A global love for processed foods is hurting agricultural biodiversity – and our health

A global diet that increasingly includes ultra-processed foods is having a negative impact on the diversity of plant species available for human consumption while damaging human and planetary health, according to a commentary published in the journal BMJ Global Health.

Experts are warning that an increasingly unhealthy diet is not only bad for human health directly but is causing environmental damage to the planet.

Ultra-processed foods such as sweetened or salty snacks, soft drinks, instant noodles, reconstituted meat products, pre-prepared pizza and pasta dishes, biscuits and confectionery, are made by assembling food substances, mostly commodity ingredients, and ‘cosmetic’ additives (notably flavours, colours and emulsifiers) through a series of industrial processes.

These products are the basis of a ‘globalised diet’ and are becoming dominant in the global food supply, with sales and consumption growing in all regions and almost all countries. Currently, their consumption is growing fastest in upper-middle-income and lower-middle income countries.

Consequently, dietary patterns worldwide are becoming increasingly more processed and less diverse, having an impact on agrobiodiversity – the variety and variability of animals, plants and microorganisms used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture. Continue reading

Researchers gauge nutritional properties of protein in cricket, locust and silkworm pupae insect powders

Brace yourself to dine on bugs – or to take a powder to provide yourself with protein.

As the human population grows to a predicted 10 billion by 2050 and overall land mass remains constant, traditional animal farming may become a less viable method for food production.

Animal farming has traditionally fulfilled human nutritional requirements for protein, but insects may serve as an alternative for direct human consumption in the future.

American researchers have determined the nutritional and functional properties of protein for cricket, locust and silk worm pupae powders, laying a foundation to develop efficient protein isolation techniques.

The findings by Jacek Jaczynski, professor food science and muscle food safety at West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Yong-Lak Park, professor of entomology, and Kristen Matak, professor of animal and nutritional sciences, are published in LWT.

“We have a patent on a protein isolation procedure,” Jaczynski said.

We use our patented technique to isolate protein and then we also learn about properties of isolated protein and how it can be potentially used in food for human consumption.” Continue reading

Damson plums to be assessed for compounds with potential health benefits

A development grant for $50,000 has been awarded by the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge to Foot Steps Limited in Karamu, Hastings. The grant will support a six-month project to explore the bioactive compounds of Damson plums to better understand the relationship between the plums and potential health benefits.

Even though food has long been used to improve health, more recent knowledge about the relationship between high-value foods and health benefits is driving advancement in this area.

The project will be conducted through close collaboration with the Riddet Institute Centre of Research Excellence at Massey University in Palmerston North.

Damson plums are a type of plum with a deeper purple colour (more like blueberries).

They have great potential to be considered as a high-value food, or as a functional ingredient, that can be used in food products developed for particular health benefits. Continue reading

Green vegetables can be given a nutritional boost by enhancing their carotenoid content

A team of international scientists has discovered a novel way to increase the nutritional and health benefits of crops. The patented technology could enhance the content of health-promoting carotenoid nutrients in green vegetables and forage crops.

The green vegetables we’ve been told to eat since childhood could be supercharged with nutrients as a result of the breakthrough from an international team of scientists.

Their study, published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), describes a technique that can enhance the content of health-promoting carotenoid nutrients in a wide range of plants.

Carotenoids are natural antioxidant pigments essential to human and animal health, and the main source of Vitamin A.  But humans and animals cannot produce carotenoids and need to obtain them primarily through the consumption of plant‐based foods. Continue reading

Taste and health affect consumer choices for milk and non-dairy beverages

Education on nutritional value and correcting misconceptions should be a focus of the dairy industry, if it is to benefit from recent research findings on consumer behaviour in the US.

The researchers from North Carolina State University used surveys, conjoint analysis, and means-end-chain analysis to uncover the underlying values among dairy milk and non-dairy beverage consumers.

Their aim was to learn more about what affects consumer decisions regarding fluid milk purchases, researchers

The results of the study highlighted the most important factors for both milk and non-dairy beverages, which were the same: they must be healthy and taste good.

In recent years, retail sales of fluid milk have changed significantly and per capita consumption has decreased at a rate of 830 mL per year since 1975.

Between 2011 and 2014, sales of fluid milk have decreased 3.8% but the amount of non-dairy, plant-based beverages sold increased 30% between 2010 and 2015.

No previous work directly studied values held by consumers and how those attitudes influence milk purchases.

To assess this, a survey was completed by 999 primary shoppers between 25 and 70 years old, 78% female and 22% male, who reported purchasing dairy milk, non-dairy beverage, or both at least two to three times per month.

