Friday, January 29, 2016

Andean Bean: Small Bean for Sweet Dreams

Researchers identify key characteristics for localized productivity

January 29, 2016The story of the Andean bean is, in a way, similar to that of the Princess and the Pea. However, in this tale, the Princess is global food security and the pea is another kind of seed: Andean beans.

In the fairy tale, a small lump of a pea keeps the princess awake at night, buried deep under a stack of mattresses. Although she isn’t aware of the pea, the pea has a great impact on her well-being.

Likewise, until now, the world hasn’t paid much attention to Andean bean, but it has the potential to have a huge impact on our well-being. Andean beans have the potential to help us sleep better at night by keeping stomachs full and food growing.

Though not buried under a stack of mattresses, Andean beans (for example, red kidney beans) were overlooked by researchers because other beans were easier to breed.

However, Karen Cichy, a research geneticist for the United States Department of Agriculture, and her global partners took notice of the Andean bean. They recognized its potential to play a role in feeding the world.
Cichy explains, “Our goal from the beginning of the project was to improve bean productivity in eastern and southern African countries where beans are a staple of diets.”

In order to improve bean productivity, Cichy, Phil Miklas, Tim Porch, and collaborators studied the genetic diversity of Andean beans. They wanted to identify potentially good parental lines for breeding programs.

The researchers started out by collecting 396 Andean bean samples from locations in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, and Ecuador. Then, they extracted DNA from the samples and analyzed the DNA looking for gene diversity.
Next, the researchers grew groups of Andean beans in various locations around the globe.

 In each location, they studied what characteristics the beans displayed and how the bean’s genes interacted with the environment.

For example, in Tanzania researchers looked to see how well the beans grew in low-fertility soil. In the state of Washington, researchers studied how well the beans grew in drought conditions. In all, researchers grew beans in five different countries and studied eight different bean characteristics.

Cichy is thrilled with the global teamwork. “It is amazing how quickly progress can be made with collaborators all over Africa, North America, and the Caribbean evaluating the same materials in diverse environments and for diverse traits.”

Information about Andean beans is now in a database. This will provide researchers the genetic information they need to breed better beans more suited to local conditions.

For example, farmers struggle with low fertility soil in east Africa, so scientists can use the database information to breed beans that will grow better in low fertility areas. This is welcomed news for small farmers in Africa, and great news for the rest of us as well.

Andean beans are rich in essential protein, iron, and fiber. They also fix nitrogen into soil while growing, improving the soil for future crops. Cichy and her team’s work on Andean beans may help farmers produce more beans for more people, and feed the world.

Look in Crop Science for more about the team’s findings.

Dried beans and peas are part of a food group known as pulses. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP).

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Yale Team Deciphers Sugar's Siren Song

Newswise, January 27, 2016 — Sugar’s sweetness and calorie content combine to give it lethal power to destroy diets, many scientists have assumed. However, new study by Yale University researchers says the brain responds to taste and calorie counts in fundamentally different ways. And only one of these responses explains why most New Years’ resolutions have already disappeared under a deluge of Boston Crème Pies.

It’s the brain’s desire for calories — not sweetness — that dominates our desire for sugars, according to the study appearing Jan. 25 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“It turns out the brain actually has two segregated sets of neurons to process sweetness and energy signals,” said Ivan de Araujo of the John B. Pierce Laboratory and senior author of the study.

”If the brain is given the choice between pleasant taste and no energy, or unpleasant taste and energy, the brain picks energy.”

Both sweet taste and nutrient value register in the striatum, an ancient region of the brain involved in processing rewards. Humans have a sweet tooth as one way to ensure we eat enough to give our large brains enough calories to operate at peak efficiency.

However, the Yale team studying the brains of mice showed that signals for taste and nutrients are processed in two separate areas of the striatum, the ventral and dorsal, respectively.

Signals about the value of taste are processed in the ventral striatum while nutritional value was processed in the dorsal striatum. The dorsal striatum remained responsive to energy even when calories fed to mice were paired with a very aversive taste.

The researchers then asked which signal had more control over eating behavior.

Mice fed both sugar with sweet taste but no calories or sugar that contained calories but was altered to taste horribly preferred the sugar with energy. When neurons in dorsal striatum were activated by light a technique called optogenetics, mice also ate copious amounts of bad-tasting sugar.

“The sugar-responsive circuitry in the brain is therefore hardwired to prioritize calorie seeking over taste quality,” de Iraujo said.

