Food Factoids

Licorice Provides More Than Health Benefits – When most of us think of licorice, we visualize the confection found at the supermarket.  What we don’t realize is that licorice root has long been used to treat inflammation, bronchitis, arthritis, constipation, peptic ulcers and chronic gastritis.  Now, manufacturers have found a new use for the waste root that normally gets discarded.  According to the United States press, the waste root finds itself used in the manufacturing of box boards. Previously, after extracting the licorice, the crushed root (considered a waste product) was destroyed by burning.  However, under the new process, manufacturers transform this refuse into a chemical wood pulp and press it into boards because of its durable resistant qualities. So take another look at your holiday packages – those boxes may have begun life as licorice root! Sources: (www.licorice.org) and (www.nutrasanus.com/licorice.html)

Chinese Fruit Used As Sweetener – Luo han guo, also known as the “arhat fruit” or “monk’s fruit,” is cultivated in China to produce a low-calorie sweetener.  The fruit’s compounds, called mogrosides, provide its sweet flavor.  However, because the pure mogrosides are 300 times sweeter than sugar and have many interfering aromas, they must undergo processing before being added to traditional foods.  Current research also suggests that the mogrosides work as antioxidants that can help prevent cancer. Source: (www.itmonline.org)

Sugar-Free Moderation – Recently, the holidays have become more enjoyable for dieters and diabetics due to the increased availability of sugar-free candies. However, without moderation, repercussions still may result!  These candies use sugar alcohols, which replace sugar and contain fewer calories.  But because sugar alcohols have different chemical structures than traditional sugars, they do not completely absorb into the blood stream and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. As a result, consuming too much sugar-free candy can produce uncomfortable abdominal gas and laxative effects. Therefore, foods containing certain sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and mannitol, and that are likely to be eaten in amounts that could produce these effects, must bear the statement “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” The American Dietetic Association advises that greater than 50g/day of sorbitol or greater than 20g/day of mannitol “may cause diarrhea.” So when enjoying sugar-free holiday treats, remember that a little goes a long way! Source: (www.ific.org)

Nutmeg May Help Prevent Tooth Decay – The nutmeg in your holiday eggnog may do more than just tickle your taste buds.  A Korean study suggests that an active component in nutmeg may prevent oral bacteria – allowing it to act as an agent against tooth decay.  The study, conducted by J.Y. Cheng and his collaborators from the Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea, evaluated the anticariogenic properties of nutmeg extract (Myristica fragrans) and its compounds.  Dental cavities mainly result from cariogenic oral bacteria like Streptococcus mutans.  Preliminary antibacterial studies demonstrated that nutmeg extracts have a strong inhibitory effect against the S. mutans.  The anticariogenic compound was identified as “macelignan.”  The tests showed that concentrations as low as 20 ug/ml of macelignan completely inactivated S. mutans in less than one minute.  The study authors concluded that the efficiency and effectiveness of macelignan against cariogenic oral bacteria strongly suggest that it could be used as a natural antibacterial agent when applied to foods and oral care products. With that said, you might want to add a little extra nutmeg to your holiday eggnog. Source: (www.adaptogeno.com)

Cocoa May Improve Thymus Antioxidant Defenses – Good news for cocoa lovers, and just in time for the holidays! A new Spanish study on rats suggests that cocoa flavonoids could improve antioxidant defenses.  Researchers fed rats a diet enriched with natural cocoa for three weeks and then measured antioxidant capacity of the plasma and tissues, including the liver and lymphoid organs.  They reported that the cocoa-enriched diet led to significant increases in the total antioxidant capacity within all body tissues, particularly in the thymus – located in the upper part of the chest and responsible for the production of certain hormones that stimulate immune-response cells.  Also, researchers noted a dose-dependent increase in the thymus activities of the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase, with respect to cocoa supplementation.  SOD, dubbed “the enzyme of life” when first discovered in 1968, is the first antioxidant mobilized by the cell for defense.  It is thought to be more powerful than antioxidant vitamins because it activates the production of the body’s own antioxidants.  The researchers also looked at whether the improved thymus antioxidant system was reflected in the composition of cells present, and found a percentage increase in advanced-development thymocytes. Significant additional study is required to determine whether similar benefits would be observed in humans.  Still, given the research supporting the health benefits of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate in recent years, chocolate manufacturers have begun producing products with high cocoa content (greater than 70 percent) to differentiate them from milk chocolate and other less flavonoid-rich versions of chocolate. On that note, a mug of hot cocoa during the holiday season might not be a bad idea! Source: (www.foodnavigator.com)

Candy Canes May Alleviate Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Peppermint candy canes may do more than satisfy your sweet tooth this holiday season.  A 2007 Italian study found that 75 percent of the patients who took peppermint oil capsules for four weeks had a major reduction in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms, compared with just 38 percent of those who took a placebo pill. Just a little something to think about the next time someone hands you a peppermint candy cane. Source: (http://biolife.wordpress.com)

Holiday Spices Protect Against E-Coli – Common kitchen spices like cinnamon, garlic and clove can do more than accentuate the flavors of your favorite holiday foods.  Scientists at Kansas State University found that these spices can kill the most dangerous strain of Escherichia coli, known as E. coli 0157:H7.  When tested in the laboratory, garlic, clove, cinnamon, oregano and sage each killed the bacteria in varying amounts.  In the laboratory study, garlic killed the organism completely.  However, none of the other 18 spices tested successfully killed E. coli O157:H7. Since past E. coli outbreaks have occurred in apple juice and ground beef, the scientists focused their efforts on these products contaminated with E. coli.  When scientists tested apple juice samples inoculated with about one million E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, they found that about one teaspoon (0.3 percent) of cinnamon killed 99.5 percent of the bacteria in three days at room temperature.  When the same amount of cinnamon was combined with preservatives approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the E. coli concentration was lowered to an undetectable level.  The number of bacteria added to the test samples was 100 times the number typically found in contaminated food.  Scientists also introduced approximately 100,000 E. coli O157:H7 bacteria per gram to store-bought ground beef, then separately added garlic, clove, cinnamon, oregano and sage.  Again, the spices killed the bacteria.  Of the five, garlic and clove proved best at killing E. coli O157:H7. Garlic was best in the laboratory study, while clove was the best of the spices added directly to ground beef. Definitely something to keep in mind as you prepare your holiday meals! Sources: (www.oznet.ksu.edu/pr_fsaf/News%20Releases/relspicfung.htm) and (www.sciencedaily.com)