Nutrition: good and bad news from the kitchen

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Nutrition: good and bad news from the kitchen
Nutrition: good and bad news from the kitchen

Good and bad news from the kitchen


For gourmets, development workers, nutritionists and dental hygienists, science is now offering answers to various gastronomic and dietary problems associated with the consumption of diverse foods.

Scientists around Marisela Granito from the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas have now succeeded in using a simple trick to increase the nutritional value of beans, but on the other hand to reduce their unpleasant side effect of increased frequency of flatulence [1]. To do this, the beans have to be fermented, which is mainly done by the two bacteria Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus plantarum. They break down those long-chain hydrocarbon compounds that would otherwise only be broken down in the human intestine by the microbes working there. In this section, the often foul-smelling gases are produced as a waste product of digestion, which prevents many people from enjoying the legumes.

Granito and her colleagues point out that the fermentation process can be started simply by adding the two bacterial strains to a mass of beans. In contrast to many other fermentation processes, however, no nutrients are lost in this process; on the contrary, the nutritional value is increased because otherwise difficult or indigestible components become more readily available for the body.

Mexico travelers probably know that up to now, after a hearty meal of beans, which is very popular there, you need a no less popular tequila to loosen the lumpy feeling in your stomach. But there was always the risk of being served an inferior product instead of the original schnapps made from 100 percent pure agave. Up to 49 percent sugar can be added to this clear water before fermentation and the distillation process. With the help of ion and gas chromatographs, however, German and Mexican chemists led by Dirk Lachenmeier from the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office in Karlsruhe discovered that pure agave tequila has a clear chemical signature [2].

It contains characteristic amounts of methanol, 2-methyl-1-butanol and 2-phenylethanol that distinguish it from blended slop. However, the methanol concentration remains well below levels that are harmful to he alth. While the process isn't yet available for everyone's tabletop use, it can still be used to unmask counterfeiters who want to circulate fake tequila on a large scale.

Excessive hearty food and excessive alcohol consumption as well as smoking are known to cause cardiovascular diseases, as they either increase the cholesterol level in the blood or trigger inflammatory processes in the arteries. A research project by Gordon Lowe from Liverpool's John Moores University and his colleagues is therefore investigating the extent to which tomatoes – in the form of lycopene – counteract these harmful developments. This valuable vegetable secondary substance, which is responsible for the red color of the fruit, apparently prevents the oxidation and subsequent accumulation of cholesterol in the blood.

Tomato is possibly not just a tomato, because initial results indicate that the vegetable, known in Austrian as tomato, works better when cooked than in a raw vegetable salad. Only then does the lycopene seem to be easily digestible by the human body - according to Lowe, especially when cooking with a dash of oil, whereby preference should of course be given to Mediterranean olive oil and not just for reasons of taste. Part of the investigation will also be the influence of smoking on the function and availability of the dye in the organism, because the cigarette afterwards may inhibit lycopene.

A correspondingly good source of lycopene – and other valuable nutrients and vitamins – could be the popular Mediterranean dish ratatouille, because tomatoes are also used intensively in this vegetable stew. However, depending on how it is prepared, ratatouille can sometimes damage your teeth, as a team led by Graham Chadwick from the University of Dundee warns [3]. If the vegetables are grilled in the oven before cooking, for example to be able to skin peppers and aubergines, the acidity in the ingredients increases.

This special preparation reduces the pH value to levels reached by lemonade or cola, for example. The acid then attacks the tooth enamel and softens it so that it is more easily eroded and worn away, for example when you brush your teeth immediately afterwards. Tomatoes and onions, for example, hardly reacted more acidically when cooked, but the acidity of aubergines, green peppers and zucchini increased considerably when grilled. Only red peppers are an exception: their pH dropped when they were cooked.

Chadwick's study is primarily aimed at vegetarians, because their high consumption of fruit and vegetables has - in addition to many positive effects - also a major disadvantage: under certain circumstances, their tooth erosion can progress much faster than in people who eat less of it consume. Incidentally, flawless tequila after a meal does not help as an alkaline balance either.

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