Tag Archives: fats

Scientists reveal the secret that makes red wine pair so well with cheese, meats, and other fatty foods

Credit: Pixabay.

Cheese and wine by themselves taste good, but pairing them can actually enhance their flavor to make the meal even more delicious. Why is that? Well, who was better qualified to answer this question than a team of French researchers, who recently published a paper showing that tannins in wine have an affinity for lipids (fats) in certain foods, such as cheese, meats, and vegetable oils.

Tannins are polyphenolic compounds responsible for the bitterness and astringency of red wines, although some white wines have tannin too from aging in wooden barrels for fermenting skins of grapes.

Along with other qualities, such as acidity, alcohol, and fruit, tannin content is a key characteristic that helps balance a wine. It can also determine how well a wine pairs with certain foods.

In their most recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers at the University of Bordeaux investigated how tannins influence the size and stability of lipid droplets in an emulsion.

During an experiment, the French researchers made an oil-in-water emulsion by mixing olive oil, water, and a phospholipid emulsifier into which they added a grape tannin called catechin. After the tannin was added to the emulsifier that surrounded the oil droplets, the droplets grew in size.

In another experiment, the researchers studied how human volunteers experienced the taste of tannins. When the participants ate a spoonful of rapeseed, grapeseed, or olive oil immediately before tasting a tannin solution, the reported astringency was reduced. The greatest effect was seen when the tannins were combined with olive oil, causing the tannins to be perceived as fruity rather than astringent.

The two evaluations — one assessing sensory perception, the other analyzing the chemical makeup of the emulsions — led the authors to conclude that the tannins interacted with droplets of oil in the mouth. As a result, the oils are less able to bind to proteins in saliva, which is what is responsible for astringent taste.

“Wine is very often consumed with a meal. However, although it is well known to tasters that the taste of wine changes in the presence of food, the influence of dietary lipids on wine astringency and bitterness caused by grape tannins is not well established from a molecular point of view,” the authors wrote in their study.

“Our results highlight that dietary lipids are crucial molecular agents impacting our sensory perception during wine consumption.”

Omega-3 supplements don’t really do anything for your heart, new study concludes

Contrary to popular belief, taking omega-3 fish oil supplements does little if anything to protect your heart. Omega-3 fats can still be a part of a healthy diet, but according to a new study, there just isn’t evidence that it provides any cardiovascular benefits.

“This is the most extensive systematic assessment of effects of omega-3 fats on cardiovascular health to date,” the study reads. Cochrane, an independent network of researchers, analyzed 79 trial studies involving over 112,000 people, looking at the impact of omega-3 supplements — not omega-3 taken directly from fish.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essentially polyunsaturated fatty acids. There are three types of omega−3 fatty acids involved in human physiology:

  • α-linolenic acid (ALA), found in plant oils like margarine or seeds and nuts like walnuts or chia;
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which the body can produce from ALA but can also be taken directly from oily fish and fish oils;
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both commonly found in marine oils, produced by phytoplankton.

In most trials, people in the supplement group were asked to take omega-3 fat supplements in the form of a capsule; only a few looked directly at fish or at other plant-derived omega fats such as margarine or walnuts.

Fish oil supplements made no real difference to the overall risk of death or heart attacks or strokes, the Cochrane researchers found. The plant-based omega fats did yield a small benefit, but the difference was barely noticeable.

“We can be confident in the findings of this review which go against the popular belief that long-chain omega-3 supplements protect the heart,” said Cochrane lead author, Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia. “This large systematic review included information from many thousands of people over long periods. Despite all this information, we don’t see protective effects.”

Essentially, Hooper and colleagues note that moderate and high-quality evidence suggests that increasing EPA and DHA has “little or no effect on mortality or cardiovascular health (evidence mainly from supplement trials)”. There are some trials which found that ALA may slightly reduce cardiovascular risks, mortality, and arrhythmia, but the Cochrane researchers considered those to be low-quality. The study conclusions read:

“There is evidence that taking omega-3 capsules does not reduce heart disease, stroke or death. There is little evidence of effects of eating fish. Although EPA and DHA reduce triglycerides, supplementary omega-3 fats are probably not useful for preventing or treating heart and circulatory diseases. However, increasing plant-based ALA may be slightly protective for some heart and circulatory diseases.”

However, this doesn’t mean that you should eliminate fish from your diet — there is still plenty of evidence suggesting that fish can be an integral part of a healthy diet, particularly oily fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna, or mackerel, which have “good” fats. However, the main takeaway from this study is that when it comes to protecting your heart, you shouldn’t put that much hope into omega-3 supplements.

The study was published in Cochrane Library.


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) uses our body’s fats to ward off treatment

As antibiotic-resistant pathogens encroach on our hospitals, one team is trying to strip MRSA of its defenses.


Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) magnified 20,000 times under the scanning electron micrograph. Image credits Janice Carr.

People don’t oft think about this, but the way we treat diseases and pathogens today wouldn’t have been just a luxury for people 100, 150 years ago — it would have been a straight-up miracle dripped from the heavens, day in, day out. We owe this ability to casually swallow a teeny tiny white tablet and then walk away from deadly infections to how effective modern antibiotics are at killing germs.

