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Agricultural Research for the 22nd Century


X-Ray Is OK


Does the Beloved Tomato Have Preventive Potential?



Agricultural Research for the 22nd Century

The National Academies committee report to USDA has suggested that USDA's Research, Education and Economics (REE) agencies' research focus be geared to helping the nation anticipate what is needed to enter the 22nd century. These agencies, which include the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, and the Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Service, conduct most of the agricultural research in the country. The committee urges a sea-change in REE's directives. These include an emphasis on expanding opportunities in the fields of globalization, studying and controlling emerging pathogens in the food chain, more emphasis on nutrition and human health, greater attention to environmental stewardship, and improving the quality of life in rural communities. To accomplish this new mission, the committee recommends that the USDA agency set clear priorities and be more flexible in funding and more accountable to stakeholders. (The National Academies Press)


Health Claims for Food Exaggerated?

According to the Consumer's Union, health claims for food are often overstated or based on flimsy evidence, and it suggests that the Nutrition Facts Panel is a better guide, and that those with allergies should take special care to avoid allergens.. (For more on health claims see Jim Tillotson's article in this issue). Consumer's Union also suggests that it takes other healthy behaviors as well as wise food choices to avoid disease. (Consumer's Union, Consumer Reports on Health, October 2002)


Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils: How Healthy?

Vegetable oils (including soybean, corn, and sunflower) that are common in commercially fried snack foods are relatively high in the polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid. However, at high frying temperatures the unsaturated bonds in linoleic acid are easily oxidized, generating an unpleasant taste. Food producers prevent this oxidation by adding molecular hydrogen to these unsaturated bonds. However, this "hydrogenation" process increases trans isomers in the refined oil, and these trans fats increase the risk of elevated serum cholesterol and coronary heart disease. Companies are responding to these health concerns by seeking alternative ingredients to lower trans fatty acids. This is no idle concern: in 2001 Americans consumed an average of 57 lbs of vegetable cooking oils per capita. (USDA Agricultural Research Service)


Does the Beloved Tomato Have Preventive Potential?

In several studies, when consumption of tomatoes rises, cancers of the breast, uterus, and digestive tract decrease; therefore, in addition to their taste, tomatoes may have health-promoting properties. Tomatoes are the principal source of lycopene in the diet. Lycopene has powerful antioxidant properties and it also decreases insulin growth factor (IGF-1), which is believed to be responsible for the low incidence of these cancers in populations that eat many tomato-based dishes. In any event, tomatoes are good sources of vitamin C and wonderful bases for many nutritious sauces and gravies. (International Symposium on the Role of Tomato Products and Caroteniods in Disease Prevention)


X-Ray Is OK

Irradiated meat, on the market since 1999 in the United States, is now permitted in the National School Lunch Program. Irradiated food is healthful according to the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association. The technology rids foods of microorganisms such as Escherichia Coli and salmonella, and also of parasites, using low levels of gamma rays or electrons. Combined with good food handling, irradiation can further ensure safety. (USDA)


Fast Take on Slow Food

The slow food movement, founded by Italian Carolo Petrini, urges people to slow down and enjoy their food, making the most of the pleasures of the table. Slow "foodies" focus on high-flavor high eye-appeal food. Some devotees also advocate eating local produce, emphasizing sustainable agriculture and organic food. But first and foremost, they say, slow down and smile when you eat, and eat with a friend or friends.


Can Combining Soy Proteins, Nuts, and Oat-based Fibers Cut Your Blood Cholesterol by Approximately 30%?

