Sorting Folklore from Fact on the Health Benefits of Garlic

Michael Merschel wrote . . . . . . . . .

Garlic is a food of legends, supposedly capable of providing protection against everything from common colds to heart disease – not to mention vampires and werewolves.

But does it really ward off as many health ills as its reputation suggests?

“That might be a stretch,” said Kristina Petersen, an assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Not that garlic does anything truly evil, except maybe to your breath. To the contrary, it can give meals a flavorful kick. And it’s a common ingredient in heart-healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet.

Some call it a vegetable because it is an edible plant. Others call it an herb, defined as any plant used as medicine, seasoning or flavoring. But it’s also a spice, which is a dried plant-derived substance used to flavor food.

A single clove of garlic has only 4 calories but, for its size, also has relatively good amounts of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese.

It also is full of sulfur-based compounds, which give garlic its pungency and have been extensively examined for other potential benefits. One of the most-studied compounds is allicin, produced when garlic is diced or chopped.

Studies have shown garlic has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also been shown to help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

But there’s a catch.

“Typically, those effects are observed when quite high supplemental doses of garlic powder are given,” Petersen said, and the effects of putting a couple of cloves in a recipe are going to be a lot less than a supplement.

Which is not something to be taken casually.

“I wouldn’t recommend somebody take a garlic supplement,” she said. “There might be some situations where it might be indicated, but this should be done in consultation with a physician.”

Research into garlic’s cancer-fighting abilities has been summed up as inconclusive. Similarly, a 2014 review of studies found claims of its effectiveness against the common cold were based on poor-quality evidence.

But garlic can interact with some drugs, including blood thinners. People taking blood thinners are advised to avoid garlic one week before surgery or a dental procedure.

That said, in normal amounts, garlic can be great, Petersen said.

“I think there’s lots of ways to enjoy it,” she said. “I eat quite a bit of garlic. It’s great in salads, but also on vegetables. If you’re baking vegetables in the oven, it really brings out the flavor.”

She thinks it’s particularly tasty with mushrooms or in anything tomato-based. These types of combinations might be garlic’s best claim to health, Petersen said. Because if vegetables and other healthy foods are tasty, it might lead people to eat more of them.

“That’s probably the real health benefit here,” she said.

Of course, garlic breath can be a major problem, at least for people sitting downwind. The problem stems from those sulfur-based compounds. Ohio State University researchers tested several remedies to see what might stop the stink. Chewing raw mint, raw lettuce or raw apple worked best.

There’s also a bit of science behind garlic’s reputation for warding off monsters. Some researchers suspect the disease porphyria, which can cause both a Dracula-like aversion to sunlight and unusual, perhaps werewolf-like, hair growth, might be at the root of those myths. According to this widely repeated but not universally accepted theory, sufferers are sensitive to chemicals in garlic.

But if you’re more focused on your Saturday night meal than the Saturday matinee – go ahead and eat your garlic, Petersen said.

“I think it’s a versatile food, and it definitely has a place in healthy dietary patterns,” she said. “And while it may not have really significant health benefits per se, it has a place as part of healthy mixed diets.”

Source: American Heart Association

Refined Flour Substitutes Abound – But How to Choose the Best One?

Maria Elena Fernandez wrote . . . . . . . . .

A trip down a grocery store’s baking goods aisle can leave you in a daze these days if you’re thinking about replacing white or all-purpose flour with one of the many alternatives on shelves.

In recent years, the pantry staple used for baking and making pasta has become a dietary public enemy, giving way to healthier nut and seed flours, such as almond, chickpea and even banana.

But figuring out how and when to replace white flour can feel overwhelming since flours are not necessarily interchangeable and can change the taste and texture of any given recipe.

“It’s difficult to take a baking recipe and completely substitute with whole-grain flour or nut flour or other kinds of grains,” said Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine in Orono. She also is scientific editor of two journals, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety and the Journal of Food Science.

“You need to have the ratio of starch to gluten in the flour to be able to get cake or bread to rise. You can replace some of it, but if you replace too much, you will end up with something like a fudge brownie instead of a puffy bread.”

So what do you do? The first thing, Camire said, is not to ban white or all-purpose flour altogether.

While refined grains contain less fiber and can spike blood sugar levels, which is stored as body fat, they can still be consumed in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating three servings of whole grains a day and less than three servings of refined grains, all-purpose flour or white rice.

A cup of white all-purpose flour typically contains 443 calories, compared with 407 calories in a cup of whole-wheat flour, which has more dietary fiber than all-purpose flour (14.6 grams compared to 3.4 grams).

