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How flawed science helped turn chocolate into a health food

November 11th, 2017
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A small and preliminary study was hyped to claim that chocolate fights Alzheimer’s.

Have you heard? Dark chocolate will do everything from boost your cognition to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk and even help you lose weight! Or so the chocolate science hype machine will tell you.

Several months ago, we got to wondering how chocolate candy had earned such a powerful health halo. So we dove into the science behind these claims about chocolate and cocoa to find out more.

In an original Vox analysis, we discovered that food companies like Nestlé, Mars, Barry Callebaut, and Hershey’s — among the world’s biggest producers of chocolate — have poured millions of dollars into scientific studies and research grants that support cocoa science. Of the 100 Mars-sponsored studies on cocoa, chocolate, and health, 98 had conclusions that were favorable to the candy maker in some way.

That’s an uncannily high number. And it raises questions about the quality of the studies, given that Mars and other chocolate makers can use the positive findings to market their products. Industry-sponsored studies are more likely than independent research to yield conclusions that favor the funder’s products.

In our review of the research, we found studies that were well-designed, well-executed, and that produced seemingly reliable results. (This was particularly true for the science on cocoa’s effects on blood pressure.) But some of the other claims don’t stand up as well when you look closely at the evidence.

One study in particular about cocoa staving off cognitive decline jumped out at us because it had sparked a small fracas on PubMed Commons, a site where researchers can comment on published studies. Several researchers took the time to critique everything from the study’s design and statistical analysis to how it was reported in the journal where it was published, Nature Neuroscience.

This Mars-sponsored study, led by researchers from Columbia University, was published in 2014. The researchers had wanted to test whether taking cocoa supplements might enhance a region of the brain called the dentate gyrus that deteriorates with age and is associated with age-related memory loss. They concluded that cocoa supplements — particularly the micronutrients called flavanols in them — can indeed boost cognition in older adults.

The research didn’t come out of a vacuum. Previous studies, particularly those focused on aging in rats, suggested flavanols might prevent cognitive decline. But upon closer examination, it became clear that this particular study was very small and preliminary — and that there were several problems with its design that made its results unreliable. That didn’t stop the chocolate hype machine, though. The paper was trumpeted by the Columbia University press office and large media outlets as more evidence that cocoa and chocolate can fight Alzheimer’s.

Ultimately, the study shows how scientists and the media have seized upon the narrative that chocolate is a health food — even when only the thinnest evidence supports the wishful claim.

The cocoa study was short, small, and focused on narrow outcomes that don’t matter to the real world

Before we dive into what made this Nature Neuroscience study suspicious, let’s look at what it was about. The researchers randomly assigned 37 people to one of four groups for a period of three months:

  1. A group that got a high daily dose (900 mg) of cocoa flavanol supplements as well as one hour of aerobic exercise four times per week
  2. A group that got the same high dose of cocoa flavanol supplements but without the exercise
  3. A control group that got a low dose of cocoa flavanols (10mg) with the one hour of aerobic exercise four times per week
  4. Another control group that got the low cocoa flavanol dose but without the exercise

So basically, the study participants either got a lot of cocoa flavanols or not, and added regular exercise to their lifestyles or not.

The researchers wanted to test whether cocoa flavanol supplements might stave off cognitive decline in the dentate gyrus region of the brain, which is associated with age-related memory loss. They also wanted to see if exercise had any effect on memory, since previous studies had suggested it might.

In the study, they found that exercise had no impact on brain function — but cocoa flavanols did. “Dietary cocoa flavanol consumption enhanced [dentate gyrus] function in the aging human hippocampal circuit,” they concluded. They also made extremely bold statements in the paper, even suggesting that the effects they saw in the high-flavanol group demonstrated that cocoa could reverse age-related memory decline by as many as three decades.

Columbia University’s newsroom touted the research as demonstrating that “dietary flavanols reverse age-related memory decline.” The research was then picked up by media outlets, including the New York Times, which trumpeted chocolate — not just cocoa dietary supplements — as a memory aid.

But here’s the thing: The study never actually proved that cocoa supplements, and especially not chocolate, could prevent memory decline. It was too small, too narrowly focused, and too short-lived to tell us anything important about real memory loss with aging, said Henry Drysdale, a doctor and fellow at Oxford University’s Center for Evidence-Based Medicine.

To track memory decline, the main outcomes the researchers used over a 12-week period were an fMRI test that looked at increases cerebral blood volume, as well as a cognitive function test — the Modified Benton — which was developed at Columbia to measure dentate gyrus function. The researchers who validated the test found that people’s performance on the ModBent worsened with age, so they had reason to believe that this test would be a good marker of whether flavanols could make a difference here.

“Saying if you eat cocoa supplements now you’re going to have better memory in three months is not relevant to real-world [age-related memory decline],” said Drysdale, who co-founded Oxford’s COMPare Trials project which examines the quality of clinical trials.

If you really want to answer that question, you’d run the trial for several years and you’d need a group of study participants that’s bigger than 37 people. Instead of only tracking the study participants’ brain waves in an MRI machine (which is not a measure of cognitive ability), or using an object recognition task (the ModBent) to test memory, you’d also want to measure outcomes that matter in people’s lives, like, whether those taking cocoa could remember what they did that morning or that they had a doctor’s appointment next week better than the people who didn’t take the cocoa, Drysdale added.

This trial only demonstrated that supplements seem to enhance brain function over a period of weeks, and only according to a very specific (and not very widely used) test of cognitive function. That is far from valid proof that cocoa is a memory enhancer.

