Keeping your finger on the pulse: the importance of peas and beans

By Anthony J Biddle, formerly Technical Director of Processers and Growers Research Organisation, UK
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Photo courtesy of the author.

It has never been a better time to look again at the wonderful value of peas and beans. As vegetable crops, and as dried seeds (pulses), they have been a staple food for many developing civilizations for many years. At last we are seeing the health benefits of increasing the amount of peas and beans in our developed diets.

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Cancer, burnt toast and roast potatoes

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I should think the entire western world is now afraid to eat their roast potatoes.  This comes after the international media coverage  of the UK Food Standards Agency’s new campaign “"Go for Gold” , [@CABI_Health 23rd Jan ], which hopes to encourage us (UK) to reduce acrylamide in our diet by cooking starchy foods to a pale golden colour and no further.

Speaking as someone who spent nearly 20 years in labs handling acrylamide on a daily basis (for analysing proteins), I can’t say I am too worried about the acrylamide content of my Sunday lunch roast potatoes  and burning my toast.

But what about the general public? Should they be nervous…so what is behind the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) campaign?

It’s their recently published Total diet study of inorganic contaminants, acrylamide & mycotoxins (TDS-2014), covering years 2014 and 2015 for the UK, and how the results fit with European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) recommendations.

A total diet study differs from other food surveys in that foods are firstly prepared and cooked for consumption. The aim of TDS-2014 was to estimate dietary exposure to contaminants for population age groups: it assessed 138 food categories, and for each category pooled food items collected from 24 UK towns.

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How crop diversity could help secure our future food supply

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Diversity within maize. Image source: Sam Fentress, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1293212

16 October is World Food Day (#WFD2016); this year’s theme is ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’ Jennifer Cunniff, plant scientist in CABI’s editorial team looks at how harnessing crop diversity is vital for us to meet the challenge.

Of the wide variety of edible plant species growing on our planet it’s amazing how few of them we actually include in our diet. Around 30 000 edible plant species are known, yet only 30 of these feed the world, and we are heavily reliant on a handful of cereals – rice, bread wheat, maize, millets and sorghum – provide 60% of the energy intake of the world population (FAO). This narrowing of our food base largely started with the advent of farming – before then, there is plentiful archaeological evidence that shows we were foraging across a much wider breadth of plant species (e.g. Weiss et al. 2004; Fairbairn et al. 2006). Once we formed settled societies we began to focus on crops that offered the best level of return and were best adapted to the cultivated environments we created. Furthermore, even though multiple accessions1 of our widely grown cereal species exist (naturally and through breeding) only a few dozen are grown on a wide scale. This strategy has consequences – genetic variability for adaptation to future climate change is lost.

1 A single collected variety or cultivar. It could be a wild variety, a landrace or a bred cultivar.

 

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Climate change to cause more diet related deaths

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A young man in drought conditions in Ethiopia (Author: USAID African Bureau)


We are all told to improve our diet; increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing our red meat intake. But a new study, ‘Global and regional health effects of future food production under climate change; a modelling study,’ published in The Lancet has revealed that climate change may make eating our 5 a day more challenging, and that subsequent dietary shifts and changes in body weight will lead to more than half a million additional deaths worldwide by 2050.

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What is a sustainable diet? – a vision from the FENS conference

Climate change may be on everyone’s lips, but we are only just beginning to see how our diets might need to change to help prevent it and deal with the challenges of a growing population. I heard more about the question of sustainable diets at a series of sessions at the FENS conference on nutrition last month that I attended in my capacity as nutrition subject specialist for Global Health database.  Dr Karl von Koerber of the Sustainable Nutrition Working Group in Munich, Germany gave us the best view of what might constitute sustainable diet in Europe. It looks more like this:

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than this:

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The sugar industry and the World Health Organization – still at odds

Pixabay_crystalI recently attended the International Sugar Organization’s annual conference in London, hoping to hear Dr. Francesco Branca of the World Health Organization explaining the rationale for the WHO’s recommendations on how much sugar people should eat, and see what response he got from the assembled sugar industry representatives and how he responded to that. As a reasonably independent observer (CABI publishes Sugar Industry Abstracts, but does much work on nutrition and health as well) I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t turn up due to other commitments, and sent a video presentation instead.

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Low-level iodine-deficiency produces lower IQ children in UK


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IN my March
2013 blog “Eat
less salt but make sure it contains iodine
!”, I described the  problems of addressing iodine–deficiency
diseases
in Pakistan and  the worrying
rise in iodine deficiency in the UK, 
linked to a shift  in eating patterns
away from dairy and oily fish, our traditional sources of iodine.   Whereas, other developed countries had relied
on introducing a national supply of iodised salt, we had got away without it.
But even countries using iodised salt, now had to watch out, as salt–reduction  campaigns to tackle rising cardiovascular
diseases, were allowing iodine-deficiency to reoccur albeit at a low-level (as
compared to the high level of iodine deficiency found in developing countries)

NOW there is further support for re-emerging iodine deficiency
in the UK:  this time a study on pregnant
women
published in the Lancet. They have identified changes in the IQ of primary-school
children born to mothers with low-level iodine deficiency:  IQ goes down 3 points & reading age is
reduced.   For more information, read the BBC article Iodine deficiency 'may lower
UK children's IQ
and the Lancet
study
.

Need I say more? In the March blog, which featured
on Global Health Knowledge Base
and CABI-Handpicked & carefully
sorted
, I covered the spectrum of iodine-deficiency diseases which can
occur in children born to mothers with iodine-poor diets,  leaving the children with permanent physical
& mental intelligence problems. 
Daily it seems, the case is being made to consider introducing iodised
salt into the UK  and to advise would-be
pregnant mothers not only to ensure folic acid is in their diet but also
adequate iodine ( BUT not  through
seaweed supplements). Pregnant mothers who rely on organic milk should be aware that this contains less iodine than usual and they will need to increase iodine intake to compensate.

WE do indeed “have a new challenge to addressing
iodine deficiency in both developing and developed countries”.

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