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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

Food safety when eating outdoors

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It may already be September, but summer is far from over! There’s still plenty of warm and sunny days perfect for picnics and barbecues. Unfortunately, this time of year is also a favorite for foodborne bacteria that cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning), which multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. 

Follow the tips below to keep your food safe when eating outdoors.

Before your picnic or barbecue

  • Defrost meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator. If you thaw by submerging sealed packages in cold water or defrost in the microwave, the food should be cooked immediately afterward.
  • Never reuse marinade that touched raw foods unless you boil it first. Instead, you can set some of the marinade aside before marinating food to use for sauce later.
  • Marinate foods in the fridge, not the countertop.
  • Wash all produce before eating, even if you plan to peel it. The knife you use to peel it can spread bacteria into the part you eat. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.
  • If your picnic site doesn’t offer clean water access, bring water and soap or pack moist disposable towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
  • Don’t forget to pack a food thermometer!

Packing coolers

  • Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home.
  • Use ice or ice packs to keep your cooler at 40 °F or below.
  • Pack raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can’t drip onto other foods. Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed.
  • Minimize the time coolers are held in the trunk of the car, as the trunk can get very hot. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at high temperatures. Once at the picnic site, keep food in coolers until serving time (out of direct sun) and avoid opening the lids often.

Grilling

  • Have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the right temperatures ─ use a food thermometer to be sure (see FDA’s Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart). Keep cooked meats hot at 140 °F or warmer until serving time — set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot.
  • When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter. Never use the same platter and utensils for cooked food that you used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

Time and temperature 

Don’t let hot or cold food sit in the “Danger Zone” (between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than 2 hours – or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F. If they do, throw them away.

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NewsMakers

Skipping breakfast may increase chance of kids and teens developing psychosocial health problems

It is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat.

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Young people who eat healthy breakfasts at home have better psychosocial health, shows a recent study in Frontiers in Nutrition. While previous research has reported the important role of a nutritious breakfast, this is the first study to look at the reported effects of whether kids eat breakfast, as well as where and what they eat. These results provide valuable insights and recommendations for parents and their children.

“Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat,” said first author Dr. José Francisco López-Gil of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain. “Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Similarly, consumption of certain foods/drinks are associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairies, cereals) odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.”

Breakfast matters

In this study, López-Gil and his collaborators analyzed data from the 2017 Spanish National Health Survey. This survey included questionnaires both about breakfast habits as well as children’s psychosocial health, which included characteristics such as self-esteem, mood, and anxiety. The questionnaires were completed by the children’s parents, or guardians, and the results included a total of 3,772 Spanish residents between the ages of four and 14.

Among the most important results, López-Gil and the team found that eating breakfast away from home was nearly as detrimental as skipping the meal entirely. The authors suggest that this may be because meals away from home are frequently less nutritious than those prepared at home.

The results also showed that coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, bread, toast, cereals, and pastries were all associated with lower chances of behavioral problems. Surprisingly, eggs, cheese, and ham were linked with higher risks of such issues.

Beyond nutrition

Although this study is limited to Spain, these findings are consistent with research performed elsewhere. The availability of nutritious breakfasts at schools would likely influence the results in some locations.

But other factors, such as the social and family support that young people can receive during breakfast at home, may also play a role in the observed benefits. The authors emphasize the need for further studies to understand the cause-and-effect relationships behind their observations, but they still suggest the usefulness of these results.

“The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study,” said López-Gil. “Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle routine, but also that it should be eaten at home. Also, to prevent psychosocial health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or cereals, and minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.”

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Nutrition

It doesn’t matter much which fiber you choose – just get more fiber

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

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That huge array of dietary fiber supplements in the drugstore or grocery aisle can be overwhelming to a consumer. They make all sorts of health claims too, not being subject to FDA review and approval. So how do you know which supplement works and would be best for you?

A rigorous examination of the gut microbes of study participants who were fed three different kinds of supplements in different sequences concludes that people who had been eating the least amount of fiber before the study showed the greatest benefit from supplements, regardless of which ones they consumed.

“The people who responded the best had been eating the least fiber to start with,” said study leader Lawrence David, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University.

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

“We’ve evolved to depend on nutrients that our microbiomes produce for us,” said Zack Holmes, former PhD student in the David lab and co-author on two new papers about fiber. “But with recent shifts in diet away from fiber-rich foods, we’ve stopped feeding our microbes what they need.”

When your gut bugs are happily munching on a high-fiber diet, they produce more of the short-chain fatty acids that protect you from diseases of the gut, colorectal cancers and even obesity. And in particular, they produce more of a fatty acid called butyrate, which is fuel for your intestinal cells themselves. Butyrate has been shown to improve the gut’s resistance to pathogens, lower inflammation and create happier, healthier cells lining the host’s intestines.

Given the variety of supplements available, David’s research team wanted to know whether it may be necessary to ‘personalize’ fiber supplements to different people, since different fermentable fibers have been shown to have different effects on short-chain fatty acid production from one individual to the next.

“We didn’t see a lot of difference between the fiber supplements we tested. Rather, they looked interchangeable,” David said during a tour of his sparkling new lab in the MSRB III building, which includes a special “science toilet” for collecting samples and an array of eight “artificial gut” fermenters for growing happy gut microbes outside a body.

“Regardless of which of the test supplements you pick, it seems your microbiome will thank you with more butyrate,” David said.

The average American adult only consumes 20 to 40 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber, which is believed to be a root cause behind a lot of our common health maladies, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders and colon cancer. Instead of having to go totally vegetarian or consume pounds of kale daily, convenient fiber supplements have been created that can increase the production of short-chain fatty acids.

The Duke experiments tested three main kinds of fermentable fiber supplements: inulin, dextrin (Benefiber), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) marketed as Bimuno. The 28 participants were separated into groups and given each of the three supplements for one week in different orders, with a week off between supplements to allow participants’ guts to return to a baseline state. 

Participants who had been consuming the most fiber beforehand showed the least change in their microbiomes, and the type of supplement really didn’t matter, probably because they were already hosting a more optimal population of gut bugs, David said.

Conversely, participants who had been consuming the least fiber saw the greatest increase in butyrate with the supplements, regardless of which one was being consumed.

In a second study the David lab performed with support from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, they found that gut microbes responded to a new addition of fiber within a day, dramatically altering the populations of bugs present in the gut and changing which of their genes they were using to digest food.

Using their artificial gut fermenters, the researchers found the gut microbes were primed by the first dose to consume fiber, and digested it quickly on the second dose.

“These findings are encouraging,” said graduate student Jeffrey Letourneau, lead author of the second study. “If you’re a low fiber consumer, it’s probably not worth it to stress so much about which kind of fiber to add. It’s just important that you find something that works for you in a sustainable way.”

“It doesn’t need to be a supplement either,” Holmes added. “It can just be a fiber-rich food. Folks who were already eating a lot of fiber, which comes from plants like beans, leafy greens, and citrus, already had very healthy microbiomes.”

“Microbiota Responses to Different Prebiotics Are Conserved Within Individuals and Associated with Habitual Fiber Intake” by Zachary Holmes, Max Villa, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Eric Dallow, Brianna Petrone, Justin Silverman, Pao-Hwa Lin, and Lawrence David appeared in Microbiome.

“Ecological Memory of Prior Nutrient Exposure in the Human Gut Microbiome” by Jeffrey Letourneau, Zachary Holmes, Eric Dallow, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Verónica Carrion, Savita Gupta, Adam Mincey, Michael Muehlbauer, and James Bain, Lawrence David appeared in ISME Journal.

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