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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Food & Nutrition Research Briefs, April 2004

Table place setting with apple. Title: Food and Nutrition Research Briefs. Link to FNRB home page

April 2004


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Contents

Sweet Scarlet Grape--Worth the Wait

Lycopene Made by Hardworking Microbe

Kids' BMI Calculators Help Identify Healthy Weights, Trends

Got Choline? Check Our New Choline Database!

Soy Infant Formulas Scrutinized

Beneficial Bacteria May Quell Food-Poisoning Microbes In Poultry

Fast Food Again Implicated In Kids' Poor Nutrition

Chromium Formula: New and Improved

Eggplant--Egg-xactly What Your Body Needs?

Curious About Food Pathogens' Behavior? View This New Database

Measure Pork Meat, Fat, With DXA

There's a Wonderful Apricot in Your Future

Healthier Soy Oil Ahead


Sweet Scarlet Grape--Worth the Wait

Sweet Scarlet grapes.

The pleasantly light, muscat flavor of a new grape called Sweet Scarlet gives this unusual fruit a different taste than most red seedless varieties. What's more, this distinctive grape also boasts attractive, raspberry-red skin--a brighter color than that of other mid-season, fresh red grapes.

Ready to harvest in late August, Sweet Scarlet joins the series of delicious red, green and black seedless grapes developed by ARS' expert team of treefruit breeders based at Parlier, Calif.

Sweet Scarlet grapes could start showing up in supermarkets within three to four years. The Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission has an exclusive license for distributing the novel variety to nurseries.

Like most grapes produced commercially in the United States, Sweet Scarlet is a Vitis vinifera type. And, though it was developed and tested in California--where most of the nation's fresh grapes are grown--Sweet Scarlet may also thrive in other locales where V. vinifera grapes are cultivated.

For more information, contact David W. Ramming, (559) 596-2790; USDA-ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center, Parlier, CA.

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Kids' BMI Calculators Help Identify Healthy Weights, Trends

Kids

Parents of kids age two and up can now check a handy website every six months to help determine if their children's weight gains or losses are heading in the right direction. Scientists at the ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, developed the easy-to-use, online resource and based it on growth charts issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In just a few minutes spent at their computer, parents can easily calculate their child's BMI, or Body Mass Index, and put it into perspective by viewing the youngster's BMI percentile on a helpful graph. They can do this by simply enter the child's age, height, gender and weight at: http://www.kidsnutrition.org/bodycomp/bmiz2.html

The BMI result, or score, is displayed, along with a full-color graph that shows the child's current BMI percentile, as well as helpful examples of how to interpret these results. With regular use, the graph allows parents to immediately spot a drift towards a percentile that may signal an unhealthy pattern of weight gain or loss. Links to information on how to help kids manage their weight, and a link to the free download of the Java software necessary to use the site, are also provided.

For more information, contact Joan B. Carter, (713) 798-6782; USDA-ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.

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Soy Infant Formulas Scrutinized

8-month-old boys enjoy a bottle of formula.

What's best for babies--breast milk, cow's milk or soy formulas?

A study that's tracking 380 healthy infants from age one month to six years may help parents make that choice. ARS-funded scientists at the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock, Ark., are leading the investigation, which began in 2002.

In particular, the researchers want to determine whether--as some critics have suggested--soy-based formulas inadvertently cause any adverse health effects.

Previous investigations, in which nutrition center scientists and others used laboratory rats as a model, showed no apparent long-term negative effects from feeding regimens high in soy protein as compared with regimens high in cow's milk protein. However, they did note that consuming soy protein changed certain enzymes, an effect that might alter how the infant or young child's body processes medications. This is one of the factors that the researchers will monitor in the long-term investigation (March 2002 Journal of Nutrition, vol. 132, pp. 559S-565S).

For more information, contact Thomas M. Badger, (501) 364-2785; Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock, AR.

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Fast Food Again Implicated In Kids' Poor Nutrition

In surveys of U.S. households, kids who ate fast food, as compared with kids who didn't, consumed more total calories, more total and saturated fat, more total carbohydrate, more added sugars and more sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, the fast-food fans drank less milk and ate less fiber, fruit and non-starchy vegetables than their counterparts.

