Review Suggests Eating Oats Can Lower Cholesterol as Measured by a Variety of Markers

Researchers have known for more than 50 years that eating oats can lower cholesterol levels and thus reduce a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Studies during that time have focused on the impact of oats on levels of LDL (or “lousy”) cholesterol, which collects in the walls of blood vessels where it can cause blockages or blood clots.

But there is growing evidence that two other markers provide an even more accurate assessment of cardiovascular risk — non-HDL cholesterol (total cholesterol minus the “H” or “healthy cholesterol”) and apolipoprotein B, or apoB, a lipoprotein that carries bad cholesterol through the blood. This is especially true for people with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes, since they typically do not have elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

A new systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials has concluded that eating oat fibre can reduce all three markers. The study, led by Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, a research scientist and associate director of the Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael’s Hospital, was published online today in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Dr. Vuksan said oats are a rich source of beta-glucan, a viscous soluble fibre, which seems to be responsible for the beneficial effects. The first study of its kind, published in 1963, found that substituting white bread with oat bread containing 140g of rolled oats lowered LDL cholesterol.

Dr. Vuksan’s group looked at 58 clinical trials involving almost 4,000 people from around the world that assessed the effect of diets enriched with oat beta-glucan compared with controlled diets on LDL cholesterol, and, for the first time, on non-HDL cholesterol and apoB as well.

“Diets enriched with about 3.5 grams a day of beta-glucan fiber from oats were found to modestly improve LDL cholesterol, but also non-HDC and apoB compared to control diets,” Dr. Vuksan said.

The review found that overall, LDL cholesterol was reduced by 4.2 per cent, non-HDL cholesterol by 4.8 per cent and apoB by 2.3 per cent.

Dr. Vuksan said it could be difficult for people to consume the recommended amount of oat fiber by eating oat meal alone so he recommends people increase their consumption of oat bran. For example, one cup of cooked oat bran (88 calories) contains the same quantity of beta-glucan as double the amount of cooked oat meal (166 calories). Oat bran can also be eaten as a cereal, used in some baked goods (although since it is low in gluten, the texture may be tough) or sprinkled on other foods.

Canada is the third largest producer of oats in the world, so increasing consumption is good for health and the economy as well, Dr. Vuksan said. Consumption of oats has been declining considerably for many years.

Source: EurekAlert!

Today’s Comic

Why Supermarket Bacon Hides Its Glorious Fat

Paul Lukas wrote . . . . .

Bacon is fatty. It’s the nature of the beast—literally—because bacon is made from pork belly, which is a naturally fatty section of a hog’s carcass. That’s part of why bacon tastes so good: Fat is flavor. But we’ve also been taught that fat is unhealthy and unappealing. And this tension may explain why bacon has one of the most unusual and underappreciated packaging formats of any supermarket product.

You’ve probably seen and handled supermarket bacon countless times. The standard one-pound package shows the bacon slices fanned out, with only their leading edges exposed. The industry term for this is a shingle pack—a reference to the way the slices overlap. Because those front edges tend to feature more lean muscle than the fattier back edges, and because the face of the top slice is invariably covered by a paperboard flap containing the manufacturer’s logo and other branding information, the consumer sees a relatively unbroken field of red protein, creating the illusion that the bacon is leaner than it is.

That illusion is stripped away on the back of the package, which has a window providing a view of the bottom slice, allowing the consumer to see how the bacon truly looks in all its fatty glory. Taken together, these front and back views provide an unusual duality. Lots of package designs promise more than the product can deliver (think “Serving Suggestion”), but the shingle pack doesn’t just present an idealized bacon fantasy—it also provides a built-in reality check. It’s hard to think of another package that engages in such a clever sleight of hand on the front and then gives away the game on the back.

“One thing a package does is transform a commodity into an idea, or a bundle of desires,” said Thomas Hine, a design historian and the author of The Total Package: The Secret History and Hidden Meanings of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and Other Persuasive Containers. “This one is a paradox. We want the bacon to be meaty on the one hand, and fatty on the other. It’s an ambivalent package.”

