A New Way to Preserve Healthy Food with Natural Ingredients

Carolyn Trietsch wrote . . . . . . . . .

A natural antioxidant found in grain bran could preserve food longer and replace synthetic antioxidants currently used by the food industry, according to researchers at Penn State.

“Currently, there’s a big push within the food industry to replace synthetic ingredients with natural alternatives, and this is being driven by consumers,” said Andrew S. Elder, doctoral candidate in food science. “Consumers want clean labels — they want synthetic chemical-sounding ingredients removed because of the fact that they don’t recognize them, and that some of them (the ingredients) have purported toxicity.”

The Penn State researchers studied a class of compounds called alkylresorcinols (AR). Plants such as wheat, rye and barley produce ARs naturally to prevent mold, bacteria and other organisms from growing on the grain kernels. The researchers wondered if ARs could also preserve food in the same way from a chemical standpoint.

Along with using more natural ingredients, the food industry is also supplementing more foods with healthy oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Adding these healthy oils to foods that normally would not contain them could boost the health benefits of these foods to consumers. However, omega-3 rich oils have a shorter shelf life, which could cause these foods to spoil more rapidly.

“Most people consume omega-3s from marine sources,” said Elder. “As they break down, they can make the product smell and taste fishy. Consumers then throw these products out and don’t buy them again, and this results in an economic loss.”

Antioxidants are compounds that slow the rate at which omega-3 fatty acids degrade, preserving their health benefits and preventing food from spoiling as quickly. While consumers demand more natural ingredients, the food industry has struggled to find natural antioxidants that are as effective as synthetic ones.

“There are not many natural alternatives for synthetic antioxidants,” said Elder. “Our work is focused on identifying new natural antioxidants to extend the shelf life of food and meet consumer demands.”

ARs have health benefits for humans as well and can help protect against cancer, according to a review published in European Food Research and Technology, making them ideal natural additives. ARs also come from the bran layer of cereal plants, which the food industry usually discards or uses for animal feed.

“Bran is often a waste stream,” said Elder. “We’re taking something that’s usually discarded in a waste stream and turning it into something useful.”

The team developed a technique to extract and purify ARs from rye bran, then studied how well ARs were able to preserve omega-3-rich oils in emulsions, where two fluids do not fully mix — for example, vinegar and oil. The researchers chose to study AR action in emulsions because most people consume oils as emulsions, such as salad dressings. The researchers reported their findings online in Food Chemistry, and the study will be published in the January print edition.

The researchers found that ARs did act as antioxidants in an emulsion, preventing omega-3 oils from spoiling as rapidly as they did in emulsions with no antioxidants added. Then, they compared ARs to two antioxidants widely used by the food industry — alpha-tocopherol or Vitamin E, a natural antioxidant; and butylated hydroxytoluene, a synthetic antioxidant. However, ARs were not as effective as either the natural or the synthetic antioxidant.

Although the ARs did not work as well as other antioxidants in this round of experiments, the researchers noted that their AR extracts were not completely pure, which could have reduced the effectiveness of the ARs. Also, the researchers used a blend of different ARs that had different molecular structures. Future work looking at different types of ARs will reveal whether an individual AR type is more or less effective than conventionally-used antioxidants.

“We’re trying to identify natural antioxidants that are consumer-friendly, safe and effective,” said Elder. “We hope that one day this work will lead to ARs being available on the market and provide more options for the food industry to use.”

Source: The Pennsylvania State University


Miso Soba Bowl with Egg and Vegetables


3 cups water
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1/2 cup sliced green onion bottoms (white and light green parts)
6 (1/4-inch) slices peeled fresh ginger
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups unsalted vegetable stock
3 tablespoons yellow or white miso
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soysauce
6 large eggs in shells, refrigerator-cold
9 ounces uncooked soba (buckwheat noodles)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
3 baby bok choy, halved vertically (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup sliced green onion tops (dark green parts)


