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The Pounamu Prophecy - birth of a book Two women, two cultures and an ancient Maori prophecy that will change their lives. That's the tag line for The Pounamu Prophecy - my first novel. It has been a slow process, interrupted by moving...

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Can I eat mussels if I have high cholesterol?Can I eat mussels if I have high cholesterol? The short answer is yes - you can eat mussels if you have high cholesterol. Mussels are low in kilojoules, cholesterol and fat. The little fat they do have is mostly healthy unsaturated fat with plenty...

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Bran MuffinsBran Muffins These bran muffins (adapted from a recipe by Alison Holst) are super filling - a great snack when you are trying to control your weight. Enjoy these muffins with a cup of tea but don't expect to absorb...

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Beat the flu with Chicken Noodle Soup It’s Queen’s Birthday holiday today in New Zealand and thank goodness, the sun is shining. I’m sitting in a sunny room writing this post, sheltered from the icy wind blasting up from Antarctica....

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My nanna's recipe for homemade Rewena (Maori) bread Rewena Bread Step 1 1 c flour 1 tsp sugar 1 potato Peel and cut potato into small pieces. Place in pot with 1 cup water, lid on, and simmer to mashing consistency. Mash, cool and when luke...

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Scoops! 8.11.2009

Posted on : 08-11-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Bones, Hypertension, Kids nutrition, Losing it - weight loss & obesity, Policy watch & public health, Scoops

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scoopdig-nov09Stuff I’ve found digging around on the net … with my take on it ..c

Physical Education Key To Improving Health In Low-income Adolescents School-based physical education plays a key role in curbing obesity and improving fitness among adolescents from low-income communities, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and UC Berkeley.

It’s what we all know: physical activity is good for your body and your mind – and it’s much more fun than sitting in the classroom all day.

TV Bombards Children With Commercials For High-fat And High-sugar Foods Childhood obesity in the United States is reaching epidemic proportions. With more than one fourth of advertising on daytime and prime time television devoted to foods and beverages and continuing questions about the role television plays in obesity, a study in the November/December issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

My scoops – 4.7.09

Posted on : 04-07-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Food safety, Mediawatch, Policy watch & public health, Research, Scoops

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Digging for food&nutrition scoops on the dub-dub-dub … found these; someone might find them interesting :-)dgr

The war on bottled water – Top 10 Food Trends: No. 4 – TIME

… In 1992’s The Player, Tim Robbins’ character, the consummate Hollywood insider, showed his sophistication at restaurants through his ability to differentiate among various kinds of bottled water. But today, that same Hollywood macher would never ask for anything but tap …

An excerpt from Time magazine’s Top 10 food trends from 2008. No 4 about bottled water … hmmm … the way things change :-)

Meat, Eggs, or Dairy Intake Not Consistently Linked to Risk for Breast Cancer

… Intakes of meat, eggs, or dairy products are not consistently linked to risks for breast cancer, according to the results of a prospective study reported ahead of print in the June 2 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition …

Deborah Coddington : Spoonful of meddling helps medicine go down – Politics – NZ Herald News

… It’s hard to argue with grieving parents. They make successful lobbyists. Crippled Children’s Society deserves applause for convincing the former Minister of Food Safety to change our bread standards by adding folic acid. Why? Because a few hundred women in the first months of pregnancy …

See my related comments (and links to others) on NZ proposal to fortify bread with folic acid …

High blood folate worsens vitamin B12 deficiency

Posted on : 29-06-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Food safety, Older-age, Policy watch & public health

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A few weeks ago I discussed the pros and cons of folic acid (folate) fortification of bread. Now here’s one more possibly negative effect of fortifying our food with folic acid: if you have vitamin B12 deficiency, too much folate in your blood can make it worse.

Researchers at Tufts University analysed data from surveys before and after folic acid fortification in the USA. They found that people with low B12 and normal folate levels were one and a half times more likely to show cognitive impairment compared to people with normal B12 and folate levels. But people with low B12 and high folate were almost 5 times more likely to show cognitive impairment. These interactions between high folate and vitamin B12 were seen only in people surveyed after folic acid fortification in 1998, not before.

Vitamin B12 is important for healthy nerves, red blood cells and making DNA. Our body stores enough vitamin B12 to last 3-5 years so it takes a while for a deficiency shows up. When it does it leads to anaemia and cognitive impairment, and it is likely a risk factor for dementia.

fish at marketHydrochloric acid in our stomach releases vitamin B12 from foods. It then combines with a substance in our stomach called ‘intrinsic factor’ which allows it to be absorbed. Some older people have a mild inflammation of the stomach that reduces hydrochloric acid which means B12 isn’t so well absorbed. Vitamin B12 deficiency affects somewhere between 15-40% of people over 65 years of age.

So what can we do about this? Eat vitamin B12 rich foods (animal foods) such as meat, chicken, fish, milk, yoghurt and eggs.

This could make you a little wary of folic acid fortification but so long as you keep your vitamin B12 levels up, you should still be able to thrash the grandchildren at crosswords and cards!

Should we be putting folic acid in New Zealand’s bread? A chat about this pending controversy.

Posted on : 16-06-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Babies, Eating in pregnancy, Food safety, Policy watch & public health, Research

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sandwich in hand 1

In September this year all bread in New Zealand and Australia, except organic bread, will have folic acid added to it. “About time too”, most nutritionists would say, with some even going so far as to say the government has been ‘morally negligent’ in not introducing folate fortification sooner.