The researchers did other things that made the results unreliable

Drysdale and other researchers who were not involved with this study also took issue with it for much nerdier reasons. There are problems with how the study was reported that made its results less likely to be reliable — and even less worthy of the hype.

For one thing, the published version of the study looks different from what the researchers originally said they’d set out to do for this trial.

To understand why this matters, let’s step back for a moment.

Before researchers embark on clinical trials, they’re supposed to name (or “pre-specify”) which health outcomes they’re most interested in on a public database, like ClinicalTrials.gov.

For an antidepressant, these might include people’s reports on their mood, or how the drug affects sleep, sexual desire, and even suicidal thoughts. Researchers then group the outcomes into “primary” and “secondary” categories — the primary outcomes being the ones they think are most important — and describe precisely how and when they are going to measure these things.

Scientists are then supposed to broadly stick to this plan when they run their trial, and report on their findings in a journal. If they deviate from their plan, they need to be transparent about it and explain why they did so in the final journal article.

The idea is that researchers won’t just change their plans along the way, or publish positive or more favorable outcomes that turn up during the study, while ignoring or hiding important results that don’t quite materialize as they were hoping. (That’s a sneaky practice called “outcome switching,” and it’s a big problem in science.) Following these steps also enhances the chances that the findings researchers report on are real, not the result of tweaking a study’s design to get splashier conclusions.

But this didn’t happen in the case of this cocoa study.

ClinicalTrials.gov has a handy version control function that lets you see all the changes that were made to a clinical trials registry over time. It shows that the researchers for this cocoa study changed their outcomes over time, and also failed to clearly pre-specify them before starting the trial. They then didn’t report about the changes they made in their final study, which was published in the prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience.

For example, if you look at the earliest version of their ClinicalTrials.gov report, from 2010, the researchers stated that the primary outcome they were interested in was an fMRI test that measures cerebral blood volume. The secondary outcome they were going to look for was “neurocognitive function” — but they didn’t say which test they’d use to measure neurocognitive function. In the published trial, the ModBent appeared as a second primary outcome along with the fMRI.

“If you don’t pre-specify your method of measurement of an outcome — in this case ‘neurocognitive function’ — you are free to choose, consciously or unconsciously, from a range of possible outcomes,” said Drysdale. “You can then pick the outcome that makes your chocolate look good. That’s not to say authors will always do this with vaguely pre-specified outcomes, but the option is there.” In this case, the researchers settled on the ModBent task as their primary outcome (in addition to the fMRI).

I asked the authors on the study why they failed to fully pre-specify their outcomes, and why they didn’t report all the changes they made in their original plan in the final version of the report, like they’re supposed to do. They said they were new to entering clinical trials data on registries, and that they didn’t realize they had to declare changes they had made to their study design in the final study. Whatever the reason, though, these errors in reporting are likely to make their findings less reliable, said Drysdale.

If you look at the most recent version of their clinical trials registry, it was published in January 2015, three months after they published their Nature Neuroscience article. “So they went back after article was published in Nature and changed their clinical trial registry. There is no mention of this in the trial report,” Drysdale added.

To be clear, this cocoa study is not unique. Hype in research is on the rise, and outcome switching is common — as prevalent in industry-sponsored research as it is in independent academic research. But the paper shows how, consciously or unconsciously, studies can be tweaked and exaggerated in ways that can yield misleading conclusions.

“The bigger concern is that people are trying to do a better job of selling the research itself and not just telling what the straight out answer is,” University of Toronto nutrition researcher Richard Bazinet said. This study only showed that over a period of three months, in a small group, according to a very narrow test that taps a very specific region of the brain, cocoa supplements enhanced cognition. That became “chocolate fights Alzheimer’s” — a message Mars surely appreciated.

Source:  vox.com

 

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Fat replacers market estimated to be worth US$2.01 billion by 2022

October 7th, 2017
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New research shows that the fat replacers market is becoming an increasingly profitable one as consumers become increasingly health-conscious.

New research from MarketsandMarkets™ has revealed that the fat replacers market is estimated to be worth US$1.48 Billion in 2017, and is projected to reach USD 2.01 Billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 6.2% from 2017. Major factors driving this increase are the increasing consumer awareness about health & wellness, and the rise in prevalence of obesity.

The protein-based fat replacers segment is projected to be the fastest-growing in this market. Already, protein consumption is growing in demand for health and aesthetic purposes, and the demand for food products with high-protein but low-fat content is expected to contribute significantly to the growth of the protein-based fat replacers market.

The bakery & confectionery products segment has so far accounted for the largest share in the fat replacers market. Consumers in developed regions such as North America and Europe have become increasingly conscious about leading a healthy lifestyle, leading to a demand for the reduction of fat content in bakery & confectionery products. Products such as cakes and pastries increasingly require fat replacers for consumers who demand low-fat and low-calorie options. This trend has led to considerable market opportunities for bakery & confectionery products segment during the forecast period.

In terms of growth though, the liquid segment is projected to be the fastest-growing in the market. The rise in demand for convenience foods is likely to drive the market for liquid fat replacers as they are used to replace fatty oils, thereby contributing significantly. They also provide a glossy texture and help prevent stickiness on confectionery products.

