In this section, we feature scientific publications of new research from Europe and the rest of the world, that may be of interest to EUFIC readers. EUFIC was not involved in this research, unless stated otherwise.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity has presented its consensus report with a set of recommendations that are likely to be most effective at tackling the rising trend of children being overweight and obese. The recommendations are accompanied by specific actions and responsibilities for the different actors to support a more successful implementation.
A balanced diet is important for people’s health and health claims are designed to help consumers’ choose healthy food. The question is whether they actually influence consumers’ behaviour and it is therefore essential to know how and in what amount consumers are exposed to claims on food. A recent study found that around one quarter of food products in Europe carry health claims but this figure differs between European countries. Researchers from the EU-funded project CLYMBOL (“Role of health-related CLaims and sYMBOLs in consumer behaviour”) analysed how often and what type of claims and symbols were found on food package and found that one quarter (26%) of all products carried at least one claim. Most of these claims were nutrition claims (64%), followed by health claims (29%) and only 6% health-related ingredient claims. Health claims comprised mainly of general health claims and nutrient and other function claims, while hardly any reduction and disease risk claims and children’s’ development and health claims were found.
A team of researchers from Université Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium, have investigated whether the increase of one hour of sleep, in people who normally sleep less than seven hours, resulted in a lower risk of developing diabetes. Indeed, an hour of extra sleep had positive effects on several markers that indicate diabetes risk, including insulin and glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.
One in 10 people fall ill every year from diseases caused by consuming unsafe food and water. The result is 420,000 deaths worldwide of which almost one third concern children under five. These are the first ever estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases reported by the World Health Organization on 3rd December 2015.
Soy is a legume cultivated worldwide for food and feed, and a well-established dietary source of plant-based protein. Nevertheless, soybeans are known to contain specific proteins that cause allergic reactions or that inhibit the absorption of other nutrients (so-called anti-nutritional proteins). Researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Illinois have bred a new variety of soy in which the levels of three proteins associated with their anti-nutritional and allergenic properties are significantly reduced compared to existing varieties. Reducing the levels or eliminating these proteins from soybeans has the potential to increase nutritional value and reduce the occurrence of allergic reactions in both humans and animals.
Red and processed meats and the risks of cancer – what’s new from the International Agency for Research on Cancer?
A meeting of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, was held in October 2015 in Lyon, France. A Working Group of 22 scientists from 10 countries had a task to investigate the potential carcinogenic effects of eating red and processed meats. In an article published in the Lancet, the IARC assessment classified processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans. This classification indicates hazard (whether an agent is capable of causing cancer), but does not measure the risk (likelihood that cancer will occur). Although the link between the consumption of red and processed meats and cancer is not new, the IARC publication has again stirred a discussion about recommendations for meat consumption.
Researchers from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that thinking in black and white terms when it comes to food (e.g. thinking of foods as either “good or bad”) can partly explain why the tendency to consciously control food intake is associated with more weight regain. People who follow a rigid “all or nothing” diet approach may be more likely fail to stick with their diet and tend to regain weight in the long-term.
A team of researchers from Canada conducted a large study on the health effects of both saturated and trans fatty acid consumption. They combined data from 70 previously conducted observational studies and looked at the associated roles of these fatty acids in increasing the risk of death, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Overall findings suggested that eating higher amounts of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk in comparison to lower amounts for these health outcomes. The consumption of higher amounts of trans fat was associated with an increased risk. The authors are cautious drawing conclusions and point to methodological limitations of the included studies and to the fact that these observational studies cannot provide evidence for a cause and effect relationship. Moreover, they warn that one must carefully consider the effects of alternative foods before amending dietary guidelines for saturated and trans fatty acids.
A combination of lower calorie intake and exercise may have additional benefits to reduce diabetes risk
American researchers from Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, have concluded that, in sedentary, overweight women and men, the combination of calorie restriction (eating fewer calories than normally consumed) and exercise has additive effects on the regulation of blood sugar levels after a meal. The effect is greater than obtained by either calorie restriction or exercise alone, with the same percentage of weight loss. Moreover, the time required to reach the intended weight loss was significantly shorter when combining the two interventions.
On 4 June 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released its scientific opinion on acrylamide in food. The conclusion was that based on evidence from animal studies, dietary exposure to acrylamide potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups. Acrylamide forms particularly in plant-based, carbohydrate-rich foods during high temperature cooking (usually above 120 °C) as a consequence of the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is a reaction between a reducing sugar and an amino acid that results in the “browning” and characteristic flavours of certain foods, cooked at high temperatures. Besides these sensory changes, the Maillard reaction can also result in the formation of undesirable substances such as acrylamide.