A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
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Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Posted 3:22 PM by Tevita
New labels balance nutrition pros and cons, give each food a score
From : San Francisco Chronicle
Anyone who's ever spent 15 minutes in the bread aisle of a supermarket trying to find the healthiest loaf of whole wheat knows all too well the curse of the nutrition label. The federally mandated labels, chock-full of useful information, are notoriously difficult to understand. Even professional nutritionists admit to having a hard time using the information to make smart food purchases. And even when shoppers do understand the labels, who has time to compare five or six or more loaves of bread - all before moving to the cereal aisle? A group of researchers may have a solution. Sometime next year, the scientists will introduce a new labeling system that they say will help consumers easily identify the healthiest foods in a grocery store - every product will be rated on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 going to the most nutritious products.
The labels - called the Overall Nutritional Quality Index, or ONQI, score - will show up on about 40,000 products in Raley's stores in the Bay Area over the summer. "I've been counseling patients for 20 years, and I've seen the problems they face with real-life nutrition decisions. You need a Ph.D. in chemistry to find something healthy at the grocery store," said David Katz, director of the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center and developer of the rating system.
Katz was part of a group of nutrition experts who met in 2003 under the direction of the U.S. secretary of health and human services to discuss ways to help consumers make better food choices. The panel never reached any formal conclusions, but Katz was inspired and left to form his own research group. With money from Yale's Griffin Hospital, he developed a new labeling system. In February, Topco Associates, a grocery distribution cooperative owned by independent grocers, joined Katz and offered to introduce the ONQI labels in stores belonging to its members. Topco grocers own about 13,000 stores nationwide, including Raley's. Katz's group isn't the only one developing a new labeling system, although it will be the first to launch one nationwide. Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets, a chain of grocery stores, will begin licensing its labeling system, called Guiding Stars, to other chains sometime next year. The Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition, a group made up of food producers and manufacturers, is also developing labeling guidelines. At the same time, diet and nutrition experts are pressuring the federal government to create a single labeling system that would be used on every product at every store. Some nutritionists worry that multiple labeling systems will just befuddle consumers even more than they already are. Even now, between the federal nutrition labels, product marketing and brand names that promise health benefits, it's no wonder shoppers are frustrated and making poor choices, some nutrition experts say. "It's just going to be more confusing for the general public," said Jane Tien, a registered dietitian with California Pacific Medical Center. "I'm not saying that in the long run we shouldn't have one system. But I think the federal government needs to step up." Tien also noted that it's nearly impossible to develop a simple labeling system that would apply to every consumer. A person with heart disease would have very different nutritional needs than a family with small children or an older person with kidney problems. The concerns are not lost on Katz, who acknowledges that there are limitations to the ONQI system. Over time, he said, he'd like to create labels specifically for people with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes. The goal of the ONQI system is to distill the nutrition information already available to consumers into a score that is simple and easy for shoppers to understand. As it stands, shoppers are swamped with packaging and advertisements that scream "low-fat," "fortified," "sugar-free" and dozens of other healthy promises. There are times when regular mayonnaise may actually be healthier than the low-calorie option, or the full-fat organic peanut butter is a better choice than the "light" name-brand product, Katz said, but figuring that out takes knowledge and time. The foods most in need of simple labeling, nutritionists say, are the "middle aisle" products - snacks, treats, and popular items like cereal and bread that supermarkets display in the busiest sections of stores.
Shoppers can't really go wrong choosing between an apple and an orange (although, technically, oranges get the higher ONQI score). But the decisions are a lot less clear when Mom is trying to decide between Cheerios and Wheaties. (Cheerios win by a hair.) "If you're buying breakfast cereal you think is healthy for your kids, you have a right to know the truth," Katz said. "Even if you aren't eating healthy, you can choose to eat all the cheese doodles you want, but you deserve to know what it is nutritionally." Katz and his colleagues have assigned raw scores to about 20,000 foods. Those scores must now be assigned ratings, on the 1-100 scale, that will be useful to consumers. The ONQI rating system involves a complex algorithm that analyzes the nutritional makeup of a food item and then assigns a score that essentially divides the healthy elements - vitamins and minerals, for example - by the unhealthy ones, like fats and sugars.
Fruit and vegetables have the highest scores because they have almost no unhealthy bits, while sugared cereals and candy bars that have very few nutritional benefits get particularly low scores. The score takes into consideration more than 30 nutrients, including several vitamins and minerals, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and bioflavonoids. Extra points are awarded or taken away for nutrients that have been proven especially healthy or unhealthy.
For example, trans fats can lower the overall score of a product more than the presence of cholesterol, because fats have been more closely tied to heart disease. Foods that have been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals can get some credit, but not a lot - that way a fortified sugared cereal won't end up scoring as well as a banana. How well the new labels catch on with consumers, and with food manufacturers and distributors, remains to be seen. The labels almost definitely will appeal to manufacturers as another useful marketing tool - which could benefit consumers if it puts more truly healthy products on the market. "Every manufacturer we've spoken to is doing something to address the need for healthy products out there," said Jeff Posner, executive vice president of Topco Associates. "Those that are already in good shape view ONQI very positively, and those in the process of developing products see it as a great opportunity. And then there are those that are making health claims and not telling the whole story, and they have concerns."
For a list of the raw scores for some foods, go to:
Figuring out the most nutritious foods How the ONQI scoring system works
-- Scientists determine the basic nutrient information of a food.
-- Positive nutrients - such as vitamins, minerals and fiber - are divided by the number of calories to determine how nutrient-packed a food is. For example, a medium apple with 95 calories has more fiber than a medium orange with 60 calories, but the orange has more fiber per calorie so it scores better.
-- Positive nutrients are weighted according to how beneficial they are. Fiber has been shown to prevent colon cancer, for example, so it gets more credit than zinc, which has been shown to help fight colds and boost the immune system.
-- Negative nutrients such as fat, salt and sugar also are divided by the number of calories and weighted according to how bad they are.
-- Fortified foods get some points, but not full credit, for the extra vitamins and minerals they contain.
-- The total number for all positive nutrients is divided by the number for all negative nutrients. The resulting number is the raw score for a food.
-- Researchers will take those raw scores and assign them numbers on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the healthiest.
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