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GM controversy, organic nutrition, sweetener and weight management: 2012’s top science under the microscope

21-Dec-2012
Last updated on 21-Dec-2012 at 13:40 GMT

It’s been a busy year in the food science arena, with a whole host of important and controversial findings that would affect the industry. FoodNavigator was there to break you the news … and now we are here to give you the highlights.

From the latest research in genetically modified foods to research on the nutritional value of organic produce, butter flavours linked to Alzheimer’s disease and the risks of phosphates in foods; it really has been a busy year for food science here at FoodNavigator.

In this festive edition, we bring you some of our highest impact science stories from the last year. 

Controversy: Organic, GM, and sweeteners

Stirring up great debate in the food science community, these studies have been some of the most interesting to report on this year.

Let’s start with genetically modified foods . A few months ago French researcher Dr Gilles-Eric Séralini published ‘shocking’ research linking long term exposure to even relatively low levels of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup and a genetically modified resistant crop strain with a ‘greatly increased’ risk of tumors’ and premature death.

The findings come from a rat study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology caused public uproar and a spate of high profile media articles. However the findings of the study have since been slammed by many experts in the area while the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) called the study ‘scientifically unsound’.

Meanwhile the debate on organic foods rumbled on, with a new wide ranging review of the evidence on the nutritional value of organic food finding that it offers no benefits over conventional farming methods when it comes to nutrition and health .

The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, caused great debate on social media with many pointing out that organic foods are not consumed for better nutrition , but for environmental reasons or to decrease exposure to chemicals.

In other news this year, controversial sweetener scientist Dr Morando Soffriti was slammed by industry and academic experts after he presented unpublished data linking sucralose to cancer at a Children with Cancer science conference in London ; a move industry said was “irresponsible”.

Meanwhile diacetyl,an artificial food flavoring compound used for its butter-like taste and mouthfeel, was linked to key processes in the development of Alzheimer's disease . The study found that the industry favourite – found in products including margarines, snack foods, sweets, baked goods, some types of microwave popcorn, pet foods, and certain alcoholic beverages – intensifies the damaging effects of beta-amyloid protein clumping that is linked to Alzheimer's disease. 

Vegetarian benefits

Following a vegetarian diet could mean you live more than nine years longer than you might by consuming meat based diets, says this research .

The study data, released by researchers at the Loma Linda University, USA, finds that people following a vegetarian diet have a number of health benefits compared to those who consume meat – and top of those benefits is a longer lifespan, with vegetarian men living an average of 9.5 and women an average of 6.1 years longer than meat munching counterparts.

Diet focus

Weight management is more far more complex than cutting out a few ‘bad’ foods or balancing energy in and energy out. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed the components of energy balance – considering the interactions between components of metabolism and the ways in which the body regulates energy imbalances.

Professor John Speakman of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, explained that the task of the expert committee put together to write the consensus report was to explore the complexities of weight management, “and highlight some of the myths surrounding the energy balance concept." 

"Most people are aware of calories and that an imbalance between intake and expenditure of calories leads to weight gain,” he said. “However, this rather simple concept of energy balance hides within it an extremely complex association between different elements of intake and expenditure."

In addition to addressing the complex relationship between diet and weight in general, 

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