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Nutrition

Reducing salt in Parmigiano Reggiano cheese might not negatively affect its flavor

Aged cheeses pack a punch of nutty, sharp flavor. Before they’re fully mature, aged cheeses are either waxed or placed in brine for weeks to create a natural rind. However, the high salt content in brined cheeses deters some consumers.

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Aged cheeses pack a punch of nutty, sharp flavor. Before they’re fully mature, aged cheeses are either waxed or placed in brine for weeks to create a natural rind. However, the high salt content in brined cheeses deters some consumers. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Food Science & Technology present a shortened brining time for Parmigiano Reggiano that results in a less salty product, while still potentially maintaining the cheese’s distinctive texture and flavor compounds.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a lactose-free, crumbly and hard cheese. Manufactured in select provinces in Italy, its protected designation of origin status requires that certain production processes, such as a minimum 12-month ripening period, be performed. Ripening or maturing imparts the cheese’s recognizable taste as milk solids are converted to flavor compounds. But before that, cheese wheels are placed in a saturated brine solution for weeks. The added salt plays a key role in the ripening process by modulating microbial growth, enzyme activity and the separation of solids from liquids, hardening the final product.

One enzyme-mediated reaction is lipolysis, in which triglyceride fats in milk break down into their key components — free fatty acids and diacylglycerides. Free fatty acids not only contribute to the taste of the cheese but are also precursors to other flavor molecules.

So, Silvia Marzocchi and colleagues wanted to test the impact of brining time on the lipolysis reactions responsible for the free fatty acids involved in Parmigiano Reggiano’s flavor profile and distinctive characteristics.

The researchers had five Parmigiano Reggiano dairies brine several cheese wheels by immersing them in a saturated salt solution for either 18 days or a shorter 12-day period. Then the wheels were ripened for 15 months under conditions typical for this type of cheese. Salt content in fully ripened cheese was 9% lower in the samples brined for a shorter time than the group with the longer procedure. Unexpectedly, the researchers found no difference in the moisture level, cholesterol and total fat in the two sets of cheeses.

The team also observed no major variations in compounds involved in the flavor profile, as most of the 32 free fatty acids had overlapping concentration ranges between the two groups. Yet in the cheeses with the shorter salting time, overall, the total free fatty acids and the total diacylglycerides concentration ranges were 260% and 100% higher, respectively, than the traditionally brined version, suggesting the lower salt to moisture ratio resulted in more water available to lipolysis reactions and more rapid enzymatic activity breaking down triglycerides.

The researchers say a reduced brining time for Parmigiano Reggiano could result in a product appealing to salt-conscious consumers, but sensory tests are still needed to indicate if they can detect differences to the overall taste and texture.

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Nutrition

Body clock off-schedule? Prebiotics may help

Dietary compounds shown to protect against jet lag-type symptoms.

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Whether it’s from jetting across time zones, pulling all-nighters at school or working the overnight shift, chronically disrupting our circadian rhythm—or internal biological clocks—can take a measurable toll on everything from sleep, mood and metabolism to risk of certain diseases, mounting research shows.

But a new University of Colorado Boulder study funded by the U.S. Navy suggests simple dietary compounds known as prebiotics, which serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria, could play an important role in helping us bounce back faster.

“This work suggests that by promoting and stabilizing the good bacteria in the gut and the metabolites they release, we may be able to make our bodies more resilient to circadian disruption,” said senior author Monika Fleshner, a professor of integrative physiology.

The animal study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, is the latest to suggest that prebiotics—not to be confused with probiotics found in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut—can influence not only the gut, but also the brain and behavior.

Naturally abundant in many fibrous foods—including leeks, artichokes and onions—and in breast milk, these indigestible carbohydrates pass through the small intestine and linger in the gut, serving as nourishment for the trillions of bacteria residing there.

The authors’ previous studies showed that rats raised on prebiotic-infused chow slept better and were more resilient to some of the physical effects of acute stress.

For the new study, part of a multi-university project funded by the Office of Naval Research, the researchers sought to learn if prebiotics could also promote resilience to body-clock disruptions from things like jet lag, irregular work schedules or lack of natural daytime light—a reality many military personnel live with.

“They are traveling all over the world and frequently changing time zones. For submariners, who can be underwater for months, circadian disruption can be a real challenge,” said lead author Robert Thompson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fleshner lab. “The goal of this project is to find ways to mitigate those effects.”

How a healthy gut may prevent jet lag

The researchers raised rats either on regular food or chow enriched with two prebiotics: galactooligosaccharides and polydextrose.

They then manipulated the rats’ light-dark cycle weekly for eight weeks—the equivalent of traveling to a time zone 12 hours ahead every week for two months.

Rats that ate prebiotics more quickly realigned their sleep-wake cycles and core body temperature (which can also be thrown off when internal clocks are off) and resisted the alterations in gut flora that often come with stress.

“This is one of the first studies to connect consuming prebiotics to specific bacterial changes that not only affect sleep but also the body’s response to circadian rhythm disruption,” said Thompson.

The study also takes a critical step forward in answering the question: How can simply ingesting a starch impact how we sleep and feel?

The researchers found that those on the prebiotic diet hosted an abundance of several health-promoting microbes, including Ruminiclostridium 5 (shown in other studies to reduce fragmented sleep) and Parabacteroides distasonis.

They also had a substantially different “metabolome,” the collection of metabolic byproducts churned out by bacteria in the gut.

Put simply: The animals that ingested the prebiotics hosted more good bacteria, which in turn produced metabolites that protected them from something akin to jet lag.

Are supplements worthwhile?

Clinical trials are now underway at CU Boulder to determine if prebiotics could have similar effects on humans.

