How polyphenols make probiotics work better

Probiotics in dietToday we hear a lot about probiotics, especially when popular yogurts are fortified with them. So what are they? The term probiotics is simply a synthesized word for live microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) that may have some health benefits. In the lower part of your gut, you have a virtual zoo of microorganisms. Some are beneficial; others are very harmful. In fact, it is estimated that you have 10 times as many microorganisms in the gut than the entire number of cells that constitute your body. Of the hundreds of different microorganisms in the gut, two usually stand out as probiotic stars: Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.

It appears that selected strains of these particular microorganisms have anti-inflammatory properties, which inhibit the activity of nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB), the genetic “master switch” that turns on inflammation (1,2). Certain yeasts secrete a soluble factor that also inhibits NF-κB (3), and this may be the same mechanism that those “friendly” bacteria use to reduce inflammation.

But here’s the problem with probiotics — you have to get enough of the live organisms into the gut to provide any benefits. It’s easy to fortify them into some yogurt product that is kept at low temperature, but getting those bacteria to pass through the digestive system and reach the lower part of the large intestine is another story. It is estimated that 99.999 percent of the live probiotics are digested in the process.

So how can you enhance the biological action of those extremely few probiotics that actually make it alive to the lower intestine? The answer is polyphenols. Like probiotics, polyphenols also inhibit NF-κB (4,5). In fact, polyphenols are the primary agents that protect plants from microbial attack.

Unlike probiotics, polyphenols are more robust in their ability to reach the lower intestine. But like probiotics you have to take enough polyphenols to have a therapeutic effect in the gut. You will probably need at least 8,000 ORAC units per day to maintain adequate levels of polyphenols in the gut. That is approximately 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But if you want to significantly reduce the existing inflammatory burden in the gut and the rest of body, you have to consume a lot more polyphenols. Supplementation with highly purified polyphenols becomes your only realistic alternative.

And here is where I think the real benefits of dietary polyphenols may reside. By reducing the inflammatory load in the gut, you can automatically reduce the anti-inflammatory load in the rest of the entire body. So before you take that next serving of probiotic-fortified yogurt, make sure you are taking adequate levels of polyphenols to make sure those probiotics actually deliver their marketing promises.

References

  1. Hegazy SK and El-Bedewy MM. “Effect of probiotics on pro-inflammatory cytokines and NF-kappaB activation in ulcerative colitis.” World J Gastroenterol 16: 4145-4151 (2010)
  2. Bai AP, Ouyang Q, Xiao XR, and Li SF. “Probiotics modulate inflammatory cytokine secretion from inflamed mucosa in active ulcerative colitis.” Int J Clin Pract 60: 284-288 (2006)
  3. Sougioultzis S, Simeonidis S, Bhaskar KR, Chen X, Anton PM, Keates S, Pothoulakis C, and Kelly CP. “Saccharomyces boulardii produces a soluble anti-inflammatory factor that inhibits NF-kappaB-mediated IL-8 gene expression. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 343: 69-76 (2006)
  4. Romier B, Van De Walle J, During A, Larondelle Y, and Schneider YJ. “Modulation of signaling nuclear factor-kappaB activation pathway by polyphenols in human intestinal Caco-2 cells.” Br J Nutr 100: 542-551 (2008)
  5. Jung M, Triebel S, Anke T,Richling E, and Erkel G. “Influence of apple polyphenols on inflammatory gene expression.” Mol Nutr Food Res 53: 1263-1280 (2009)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

The new “eat less” USDA Food Pyramid

For the first time in recent history the new USDA dietary guidelines finally reflect the realization that America has an obesity epidemic.

Five years ago, its dietary guidelines were best characterized as “eat more; exercise more”. After all, their constituency is not the American public but American agribusiness. Due to the constant fear of incurring the wrath of powerful food lobbies, the USDA dietary recommendations were virtually useless in preventing the spread of obesity and diabetes in America.

Now the Guidelines are somewhat helpful as they suggest that fruits and vegetables should occupy one-half your plate. Although that volume is not equal to the two-thirds of the plate that I have advocated for more than 15 years, at least it is a start. Unfortunately, the “eat-less” message is more deeply buried within the Guidelines.

This is because the “eat-less” message is a difficult one to digest for American agribusiness, whose revenue growth is based on “eat more”. Today agribusiness produces more than 4,000 calories per day for every American. For Americans to eat less, every sector of agribusiness (except the fruit and vegetable sector) has to make less money. In reality these new guidelines don't come out and actually say eat less of anything.