Additionally, Asia Pacific is projected to be the fastest-growing region in this area due to its growing economy. Various factors such as rapid urbanization, changes in lifestyle, and increase in demand for convenience products are driving the growth of the food & beverages sector. China especially has witnessed rapid growth in this market due to concerns about the adverse effects of fats and calories, and a growth in consumer awareness regarding the maintenance of a healthy diet. The high consumption of convenience foods in countries such as India, China, and Malaysia is expected to drive the demand for fat replacers in these regions.

Currently, key players in the fat replacer market include ADM (USA), DuPont (USA), Cargill (USA), Kerry Group (Ireland), FMC Corporation (USA), Ashland Inc (USA), Ingredion (USA), and Koninklijke DSM (Netherlands).

Source: Asia Food Journal

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Health, Ingredients

Why chocolate is good for your gut

September 23rd, 2017
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Chocolate lovers, rejoice; the sweet treat is not only delicious, but studies show that it can also promote friendly bacteria and reduce inflammation in our guts.

First, some background: trillions of bacteria live in our guts. They contribute to our immune system, metabolism, and many other processes essential to human health.

When the delicate balance of microbes in our intestines is disturbed, it can have serious consequences.

Irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, allergies, asthma, and cancer have all been linked to abnormal gut microbiomes.

A healthful diet supports bacterial diversity and health, but could chocolate be an integral part of this?

Benefits of cocoa

Cocoa is the dry, non-fatty component prepared from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree and the ingredient that gives chocolate its characteristic taste.

Many health benefits have been attributed to cocoa and its potent antioxidant functions. These include lowering cholesterol, slowing down cognitive decline, and keeping the heart healthy.

Cocoa metabolism is partly dependent on the bacteria that live in our intestines.

Our bodies are only able to absorb some of the nutrients in chocolate. As such, we need our tiny microbial passengers to break complex molecules into smaller components, which we would not be able to take into our bodies otherwise.

This allows us to make full use of the many health-promoting molecules in cocoa. It doesn’t stop there, however. The gut microbes also benefit from this relationship, which, in turn, has an even greater effect on our health.

Gut health and inflammation

Several studies show that the consumption of cocoa increases the levels of so-called friendly bacteria in the gut.

Researchers from the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom measured higher levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species in the intestines of human volunteers who drank high-cocoa chocolate milk for 4 weeks.

The same team previously showed that components in cocoa can reduce the growth of Clostridium histolyticum bacteria, which are present in the guts of individuals with inflammatory bowel disease.

In pigs, higher levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species were also found in the colon in response to a high-cocoa diet. Interestingly, the expression of known inflammatory markers was reduced.

Friendly bacteria including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have, in fact, been implicated in actively promoting anti-inflammatory processes in our intestines, keeping our gut healthy.

Chocolate as part of a healthful diet

Despite the fact that these scientific studies support the claim that cocoa can be beneficial for our gut microbiomes, cocoa does not equal chocolate.

The cocoa extracts used in research do not contain the high levels of sugar and fat found in our everyday chocolate bars.

Unsweetened cocoa powder or high-cocoa content dark chocolate are the closest alternatives to the cocoa used in these studies. Consumed in moderation, chocolate may therefore promote friendly bacteria, and, by extension, a healthy gut, keeping inflammation at bay.

When choosing your next chocolate treat, join the Medical News Today editorial team in their choice and opt for a nice piece of dark chocolate.

Source:  medicalnewstoday.com

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Reaction: UK food industry welcomes sugar reduction target

April 8th, 2017
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Stakeholders in the UK’s food industry have begun to respond to Public Health England’s call for a 20% reduction in the amount of sugar in food products.

The director general of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, called the target ‘stretching’ but said that manufacturers were willing to take on the challenge. The British Nutrition Foundation and British Dietetic Association both announced their support.

FoodBev has compiled som of the key quotes about this morning’s announcement from important industry figures.


Ian Wright
Food and Drink Federation director general

“Obesity levels in the UK are unacceptably high. Physical inactivity is a factor, but for many the problem overwhelmingly is with excess calories in the diet. With many of these calories coming from sugars, we support the Government’s highly ambitious sugars reduction drive.

“Today’s report represents a constructive platform on which to build a world-leading programme of voluntary sugars reduction, right across food and drink. All parts of the food industry – manufacturers, retailers, takeaways, restaurants and cafés – need to step up. The guidelines are very stretching but manufacturers, for our part, are willing to take on the challenge.

“Manufacturers know the special place their products have in people’s lives. Companies are working hard to overcome technical challenges and make gradual tweaks to favourite foods that regular customers can accept. They are also developing new low sugar alternatives. In some foods, portion size reductions will be necessary.

“This programme is only one piece of a much wider jigsaw of work that needs to be done to move towards better overall diets and more active lifestyles. We look forward to continuing to work closely with PHE and other partners as the programme moves from design into implementation.”


Prof Judy Buttriss
British Nutrition Foundation director general

“The new government recommendation to reduce our intake of free sugars… is very challenging and action across all sectors, including out-of-home food outlets, is going to be key to any success. Some companies have already made significant changes to the sugar and calorie content of their products and there have been some encouraging announcements of plans by industry to step up to the challenge, but there is more to be done.

“Organisations such as the BDA and BNF, which provide evidence-based information to help the public choose a healthier diet, have an important role to play to explain to the public the changes that are being made to products and how to put recommendations on sugars reduction into practice. This includes promoting the idea that smaller portions are a positive step to reduce our energy intakes and contribute to the fight against the obesity problem we face in Britain”.