The authors hope findings help spur new strategies aiming at curbing excess sugar intake.

Luis Tellez of Yale is lead author of the paper. The National Institutes of Health funded the research.

Regular Caffeine Consumption Does Not Result in Extra Heartbeats, Study Shows

Newswise, January 27, 2016 — Contrary to current clinical belief, regular caffeine consumption does not lead to extra heartbeats, which, while common, can lead in rare cases to heart- or stroke-related morbidity and mortality, according to UC San Francisco researchers.

The study, which measured the chronic consumption of caffeinated products over a 12-month period, rather than acute consumption, appears in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association. It is the largest to date to have evaluated dietary patterns in relation to extra heartbeats.

“Clinical recommendations advising against the regular consumption of caffeinated products to prevent disturbances of the heart’s cardiac rhythm should be reconsidered, as we may unnecessarily be discouraging consumption of items like chocolate, coffee and tea that might actually have cardiovascular benefits,” said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, MAS, a UCSF Health cardiologist and director of clinical research in the UCSF Division of Cardiology.

 “Given our recent work demonstrating that extra heartbeats can be dangerous, this finding is especially relevant.”

Excessive premature atrial contractions (PACs) have been shown to result in atrial fibrillation, stroke and death, while excessive premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) have been shown to result in increased heart failure, coronary artery disease and death.

Both abnormalities have been tied to caffeine consumption through studies and trials, but these studies were performed several decades ago and did not use PACs and PVCs as a primary outcome.

Nonetheless, the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines on the management of PVCs state that if a patient’s history is consistent with premature extra beats, potential exacerbating factors such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine should be eliminated. Other online medical resources for clinicians offer similar recommendations.

Recent growing evidence indicates the potential cardiovascular benefits of several common caffeinated products such as coffee, chocolate and tea. The result is clinician uncertainty in counseling patients on consumption of these products, with patients possibly reducing their intake to avoid presumed cardiac issues.

In their study, Marcus and his colleagues analyzed 1,388 randomly selected participants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Cardiovascular Health Study database of nearly 6,000 patients, excluding those with persistent extra heartbeats.

They were given a baseline food frequency assessment and 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiography monitoring. Frequencies of habitual coffee, tea and chocolate consumption were determined through a survey.

Of the total participants, 840 (61 percent) consumed more than one caffeinated product daily.

The researchers found no differences in the number of PACs or PVCs per hour across levels of coffee, tea and chocolate consumption. More frequent consumption of these products was not associated with extra heartbeats.

“This was the first community-based sample to look at the impact of caffeine on extra heartbeats, as previous studies looked at people with known arrhythmias,” said lead author Shalini Dixit, BA, a fourth-year medical student at UCSF.

“Whether acute consumption of these caffeinated products affects extra heartbeats requires further study.”

Food Imported from Low-GDP Nations Poses Higher Safety Risks

Newswise, January 27, 2016 — Food imported into the United States from countries with a low gross domestic product (GDP) poses higher risks than food from richer countries, according to a new study analyzing 10 years’ worth of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data on food import violations.

The new study comes amid concerns as the United States imports increasingly large amounts of fish, meat, vegetables, and other products.

The novel analysis of FDA’s 2002-2007 data on food import violations suggests that “the size of a country’s economy appears to be a more important determinant of food safety than its wealth,” or GDP per capita, according to the study, “Import Security: Assessing the Risks of Imported Food.”

The research was conducted by Jonathan Welburn and Vicki Bierof the University of WisconsinMadison, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineeringand Steven Hoerning, of Stanford Universitys Graduate School of Business. It was published in the online version of Risk Analysis, a publication of the Society for Risk Analysis.

“We present a novel use of existing data to provide partial answers on food import risks that are not easy to obtain by other means,” says Welburn.

“Our results suggest that the risk level of imported food is higher for foods from low-GDP countries. High-GDP countries, on the other hand, may be better able to reduce risks through standards and regulations.

“Consequently, importers may wish to pay more for products from high-GDP countries, or work closely with suppliers from low-GDP countries to ensure good safety practices.”

“The results should be useful to supply-chain managers in determining whether the cost savings associated with a change to a lower cost source country are worthwhile given possible increases in risk, and also in assessing the need for risk-reduction measures such as producer safety training for some product types and source countries,” according to the authors. The results should also help FDA target inspections, they add.

To quantify imported food risks, the researchers used FDA Inspection Refusal Report (IRR) data. FDA generates an IRR when its inspectors refuse to admit a shipment into the United States.