When the secretary of agriculture was asked if the guidelines might suggest something like eating less meat, his response was like asking President Clinton his definition of sex — it depends. (Well, that remark will drive comments for sure!). Obviously, he didn't want to offend the meat lobby.

The one segment of the agribusiness sector the USDA was willing to throw under the bus was the salt lobby due to the strong USDA message to eat less salt. Of course, the Salt Institute responded, “Obesity, not salt, is the main culprit in rising blood pressure rates”. The obvious implication is salt has no calories; therefore, the blame should be on those sectors of agribusiness that sell products that contain calories. Unfortunately, it is the responsibility of the USDA to promote those specific sectors.

If you are encouraged to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, eat more seafood (just forget about contamination), and replace dairy with soy protein, then what do you have to reduce in order to eat fewer calories? The usual suspects would be saturated fats, (which Harvard now tells us aren't so bad for heart disease), and sugar. Unfortunately, those recommendations are buried deep within the report. Without those ingredients it is difficult to make the tasty, cheap processed foods that drive the profits of agribusiness. This sounds very similar to our current budget crisis: No one wants to raise taxes, and no one wants to lower spending, although everyone wants to reduce the deficit.

Finally, the new guidelines contain the message that there is “no optimal proportion of macronutrients that can facilitate weight loss or assist in maintaining weight loss”. Maybe they should read the DIOGENES study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that came to an opposite conclusion (1). Of course, why let published nutritional science stand in the way of intuitive eating. I guess we will have to wait another five years for the next update of the USDA Guidelines.

References

  1. Larsen TM, Dalskov SM, van Baak M, Jebb SA, Papadaki A, Pfeiffer AF, Martinez JA, Handjieva-Darlenska T, Kunesova M, Pihlsgard M, Stender S, Holst C, Saris WH, and Astrup A. “Diets with high or low-protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance.” N Engl J Med 363: 2102-2113 (2010)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Coffee and diabetes: What’s the connection?

One of the great controversies in nutrition is the role of coffee and human health. On the one hand, coffee is the primary source of polyphenols in the American diet because of the lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, coffee is rich in caffeine, an alkaloid that acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system and is known to be an addictive agent (1). In fact, Roland Griffiths, professor of Behavioral Biology at the John Hopkins School of Medicine (and my old college roommate), says, “Caffeine is the world’s most widely used mood-altering drug.” So the question remains is caffeine good for you?

No one knows for sure, but one interesting point has been made that it appears the more coffee you drink, the lower your risk for developing diabetes (2). In fact, if you drink more than four cups of coffee per day, you decrease your risk of diabetes by 50 percent. This new research demonstrates that coffee increases the levels of sex hormone-binding globlin (SHBG) in the blood. As I pointed out in my book “The Anti-Aging Zone,” SHBG plays an important role in sequestering the levels of estrogen and testosterone in the blood so that levels of these unbound sex hormones that can interact with their receptors are tightly regulated (3). Usually as insulin resistance increases, the levels of SHBG decrease in the blood (4). This can lead to an over-stimulation of the receptors by the unbound sex hormones resulting in increased risk for breast and prostate cancer development.

What in the coffee actually causes the increase in SHBG is unknown, but what is known is that once you decaffeinate the coffee, all its benefits on the elevation of SHBG levels and any reduction in risk for diabetes disappear.

It is highly unlikely that caffeine by itself is beneficial for reducing type 2 diabetes, since there were no benefits related to drinking tea or to total daily caffeine intake (2). Perhaps some other compound that was also extracted with the caffeine may play a role in the reduction of type 2 diabetes.

So what really happens when you decaffeinate coffee? First, you soak the beans in water to remove the caffeine and flavors as well as the polyphenols. Then you treat the water with organic solvents (methylene chloride or ethyl acetate) to remove the caffeine (as well as many of the polyphenols and much of the flavor). Then (assuming you have removed all of the organic solvent), you add back the treated water extract to the beans to hopefully reabsorb some of the flavors back into them. Obviously, not all the flavors or polyphenols return since the resulting taste is far less robust than the original coffee bean.

So it seems to me that exploring what else has been extracted in addition to the caffeine may lead to new dietary treatments for diabetes. Whether that will be done is highly unlikely. Instead of waiting for such experiments, you might as well follow the best treatment for preventing diabetes, which is following the anti inflammatory diet for a lifetime. That is how you control cellular inflammation, which is the driving force for development of type 2 diabetes (5,6).