Eating a diet containing soy proteins, nuts, and oat-based fibers may allow some people to skip their cholesterol medication and lower their cholesterol with diet alone. Dr David Jenkins of the University of Toronto followed 13 people who went on a vegetarian diet comprised of soy proteins from soy milk and meat analogs, almonds, oats, barley, psyllium, and a variety of vegetables. After a month on the diet, the subjects lowered their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 29%. It is not yet determined whether larger studies have the same effects.(, December 13, 2002)


Keeping the Norwalk Virus in Check on Cruises and Elsewhere

The Norwalk virus is a little known but nasty critter that causes severe gastrointestinal symptoms and has recently wreaked havoc with vacationing cruise-ship passengers. Norwalk is spread through contact with infected food and water and can be easily passed through the touch of infected persons. Poor hygiene and food-handling sanitation practices are the most common cause of the infection. The elderly, the young, and those with poor immune systems are at high risk. Thorough hand-washing is the best defense.


Move Over Cholesterol, Make Way for C-reactive Protein

In addition to total, high-density lipoprotein, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, doctors now have another test that can shed light on coronary artery disease risks. It is elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. C-reactive protein is a measure of inflammation in the body; people with high levels are more likely to have an increased risk of heart disease.


Testing for CRP may identify those people with low LDL levels who are still at high risk for heart disease. People who have high CRP but low cholesterol levels are at 1.5 times the risk of developing heart disease or stroke than those with low CRP and low cholesterol levels. People with elevated CRP and high cholesterol are at the top of the risk scale. The test is fairly inexpensive and easy to administer. However, it is also nonspecific and reacts in several diseases and, therefore, there is still debate about its merits as a screening tool.


Even if one's CRP is elevated, these dietary and lifestyle guidelines are still important: eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables and whole grains and decrease consumption of saturated fat. (Washington Post November 26, 2002)


Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

The risks of skin cancer from too much sunlight are well-known. However, some Americans are getting too little sunlight to make enough vitamin D. Most vitamin D comes from sunlight-only approximately 10% is normally derived from food sources. Vitamin D helps absorb the calcium in food and those with low levels of Vitamin D often have weak bones that fracture easily. If you are older than 65 years, have dark skin, or are overweight, you may be at risk of too little vitamin D. To protect yourself, research suggests going out in the sun for a limited exposure (about one quarter the time it takes for the skin to start reddening) without sunscreen and eating food sources of D, such as vitamin D-fortified milk and cereals, or taking a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D. (Consumer Reports on Health, November 2002)


Can Soy Help Control Blood Pressure?

Eating soy nuts had a positive effect on blood pressure in a recent study by Dr Francine Welty that followed 61 women who were menopausal (12 with high blood pressure and 49 with normal blood pressure) for a total of 16 weeks. The women served as their own controls, avoiding soy for 8 weeks and then consuming 1/2 cup of roasted low-sodium soy nuts for 8 additional weeks.


At the end of the study the women with high blood pressure lowered their systolic blood pressure by 10% and their diastolic blood pressure by 7%. Eating the soy nuts was also beneficial for the women who were normotensive; these women lowered their systolic blood pressure by 5% and their diastolic blood pressure by 3% ( November 20, 2002)


Walking Can Save Mature Women's Hips

A recent study in the Journal of the Medical Association (JAMA 2002;288:2300-2306.) found that walking can increase hip (femur) bone density and reduce hip fracture risks. The risk of hip fracture was lowered by 6% for each hour of walking at an average pace. The risk of hip fracture decreased nearly in a straight line with increased levels of activity among women not taking hormone replacement therapy. Women who walked for at least 4 h/wk but did no other exercise had a 41% lower risk of fracture compared with women who exercise less than 1 hr/wk. So, walking is important at every age.


Can High-Dose Antioxidants Harm You?

Women taking both hormone therapy and high-dose antioxidant vitamins had the highest death rate compared to women who took nothing in the recent Women's Angiographic Vitamin and Estrogen (WAVE) trial (JAMA 2002;288[19]:2432-2440.) The study also indicated that subjects taking vitamins, 800 IU vitamin E and 1000 mg vitamin C, had either more or equal progression of their coronary disease as measured by angiography of 423 women who were postmenopausal in the United States and Canada.