Sue Kellie
British Dietetic Association deputy chief executive

“The BDA believes that the government now needs to commit to further action in areas such as advertising and promotions. Reducing the sugar in foods is certainly one way to tackle obesity, but behaviours need to change as well. The BDA would suggest that, whilst there are new tougher advertising guidelines on non-broadcasting media, this does not go far enough. The government needs to further restrict the advertising of high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods before the 9pm watershed and ban promotions on those same products.

“Providing education around healthy eating as standard is also important. Dietitians have the tools and skills to drive behaviour change and help children and families to prepare and maintain a healthy diet. Many are already working in successful programmes across the UK, which could be expanded with further support. If we are to successfully tackle obesity and reduce its long term costs to the NHS and wider economy, we need to change attitudes and habits over the long term – there’s no quick fix.”


Prof Kathy Groves
Leatherhead Food Research head of microscopy

“New guidelines from Public Health England to reduce sugar in everyday foods eaten by children create complex challenges that call for science-led innovation. Reformulation of food products is a common response to health-related issues. However, in the case of sugar reduction, this is not straightforward.

“Depending on the properties of the product in question, sugar can contribute much more than taste. It has preservation qualities, so plays a role in the shelf-life of a product. It also impacts texture, aeration, fermentation (for products containing yeast), bulk and visual appeal. Food manufacturers need to consider interactions between ingredients in a recipe to understand how sugar reduction or replacement will affect the finished product.

“A scientific approach known as ‘blueprinting’, which creates a technical map of a product, is an effective way to address these complex challenges. It considers both the sensory and scientific attributes that explain its profile, drawing on microscopy, microbiology and rheology. This enables objective analysis of properties such as ‘crunch’, ‘creaminess’, ‘lightness’ or ‘smoothness’. Understanding the science that underpins these attributes facilitates more intelligent and efficient product development, with reduced risk.”


Dan Finke
IRI UK managing director

“We’ve known that the Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme has been coming for a while. Eventually all sectors of the food and drinks industry will be challenged to reduce overall sugar across a range of products that contribute to children’s sugar intakes by at least 20% by 2020.

“While Public Health England has made it clear that lowering sugar levels, reducing product size or pushing healthier products are three key options for manufacturers, it is
clear to us that there’s fourth spoke in the wheel: pricing. Promotions in the UK currently account for 40% of all expenditure on food and drink. Even though government stopped
short of legislating against the use of promotions, it is clear that use of promotions will need to reduce as they increase the amount of food and drink people buy by around one-fifth. Food and drink suppliers need to behave responsibly, which likely means a change in the pricing and promotional regime.

“Many suppliers have already been cutting the depth of promotions on offer to shoppers to help offset rising cost pressures. However, basic product pricing (on average across all supermarkets) has not risen in three years. As #Marmitegate highlighted, manufacturers can recommend pricing for their products to retailers but can’t control how much the retailers sell for. Retailers need to play their part too.

“Innovation is also important. IRI analysis shows that, in the UK, high sugar products are still a major contributor to new product development despite an increase in demand from shoppers for healthier food alternatives such as gluten free, non-dairy milk, juices and fortified waters. Suppliers need to work harder to respond to changing consumer trends.”

Source: FoodBev.com

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Health, Ingredients

EFSA to give advice on the intake of sugar added to food

March 25th, 2017
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EFSA will provide scientific advice on the daily intake of added sugar in food by early 2020. The Authority aims to establish a science-based cut-off value for daily exposure to added sugars from all sources which is not associated with adverse health effects. The work will be carried out following a request from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Added sugars from all sources comprise sucrose, fructose, glucose, starch hydrolysates such as glucose syrup, high-fructose syrup, and other sugar preparations consumed as such or added during food preparation and manufacturing.

The adverse health effects under consideration will include body weight, glucose intolerance and insulin sensitivity, type-2-diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, as well as dental caries. In its assessment, EFSA will look at the general healthy population, including children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.

The advice will guide Member States when establishing recommendations for the consumption of added sugars and in planning food-based dietary guidelines.

Sweden is coordinating the request to EFSA on behalf of the five Nordic countries. Annica Sohlström, the Director General of the Swedish National Food Agency, said: “We welcome EFSA’s acceptance of the mandate which reflects the need to scientifically evaluate the links between added sugar and health at a European level.”

What is going to happen next?

EFSA will establish an ad-hoc working group with expertise in dietary exposure, epidemiology, human nutrition, diet-related chronic diseases and dentistry. The five Nordic countries that initiated this mandate will be invited to the working group as observers.

EFSA will use its established methodology to develop a protocol on how to carry out the assessment. Known as Prometheus – PROmoting METHods for Evidence Use in Scientific assessments – the method shows how EFSA selects evidence, how this evidence contributes to the risk assessment and how EFSA reports on the entire process and it results.

In line with its commitment to openness and transparency, EFSA will engage with stakeholders throughout the assessment process. It will hold two public consultations, inviting feedback on the draft protocol in the first half of 2018 and on the draft opinion in late 2019, which will also involve a face-to-face meeting with stakeholders.

Background

In 2010, EFSA published its Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for carbohydrates and dietary fibre, which also included sugar. At this time, the available evidence was insufficient to set an upper limit for the daily intake of total or added sugars. New scientific evidence has come to light since then. There has also been growing public interest in the impact of the consumption of sugar-containing foods and beverages on human health.