References

1. Juliano LM and Griffiths RR. “A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features.” Psychopharmacology 176: 1-29 (2004)

2. Goto A, Song Y, Chen BH, Manson JE, Buring JE, and Liu S. “Coffee and caffeine consumption in relation to sex hormone-binding globulin and risk of type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal women.” Diabetes 60: 269-275 (2011)

3. Sears B. “The Anti-Aging Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1999)

4. Akin F, Bastemir M, and Alkis E. “Effect of insulin sensitivity on SHBG levels in premenopausal versus postmenopausal obese women.” Adv Ther 24: 1210-1220 (2007)

5. Sears B. “Anti-inflammatory diets for obesity and diabetes.” J Coll Amer Nutr 28: 482S-491S (2009)

6. Sears B. “The Anti-Inflammation Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2005)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Another good reason to eat your fruits and vegetables

Your grandmother always told you, you couldn’t leave the table until you ate all your vegetables. She was giving you the essence of reducing your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The trouble with testing any dietary hypothesis (even Grandma’s advice on vegetables) is the complexity of understanding nutrition. Unlike drugs, which are based on linear thinking (one drug affects one enzyme and that treats you), nutrition is based on non-linear thinking. That means nutrition is more like a three-dimensional chess match. Whenever you change one component (i.e. amount of fat) in the diet, there will be unintended changes as something else is automatically changed as a consequence (like either an increase in dietary protein or carbohydrate to make up the difference of the reduction of dietary fat). This secondary dietary change may totally obscure what you are trying to study. This explains why so many dietary studies appear to produce such wishy-washy results. To try to get around this constant dilemma, investigators often do extremely large epidemiological studies, using people who are initially disease-free and ask how an exposure to some dietary variable affects the development of a particular disease or more importantly death from a particular disease. These are called prospective cohort studies.

As you might imagine, there are very few of these studies since they require a very large number of subjects, and if the outcome is death, then they have to be followed for a very long time. This also means that these studies are extremely expensive. In a soon-to-be-published article in the European Heart Journal is a massive prospective cohort study (with more than 300,000 subjects and based upon an average of eight years of follow-up) that suggested if you ate more fruits and vegetables, your likelihood of dying of heart disease was reduced by 22 percent (1).

How much is more fruits and vegetables? It is about eight servings per day, and it appeared to be a dose-response effect. For each serving of fruits or vegetables, the risk of death from heart disease goes down by 4 percent. Bottom line, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the greater the reduction in cardiovascular death.

Since you have to eat, why not eat right if your goal is reducing the risk of death from heart disease. If you are eating more fruits and vegetables, then something must be removed from the diet if the calories are to remain constant. The most logical choice would be reducing grains and starches as you increase fruits and vegetables. In the process, you reduce the glycemic load of the diet and reduce production of insulin. This will not only reduce your risk of dying from heart disease, but also help you lose excess body fat (2)

Notice that I keep emphasizing the words death and dying. The prevailing “wisdom” in the cardiovascular community is that it doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you reduce cholesterol levels. And since increased fruits and vegetables consumption has little impact on cholesterol levels, we are told that if you really want to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease, it’s imperative that you must take a statin drug for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, the research data doesn’t support such optimism. For example, if subjects are studied who have no heart disease (these are called primary prevention studies), then taking statin drugs has no impact on reducing their all-cause mortality (3). In other words, any reduction in cardiovascular death was offset by increases of death from other causes. Not such a good deal if your goal is reducing death whatever the cause. Another group of researchers came to the conclusion after analyzing a number of published trials using statin drugs for the primary prevention of developing heart disease, that there was no compelling reason for their use (4). Since the vast majority of the people taking statin drugs have no established heart disease, this would mean the continued prescription of these drugs comes close to health-care fraud.

But what if you already have heart disease? What is the best way to reduce the risk of dying from it? To answer that question, you undertake secondary prevention studies using death (it’s very easy to measure) as your clinical endpoint. In secondary prevention studies, statins will reduce cardiovascular mortality by about 20 percent in people who already have established heart disease. But if you really want to reduce the likelihood of dying from existing heart disease (like by 70 percent), then you not only have to have the patients increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, but also remove much of the omega-6 fatty acids from the diet and replace them with omega-3 fats (5).