“The guidelines do not recommend you exclude refined grains from your diet,” Camire said. “White or all-purpose flour is less nutritious because, in the milling process, they take off the outer bran, which contains most of the dietary fiber, and the germ, which is the heart of the seed.

“It’s become easy to point a finger and say white foods are bad. All-purpose flour has a lot less fiber than whole-wheat flour, but keeping it at less than half of the grains you eat each day is the trick.”

Camire suggests beginning by substituting some all-purpose flour in recipes with white whole-wheat flour, a milder variety of wheat flour that will be less noticeable in baked goods than traditional red or darker whole-wheat flour.

“It’s an easy swap and most people won’t notice it as compared to the darker whole-wheat flours,” she said. But “you have to be resourceful figuring out what might be a suitable substitute because you can’t just replace all-purpose flour with another flour and be on your way.”

Oat and barley flour, for example, are considered healthier because of their fiber content but are not ideal for baking. “They are more for thickening so you can use them for stirring up and thickening soups or gravies,” Camire said.

Brown rice flour, on the other hand, is a good choice for those who follow gluten-free diets. It is useful for cupcakes or cookies but not for bread. Almond flour, made from blanched whole almonds, also is used in gluten-free and low-carb cooking.

Buckwheat flour, which is made from ground buckwheat and is a good source of fiber and protein, has become popular because it is used to make traditional Japanese soba noodles and pancakes.

Coconut flour, made from dried and ground up coconuts, is packed with fiber and is a suitable option for those with nut allergies.

The point is, it’s still possible to enjoy your bread, dessert and pasta.

“I think we need to make whole grains more affordable and accessible to people, but including products that have some all-purpose flour is not going to harm anyone,” Camire said.

“It’s just about balance. You don’t want to spend the day eating cookies and cakes and white rolls. There needs to be whole grains in the picture.”

Source: American Heart Association

Company Reformulates Salt So You Use Less of It

Chris Albrecht wrote . . . . . . . . .

It’s not until you start reading food labels that you realize just how much salt is in what we eat. It’s everywhere!

MicroSalt aims to reduce the amount of salt we consume by changing up salt delivery itself, and the company is running an equity crowdfunding campaign to help expand its market presence. MicroSalt’s crowdfunding prospectus describes its product as:

…a particle coated with nano-sized salt crystals that range in size from 0.2 um (microns) to 0.6 um. The carrier (usually maltodextrin) simply acts as a vehicle molecule to deliver the small salt crystals. These salt crystals naturally attach to the carrier through electrostatic forces. When consumed, MicroSalt® dissolves almost immediately due to the extremely small size of its crystals, which is what allows for that authentic, salty flavor.

MicroSalt says that its product can deliver the same amount of flavor using 50 percent less sodium compared to table salt. MicroSalt has created its own line of potato chips using this technology called SaltMe!, but its main business is to sell its salt as an ingredient to other packaged foods companies.

The company says that MicroSalt is better than other reduced sodium products on the market because current alternatives use potassium chloride. But potassium chloride isn’t the same salt and has a different flavor. MicroSalt still uses salt, just in a different form.

MicroSalt’s approach to reducing salt use is similar to DouxMatok’s method for reducing sugar consumption. DouxMatok makes a “more efficient” sugar by binding it to silica, the result of which is better diffusion on our tongues so you can use up to 40 percent less sugar in whatever you’re making.

You can buy SaltMe chips online, where they cost roughly US$20 for a six-pack of, 5 oz. bags (they are also available in 71 stores across the Northeaster U.S. and Texas).

The company says it is already developing an 80 percent less salt version of its product.

Source: The Spoon

Mycoprotein: A Meat Alternative for Vegetarians

Tam Nguyen wrote . . . . . . . . .

Alternative sources of proteins are gaining attention for their balanced nutrition, especially among vegans and vegetarians. Proteins are fundamental for our body to function properly, such as to build muscle and drive metabolic activities. When ingested, dietary proteins are broken down into amino acids. Among the amino acids, there are nine that our body cannot synthesize and therefore we must ingest them in our diet. These are known as essential amino acids. So how do vegans, vegetarians, and other non-meat eating individuals get enough protein in their diet?

The answer could be mycoprotein – a meat alternative made from fungi.

The discovery of mycoprotein

As the world population increases, concerns over global food shortage and famine are increasing the demand for new protein-rich foods that are nutritious and safe for human consumption. The first application of this was to turn starch into protein via fermentation. In the 1960’s, thousands of microorganisms were taken and tested to find the ones that were high in proteins, could be grown in anaerobic conditions and created a meat-like texture. In 1974, the UK Food Standard Committee announced that the filamentous fungus Fusarium venenatum could be used to produce mycoprotein, or fungal protein.

