Study: A New Low-calorie Sweetener Could Also Improve Gut Health

From the wide variety of sodas, candies and baked goods that are sold worldwide, it’s clear that people love their sweet treats. But consuming too much white table sugar or artificial sweetener can lead to health issues. In the search for a better sweetener, researchers in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry now report a low-calorie mixture that is as sweet as table sugar and, in lab experiments, feeds “good” gut microbes.

Artificial sweeteners have exploded in popularity because they let people consume sweets without the calories. However, while they’re considered safe for human consumption, studies in animals and humans suggest that some of them can stimulate appetite, leading to increased food consumption and weight gain, as well as other negative health outcomes. So, researchers have been turning to the study of low-calorie or extremely sweet substances from natural sources as possible replacements. For example, galactooligosaccharides — found in mammalian milk — are low-calorie sugars with prebiotic activity that can be a source of energy for beneficial gut microbes, but they’re not quite sweet enough to replace table sugar. Alternatively, extracts from the luo han guo fruit contain mogrosides — compounds 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. But these extracts sometimes have off-flavors, which can be removed with enzymes. So, F. Javier Moreno and colleagues wanted to take advantage of the best aspects of both natural substances, using enzymes to modify mogrosides while simultaneously producing galactooligosaccharides for a brand-new low-calorie sweetener.

The researchers started with lactose and mogroside V (the primary mogroside in luo han guo fruit). When they added β-galactosidase enzymes, the researchers obtained a mixture that contained mostly galactooligosaccharides and a small amount of modified mogrosides. A trained sensory panel reported that the new combination had a sweetness similar to that of sucrose (table sugar), suggesting it could be acceptable to consumers. In test tube experiments, the new sweetener increased the levels of multiple human gut microbes that are beneficial, including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacterial species. In addition, increases in bacteria-produced metabolites, such as acetate, propionate and butyrate, indicated that the mixture could potentially have a prebiotic effect on the gut microbiome. The researchers say that the new sweetener holds promise in these initial analyses, and their next step is to more closely study the substance’s impact on human gut health.

Source: American Chemical Society

 

 

 

 

Is Caffeine a Friend or Foe?

Laura Williamson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Caffeine jump-starts your day and puts a bounce in your step. It can help you focus, improve your mood and maybe even help you live longer.

But how much is too much?

Caffeine, a natural stimulant, can be found in a variety of foods, such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao beans, guarana berries and yerba maté leaves. It also can be synthetically created and added to beverages such as soda and energy drinks. Research shows that about 90% of U.S. adults consume some form of caffeine every day.

One of the most popular ways people consume it is through coffee. Because of that, most caffeine research centers around this drink, said Dr. Greg Marcus, associate chief of cardiology for research and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“The literature on the whole shows that coffee consumption is generally not a detriment to health,” he said. “But I am very reluctant to recommend anyone begin drinking coffee if they aren’t otherwise doing so, or to increase consumption for any health benefit.”

Studies have found caffeine can do both good and harm. People who regularly drink coffee may be less likely to develop chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and some cancers. A few studies suggest they are less likely to die from heart disease and other illnesses.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, as much as 400 milligrams of caffeine a day – equal to four or five cups of coffee – is considered safe for healthy adults. An 8-ounce cup of green or black tea has 30-50 mg of caffeine. Energy drinks may contain 40-250 mg for every 8 ounces, and a 12-ounce can of caffeinated soda contains 30-40 mg.

In moderate doses – up to two 8-ounce cups of coffee – caffeine can make people less tired and more alert. Some studies suggest it can reduce appetite and lower the risk for depression. But high doses – 12 cups or more – can make people feel anxious, raise blood pressure and lead to heart palpitations and trouble sleeping. For people who consume caffeine regularly, stopping consumption abruptly can lead to symptoms of withdrawal, such as headaches, fatigue and depressed mood.

Determining how much is too much can be tough. A moderate amount of caffeine for one person may feel like a high dose for someone else. That’s because some people metabolize caffeine faster than others, Marcus said. Factors such as how much someone weighs and what medications they take also can play a role. The bottom line is, caffeine affects everyone differently.

“The compound is complex, and we need to recognize that not only might there be benefits and harms, but this may vary from one person to another,” Marcus said.