If you do both of these dietary changes (replace grains and starches with more fruits and vegetables as well as replace omega-6 fats with omega-3 fats), then you are essentially following the anti inflammatory diet. That’s how you live longer whether you have heart disease or not.

References

1. Crowe FL, Roddam AW, Key TJ, et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality form ischaemic heart disease.” Eur Heart Journal 32: doi 10.1093 (2011)

2. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)

3. Ray KK, Seshsai SRK, Erqou S, Sever P, Jukema JW, Ford I, and Sattar NS. “Statins and all-cause morality in high-risk primary prevention.” Arch Intern Med 170: 1024-1031 (2010)

4. Taylor F, Ward K, Moore THM, Burke M, Davey-Smith G, Casas JP, and Ebrahim S. “Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.” The Cochrane Library Issue 1 (2011)

5. de Lorgeril M, Renaud S, Mamelle N, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Guidollet J, Touboul P, and Delaye J. “Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease.” Lancet 343: 1454-1459 (1994)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

The secret of blueberries: It’s the dephinidins

We continually hear about the benefits of fruits and vegetables for better health. There are a number of them. One is obviously their lower glycemic load that reduces insulin secretion. Another is their polyphenol content that gives fruits and vegetables their colors. Although virtually no research was conducted on polyphenols before 1995, since that time there has been a explosion of animal studies that have indicated their remarkable benefits as anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

Upon deeper inspection, there is one group of polyphenols that seems to generate the most consistent health benefits. These are the delphinidins. Delphinidins are a subgroup of a family of polyphenols known as anthocyanidins. To make the story about delphinidins more intriguing, they are primarily found in blueberries. More specifically, the primary sources of delphinidins are the American blueberry, the Russian blueberry (i.e. bilberry), and the Patagonian blueberry (i.e. maqui berry). This is why the published clinical studies in humans seem to consistently involve blueberries. And the clinical data is impressive. Whether it is about reducing oxidized cholesterol or improving insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome (1,2) or improving memory in patients with early dementia (3), the human data on the use of blueberries simply jumps out at you.

Since the active ingredient in each of these varieties of blueberries appears to be the delphinidins, then it is reasonable that the higher the levels of this particular polyphenol, the better the potential results. The Russian blueberry contains six times more delphinidins than American blueberries, and the Patagonia blueberry contains 14 times more delphinidins than the American blueberry. This probably reflects the harsher growing climates that other forms of blueberries are exposed to when compared to the American blueberry, which has become overly domesticated (making it richer in fructose and lower in delphinidins).

However, as with all natural products you have to take a therapeutic dose to get a therapeutic effect. You could measure this therapeutic threshold in terms of their anti-oxidative potential (measured in ORAC units) or the actual amounts of delphinidins themselves. It appears that for a blueberry extract to be effective requires that it provides at least 16,000 ORAC units per day. To put this in perspective, this level of ORAC units is equivalent to eating greater than 20-30 servings of vegetables on a daily basis.

But if the delphinidins are so important for the benefits of blueberries, isn’t it possible that the smaller amounts of the maqui berry might be even more beneficial because of its higher delphinidin concentration? That’s why we have several ongoing clinical trials to explore that potential. I will keep you informed as the results start coming in. Yet in the meantime, keep eating lots of those colorful carbohydrates just like your grandmother told you to eat.

References
1. Stull AJ, Cash KC, Johnson WD, Champagne CM, and Cefalu WT. “Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant men and women.” J Nutr 140: 1764-1768 (2010)
2. Basu A, Du M, Leyva MJ, Sanchez K, Betts NM, Wu M, Aston CE, and Lyons TJ. “Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome.” J Nutr 140: 1582 1588 (2010)
3. Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, Kalt W, Vinqivst-Tymchuk R, Shukitt-Hale R, and Joseph JA. “Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults.” J Agric Food Chem 58: 3996-4000 (2010)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Aspirin…not just for heart disease

As I pointed in my first book, “The Zone,” more than 15 years ago, aspirin remains a wonder drug because of its ability to reduce inflammation (1). The medical community now uses aspirin for the prevention of strokes and heart attacks, but a recent study may extend its anti-inflammatory benefits to cancer survivors.

A study pre-published online from The Lancet examined various clinical trials comparing the long-term mortality of those individuals who used aspirin or didn’t (2). This meta-analysis study indicated that relatively low-dose aspirin (about 75 mg or a baby aspirin a day) reduced cancer deaths in various long-term cancer survivors by about 20 percent. So should all of us be taking a baby aspirin daily? Possibly, but aspirin does have side effects, especially in terms of bleeding.