  1. Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add mushrooms; cover, remove from heat, and let stand 20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.
  2. Remove mushrooms from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving liquid. Thinly slice mushrooms.
  3. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to Dutch oven and swirl to coat. Add green onion bottoms, ginger, and garlic. Cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add mushrooms, mushroom soaking liquid, stock, miso, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.
  5. While stock mixture simmers, bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Place eggs in a vegetable steamer basket and lower basket into pan. Cover and cook 6 minutes 45 seconds. Remove and plunge eggs into ice water. Let stand 3 minutes. Drain and peel.
  6. Cook soba in boiling water 2 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain.
  7. Stir vinegar and tofu into stock mixture. Arrange bok choy on top, cover and simmer 5 minutes.
  8. Place about 3/4 cup soba and 1 bok choy half in each of 6 bowls. Ladle about 1-1/4 cups simmering stock mixture over noodles. Sprinkle each serving with 1-1/2 tablespoons green onion tops. Cut each egg in half and nestle 2 egg halves into each bowl.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: Everyday Whole Grains

In Pictures: Vegan Sandwiches of Restaurants in Philadelphia

The Rise of Anxiety Baking

Amanda Mull wrote . . . . . . . . .

Last winter, a recipe for salted chocolate-chunk shortbread cookies spread through my social circle like a carbohydrate epidemic. One of my friends kept seeing the cookies pop up on Instagram and, relenting to digital peer pressure, eventually made them. She brought half the batch to a dinner party, and then it was off to the races. For months, it felt as if every time I showed up to a party, someone else was pulling a Tupperware container out of a tote bag, full of what was eventually known among us as just The Cookies.

The particular look of The Cookies—chunky and squat, with a right-angled edge rolled in Demerara sugar, finished with flaky salt—made them distinctive in a way that few recipes are, which in turn made the recipe, from the chef Alison Roman’s Dining In cookbook, an easy shorthand. As each subsequent friend made and presented their cookies, they’d note how the process went. It was as if everyone I knew had taken up baking. Via the social-media response to her book, Roman noticed the same thing. “It seemed to be a lot of first-time bakers making the cookies, like it was a fun, social art project,” she says. Beyond The Cookies, people I follow on Instagram and Twitter had also started turning out pies, cakes, tarts, and breads.

Millennials’ supposed aversion to daily cooking and lack of kitchen competency is well-worn fodder for concern trolling, but the generation’s actual relationship to food prep appears to be more complicated. Surveys concluding that people in their 20s and 30s cook less usually measure day-to-day meal preparation, which doesn’t tell the whole story. Young Americans’ long work hours might mean they’re less likely to come home every night in time to roast a chicken instead of ordering takeout, but many of them seem to have turned to weekend baking as a salve for the ambient anxiety of being alive in 2018. There’s a good reason for that: Baking actually can be really relaxing.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s annual poll, 40 percent of Americans report feeling more anxious in 2018 than they did in 2017, which saw a 36 percent increase over 2016. “We’re at a time when people who aren’t used to any self-care practices are having to develop them for the first time in their lives,” Kat Kinsman, a food journalist who’s written a book on her struggles with anxiety, told me. “People are afraid to spend money, and they’re feeling like shit. Baking is cheap, it’s easy, and it’s visceral.”

That combination of attributes brought Kinsman back to baking while in grad school for metalworking, years after she had taken it up as a quiet, nerdy kid in order to offer treats to friends. As an adult, she was broke, stressed out, and in need of something pleasant to do with her hands to contrast what she did in her classes. “You’re digging your hands into something pliable, and with an immediate result to it,” Kinsman said. “Everything else seemed so distant and painful, in a way, and this was something I could whip out and there it was. Instant gratification.” Even when she was too stressed out to eat the result herself, she’d bring her cookies and cakes into school. (Apparently the stress eaters in her program also profited.)

Folu Akinkuotu, a 28-year-old who lives in Boston and works in e-commerce—and someone whose impressive off-hours baking exploits I follow on social media—also started baking more in college as a way to make friends during her freshman year. Now she does it as a foil to the ephemerality of her professional life. “It’s nice to be able to bake and know that I’m creating something that has a beginning and an end and people can enjoy it,” she says. “A lot of people have jobs that traffic in ideas or theoretical things, so it’s nice to make physical things.”

