Popcorn: the snack with even higher antioxidant levels than fruits and vegetables

Popcorn’s reputation as a snack food that’s actually good for health popped up a few notches today as scientists reported that it contains more of the healthful antioxidant substances called “polyphenols” than fruits and vegetables. They spoke at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, being held in San Diego, USA this week.

Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a pioneer in analyzing healthful components in chocolate, nuts and other common foods, explained that the polyphenols are more concentrated in popcorn, which averages only about 4 percent water, while polyphenols are diluted in the 90 percent water that makes up many fruits and vegetables.

In another surprising finding, the researchers discovered that the hulls of the popcorn –– the part that everyone hates for its tendency to get caught in the teeth –– actually has the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

“Those hulls deserve more respect,” said Vinson, who is with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. “They are nutritional gold nuggets.”

The overall findings led Vinson to declare, “Popcorn may be the perfect snack food. It’s the only snack that is 100 percent unprocessed whole grain. All other grains are processed and diluted with other ingredients, and although cereals are called “whole grain,” this simply means that over 51 percent of the weight of the product is whole grain. One serving of popcorn will provide more than 70 percent of the daily intake of whole grain. The average person only gets about half a serving of whole grains a day, and popcorn could fill that gap in a very pleasant way.”

Vinson cautioned, however, that the way people prepare and serve popcorn can quickly put a dent in its healthful image. Cook it in a potful of oil, slather on butter or the fake butter used in many movie theaters, pour on the salt; eat it as “kettle corn” cooked in oil and sugar — and popcorn can become a nutritional nightmare loaded with fat and calories.

“Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course,” Vinson said. “Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many calories as air-popped popcorn. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself.”

Likewise, Vinson pointed out that popcorn cannot replace fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and other nutrients that are critical for good health, but are missing from popcorn.

Vinson explained that the same concentration principle applies to dried fruit versus regular fruit, giving dried fruit a polyphenol edge. Previous studies found low concentrations of free polyphenols in popcorn, but Vinson’s team did the first study to calculate total polyphenols in popcorn. The amounts of these antioxidants were much higher than previously believed, he said. The levels of polyphenols rivaled those in nuts and were up to 15 times greater than whole-grain tortilla chips.

The new study found that the amount of polyphenols found in popcorn was up to 300 mg a serving compared to 114 mg for a serving of sweet corn and 160 mg for all fruits per serving. In addition, one serving of popcorn would provide 13 percent of an average intake of polyphenols a day per person in the U.S. Fruits provide 255 mg per day of polyphenols and vegetables provide 218 mg per day to the average U.S. diet.

Michael G. Coco, an undergraduate chemistry student at the University of Scranton who participated in the study, said he benefited in several ways.

“From working on this project with Dr. Vinson, I’ve gained experience and many insights in doing scientific research,” said Coco. “Besides the obvious things like learning how to use instrumentation and perform analyses, I’ve also learned that research is extremely satisfying, especially when you discover or think of something no one else has thought of.”

 

Peppermint Helps to Relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome

University of Adelaide researchers have shown how peppermint helps to relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which affects up to 20% of the population.

In a paper published in the international journal Pain in 2011, researchers from the University’s Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory explain how peppermint activates an “anti-pain” channel in the colon, soothing inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr Stuart Brierley says while peppermint has been commonly prescribed by naturopaths for many years, there has been no clinical evidence until now to demonstrate why it is so effective in relieving pain.

“Our research shows that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibres, particularly those activated by mustard and chilli. This is potentially the first step in determining a new type of mainstream clinical treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),” he says.

IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder, causing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. It affects about 20% of Australians and costs millions of dollars each year in lost productivity, work absenteeism and health care.

“This is a debilitating condition and affects many people on a daily basis, particularly women who are twice as likely to experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” Dr Brierley says.

“Some people find their symptoms appear after consuming fatty and spicy foods, coffee and alcohol, but it is more complex than that. There appears to be a definite link between IBS and a former bout of gastroenteritis, which leaves nerve pain fibres in a heightened state, altering mechanisms in the gut wall and resulting in ongoing pain.”

Dr Brierley says the recent floods in Queensland and Victoria could result in a spike of gastroenteritis cases in Australia due to the contamination of some water supplies in affected regions.

He said case studies in Europe and Canada showed that many people who contracted gastroenteritis from contaminated water supplies went on to experience IBS symptoms that persisted for at least eight years.

There is no cure for IBS and it often comes and goes over a person’s lifetime.

