Rice Risks

In January 2016, the EU imposed a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to mitigate associated health risks. Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s have found that little has changed since this law was passed and that 50 per cent of baby rice food products still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic.

Professor Meharg, lead author of the study and Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at Queen’s, said: “This research has shown direct evidence that babies are exposed to illegal levels of arsenic despite the EU regulation to specifically address this health challenge. Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby’s growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few.”

Rice has typically, ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage.

As babies are rapidly growing they are at a sensitive stage of development and are known to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems. Babies and young children under the age of five also eat around three times more food on a body weight basis than adults, which means that relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

The research findings, published in the PLOS ONE journal today, compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning. A higher concentration of arsenic was found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those who were fed non-dairy formulas which includes rice-fortified formulas favoured for infants with dietary requirements such as wheat or dairy intolerance. The weaning process further increased infants’ exposure to arsenic, with babies five times more exposed to arsenic after the weaning process, highlighting the clear link between rice-based baby products and exposure to arsenic.

In this new study, researchers at Queen’s also compared baby food products containing rice before and after the law was passed and discovered that higher levels of arsenic were in fact found in the products since the new regulations were implemented. Nearly 75 per cent of the rice-based products specifically marketed for infants and young children contained more than the standard level of arsenic stipulated by the EU law.

Rice and rice-based products are a popular choice for parents, widely used during weaning and to feed young children, due to its availability, nutritional value and relatively low allergic potential.

Professor Meharg explained: “Products such as rice-cakes and rice cereals are common in babies’ diets. This study found that almost three-quarters of baby crackers, specifically marketed for children exceeded the maximum amount of arsenic.”

Previous research led by Professor Meharg highlighted how a simple process of percolating rice could remove up to 85 per cent of arsenic. Professor Meharg adds: “Simple measures can be taken to dramatically reduce the arsenic in these products so there is no excuse for manufacturers to be selling baby food products with such harmful levels of this carcinogenic substance.

“Manufacturers should be held accountable for selling products that are not meeting the required EU standard. Companies should publish the levels of arsenic in their products to prevent those with illegal amounts from being sold. This will enable consumers to make an informed decision, aware of any risks associated before consuming products containing arsenic.”

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Dairy Camel

A growing number of wild camels from central Australia are being turned into dairy cows, as interest in the camel milk industry builds.
The number of dairies has now risen to around 10 and more products are starting to appear on the market including fresh pasteurised camels’ milk, cheese, ice-cream, yoghurt, camel milk powder and skincare.

Dairy Camel
Chris Williams and his wife Megan are former dairy cattle farmers, who first encountered camels when they worked on a beef property in the outback, where the humped animals were seen as pests.
But when they decided to set up their own business at Kyabram in Victoria, Mr Williams said they “wanted something niche”, and gave camels a second look.

“We researched many different things… milking goats, buffalo, even miniature Herefords at one stage and then we heard you can milk camels,” he said.
The high retail price was also a drawcard.
Pasteurised camel milk sells for more than $20 per litre in some states.
Farmers say camel milk is expensive because the production costs are high and the yields are much lower than what dairy cattle produce.
“We couldn’t have budgeted for how much it was going to cost to just get a litre of milk from a camel, having been no major research or industry,” Ms Williams said.
“Even just last year, cost of production was up around $17 per litre just to produce it.”
One producer who is diversifying into new products is Lauren Brisbane who owns QCamel in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
“We have a real opportunity to develop this industry and be able to supply milk around the world if we all work together,” she said.
Ms Brisbane has been working with camels for 12 years and decided to start milking them a few years ago.
“I’m really passionate about them. They’re so intelligent, that’s what I love,” she said.
But she also warns it is a risky industry not a cash cow.
“If people are coming, looking at it and going oh we’re going to make all this money then don’t bother,” she said.
“There’s nothing quick about a camel, it takes time.”