Source: EFSA

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Gluten Free Industry Association Formed

January 14th, 2017
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The gluten-free market is increasing at such a rapid pace that a new industry association has been officially set up to support companies in the gluten-free space.

Britain’s annual sales of gluten-free products has increased 26.7 percent in the last two years, currently worth £585.6m (US$711.2 million) and sales are projected to reach £673 million (US$817.2 million) by 2020.

Gluten-free forms the largest section of the free from category accounting for almost 60 percent. This has increased by 36 percent over 2014/15.

The Gluten Free Industry Association will bring together gluten free from food manufacturers and companies to ensure the high standards of the sector and to provide additional consumer confidence.

The priorities for the year ahead include developing the best practice guidelines on ingredient sourcing and gluten-testing methodology.

“We are very pleased to be launching the Gluten Free Industry Association. The GFIA provides a single point of contact for this fast-changing sector whilst encouraging the major suppliers to come together and share best practice to deliver the high quality their consumers expect,” says Simon Wright, Founder of OF+ Consulting and GFIA chairman.

GFIA founder members include Bells of Lazonby, BFree Foods, Delicious Alchemy, Dr Schar, Genius Foods, Mrs Crimbles, Nairns Oatcakes, Northumbrian Fine Foods, and Warburtons.
The GFIA is a full member Association of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and FDF will provide the secretariat for the Association.

“As the national charity for people with coeliac disease, it’s great to see this latest step in the maturation of the gluten free sector. A new association devoted to gluten free manufacturing will help the industry work together to tackle consistency and safety for the benefit of consumers and keep growing this vibrant new market. We look forward to working with the GFIA to ensure the needs of people with coeliac disease continue to be met, says Sarah Sleet, Chief Executive of Coeliac UK.

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, Director, FreeFrom Awards, adds: “We are very pleased that gluten free manufacturers are coming together in an attempt to improve consistency and confidence in the manufacture of gluten free foods and especially in the supply chain. This can only be good for the industry and, in the long run, of significant benefit to the gluten free consumer.”

Source:  foodingredientsfirst.com

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Turmeric: Golden Root for Baking

January 14th, 2017
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Turmeric is becoming well known for its health benefits and flavour profile

Native to Indonesia and Southern India, turmeric has been harvested for more than 5,000 years and has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and a textile dye. It’s a spice with a peppery fragrant flavour, and it’s part of the ginger family of herbs. Often used in curries, sauces and soups, most recently, turmeric is popping up in teas, drinks, smoothies, breads and baked goods.
Turmeric has become a more mainstream ingredient in Canada and the U.S. for a variety of reasons including its health benefits. In a recent NutraIngredients-USA article (September 22, 2016), Stephen Daniells summarizes the data published in ABC’s HerbalGram 111 report. It indicated turmeric/curcumin was the standout ingredient in 2015 with overall sales for the ingredient exceeding $50 million in mass and natural channels. It has a 118 per cent growth in the mass channel and 32 per cent growth in the natural channel.

We know that a poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress can lead to an increase in inflammatory-related conditions which are key factors in lifestyle diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. From my experience, people are always searching for more everyday foods that taste good and are nutritious. Turmeric is nutritious and is rich in B vitamins, which promotes a healthy nervous system and assists in metabolic functions throughout the body. In addition, turmeric has been used as an anti-inflammatory.

The active ingredient that has been studied in turmeric is curcumin which is responsible for its deep yellow colour. Research continues to investigate the properties and effects of curcumin specifically as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It is thought curcumin plays a role in combating the production of free radical cells and decreasing inflammation which are factors in a variety of disease conditions. More human clinical studies are required in order to fully understand curcumin’s role in reducing the risk of certain diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, arthritis and some cancers.

The first time I had turmeric in a cake was when I was traveling in Turkey. I believe it was a version of sfouf, which is a traditional Lebanese cake flavoured with turmeric, sugar and nuts. It was a moist, dense cake with an intensely yellow colour. Not having an overly sweet tooth, I like cakes with more of a savoury and/or nutty essence. It was delicious. That was over 15 years ago, and now locally in Canada I’m seeing a few breads, cakes and other baked goods with turmeric.

Turmeric is a traditional ingredient in Indian bread including naan. Sometimes it is an ingredient in the blend or part of a mixture of butter and turmeric that is brushed on the naan and baked until golden. As the Paleo diet trend continues to gain traction, I’ve witnessed more gluten-free breads and wraps made with turmeric. Including a wrap made with coconut meal, coconut water, coconut oil and turmeric, specifically targeted at the niche market.

Restaurant patrons in diverse cities like New York are enjoying turmeric fennel rolls and sweet potato turmeric buns on the menu. On the dessert cart, there is a trend for more savoury whipped creams. Turmeric lends a pale yellow colour to whipped cream, making it unique to look at. It’s slightly earthy bitter flavour is a great contrast to nut-based desserts like pecan pie or walnut cake.

As I’m writing this article about using turmeric in breads and baked goods, it reminds me of six years ago when I wrote a Final Proof column on baking with matcha green tea. It still may be slightly ahead of the trend and the customer conversion point is a few early adopters. Turmeric has common elements to the matcha green tea trend including an ingredient that has been used for centuries in other parts of the world, definite health benefits, plus a strong, unique flavour and colour. Six years later, after writing the matcha green tea column, there is mainstream awareness, acceptance and use of it in breads, cakes, crepes and muffins. So why not dive in and create a delicious feature product with turmeric to offer your early adopter clientele a golden savoury treat?

