Category Archives: food sensitivities

Fish oil may not help to prevent depression afterall

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Many health articles have reported in recent months that fish oils, primarily omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, help to prevent depression in women. Before you go purchase a lifetime supply of fish oils, know that these research studies are constantly evolving. Though some may claim new dietary benefits one month, chances are those recommendations could change the next. Currently, researchers are still looking into the link between these fatty acids and depression. Also, they are continuing to look into fish oil consumption and diabetes in women. Make sure you conduct your own research or consult with a physician before initiating any supplementation.

Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids doesn’t appear to stave off the blues in women, U.S. researchers have found.

Their study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adds to the conflicting evidence on the benefits of fish oil, which some research has hinted might help certain people with depression.

“We know that omega-3s are important in brain function,” study researcher Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a nutrition expert at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, told Reuters Health.

“We approached this work thinking that when it comes to preventing depression, it’s conceivable that you are what you eat,” he said.

But the researchers’ findings didn’t bear out that prediction.

The team followed nearly 55,000 nurses over 10 years. All the women, between 50 and 77 years old, were free of depression when the study began in 1996.

Over the next decade, five percent of them eventually developed clinical depression. But the risk was the same regardless of how much DHA and EPA — two omega-3 fatty acids — women got from eating fish.
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Fish rich in omega-3s include salmon, trout, sardines and herring.

The researchers did find preliminary signs that a plant-based omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid could play a role in mood.

For every increase of half a gram in daily intake of the substance –common in walnuts and canola oil, for instance — there was an 18-percent reduction in the risk of depression.

A study like the current one can’t prove cause-and-effect, and Ascherio said the area needs further research before any recommendations can be made.

His team also examined omega-6 fatty acids, but was unable to come up with conclusive findings on its impact on depression. Omega-6s are found in refined vegetable oils and are ubiquitous in snack foods, sweets and fast foods.

Depression strikes twice as many women as men, with one in five U.S. women experiencing the problem at some point.

Dr. Teodore Postolache, who directs the mood and anxiety program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Reuters Health he is not yet ready to give up on fish oil.

“There are inherent limitations on studies about depression, including determining with certainty what exactly depression is for patients,” Postolache said.

Using data from nurses, for example, can skew results because nurses are more educated in matters of health and diet than the general population.

“If groups who may have underlying deficits in fish oil were studied, like lower socioeconomic groups, we might have seen a more powerful effect of the omega-3s in preventing depression,” he said.

He also noted that the study excluded women who had previous episodes of depression, although this group is one of “the most important targets for intervention because they are at high risk for a repeat episode.”

He called for more research on animals and in broader swaths of the population.

(Yahoo Health)

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/kmB4rn American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2011.

Celiac Disease- Why it may be on the rise.

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Foodfacts.com notices many of our followers struggle with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder which affects the small intestine after consuming gluten. We’ve come across on article that describes the possibly reasoning behind the rise of this disease. Check it out below!

(Yahoo Health) Nearly five times as many Americans have celiac disease today than in the 1950s, a recent study of 9,133 young adults at Warren Air Force Base found. Another recent report found that the rates of celiac disease have doubled every 15 years since 1974. The debilitating digestive disease is now estimated to afflict about 1 in 100 Americans. Why is exposure to gluten–a protein in found in barley, wheat, rye, and possibly oats, as well as other everyday products, including some brands of lipstick, vitamins and lip balms—making more people sick than ever before?

To find out more about celiac disease and the health effects of gluten-free diets, I talked to Christina Tennyson, MD of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in New York City.

What is celiac disease? A debilitating digestive disorder, celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten. When people with the disease eat foods that contain gluten, a damaging reaction occurs in the lining of the small intestines, blocking its ability to absorb certain nutrients. This can lead to vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition, even if the person is eating a seemingly healthy diet.