It would be nice if the shingle pack’s front/back dichotomy were the bacon industry’s way of mirroring our larger societal ambivalence regarding delicious yet fatty foods. But the reality is far less prosaic: It’s due to a federal regulation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates bacon and other meat products, spells it out like so: “Packages for sliced bacon that have a transparent opening shall be designed to expose, for viewing, the cut surface of a representative slice. … For shingle-packed sliced bacon, the transparent window shall be designed to reveal at least 70 percent of the length (longest dimension) of the representative slice, and this window shall be at least 1-1/2 inches wide.”

That regulation went into effect in 1973. While intended as a truth-in-packaging measure, it has the inadvertent effect of giving the shingle pack its odd split personality.

The shingle pack already existed well before the rear window was added, but historical documentation is spotty. Dan Miller, who’s worked in research and package development at Hormel Foods for 25 years, gave a typical response: “No idea. You’re talking about things that go way back.” Moreover, the package appears to be a touchy subject within the industry. Oscar Mayer, the leading bacon brand, declined to comment for this article; another leading brand, Smithfield, failed to respond to repeated inquiries; and a retired industry veteran would speak only anonymously. Who knew bacon packaging could be so fraught?

Still, it’s possible to piece together a rough shingle pack chronology using archival sources. Vintage magazine ads, for example, show something similar to today’s shingle packs being used in the mid-1950s. Going back a bit earlier, a patent granted to Swanson in 1950 clearly shows the shingle-style format. “The packaging of bacon slices,” the abstract modestly begins, “has presented a serious problem for many years.” The text also includes what seems to be a smoking gun regarding the design’s intent: “It is highly desirable that the bacon have the upper edge or front edge portion thereof exposed because these edges indicate the amount of lean meat in the slices.”

That is apparently what led the USDA to mandate the rear window, as a way of providing transparency, literally and figuratively. By 1974—a year after the rule went into effect—Oscar Mayer had patented a package “wherein the bacon slices are arranged in shingled relation on a backing board which is apertured so as to render visible at least the major portion of the bottom face of a full bacon slice when the slices are placed thereon.” Unfortunately, the Oscar Mayer employees listed as the inventors are now deceased.

The “backing board” referred to in that patent is known in the industry as an L-board. This is the shingle pack’s key element, with the top flap and the die-cut rear window. Graphic Packaging International, a leading supplier, has been manufacturing L-boards since the 1960s, with the rear window added in the 1970s in response to the USDA edict. A spokesperson would not divulge precise numbers but said the company makes “millions upon millions” of L-boards annually for all the major brands and dozens of private-label products. While there have been refinements over the years, the L-board is now fairly standardized. “There may be tiny differences from brand to brand,” said the spokesperson, “but an L-board is basically an L-board.”

No source contacted for this article was aware of any studies indicating whether consumers actually turn the package over and examine the rear window, which raises the question: Has the shingle pack outlived its usefulness? One promising alternative is the stack pack, which shows the slices arranged in a slab, with the front and back ends plainly visible (and no L-board, so it’s more environmentally friendly). There’s no shingling, no rear window, no embellishment, no ambivalence—it just lets bacon be bacon.

“We’ve had the [rear window] regulation now for 40-some years,” said Andy Milkowski, who worked in research and development at Oscar Mayer for three decades and currently teaches in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s one of those automatic things you don’t even think about. But people understand what bacon is. They understand that when they fry it up, it’s going to have a lot of fat.” Exactly. Maybe it’s time for a package that embraces that reality.

Source: Bloomberg

Fresh Look at Brown Rice

Lindsey Getz wrote in Today’s Dietitian . . . . .