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Bakery, Health, Ingredients

Wheat Sensitivity May Be Caused By Another Protein In Breads And Pastas

November 5th, 2016
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Gluten may not be the culprit when it comes to wheat sensitivities, according to a new body of research presented at the United European Gastroenterology Week 2016. Instead, a team of scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany discovered a different protein in wheat known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) may be what triggers the stomach-sickening inflammation and other symptoms.

For the study, the team stopped focusing on gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — and shifted their attention to ATIs because it appears to cause inflammation and worsen other chronic health conditions. Although ATIs only make up 4 percent of proteins found in wheat, they are responsible for a lot of damage throughout the body. Not only is the stomach at risk for dangerous inflammation, but so are the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain as well.

ATIs may also contribute to the development of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Those who do not have celiac disease, which is a serious autoimmune disease that causes damage to the intestines, can still be negatively affected by gluten-containg foods, such as pastas, breads, and baked goods. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, one out of every 100 people suffer from celiac disease, but it is unclear how many suffer from wheat sensitivity.

“We believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel,” said the findings’ presenter Dr. Detlef Schuppan, who is a professor at both Johannes Gutenberg University and Harvard Medical School, in a press release. “The type of gut inflammation seen in non-celiac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by celiac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs activate specific types of immune cells in the gut, thereby worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses.”

Dr. Schuppan and his team’s research has shown that following an ATI-free diet, which is reducing ATI-containing wheat products by 90 percent, should be enough to improve symptoms. More research is needed before a regimen with medically-backed recommendations can be given out to patients, but until then, all research is pointing to one conclusion – chronic diseases are worsened by ingestion of wheat ATIs.

Schuppan said: “We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders.”

Source: Schuppan D. UEG WEEK 2016. 2016

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Is It Possible to Make a More Healthful Frozen Pizza?

October 8th, 2016
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In June 2010, a small group of frozen-pizza technicians, cooks and marketers met in a conference room in Chicago. They had been summoned to report to Paul Bakus, an executive at Nestlé. This team had developed DiGiorno pizza for Kraft, and came along when Nestlé bought Kraft’s frozen-food business in January of that year. Nestlé is known for its chocolate Crunch bars, of course, but it makes all sorts of food: frozen meals, bottled water, bouillon cubes, Hot Pockets, instant noodles, baby food and dog food. It is, in fact, the world’s largest food company. But unless Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza counts, Nestlé didn’t make pizza in the United States at that time. Bakus was new to pizza, too. He had done a tour of duty at Nestlé’s Swiss headquarters before he was sent home to head the American baked-goods division. From there, he was transferred to run the frozen-pizza business from Solon, a suburb of Cleveland where Nestlé develops all its frozen foods.

DiGiorno, the line Kraft created in 1995, became a market leader for its “rising crust,” which, unlike other frozen pizza crusts, started raw and rose in the oven. The crust was the centerpiece of DiGiorno’s pitch to consumers: that it could pass for delivery. But now that DiGiorno was a Nestlé product, it would have to be brought into compliance with Nestlé’s nutritional standards. Bakus was sent to Chicago to talk about sodium.

Sodium is in pretty much everything we eat, in part because it tastes good and in part because it’s an effective and cheap preservative. Some 75 percent of the salt in our diets comes from packaged and restaurant food, leaving just about 25 percent under most people’s control. Many public-health officials say the single most important thing we can do to fight heart disease — still the country’s leading killer — is cut back on sodium. In June, the Food and Drug Administration released new preliminary guidelines for reducing sodium that it urged food makers to follow. As of now, the rules do not have the force of law. But food makers have seen the writing on the wall for some time.

Ahead of the day when guidelines become mandatory reductions, these companies have for years been working on systematically lowering the sodium in their products. Kraft did. Mars and Campbell’s did, too. Walmart reformulated its private-label line with an across-the-board 25 percent sodium reduction. For any company, however, this long-term strategy brings with it near-term risk: Consumers associate low sodium with less flavor, and they tend to avoid products touting it.

At the same time, Bakus’s competition was cutting away at frozen pizza’s main advantage over delivery: convenience. Domino’s has been investing in technology, shortening delivery times with Uber-influenced algorithms. The company has even outfitted delivery trucks with ovens so they can muscle through traffic while cooking their cargo.

Frozen pizza had to adapt — something everyone in the room knew perfectly well, they told Bakus. They’d been trying. But pizza is tricky. In the sauce, salt is there for taste and can be turned up or down at will. In cheese and sausage, it’s part of traditional preservation that became encased in the F.D.A.’s “standards of identity,” which determine what manufacturers are allowed to say about ingredients on labels. Take out too much salt, and they might have to call their provolone something like “cheese product.”

The problem, the team told Bakus, is that on top of the meat and cheese — considerable in DiGiorno’s three-meat pizzas and cheese-stuffed crusts — the dough had higher-than-usual amounts of sodium. Packaged bread, in which sodium is used for texture and preservation more than for flavor, is one of the greatest sources of salt in the American diet. In the DiGiorno’s crust, the higher-than-usual sodium came from the baking powder Kraft used to make the dough rise. The DiGiorno food scientists had managed to create a pepperoni pizza with 10 percent less sodium, already something of a feat. Bakus thought they’d done fine: At a tasting, he couldn’t tell the difference between the original and the reduced-sodium version. But pepperoni loyalists could.