That isn’t stopping a growing number of local and international companies from investing.
It’s understood Chinese investors are looking at setting up a camel milk business in South Australia.
And investors from the United Arab Emirates have already funded Camilk’s $8 million pilot farm at Rochester, north of Melbourne.
Then there’s The Australian Wild Camel Corporation at Harrisville, south-west of Brisbane, which has the country’s largest herd of 450 animals including 65 milkers.
The company, which is being funded by local investors, aims to build the milking herd to 1,000 over the next few years.
“Our main issue is to take it from that cottage industry,” chief operating officer Paul Martin said.
“We’ve got to jump that hurdle and get it into a commercial where we can sell the produce overseas on volume and start to get our efficiencies on farm.”
Like other farmers, Mr Martin is trying to get the public to see camels in a new light by producing cheese, ice-cream and skincare.
“In a land like Australia we’ve got this animal that can survive through pretty well anything mother nature can throw at it and we’re shooting it,” he said.
“And yet it produces meat, it produces milk, it produces fat products, hide leather. It’s an amazing animal.”

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Going Gluten Free

Unintended Consequences.

People who eat a gluten-free diet may be at risk for increased exposure to arsenic and mercury, toxic metals that can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurological effects, according to a report in the journal Epidemiology.

Gluten-free diets have become popular in the U.S., although less than 1 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease; an out-of-control immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease, but others often say they prefer eating gluten-free because it reduces inflammation, a claim that has not been scientifically proven. In 2015, one-quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free, a 67 percent increase from 2013.

Gluten-free products often contain rice flour as a substitute for wheat. Rice is known to bio-accumulate certain toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury from fertilizers, soil, or water, but little is known about the health effects of diets high in rice content.

Maria Argos, assistant professor of epidemiology in the UIC School of Public Health, and her colleagues looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey searching for a link between gluten-free diet and biomarkers of toxic metals in blood and urine.

They found 73 participants who reported eating a gluten-free diet among the 7,471 who completed the survey, between 2009 and 2014. Participants ranged in age from 6 to 80 years old.

People who reported eating gluten-free had higher concentrations of arsenic in their urine, and mercury in their blood, than those who did not. The arsenic levels were almost twice as high for people eating a gluten-free diet, and mercury levels were 70 percent higher.

“These results indicate that there could be unintended consequences of eating a gluten-free diet,” Argos said. “But until we perform the studies to determine if there are corresponding health consequences that could be related to higher levels of exposure to arsenic and mercury by eating gluten-free, more research is needed before we can determine whether this diet poses a significant health risk.”

“In Europe, there are regulations for food-based arsenic exposure, and perhaps that is something we here in the United States need to consider,” Argos said. “We regulate levels of arsenic in water, but if rice flour consumption increases the risk for exposure to arsenic, it would make sense to regulate the metal in foods as well.”

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Tomato Flavour

Consumers say supermarket tomatoes lack flavour, so a University of Florida researcher led a global team on a mission to identify the important factors that have been lost and put them back into modern tomatoes.

In a study published in the journal Science, Harry Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, identifies the chemical combinations for better tomato flavour.

“We’re just fixing what has been damaged over the last half century to push them back to where they were a century ago, taste-wise,” said Klee, stressing that this technique involves classical genetics, not genetic modification. “We can make the supermarket tomato taste noticeably better.”

Step one was to find out which of the hundreds of chemicals in a tomato contribute the most to taste.

Modern tomatoes lack sufficient sugars and volatile chemicals critical to better flavour, Klee said. Those traits have been lost during the past 50 years because breeders have not had the tools to routinely screen for flavour, he said.

To help, researchers studied what they call “alleles,” the versions of DNA in a tomato gene that give it its specific traits. Klee likened the concept to DNA in humans. Everyone has the same number of genes in their DNA, but a particular version of each gene determines traits such as height, weight and hair colour.

“We wanted to identify why modern tomato varieties are deficient in those flavour chemicals,” Klee said. “It’s because they have lost the more desirable alleles of a number of genes.”