Imports can be refused for botulism, filth, rotting foods, or other blatant food-safety concerns, as well as for “less dramatic violations,” such as the lack of required documentation.

FDA only needs to prove the appearance of a violation, not an actual violation, so a refusal is “not an absolute measure of risk, and is interpreted as a proxy for risk,” according to the paper.

In closely examining the FDA violations data by country, the researchers concluded, “refusals alone are not a good indicator of risk.”

The data showed that the top 15 violators were all major U.S. trading partners, such as Mexico, China, and the United Kingdom, suggesting that the number of refusals is driven by food import volume.

But when the refusals were normalized using the volume of imports (measured in millions of dollars), major trading partners were no longer exclusively identified as the high-risk countries and the list no longer included high-income countries.

For example, the normalized analysis found that the highest-risk country, Iraq, has averaged 204 refusals per million dollars of imports and Somalia has averaged 191 refusals per million dollars of imports.

As an example of a low-risk, low-GDP country, Costa Rica averaged 41 refusals per billion dollars of imports. China exemplifies a high-GDP nation that is better able to manage risks. Normalizing refusals data helps put the data into perspective, and the “rate of refusals is clearly a better risk measure than refusals alone,” the authors conclude.

The researchers call for improved data management and transparency. “In particular, import violations data must be collated with separate trade data to quantify risks,” says Welburn, urging improved data management and transparency. “To facilitate this analysis, it would be helpful if the database on import violations corresponded more closely with the database on trade volumes.”

Risk Analysis: An International Journal is published by the nonprofit Society for Risk Analysis (SRA), an interdisciplinary, scholarly, international society that provides an open forum for all who are interested in risk analysis, a critical function in complex modern societies. Risk analysis includes risk assessment, risk characterization, risk communication, risk management, and risk policy affecting individuals, public- and private-sector organizations, and societies at a local, regional, national, or global level.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Going to the Grocery Isn't Just for Shopping for Dietetics & Human Nutrition Researcher

Alison Gustafson is passionate about studying food access, specifically among rural & geographically isolated populations

Newswise, January 21, 2016— Most of us view a trip to the grocery store as a chore, but for one University of Kentucky professor, it’s all in a day’s work.

Alison Gustafson, an assistant professor in UK’s Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, has always been interested in people, what they eat and why they make the choices they make when it comes to food. 

“One of my favorite things to do is to walk the aisles of a grocery store or a gas station,” Gustafson said. “So the food stores out in the counties are my labs.”

But the path from an undergraduate degree from Bradley University in dietetics to a career as a scholar at UK did not happen overnight.

Gustafson spent time in Washington, D.C. working on nutrition policy, earned a master’s degree in public health at Boston University and even worked with AIDS orphans and HIV-positive mothers in Zimbabwe. The common theme in each of these roles was access to food. 

But she really tapped into her passion for research while working for a small health department in Illinois. There, Gustafson received a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to conduct research on weight loss among breast cancer survivors. At the same time, she was invited to teach a class at a local community college.

"I loved doing research, which involved reaching out to people and helping them to improve their lives," said Gustafson. "And I found teaching to be fascinating. The combination of interacting with students in the classroom while also working on a research project was stimulating. It tripped my trigger. It was then I decided to pursue my Ph.D."

Gustafson, now in her fifth year as a faculty member in the University of Kentucky's Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, earned her doctorate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where her dissertation focused on nutrition epidemiology.

She worked with minority women in rural populations as they tried to lose weight. That was her “aha” moment.

“They were talking about how there was nowhere to shop to buy the food we were telling them to buy,” Gustafson said. “So, you can tell people all this food to buy and you should buy more apples and even if culturally that fits with someone’s culture, if they don’t have access to that type of food and it’s not affordable, they’re not buying it.” 

Her research at UK examines how the food environment impacts obesity among rural populations. Gustafson conducts community-based behavioral interventions focused on chronic disease prevention

Monday, January 11, 2016

Assessing the New U.S. Dietary Guidelines

Newswise, January 11, 2016 — U.S. government officials released the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) on January 7, 2016. Nutrition expert Frank Hu, who served on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—which made recommendations on what should be included in the guidelines—assesses the new advice on how the nation should eat.

What are the most significant changes between the new dietary guidelines and the previous ones?

