What’s more, studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have shown that a natural form of vitamin E called alpha tocotrienol, which is the form found in in red palm fruit oil, can help reduce the effects of stroke by 50 percent.

And since the oil is helpful in fighting inflammation, the core of many diseases, palm oil may have health benefits in fighting illnesses like osteoporosis, asthma, cataracts, macular degeneration, arthritis and premature aging.

Adding high antioxidant, anti-inflammatory Malaysian red palm oil palm oil to your diet may even reduce cholesterol and keep your blood pressure in check, too.

One review published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition, found Carotino and other red palm oils to be effective for treating vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness. (Carotino is a specific blend of canola oil and red palm fruit oil.) Still, much more research is needed.

Raw, unrefined palm oil is a deep reddish color and may have a pungent taste of olives and saffron and smell flowery while the refined, processed version is colorless and tasteless. You should be able to find both versions in health food stores. The red-colored oil is the one with possible health benefits. Raw, unrefined oil retains its vitamins and antioxidants and may lend a zesty flavor to foods sautéed in it.

Buying sustainable oil

To reduce the environmental impact of deforestation by palm-oil producers, a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products. The group aims to reduce harm to wildlife habitats, especially orangutans and elephants, and improve conditions for migrant workers on palm oil plantations. RSPO has its critics, but others say the group is making headway toward the goal of making more sustainably harvested oils available to consumers.

credit: Jennifer Nelson

The importance of how much water you should drink a day

Everyone’s heard the old refrain — drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Turns out that’s not entirely accurate. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 13 cups a day for an average male and about nine cups a day for the average female. But the actual amount of water a person should drink in a day can vary based on where you live, how much you weigh, and what kind of lifestyle you lead.
Water makes up 60 percent of our body’s weight and is absolutely imperative for our organs to function. Since we are constantly losing water through sweat, urine and even our breath, drinking enough water is crucial. If you become dehydrated, you will lose energy and become nauseated, headache-y, and tired. Severe dehydration can even send you to the hospital so drinking an adequate amount of water is crucial to maintaining your health on a daily basis.

If you exercise, you are losing more water than the average person. Therefore, it’s important to drink water before, during and after your workout — an extra 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups should be sufficient for a short workout. If you’re doing prolonged exercise, like running in a marathon, you have to drink much more than that.

In the summertime or if you live in a warm climate, you’ll also need to drink more water than the recommended amount. That’s because heat can make you sweat more and lose fluids faster.

You’ll also need to drink more water than is usually recommended if you’re sick with a fever, vomiting or diarrhea. If all you’ve got is a pesky cold, drinking water can also help keep your nasal passages hydrated and prevent you from getting sicker.

Another instance where you need to drink more water? If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The Mayo Clinc recommended that a pregnant woman drink at least 10 cups of water a day and a nursing woman to drink 13 cups of water a day. That’s because nursing drains your body and can leave you dehydrated if you’re not drinking enough. Not to mention that adequate hydration while breastfeeding can ensure an ample milk supply. When I had my last child, the hospital lactation specialist told me to drink one cup of water each hour of the day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — that’s a lot of water!

How do you know if you’re drinking enough? You can count the cups you drink or you can just peek in the toilet after you pee — you should be peeing a clear or light yellow liquid. If your urine is dark yellow or cloudy, you definitely are not drinking enough.

This is a lot of water to drink for physical health, but drinking water can have an influence on your emotional health as well. A 2014 study published in PLOS ONE found that, if you’re not drinking enough water, drinking more water will better your mood and increase general positive emotions. If you’re already drinking a good bit of water during the way, keep it up! The same study found that folks who drank a high amount of water over the course of the day experienced a decrease in their happiness levels if they decreased their water intake.

If water isn’t your thing, you can also safely substitute juice, milk or coffee for a cup or two a day. Since I was never a major water drinker, I like to combine 1/3 cup juice with 2/3 cup water. My husband says I like to drink juice that way because I grew up on watered-down juice from a can. Maybe. But at least it helps me meet my daily water intake goal!

credit: Chanie Kirschner

How olives changed the world

If grapes have a rival for a food with the most historical importance to Western civilization, surely it is the olive.