The research could lead to customized prebiotic mixtures designed for individuals whose careers or lifestyles expose them to frequent circadian disruption.

In the meantime, could simply loading up on legumes and other foods naturally rich in the compounds help keep your body clock running on time? It’s not impossible but unlikely, they say—noting that the rats were fed what, in human terms, would be excessive amounts of prebiotics.

Why not just ingest the beneficial bacteria directly, via probiotic-rich foods like yogurt?

That could also help, but prebiotics may have an advantage over probiotics in that they support the friendly bacteria one already has, rather than introducing a new species that may or may not take hold.

What about prebiotic dietary supplements?

“If you are happy and healthy and in balance, you do not need to go ingest a bunch of stuff with a prebiotic in it,” said Fleshner. “But if you know you are going to come into a challenge, you could take a look at some of the prebiotics that are available. Just realize that they are not customized yet, so it might work for you but it won’t work for your neighbor.”

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Nutrition

The best teas to drink for health

Study after study shows the benefits of drinking tea, essentially verifying what your ancestors believed back in ancient times. The humble tea plant – a shrub known as Camellia sinensis – has long supplied an answer to some ailments.

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While studies have shown the health benefits of drinking tea, the variety of options can be overwhelming. A dietitian from a top American hospital, Cleveland Clinic, explains how different teas offer different benefits.

Beth Czerwony, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD, from Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition with the Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute, says: “Study after study shows the benefits of drinking tea, essentially verifying what your ancestors believed back in ancient times. The humble tea plant – a shrub known as Camellia sinensis – has long supplied an answer to some ailments.”

Here, she discusses which popular teas are advised for common ailments.

Best for Overall Health: Green Tea

“Green tea is the champion when it comes to offering health benefits,” says Czerwony. “It’s the Swiss Army knife of teas. It covers a lot of territory.”

A medical literature review offers a snapshot of those benefits, she adds, linking the consumption of green tea to:

  • cancer prevention;
  • fighting heart disease;
  • lower blood pressure;
  • anti-inflammatory treatment;
  • weight loss; and
  • lower cholesterol.

According to Czerwony, the healing power of green tea is linked to catechin, an antioxidant compound found in tea leaves. It helps protect cells from damage caused by out-of-hand free radicals reacting with other molecules in the body.

Best for Gut Health: Ginger Tea

Studies show that ginger naturally combats nausea, making it a go-to remedy for dealing with morning sickness during pregnancy, notes Czerwony.

Ginger also offers proven digestive benefits by helping the body move food from the stomach to continue its digestive tract journey. Speeding up that process works to calm indigestion and ease stomach distress, she explains.

“Ginger relaxes your gut, which can make you a lot more comfortable if you’re having tummy trouble,” Czerwony says.

Alternatively, peppermint tea can also serve as an aid against indigestion. “Peppermint, however, is best for issues lower in your gut. It can actually aggravate higher-up issues such as acid reflux,” she advises.

Best for Lung Health: Herbal Tea

The anti-inflammatory powers in herbal teas can help loosen airways tightened by conditions such as asthma, says Czerwony. She recommends herbal teas featuring turmeric, cinnamon or ginger as a way to keep the air flowing.

As an added benefit, drinking a hot cup of herbal tea can also help clear congestion by loosening mucus, says Czerwony.

Best for Sickness: Peppermint Tea

“Menthol packs quite the punch when it comes to fighting a cold – and peppermint tea is packed with menthol,” says Czerwony, “It really kicks up your immune system.”

She says peppermint tea works well to relax sore throat muscles, relieve nasal congestion and even reduce a fever. “It’s also loaded with antibacterial and antiviral properties to give you a healthy boost.”

She also suggests trying echinacea, hibiscus or elderberry tea when someone does not feel well.

Best at Bedtime: Chamomile Tea

The daisy-like chamomile plant contains apigenin, an antioxidant compound and snooze inducer, explains Czerwony. She says apigenin attaches itself to receptors in the brain and works to reduce anxiety, building a peaceful calm that leads to drowsiness.

Valerian root tea also is a good option, she says.

What about black teas?

Black tea offers many of the same benefits as green tea, which makes sense when you consider they’re made from the same plant leaves, says Czerwony.

So why are they different? “Leaves used to make black tea are allowed to age and oxidize, turning them brown or black. Green tea leaves are processed earlier when they’re still green. Hence, the name. Black tea generally has more caffeine than green tea— a key selection factor if you’re concerned about limiting your caffeine intake,” she says.

“There are so many teas to choose from,” concludes Czerwony. “Try different varieties and see what works best for you.”

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Nutrition

How to enjoy whiskey this summer

Select “young” whiskey. If adding ice cubes to give it a chill, you don’t want to dilute aged whiskies. You alternatively can chill whiskey in the refrigerator before drinking.

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Over the years, whiskey has become increasingly popular and is a beverage people typically drink year-round. Shots Box, an alcohol subscription service offering curated, craft, artisanal, and small-batch spirits, is here with some tips on how to best enjoy whiskey during the summer months.

  1. Select “young” whiskey. If adding ice cubes to give it a chill, you don’t want to dilute aged whiskies. You alternatively can chill whiskey in the refrigerator before drinking.
  2. Choose a lighter variety. When picking a whiskey to enjoy in the summer, single grain Scotch or Irish whiskey are usually lighter malts and bourbons, making them easier to enjoy in the warm weather.
  3. Pick an option that’s lighter, sweeter, and with a natural hint of citrus.
  4. Balance or adjust the flavor by mixing with stone fruits, summer vegetables, or pair with tea.

“As whiskey continues to grow in popularity, there is no better time than the summer to enjoy it,” said J.C. Stock, Chief Executive Officer of Shots Box.

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