What are the symptoms? One reason why this autoimmune disease often goes undiagnosed for as long as 10 years is that symptoms can vary from person to person. Among the more common warning signs of celiac disease are abdominal pain, bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, constipation, lactose intolerance, nausea and fatigue.
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How serious is it? Because celiac disease robs the body of vital nutrients, people who have it are at increased risk for anemia and osteoporosis. People who have celiac disease and don’t eat a gluten-free diet also face a higher threat of bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma. The Air Force Base study found that during 45 years of follow-up, those with undiagnosed celiac disease were four times more likely to die.

What causes it? Although the cause isn’t fully understood, two genes are known to play a role, says Dr. Tennyson.
Why are rates rising? One theory is that today’s grain-based foods contain more gluten than they did in the past. Another is that kids are exposed to gluten at an earlier age, contributing to increased risk. A frequently proposed explanation is the “hygiene hypothesis,” the theory that we are too clean for our own good, resulting in weaker immune systems because we’re not exposed to as many diseases.
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Does a gluten-free diet help people lose weight? Many gluten-free foods are actually higher in calories than their gluten-containing counterparts and therefore lead to weight gain, reports Dr. Tennyson. “One of the pitfalls is that these foods are often highly processed and high in fat. Some ingredients that are used are low in fiber, such as white rice flour, tapioca and corn starch, causing constipation.” To avoid these problems, people with celiac disease should work with a nutritionist, she advises.

Does a gluten-free diet have any health benefits if you don’t have celiac disease? Possibly. In a randomized study in which neither the researchers nor the participants knew if the foods they were eating contained gluten or not, 68 percent of people who thought that a gluten-free diet improved their GI symptoms reported worsening of their symptoms when they were fed gluten-containing foods without their knowledge. However, the study only looked at 34 patients. Use of gluten-free diets for other conditions, such as autism, is highly controversial.

How trustworthy is gluten-free labeling? While products as diverse as lipstick brands to chocolate and many types of groceries carry gluten-free labeling, right now, there are no legal standards that have to be met in the US. In 27 other countries, food labeled as gluten-free food can’t have more than 20 parts of gluten per million. Nearly three years after the FDA’s deadline for a rule to define “gluten-free,” the agency is finally getting serious about tackling the dangerous risks people with celiac disease can face due to misleading labeling.

What’s the treatment? Although there’s no cure, symptoms can be effectively controlled through dietary changes to avoid all foods with gluten. However, if you think you might have celiac disease, don’t start a gluten-free diet until you’ve been tested for the condition, since eliminating gluten can cause misleading test results, cautions Dr. Tennyson. Because the disease can also spark vitamin and mineral deficiencies, patients may also need supplements. For people with severe small intestine inflammation, doctors sometimes prescribe steroids.

The Deal on Food Allergies – How to Avoid Potential Reactions

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In the US alone, approximately 15 million people currently live with a food allergy. Of the 15 million, 6 million are children. Peanut allergies in children alone have tripled between 1997 and 2008; and more children are being diagnosed with life-threatening allergies. These numbers have been drastically increasing over recent decades for reasons which are poorly understood.
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There are eight major foods that account for approximately 90% of all food-allergy reactions in the U.S.: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. Even the smallest trace of these foods can trigger a reaction for someone with a food allergy. If you don’t understand the biological mechanism, we can help summarize it:

• All foods contain proteins. Proteins are normally the component that trigger an allergic reaction.
• Some proteins are resistant to digestion in the digestive tract.
• When these undigested proteins pass through the body, Immunoglobulin IgE (an allergy related antibody), targets the protein as harmful to alert the immune system of its presence.
• The immune system then triggers a reaction to help rid/destroy the protein, which can range from a mild to severe reaction.

