What is the Difference between Blogs and Articles?

Posted on:March 14, 2012
Trend Products at Natural Products Expo West

Many speakers and attendees at Natural Products Expo West tout the ideal food as being unprocessed and "natural." However, most all vendors are selling packaged foods and supplements.


Since I have written hundreds of articles over some 20 years as an editor on Prepared Foods (and originally Dairy Foods) magazine, most of my blogs end up looking like short articles. They probably take too long to write since I tend to research, fact check and reference them. I can’t help myself.

However, there is a certain enjoyment in just writing what comes to mind. Consider the following. I could write a year’s worth of blogs on the annual Natural Products Expo shows. Missing the show would be like being deprived of oxygen for any trend watcher. Seeing the products in 2,000+ booths striving to attract the trendy LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) demographic group provides key insights. While the majority of vendors offer valid and even intriguing products, the convention offers other sights and conversations as well.

Where else can one stumble across the male model Fabio working a protein supplement booth in the basement level (he did last year as well). A few aisles over, a band playing reggae with Bob Marley’s relatives promoted Marley Coffee. I found myself in a conversation with one lady earnestly telling me that the owner of Whole Foods has stock in Monsanto (the GMO seed company) so that USDA certified organic foods were not to be trusted to be GMO-free as regulations require, which is why a new non-GMO certification system has to be developed. Seriously? Oh yes, and the complicated new system would not cost processors nor consumers a dime. Hmmm. “Natural, unprocessed foods” were where often promoted as the ideal health product, yet almost every booth promoted packaged foods, beverages and supplements. Click here for a larger version of the above slide.

The claims were perhaps the most interesting. During a visit to the lady’s room I overheard one woman explaining to two others that an oleander-based product “ had been researched as a cancer cure but then it was discovered that it got rid of wrinkles.” Really?!

Maybe that’s the difference between a blog and an article. I would never quote restroom conversations in an article.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar service provider

Sweeteners to Kale-Trends at Natural Products Expo West

Posted on:March 11, 2012
Kale maybe a hot new nutrition trend

At least four manufacturers at the 2012 Natural Products Expo West were offering kale as a snack.

First day of 2012 Natural Products Expo West was, as usual, packed solid by attendees. The show itself provided hints on to upcoming mainstream trends. As one attendee said “It’s where you go to see what will be popular in big consumer markets in three or four years and to figure out which companies will be bought by large food corporations in a few years as well.” In this and several other new blogs, I’ll be providing a perspective on what is new or growing, what trends are holding their own, and what may be fading.
Sweeteners: Humans being human, sweeteners will always be in demand. Although the natural-positioned high intensity sweetener stevia was certainly in many products, monk fruit extract was also found in products such as the Probiotic & Prebiotic Ready-to-Drink Beverages from GoLive™. Monk fruit extract (luo han guo), another natural-positioned, high-intensity sweetener, has not been recommended to be used as a stand-alone sweetener. It was used instead along with cane sugar in the forumla. For more information on monk fruit extract, see Ingredient Profile: Monk Fruit Extract.
Indeed, what seemed to be the two of the most popular “new” sweetener ingredients called out on labels were two ancient favorites, honey and cane sugar (basically sucrose, although heaven forbid that it ever be referred to as by that chemical-sounding name). Agave syrup had fallen due to “a bad rap” as one attendee explained. Other natural sweeteners such as brown rice syrup (generally an enzymatic hydolysis of rice resulting in a mixture of  maltose, maltotriose and small amounts of glucose), barley malt syrup (sweetness from maltose), and juices (apple and pear in particular), also graced the ingredient label of many products positioned to be natural.
The Coming of Kale (Brassica oleracea): I have often used kale as an example of how unrealistic career nutritionists can be about the American diet. It is generally within the context of “kale is a great source of vitamin K.” Right…kale consumption is right up there with pizza. However, yesterday, although I only covered maybe half the NPEW show floor, at least four companies where offering up kale snacks. And, with the flavorings such as cheese and no doubt a good dose of salt, a few were so tasty that I went back for seconds.

More food and ingredients trends to come.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar service

Probiotics, Stress and Behavior

Posted on:February 6, 2012
Photo of lactobacillus bacteria

Research is mounting on how intestinal microorganisms such as probiotics may influence mood and behavior.

I attended an interesting virtual trade show on February 1, 2012. It was entitled “Pre- & Probiotics 2012” and was put on by Decision Media.