Native to the Mediterranean basin, the olive tree and its fruit, which is technically a drupe, have held a special meaning for almost every culture and religion in the region. Ancient societies revered olives for much more than the tree’s long life and its importance to their agriculture. Many ancient peoples considered it a gift from the gods.

Olives, olive oil and the olive branch have maintained their special, even sacred, symbolic meaning through the centuries. The leafy branch of the tree has been used as a sign of virginity and purity at weddings, a symbol of peace, a sign of power to crown victors of bloody wars and a sign of wisdom.

U.N. flagThe symbolism is as important and present today as ever. Offering a hand of friendship to a foe is known as extending an olive branch. Even the United Nations flag features two stylized olive branches wrapped around a world map — a sign of peace for all people. And olive oil, long considered sacred, continues to be used in many religious ceremonies.

History of olives

The earliest fossil evidence of olives was found at Mongardino, Italy, in leaves that date to the 12th millennium B.C., according to a history compiled by the International Olive Council. Situated in Madrid, Spain, the IOC is the world’s only international intergovernmental organization in the field of olive oil and table olives. Other early records of olives have been found in North African fossils from the Paleolithic Period, when humans first started using stone tools, and in parts of Bronze Age olive trees found in Spain.

Although some believe these locations indicate that the tree is indigenous to the entire Mediterranean basin, the IOC says the olive tree originated in the thick forests of Asia Minor. The only ancient civilizations in the area that were not familiar with the olive tree were the Assyrians and Babylonians.

“Olives have been cultivated in the Mediterranean since at least 2500 B.C.,” said food historian and author Francine Segan of New York. Considerable progress in cultivation of the tree took place in Syria and Palestine, although accounts differ about how the tree reached these regions.

From there it moved to the island of Cyprus, to Egypt, to the Greek Isles in the 16th century B.C. courtesy of the Phoenicians and then, in the 6th century B.C., westward to Sicily and southern Italy. The Romans continued the expansion of the tree throughout the Mediterranean using it as a peaceful weapon to settle people and regions in their conquests.
Segan included a passage about a fondness Cato (234-149 B.C.), the Roman orator and statesman, had for olives in her book “Philosopher’s Kitchen.” Segan explained that Cato wrote a book about small farm management in which he detailed a recipe for chopped olives mixed with herbs and spices to be eaten at the start of a meal.

Here is Cato’s original recipe, as offered by Segan:

Green, black or mixed olive relish to be made thus. Remove stones from green, black or mixed olives, then prepare as follows: Chop them and add oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue, mint. Cover with oil in an earthen dish, and serve.
Olive farming spread to the New World in 1492 with the Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to America. By 1560, olive groves were being cultivated in Mexico and South America. Today, olive trees are farmed in places as far removed from the Mediterranean as southern Africa, Australia, Japan and China.

History of olive oil

Although there are different kinds of olives, humans learned long ago that they couldn’t pick and eat the majority of them right from the tree as they would an apple. Olives are too bitter for that because they contain a compound called oleuropein. They are also low in sugar. To become palatable as table olives, the fruit typically has to undergo a series of processes to remove the oleuropein. In most cases, the few olives that are exceptions to this rule sweeten on the tree though fermentation.

Ancient olive presses apparently it was the bitter taste of freshly picked olives that led early human civilizations to find another use for olives. That use was to press them to extract the oil and then use the oil for a variety of purposes. Originally, cooking wasn’t one of those purposes. It was these many uses for the oil — lamp fuel, pharmaceutical ointment and as an anointment for religious leaders, royalty, warriors and others — that led the ancients to domesticate the olive tree.

The production of olive oil is believed to have occurred no earlier than 2500 B.C. Olive oil wasn’t used for cooking until about 2,000 years later, in the fifth or fourth century B.C. Once again, the Romans were responsible for significantly increasing olive oil production, which occurred between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.

Olives in mythology

The olive tree is revered in Greek mythology, which credits the goddess Athena, daughter of supreme god Zeus, for bringing it to the city of Athens.