The chief requirement for reformulating a beloved product is to change it imperceptibly, so that in blind tastings customers prefer the new version to rival products or to the old version. (Nestlé’s rule is that six in 10 people must prefer an item in blind tastings before it is cleared for production.) And once a reformulated food passes the test, companies often avoid saying anything on the label or in advertisements about the nutritional improvements — especially when it comes to salt. Most people don’t think they need to cut back on sodium. Better to say nothing. It’s known in the trade as “stealth health.”

Big food makers are pinned between two groups with overlapping interests. One is consumers looking to improve their health, many of whom have long been deeply suspicious of big food companies, and are even more so today. The other is public-health officials and regulators who are willing to force companies to make bigger changes than they might want to, before they might want to. Do too much, and they’ll lose their customers; do nothing, and they’ll keep making money — but risk losing a future lawsuit. Nestlé and its competitors are busily trying to figure out a way to split the difference. But can frozen pizza really be expected to improve the health of the American public? And will anyone want to eat it if it does?

Your taste for salt is not hard-wired from birth. The excessive amount we eat today is a result of what Matthias Berninger, vice president of public affairs for Mars, calls an “arms race” between food producers and restaurant chains. One turns up the salt; customers get used to that; the next producer does the same thing. Over time, the whole population’s palate changes. Today Americans consume two to three times the sodium we need, and one in three Americans suffers from high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease — which can lead to the grave.

Some public-health advocates think lessening Americans’ dependence on sodium will be easier than doing the same with sugar — in large part because it won’t require weaning an entire nation off soda. It takes only days or weeks to recalibrate your palate. Making that happen for the American public means negotiating, essentially, a new arms treaty. Marion Nestle (no relation to the company), a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and one of the fiercest and most lucid critics of the food industry, believes that food companies and restaurant chains could play a role in fixing the problem they’ve created. “The trick is to get the makers of processed and pre-prepared foods to agree to gradually reduce the amount of salt in their products,” she says. “If everyone did that, nobody would notice.”

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently published a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association calling for more companies to agree to voluntary sodium-reduction targets. Frieden is no stranger to this sort of crusade: He led the charge against trans fats for Mayor Michael Bloomberg while he was New York City’s health commissioner. His article points to British data showing that a 15 percent reduction in sodium intake from 2003 to 2011, a result of voluntary targets Britain set in 2003, was followed by a 40 percent reduction in deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke. “Sodium reduction,” he told me, “could save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in health care costs.”

These kinds of recommendations were given heft in June when the F.D.A. released its sodium guidelines. “We’ve used educational strategies for years,” says Susan Mayne, director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “But we found that education alone is not sufficient.” The F.D.A. recognizes that, as with any arms-reduction deal, all parties need assurance that other parties are following the rules, too, so the agency aims to coax the sodium out of our diet slowly. It knows that every company thinking about lowering sodium has Campbell’s in its rearview mirror.

Campbell’s is the cautionary tale of what can happen when a company gets ahead of the competition. For years, it has wanted to demonstrate its commitment to public health, and its core product, canned soup, was a fat target for sodium reduction. Baseline levels of salt are generally so high that they’re easy to make a big dent in. And with canned soup, you can do so without worrying about, say, a deflated crust. So in 2010, Campbell’s reduced its soups’ sodium by as much as 45 percent. Tip-off on the label or not — only some reductions were announced — customers didn’t buy more. The salt went back in.

Another reason to keep quiet about sodium reduction is the efforts of some groups to dispute recommended levels. No sooner had the F.D.A. reduced its guidelines than the Salt Institute, a trade organization “dedicated to advocating the many benefits of salt,” put out a news release lamenting the “government’s war on salt,” calling it “malpractice” and pointing to numerous studies indicating the risks, not benefits, of lowering sodium consumption. (Frieden has said that those studies had “fundamental flaws.”)

Nestlé and other multinationals have decided to tune out in-country noise and look at the big picture, for which they look to the World Health Organization. “A lot of the food industry wants to follow not-excellent but self-serving information,” Berninger, of Mars, says. “We believe the best and most profitable way forward is to stop the constant bickering. Just pick targets to meet.”

Bakus was feeling the pressure. At a Nestlé gathering of health experts in 2013, William Dietz, then focusing on obesity reduction at the Centers for Disease Control, pulled Bakus aside to say that pizza was a nutritional train wreck — the single greatest source of sodium for children ages 6 to 18. A paper Dietz later published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, associates pizza with higher caloric and saturated fat intake as well as higher sodium in children’s diets. Bakus told me that running Nestlé’s pizza business made him feel as if he were walking around with a bull’s-eye on his back.

The Nestlé R.&D. lab is on a subterranean floor of the campuslike research center in the hills above Lausanne, Switzerland. It looks more like a sterile medical-research lab than a kitchen. But the smells are not medicinal: deep mushroom-broth and fermented-fish odors mingling with unidentifiable but sharp, acidic, vinegary scents. When I visited several years ago, the company was already deep into what it calls its “kitchen cupboard” project, trying to cut out unpronounceable ingredients and build flavors without scary-sounding chemicals and hillocks of salt. I had recently visited David Chang’s test kitchen for his Momofuku restaurants, where cooks were making variations on traditional fish sauce for new sauces, and the Nordic Food Lab, started with the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, where I saw racks and racks of koji, the mold that ferments rice to sake, being used to flavor all manner of grains.

