Diana's Kitchen Laboratory

Biochemistry, Food, Nutrition, Food Science, Food History


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Phasing out trans fat

Recently, the FDA has officially begun to phase out trans fat. The full consumer update can be found on the FDA’s website, but this post is here to provide more specific information on the importance of this decision. It states that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) have been regarded as unsafe for human consumption since 2013. Once you know the term PHO, it seems to pop up everywhere. I see it in peanut butter (except the freshly ground/natural) and even breakfast cereals. The chemical modifications implied by “partial hydrogenation” of lipids creates trans fat. You may wonder why this was invented in the first place? The entire purpose for its existence is to solidify liquid vegetable oils at higher temperatures, since vegetable oils are more easily obtained compared to the desirable animal lard (which is typically solid at room temperatures).

There has been shaming of the term trans fat, but not much shaming of the term partially hydrogenated oils. You may have noticed the clever advertising of many food products proudly exhibiting a 0 grams trans fat on the packaging. You may not have noticed the words “per serving” under the bigger and bolder letters. The FDA allows labels to advertise 0 grams trans fat if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. A second look at the serving size suggests that there is quite a bit of trans fat in that product. Here’s an example of false advertisement in CRISCO vegetable shortening:

ProdAdminImage.ashxNutrition Facts

The packaging is clearly labeled 0 grams trans fat, but the serving size is 12 grams (or 1 tablespoon). If a recipe calls for 1 stick (1/2 cup) of shortening, as recipes often do, that can be a total of 32 grams of trans fat. The ingredients list shows case and point that partially hydrogenated oils are used to make a so called “0 grams trans fat” product.

The reason trans fats are so dangerous stems from a purely biochemical basis. The enzymes that digest lipids in our bodies cannot correctly metabolize the trans double bonds present in partially hydrogenated lipids, but can successfully digest lipids with cis bonds (present in unsaturated oils like olive oil). More information on the chemical process can be found here, but suffice to say, the modified lipids cause harm to our bodies by disrupting the lock and key mechanism for the fat metabolizing enzymes. In fact, the recommended storage for olive oils and fish oils (full of “good” fats also known as unsaturated fats) is in a dark cool space because daylight can cause the lipids to become partially hydrogenated.

Because the FDA plans to phase out PHOs as an ingredient, many of the loopholes that continued to allow trans fats in our food products should be taken care of, at least temporarily. I suspect research in food chemistry to officially announce a substitute soon, and that new chemical will flood the corporate and local markets. The actual disappearance of PHOs is expected to take 3 years. As for now, read nutrition facts labels with a critical eye, or limit that food altogether. Like I said before, PHOs are generally found in processed foods as it increases their shelf life. The foods that contain PHOs are generally snack/junk foods anyhow with lots of processed sugars and excessive salt.

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Three Person Babies – Mitochondrial transplant in a fertilized egg

A while ago, I read a case study on the life of one girl from the UK that had three biological parents. At the time, the practice was banned because of unknown effects. The girl had lived into her teens, and is healthy today (as far as I know). The BBC just announced that the UK has officially approved this method.  The maternal nucleus is being transferred into an egg holding healthy mitochondria, from which sperm can then fertilize. The transplant of mitochondrial from another person can avoid many genetic diseases that are carried through maternal mitochondria only. I know this doesn’t have much to do with food science, but it’s very cool!


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Links to diet/health articles in the news

Food for thought:

Science Daily published an article titled Anti-inflammatory mechanism of dieting and fasting revealed on how a hormone produced while fasting or dieting can prevent immune responses responsible for type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. The scientific paper is titled “The ketone metabolite β-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome–mediated inflammatory disease” and published in Nature.

Futurity recently published an article titled Adding peptide to brain could shrink meals, based on a study done by Boston University. The scientific paper is titled “Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating peptide in the central amygdala causes anorexia and body weight loss via the melanocortin and the TrkB systems”, also published in Nature.

Both imply interesting solutions to the modern health problems.


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Update on black soldier fly composting project

We have gone and ordered 1600 BSF larvae! They should be coming in this week.

Before they get here, my supervisor and I must build an insulating box to keep these buggers warm. The bugs will be primarily contained in a BioPod, manufactured by a company in Texas. The box would go outside of this. We’ve got to vent it, to prevent anaerobic conditions which would be lethal for the larvae. I’m not so much of a builder of these sorts, so I’m up for any advice.

Any ideas on how to vent an insulation box without releasing too much heat?


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Chocolate agar

Chocolate agar

So, I was reading a paper that mentioned using Neisseria gonorrhoeae (try that in a spelling bee), which prompted me to look up more information on this nasty bacteria, which then led me to the Wikipedia page on chocolate agar. Having never heard of this, I was deeply concerned that N. gonorrhoeae were actually cultured on chocolate agar. This is not so. What actually gives the agar plate a chocolate color is red blood cells that have been lysed via heat (80 C). N. gonorrhoeae are fastidious, or requiring complex nutrients, and the blood cells provide hemin and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD).

Cool huh?