According to legend — recounted in Segan’s book — whichever god gave the people of Greece the most esteemed gift would earn the right to name their most important city. Poseidon, brother of Zeus and god of the seas but a seeker of earthly kingdoms, gave Attica a waterway through the city that provided fresh drinking water and easy access to the Mediterranean. Athena gave them olive trees.

Although the citizens were grateful to Poseidon, Segan wrote, they preferred Athena’s gift. Not only were the olives long-lasting and delicious on their own, but they also produced a useful oil. In return for the gift of olives, Athena was granted the right to name the city after herself. The Parthenon, a temple that overlooks Athens, was built in Athena’s honor.

Other mythological figures are associated with the olive tree. When Hercules was very young, for example, he killed a lion with a wooden stake from a wild olive tree, thus associating the tree with strength and resistance. He also used a club from an olive tree in one of his twelve labors.

Olives in religion

Some of the world’s most widely followed religions place great significance on olives and olive trees. Even so, the use of olive oil in religious rituals has its origins in pagan ceremonies. Priests in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome used olive oil in their sacrifices and offering to the gods.

Olive oil — along with bread, wine and water — is one of the four most important symbols in Christianity. References to olive oil are almost as old as the religion itself, with God telling Moses that olive oil is a holy anointing oil (Exodus, 30:22-33). This tradition of anointing with oil has continued throughout history by leaders of churches and nations.
The olive tree also came to symbolize peace and God’s reconciliation with man. A dove brought an olive branch back to Noah as a sign that the flood was over. Jesus was praying in the Garden of Olives, or Gethsemani, when he was taken prisoner. In Hebrew, “gethsemani” means “olive press.” Early Christians decorated their tombs with olive branches as a sign of the victory of life over death.

The Quran and hadith mention the olive and the olive tree numerous times. Islam considers the olive a blessed fruit and a health food that is a good source of nutrition. A parable refers to Allah, olive oil and light (Surah al-Noor 24:35). Another reference speaks to olives and nutrition (Surah al-Anaam, 6:141). The hadith refers to the olive tree as “blessed” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 1775).

Olive oil and health

Olive oil — along with all the other vegetable oils — is high in fat, which means it is high in calories. It’s also considered to be a healthy food. This sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t.

That’s because the main fat in olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs. MUFAS have been found to lower total cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. As a result, MUFAs may decrease the risk of heart disease in some people. They may also normalize blood clotting. MUFAs may even benefit people with Type 2 diabetes because they affect insulin levels and blood sugar in healthful ways.

As with many good things, olive oil has a “but.” In this case, it’s that olive oil should be used in moderation because even healthful fats are high in calories. It’s also a good idea to use MUFAs instead of, rather than in addition to, other fatty foods such as butter.

Production and consumption of olives

Olive harvestThe world’s top four producers of olives are Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece, according to the IOC’s executive secretariat. The four main producers of olive oil are Spain (1.27 million tons), Italy (408,100 tons), Greece (284,200 tons) and Turkey (178,800 tons). The four leading producers of table olives are Spain (533,700 tons), Egypt (407,800 tons), Turkey (399,700 tons) and Algeria (178,800 tons). These figures are an average of the past six crops, according the IOC.

One of the trends in olive consumption, the secretariat said, is the rise of olive popularity in the Persian Gulf countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. That, it seems, is fitting. Just as olive farming has moved around the world, the consumption of one of the world’s most important foods has come full circle, back to the part of the world where it originated so many millennia ago.

credit: Tom Oder

8 probiotics that are not in yogurt.

When we think of probiotics, which work to restore the body’s microbial balance, we usually think about yogurt.

Truth is, there plenty of other foods you can eat to stay healthy.

“Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that we all contain in our digestive tract, and prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics, helping them to grow,” says Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist in New York City. “Probiotics and prebiotics help maintain a healthy digestive system by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria and aiding in digestion. Thanks to their ability to reduce the harmful bacteria, probiotics and prebiotics can prevent infections in the digestive tract and reduce inflammation.”
So what should we add to our diets to keep our guts healthy? There are a number of fermented foods (dairy and non-dairy) that provide probiotics as well as prebiotics. Let’s start with the top probiotic foods:

Kombucha is an ancient Chinese drink made of sweetened tea that’s been fermented using a colony of bacteria and yeast. It’s said to help prevent arthritis and other diseases.
Kefir is a dairy-based yogurt-like drink that has its origins in the mountainous Caucasus region of Russia. Millennia ago, pastoralists discovered the process of fermentation and the practice spread widely throughout the Mediterranean as a way to preserve grapes and dairy products beyond the growing season.

Sauerkraut is a finely diced sour cabbage dish that has been fermented by a wide variety of bacteria.
Kimchi is a Korean dish that’s a spicy, pickled or fermented blend of cabbage, onions and sometimes fish. It can be seasoned with garlic, horseradish, red peppers and ginger.
Miso soup originated in Japan and is typically made from fermented soybeans. It can contain up to 160 bacteria strains.

Kvass is a traditional Eastern European fermented beverage that’s made using black or regular rye bread. It’s often flavored with strawberries or mint.
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans with a mold. It tends to be firm and chewy and has a slightly earthy taste.

Aged cheeses are generally cheeses that have been cured for longer than six months. These cheeses tend to have a full, sharper flavor.
These foods tend to be more popular outside the United States, but the trend has caught on in a big way, says Madeline Given, a certified holistic nutritionist in Santa Barbara, California.

“You can also add cultured dairy, such as creme fraiche or even raw and cultured sour creams and butters,” Given says. “All are a great source of this good bacteria.”

In addition to probiotic foods are prebiotic foods, which include whole grains, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, soybeans, dandelion root or Jerusalem artichoke, Raj adds.

What about supplements?

“Both diet and supplements are a good way to increase your daily intake of probiotics and prebiotics,” Raj says. “However, if you want to add a supplement, it’s always best to check with your doctor regarding the dosage and brands she recommends.”

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has a useful resource file on probiotic supplements that explains the pros, cons and unknowns.

A host of other benefits

And there are more reasons than your gut to reach for probiotic foods.

“Truly, a variety of differing good bacteria in the gut is great for one’s immunity,” says Susan Schenck, a licensed acupuncturist and author of “The Live Food Factor: The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet.”

They’re good for your brain, too.

“After all, 90 percent of the ‘feel-good’ serotonin originates in our gut,” Schenck says.

In fact, we have 100 billion brain cells in our gut, says Lori Shemek, Ph.D., a fat cell researcher. “This is why our gut is considered our ‘second brain,'” she says. “Our weight is directly linked to specific types of gut bacteria.”

To get what you need, consider eating at least one prebiotic- or probiotic-containing food daily. “It doesn’t take much,” Shemek says. “Just one tablespoon of sauerkraut every day is all that is needed. Also, it only takes a couple of days to change gut health from unhealthy to healthy. Additionally, I recommend one daily probiotic, 15 billion and multi-strained.”

Credit: Lambeth Hochwald

CO2 emissions stall, even as economy grows

For the first time, global CO2 emissions are expected to dip in 2015 despite economic growth.

Earth’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions are on pace to plateau this year, according to new projections, and they might even decline. On top of 2014’s relatively small increase in CO2 output, this surprising shift is raising hopes that an explosive era of greenhouse gas emissions may finally be winding down.

For most of the past 15 years, CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels increased by an average of 2.4 percent annually. But researchers from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project report that CO2 output grew by just 0.6 percent in 2014. And, more importantly, they say it may actually decline 0.6 percent in 2015.
Until now, global CO2 emissions have only fallen during economic downturns, like the collapse of the Soviet Union or the 2008 financial crisis. But if these new forecasts hold true, 2015 would mark the first modern dip in CO2 emissions while the global economy is growing. It may not represent a true “carbon peak” — even the study’s authors say emissions will likely rise again — but it does offer timely evidence that economic prosperity and ecological responsibility aren’t mutually exclusive.

World leaders and diplomats are currently in Paris for major U.N. climate talks, which are meant to produce a new worldwide treaty for reining in CO2 emissions. The summit was already expected to succeed where many others have failed, but this kind of reminder about the economics of CO2 cuts can only help matters.

