Corn DNA: Eat it Up

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There’s a lot of corn news this week, some of it related to Thanksgiving but mainly because researchers have just decoded the DNA of corn. Apparently, corn has a pretty complex genome and it’s giving scientists a lot of new information.

Credit: Iowa State
Credit: Iowa State

The basics: Corn has 32,000 genes packed into 10 chromosomes (humans have 20,000 genes spread among 23 chromosomes). About 85 percent of the corn DNA has these segments that are repeated; that compares to only about 45 percent of human’s DNA. Reports also said there’s a surprisingly huge difference between two corn varieties, (as much as the genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees!).

Now that researchers know corn’s DNA sequence, they hope it will help develop better types of corn for consumers around the world.

Corn has received a lot of bad press lately, with stories about high fructose corn syrup and the bulging calorie count of movie popcorn. But plain, simple sweet corn carries a lot of health benefits. It’s a good source of dietary fiber, and vitamins B and C.  Blue corn has more protein and it also contains anthocyanins, phytochemicals well studied for cancer prevention.

In some shape or form, you’ll likely be eating corn tomorrow (and everyday). For tasty and healthy corn recipes, visit Recipes from the AICR Test Kitchen.
You can read more about the corn’s genome in the journals Science and PLoS Genetics.

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    13 Years of Eating Out

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    With all the news of the growing obesity epidemic, a lot of stories have focused on fast food. Now, a new study suggests that eating a lot of fast food not only leads to weight gain, but it also may lead to a host of other health issues linked to heart disease and cancer development.

    This might be one of those ‘duh’ studies but for those of us who go out to eat frequently, it’s nice to see a study that differentiates between fast food and sit-down style restaurants, as this study did. (Most studies on this issue group all restaurants together.)
    In the study, the University of North Carolina researchers looked at data spanning 13 years from 3,643 young adults who were participants in a cardiovascular study. The cardiovascular study – called CARDIA – collected data on the participants every few years.

    The goal was to see how eating away from home related to a cluster of factors associated with the metabolicneon drive thru sign blue and yellow syndrome, including a high BMI, large waist, and high blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome puts people at higher risk for heart disease, but a lot of studies have shown it also puts them at risk for cancer development. This makes sense, given that AICR’s new report found obesity causes an estimated 100,000 cases of cancer a year.

    Overall, compared to the diners who ate the least fast food, those diners who ate at fast food places the most often weighed more, had larger waists, higher triglycerides, and showed many of the other signs of metabolic syndrome. Eating at sit-down style restaurants was unrelated to these risk factors. But whether it was at a fast food or sit-down restaurant, people who increased the amount of times they ate out per week over the course of the study experienced a slight increase in weight and waste size.

    Want some help choosing what to eat at restaurants? Many fast food places have their nutritional information online. You can also find a lot of the places on one site at Fatburgr.

    For those sit-down meals, visit Health Tips for Dining Out for some simple restaurant strategies.

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      More Exercise: Think Outside the Box

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      Exercise may not be a natural instinct for many but people can change their behavior and integrate more activity into their lives. Stealth health, or the small change approach was the positive message of Dr. James O. Hill, from the University of Colorado at Denver. In order to do that, we need to think outside the box, getting communities involved and changing the culture.

      Dr. Hill noted how there are very, very few people who can maintain a healthy weight if they are sedentary. In order to avoid the 1-2 pound average annual weight gain, we would need to burn about 100 calories a day. To lose about 10 to 15% of body weight one needs to burn about 200 to 300 calories per day.

      The goal is to change people’s behavior but for long term change there needs to be some motivators, such as money or offsetting greenhouse gas.

      He spoke about his efforts to involve the community: developers, builders, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants – name it and it sounds like he has approached them. Get a pedometer in the grocery store and the more steps you take, the more discounts you get on the product. Every person in the community has a stake in this issue, just some people don’t know it.

      A lot of people doing small change will help promote the results we want.

      Dr. Hill also has a book on the small change approach.

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