Apart from gastroenteritis and food intolerance, IBS can be brought on by food poisoning, stress, a reaction to antibiotics, and in some cases is genetic.

Dr Brierley is one of 25 researchers who work at the University of Adelaide’s Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory, hoping to find cures and treatments for a range of intestinal diseases.

 

Reference

Harrington AM, Hughes PA, Martin CM, Yang J, Castro J, Isaacs NJ, Blackshaw LA, Brierley SM. A novel role for TRPM8 in visceral afferent function. Pain 2011; 152 (7): 1459-1468.

 

Broccoli and Genes:

Sulfur in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may hold the key to healing genetic diseases(NaturalNews) Our mothers were right. Broccoli is good for us, but possibly in ways our mothers never knew. Health practitioners and fitness experts around the world have heralded the benefits of broccoli for decades. Scientists have long demonstrated the antioxidant properties of broccoli.

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Mediterranean Diet Gives Longer Life

Gianluca Tognon is a scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

A Mediterranean diet with large amounts of vegetables and fish gives a longer life. This is the unanimous result of four studies to be published by the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. Research studies ever since the 1950s have shown that a Mediterranean diet, based on a high consumption of fish and vegetables and a low consumption of animal-based products such as meat and milk, leads to better health.

Study on older people

Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy have now studied the effects of a Mediterranean diet on older people in Sweden. They have used a unique study known as the “H70 study” to compare 70-year-olds who eat a Mediterranean diet with others who have eaten more meat and animal products. The H70 study has studied thousands of 70-year-olds in the Gothenburg region for more than 40 years.

Chance of living longer

The results show that those who eat a Mediterranean diet have a 20% higher chance of living longer. “This means in practice that older people who eat a Mediterranean diet live an estimated 2 3 years longer than those who don’t”, says Gianluca Tognon, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

Support in other studies

These results are supported by three further as yet unpublished studies into Mediterranean diets and their health effects: one carried out on people in Denmark, the second on people in northern Sweden, and the third on children.

“The conclusion we can draw from these studies is that there is no doubt that a Mediterranean diet is linked to better health, not only for the elderly but also for youngsters”, says Gianluca Tognon.

Italian background

Gianluca Tognon himself is from Italy, but moved to Sweden and Gothenburg specifically to collaborate with Lauren Lissner’s research group at the Sahlgrenska Academy, and develop research into the Mediterranean diet.

UNESCO has recognised the Mediterranean diet as an intangible cultural heritage. UNESCO states that the Mediterranean diet is based on such items as fish, vegetables, nuts and fruit, but the concept includes also a structure of traditional customs in which knowledge is transferred between generations, giving a feeling of communal identity and continuity to the local population.

 

Reference

Tognon G, Rothenberg E, Eiben G, Sundh V, Winkvist A, Lissner L. Does the Mediterranean diet predict longevity in the elderly? A Swedish perspective. Age (Dordr) 2011;  33 (3): 439–450.

 

Strawberries Protect The Stomach From Alcohol

The positive effects of strawberries are linked to their antioxidant capacity.

In an experiment on rats, European researchers have proved that eating strawberries reduces the harm that alcohol can cause to the stomach mucous membrane. Published in the open access journal Plos One, the study may contribute to improving the treatment of stomach ulcers.

A team of Italian, Serbian and Spanish researchers has confirmed the protecting effect that strawberries have in a mammal stomach that has been damaged by alcohol. Scientists gave ethanol (ethyl alcohol) to laboratory rats and, according to the study published in the journal Plos One, have thus proved that the stomach mucous membrane of those that had previously eaten strawberry extract suffered less damage.

Sara Tulipani, researcher at the University of Barcelona (UB) and co-author of the study explains that “the positive effects of strawberries are not only linked to their antioxidant capacity and high content of phenolic compounds (anthocyans) but also to the fact that they activate the antioxidant defences and enzymes of the body.”

The conclusions of the study state that a diet rich in strawberries can have a beneficial effect when it comes to preventing gastric illnesses that are related to the generation of free radicals or other reactive oxygen species. This fruit could slow down the formation of stomach ulcers in humans.

Gastritis or inflammation of the stomach mucous membrane is related to alcohol consumption but can also be caused by viral infections or by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (such as aspirin) or medication used to treat against the Helicobacter pylori bacteria.

Maurizio Battino, coordinator of the research group at the Marche Polytechnic University (UNIVPM, Italy) suggests that “in these cases, the consumption of strawberries during or after pathology could lessen stomach mucous membrane damage.”