He and his colleagues recently completed one of the few randomized studies on caffeine consumption, which he presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions last year. The researchers asked participants to drink – or refrain from drinking – coffee for no more than two consecutive days each for two weeks.

The findings, which are considered preliminary until the full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal, showed that people were more physically active and slept less on days they drank coffee than on days they went without. They also had more irregular heartbeats from the lower chambers of the heart but fewer episodes of abnormally rapid heartbeats from the upper chambers.

Marcus said one limitation of the study was that people were starting and stopping caffeine consumption, which could be causing an exaggerated reaction in people who were used to drinking it every day. “The effects of caffeine are attenuated when you drink it regularly,” he said. “The body adapts to that caffeine level. And more regular consumption of caffeine can speed up the metabolism.”

People who metabolized caffeine faster had fewer problems sleeping than those whose bodies broke it down more slowly, he said.

In his cardiology practice, Marcus tells patients who are having trouble sleeping or experiencing abnormal heart rhythms to see what role caffeine might be playing. “I generally advise that it is reasonable for patients bothered by trouble sleeping or with palpitations to experiment with their caffeine consumption. Take some time off of caffeine to see if it makes a difference.” But he does not give a blanket recommendation to avoid caffeine.

Marcus doesn’t distinguish between the caffeine that people get from coffee versus hot or iced tea. “There may be health differences between the two, but they haven’t been studied yet,” he said.

He is less flexible about the consumption of energy drinks, which typically have a higher concentration of caffeine, as well as added sweeteners or carbohydrates and no evidence they provide any health benefits. Research has found energy drinks can cause abnormal electrical activity in the heart and higher blood pressure that persists for several hours.

“In general, I would caution against the use of energy drinks,” Marcus said.

There are other ways to stay alert.

“The best strategies and overall most healthy strategies to boost alertness are long-term healthy habits,” such as getting a good night’s sleep and exercising regularly, Marcus said. He recommends people who have trouble staying awake consult a physician to see if they have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.

Source: American Heart Association

 

 

 

 

Adding Salt to Your Food at the Table Is Linked to Higher Risk of Premature Death

People who add extra salt to their food at the table are at higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause, according to a study of more than 500,000 people, published in the European Heart Journal.

Compared to those who never or rarely added salt, those who always added salt to their food had a 28% increased risk of dying prematurely. In the general population about three in every hundred people aged between 40 and 69 die prematurely. The increased risk from always adding salt to food seen in the current study suggests that one more person in every hundred may die prematurely in this age group.

In addition, the study found a lower life expectancy among people who always added salt compared to those who never, or rarely added salt. At the age of 50, 1.5 years and 2.28 years were knocked off the life expectancy of women and men, respectively, who always added salt to their food compared to those who never, or rarely, did.

The researchers, led by Professor Lu Qi, of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, USA, say their findings have several public health implications.

“To my knowledge, our study is the first to assess the relation between adding salt to foods and premature death,” he said. “It provides novel evidence to support recommendations to modify eating behaviours for improving health. Even a modest reduction in sodium intake, by adding less or no salt to food at the table, is likely to result in substantial health benefits, especially when it is achieved in the general population.”

Assessing overall sodium intake is notoriously difficult as many foods, particularly pre-prepared and processed foods, have high levels of salt added before they even reach the table. Studies assessing salt intake by means of urine tests often only take one urine test and so do not necessarily reflect usual behaviour. In addition, foods that are high in salt are often accompanied by foods rich in potassium, such as fruit and vegetables, which is good for us. Potassium is known to protect against the risk of heart diseases and metabolic diseases such as diabetes, whereas sodium increases the risk of conditions such as cancer, high blood pressure and stroke.

For these reasons, the researchers chose to look at whether or not people added salt to their foods at the table, independent of any salt added during cooking.

“Adding salt to foods at the table is a common eating behaviour that is directly related to an individual’s long-term preference for salty-tasting foods and habitual salt intake,” said Prof. Qi. “In the Western diet, adding salt at the table accounts for 6-20% of total salt intake and provides a unique way to evaluate the association between habitual sodium intake and the risk of death.”