Production of mycoprotein

Mycoprotein now can be produced at a large scale using industrial fermenters. At first, the fungus Fusarium venenatum is cultured in fermenters filled with sterilized water and glucose solution. Then, more glucose, ammonia gas and oxygen are added to help the fungus grow continuously. Ammonia gas contains high levels of nitrogen that Fusarium uses to produce amino acids, which in turns makes up proteins. The oxygen and glucose allow the fungus to respire aerobically.

Given the optimum pH balance, temperature, nutrient and oxygen conditions, the fungus’s biomass can double every five hours and the whole process of producing mycoprotein can be done in five weeks. At the end of five weeks, mycoprotein goes through the extractor, where it is briefly heated up to 65 degrees to deactivate nucleic acids, followed by drying and chilling to remove water.

The harvested mycoprotein can be used to make vegetarian versions of meat products like vegetarian sausages, burger patties or mince.

Other fungi-based meat substitutes are made from koji, a Japanese fungus commonly used to make soy sauce. In most fungi-based meat products, filamentous fungi are used because their long, branching fibres create meat-like texture and mimic different cuts of meat.

Health benefits of mycoprotein

Before we can judge which health benefits mycoprotein could bring, let’s have a look at the nutritional values of mycoprotein:

Energy: 86 kcal
Protein: 11.5g
Total carbohydrates: 1.7g
Total fat: 2.9g
Fibre: 6.0 g
Iron: 0.5 g

If we compare these values with those of steamed tofu in the same amount, we could see that mycoprotein is higher in calories, proteins and fibre while lower in fat and iron amount.

With that being said, mycoprotein supplies all the essential amino acids that humans need to make proteins. These include the nine amino acids that our body cannot synthesize: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. They serve as precursors for many other metabolic intermediates and products such as neurotransmitters, nucleotides, membrane structures, hormones, and so on.

Other studies have shown the effect of consuming foods that are high in fibre and low in fat, particularly in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Daily intake of mycoprotein lowered cholesterol concentration by 13%, as reported by Turnbull et al. (1990). Satiety, the satisfaction after consuming foods, after consuming mycoprotein was also shown to be higher than after eating chicken protein (Turnbull et al. (1990), Burley et al. (1993)).

This suggests that mycoprotein has a higher satiating power compared to other foods with similar fiber content. The mechanism of this effect remains unknown, although another component of mycoprotein is predicted to be responsible for this. High fibre content also leads to the studies of mycoprotein in glycemic response (blood sugar levels). It was found that the serum glucose response and the insulin response was lower after the mycoprotein meal compared with the control. With that being said, people with obesity and type-2 diabetes might consider taking mycoprotein as a meat substitute, but of course, doctor’s reference is still needed.

Nowadays, there is a variety of fungus-based meat alternatives in the market, ranging from poultry to seafood, mince to burgers, providing vegetarians with more options. With its potential benefits, the production of mycoprotein and fungus-based meat alternatives contributes to the future of global food security.

Source: Science Meets Food

From a Flower in Kashmir Comes a Precious Spice

Dar Yasin wrote . . . . . . . . .

Cradled by low mountains and spread across a vast expanse of small, fertile fields, a sea of purple flowers opens in Himalayan Kashmir to produce one of the world’s most precious spices, saffron.

At the end of autumn, families in the Muslim-majority region race against the clock to harvest the saffron crocus flowers, which bloom for only two weeks a year. Men, women and children stoop as they laboriously pick the delicate flowers and place them in wicker baskets.

They next separate the purple petals by hand, and from each flower comes three tiny, delicate stigmas which are then dried in the sun, becoming one the most expensive and sought-after spices.

Across the world, saffron is used in products ranging from food to medicine and cosmetics. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) requires the stigmas of about 150,000 flowers and can easily sell for US$3,000-$4,000.

In Kashmir, the spice is a source of pride and has fueled the region’s economy and culture for centuries. But over the years its cultivation has faced troubles due to climate change, poor irrigation facilities and imports of cheaper Iranian saffron.

Strife in the region has also impacted its production and export. For decades, a separatist movement has fought Indian rule in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have died in the conflict.

To boost saffron’s cultivation and export, authorities in Kashmir have set up a high-tech spice park to increase production quality and quantity. But very few farmers find the latest technology lucrative and most still use century-old techniques for picking and drying the saffron.

Most of Kashmir’s saffron is grown in Pampore, a tiny town south of the region’s main city, Srinagar.

In Kashmir, the spice is mostly used in Kehwa, a slow-brewed sugary green tea infused with spices like cinnamon and cardamom and garnished with almonds. Saffron is also used in Wazwan, a traditional Kashmiri wedding meal cooked by special chefs that includes more than 30 dishes.

Source: AP