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. Most people with a food allergy must stick to a lifelong avoidance of food allergens. Also, they must learn the signs and symptoms of reactions before a potentially dangerous situation. Early recognition and management of allergic reactions to foods are critical steps that must be taken to avoid serious health-related complications.
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How to avoid potential reactions:

Read Food Labels. Carefully go through all ingredients on the nutrition panel to search for any signs of a potential food allergen. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and consumer Protection Act of 2004, it is required that all nutrition labels list specific sources of ingredients if derived from the major 8 food allergens.
Also, many products are manufactured in one common factory. Most labels will list information pertaining to possible cross-contamination for various foods.

Choose Restaurants Wisely. Many public food establishments cook with the major 8 food allergens on a daily basis. However, there are some restaurants that cater to those with food allergies. Do your research to find an eating spot you find safe. Read reviews, call managers, talk to friends; get the information on the establishment.

Prepare your own foods. Whether you’re going to school, attending a party, or holding a business meeting, bring your own foods. It’s reassuring to have control of the ingredients in the foods you eat. Also, don’t be embarrassed to provide your own snacks, because there are millions of people with food allergies that do the same thing! Many people are very understanding of these circumstances.

New Monsanto Facility Working on Corn Seed to Decrease Overall Growth Time

Foodfacts.com recently came across the following article regarding a breed of corn seen that will decrease cross-pollination time from 9 to 5 years. This will allow easier and more abundant production of genetically modified crops if the trial is successful. What does this mean for our food supply? There’s a great chance Monsanto and other major biotechnology companies are coming closer and closer to dominating most of our agriculture. Check out the article below!

OTHELLO — The kernels created at Monsanto’s new corn breeding facility four miles east of Othello could affect corn grown across North America.

The corn facility, which opened last month, is the beginning of the breeding process for seeds that farmers could be using within five years.

The Othello plant is the first of its kind for Monsanto in the United States because of its use of the double haploid breeding technique for corn seeds, said Brett Sowers, the global corn double haploid production lead for the global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products.

The 15,000-square-foot lab at 1485 W. Cunningham in Othello will provide a service for the company’s other research programs across the country, he said.

The double haploid breeding technique makes an inbred line of corn faster than would happen in nature, Sowers said. The technique uses a plant with only one copy of a chromosome in its cells instead of the normal two, a trait that occurs occasionally in nature, he said.

Employees in the lab will hand-select kernels to work with, Sowers said. Those kernels will be subjected to a chemical process that affects how chromosomes divide, causing the cells to double their chromosomes and create a double haploid plant.

The seedlings are then moved to the 10,000-square-foot greenhouse to recover, he said. They are later planted in an adjacent 48-acre field to grow, pollinate and produce seeds.

The created seeds will be the parents, the male and female plants, which still will need to be crossed into a combination that farmers use, he said.

They are still several years of further selection and testing away from a commercial product, Sowers said.

Corn is already planted in the field this year, Sowers said. The plants seem to be doing well so far, despite the earlier cool weather.
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The process gets to pure genetics quicker, Sowers said. What would normally take up to nine years of self-pollinating will take up to five years, which gets the new seed to farmers faster so the benefits are seen sooner.

In the seed industry, Sowers said, they are always working to create a higher yield and resistance to disease and insects. And nature is always working to overcome the resistance plants have.

That means creating a novel combination of genetics, he said.

“You are constantly looking for new or better combinations,” Sowers said.

A new seed may be used for about a decade before it is replaced with another seed, Sowers said.

Monsanto has invested about $4 million in the Othello plant since 2006, and anticipates additional improvements in the future, said Kathleen Manning, Monsanto media relations specialist.

The facility was built with room to expand by adding more office and lab space if needed, Sowers said.

Othello was chosen because of the availability of irrigation, good soil, the high yield potential and the arid environment, which means fewer insects and disease, Sowers said.

And the existing seed production facility, opened in 2003, was available to help with initial work, he said.

That facility, at 776 S. Booker Road in Othello, is where Monsanto produces and packages corn seeds for farmers to use on their fields, Manning said.

Monsanto set up a pilot for the breeding program in Othello in 2006 and a temporary facility in 2007 to work with the breeding materials.