“We have broken the old arguments for inaction,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech on the summit’s opening day on Nov. 30. “We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another.”

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new findings are attributed largely to China, whose ranking as the No. 1 net emitter of CO2 puts it in a unique position to influence global emissions trends. “China is trying to deal massively with its air pollution problem,” study co-author Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, tells Nature News. “And its renewables are growing very fast.”

There are still uncertainties about China’s self-reported CO2 data, highlighted last month by news that China has been burning up to 17 percent more coal per year than its government had previously stated. Le Quéré says her research team factored China’s revised data into their new analysis, but she acknowledges that more transparency is needed in reporting of national CO2 emissions.

“We don’t have the capacity to check the energy reports of the countries,” she says. “We have to rely on the countries to tell us what types of coal they use and how clean it is. If the reporting was systematic, it would be wonderful.”

That kind of transparency is one goal of the Paris talks — formally known as COP21, short for “Conference of Parties” — where diplomats are working on ways to track and verify each country’s emissions. But in the meantime, based on China’s own data plus ongoing economic trends, the new study projects Chinese CO2 emissions alone will decrease by nearly 4 percent in 2015. After long resisting the idea of CO2 limits, China recently pledged that its emissions will peak by 2030.

Some have suggested the 2015 data may mean global CO2 emissions have already peaked, thus kicking off a new, downward trend in the main gas responsible for man-made climate change. But many experts doubt that, pointing out not only that Chinese emissions could rise again, but also that emissions from India and other developing countries will likely offset China’s progress at some point.

“Emissions in India are at the same level as China in the 1990s,” climate analyst Glen P. Peters tells the New York Times, adding that India “could actually dominate the global growth in the way that China has done in the past.”

The new study also doesn’t fully account for some man-made sources of CO2, namely those from deforestation — an especially big problem this year due to huge peat fires linked to land clearing in Indonesia. But in the long-running, often-gridlocked effort to curb climate change, any sign that humans are cutting back industrial CO2 emissions without sacrificing economic growth is reason for optimism, the researchers argue.

“Time will tell whether this surprising interruption in emissions growth is transitory or a first step toward emissions stabilization,” they write. “In either case, the trend is a welcome change from the historical coupling of CO2 emissions with economic growth and should be strengthened through efforts at the Paris COP and beyond.”

Credit: Russell Mclendon

Plastic garbage in the ocean is mysteriously disappearing

A vast amount of the plastic garbage littering the surface of the ocean may be disappearing, a new study suggests.

Exactly what is happening to this ocean debris is a mystery, though the researchers hypothesize that the trash could be breaking down into tiny, undetectable pieces. Alternatively, the garbage may be traveling deep into the ocean’s interior.

“The deep ocean is a great unknown,” study co-author Andrés Cózar, an ecologist at the University of Cadiz in Spain, said in an email. “Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this mysterious ecosystem — the largest of the world — before we can know it.”

Researchers drew their conclusion about the disappearing trash by analyzing the amount of plastic debris floating in the ocean, as well as global plastic production and disposal rates.

The modern period has been dubbed the Plastic Age. As society produces more and more of the material, storm water runoff carries more and more of the detritus of modern life into the ocean. Ocean currents, acting as giant conveyer belts, then carry the plastic into several subtropical regions, such as the infamous Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

In the 1970s, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that about 45,000 tons of plastic reaches the oceans every year. Since then, the world’s production of plastic has quintupled.

Missing mass

Cózar and his colleagues wanted to understand the size and extent of the ocean’s garbage problem. The researchers circumnavigated the globe in a ship called the Malaspina in 2010, collecting surface water samples and measuring plastic concentrations. The team also analyzed data from several other expeditions, looking at a total of 3,070 samples.

What they found was strange. Despite the drastic increase in plastic produced since the 1970s, the researchers estimated there were between 7,000 and 35,000 tons of plastic in the oceans. Based on crude calculations, there should have been millions of tons of garbage in the oceans.

