Angela L. Dansby

Clare M. Hasler of the University of Illinois and Food Science Communicator Paul A. Lachance of Rutgers University discussed “designer foods” in the May 18 Washington Post. “We’re not as concerned today with [nutrient] deficiency diseases,” Hasler said. Instead, “we’re targeting [functional foods] because they can help reduce chronic disease risk.” Lachance, who has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to grant a health claim to calcium for its purported ability to lower blood pressure, noted “an additional 1,000 or more other compounds exist in the plant world that could open all kinds of doors to preventing disease. We’re just skimming the surface of the compounds that we know exist.” Due to the current regulatory framework, health-related claims for foods and supplements are not created equal, Hasler noted. “On a scale of 1 to 10 [highest], there’s a difference in the amount of data required to receive a health claim [for food] and a structure/function claim [for supplements,]” she said. “Structure/function claims are a 1. Health claims are a 10. It’s clear that consumers don’t understand that difference.”

Hasler also discussed this labeling quandary in the May 12 Chicago Tribune. What manufacturers can and can’t say on their labels is the biggest issue facing the functional food industry, she said. “A lot of people are taking a lot of license with that now. I’m not sure more regulation will help, but we need additional monitoring of these foods and what they will do for people.” Foods containing botanical ingredients are of particular concern, Hasler noted. “Is [the active ingredient] at a level where it will do any good? Often it’s not,” she said. “A major segment of the marketplace involves herbs going into beverages. Many have two [to] five or more herbs put together in a mixture. You have no idea how much is in there or whether they’re appropriate to be together.” On the other hand, she said, foods with approved health claims, such as those containing psyllium husk, “have a lot of science behind them.” More than 50 clinical studies have shown that 7 grams of soluble fiber from psyllium husk added to a low-fat diet can reduce total cholesterol about 5 percent and LDL cholesterol by about 9 percent. But “if you’re smoking and not exercising, that’s another [matter],” Hasler continued. In the future, she envisions grocery stores with sections targeted to people at risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. For now, Hasler advised consumers to eat a varied diet with five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Judith Stern of the University of California and Communicator Fergus Clydesdale of the University of Massachusetts added “food for thought” on nutrient sources in the April 6 issue of Cable News Network Interactive on-line. “Getting [nutrients] through food is an insurance policy,” Stern said. “Until the evidence is in [about supplements], you don’t want to go off the deep end.” Clydesdale noted that Americans today are more sedentary and require fewer calories to survive than in the past, which means it might be harder to get needed nutrients. “Where are you going to get them unless you fortify?” he asked. This article was printed in the April 5 Sacramento Bee.

• Communicator Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, discussed foods as aphrodisiacs in the May 16 New York Daily News. “We may yet find that a glass of red wine accompanied by chocolate-dipped strawberries does the trick,” she said. However, she noted that food may have little to with mood. “With the right partner and no kids running around the house, a diet soda and hot dog might work.”

• Communicator Susan A. Nitzke, University of Wisconsin, was frank about hot dogs in the April 15 issue of Scholastic Choices. She noted that veggie hot dogs, while low in fat, don’t taste like real hot dogs. “I’d rather eat the real thing, just not too many of them,” she said. When purchasing a real frank from a street vendor, she advised avoiding vendors with dirty carts, looking for carts with steam coming out of the container that holds the hot dogs, and asking for a hot dog, returning a frank if it is barely warm. She added that a hot dog meal is more nutritious with a whole-wheat bun, salsa instead of ketchup, and baked beans on the side.

• Communicator Michael P. Doyle of the University of Georgia addressed Listeria in the April 15 issue of Scholastic Choices. Listeria is widespread in soil, water, and refrigerators,” he said, and may be in foods like meats and soft cheeses. “Listeria is common and we’re frequently exposed to it.” But healthy people do not often get sick from it, Doyle noted. While about 2,000 people may get nausea or diarrhea from L. monocytogenes each year, only about 400 cases result in death. This number is low compared to the mortality rates of other foodborne illnesses.

• Director of Science Communications Joyce A. Nettleton and Ken Gall of Cornell University touted omega-3 fatty acids in “a fish tale” in the April 1999 issue of Natural Health. “It’s incredible the ways in which omega-3s affect our metabolism and ultimately, our health,” Nettleton said, noting that they should be consumed via food (i.e., fatty fish) on a regular basis, not just occasionally. In order to minimize potential exposure to toxins that may accumulate in fish, Gall recommended that consumers choose small-size fish or fillets, which are typically younger than bigger fish within a species; avoid eating fish skin, organs, and excess fat, where toxins usually accumulate if present; and eat a variety of fish to prevent being repeatedly exposed to the same toxins, if present.

• Communicator Manfred Kroger, Pennsylvania State University, was sweet on honey as a wound healing agent in the May 15 Kansas City Star. “Honey covers the wound and starves any bacteria [present] so that they stop growing. It also serves as a protective barrier against new bacteria,” he said, noting that certain enzymes in honey may even promote skin growth.

• Communicator M. Susan Brewer, University of Illinois, said in the April 16 Associated Press that she “nose” how to recruit people to smell hog poop to determine which foods cause it to have the worst odors. “People told me, ‘You’re never going to get people to smell that stuff.’ I told them, ‘Yes I will. Money brings them in.’” For $15 an hour, Brewer will train her volunteers “to recognize certain chemical markers [in poop samples] to rank how bad the odor is in terms of human sensitivity.” Her previous quote was cited as a “quotable” in the April 26 Chicago Tribune. Go figure.

Media Relations Specialist