The program was moved from Hawaii, where Monsanto was able to plant and test year-round until the company was confident it could develop the process to use on a commercial scale, he said. The breeding process already is used on wheat, canola, squash and cucumber.

With the permanent plant, Sowers said Monsanto added a fifth full-time employee. The number of seasonal employees has grown to 100 to 110 at the peak. During the winter months, the full-time employees will complete prep work for the next year and support work for other Monsanto plants, he said.

Othello City Administrator Ehman Sheldon said Othello should see some economic benefits from the new Monsanto plant with increased sales tax revenue and within the housing market.

Sheldon, who toured the facility several weeks ago, said it was fantastic.

“It’s a very promising effort by Monsanto,” he said.

(The News Tribune)

Navigating GMO Labels

Foodfacts.com likes to provide our followers with tips to enjoy their favorite foods. Here is an article we recently came across that can help you decipher GMO vs. non-GMO products in grocery stores:
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LOS ANGELES (KABC) — With so many concerns about our food supply, terms like “genetically modified,” “organic” or “GMO-free” can be confusing. What do those labels actually mean and which ones are the right choice for you and your family? Here’s what you need to know before you head to the grocery store.

With today’s labels, even the most scrutinizing shopper can get confused.

“Americans increasingly want to know more about their food before they eat or buy it. They want to know where it’s made, how it’s grown and what’s in it,” said Elisa Zied, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author.

“I think it’s very difficult for a consumer to understand what exactly it is that they’re considering buying,” said one grocery shopper.

Zied, who wrote “Nutrition at Your Fingertips,” helps decipher the lingo, starting with genetically modified (GMO) foods.

“If a food is genetically modified it means its genes are altered. DNA from one species is inserted into another species to create a unique genetic combination that doesn’t occur in nature,” said Zied. “At least 60 to 70 percent of processed foods that you’ll find in grocery stores contain at least one genetically engineered ingredient.”

Currently the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require specific labels for GMO foods, but you may see companies point out when they are not genetically modified, with “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” labels.

“Though you might not see it that often, a PLU sticker on produce can tell you a little something about the food,” said Zied.

Something to note: a five-digit number that starts with an “8″ is genetically modified, although it’s rarely used. But stickers starting with “9″s stand for organic and can be found on lots of produce.

What makes something organic?

“If a food is organic that means it was prepared without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers and it’s also not been genetically modified or radiated,” said Zeid.

You will only see the official United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal on products that have 95 percent or more organic ingredients.

“If you see ‘made with organic ingredients,’ that means the product contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients,” Zied says.

Finally, when it comes to dairy, “rBGH” or “rBST” will signify things such as artificial hormones.

(Lori Corbin, ABC)

Gluten-Free Labeling

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FDA reopens comment period on proposed ‘gluten-free’ food labeling rule
Rule would help by creating a uniform and enforceable definition

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today reopened the comment period for its 2007 proposal on labeling foods as “gluten-free.” The agency is also making available a safety assessment of exposure to gluten for people with celiac disease (CD) and invites comment on these additional data.

One of the criteria proposed is that foods bearing the claim cannot contain 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten. The agency based the proposal, in part, on the available methods for gluten detection. The validated methods could not reliably detect the amount of gluten in a food when the level was less than 20 ppm. The threshold of less than 20 ppm also is similar to “gluten-free” labeling standards used by many other countries.

People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Celiac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. About 1 percent of the United States population is estimated to have the disease.

“Before finalizing our gluten-free definition, we want up-to-date input from affected consumers, the food industry, and others to help assure that the label strikes the right balance,” said Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods. “We must take into account the need to protect individuals with celiac disease from adverse health consequences while ensuring that food manufacturers can meet the needs of consumers by producing a wide variety of gluten-free foods.”

The proposed rule conforms to the standard set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 2008, which requires that foods labeled as “gluten-free” not contain more than 20 ppm gluten. This standard has been adopted in regulations by the 27 countries composing the Commission of European Communities.