Because each large piece of plastic can break down into many additional, smaller pieces of plastic, the researchers expected to find more tiny pieces of debris. But the vast majority of the small plastic pieces, measuring less than 0.2 inches (5 millimeters) in size, were missing, Cózar said.

Unknown impact

So what exactly is happening to the debris?

One possibility is that it is being broken down into tiny, undetectable particles, whose impact on the ocean is unknown. Another possibility is that it is being carried into the deep ocean.

Whether that’s good or bad isn’t clear.

Less trash at the surface may mean less wildlife comes into contact with plastic.

“The plastic pollution in surface waters can more easily interact with the ocean life, because the surface layer of the ocean hosts most of the marine organisms,” Cózar said.

On the other hand, small fish — particularly lanternfishes — may be eating some of these small plastic pieces, dubbed microplastics, and breaking them down even more. Because small fish are the ecological link between plankton and small vertebrates, and because commercial fish such as swordfish and tuna eat these small fish, it’s important to understand whether the absorption of toxins from the plastic will impact these animals’ health, he said.

Credit: Tia Ghose

FDA approves GMO salmon for consumption

It’s not much of a surprise that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first genetically modified salmon to be sold for human consumption earlier this week. The approval process has been going on for two decades, according to Scientific American, but the outcome seemed so certain that two years ago, several major grocery store chains — including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi and Target — pledged they would not carry GE-salmon.

What the proponents of GMO salmon say
This particular type of genetically modified salmon is known as AquAdvantage salmon and was engineered by AquaBounty Technologies of Maynard, Massachusetts. It has been modified to have higher levels of a growth hormone than natural salmon. It can grow to full size in 18 months instead of the typical three years it takes non-GMO salmon to grow.

The benefit of this salmon, say proponents, is that “the fish require smaller amounts of food and other resources per kilogram of harvested fish, and that the modified salmon could ease pressure caused by heavy fishing of wild populations.”

What the opponents of GMO salmon say
Others aren’t so optimistic about this new fish, which will not be labeled as a GMO, leaving consumers in the dark.

In a release, Food & Water Watch called the approval unfortunate and said the “historic decision disregards the vast majority of consumers, many independent scientists, numerous members of Congress and growers around the world, who have voiced strong opposition.”

The organization points to AquaBounty’s poor environmental record and concerns that this record “greatly raises the stakes for an environmentally damaging escape of GMO salmon.” GMO salmon have the ability to breed with other types of fish, and Canadian researchers found that they readily do so. The FDA has not considered what could happen if GMO salmon breed with other salmon or other types of fish, Food & Water Watch claims.
The Center for Food Safety, which is filing a lawsuit against the FDA, had this to say about this issue:

Imagine a world where GE salmon take over our oceans, rivers, and streams. These fast-growing manufactured fish would outcompete and wipe-out our treasured native salmon. Salmon fishing communities would be devastated and our marine environment would be forever altered. With today’s FDA approval, this scenario, could soon be a reality.
“The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant. The FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public.”

What consumers can do about GMO salmon
What can you do about this?

Food & Water has a petition to President Obama to stop GMO salmon. The group is asking the president to revoke the FDA’s approval of genetically modified salmon. You can also join the Center For Food Safety’s fight by donating to help fund its lawsuit.

You should also read the comments on the FDA’s website about its approval of the GMO salmon, particularly when it comes to how these fish will be raised. Interestingly, GMO salmon are not allowed to be raised in the United States.

The AquAdvantage Salmon may be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama. The approval does not allow AquAdvantage Salmon to be bred or raised in the United States. In fact, under this approval, no other facilities or locations, in the United States or elsewhere, are authorized for breeding or raising AquAdvantage Salmon that are intended for marketing as food to U.S. consumers.
For now, most fish is labeled with its country of origin, so avoiding salmon from Canada or Panama could help consumers avoid the unlabeled GMO salmon. However, the World Trade Organization is challenging the United States’ Country of Origin Labeling so there’s no guarantee that any fish will be labeled by country of origin in the future.

