Friday, January 26, 2007

The Melting Pot

The first journal article discussed in this week's class was data from an intervention study concerning the effect of nut consumption on cardiovascular risk factors. After a three month period, increased nut consumption was found to decrease indicators of cardiovascular disease such as blood pressure in those individuals with hypertension. This was a preliminary report of an ongoing study that will be carried out for four years.

The second article was a cell study analyzing the effects of olive oil extracts on atherogenic markers. An extract containing the phenolic compounds of olive oil was found to decrease the gene expression of atherogenic markers when cells were treated with an inflammatory agent, indicating the potential of olive oil in diminishing the inflammatory response.

The third article concerned a prospective study of the effect of fiber consumption on colon cancer risk. Increased fiber consumption was not found to decrease risk of colon cancer in either men or women. Other studies examining this relationship have been retrospective case-control studies.

The evening's lecture was on immigration patterns in the United States and the effect that immigrant populations have had in shaping the foods of this country. Future lectures will delve into the specific foods and traditions brought by immigrants that have become part of the American diet and are considered American fare.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How does your garden grow

Monsieur Cholesterol

Last night's class began with student presentations and discussions on journal articles on research concerning Mediterranean diet foods.
The first discussion was on the topic of onion and garlic use in human cancer. The study used a case-control design to evaluate the impact of garlic and onion use on cancer incidence and utilized populations from Italy and Switzerland. The study found inverse associations between the frequency of garlic and onion use and the risk of several common cancers.

The second article was an intervention study examining the effects of a whole grain and legume powdered supplement on coronary artery disease. The study was conducted in South Korea and measured a variety of physiological outcomes. Consumption of the supplement was found to reduce insulin demand, lipid peroxidation, and plasma levels of homocysteine in men with a diagnosis of coronary artery disease.

The third article concerned a Spanish study on the antioxidant effects of virgin olive oil in individuals with coronary heart disease. Consumption of virgin olive oil versus refine oil was found to increase levels of phenolic compounds in the body and decrease systolic blood pressure.

Following the break, the night's lecture concerned the life of Dr. Ancel Keys a Minnesota physiologist who put saturated fat on the map as a major cause of heart disease and was the first scientist to champion the health value of a Mediterranean-style diet. Dr. Keys built a career that changed the thinking on many aspects of physiology and health, including the effects of starvation and the factors responsible for coronary heart disease.

Born in 1904, Keys entered the University of California at Berkeley in 1922 where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1925. He then completed his master's degree in zoology and was granted a Ph.D. in oceanography and biology in 1930. Keys earned a second Ph.D. in 1936 from the University of Cambridge.

In the 1940's, a serendipitous event made his name known to millions. Because he had performed blood tests on himself in the Andes to determine the body's response to high altitudes, the War Department asked him to develop pocket-size food rations for World War II paratroopers. The result was the infamous K ration, named for its developer and distributed to hundreds of thousands of American troops during the war. Though complaints about the small nutrition-packed meals abounded, grateful recipients included 25 soldiers who were stranded for 10 days in a half-submerged transport plane in the South Pacific with nothing but 25 K rations and a gallon of water.

The knowledge that millions of people were starving during the war prompted Dr. Keys to embark on another government project, a groundbreaking study of the effects of starvation and how best to re-feed starving people. With 36 volunteers among men doing menial jobs as conscientious objectors, he studied the effects of starvation and re-feeding on the body and mind. As the men became increasingly emaciated in three months of eating only root vegetables, dark bread and simple starchy foods and walking 22 miles a week on a treadmill, they became depressed, irritable, sexless, fatigued and always hungry, licking their plates to consume every calorie of their meager rations. The findings were detailed in a book published in 1950, "Biology of Human Starvation," a classic in the field.

His interest in diet and CVD was prompted, in part, by seemingly counterintuitive data: American business executives, presumably among the best-fed persons, had high rates of heart disease, while in post-war Europe, CVD rates had decreased sharply in the wake of reduced food supplies. Keys postulated a correlation between cholesterol levels and CVD and initiated a study of Minnesota businessmen, the first prospective study of CVD, culminating in what came to be known as the Seven Countries Study. These studies found strong associations between the CVD rate of a population and average serum cholesterol and per capita intake of saturated fatty acids.

The Seven Countries study, also published in a book issued in 1980 by Harvard Press, revealed that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, pasta, bread and olive oil with meat, fish and dairy products used as condiments, was highly protective against heart disease even though the diet derived more than 35 percent of its calories from fat.

With his wife, a biochemist whom he married in 1939, Dr. Keys wrote two best-selling books, "Eat Well and Stay Well" and "How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way." These and a third book they wrote, "The Benevolent Bean," had the kind of recipes that Dr. Keys's studies suggested kept heart disease at bay. The royalties enabled the Keyses to build a home in Naples, where they ate nourishing Mediterranean meals.

Ancel Keys died peacefully of old age in November of 2004, two months before his 101st birthday.

First things first

Our first class meeting was January 10th. Of course, we had to get some housekeeping issues out of the way such as reviewing the syllabus and the purpose and objectives for the course as well as assignments and due dates.

The class chose topics regarding a particular food, macronutrient, micronutrient, or phytochemical and a health condition. These topics will be used for both a journal discussion in class and the basis of a brief critical review on current research.

The class was also divided into groups for the regional food presentations and cooking segments. Regions of the Mediterranean were also chosen by the groups and include the following: Sicily and Italy, Spain and France, Greek and the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. The group projects will involve both a presentation component as well as a food component concerning the regional diet and its history.

After all of the formalities were taken care of the class moved to the food lab. There we heard from an exchange student here in Greensboro who is Palestinian and whose family lives in a refugee camp near Bethlehem. She described to us the daily, everyday foods of her family and culture as well as the impact that war and conflict has had on their daily lives and the region. Her best friend here in Greensboro, who is from Somalia, was also there and shared with us information on Somali food and culture.

The class also enjoyed food from Zaytoon Mediterranean Cafe, including falafel, lentils, hummus, and whole wheat pita.

Monday, January 8, 2007