The FDA encourages members of the food industry, state and local governments, consumers, and other interested parties to offer comments and suggestions about gluten-free labeling in docket number FDA-2005-N-0404 at www.regulations.gov1. The docket will officially open for comments after noon on Aug 3, 2011 and will remain open for 60 days.

(Food and Drug Administration)

Mom vs. Dr. Pepper

Foodfacts.com helps the general public to learn the facts about the foods we eat. We live in an era of genetically modified foods, chemical additives, and various types of food allergies. Due to this, we feel it’s best that everyone looks closely at nutrition labels and ingredients to make sure our health and well-being are top priorities.

We appreciate it when we receive stories from our followers regarding situations with certain foods; asking us to share it with the rest of our audience to protect other consumers. Recently, we received an e-mail from a concerned parent:

Kari has a young 3 yr. old daughter that was diagnosed with a nightshade allergy just a few months ago. (For those who may not be familiar with nightshade produce, they include: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.) Kari’s daughter attended a birthday party and took just one gulp of a Diet Dr. Pepper. What they noticed is that the little girl was experiencing a reaction thereafter, with her throat closing. Luckily, Kari is a smart mom and always carries medicine in case of a reaction, and her daughter was okay.
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The next day, Kari called the Dr. Pepper Corporation to see if she could speak to anyone and get more information on the product. Knowing if nightshades are in the product would help Kari find out if this is just another product to avoid, or if there is possibly a new allergy they are unaware of. However, the Dr. Pepper Corp. was not very helpful. They told this concerned mother that before they could disclose any information, her story would have to be presented to a board to get approval. A little over a month after her story was “reviewed” by the board, Kari received the verdict that her situation is not reason enough to give her the information as to whether this product contains nightshades.

Side Note: No one knows the exact flavor of Dr. Pepper. It is apparently a blend of 23 top-secret artificial and natural flavors. This formula is apparently SO top-secret, that not even a life-threatening situation could allow the company to answer one single question in regards to a child’s health.

When we learned about Kari’s situation, we decided to call Dr. Pepper ourselves. After a few minutes of being on hold, we received the same information as Kari, that the Dr. Pepper recipe is proprietary and we are unlikely to receive any information in regards to the ingredients. They suggested that anyone with a food allergen may want to avoid the products.

What does this mean for Kari’s daughter? This small 3 yr. old now has to undergo more series of scratch tests and blood drawls just to figure out if she has a new allergy. This easily could have been avoided if Dr. Pepper would have simply given her the information she needed. She’s not asking for a recipe, just if the product may or may not contain nightshades.

** If anyone does have a nightshade allergen, be sure to watch out for a variety of colas. Paprika, a common nightshade, is normally used for flavor in many soda products. This may cause a potential reaction. **

The Truth about Phosphates

At Foodfacts.com we like to present you with education and research pertaining to what we consider controversial ingredients. Here is a recent article featuring a study done on phosphates and heart disease.

Here’s another reason to bypass those packaged mini-muffins at the gas station: Foods high in phosphates—including biscuits, cakes, sweets, some dairy products, energy drinks, and some meats—could contribute to heart disease, according to researchers at the University of Sheffield in the U.K.
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The researchers fed three groups of mice either a low-phosphate, moderate-phosphate, or high-phosphate diet. After 20 weeks, they examined the animals’ arteries and found 40 percent more arterial swelling and congestion—signs of heart disease—in the high-phosphate as opposed to the low-phosphate diet.
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So what are phosphates? They’re chemicals that are often used as food additives: They make baked goods fluffier, help lunch meats stay moist and tender, and help cheese keep its shape, among hundreds of other uses.
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You don’t need to avoid phosphates completely, since your body needs some phosphorous to build and repair teeth and bones. (Good news, since phosphates are in just about everything.) But nutritionists have long suspected what the English researchers have now confirmed: Too much phosphate in your diet could lead to heart disease.