There may another way to avoid the GMO salmon in the grocery store, though. The list of several major grocery stores that I mentioned above has grown significantly in the past two years. According to the Campaign for GE Seafood, nearly 60 major food retailers have taken the pledge to not sell GMO salmon. They’ve created a handy infographic indicating which ones, and they are actively petitioning Costco to join the list.

credit:Robin Shreeves

FDA to finally tackle ‘natural’ food label

The term natural, when it’s used on food packaging, means very little.

Consumers may think it’s a promise of purity, when in fact it’s a marketing term meant to give the illusion of purity. When consumers realize that ingredients made with GMO foods or high fructose corn syrup are in the products labeled “natural” or “all natural,” they may feel duped. Some have sued, like the two California mothers who sued General Mills for all the profits they’ve made on Nature Valley products when they realized the products contained high fructose corn syrup, high maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin.

As consumers have become more aware of the murkiness of the “natural” label, some food manufacturers have been pulling the word from packaging. More than 100 lawsuits have been filed against companies because of GMOs in products labeled “all natural.” Consumers aren’t just suing; they’re asking the FDA to define the term “natural.” After receiving “three citizen petitions asking that the agency define the term ‘natural’ for use in food labeling and one citizen petition asking that the agency prohibit the term ‘natural’ on food labels” and requests from some federal courts that have ruled on some of these lawsuits, the FDA is starting the process of addressing the term.

The FDA’s current policy concerning the label “natural” is this: A food labeled natural cannot contain anything artificial or synthetic (including color additives) that would not normally be expected in a food. The policy was meant for ingredients, and not to address, as the FDA says, “food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term ‘natural’ should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”

Now, the FDA wants everyone’s input, and it has opened it up to public comment. The agency is looking for information and comments on questions such as:

Whether it’s appropriate to define the term “natural”
If so, how the agency should define “natural”
How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.
If you have an opinion, let it be heard. You can be sure that food manufacturers will be submitting their own comments and information, as is their right. Their voices will be loud, and as consumers, we need to make our collective voice heard loudly too by taking the time to comment.

This is just the beginning of what will probably be a long and drawn-out process. Regardless of what the outcome is, remember that almost everything declared on front-of-package labeling is there for marketing purposes and meant to entice consumers to purchase it. If you want to really know what’s in a particular food, turn the package over and read the nutrition label. It won’t give you all the information you might want, but it’s the most informative space on a food package by far.

credit: Robin Shreeves

 

Are the benefits of wheatgrass overblown?

Mosey up to the bar at a health food café or juice bar and you’ll likely find someone ordering a shot. Not a shot of tequila, mind you, but of wheatgrass.

For some people, shooting a shot of wheatgrass offers a sense of well-being, the feeling that they are gulping down something with numerous health benefits. Let’s review some of purported health benefits of wheatgrass and medical studies.

Proponents of wheatgrass claim that it can help cure:

Bronchitis (and other respiratory conditions)
Fever
Infection
Skin disorders
Digestive disorders
According to the Mayo Clinic, some supporters even believe that wheatgrass can help treat cancer, anemia, diabetes, infections and joint pain, among other health conditions.

Wheatgrass nutrients

On a macronutrient and micronutrient level (fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals), wheatgrass doesn’t seem like a health food to get excited about. A typical one-ounce serving contains only seven calories, no fat and virtually no carbohydrates and protein. Wheatgrass contains no essential omega-3 fatty acids nor does it have much vitamin content with the exception of 7 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin C. A one-ounce shot also contains 10 percent DV of iron, but only a trace amount of any other well-known vitamins and minerals.

So why all the hoopla over wheatgrass? Chlorophyll — the green pigment that plays a critical role in photosynthesis, allowing plants to absorb energy from the sun — is touted by natural health advocates as an all-star health compound that increases the blood’s oxygen content.

It’s the chlorophyll, wheatgrass advocates claim, that helps rid the body of toxins, strengthens immunity and improves the micro-flora ecology of the digestive tract.

Is there any proof to back these claims?

Many cancer survivors swear by wheatgrass. But is consuming wheatgrass any more effective than, say, eating copious amounts of fresh vegetables? To date there is little scientific evidence to support wheatgrass’ nutritional merits. According to New York University’s Langone Medical Center, a small study of 24 patients with ulcerative colitis concluded that those who took a wheatgrass supplement improved their conditions versus those who took a placebo.