But one thing you can do with total safety is to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. It turns out that fruits and vegetables contain salicylates, the group of compounds that represents the major active ingredient in aspirin. In addition, fruits and vegetables also contain other anti-inflammatory polyphenols (the chemicals that give plants their color). Since plants don’t have access to the local pharmacy to protect themselves from microbial invasion, they have to synthesize their own “drugs”. By consuming fruits and vegetables, we are constantly visiting our “food” pharmacy. Their defense mechanisms now become our nutritional allies in silencing inflammatory gene expression that is turned on when certain food components (such as omega-6 and saturated fats) fool the most primitive part of the immune system (the innate immune system) to think it is under microbial attack.

Most of the inflammation that drives cardiovascular disease and cancer starts with this type of cellular inflammation induced by our diet (3). It’s taken new breakthroughs in molecular biology to finally understand that what’s good for the plant is also going to be great for us if we want to live a longer and better life.

References
1. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)
2. Rothwell PM, Fowkes FG, Belch JF, Ogawa H, Warlow CP, and Meade TW. “Effects of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomized trials.” Lancet, Early Online Publication, 7 December (2010)
3. Sears B. “The Anti-Inflammation Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2005)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

New September beginnings

Even though it has been some time since I’ve been in school, September still signals the start of something new in my mind. The summer is officially over, we’ve enjoyed our last holiday for a while and work begins to pick up again. I feel this same renewed sense with my health. It’s been a nice three-month run with barbecues, get togethers with friends and vacations; but now it’s time to reestablish some type of routine in my life and to get back on track.

I almost look forward to this sense of normalcy again. I challenge you to embark on this fresh start with me. With the cooler temperatures starting to roll in, this is a great time of year to enjoy kayaking, canoeing, running or even going on a family bike ride. Take pleasure in the fresh fruits and vegetables that are available at your local farmers markets, which typically run until mid-October. If you live in the northern part of the country, soon you’ll be able to make an outing of going apple and pumpkin picking too.

So with three months to go before the hustle and bustle of the holiday season rolls in, use this time to focus on you and your health because what better time to start than now?

Mary Dinehart-Perry MS, RD, LDN
is clinical trials director for Zone Labs

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

The Mood-lifting properties of B-vitamins

In a previous blog we addressed the impact of omega-3 fatty acids and their mood-lifting properties, and now it looks like we can add certain B-vitamins to the list. A recent publication in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at whether dietary intakes of vitamin B-6, B-12 and folate had an association with depressive symptoms in a community-based population of adults aged 65 and older over a period of seven years (1). The study concluded that higher intakes of vitamin B-6 and B-12, but not folate, were associated with a decreased likelihood of depressive symptoms. This held true even after 12 years of follow-up. For every 10 micrograms of intake of B-6 and every 10 micrograms of B-12, there was a 2 percent decline in depressive symptoms per year.

Besides their mood lifting properties, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 have other important roles. Vitamin B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in more than 100 enzymes needed for protein metabolism. It’s critical for red blood cell metabolism, and it plays a role in the nervous and immune system (2). Vitamin B-12 is also a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in red blood cell formation, neurological function and DNA synthesis (3).

Now that you’ve read this article, it doesn’t mean go out and purchase mega doses of these vitamins. It’s not hard to consume either of these vitamins in your diet. Vitamin B-6 is found in a variety of foods from beans, meat, poultry, fish and some fruits and vegetables. Unlike B-6, the main dietary sources of vitamin B-12 include animal sources: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. B-12 is not found in plant foods unless they are fortified. Three ounces of clams supply approximately 34 micrograms of B-12, about 570 percent of the daily intake (3). If you feel like your intake of either of these vitamins is low, a multi-vitamin that supplies no more than 100 percent of the daily value should be sufficient.

1) Skarupski KA, Tangney C, Li H, Ouyang B, Evans DA, Morris MC. Longitudinal association of vitamin B-6, folate, and vitamin B-12 with depressive symptoms among older adults over time. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun 2. [Epub ahead of print]

2) Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: B6. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb6.asp. Accessed: July 2, 2010.

3) Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: B-12. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb12.asp. Accessed: July 2, 2010.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Go organic…or not?

