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July 2014

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Green Tea May Enhance Working Memory —Subscribers Only

A small clinical trial suggests that green tea could improve the connectivity between parts of the brain involved in tasks of “working memory.” You might think of working memory as the brain’s sticky notes, where bits of information are temporarily held for manipulation before forgetting or transferring to long-term memory.

How to Get Maximum Health Benefits from Tomatoes

Tomatoes are so ubiquitous in the American diet, from the fresh tomatoes just now coming into prime season to countless processed products, that it’s hard to believe they were once commonly avoided as poisonous. It’s true that tomatoes, like potatoes and peppers, belong to the nightshade family, and their leaves contain alkaloids that can indeed be toxic to pets. Europeans who saw the plants from the New World thought tomatoes resembled belladonna—“deadly nightshade”—and gave the fruit the forbidding name “wolf peach.”

New Evidence Links Fruits and Vegetables to Longevity —Subscribers Only

If you’ve been trying to follow the advice to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, two new studies might inspire you to try harder—and to aim for even more daily produce. Both studies found even greater benefits from consuming more than five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Ask Tufts Experts

Is Celery Powder Bad for You?

Celery, and several other common vegetables (for example, beets, arugula lettuce) naturally contain high levels of sodium nitrate. Processed meats usually have sodium nitrate added to them to help ‘cure’ the meat, and there is a theory going back some decades that it is the sodium nitrate in processed meats that conveys an increased risk of cancer (this concept remains a theory, and has never been proven).

Q. Are dried fruits as nutritious as fresh, canned or frozen?

Q. Are dried fruits as nutritious as fresh, canned or frozen?

Q. Does including calcium improve absorption of Vitamin D? I eat sardines two to three times a week, and wonder if including a calcium supplement at the same time would be a wise move? (I’m middle-aged and averagely active with no known deficiencies in either vitamin.)

Q. Does including calcium improve absorption of Vitamin D? I eat sardines two to three times a week, and wonder if including a calcium supplement at the same time would be a wise move? (I’m middle-aged and averagely active with no known deficiencies in either vitamin.)


Friedman School Names New Dean

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, has been appointed dean of Tufts’ Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the only graduate school of nutrition in the US. Dr. Mozaffarian has been an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he is co-founder and co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology. He is also an associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Mouthfeel” Affects Calorie Assumptions

It’s true of ice cream and rice cakes, but people tend to generalize such associations of “mouthfeel” and calories to all foods: Soft and creamy foods that melt in your mouth have more calories than foods that are crunchy and rough—or so we assume, according to a new study. Researchers reported the results of five laboratory studies in the Journal of Consumer Research, comparing, for example, how many calories subjects estimated were in hard versus soft brownies. Foods that were hard, crunchy or had a rough texture were generally rated as lower in calories than choices that were smooth and required less chewing. Surprisingly, participants overestimated calorie counts of all the foods, but guesses for soft and creamy foods were even further inflated.

Review: Menu Calorie Counts Not Enough

Even as larger restaurant chains are adding calorie labels to their menus, as required by the Affordable Care Act, a review of the evidence cautions that those numbers alone may not change consumer behavior. The review of 31 studies, published in the Journal of Community Health, concluded that the best-designed studies “show that calorie labels do not have the desired effect in reducing total calories ordered.” Women, dieters and upper-income diners paid the most attention to restaurant calorie numbers, but overall the impact was negligible. “It may be the case that calorie labeling alone is not sufficient to modify consumer behavior in the desired direction,” researchers wrote. Other presentation formats, including color coding, physical activity equivalents and healthy logos or “traffic lights,” might prove more successful, they added.

Foodborne Illness Rates Little Changed

We’re not exactly winning the war on foodborne illnesses, but at least last year we battled to a draw. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates for illness and hospital admissions in 2013 were down marginally from 2012. Deaths were up slightly, based on laboratory-confirmed infections caused by nine pathogens at 10 US sampling sites. Looking at specific pathogens, salmonella cases were down but still accounted for the most infections; only campylobacter, mostly from poultry and raw milk, came close. The sharpest increase, though still a small percentage of total cases, came from vibrio, a bacterium found in raw shellfish such as oysters; warmer coastal waters may be to blame, CDC experts said.

Consumers Like “Organic,” Even If Confused on Meaning

A new survey finds 84% of US consumers say they sometimes buy organic foods, and 45% buy organic at least once a month. But the survey of 1,016 adults, conducted by Opinion Research Corp. for Consumer Reports, also turned up some consumer confusion over what exactly that USDA organic certification means. Fewer than half, for example, knew that the organic seal on poultry or eggs means that the chickens went outdoors and had a certain minimum amount of living space. (Nearly two-thirds, however, thought “organic” should signify such requirements.) And 20% reported buying organic fish, even though the USDA has no such standard; nearly all (92%) said the agency should have guidelines for organic fish.

Special Reports

How Much Water Do You Really Need? —Subscribers Only

If these thirsty, sweaty summer days have you worrying whether you’re getting eight glasses of water a day—as conventional wisdom says you should—you need to take a closer look at the facts versus the fictions about hydration.