Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Why don't Irish people eat more fish?

"Fish is usually caught locally and the distance from the catching point to the retailer is usually not long"  

the full article with video extracts is here

Opinion: we need to develop ways to spread the message that fish is healthy, tasty and green

One of my hobbies is soccer training. After each session, I try to remind my young players the importance of exercise and a balanced diet. One day, I asked them "how many times per week do you eat fish?". One lad replied "do fish fingers count?". "Of course not" I wanted to tell him, but I said yes to him, as eating even that over-processed type of fish is better than nothing.
Let's have a look at the wider picture now. Ireland is an island, there are plenty of beautiful shores and beaches where people can walk by the sea, swim and …fish. Alas, the consumption of fish in Ireland is still low. Why is this?
Before moving to Ireland, my family and I lived in Greece, where we fished and snorkelled every summer. When the boys grew a bit older and could handle a fishing gun, a period of spear fishing started. Hunting for fish is an amazing experience. It makes you part of the sea, it encourages you to observe the sea creatures and view the world from a different angle. One of the messages I have tried to pass to the boys is that we have to eat what we catch so they started eating fish at a young age and developed a taste for it. Living now in Limerick, we are quite lucky and can find sea bream and sea bass from the Med, fish with pure sea flavour.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Mooney Goes Wild, why some fish are picky eaters

But the question remains: what is Ireland's problem with fish? In a comparison of fish consumption per capita in 158 countries in 2013, the Maldives ranked the highest with 166 kg followed by Iceland (90.1 kg) and Hong Kong (71 kg). Irish people consumed just 22.3 kg per capita. Fish consumption per capita in Ireland reached an all time high of 24.6 kg in 2001 and an all time low of 7.10 kg in 1961. When compared to Ireland's main peers, fish consumption per capita in Canada amounted to 22.4 kg, 34.7 kg in France, 90.1 kg in Iceland and 19.1 kg in United Kingdom in 2013. Ireland has been ranked 48th within the group of 160 countries in terms of fish consumption per capita, 4 places behind the position seen 10 years ago.
The comparison between Iceland and Ireland is striking because fish consumption is four times higher in Iceland. One may argue about the meat availability in Ireland at low prices, which is valid to some extent, but the reasons for the low fish consumption in Ireland are much deeper.
Part of the problem is the food pyramid which is taught to all secondary students in Ireland. In this pyramid, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts are grouped together. This grouping conveys the message that these foods have equivalent nutritional value. As we have explained before, this message is simply wrong.

From RTÉ 1's Prime Time, Richard Downes on how the Irish fishing industry is likely to be 
affected by Brexit

Last year, the author and others published a scientific paper titled "Changing the Irish dietary guidelines to incorporate the principles of the Mediterranean diet: proposing the MedÉire diet". We did so with the hope to challenge the current wrong dietary guidelines. Alas, nothing happened. The pyramid remained the same and it is still wrong.
The message conveyed is that eating fish is like eating meat and poultry. Despite all the scientific evidence that suggests that fish is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective compounds and therefore fish is more nutritious than any type of meat, all meat and fish are grouped together. With poultry and fish on the same shelf in the pyramid, one may wonder "why would I spend at least €10/kg to buy fish when I can buy a 1.5kg chicken for €4-5?". Therefore, the dietary message turns to cost argument and then the fish case is lost.
So what can we do?

Modify the Irish food pyramid 

It is of paramount importance to correct the Irish food pyramid and give fish its correct place in the pyramid; highlighting the high nutritional value of fish and seafood is a matter of urgency. It is also important to differentiate fresh fish from processed fish products like breaded fish or fish fingers.
From RTÉ Learn, exploring Irish fish stocks

Educate young people 

The younger we start to educate children and young students the better. Today in Ireland, one in four boys and one in five girls are obese and it is crucial to address this problem. It is not easy, but it is doable. Everybody likes to have processed convenience food. Our taste buds have become used to these tastes and so real fish tastes exotic. We need to start exposing primary school students to healthy tastes. By "training" their taste buds, there is hope that they can develop healthy eating habits. The best way to educate young kids is through experiment and play - teaching them and cooking with them the food we eat can make a big difference.

Promote fish for all 

A variety of initiatives to promote could be organised in schools, universities, supermarkets and workplaces. Companies have a key role to play here as the health of employees and their families should be a top priority. You could have fish BBQs in the summer or food quizzes in rainy days. Ensuring that fresh fish is available as a choice would be a positive start.