At the beginning of 2018, Akinkuotu took things a step further, challenging herself to make one elaborate cake per month until the end of the year. “I wanted to give myself some structure, because I don’t have a ton of that in my life,” she says. “There’s work, but being a young person who lives alone, my time is always my own, pretty much. It’s nice to have a deadline.”

Alice Medrich, a baking expert and cookbook author, agrees that baking is a particularly effective activity for those whose professional lives exist mostly in the abstract. “People who are educated sometimes think that working with your hands is a lesser thing,” she argues. “They sort of miss what that can do for you—the calming, and the sense of satisfaction.” As jobs for young people become more gig-centric and internet-based, those who do them can easily feel alienated from the product of their labor, and the satisfaction of creating something wholly for yourself and those you love can provide an important mental balance.

In addition to the satisfaction of creating, the process of baking itself can be calming. “Baking is mindful. Mindfulness means paying attention to yourself in the moment and not being in the past or the future, but really being there,” says Philip Muskin, a Columbia University psychiatry professor and the secretary of the American Psychiatry Association. Buzzwords aside, baking does indeed force you to put down your phone, get your hands dirty, and pay close attention to what you’re doing. Muskin says it can have an emotional impact akin to practices that are intended to more directly affect mood, such as meditation or breathing exercises.

If you’re more inclined toward cooking instead of baking, that can have some of the same positive effects, according to Muskin, but there’s something about dessert that’s just a little bit more fun. Most baked goods still taste good even if they’re not perfectly executed, and they have a wide-ranging portability that doesn’t apply to, say, a medium-rare beef tenderloin. Akinkuotu often brings her cakes to parties, including a friend’s recent birthday outing to a bar. “Everyone got drunk, and then we ate it with our hands. It was like 2 a.m. and there’s this half-eaten cake with just, like, giant hand scrapes out of it,” she remembers. “My friend woke up with [the cake] in her bed the next morning. You can’t really do that with a coq au vin. It’d be a little weird.”

Source: The Atlantic

To Head Off Late-Life Depression, Check Your Hearing

A new study found that elderly individuals with age-related hearing loss had more symptoms of depression; the greater the hearing loss, the greater the risk of having depressive symptoms. The findings suggest that treatment of age-related hearing loss, which is underrecognized and undertreated among all elderly, could be one way to head off late-life depression.

The study was published online in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

“Most people over age 70 have at least mild hearing loss, yet relatively few are diagnosed, much less treated, for this condition,” says lead author Justin S. Golub, MD, MS, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head & neck surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Hearing loss is easy to diagnose and treat, and treatment may be even more important if it can help ease or prevent depression.”

Age-related hearing loss is the third-most common chronic condition in older adults. The condition is known to raise the risk of other conditions, such as cognitive impairment and dementia. (Read about a previous study from Columbia researchers, which found a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline in the elderly.) But there are few large studies asking whether hearing loss may lead to depression in the elderly — particularly in Hispanics, a group in which depression may be underdiagnosed because of language and cultural barriers.

The researchers analyzed health data from 5,239 individuals over age 50 who were enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Each participant had an audiometric hearing test — an objective way to assess hearing loss — and was screened for depression.

The researchers found that individuals with mild hearing loss were almost twice as likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression than those with normal hearing. Individuals with severe hearing loss had over four times the odds of having depressive symptoms.

The study looked for an association at a single point in time, so it can’t prove that hearing loss causes depressive symptoms. “That would have to be demonstrated in a prospective, randomized trial,” says Golub. “But it’s understandable how hearing loss could contribute to depressive symptoms. People with hearing loss have trouble communicating and tend to become more socially isolated, and social isolation can lead to depression.”

Although the study focused on Hispanics, the results could be applied to anyone with age-related hearing loss, according to the researchers. “In general, older individuals should get their hearing tested and consider treatment, if warranted,” says Golub.

Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center

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