But said germs are evolving to become immune to these compounds — and once they do, they’ll come at us with a vengeance.

New rules of engagement

One of the best-known and most widely seen antibiotic resistant pathogen is known as MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This bacterium, which can easily turn routine medical operations into life-and-death battles, is responsible for most of the 30,000 deaths annually associated with antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. alone.

MRSA owes this infamous achievement to its resilience and, frankly, a kind of bacterial ingenuity that lets it shrug off should-be-deadly antibiotics. New research at the Michigan State University, however, is figuring out how to turn one of its strengths against it.

“Attacking the cell membrane and inhibiting its ability to produce lipids, or fats, could be an effective treatment protocol,” said senior author Neal Hammer, MSU assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.

“MRSA, though, bypasses the effects of fatty acid inhibitors by absorbing human lipids.”

The study is based on previous research, which found that MRSA has a fat-absorbing pathway encoded in its genes. The problem with such a pathway is that most of our antibiotics work by destabilizing bacterial cell walls (made of fat molecules). MRSA’s adaptation to antibiotics is especially problematic since it doesn’t simply make our drugs somewhat less effective — it renders most of them completely pointless.

MRSA can absorb fat from the host organism, and then use it as a shield. In the case of us humans, it’s likely using fats (lipids) floating around in the bloodstream. These include compounds such as cholesterol that are a natural (and ample) component in our blood. The team suggests that MRSA can absorb and then integrate these substances into its own membranes. The process makes it virtually immune to antibiotics that work by blocking fatty acid synthesis pathways.

“MRSA secretes enzymes, called ‘lipases,’ that free the fatty acids in human LDLs, or bad cholesterol,” Hammer said. “We used mass spectrometry to identify how MRSA was able to perform this feat — the first time this process has been observed.”

Past research focused on MRSA’s interaction to fatty acids found on the skin — as much as 30% of the world’s population carry MRSA on their skin without any adverse health effects. The present study is the first to identify how MRSA can draw fatty acids from inside the host body and the mechanisms that allow it to do so.

Hammer says he and his team will focus their future research on how to prevent MRSA from drawing these fats from the ones it infects. If successful, the findings could make our antibiotics effective against staph yet again.

The paper “Staphylococcus aureus Utilizes Host-Derived Lipoprotein Particles as Sources of Fatty Acids” has been published in the Journal of Bacteriology.

World Health Organization: We need to ban trans fats within the next five years

Trans fats cause approximately 500,000 premature deaths yearly. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to completely eliminate them from our diets and they’ve released a detailed, step-by-step plan for doing so. It’s the first time global health officials have asked countries to completely remove an ingredient from food production.

Trans fats are primarily used in fried foods like fries and doughnuts as well as in baked goods such as cakes, pies, biscuits, pizza, and cookies.

Trans fats occur in small amounts in nature. However, they’ve become widely produced by industry to create vegetable fats for use in margarine, snack food, packaged baked goods, and frying fast food. Natural trans fats are only produced in small quantities in the gut of some animals, while artificial trans fats are much more common and are created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Foodmakers prefer these fats because they prolong the shelf life of oils.

Decades of studies have consistently shown that trans fats cause coronary artery disease, and some countries have already started to ban them. Denmark became the first country to completely eliminate them in 2004. Since then, several countries have followed suit, including the US. In the developed parts of the world, trans fats are becoming rarer and rarer.

However, many countries, especially those in developing and underdeveloped areas, have not followed this trend. Oils containing trans fats are cheap, easy to produce, and often taste pretty good, therefore keeping them popular in lower-income countries — which is why the WHO is pushing this plan and asking governments to phase out trans fats within five years.

“It’s a crisis level, and it’s a major front in our fight now,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva on Monday.

“Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods?” asked Dr Tedros. “The world is now embarking on the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, using it as a driver for improved access to healthy food and nutrition. WHO is also using this milestone to work with governments, the food industry, academia and civil society to make food systems healthier for future generations, including by eliminating industrially-produced trans fats.”

The feeling of urgency was echoed by scientists and medics all around the world.

“Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives and a former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “and there’s no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed.”

Trans fats are finding their way onto too many plates, and they need to be eliminated — ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease have become first and second causes of premature mortality, and the majority of these cases occur in low and middle-income countries. This is why a ban on trans fats can make a very big difference for worldwide health.

“WHO calls on governments to use the REPLACE action package to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply,”said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Implementing the six strategic actions in the REPLACE package will help  achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in  the  global  fight against cardiovascular disease.”

As it so often happens, “REPLACE” is an acronym. In this case, the WHO calls for:

  • REview dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change.
  • Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.
  • Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats.
  • Assess and monitor trans fats content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population.
  • Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats among policymakers, producers, suppliers, and the public.
  • Enforce compliance with policies and regulations.

Of course, there will likely be backlash and strong pushback lobbying from some parts of the food industry, but by taking a page from the fight against tobacco, the WHO can be successful in their efforts. The main difference is that the fight against tobacco took decades (you could really argue it’s not even over today), whereas the plan is to end trans fats within half a decade. Also, this is the first time the WHO, or any international health organization, has proposed a ban on a dietary component. It remains to be seen if the plan will succeed — here’s to hoping it will.