The researchers analysed data from 501,379 people taking part in the UK Biobank study. When joining the study between 2006 and 2010, the participants were asked, via a touch-screen questionnaire, whether they added salt to their foods (i) never/rarely, (ii) sometimes, (iii) usually, (iv) always, or (v) prefer not to answer. Those who preferred not to answer were not included in the analysis. The researchers adjusted their analyses to take account of factors that could affect outcomes, such as age, sex, race, deprivation, body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, diet and medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart and blood vessel diseases. They followed the participants for a median (average) of nine years. Premature death was defined as death before the age of 75 years.

As well as finding that always adding salt to foods was linked to a higher risk of premature death from all causes and a reduction in life expectancy, the researchers found that these risks tended to be reduced slightly in people who consumed the highest amounts of fruit and vegetables, although these results were not statistically significant.

“We were not surprised by this finding as fruits and vegetables are major sources of potassium, which has protective effects and is associated with a lower risk of premature death,” said Prof. Qi.

He added: “Because our study is the first to report a relation between adding salt to foods and mortality, further studies are needed to validate the findings before making recommendations.”

In an editorial to accompany the paper, Professor Annika Rosengren, a senior researcher and professor of medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who was not involved with the research, writes that the net effect of a drastic reduction in salt intake for individuals remains controversial.

“Given the various indications that a very low intake of sodium may not be beneficial, or even harmful, it is important to distinguish between recommendations on an individual basis and actions on a population level,” she writes.

She concludes: “Classic epidemiology argues that a greater net benefit is achieved by the population-wide approach (achieving a small effect in many people) than from targeting high-risk individuals (a large effect but only achieved in a small number of people). The obvious and evidence-based strategy with respect to preventing cardiovascular disease in individuals is early detection and treatment of hypertension, including lifestyle modifications, while salt-reduction strategies at the societal level will lower population mean blood pressure levels, resulting in fewer people developing hypertension, needing treatment, and becoming sick. Not adding extra salt to food is unlikely to be harmful and could contribute to strategies to lower population blood pressure levels.”

A strength of Prof. Qi’s study is the large number of people included. It also has some limitations, which include: the possibility that adding salt to food is an indication of an unhealthy lifestyle and lower socio-economic status, although analyses attempted to adjust for this; there was no information on the quantity of salt added; adding salt may be related to total energy intake and intertwined with intake of other foods; participation in UK Biobank is voluntary and therefore the results are not representative of the general population, so further studies are needed to confirm the findings in other populations.

Source: EurekAlert!

 

 

Research: Soy Sauce’s Salt-enhancing Peptides

Soy sauce deepens the flavor of soup stocks, gives stir-fried rice its sweet-salty glaze and makes a plate of dumplings absolutely enjoyable. But what exactly makes this complex, salty, umami sauce so tasty? Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have discovered the proteins and other compounds that give soy sauce its distinctive flavors and they say that proteins and peptides help make it salty.

Understanding how foods taste the way they do can help producers tailor their growing or manufacturing methods or modify the final product to boost certain flavors. Decoding the flavors of fermented foods like soy sauce is particularly challenging because they arise from complex processes, including the microbial breakdown of proteins and other compounds, that happen over a long period of time.

Though several compounds in soy sauce are known, no complete profile of its flavor agents has been developed. So, Thomas Hofmann and colleagues wanted to carry out a full assessment of the chemicals behind soy sauce’s flavor profile and test the completeness of this profile by using the compounds to recreate the seasoning’s distinctive taste.

The team started by trying to recreate soy sauce’s taste with a mixture of compounds known to be involved in its flavor. A panel of taste experts found that this recreated soy sauce wasn’t quite right — it wasn’t as salty or as bitter as the authentic product.

The team then searched for other, unknown flavor compounds, hypothesizing that small proteins could potentially be the missing ingredient. Using various chemical and taste analysis methods, they identified a collection of proline-modified dipeptides and other larger, newly identified proteins that enhanced umami and other flavors.

Several of the proteins were discovered to contribute to a salty sensation, which, in soy sauce, had only previously been attributed to table salt and other minerals. After mixing a sample containing over 50 individual compounds, the team was finally able to recreate the complex taste of soy sauce.

This profile could help producers optimize fermentation conditions to boost desirable compounds and tailor the taste of the final product, the researchers say.