Globally, digestive or “gut” health is the benefit consumers most commonly associate with probiotics (i.e., beneficial organisms found in the gastrointestinal track) followed by awareness for their immunity benefits. Interest is also growing in how intestinal organisms, called intestinal microbiome or microbiota, may influence a person’s weight. However, a presentation during the virtual trade show by Dr. John Bienenstock, professor, Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, offered another potential benefit of probiotics.

A person’s microbiota may influence their cognitive health. In his presentation “Not just about gut health – The new wave in probiotics,” Bienenstock reviewed research and possible explanations behind how intestinal microbiota may impact nervous systems, which in turn influences pain perception, stress, anxiety and thus behavior. For example, Bienenstock reviewed a study where colicky babies were given a placebo or the probiotic L. reuteri (at levels of 10(8) per day). After three weeks, over 80% of the babies that had been given L. reuteri were less colicky while only 37% in the placebo group (the group not given the beneficial bacteria) improved(1).

Bienenstock also discussed studies(2,3). that showed that gut bacteria influenced anxiety levels in mice. How can you tell if a mouse is stressed out? When put in a box, a stressed and anxious mouse spends more time traveling along the walls of the box while “relaxed” mice spend proportionally more time in the center of a box “out in the open,” so to speak.

Much explanation was provided in how organisms found in the gut may impact mental health. For example, in recently published research(4). changes were found in the brains of mice that had been regularly fed a certain Lactobacillus strain (L. rhamnosus JB-1). Specifically, changes were found in the “expression of receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA.” GABA is an important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system of mammals and helps regulate neuron excitability. The research abstract concludes that “L. rhamnosus (JB-1) reduced stress-induced corticosterone and anxiety- and depression-related behavior.”

Bienenstock also covered research in which early gut infections caused behavioral abnormalities in mice. With very minor (that is, subclinical) infections with the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni, mice were more anxiety in mazes and they decreased their exploratory behavior(5). No doubt there may well be people jumping to conclusions and assume this can explain personalities, even behavioral problems, in humans. However, being able to say “Little Jimmy is shy because he had diarrhea as a baby” is a bit of a stretch…not that it won’t happen. See the Global Food Forums Blog “Rats are not Little People”.

Two other important points were made by Bienenstock in regards to probiotics. First, that any particular probiotic benefit cannot be related to all probiotics. Some to many benefits may be “strain specific.” This is good in that it provides reasons for companies to fund research. Secondly, in some research, probiotic organisms killed by heat or gamma radiation were as effective as live organisms. This result is likely music to the ears to many of the “virtual attendees” at “Pre- & Probiotics 2012,” a large portion who represented dietary supplement rather than food companies.

Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar service

(1) Savino, F, et al. 2010. Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 in infantile colic: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 126(3):e526-33
(2) Sudo, N, et al. 2004. Postnatal microbial colonization programs the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system for stress response in mice. J Physiol. 558(Pt 1):263-75. Epub 2004 May 7.
(3) Heijtz, RD., et al. 2011. Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 108(7):3047-52. Epub 2011 Jan 31.
(4) Bravo JA , etal. 2011. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 108(38):16050-5. Epub 2011 Aug 29 or
(5) Goehler, LE, et al. 2008. Campylobacter jejuni infection increases anxiety-like behavior in the holeboard: Possible anatomical substrates for viscerosensory modulation of exploratory behavior. Brain Behav Immun. 22(3):354-66. Epub 2007 Oct 24.
Also see the following (full article posted on the web): Cryan JF and O’Mahony SM. 2011. The microbiome-gut-brain axis: from bowel to behavior. Neurog.astroenterol Motil. 23(3):187-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2010.01664.x.

Why I Love Processed Foods

Posted on:January 21, 2012


Person sitting in snow drilling a hole for fish
Eating local fresh foods can be challenging. Success in drilling a fish hole is not necessarily followed by success in catching fresh fish. Happily a pizza was waiting for me. Source: Global Food Forums

My dad once said “If you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to switch sides.” Although he may have been more of an instigator than I, what he was saying was that a person should think for themself.

Throngs of bloggers, foodies and activists exhort us to “eat local fresh foods.” Some consumer advocates even compare the consumption of packaged and fast foods to heroin addiction. (Really?) A Google search for “I love fresh food” produced 382,000 web pages; a search for “I love processed food” resulted in 7,020 pages. Now we know where the majority stands.