The team found less ulcerations in the stomachs of those rats which had eaten strawberry extract (40 milligrams/day per kilo of weight) for 10 days before being given alcohol.

Battino emphasises that “this study was not conceived as a way of mitigating the effects of getting drunk but rather as a way of discovering molecules in the stomach membrane that protect against the damaging effects of differing agents.”

Treatments for ulcers and other gastric pathologies are currently in need of new protective medicines with antioxidant properties. The compounds found within strawberries could be the answer.

 

Reference

Alvarez-Suarez JM, Dekanski D, Ristić S, Radonjić NV, Petronijević ND, Giampieri F, Astolfi P, González-Paramás AM, Santos-Buelga C, Tulipani S, Quiles JL, Mezzetti B, Battino M. Strawberry Polyphenols Attenuate Ethanol-Induced Gastric Lesions in Rats by Activation of Antioxidant Enzymes and Attenuation of MDA Increase. Plos One 2011; 6 (10): e25878.

 

Fruits and vegetables reduce risks of specific types of colorectal cancers

According to new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association

The effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on colorectal cancer (CRC) appear to differ by site of origin, according to a new study published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Researchers found that within the proximal and distal colon, brassica vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli) were associated with decreased risk of these cancers. A lower risk of distal colon cancer was associated with eating more apples, however an increased risk for rectal cancer was found with increasing consumption of fruit juice.

“Fruits and vegetables have been examined extensively in nutritional research in relation to CRC, however, their protective effect has been subject to debate, possibly because of different effects on different subsites of the large bowel,” commented lead investigator Professor Lin Fritschi, PhD, head of the Epidemiology Group at the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, Perth, Western Australia. “It may be that some of the confusion about the relationship between diet and cancer risk is due to the fact that previous studies did not take site of the CRC into account. The replication of these findings in large prospective studies may help determine whether a higher intake of vegetables is a means for reducing the risk of distal CRC.”

Researchers from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, University of Western Australia and Deakin University investigated the link between fruit and vegetables and three cancers in different parts of the bowel: proximal colon cancer, distal colon cancer, and rectal cancer. The case-control study included 918 participants with a confirmed CRC diagnosis and 1021 control participants with no history of CRC. The subjects completed extensive medical and nutritional questionnaires and were assigned a socioeconomic status based on their home address.

Consumption of brassica vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage) was associated with reduced incidence of proximal colon cancer. For distal colon cancer, both total fruit and vegetable intake and total vegetable intake appeared to decrease risk. Distal colon cancer risk was significantly decreased in association with intake of dark yellow vegetables and apples, although there was an increased risk for rectal cancer with consumption of fruit juice. Risk of proximal colon cancer and rectal cancer was not associated with intakes of total fruit and vegetable, total vegetable or total fruit.

Previous studies on CRC have often failed to distinguish between the different sites of origin of cancers in the large bowel, even though it is now well established that tumors in the proximal colon develop along different pathways to those of the distal colon and rectum and that risk of cancer varies by subsite within the colorectum. The mechanisms for different effects of dietary components on different sites of the large bowel have not yet been determined.

The authors conclude that “from a public health point of view it is easier to translate food-based analyses into dietary recommendations, rather than using the intake of single nutrient.”

A video featuring commentary by Professor Fritschi and colleagues

 

Reference

Annema N, Heyworth JS, McNaughton SA, Iacopetta B, Fritschi L. Fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of proximal colon, distal colon and rectal cancers in a case-control study in Western Australia. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2011; 111 (10): 1479-1490.

 

Research demonstrates new breeds of broccoli remain packed with health benefits

Research performed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and published recently in the journal Crop Science has demonstrated that mineral levels in new varieties of broccoli have not declined since 1975, and that the broccoli contains the same levels of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium and other minerals that have made the vegetable a healthy staple of American diets for decades.

 

“This research provides data on the nutritional content of broccoli for breeders to consider as they further improve this important vegetable,” said Edward B. Knipling, administrator of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency. “The research demonstrates how ARS is helping to find answers to agricultural problems that impact Americans every day, from field to table.”

A team of three scientists evaluated the mineral content of 14 broccoli cultivars released over a span of more than 50 years: ARS geneticist and research leader Mark Farnham at the agency’s U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C.; plant physiologist Michael Grusak at the USDA-ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston, Texas; and Clemson University scientist Anthony Keinath.

The researchers grew the 14 cultivars in two field trials in 2008 and 2009, and harvested florets for testing.

