Video: Taste Testing Ice Cream Across Japan

Watch video at You Tube (3:45 minutes) . . . . .

Folic Acid, a B Vitamin, Lowers Stroke Risk in People with High Blood Pressure

Julie Corliss wrote . . . . .

If you’re among the one in three American adults with high blood pressure, be sure you’re getting plenty of the B vitamin known as folate. Doing so may lower your odds of having a stroke, an often disabling or deadly event linked to high blood pressure, a new study suggests.

Folate occurs naturally in many foods, but especially green leafy vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits. Here in the United States, add to the list most grain products, including wheat flour, cornmeal, pasta, and rice. They are fortified with the synthetic version of folate, known as folic acid.

That’s not the case in many countries around the world, including China, where the new study was done. Published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it included more than 20,000 adults in China with high blood pressure who had never had a stroke or heart attack. Participants who took folic acid supplements along with the blood-pressure lowering medicine enalapril (Vasotec) were less likely to have had a stroke over the 4½-year trial than those who took enalapril alone.

The cardiovascular benefits of folate have been known for decades. Studies begun in the 1970s (including Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study) have shown that people who said they consumed more folate had fewer strokes and heart attacks than those who reported consuming less. Folate, along with other B vitamins, helps break down homocysteine, an amino acid that may damage the inner walls of arteries. Such damage can boost the risk of a stroke or heart attack.

However, clinical trials in the United States that compared people who took folic acid supplements with those who took placebos showed no benefit from taking folic acid supplements. One likely explanation is that supplements are most helpful for people who don’t get enough folate in their diets. Nearly a quarter of Americans fell into that category before 1998. But beginning that year, food companies were required to fortify grain products with folic acid. Within a year, the percentage of people with low folate levels dropped dramatically.

The Chinese study found that the stroke prevention benefit of folic acid was biggest in people with low baseline folate levels. Also, most of the earlier folate studies were done in people who’d already had a stroke or heart attack. Such people are likely already taking an array of medications to prevent another event, which could obscure any effect from the folate.

The new findings are most relevant for people in countries without folate fortification. Still, they’re a good reminder to take a close look at your diet to make sure you’re getting enough of this crucial nutrient.

“Fruits and vegetables are important sources of folate in the diet, and they also bring lots of other benefits, such as potassium and phytonutrients, that also help lower cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who co-authored an editorial about the new study.

In the U.S., the average person gets about 100 to 150 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid a day from fortified grain products—roughly a quarter of the recommended daily intake of 400 mcg a day. Certain groups of people might fall a little short, however, such as those in the southwestern US who use the corn flour known as masa, which is not folate-fortified. People on gluten-free diets who don’t eat foods made with wheat flour might also be a little low in folate, says Dr. Willett.

Everyone—and especially those with high blood pressure—should eat a generous amount of fruits and vegetables every day, advises Dr. Willett. And to cover any gaps, “it still makes sense for most people to take a multivitamin, multimineral supplement every day,” he recommends.

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Selected food sources of folate in micrograms (mcg)

Breakfast cereal, fortified with 25% of the DV, 3/4 cup – 100
Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup – 131
Great Northern beans, boiled, ½ cup – 90
Asparagus, boiled, 4 spears – 89
Broccoli, chopped, frozen, cooked, ½ cup – 84
Rice, white, long-grain, parboiled, enriched, cooked, ½ cup – 77
Spinach, raw, 1 cup – 58
Green peas, frozen, boiled, ½ cup – 50
Orange, 1 medium – 48
Egg noodles, enriched, cooked, ½ cup – 50
Mango, raw, ½ cup – 35

Date from USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

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Source: Harvard Medical School

In Pictures: Dishes of Italian Restaurants in Tokyo, Japan

5 Plants That Can Help Purify Indoor Air

Amanda MacMillan wrote . . . . . .

Want to clear the air in your home or workplace? Get some greens, says research presented recently at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting. But not just any greens: The new study looked at five common house plants and found that when it comes to removing harmful chemicals from the air, some are better than others.

Indoor air pollution is a common and important threat to human health, according to researchers from the State University of New York Oswego, and can even lead to symptoms of “sick-building syndrome,” such as headache and fatigue. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted as gasses from cigarette smoke, paints, furniture, copiers and printers, cleaning supplies, and dry-cleaned clothes, are often to blame.

“Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them,” says Vadoud Niri, PhD, an assistant professor of chemistry who led the new study. Inhaling large amounts of VOCs can cause short- and long-term health problems, he adds, including dizziness, asthma, and allergies.

Installing ventilation systems or other high-tech solutions can help remove VOCs from indoor environments—but they can be expensive, and Niri wanted to find a cheaper, simpler way to improve air quality. So he turned to plants, which take in carbon dioxide through their roots and leaves. Previous research has also shown that greenery can absorb VOCs like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde.

Niri and his colleagues built a sealed chamber containing a mix of different VOCs and monitored it over several 12-hour periods, both with and without different plants inside. They measured how quickly each plant took in the different VOCs, and how much of the chemicals remained in the air by the end of each experiment.

While all of the plants they tested reduced at least some of the air pollution, certain ones were more helpful than others. “Based on our results, we can recommend what plants are good for certain types of VOCs and for specific locations,” says Niri. Here’s a breakdown of the five plants they tested and what, exactly, they found:

Dracaena (Dracaena frangas)

All five plants did a good job removing acetone (you’ve probably noticed its smell in nail salons—the pungent chemical is present in nail polish remover). But the popular Dracaena plant, with its trunk-like stems and shiny leaves, took in more of the gas than any other greenery tested (94% over the 12-hour study period).

Jade plant (Crassula argentea)

Out of the five plants tested, this easy-to-care-for succulent—also known as a friendship tree, lucky plant, or money tree—was the best at removing toluene (91%), a strong-smelling chemical often associated with paint thinners.

Spider plant (Chrolophytum comosum)

The spider plant ranked first for removing ethylbenzene (62%), p-Xylenes (92%), and o-Xylene (93%)—chemicals that are found in inks, rubbers, adhesives, paints, and varnishes. This plant is adaptable to many environments, and often produces baby plants, or spiderettes, that can be repotted and grown to full size.

Bromeliad (Guzmania lingulata)

This spiky, colorful house plant (it’s related to the pineapple!) was best at removing benzene (92%), a toxic gas present in motor vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It was also the most effective, overall, at removing multiple VOCs—taking up more than 80% of six out of the eight chemicals studied. For this reason, “it could be a good plant to have sitting around in the household or workplace,” says Niri.

Caribbean Tree Cactus (Consolea falcata)

These hardy cacti produce tiny flowers and grow well with lots of sunlight. While it was not the best at removing any one chemical, it did still remove more than 80% of ethylbenzene, p-Xylenes, and acetone, and about 60% of benzene, toluene, and o-Xylene.

The bottom line

The idea of using plants to remove chemicals from indoor air isn’t new; it’s known as biofiltration or phytoremediation and has been studied since the 1980s. (NASA did some of the first and most cited research on the topic.)

Other research has looked at how specific plants can remove single VOCs, such as formaldehyde, from the air. But Niri’s research (which is illustrated in a new video from the American Chemical Society) differs in that it compared various plants and looked at the rate of simultaneous removal of several VOCs.

Niri points out, however, that his study was performed in a sealed chamber—not a real-life setting. The next step in his research is to test these plants’ abilities in an actual room; he’d like to eventually put plants in a nail salon for several months, for example, to see whether they can reduce levels of acetone that are potentially harmful to people working there.

He also says that while plants may significantly improve air quality in polluted indoor areas, it’s still better to eliminate the source of these harmful chemicals in the first place. Cigarette smoke, for example, has been shown to release more than 7,000 chemicals into the air. “The plants might take up some of the VOCs,” Niri says, “but I don’t think they will be able to get rid of all the chemicals and the smell of cigarette.”

Source: Time

Tofu Ice Cream with Sesame Sauce

Ingredients

500 g firm tofu
560 g granulated sugar
3 cups milk
3 cups whipped cream
100 ml Bailey’s liqueur

Sesame Sauce

1 cup black sesame seeds
granulated sugar to taste
cornstarch solution

Method

  1. Crush tofu with a fork. Whisk with all the other ingredients. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture a little at a time into the ice cream machine. Process for 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer to the freezer.
  3. Wash sesame seeds and add 1-1/2 cups water. Blend in the blender until smooth. Strain and save the sesame sauce.
  4. Bring sesame sauce to a boil in a small pot. Add sugar gradually until the desired sweetness. Thicken slightly with cornstarch solution. Refrigerate sauce when it cools down.
  5. Serve tofu ice cream with sesame sauce.

Makes about 2.5 litres ice cream.

Source: Xi Yan Cuisine


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