August 4, 2010

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Gut Bugs style

All the news that's fit to print! Or that I think is interesting but that I'm too lazy to write in detail about. Beginning with...

Gut Bugs, or, bacteria in yer' tummy and other parts of the GI system. There are a trillion bacteria in your tummy, and they are very important for your overall health. The kind of bacteria you have in your tummy, explains science writer/blogger Ed Yong, depends heavily on your diet.

Different cultures around the world have starkly contrasting diets and their gut bacteria are different too. As we grow older, we eat increasingly diverse foods, from the milk of infancy to the complex menus of adulthood. As our palate changes, so do our gut bacteria.

It's worth taking the time to read... and digest (ahem)... the whole thing. More on this subject from a recent New York Times article by Carl Zimmer. Again, I highly recommend reading this, if for nothing else than the first few paragraphs that describe an amazing medical procedure that saved a dying woman's life. Let's just call it a "fecal transplant."

What's next? Oh, yes...

Food labels! People who read them apparently are more likely to eat more ... healthily.

Significant differences in mean nutrient intake of total calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, dietary fiber, and sugars were observed between food label users and non-users with label users reporting healthier nutrient consumption. The greatest differences observed were for total calories and fat and for use of specific nutrient information on the food label. 

And the bags in cereal boxes, which apparently had some nasty chemicals in them.

Federal regulators, who are charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene -- even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years. 

Comforting, no?

As is this, although not surprising: healthy, "nutrient-dense" food is increasing in price much faster than less healthy food.

Over the four-year period, they found that the supermarket price of the top 20 percent most nutrient-dense foods increased 29.2 percent, while those in the least nutrient-dense 20 percent rose by 16.1 percent.

These findings could mean there are added barriers for Americans when it comes to following dietary guidance, they said. And this could prove to be particularly significant at a time when many US consumers are dealing with lost or diminished incomes. 

Which leads in nicely to this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A thousand households in the Hill District will be the subject of a study that researchers say would be the first of its kind in the country to track a grocery store's impact on food-buying habits in a particular neighborhood over time.

Researchers from the Rand Corp., with a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and help from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, will begin tracking food-buying and eating histories this year in anticipation of the proposed 2011 opening of a Shop 'n Save on Centre Avenue near Dinwiddie Street.

I take for granted that I have 4 grocery stores within a 10-minute drive from my house. So if I forgot to buy a shallot for tonight's dinner or we're out of bananas, I can go get them in no time. Not to mention that we can easily do our regular grocery shopping. But places like Pittsburgh's Hill District are often referred to as "food deserts," because the only options for purchasing food are typically convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.

It will be curious to see the results of this study. There are still huge issues, because you're dealing with a relatively poor population that relies heavily on mass transport, both of which would seem to heavily influence the ability to do regular grocery shopping. It's all part of a much larger socioeconomic problem/conundrum, but hopefully having a grocery store in the Hill will do some good.

And, finally, on a lighter, if not somewhat tastier, note, the growing popularity of Mad Men strikes again, raising the all-important question: what's so wrong with a 3-martini lunch? Personally, I'd be toast after three martinis at lunch. One, though, every now and then, say, on a Thursday, around noon, with a turkey club and house-made chips, might not be too bad (cough... not that that's ever happened, boss!).

1 comment:

sighing said...

Great post.
I once got into a discussion with my boss over the abilities of the poor to purchase quality healthy food. She insisted that it was just as simply a matter of choice and that even poor families can afford a bag of apples instead of cookies.

I took a deep breath and explained how if you're feeding a family of say... 4 on say $30 a week (not inconceivable) that a it's much cheaper to go to the dollar store and buy pasta and sauce and package of cookies (which provides dinner and dessert) for a total of $3 than to buy a 3 lb bag of apples for $3.99 (if you're lucky enough to have a grocer in your neighborhood as you pointed out) that would provide only a snack.

She still argued with me so I changed the subject and thought about how privilege blinds some people to the reality of others.