A hotly debated topic is whether it’s worth it to buy organic versus conventional produce. Let’s first define what organic means. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic food is produced without the use of most conventional pesticides; and no synthetic ingredients, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or radiation (1).

For meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products this means that the animals are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. In a time when people are trying to cut back on their expenses, it’s hard to justify spending $5 on organic strawberries, but is it worth it? Unfortunately, the literature isn’t there just yet to support whether nutritionally speaking organic is better than conventional. The studies that do exist are flawed and few and far between (2).

However, a recent article in CNN poses the question of whether the benefits of organic come from the fact that they aren’t exposed to as many pesticides as conventional produce (3). The Environmental Working Group is an organization that has created a ranking system of fruits and vegetables based on their likelihood of being contaminated with the highest levels of pesticides (4). The ranking is established after the fruits and vegetables have been washed or peeled. The top offenders include those that have soft skins because they are more likely to absorb pesticides, which they term the “Dirty Dozen” (3). These include: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale and collard greens, cherries, potatoes, imported grapes and lettuce. The good news is that there are a good number of non-organic fruits and vegetables without high levels of pesticides. Since many fruits and vegetables have peels, they offer a higher level of protection, which have been dubbed the “Clean 15” since they have little to no pesticides (3). These include onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi fruit, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes and sweet onions.

So what does all of this mean? Do you need to stop eating celery and strawberries if they are conventionally grown? Absolutely not! First off, let me say that the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks of the pesticides they may contain. Even for conventional produce the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the USDA set limits for the amount of pesticides that can be used on farms to be safe.

From a nutritional standpoint the scientific literature isn’t there to support buying organic over conventional produce. The advantage of buying organic may come with those fruits and vegetables that have soft skins or are porous as they may absorb more of the pesticides used on them compared to those that have peels and are more durable.

To save on costs, it may be worth checking out your local farmers’ markets since now is a great time to take advantage of summer produce. Inquire as to what types of pesticides are used or consider the option to pick your own. Another idea is to check out Community Supported Agriculture, which is a popular way for people to buy locally grown produce and have it delivered right to your home. With this option you have a better way of determining how the produce you eat is handled, plus it’s fresher since it has traveled a smaller distance from the farm to your table.

References

1. What is organic production? Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/ofp/ofp.shtml. Accessed: June 9, 2010.

2. Williams CM. Nutritional quality of organic food: shades of grey or shades of green? Proc Nutr Soc. 2002 Feb;61(1):19-24

3. ‘Dirty dozen’ produce carries more pesticide residue, group says. Available at:
http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/01/dirty.dozen.produce.pesticide/index.html. Accessed: June 9, 2010.

4. EWG’s Shopping Guide to Pesticides. Available at: http://www.foodnews.org/faq.php. Accessed: June 9, 2010.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables

It is well known that portions sizes in the United States have increased tremendously throughout the years, but what about increasing portion sizes as a way to promote increased fruit and vegetable intake among children? It may just a work.

A recent study published in the March edition of Obesity examined just that (1). The study took 43 boys and girls ages 5 and 6 and fed them dinner once a week for two weeks. Each dinner consisted of a pasta dish with tomato sauce, milk and varying portion sizes of carrots, broccoli, and unsweetened applesauce. At each meal the size of the pasta dish remained the same, but the portion size of the vegetables and fruit served were doubled between visits. At the meal in which the portion size of the fruit and vegetables was increased, the children consumed 43 percent more of the fruit dish and less of the main entrée. This may be one way to get your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and decrease their intake of more energy-dense foods.

Kids tend to be picky eaters so when preparing vegetables you need to get creative. In addition, it’s important to continue to expose them to various fruits and vegetables numerous times. The best time to introduce new fruits and vegetables is during meals they enjoy rather than having all new foods that are foreign to them. Consider having colorful salads with a dash their favorite salad dressing or melt some low-fat cheese on top of their broccoli. Incorporate vegetables into the meal itself instead of serving them separately or in the morning give them a yogurt parfait with fresh strawberries.

Starting a garden or getting kids involved with the preparation of their favorite fruits and vegetables also works to boost consumption of these foods. This doesn’t mean you have to smother vegetables in high-fat sauces and dressings or put sugar on fruit, but the more creative and tasty you make it, the more they’ll eat.

1) Kral TV, Kabay AC, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. Effects of doubling the portion size of fruit and vegetable side dishes on children’s intake at a meal. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Mar;18(3):521-7.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.