An Overview of Its History and Health Benefits

Rice has been a staple crop across much of Asia for millennia. Even today, rice provides nearly 20% of our total available calories worldwide.1 It can be grown in a wide range of environmental and soil conditions and is produced in more than 100 countries and on every continent except Antarctica. There are many varieties of rice, most often classified by the size of the grain: short, medium, and long. At the supermarket, whole grain (also called brown) rice—which comprises the entire seed of the plant, including the bran, germ, and endosperm—can be found in each of these grain lengths. Some supermarkets carry brown basmati rice or brown jasmine rice, two aromatic varieties of long grain rice prized for their distinctive fragrance and flavors. In addition, red, wild, black, and purple rice are whole grain rice. While it hasn’t always been in fashion, brown rice has become increasingly popular and has been part of an interesting history.

In the past, the general population ate more brown rice because it cost less than white rice. As with many grains, white rice was once considered more of a luxury product because of all the polishing and refining it required to produce it, says Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, program director of the Whole Grains Council. According to Toups, rice milling took off in the 1870s. With milling, the increased accessibility of white rice to the masses suddenly made it more popular among the general population. However, around this same time, Dutch scientists had linked a white-rice diet to sickness in chickens. Conversely, it was found that brown rice appeared to reverse the illness. This finding ultimately heralded the importance of a vitamin-rich diet as scientists began to understand the link between diet and health.2

Craig Sams, author of The Macrobiotic Brown Rice Cookbook, who was once known as the “brown rice baron” (any brown rice purchased in the United Kingdom in the 1970s came through his company Harmony Foods), reported that brown rice also has been thought of in terms of food supply over the years. During the Vietnam War, Sams says the Thai army and Viet Cong traditionally would eat brown rice as combat rations; they carried it in a pouch around their necks. But he says it was the macrobiotic movement that “gave brown rice its legs” in other parts of the world, including Europe and the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, brown rice grew in popularity as the health movement began to flourish, according to Toups. And now most people think of brown rice as more of a premium product, compared with white rice. Toups says this is because the appreciation for its texture, flavor, and of course health benefits have grown. Over the past four years, brown rice has seen a 28% menu growth, indicating that consumers are looking for more whole grain menu options, and they’re turning to rice as a healthful choice.

Nutrient Content

While there may be a better understanding of brown rice’s health benefits today, it’s long been known (dating back to those Dutch scientists) that brown rice was superior in its nutrient content to white rice, which has the bran and germ removed. But what are some of the benefits of brown rice? Compared with unenriched white rice, whole grain rice is richer in nutrients, including fiber, protein, B vitamins, and minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and copper.

To make up for these nutrient shortfalls in the milling of rice, white rice in the United States is fortified using a micronutrient powder, which includes thiamin, niacin, folic acid, and iron during the manufacturing process (see “Brown and White Rice Comparison”). It’s important to remember that brown rice naturally includes these nutrients, as well as others not plentiful in white rice. Moreover, whole grain rice contains more phytochemical compounds than white rice; this is particularly true of the most colorful varieties.

“As a purely refined carbohydrate, [unenriched] white rice is a starch with very few nutrients,” says Qi Sun, ScD, MD, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “A diet of [unenriched] white rice is lacking in key vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But brown rice has many benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties.”

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Read the full article at Today’s Dietitian . . . . .

Infographic: What Sugar Does to Your Brain and Body

See large image . . . . .

Source: Business Insider

Synthetic Algae-based Prawns

Emma Bryce wrote . . . . .

How do you describe the taste and texture of a prawn? Sort of rubbery; elastic, even. Like chicken, only better. These unappetising phrases hardly capture what makes it so good—the precise reason why prawns (called shrimp in the United States) are one of the most consumed seafoods globally. But now biotech startup New Wave Foods is on a mission to mimic the exact texture and taste of a prawn, in a product made entirely out of algae and plant ingredients.

The small, orangey-pink whorls they’ve created look uncannily like the real thing. But what do they taste like? That’s a question for Dominique Barnes, CEO of California-based New Wave Foods. “We’ve done a few blind taste tests—unofficially, you know—and until we tell people it’s made of plants and algae they can’t tell,” says Barnes, who comes from a background in marine conservation.