“Our studies show that not much has changed in terms of mineral content in the last 35 years in a crop that has undergone significant improvement from a quality standpoint and that was not widely consumed in the United States before the 1960s,” said Farnham.

Broccoli florets in the study were tested for levels of calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, sodium, phosphorous, sulfur and zinc. Results indicated significant cultivar differences in floret concentrations of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, sodium, phosphorous and zinc, but not of potassium, manganese, molybdenum or sulfur. There was no clear relationship between mineral concentration and release year.

“For broccoli cultivars grown during the past 35 years, when hybrids became the standard cultivar, evidence indicates that mineral concentrations remain unchanged,” said Farnham. “As broccoli breeders continue to improve this crop in the future, data from this study can serve as a very useful guide in helping breeders understand the variation in mineral concentrations they should expect among their breeding stocks and also provide a realistic baseline that should be maintained as other characteristics are manipulated in the future.”

 

Reference

Farnham MW, Keinathb AP, Grusakc MA. Mineral Concentration of Broccoli Florets in Relation to Year of Cultivar Release. Crop Science 2011; 51: 2716-2720.

 

Eating green veggies improves immune defenses

Researchers reporting online in the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication, on October 13th have found another good reason to eat your green vegetables, although it may or may not win any arguments with kids at the dinner table.

It turns out that green vegetables — from bok choy to broccoli — are the source of a chemical signal that is important to a fully functioning immune system. They do this by ensuring that immune cells in the gut and the skin known as intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs) function properly.

“It is still surprising to me,” said Marc Veldhoen of The Babraham Institute in Cambridge. “I would have expected cells at the surface would play some role in the interaction with the outside world, but such a clear cut interaction with the diet was unexpected. After feeding otherwise healthy mice a vegetable-poor diet for two to three weeks, I was amazed to see 70 to 80 percent of these protective cells disappeared.”

Those protective IELs exist as a network beneath the barrier of epithelial cells covering inner and outer body surfaces, where they are important as a first line of defense and in wound repair. Veldhoen’s team now finds that the numbers of IELs depend on levels of a cell-surface protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), which can be regulated by dietary ingredients found primarily in cruciferous vegetables. Mice lacking this receptor lose control over the microbes living on the intestinal surface, both in terms of their numbers and composition.

Earlier studies suggested that breakdown of cruciferous vegetables can yield a compound that can be converted into a molecule that triggers AhRs. The new work finds that mice fed a synthetic diet lacking this key compound experience a significant reduction in AhR activity and lose IELs. With reduced numbers of these key immune cells, animals showed lower levels of antimicrobial proteins, heightened immune activation and greater susceptibility to injury. When the researchers intentionally damaged the intestinal surface in animals that didn’t have normal AhR activity, the mice were not as “quick to repair” that damage.

As an immunologist, Veldhoen says he hopes the findings will generate interest in the medical community, noting that some of the characteristics observed in the mice are consistent with those seen in patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

“It’s tempting to extrapolate to humans,” he said. “But there are many other factors that might play a role.”

For the rest of us, he says, “it’s already a good idea to eat your greens.” Still, the results offer a molecular basis for the importance of cruciferous vegetable-derived phyto-nutrients as part of a healthy diet.

 

Reference

Li Y, Innocentin S, Withers DR, Roberts NA, Gallagher AR, Grigorieva EF, Wilhelm C, Veldhoe M. Exogenous Stimuli Maintain Intraepithelial Lymphocytes via Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Activation. Cell 2011 Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]

 

Health benefits of broccoli require the whole food, not supplements

New research has found that if you want some of the many health benefits associated with eating broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables, you need to eat the real thing – a key phytochemical in these vegetables is poorly absorbed and of far less value if taken as a supplement.

The study, published by scientists in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, is one of the first of its type to determine whether some of the healthy compounds found in cruciferous vegetables can be just as easily obtained through supplements.

The answer is no.

And not only do you need to eat the whole foods, you have to go easy on cooking them.

“The issue of whether important nutrients can be obtained through whole foods or with supplements is never simple,” said Emily Ho, an OSU associate professor in the OSU School of Biological and Population Health Sciences, and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

“Some vitamins and nutrients, like the folic acid often recommended for pregnant women, are actually better-absorbed as a supplement than through food,” Ho said. “Adequate levels of nutrients like vitamin D are often difficult to obtain in most diets. But the particular compounds that we believe give broccoli and related vegetables their health value need to come from the complete food.”

The reason, researchers concluded, is that a necessary enzyme called myrosinase is missing from most of the supplement forms of glucosinolates, a valuable phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables. Without this enzyme found in the whole food, the study found that the body actually absorbs five times less of one important compound and eight times less of another.