By now, fermentation has become a very fashionable flavor-creation trick among chefs. Nestlé’s scientists hoped it could lead to substitutes for the dough conditioners they use to make their crust rise, which are not only bad for flavor but also have names that look particularly menacing on labels. Sean Westcott, an energetic Australian who was then in charge of frozen and chilled foods, told me about a barley particularly rich in enzymes, which the company is using to ferment pizza dough — helping it rise and create flavors at the same time, and removing acres of syllables from the label.

Nestlé was also toying with potassium chloride, a compound similar to sodium chloride — table salt. Jeff Hamilton, president of Nestlé’s United States prepared-foods division, told me that it gives most people the sensation of saltiness, with the added advantage of supplying potassium, a mineral many Americans don’t get enough of. The problem is that a subset of the population perceives potassium chloride as bitter or metallic. And “potassium chloride” doesn’t exactly have a kitchen-cupboard ring to it. Nestlé is encouraging the F.D.A. to call it “mineral salt (potassium)” on labels.

When the DiGiorno team told Bakus they’d gone as far as they could to reduce sodium without having customers notice, and failed, he knew they needed to find out what was going on in the research-center labs and at Nestlé’s pizza businesses in other countries. So he took the team to Germany, Italy and Switzerland to learn new tricks. Within a year and a half of the initial discouraging tasting, the first reduced-sodium DiGiorno went on the market — with no mention of the reduction. I tried several varieties in Solon during a wide-ranging tasting. For the most part, I found them a little too salty; but that’s just what people are used to.

There is, however, a larger problem with the American diet that lowering sodium cannot address: portion size. Frozen pizza is a particularly menacing vector for overeating. Chavanne Hanson, head of nutrition, health and wellness in global public affairs at the Swiss headquarters, says that customers know that candy and ice cream are occasional treats. They don’t tend to eat too much of it at one sitting — or are conscious of indulging when they do. Pizzas are different. They’re big, and they’re inviting. It’s easy to take one more slice, and then another. “There’s staggering social- media chatter on pizza,” says Mary Colleen Hershey, who monitors online discussion of company products for Nestlé. “You can’t believe how many people will admit they eat a whole pizza.”

With Bakus’s encouragement, Hanson began a “portion guidance” program, telling customers to eat less of its product on the back of the package. The graphics on the package show what one-sixth of a pizza looks like — about the size of a hand put over the pie as you cut a wedge, an easy mnemonic — and tell people to eat one slice for dinner and no more. “Our surefire recommendation,” the company’s guidance reads, is one slice “along with a salad, roasted vegetables, fresh fruit and a glass of water or low-fat milk.” Well, it’s a nice thought.

Such a civilized dinner might be an unlikely choice for the throngs who still think one pizza is one serving. And frozen pizza is an unlikely solution to the vast and intertwined set of problems in our diet. But it’s a start. Food makers’ relentless advertising and bloated products, full of unnecessary sugar and salt, contributed to many of the incredibly expensive chronic illnesses our health care system has been left to deal with. Lowering those costs might mean depending on big food companies and restaurant chains to clean up the mess they’ve helped create. Even their biggest critic agrees. I asked Marion Nestle if she really thought a low-sodium frozen pizza could improve public health. “Yes,” she said. “A lot. But only if everyone else does the same thing.”

Source: nytimes.com

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American Heart Association weighs in on the issue of added sugars

August 27th, 2016
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The American Heart Association is recommending children between the ages of 2 and 18 should eat or drink less than 25 grams, or six teaspoons, of added sugars daily. The recommendation comes as the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of revamping the Nutrition Facts Panel to include the listing of added sugars.

Eating foods high in added sugars throughout childhood is linked to the development of such risk factors for heart disease as increased risk of obesity and elevated blood pressure in children and young adults, according to the A.H.A.

“Children who eat foods loaded with added sugars tend to eat fewer healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that are good for their heart health,” said Miriam Vos, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Emory State University School of Medicine, Atlanta. “There has been a lack of clarity and consensus regarding how much added sugar is considered safe for children, so sugars remain a commonly added ingredient in foods and drinks, and overall consumption by children remains high: The typical American child consumes about triple the recommended amount of added sugars.”

The statement was written by a panel of experts who did a review of scientific research on the effect of added sugars on children’s health. The panel also recommended that added sugars should not be included in the diet of children under the age of 2 years. The calorie needs of children in the age group are lower than older children and adults, so there is little room for food and beverages containing added sugars that don’t provide them with good nutrition. In addition, taste preferences begin early in life, so limiting added sugars may help children develop a life-long preference for healthier foods.

Shortly after the A.H.A. published its recommendation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation came out in strong support of the idea.

“This guidance builds on several notable developments that demonstrate an encouraging national commitment to healthy eating,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the R.W.J.F. “Over the past several years, schools across the country have made significant strides in eliminating sugary beverages and foods from cafeterias and vending machines and replacing them with healthier options.

“Looking ahead, the updated Nutrition Facts Panel that will require food and beverage companies to clearly indicate the amount of added sugars on packaged items — along with national menu labeling rules covering chain restaurants and grocery stores — is poised to help parents and consumers make healthy choices. We urge industry leaders to build on these efforts by following this guidance closely as they develop, reformulate, and market foods and beverages intended for children.”

This past May, the F.D.A. published new rules for the redesign of the agency’s Nutrition Facts Panel. Starting in July 2018, food and beverage companies with sales greater than $10 million will be required to include the amount of added sugars as well as vitamin D and potassium to be in compliance with federal regulations.

Source: Baking Business

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