The company claims to have fully recreated the bouncy texture and fishy undertones of a real prawn: on the back of this success they recently secured seed funding from investors Efficient Capacity and New Crop Capital, which will help get the product off the ground. By next year, they aim to have it commercialised in the U.S.—and already, their imitation prawns have passed the culinary test. When the company presented their product in March at Google’s San Francisco café, the executive chef “was so impressed that he ordered 200 pounds on the spot,” Barnes recalls.

New Wave Foods sprang onto the scene in 2015 with a project aiming to produce artificial shark fin out of genetically modified yeast, in an attempt to make the controversial delicacy more sustainable. Now, the focus has shifted to replicating shellfish. “I grew up in Las Vegas and I had a very bleak perspective on seafood,” says Barnes, describing a place where 99c shrimp cocktails were abundant, despite the city’s location mid-desert, hours from the sea. That’s indicative of America generally, where shrimp can be absurdly attainable, steeped as it is in the country’s culinary culture: it remains the most popular seafood in the United States, with an average four pounds consumed per capita each year. “Shrimp really stood out as this well-loved product, but also one with lots of problems,” says Barnes.

The prawn fishing industry has been at the heart of an environmental controversy for years. Ocean-going vessels are linked with multiple ecological ills, including bycatch, thanks to the unforgiving fine mesh nets used to scoop up prawns from the sea. Prawn aquaculture, carried out at industrial scales in countries like India, Vietnam, and Brazil, also results in widespread mangrove destruction and deforestation. Then there’s the industry’s shocking link to slavery: migrants unwittingly trafficked into the industry, typically in Asia, are forced to work on fishing boats and farms, enduring brutal conditions with little hope of escape. It’s this backlog of human rights abuses that make prawns so abundant and affordable in many parts of the world.

“There are many growing concerns associated with imported, farm-raised shrimp, as well as the devastating human trafficking on certain foreign shrimp vessels and farms around the world,” says Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at ocean advocacy non-profit Oceana, who also produced a report in 2014 on the widespread mislabelling of shrimp in the U.S. Barnes, who felt the solutions to these problems “were moving slower than we needed them to,” sees synthetic prawns as a way to take some pressure off the oceans.

The prawns are made completely without animal cells: the recipe blends plant ingredients with red algae, which gives the product its realistic coral hue. While the company can’t share the finer details of their technique—pioneered by the company’s materials scientist and co-founder Michelle Wolf—Barnes says it involves pinpointing the building blocks of the food they’re trying to replicate, and searching for replacements in a wide range of algae and plants. “It’s really about understanding what creates the texture properties of shrimp, and then looking for molecules that mimic that,” she says.

In the lab, they use machines to rigorously test the tensile strength, elasticity, and texture of the synthetic prawn to make sure it comes as close as possible to the real thing. “But really there’s no better tool to measure texture than a mouth,” says Barnes. “So there’s a lot of taste testing!”

Producing over 6 million tonnes annually, the global prawn industry is massive; of course, replacing the real thing with artificial prawns isn’t going to solve the industry’s myriad problems. It’s also important that resources continue to be channelled into improving prawn fisheries and farming in the U.S. and elsewhere, Warner says. “Wild-caught, domestic shrimp has the potential to be a safe and sustainable choice if the U.S. seafood and fishing industries just make a few simple changes,” she says—like improving seafood traceability, and upgrading trawl nets so they snare less bycatch.

Food forecasts indicate in any case that the future is ripe for animal protein analogues, whether as a replacement, or an addition to the real thing. But will a shrimp-obsessed nation be likely to welcome imitation shellfish into their homes?

Barnes thinks so, though not necessarily due to shattering revelations of slavery and the industry’s environmental impact, so much as the product’s health benefits. “Globally, one of the top trends overall is people moving towards plant-based diets,” she says. “What’s more personal than your health, right? I think that benefit of the product will resonate with the most people.”

Next year, the company plans to debut commercially with small breaded prawns, known as the wildly popular ‘popcorn shrimp’ in the U.S. In the future, they hope to bring the product to other parts of the world, too. “Just give people an easy way to make a change, and they’re doing this for themselves and the environment,” says Barnes.

Source: The Guardian