Fish is a green food

We need to promote the fact that fish is a green food and much greener than meat. People are more aware about the food they eat, where it's sourced and how it's grown. Everybody wants to learn more about the origin of our food.
Fish is usually caught locally and the distance from the catching point to the retailer is usually not long. Of course, there is fish and seafood that are sold in EU and China, but we support can our economy and environment by choosing fresh Irish fish with very few food miles.
We need to encourage young people to develop the healthy habit of eating fresh (not processed) fish.
The feed conversion ratio (FCR) is an indicator that is commonly used in all types of farming which can provide a good indication of how efficient a feed or a feeding strategy can be. It's the mathematical relationship between the input of the feed that has been fed and the weight gain of a population. The lower the FCR, the higher the weight gain obtained from the feed. If FCR = 1, this means that we produce 1kg of a species with 1kg of feed.
When applied to aquatic animals, FCR is generally lower than that of land animals so we need less feed to produce the same amount of food. Fish do not require drinking water. Therefore, both the carbon and the water footprints of fish is superior to those of animals.
Average FCR
Omnivorous fish - 1.6
Farmed carnivorous marine - 1.45
Salmonids - 1.1
Pig - 2.75
Broiler (chicken) - 2.0
Beef cattle - 6.0
Dairy cattle - 8.0
Fish is healthy, tasty and green and we need to develop ways to spread across this message and encourage young people to develop the healthy habit of eating fresh (not processed) fish.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Mediterranean diet and old-age frailty

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the news today as reported in Irish Times : Mediterranean diet fuels bacteria that may reduce old-age frailty

Time for HSE Ireland to reconsider dietary guidelines as we have suggested here
and here.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Special Issue "Lipids, Health, and Diseases: The Interplay"


 Special Issue "Lipids, Health, and Diseases: The Interplay"

A special issue of Diseases (ISSN 2079-9721).  

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2020.

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Lipids are an incredibly diverse group of organic compounds that are structurally and biochemically involved in many physiological and cellular processes. They act as messengers in inflammation and immunity and are crucial in apoptosis, autophagy, and cell division. Over the last few decades, research has demonstrated that the role of lipids in health and diseases is of major importance and requires further research to advance therapeutics. The purpose of this Special Issue is to present current research that tackles the role of lipids in disease development and/or treatment. Current challenges to treat diseases such as cancer, neurological diseases, and cardiovascular diseases involve potent lipid mediators including eicosanoids and platelet-activating factors or changes of cellular lipid compositions. With the advances in ‘omics’ technologies and research, there is potential to discover novel lipid biomarkers and lipid mediators with pro-resolving effects, such as resolvins and protectins, and design new treatments.  
This Special Issue will provide an open access opportunity to publish research work and review articles related to recent advances in understanding the role of lipids in health and disease and will hopefully present new molecular insights for developing potential therapeutic treatments as well as better patient diagnostic and disease prevention strategies.

Dr. Ronan Lordan
Dr. Ioannis Zabetakis
Guest Editors

Monday, 3 February 2020

Plant VS Animal Dairy

Today at 10.30am : morning coffee at UL, where I work: there was a little sign at the coffee bar that I could have non-dairy alternative with my coffee (soy, oat or coconut).

I was intrigued and I asked: “how do they taste?”. The answer that I got is irrelevant. But, actually this is the major problem of the non-dairy alternatives: they don’t taste like milk.

In my view though, the main problem is this: in Nutrition and in Food Science, in order to evaluate the nutritional value of a milk we compare its amino acid profile to the profile of human milk. The closer the profiles, the higher the nutritional value of the analysed milk. This is where all plant derived milks suffer: their amino acid profile is very poor.

On the other hand, there is a wealth of evidence that animal derived milk and dairy have strong anti-inflammatory (cardioprotective included) properties.
Some recent evidence of these properties is given here and here.

The issue of plant VS animal derived milks is somehow wider, some other factors that need to be considered are : presence of allergens, pesticide residues, food-miles to name few.

One of our next publications is going to be on this topic.

Till then, enjoy your animal derived dairy, they are nutritious and tasty!


Sunday, 2 February 2020

Pollution has no borders

Asopos River, Greece

this is about the past...(or about the future, as well?)