ARS nutrition scientists at Beltsville, Md., and their Harvard University co-investigators reported these findings--which confirm those of earlier studies--in the January 2004 issue of Pediatrics (vol. 113, pp. 112-118).

The researchers analyzed data from 6,212 children and adolescents, aged 4 to 19, who participated in the 1994-1996 and the 1998 USDA food consumption survey. The scientists looked at records documenting foods eaten on two nonconsecutive days.

Kids who eat fast foods more often than fiber-rich fruits and non-starchy vegetables may have a greater risk of obesity and its related problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the scientists note.

For further information, contact Shanthy A. Bowman, (301) 504-0619; USDA-ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, MD.

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Eggplant--Egg-xactly What Your Body Needs?

Technician slicing eggplant.

Here's good news for people who enjoy eating eggplant: this hefty veggie contains high levels of chlorogenic acid, one of the most powerful antioxidants produced in plants. Antioxidants are compounds that may protect the body against oxidative damage caused by molecules called oxygen free radicals.

In examining a range of commercially grown eggplant and related species, ARS scientists in Beltsville, Md., isolated and measured the levels of chlorogenic acid and more than a dozen other antioxidants that belong to the same chemical group. And, they found two compounds in this family that hadn't previously been isolated from a green plant (June 2003, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 51, pp. 3448-3454; September 2003, Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science, vol. 128, pp. 704-710).

Plant breeders can use the findings to boost the nutritional value of tomorrow's commercially grown eggplant.

For more information, contact John R. Stommel, (301) 504-5583; USDA-ARS Vegetable Laboratory, Beltsville, MD, or Bruce D. Whitaker, (301) 504-6984; USDA-ARS Produce Quality and Safety Laboratory, Beltsville, MD.

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Measure Pork Meat, Fat, With DXA

Line sketch of a pig.

To meet the needs of shoppers interested in buying leaner cuts of meat, packers may soon rely on DXA, or dual x-ray absorptiometry. The technology uses x-rays of differing energy levels to show how much lean meat or fat is in a commercial cut.

After preliminary tests of earlier-generation DXA instruments, ARS scientists at Beltsville, Md., now intend to test newer-generation DXA devices, to see if the instruments can operate at commercial packinghouse speeds.

For more information, contact Alva Mitchell, (301) 504-8868; USDA-ARS Growth Biology Laboratory, Beltsville, MD.

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Healthier Soy Oil Ahead

Soybeans

Oil from tomorrow's soybeans--for salad dressing, cooking oil or margarine--might have higher levels of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats than today's soybean oils.

In particular, a line of soybeans developed for breeders and known by the designation N98-4445A has a higher amount of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that helps keep soy cooking oils stable even when used for frying foods at high temperatures.

The soybeans' low level of polyunsaturated fats helps sidestep problems those fats can cause, such as off-odors.

What's more, the improved ratio of monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats is expected to reduce the need for hydrogenation, a process that helps stabilize vegetable oils but, at the same time, creates unwanted trans fats.

ARS scientists in Raleigh, N.C., developed the promising new breeding line of soybeans.

For more information, contact Joseph W. Burton, (919) 515-2734; USDA-ARS Soybean and Nitrogen Fixation Research Laboratory, Raleigh, NC.

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Lycopene Made by Hardworking Microbe

Sliced tomatoes.

A microbe called Fusarium sporotrichioides might, in a rebuilt form, serve as a tiny factory to mass-produce lycopene. A healthful carotenoid, lycopene lends the attractive red color to foods such as tomatoes. Some studies have shown that lycopene helps prevent certain kinds of cancer in people who frequently eat foods rich in this carotenoid.

Scientists at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Ill., have rebuilt the microbe so that it doesn't produce toxins but does, thanks to genes inserted by the researchers, produce lycopene.

The microbe grows well on inexpensive corn-ethanol by-products such as corn fiber and distiller's dry grains with solubles.

The researchers have patented the improved microbe. They are following up their preliminary lab tests with larger-scale experiments

For more information, contact Timothy D. Leathers, (309) 681-6377; USDA-ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, IL.