Scientists then identified the locations of the good alleles in the tomato genome, he said. That required what’s called a genome-wide assessment study. There, scientists mapped genes that control synthesis of all the important chemicals. Once they found them, they used genetic analysis to replace bad alleles in modern tomato varieties with the good alleles, Klee said.

The U.S. is second only to China in worldwide tomato production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Florida and California account for two-thirds to three-fourths of all commercially produced fresh-market tomatoes in the U.S. Florida growers produce 33,000 acres of tomatoes worth $437 million annually as of 2014, according to UF/IFAS economic research.

Because breeding takes time, and the scientists are studying five or more genes, Klee said the genetic traits from his latest study may take three to four years to produce in new tomato varieties.

tomatoes


 

What Goes In

Scientists have developed a urine test that measures the health of a person’s diet.

The five-minute test measures biological markers in urine created by the breakdown of foods such as red meat, chicken, fish and fruit and vegetables.

The analysis, developed by researchers from Imperial College London, Newcastle University and Aberystwyth University, also gives an indication of how much fat, sugar, fibre and protein a person has eaten.

Although the work is at an early stage, the team hope that with future development the test will be able to track patients’ diets. It could even be used in weight loss programmes to monitor food intake.

Evidence suggests people inaccurately record their own diets, and under-report unhealthy food while over-reporting fruit and vegetable intake and that the likelihood of inaccuracies in food diaries increases if a person is overweight or obese.

Professor Gary Frost, senior author of the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial said: “A major weakness in all nutrition and diet studies is that we have no true measure of what people eat. We rely solely on people keeping logs of their daily diets, but studies suggest around 60 per cent of people misreport what they eat to some extent. This test could be the first independent indicator of the quality of a person’s diet and what they are really eating.”

In the study, published in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology and conducted at the MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre, the researchers asked 19 volunteers to follow four different diets, ranging from very healthy to very unhealthy. These were formulated using World Health Organisation dietary guidelines, which advise on the best diets to prevent conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The volunteers strictly followed these diets for three days while in a London research facility, throughout which the scientists collected urine samples in the morning, afternoon and evening.

The research team then assessed the urine for hundreds of compounds, called metabolites, produced when certain foods are broken down in the body.

These included compounds that indicate red meat, chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as giving a picture of the amount of protein, fat, fibre and sugar eaten. They also included compounds that point to specific foods such as citrus fruits, grapes and green leafy vegetables.

From this information the researchers were able to develop a urine metabolite profile that indicated a healthy, balanced diet with a good intake of fruit and vegetables. The idea is this ‘healthy diet’ profile could be compared to the diet profile from an individual’s urine, to provide an instant indicator of whether they are eating healthily.

The scientists then tested the accuracy of the test on data from a previous study. This included 225 UK volunteers as well as 66 people from Denmark. All of the volunteers had provided urine samples, and kept information on their daily diets.

Analysis of these urine samples enabled the researchers in the current study to accurately predict the diet of the 291 volunteers.

Professor John Mathers, co-author from the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University, said: “For the first time, this research offers an objective way of assessing the overall healthiness of people’s diets without all the hassles, biases and errors of recording what they’ve eaten.”

The team now hope to refine the technology by testing it on larger numbers of people. They also need to further assess the accuracy of the test on an average person’s diet, outside of a research setting.

Dr Isabel Garcia-Perez, co-author from the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial explained: “We need to develop the test further so we can monitor the diet based on a single urine sample, as well as increase the sensitivity. This will eventually provide a tool for personalised dietary monitoring to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. We’re not at the stage yet where the test can tell us a person ate 15 chips yesterday and two sausages, but it’s on the way.”

The team added the technology may one day be used alongside weight loss programmes, as well as patient rehabilitation, for instance to help heart attack patients follow a healthy diet.

