U.S. Obesity Rates Begin to Level

After years of increasing, adult obesity rates remained stable in 45 states from 2015 to 2016, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit health advocacy organization, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds health research.



Milk Proteins Make Edible  Wrapping

To create an all-around better packaging solution, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is developing environmentally friendly film made of the milk protein casein to wrap meats, cheese and other food items. “The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage,”



Farm-to-School Programs Increase Fruit, Vegetable Intake

Children attending schools with Farm-to-School (FTS) programs eat more fruits and vegetables, according to research from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). As part of the 2010 Hunger-Free Kids Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the....


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Tomatoes No Longer Considered ‘Poison Apples’

Originating in Mesoamerica, tomatoes were part of the Aztecs’ diet as early as 700 A.D., but they weren’t grown in Britain until the 1590s. First arriving in southern Europe in the early 16th century via Spanish conquistadors returning from Mesoamerica, the tomato was considered a “poison apple” for nearly 200 years because some aristocrats died when the acid in tomatoes leached lead from pewter plates. Europe began embracing the tomato after the invention of pizza in Naples around the 1880s, but it took England and America a while to come around. Today, tomatoes are the world’s highest-value fruit crop. Farmers produced more than 170 million tons of them worldwide in 2014, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Mass-produced varieties are large, travel well, store for weeks and are inexpensive, but they lack the original flavor and taste that made them so desirable in the beginning, according to a new genome study published in the journal Science in January. The original tomato taste has been bred out of existence, so geneticists are trying to return tomatoes to their full-flavored past. Scientists charted the genetic path and found key flavor-enhancing genes that dwindled or disappeared as the tomato changed over the past 150 years. The essence of true tomato taste is incredibly complex, with flavor layers involving acids and sugars (which switch on taste receptors) and compounds

called volatiles (which stimulate smell receptors). “The tomato is not like many of the common fruits you might think of, like bananas or strawberries, where if I just gave you one volatile you’d say, ‘Oh, that’s a banana,’” said Harry J. Klee, crops genetics researcher and professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida. “There are at least 25 different volatile chemicals and aroma compounds that contribute to the flavor of a tomato. Of those volatiles, 13 are significantly reduced in the modern varieties.” Although the researchers believe it’s possible to improve the flavor of commercially produced tomatoes, there are some caveats: Commercial crop yields will drop by 10 percent; the price will increase; and they will never be as flavorful as locally produced vine varieties.

Your Diet Can Change Your DNA

Recent studies suggest what we eat could modify our genes and potentially those of future generations. Epigenetics is the study of how different biological and environmental signals affect gene expression. Rather than change DNA itself, epigenetic signals can, for example, prompt changes in the number of methyl chemical groups attached to a gene, turning it on or off. Diets are

important sources of epigenetic signals. Scientists are investigating how eating habits modify gene expression in adults and their offspring. A famous example is the Dutch Hunger Winter in 1944, when a famine struck the western Netherlands, forcing the population to live on between 400-800 calories a day. Scientists discovered babies conceived, carried and delivered during this period had elevated rates of obesity, altered lipid profiles and cardiovascular disease in adulthood. A 2014 study published in the journal Epigenetics showed intriguing results. Scientists at Karolinska Institute in Sweden asked 23 men and women to bicycle using only one leg for 45 minutes four times a week over three months. Comparing muscle biopsies before and after the experiment, researchers discovered new patterns had developed on genes associated with insulin response, inflammation and energy metabolism in the exercised muscle. Even emotional traumas can be transmitted to subsequent generations through epigenetic inheritance, according to a 2016 study at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The study suggests the genes of the children of Holocaust survivors showed evidence of an increased likelihood of stress disorders. Better understanding of this relationship could help prevent or treat diseases such as obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Drawing clear relationships between epigenetic signals and disease is difficult. “In animal studies we’ve seen changes in diet may impact risk (for disease) but it’s not yet clear in humans,” said Moshe Szyf, a geneticist at McGill University Medical School in Montreal. Besides diet, exercise, environment and mood may effect gene expression.


Angela is a staff writer for Health & Wellness magazine.

more articles by Angela s. hoover