Another small study in the journal Indian Pediatrics concluded that patients with a form of anemia (thalassemia) required fewer blood transfusions after consuming 100 milliliters of wheatgrass daily.

An Israeli study of 60 patients with breast cancer concluded that wheatgrass juice may reduce myelotoxicity and chemotherapy dosage. The study’s preliminary results need confirmation upon further testing.
There’s little evidence that consuming wheatgrass is any more beneficial than just eating a lot of fresh vegetables.

One shot of wheat grass = 2 pounds of vegetables?

Several natural health articles and websites claim that consuming two ounces of wheatgrass contains the same nutritional composition as several servings of vegetables. But no clinical trials support this claim or other validations of wheatgrass’ positive effects on tumor shrinkage, prevention of heart disease and diabetes, or its role in the elimination of heavy metals from tissues.

Dietitian Alison Hornby, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, tells health website NHS: “There is no sound evidence to support the claim that wheatgrass is better than other fruits and vegetables in terms of nutrition. It cannot be recommended above any other choices in this food group. Although it contributes towards your recommended daily intake of fruit and veg, a single shot of wheatgrass doesn’t count as one of your 5 (vegetables) a day. But if you’re a big fan, you could combine a shot with a fruit or veg smoothie.”
A natural health website claims that Bernard Jensen, a naturopath and chiropractor who passed away in 2001 at the age of 92, wrote several natural health books and claimed that he was able to double the red blood cell count of his patients by having them soak in a chlorophyll bath. However, there are no medical studies to support Jensen’s.

Dr. Chris Reynolds, an Australian-based doctor who goes by the alias “Dr. Wheatgrass,” tells Mother Nature Network that he’s had tremendous success over the last 18 years in his practice by having his patients take a chlorophyll-free wheatgrass sprout extract.

But isn’t chlorophyll supposed to be the compound that gives wheatgrass its healing properties?

“Although chlorophyll is essential for keeping us all breathing, it has little if any physiological or positive effect on human health,” says Reynolds in an email. “The benefits of wheatgrass are largely biological, not nutritional as most purveyors of wheatgrass in its various forms would have one believe.”

Reynolds argues that there is plenty of evidence to support wheatgrass extract’s role in supporting biological functions, including one preliminary study in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research, which suggests that fermented wheatgrass extract “exerts significant antitumor activity.” The study concludes that the extract requires further evaluation as a candidate for clinical combination drug regimens.

credit: Judd Handler

slashing sugar from kids diet improves health in 10 days

While parents, educators and health experts continue to argue about the best ways to help children who are overweight or obese lose weight, researchers have found that just cutting back on the added sugar in diet can quickly make significant improvements to a child’s health.

Forty-three children between the ages of 9 and 18 who were considered obese participated in the study, which was designed to test whether or not it was the extra weight or the added sugar that was making children unhealthy. All of the children were black or Hispanic and had at least one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a condition marked by high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol and excess belly fat.

For the study, which will appear in the Journal Obesity, researchers from Benioff Children’s Hospital of the University of California, San Francisco and Touro University California removed the added sugars from participants’ diets and replaced them with other types of carbohydrates so that the kids’ caloric intake stayed the same. So, for example, if the kids were used to eating sugar-sweetened yogurt, they were asked to replace that yogurt with bagels. Kids who snacked on pastries were given baked potato chips instead.

After 10 days, the children in the study had lost little to no weight, but they showed significant improvement in cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar — all important indicators of a child’s overall health.

Prior to the study, the kids’ had gotten about 27 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. Earlier this year, the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans limit their consumption of added sugars to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. For the study, researchers aimed to get the kids’ diets more in line with these recommendations, but without simply cutting calories altogether.

“This paper says we can turn a child’s metabolic health around in 10 days without changing calories and without changing weight — just by taking the added sugars out of their diet,” said Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at Benioff and the lead author of the study. “From a clinical standpoint, from a health care standpoint, that’s very important.”

Credit: Jenn Savedge