It’s not that processed foods should be preferred over fresh, but packaged foods are or can be crucial to a nutritious diet and well-rounded lifestyle. A few days ago, I was talking to a woman who was a registered dietician and had a culinary degree…and three children. “I just can’t find the time to cook all our meals from scratch” she lamented and admitted she regularly shopped the grocery aisles to provide healthful meals for her family.

Even sourcing fresh, local foods can be a challenge…or impossible. I spend an insane amount of time tending to my vegetable garden every summer (a labor of love), and the tomatoes don’t ever seem to mature until a week before the first frost. Today I’m writing this from Minnesota in the dead of winter. It’s hard to believe this land supported human life at all a century ago. It did, but luckily as the U.S. population increased in number, both agricultural productivity and food shelf lives increased as well.

In 1830, 250 to 300 hours of labor were needed to product 100 bushels (bu) of wheat in the U.S. In 1930, only 15 to 20 hours of labor produced 100 bu and one farmer could supply enough food for 8.9 other people. In 1980, only some three hours were required to produce 100 bu and one farmer fed an estimated 75.7 people. Today, one farmer produces enough food for some 100 people. (1) And it is needed.

Even in the U.S., the number of people in the Minnesota increased from 21 people per square mile in 1,900 to 58 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Data. In the same period, California’s population density grew from 9 to 214 people/sq mile and New York’s from 150 to 391. However, it’s the world’s cities that make one contemplate the importance of efficiently supplying food. Metro New York has 2,050 people/sq kilometer (792 per sq. mile); Tokyo/Yokohama has 1,834; Lima, Peru 4,537 and Lagos, Nigeria 7,008. Mumbai, India may well be the most crowded city on the planet with 11,448 people per square mile!! (2)

I too love fresh, local food and when available, happily harvest or purchase and prepare it myself. That is a luxury many to most in the world can’t afford. The goal should be to provide nutritious food for all.

Lastly, I think I love processed foods the most when I find myself sitting on an overturned plastic bucket in the middle of a frozen lake trying to drill a hole…with the possibility of catching something to eat only a remote possibility.

U of Minnesota Food Science News Fall 2011

Posted on:January 11, 2012


Gary Reineccsius, Food Science and Nutrition department head, U of Minnesota
In a newsletter, the University of Minnesota’s head of the Food Science and Nutrition Department, Gary Reineccius, PhD, covered topics from a new natural peptide that can kill gram-negative pathogens in food to student enrollment figures.

Food scientists, in general, remain more connected to universities and colleges than many professions, I think. Much (maybe most) technical expertise is learned from experience over a food technologist’s career, however, generally those careers start with formal degrees. The three arenas of government, industry and academia all have a huge impact on the world of food science and product development.

I myself stay somewhat connected with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition (FScN). Despite the many years that have passed, personal connections remain, including with the department chair, Dr. Gary Reineccius, who was my flavor chemistry professor. I also keep tabs on the “going ons” at FScN in that it also provides source of information into the world of product development.

FScN’s 2011 fall newsletter had a few points I found of interest. They include:

  • Student enrollment in food science is up, but pales in comparison to registration in the nutrition. The department has some 100 students in food science (Reineccius believes food science was down to about 37 students at one time). Enrollment in the nutrition program (which is distinctly different from the food science program) is stable at about 360 students. Lastly there are about 130 graduate students in each of those two disciplines.
  • The department obtained approval from the University’s office that manages research for a Master Agreement for Service and Research. Reineccius notes that ownership of intellectual property (IP) and publication rights are major stumbling blocks in establishing research contracts [a key source of funding for universities]. Furthermore, Reineccius considered it good news that the University now has a program (  that, in exchange for a “reasonable upfront payment,” will forgo any consideration of intellectual property (IP) rights. “Basically, the University is recognizing that little is gained in royalties and much is lost in not working with industry when appropriate.”
  • Lastly, the newsletter carried an example of the type of research that the industry may be interested in. In August 2011, university researchers discovered and received a patent for a naturally occurring lantibiotic, a peptide produced by a harmless bacteria, that could be added to food to kill pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. The newsletter states “The lantibiotic is the first natural preservative found to kill gram-negative bacteria…  The lantibiotic could be used to prevent harmful bacteria in meats, processed cheeses, egg and dairy products, canned foods, seafood, salad dressing, fermented beverages, and many other foods.” The newsletter added that besides food safety benefits, “lantibiotics are easy to digest, nontoxic, do not induce allergies, and are difficult for dangerous bacteria to develop resistance against.”

Here is the link to the complete newsletter:

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