Phosphates in your blood cause your body to release phosphate-lowering hormones, the study authors write. And studies have linked high levels of those hormones to cardiovascular illness.
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Scientists still aren’t sure whether the phosphate-lowering hormones or the phosphates themselves cause your heart problems; it’s the old chicken-egg conundrum. But either way, taking steps to reduce the amount of phosphate in your diet is probably a good idea.
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To cut down on phosphates, avoid overly processed and prepackaged foods, which tend to have the highest levels. (Click here for a list of high-phosphate foods from the Mayo Clinic.) Also avoid organ meats, such as kidney, liver, or offal. Shop at either end of the grocery store, where you’ll typically find the fresh produce, butcher meats, and fish.

(Men’s Health)

Teenagers and Caffeine Drinks

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Foodfacts.com aims to educate consumers on different ingredients, products, and health-related conditions. As previously mentioned in our blogs, food companies have been using more creative marketing strategies to drive teenagers and younger children to purchase their products. A major trend has been incorporating caffeine and other stimulants into energy drinks to give kids that extra “boost” for workouts, sports, or just to stay up later. Below is a recent article from the New York Times explaining a research study addressing this trend among teens and young adults.

Teenagers Prefer Drinks With Caffeine

Super-caffeinated energy drinks with names like Red Bull and Monster are increasingly popular among teenagers. But is it savvy marketing or the caffeine that keeps teenagers coming back for more?

New research from the University at Buffalo suggests that adding caffeine to a beverage increases its appeal among young people — even when they don’t know the drink contains caffeine.
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To study the effect of caffeine on taste preference, the researchers first set out to create new drink flavors that weren’t familiar to their test subjects. Using a combination of Kool-Aid and flavored carbonated water, the researchers concocted seven new drink flavors, including vanilla-orange and lime-pomegranate. Then they asked 100 young people, ages 12 to 17, to rank their favorites.

The scientists then picked each child’s fourth-ranked drink. Half the students were given the drink with caffeine added, while the other half, acting as a placebo group, were given the version of the drink without caffeine.

Over the next four days, the students came back to the lab to taste the drink and rank their preference for it on a scale of 0 to 100. Notably, among the placebo drinkers, there was no change in the students’ flavor ratings over the four-day tasting period. But among those students who were unknowingly drinking a caffeinated version of the drink, the flavor ratings improved each day, rising by 20 to 25 percent over the four days.

“Every day, the association with that flavor and the feeling it gave them increased their liking just a little bit,’’ said Jennifer Temple, an author of the study and assistant professor in the department of exercise and nutrition science. Dr. Temple and colleagues are presenting the study on Friday at the annual meeting of the Society for Study of Ingestive Behavior in Clearwater, Fla.
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Dr. Temple said the study suggests that the presence of caffeine in a beverage influences a child’s taste preferences. That said, the study data weren’t conclusive. On the sixth day of testing, the students were given all seven drinks again and asked to rate them. Even though they had tasted their fourth-favorite flavor repeatedly over the past four days, it remained in fourth place.

In conducting the research, the researchers told the students they were part of a study testing a variety of drink additives, including flavors, artificial sweeteners, carbonation and caffeine. Follow-up testing at the study’s end showed that the students were no more likely to guess the beverage had caffeine in it than any of the other additives, showing that neither group was aware if they were drinking a placebo beverage or one with an additive.

Dr. Temple said flavor and packaging likely influence a child’s drink choice. But once they have made a choice, over time children appear to develop a stronger preference for drinks with caffeine.

“The pairing between the flavors and the way caffeine makes them feel reinforces their propensity for drinking these drinks,’’ she said. “The caffeine is what makes these drinks so reinforcing to children and so liked.’’