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Got Choline? Check Our New Choline Database!

Pecans

Meat, nuts and eggs are top sources of choline, a B vitamin essential for keeping our nervous systems and cell membranes healthy. People who want to know exactly how much choline is in the foods they eat can now refer to a comprehensive database of the choline content of some 400 foods.

ARS scientists at Beltsville, Md., and their University of North Carolina colleagues at Chapel Hill, developed this authoritative new resource in a two-year collaboration. It's now posted on the World Wide Web at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/

Users should locate the red heading, "Food Composition Products"; then, under it, click on "Choline."

The database provides information that--for the most part--wasn't previously available. A daily choline intake of 425 milligrams (mgs) is regarded as adequate for women and 550 mgs a day for men. A large hard-boiled egg would provide 112 mgs of choline--about 25 percent of a day's suggested intake for women.

For more information, contact Juliette C. Howe, (301) 504-0643; USDA-ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, MD.

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Beneficial Bacteria May Quell Food-Poisoning Microbes In Poultry

Annie Donoghue gives beneficial bacteria to a turkey poult to

Helpful bacteria that live in poultry intestines may protect the birds from Salmonella, Campylobacter and other pathogens that might otherwise take hold in the birds' intestinal tracts and cause foodborne illness in people who eat the poultry meat.

ARS scientists and their University of Arkansas colleagues have developed, and are seeking a patent for, several techniques to find promising bacteria that--in laboratory tests--outcompete these pathogens. Combinations of these beneficial microbes might be fed to vulnerable hatchlings that might enable the helpful microbes to attach to intestinal sites that may otherwise be taken over by unwanted microorganisms--including those that are harmful to humans.

For more information, contact Ann M. Donoghue, (479) 575-2413; USDA-ARS Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit, Fayetteville, AR.

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Chromium Formula: New and Improved

Wheat.

A new formula from ARS nutrition researchers pairs the essential mineral chromium--in a natural, stable and absorbable form--with histidine, an essential amino acid that helps the body absorb chromium.

The scientists have received a patent for the formulation. Now, the ARS Office of Technology Transfer is seeking collaborators to conduct clinical trials of the formula, to determine the proper dosage.

Chromium helps move sugar from the bloodstream to muscles and helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. Wheat germ and calf liver are good sources.

For more information, contact Richard A. Anderson, (301) 504-8091, ext. 277; USDA-ARS Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, MD.

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Curious About Food Pathogens' Behavior? View This New Database

ComBase logo. Link to ComBase website.

How might a foodborne pathogen like Salmonella survive, grow and--hopefully--be destroyed as it makes its way from farm to table? A new, online database called ComBase brings together the latest available information on the response of such microbes to acidity, temperature and other environmental conditions in food processing plants, for example.

Scientists at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Pa., and colleagues at the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, U.K., designed ComBase to enhance exchange of information among scientists studying predictive microbiology--a growing field that projects microorganisms' behavior.

Microbiologists in government, academia and industry have already submitted about 25,000 records of microbial growth and survival to the database, which was launched in 2003. View it on the World Wide Web at: http://wyndmoor.arserrc.gov/combase/.

For more information, contact Mark L. Tamplin, (215) 836-3794; USDA-ARS Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA.

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There's a Wonderful Apricot in Your Future

Apache apricot

By spring 2006, a delicious new apricot called Apache may be on sale at a supermarket near you. Right now, some 8,000 young Apache apricot trees are taking root in California's central valley, where nearly all of the nation's apricots are produced.

The number of trees is impressive because this new, ARS-developed variety has only been available within the past two years to treefruit nurseries, researchers and apricot breeders.

An early-season apricot of average size, Apache ripens about the first week of May. The sweet, fragrant fruit ships and stores well.

Apache resulted from more than a decade of fruit breeding and testing by ARS scientists based at Parlier, Calif. Trees should be suitable for any region where other commercial apricot trees are already thriving.

For further information, contact Craig A. Ledbetter (559) 506-2817; USDA-ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center, Parlier, CA.

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Last Modified: 2/14/2007