One of the most positive changes is the recommendation that no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugars. This is the first time that the DGAs set an upper limit for added sugar intake. This change has an important implication for the FDA’s decision to include the amount of “added sugars” and its percent daily value (%DV) in the upcoming revised Nutrition Facts label; currently the label lists only “sugars.”

Another important positive change is the removal of an upper limit for total dietary fat, and a greater emphasis on consuming certain types of fat. The guidelines recommend a limit of 10% of daily calories for saturated fat, and that saturated fat be replaced with unsaturated and especially polyunsaturated fat. It basically says that we should eat a low saturated fat diet rather than simply a low-fat diet.

The report also acknowledges that moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-ounce cups per day) can be incorporated into a healthy diet—although not with too much sugar and cream.

Overall, this edition of the DGAs has put a greater emphasis on overall healthy diet patterns, which include the Mediterranean-style pattern and a healthy vegetarian pattern. These patterns can be adapted according to individuals’ cultural and food preferences.

The new guidelines say that eating processed meats and poultry—acknowledged as sources of sodium and saturated fats—“can be accommodated” in a healthy diet, and that lean meats are also okay. What do you think of this recommendation?

This recommendation is inconsistent with the DGAC report, which advised lower consumption of red and processed meats for the prevention of chronic diseases. Although the new DGAs recommend a “shift to healthier food and beverage choices,” it’s not specified which “less healthy choices” should be reduced in the main recommendations.

In general, the DGAC report was much more specific than the new DGAs. In the DGAC report, a healthy dietary pattern was defined not just in terms of “healthy choices” such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts/seeds, and seafood, but also in terms of reduced intake of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains. In the new DGAs, these specific food-based recommendations are replaced by vague recommendations like eating “a variety of nutrient-dense foods.” Such vague language may lead to more confusion in the general public.

Are there any recommendations from the DGAC that did not make it into the new guidelines that you wish had been included?

Although there are some areas of improvement in this edition of the DGAs over previous ones, some simple but important recommendations are watered down, especially reducing consumption of red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages. These recommendations would have been easier for the general public to understand and act upon than specific nutrient cutoff points—such as consuming no more than 10% of calories from saturated fat or added sugars—although it’s still important to keep these cutoff points in the DGAs.

Environmental sustainability, a major topic in the DGAC report, was unfortunately declared out of the scope of the DGAs by the USDA, due to political pressure from Congress and the meat industry. Current evidence indicates that a dietary pattern rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower amounts of animal-based food—especially red meat—is more health promoting and is also associated with lesser environmental impact. 

Many countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, and Brazil have included food sustainability in their dietary guidelines. The fact that food sustainability is left out of the DGAs is a hugely missed opportunity to educate the public about the environmental impact of their food choices, and to create a food system that is more sustainable and conducive to the health of both humans and the planet. Hopefully the 2015 DGAC report has planted a seed for future DGAs to embrace food sustainability as part of the dietary guidelines.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mayo Clinic Diet Offers a Healthy Approach for Whole Year — Not Just New Year

Newswise, January 6, 2016. — Turning the calendar to a new year often finds people working on their commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

When it comes to losing weight, experts advise taking a longer view, beyond a New Year’s resolution.

“Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is best accomplished through a lifestyle approach,” says Donald Hensrud, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program and medical editor-in-chief of the Mayo Clinic Diet.

“You should follow a dietary pattern that is practical. If it’s too restrictive, it’s impossible to sustain.”

Today, the Mayo Clinic Diet was named No. 1 in the Commercial Diet category by U.S. News & World Report.

The Mayo Clinic Diet offers a weight-loss and lifestyle program that’s based on research and clinical experience.

Learn more about the diet in The Mayo Clinic Diet book. An online program also gives access to meal plans, recipes, interactive tools like an iOS app for Apple operating systems, and fitness plans and exercises.

The two-phase program offers a two-week jump-start to weight loss and a lifelong approach to diet and health. The dietary plan is built around health-supporting vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil. There’s no calorie counting. Instead, the diet focuses on generous amounts of vegetables and fruits, and healthy choices in other food groups. No foods are excluded. Portions of higher-calorie foods are limited. Physical activity of at least 30 minutes most days also is emphasized to highlight overall health — not just weight.

People with health conditions are encouraged to talk with their doctor before starting any diet or exercise plan.

“When you make even small changes in your diet and exercise habits, you decrease your health risks from many conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep apnea,” Dr. Hensrud says. “That’s a gift to you and your family all year-round.”

About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to medical research and education, and providing expert, whole-person care to everyone who needs healing. For more information, visit or