Most consumers (87.8%) did not follow a specific diet or claim to be lactose intolerant (88.4%). Twenty-seven percent of consumers purchased one or both beverages more than once a week, 47.0% purchased one or both beverages once a week, and 25.0% purchased one or both beverages two to three times per month.

Consumers ranked fat as the most important attribute in dairy milk, whereas sugar level was most important for non-dairy beverages. Dairy milk consumers reported a preference for 2% or 1% fat, and almost 70% of dairy milk sales in 2014 were reduced or fat-free milk.

Non-dairy consumers preferred plant beverages that were naturally sweetened or had no added sugar. Almond beverage was the most desirable plant-derived beverage, representing more than 65.0% of non-dairy beverages sold in 2014.

Protein had universal appeal for both milk and non-dairy beverages, with higher utility scores for higher levels of protein content.

“We found that consumers choose milk based on habit or because they like the flavor. Milk that is appealing in flavor could convince nondairy beverage drinkers to consumer more dairy milk; likewise, lactose-free milk or milk from grass-fed cows might also be appealing,” lead author Kara McCarthy said.

“By further focusing consumer education on trust building as well as nutrition, farm practice, and animal welfare, the appeal of dairy milk could be broadened.”

With the results of this study in mind, along with the many features attractive to consumers of both dairy milk and non-dairy beverages, the dairy industry can more effectively market and position milk as well as dispel any misconceptions

This AgScience post is based on a report posted by Science Daily (HERE).

Journal Reference:

K.S. McCarthy, M. Parker, A. Ameerally, S.L. Drake, M.A. Drake. Drivers of choice for fluid milk versus plant-based alternatives:What are consumer perceptions of fluid milk? Journal of Dairy Science, 2017.

Link is drawn between height of children and consumption of non-cow milk

Economist Eric Crampton has drawn attention to a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which shows an association between children drinking non-dairy milk, as opposed to cow’s milk, and lower heights.

Crampton’s post on his Offsetting Behaviour blog (HERE) is based on a press release (HERE) and he shows the link to the paper (HERE).

He writes:

The press release talks about associations but doesn’t say anything about causality. Nevertheless, the author goes on about the lack of regulation of protein content in non-dairy milk.

And hey, maybe that’s what’s going on. Reduced protein intake could be doing it.

But it looks like the paper doesn’t control for other part of kids’ diets. If it’s likely that kids on almond milk diets or soy milk diets are more likely to be on vegan diets overall or to have other weird diet issues that could also affect protein intake, it seems kinda odd not to adjust for other parts of the diet.

And while they exclude kids with growth-affecting disease from the study, they do include asthma. Some folks exclude dairy as part of trying to control asthma, and inhaled corticosteroids can suppress growth among kids (though they catch up later).

So it would be a bit premature to run the cross-price elasticities of milk with respect to non-dairy substitutes, multiply by the effect of supply management on milk prices to get the substitution into non-dairy because of supply management, then work out how much shorter supply management is making some Canadian kids.

The research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, and the Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism, and Diabetes and St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation.

The researchers aimed to determine whether there is an association between non-cow milk consumption and lower height in childhood and assess whether cow milk consumption mediates the relation between non-cow milk consumption and height.

They give this background to their study:

Cow milk consumption in childhood has been associated with increased height, which is an important measure of children’s growth and development. Many parents are choosing non-cow milk beverages such as soy and almond milk because of perceived health benefits. However, non-cow milk contains less protein and fat than cow milk and may not have the same effect on height.

The authors say this was a cross-sectional study of 5034 healthy Canadian children aged 24–72 months enrolled in the Applied Research Group for Kids cohort. The primary exposure was the volume of non-cow milk consumption (number of 250-mL cups per day).

Multivariable linear regression was used to determine the association between non-cow milk consumption and height. A mediation analysis was conducted to explore whether cow milk consumption mediated the association between non-cow milk consumption and height.

Results: There was a dose-dependent association between higher noncow milk consumption and lower height (P < 0.0001). For each daily cup of noncow milk consumed, children were 0.4 cm (95% CI: 0.2, 0.8 cm) shorter. In the mediation analysis, lower cow milk consumption only partially mediated the association between noncow milk consumption and lower height. The height difference for a child aged 3 y consuming 3 cups noncow milk/d relative to 3 cups cow milk/d was 1.5 cm (95% CI: 0.8, 2.0 cm).

The paper’s conclusion is that non-cow milk consumption was associated with lower childhood height. Future research is needed to understand the causal relations between non-cow milk consumption and height.