(Tony Cenicola, The New York Times)

What Fish Oil Does for Your Health

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Foodfacts.com looks into the benefits of having Fish Oil in your diet. Found in fatty fish or supplements, fish oil can work wonders, from preventing inflammatory diseases to reducing the stroke risk in people with heart disease. There’s a good reason why the American Heart Association recommends that most people eat fish — particularly fatty fish — at least twice a week for heart health. Fatty fish has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential nutrients that the body can’t make on its own.

Research has shown that fish oil offers many health benefits, but the strongest evidence points to fish oil benefits for heart health. Fish oil has been shown to:

Lower triglycerides — fats which are unhealthy in high levels (its role in high cholesterol, however, is unclear)
Cut the number of strokes in people with heart disease
Prevent heart disease
Slow the build-up of atherosclerotic plaques, also called hardening of the arteries
Slightly reduce blood pressure

More Fish Oil Benefits: Reducing Inflammation

Because most of the benefits of fish oil come from omega-3’s anti-inflammatory properties, says clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas, BS, CN, of Laguna Beach, Ca., fish oil may play a role in treating and preventing inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and osteoporosis.

“Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis are especially fascinating to me because current [treatment] methods [for example, calcium supplementation] are not as promising as once expected,” Metsovas says.


More Fish Oil Benefits: What Else It May Do

While fish has long had a reputation as a brain food, recent studies have shown that fish oil may specifically help with:

Depression
Attention deficit disorder
Infant eye-brain development
Alzheimer’s disease
Schizophrenia
Bipolar disorder
Other brain disorders
Some studies are investigating the role that fish oil may play in preventing weight loss caused by cancer drugs, reducing the growth of colon cancer cells, and lowering rejection rates for heart and kidney transplant patients. Still others are looking at fish oil to help with dry eyes, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration, which can cause blindness.

Fish Oil: Fish or Supplement?

Your body doesn’t make omega-3s. To get the amount you need, you have to eat foods that have omega-3s or take supplements. Besides fatty fish, omega-3s are found in some nut oils (English walnuts) and vegetable oils, such as canola, flaxseed and linseed, olive, and soybean. Fish oil has two essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while vegetable and nut sources contain the fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Some studies suggest that the benefits of EPA and DHA are greater than those of ALA.

“Although I might get some flak from vegetarians and vegans, the best sources of omega-3s are animal-based,” Metsovas says. Food sources include omega-3 enriched egg yolks, fatty fish, krill oil, and grass-fed beef. She recommends 1 gram of fatty acids per day. A 3.5-ounce serving of fish has about that amount.

Like most nutritionists, Metsovas recommends eating fish rather than taking supplements. When that’s not possible, she says, look for high-quality fish oils that offer concentrated sources of omega-3s per capsule.

Check with your doctor before taking higher doses of fish oil — more than 3 grams a day. People on anti-clotting drugs should take extra care, as fish oil can cause excessive bleeding.

Fish Oil: Watch for the Mercury

A problem with eating fish is that it can contain high levels of mercury and other environmental contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The solution may be to choose fish by its size.

Smaller fish, such as sardines, tend to accumulate fewer toxins because they are lower on the food chain. Avoid larger fish such as shark or swordfish because the bigger the fish, the more mercury it can have.

Also, shellfish, salmon, or catfish may be lower in mercury. If you’re thinking of eating fish from local lakes, rivers, or streams, first check if any advisories about mercury levels or contaminants have been issued.

You also need to be careful about false claims, Metsovas says, regarding the actual purity and freshness of fish oil supplements. Recent studies suggest that many fish oils are prone to oxidation within a few days of processing. She says you should purchase high-quality fish oil that has added antioxidants, such as vitamin E, or a mixture of different forms of vitamin E, called mixed tocopherols, to make the oil less prone to breaking down and becoming rancid. Metsovas also says there is no standard definition of pharmaceutical-grade fish oil. Many companies will assign grades to their product to generate higher retail pricing.

Studies show fish oil has many good benefits, including promoting heart health and preventing inflammatory diseases. So eat fish often, and when you can’t, take fish oil supplements.