If we do not learn from the past, we are condemned to live it again, though.

September 2009: I stood as a candidate MP for the Greek Green Party...
Failed miserably, on one hand.
On the other hand, though, that was a catalyst to start a project on the pollution of the river Asopos in Greece and the impact of the river pollution to the food chain.

Asopos river basin: heavy metal pollution may be a white collar crime 
The Asopos River basin (map), 60 km to the north of Athens, is a heavily industrialized area responsible for an estimated twenty percent of Greece’s industrial output. It also produces agricultural goods destined for domestic and international consumption.
Studies have shown that since industrialization in the region began in the late 1960s, cancer and mortality rates have risen disproportionately among the residents of Oinofyta compared to the rest of the country. The severity of the case has drawn international attention, with Greece being condemned last June for violating the residents’ right to health by the European Committee of Social Rights, an institution overseen by the Council of Europe. Their plight even came to the attention of U.S. activist Erin Brockovich, whose role in establishing in the U.S. corporate culpability for heavy metal pollution, and in particular hexavalent chromium just like in the Asopos case, was made famous by the eponymous Hollywood film in which she was portrayed by Julia Roberts.

The Problem and our Research
This article is based on our previous paper.1 Heavy metals do not biodegrade in the environment and readily bioaccumulate to toxic levels.2 Anthropogenic activities are the main sources of heavy metal contamination in plants,3 especially in countries where domestic and industrial waste is widely applied to the land for irrigation purposes.
The impact on our diet of contaminated crops such as carrots, onions and potatoes is of great importance4,5 as it has been proved that serious systemic health problems can develop as a result of excessive accumulation of dietary heavy metals in the human body.6
Our team in the Laboratory of Food Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry (Deptartment of Chemistry, University of Athens) has analysed the levels of heavy metals in carrots, onions and potatoes cultivated in the Asopos region in central Greece; this is the second largest industrial area in Greece and an area where the water bed is polluted by heavy metals.7 The results showed that the levels of nickel (Ni) and chromium (Cr) in Asopos food were up to nine times higher than the respective levels of the plants grown in non-polluted areas. The impact of these trace elements on the concentrations of secondary metabolites and antioxidant activity in the above-mentioned tuber plants has also been studied by our team and the results showed that, in carrots, the levels of b-carotene and in potatoes, the levels of lutein, both from the Asopos area, were statistically significantly lower compared to the control ones.8
In a further study,1 we also investigated the uptake of Ni and Cr added in known levels to the irrigation water, by potatoes, carrots and onions. The plants were cultivated in a soil which had never previously been polluted with Cr and Ni from external sources. The levels of Cr(VI) and Ni(II) used in irrigation water were similar to those that can actually be found in the two polluted areas (Asopos river and Messapia, due to polluted underground waters).

The cross-contamination of the food chain (our first Scientific paper)
The levels of Ni in Asopos food were found up to 9 times higher than control (e.g., Asopos potatoes had an average Ni content of 800 µg/kg compared to 78 µg/kg in control, whereas Asopos carrots had an average Ni content of 474 µg/kg compared to 93 µg/kg in control). Likewise, the levels of Cr were found to be about 2 times higher than control (e.g., Asopos carrots were found to have an average Cr content of 43 µg/kg compared to 20 µg/kg in control).

some thoughts
In the area of Asopos, Greece, there is an interesting polluting phenomenon: some industries dump directly to the water bed chemical waste while few hundred yards further, the farmers use bore wholes to pump out water to cultivate food tubers.
In the lab, our team has carried out experiments simulating the polluted water-bed in Asopos region and proved recently that heavy metals (i.e. nickel and chromium in this case) can migrate from the polluted water bed to tuberous plants and root vegetables.
The implications of such migration being that these toxic agents can enter the food chain leading to long-term, chronic consumption and the many putative health problems such exposure can cause. Part of the issue is that unlike certain organic residues metal ions persist, they cannot be degraded or otherwise broken down into less harmful constituents by virtue of being elements rather than compounds. Toxic chemical pollution originates also by mining activities, industrial and domestic wastewater and sewage sludge.
Despite the dire situation of the emerging presence of heavy metals in the food chain, the application of the EU “polluter pays-principle” is still non-existing.

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any similarity to Irish cases might be coincidental (or might not be?)

Ioannis Zabetakis []

Biological Sciences