Source: American Chemical Society

 

Dwindling Animal and Vegetable Fats Supply Pushes Up Global Food Bill, FAO Warns

Benjamin Ferrer wrote . . . . . . . . .

The global food import bill is projected to rise by US$51 billion from 2021, of which US$49 billion reflects higher prices, according to a new report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The global food import bill is on course to hit a new record of US$1.8 trillion this year, reports the organization, but higher prices and transport costs rather than volumes account for the bulk of the expected increase.

Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are anticipated to undergo a 5% contraction in their food import bill this year, while sub-Saharan Africa and the group of Net Food-Importing Developing Countries are both expected to register an increase in total costs, despite a reduction in imported volumes.

“These are alarming signs from a food security perspective, indicating that importers will find it difficult to finance rising international costs, potentially heralding an end of their resilience to higher prices,” the report notes.

“In view of the soaring input prices, concerns about the weather, and increased market uncertainties stemming from the war in Ukraine, FAO’s latest forecasts point to a likely tightening of food markets and food import bills reaching a new record high,” says FAO economist Upali Galketi Aratchilage, lead editor of the Food Outlook.

Animal fats and vegetable oils tip price balance
FAO has proposed a Food Import Financing Facility to provide balance-of-payment support to the low-income countries most reliant on food imports as a strategy to safeguard their food security.

Animal fats and vegetable oils are the flagged as the single biggest contributors to the higher import bills expected to be reached in 2022, although cereals are not far behind for developed countries.

Developing countries, as a whole, are reducing imports of cereals, oilseeds and meat, which reflects their incapacity to cover the increase in prices.

Meanwhile, food protectionism measures are escalating as Ghana and Uganda banned grain food exports last month. This closely follows Malaysia banning chicken exports to safeguard prices and Indonesia halting palm oil exports to hold onto domestic supply.

Key Food Outlook takeaways

Issued twice a year, Food Outlook offers FAO’s reviews of market supply and demand trends for the world’s major foodstuffs, including cereals, oil crops, sugar, meat and dairy and fish.

The overview also looks at trends in futures markets and shipping costs for food commodities.

The new edition also contains two special chapters examining the role of rising prices for agricultural inputs, such as fuel and fertilizers, and the risks the war in Ukraine poses for global food commodity markets.

World production of major cereals is expected to decline in 2022 for the first time in four years, while global utilization is also seen down, for the first time in 20 years. However, the use of cereals for direct food consumption by humans is not anticipated to be impacted, as the decline in total use is expected to result from lower feed use of wheat, coarse grains and rice.

World wheat stocks are set to increase marginally in the year, mostly due to anticipated build-ups of inventories in China, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

Word maize output and utilization are forecast to hit new records, associated with greater ethanol production in Brazil and the US as well as industrial starch production in China.

Global consumption of vegetable oils is predicted to outpace production, despite expected demand rationing.

While meat production is expected to decline in Argentina, the EU and the US, global output is forecast to expand by 1%, led by an 8% foreseen increase in pork meat production in China, reaching and even exceeding the level before the dramatic spread of the African swine fever virus in 2018.

World milk production is forecast to expand more slowly than in previous years, constrained by falling dairy herd numbers and lower profit margins in several major producing regions, while trade may contract from the elevated level of 2021.

World sugar production is expected to increase after three years of decline, led by gains in India, Thailand and the EU.

Meanwhile, global aquaculture production is forecast to increase by 2.9% while that of capture fisheries will likely expand by 0.2%. Reflecting rising prices of fish, total export revenues from fisheries and aquaculture products are anticipated to climb by 2.8%, while volumes seen dropping by 1.9%.

Agricultural inputs and the future

Along with rising food prices – with the FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) near its all-time high and prices of several staples having registered large runups in the past year – the agricultural sectors are exposed to supply limitations due to rising input costs , in particular for fertilizers and fuels, that could spur further food price rises.

High food prices are typically a boon for producers, as farm profits rise. However, rapidly rising input costs – associated with rising energy costs and export restrictions on key fertilizers imposed by major players in the sector – are more than offsetting that, and if protracted, this would raise concerns about whether supply responses can be both quick and sufficient.

Source: Food Ingredients 1st