Intensive cooking does pretty much the same thing, Ho said. If broccoli is cooked until it’s soft and mushy, its health value plummets. However, it can still be lightly cooked for two or three minutes, or steamed until it’s still a little crunchy, and retain adequate levels of the necessary enzyme.

The new study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. It was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Broccoli has been of particular interest to scientists because it contains the highest levels of certain glucosinolates, a class of phytochemicals that many believe may reduce the risk of prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancer. When eaten as a raw or lightly-cooked food, enzymes in the broccoli help to break down the glucosinolates into two valuable compounds of intensive research interest – sulforaphane and erucin.

Studies have indicated that sulforaphane, in particular, may help to detoxify carcinogens, and also activate tumor suppressor genes so they can perform their proper function.

Most supplements designed to provide these glucosinolates have the enzyme inactivated, so the sulforaphane is not released as efficiently. There are a few supplements available with active myrosinase, and whose function more closely resembles that of the whole food, but they are still being tested and not widely available, Ho said.

Small amounts of the myrosinase enzyme needed to break down glucosinolates are found in the human gut, but the new research showed they accomplish that task far less effectively than does whole food consumption.

Although broccoli has the highest levels of glucosinolates, they are also found in cauliflower, cabbage, kale and other cruciferous vegetables. The same cooking recommendations would apply to those foods to best retain their health benefits, Ho said.

Many people take a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals as supplements, and many of them are efficacious in that form, researchers say. Higher and optimal levels of popular supplements such as vitamins C, E, and fish oil, for instance, can be difficult to obtain through diet alone. Some researchers believe that millions of people around the world have deficient levels of vitamin D, because they don’t get enough in their diet or through sun exposure.

But for now, if people want the real health benefits of broccoli, there’s a simple guideline.

Eat your vegetables.

 

Reference

Clarke JD, Riedl K, Bella D, Schwartz SJ, Stevens JF, Ho E. Comparison of Isothiocyanate Metabolite Levels and Histone Deacetylase Activity in Human Subjects Consuming Broccoli Sprouts or Broccoli Supplement. J Agric Food Chem 2011 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]

 

Study Shows Soy Protein Reduced Progression Of Clogged Arteries In Women Within 5 Years Of Menopause

This large scale, first-of-a-kind study will be published in the November issue of Stroke

A new study published in the November 2011 issue of Stroke reveals some promising data on the positive effects of soy protein reducing the progression of clogged arteries in women who were within five years of menopause. This study was the largest and longest randomized controlled human study conducted to-date that directly investigated the efficacy of isolated soy protein consumption on the progression of atherosclerosis (lipid deposition in the artery walls).

“These results are consistent with what we have learned through research conducted over the past decade,” said Howard N. Hodis, MD, USC Keck School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “The literature demonstrates that there is a ‘window of opportunity’ of a potential beneficial effect on coronary heart disease for products that bind to the estrogen receptor including hormone-replacement therapy, soybean isoflavones or selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) when initiated in women within 5-6 years of menopause.”

The progression rate of carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) trended to be 16 percent lower on average in the isoflavone-containing soy protein group compared with the placebo group. However, in women who had experienced menopause within the past five years, isolated soy protein consumption was associated with a significant 68 percent reduction in CIMT progression compared to those consuming the placebo.

Excellent compliance was observed for this study as determined by package and bar count (86.5 percent for placebo and 91.0 percent for isolated soy protein). Compliance was confirmed by plasma and urine isoflavone measurements.

“The high compliance suggests that the clinical study products provided by Solae were very palatable and were not associated with any significant adverse effects as confirmed by the data,” said Elaine Krul, PhD, nutrition discovery lead, Solae.

Subjects in this study were ‘healthy’ with no previous signs of cardiovascular disease which may explain the lack of significant reduction in plasma lipids that is seen in persons with higher plasma lipid levels.

“This study also showed a significant increase in HDL (“the good”) cholesterol in participants consuming isolated soy protein,” said Krul. “The results of this study reinforce that soy protein can provide health benefits for the healthy aging market segment.”

 

Reference

Hodis HN, Mack WJ, Kono N, Azen SP, Shoupe D, Hwang-Levine J et al; for the Women’s Isoflavone Soy Health Research Group. Isoflavone Soy Protein Supplementation and Atherosclerosis Progression in Healthy Postmenopausal Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Stroke 2011 Sep 8. [Epub ahead of print]