Why? Because folate reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTD’s) such as spina bifida. In the USA and Canada, where bread has been fortified with folic acid since 1998, there has been a 15-50% drop in NTD’s. And Chile, which used a higher dose of folic acid, reported a 40% drop in NTD’s. In addition, a study on babies in Quebec noted a 6% reduction in the prevalence of congenital heart defects in the seven years after fortification compared to no change during the nine years before fortification.

But some people are concerned about media reports that there could be problems with fortification – (See kiwiblog post with NZ Herald excerpts and some fairly heated comments: “…if any government decides to mass-medicate every bread-buying New Zealander with a certain additive, it has to be very sure that the costs to the community don’t outweigh any health benefits…”).

I had a chat with one of them – an imaginary aussie  bloke called Bruce who grew up in Australia and now lives in New Zealand…

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Bruce: Yeah, gidday. So exactly how many babies will fortification save in New Zealand?

Cindy: In New Zealand  20-30 babies are born with spina bifida each year. It’s been estimated that folic acid fortification would save 4-14 babies a year from these NTDs (neural tube defects).

B: So we are going to mass medicate 4 million people to try to prevent 4 –14 cases? Seems a bit skewed unless you are the parents of one of those babies. Can’t you try anything else?

C: Up until now we have told women of child-bearing age to take a folic acid supplement and to eat foods rich in folate, including those that are already fortified such as some breakfast cereals. But not enough are following this advice. Even if they start taking a folic acid supplement as soon as they know they are pregnant it’s probably too late – it’s needed in the first month of pregnancy.

B:What about food? Don’t you nutritionists always tell us the best way to get nutrients is from your food?

C:Food is definitely the best source as the folate is in a natural form that the body is designed to handle. Folate is naturally high in green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli but it is destroyed by cooking. Liver, chickpeas, lentils and citrus fruit like oranges are also high in folate. New Zealanders eat on average 250 micrograms of folate a day but the recommended amount is 400 micrograms a day – and 600 micrograms in pregnancy.

B:I’m not into raw spinach, liver or lentils, and I can’t be bothered peeling oranges. Hummus is OK – it’s made from chickpeas – but I’d probably need to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

C:Exactly! That’s why they want to add folic acid to bread. Everyone eats it.

B: So how much will we get in our bread?

C: We will get about 140 micrograms folic acid from two or three slices of bread, depending on the thickness. If you add that to the 250 micrograms folate you are already getting from food, you have your recommended daily requirement.

B: Sounds simple. But I eat more like eight slices of bread a day: two pieces of toast for breakfast plus a huge bowl of cereal that’s probably already fortified with folic acid, two big sandwiches for lunch and usually a couple of slices at night after training. So I could be getting four or five times the amount. Is that a problem?

C: If it was from foods, in the natural folate form, it wouldn’t be a problem. In fact eating lots of folate from foods is a great idea. Apart from reducing the risk of NTD’s over 30 studies have found that people who eat lots of folate (the natural stuff) have about 40-60% less colon cancer. It also helps reduce homocysteine which is a risk factor for heart disease. And in the Nurses Health Study people who ate the least folate had more breast, colon and pancreatic cancer.

B: But what about folic acid – the synthetic stuff that’s in supplements and that they plan to shove in the bread? I’ve heard it might cause cancer!

C: No-one is saying folic acid causes cancer but some researchers think if you already have some cancerous cells it may make them grow. As Joel Mason, Associate Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said in a  paper published in 2007, “There is a compelling body of scientific evidence suggesting that habitually high intakes of dietary folate are protective against colorectal cancer” but “we may have inadvertently created the opposite effect with folic acid fortification”.

B: How does that work?

C: Professor Mason suggests two possible reasons. 1. Folate is important in making DNA so it could act as a growth factor for cancerous cells. 2 The body has to convert synthetic folic acid to folate. If you are eating lots of folic acid, the conversion mechanism may become saturated leaving left-over folic acid in the circulation. This is not normal for the body.

B: How bad is it? How many Kiwis might get colon cancer from eating all this extra folic acid?

C: Since mandatory fortification in 1998 the USA and Canada have had 4-6 extra cases of colorectal cancer per 100,000 people per year. Chile has reported a similar increase in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology but the one of the journal’s editors says it is a “weak, indirect indication of a causal relationship”.

B: So let’s work out 4-6 extra cases per 100,000 in New Zealand’s population of roughly 4 million. That’s potentially 160-240 more people with colon cancer for the sake of 14 less babies with NTD’s. Yeah, I know that sounds pretty callous – sorry.

C: It’s not that simple because we don’t yet have any proof. These results are just associations – like saying that people who drive expensive cars visit the doctor more than people with cheap cars. Does that mean they are less healthy, or that somehow the car makes them sick?  There are all sorts of reasons why colon cancer rates may have increased – more obesity or even better diagnosis which means more cases are reported. But it is causing some public health people to be cautious about rushing into fortification.

B: Well that’s a good thing. I’m not sure about the ethics of a group of ‘experts’ forcing us to take supplements in our food – especially when more than half of us will never get pregnant!

C: So how do you feel about the thiamin (vitamin B1) that’s been added to your bread in Australia for decades?

B: What?!!

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See my follow-up article on Vitamin B12

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References from medical journals:

Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. Published online before print February 2, 2009. Abstract
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007; 16:1325-1329
Nutr Rev. 2009,67;206-212
J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009;101:432-435
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80, No. 5, 1123-1128, November 2004  http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/80/5/1123

Related media stories:

Kiwiblog – Rich on Food Safety
Katherine Rich: Added risk, any way you slice it – NZ Herald 9/6/09
Bakers furious at ‘mass medication’ of NZ’s bread
Government taking advice on folic acid in bread

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