Professor Elaine Holmes, co-author from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial added: “We are hoping to make this test available to the public within the next two years. The idea would be to collect a urine sample at home and deliver it to a local centre for analysis. We envisage the tool being used by dieticians to help guide their patients’ dietary needs, or even by individuals who are interested in finding out more about the relationship between diet and their health”

Dr Des Walsh, head of population and systems medicine at the Medical Research Council said: “Though this research is still in its early stages, it’s grappling with essential methods in food and diet studies where advances are really needed. Measuring what we eat and drink more accurately will widen the benefits of nutrition research, developing better evidence-based interventions to improve individual’s health and reduce obesity.”

Professor John Draper, co-author from Aberystwyth University added: “The future challenge is to apply the technology developed in this laboratory study in a community setting and objectively monitor diet in the home. The teams in Aberystwyth and Newcastle have been doing just this and the results are looking very promising.”

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Microwave Tea

Zapping your food has the potential to unlock many more culinary and health benefits as food scientist Dr Quan Vuong has found during years of research.
Dr Vuong, who works at the University of Newcastle on the New South Wales Central Coast, specialises in finding ways to “add value” to natural products by extracting bioactive compounds with antioxidant capacities.
His 2012 research on extracting compounds in tea has recently garnered much interest across ABC Radio.
The discussion followed an online outcry from UK audiences of TV drama Broadchurch, when actor David Tennant microwaved his cup of tea.

 

In Dr Vuong’s study though, to extract, isolate and purify the important components of green tea and black tea, he found that the following method activated 80 per cent of the caffeine, theanine and polyphenol compounds, and generated the best taste.
Put hot water in the cup with your teabag.
Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds on half power.
Let it sit for a minute.

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P.S. Don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger.


 

First Taste

An international team of scientists led by the University of Bristol, has uncovered the earliest direct evidence of humans processing plants for food found anywhere in the world.

Researchers at the Organic Geochemistry Unit in the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, working with colleagues at Sapienza, University of Rome and the Universities of Modena and Milan, studied unglazed pottery dating from more than 10,000 years ago, from two sites in the Libyan Sahara.

The invention of cooking has long been recognised as a critical step in human development.

Ancient cooking would have initially involved the use of fires or pits and the invention of ceramic cooking vessels led to an expansion of food preparation techniques.

Cooking would have allowed the consumption of previously unpalatable or even toxic foodstuffs and would also have increased the availability of new energy sources.

Remarkably until now, evidence of cooking plants in early prehistoric cooking vessels has been lacking.

The researchers detected lipid residues of foodstuffs preserved within the fabric of unglazed cooking pots.

Significantly, over half of the vessels studied were found to have been used for processing plants based on the identification of diagnostic plant oil and wax compounds.

Detailed investigations of the molecular and stable isotope compositions showed a broad range of plants were processed, including grains, the leafy parts of terrestrial plants, and most unusually, aquatic plants.

The interpretations of the chemical signatures obtained from the pottery are supported by abundant plant remains preserved in remarkable condition due to the arid desert environment at the sites.

The plant chemical signatures from the pottery show that the processing of plants was practiced for over 4,000 years, indicating the importance of plants to the ancient people of the prehistoric Sahara.

Dr Julie Dunne, a post-doctoral research associate at Bristol’s School of Chemistry and lead author of the paper, said: “Until now, the importance of plants in prehistoric diets has been under-recognised but this work clearly demonstrates the importance of plants as a reliable dietary resource.

“These findings also emphasise the sophistication of these early hunter-gatherers in their utilisation of a broad range of plant types, and the ability to boil them for long periods of time in newly invented ceramic vessels would have significantly increased the range of plants prehistoric people could eat.”

Co-author Professor Richard Evershed, also from Bristol’s School of Chemistry, added: “The finding of extensive plant wax and oil residues in early prehistoric pottery provides us with an entirely different picture of the way early pottery was used in the Sahara compared to other regions in the ancient world.

“Our new evidence fits beautifully with the theories proposing very different patterns of plant and animal domestication in Africa and Europe/Eurasia.”

The research was funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and is published in Nature Plants.

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