Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: fruit

High-fructose corn syrup consumption may push fatty livers to the brink

March 18, 2010 |  6:12 pm

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the many consequences of obesity, as fat accumulates not only across the body and around the visceral organs, but inside the organ that helps break down fats, filter toxins from the bloodstream and create useable fuel from the food we eat.  About 3 in 10 American adults suffer from nonalcoholic fatty liver. But it's a population of patients that's grown so fast, there isn't a lot  known about their risks, and what factors aggravate those risks.

Researchers know those with nonalcoholic fatty liver are more likely than those without such fatty deposits to develop cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure requiring transplant. Still, a minority of those patients will do so, and doctors wish they could identify what factors may push those with fatty liver toward those outcomes.

The development of tough scar tissue in the liver can be a sign that liver failure may lie ahead. For heavy alcohol consumers, an alcoholic bender can cause scarring, or fibrosis, and lead to trouble. That's why those with signs of alcoholic fatty liver are urged to stop drinking alcohol.

A new study suggests that for those with nonalcoholic fatty liver, drinking a lot of beverages sweetened with fructose may do the same thing as liquor.

The study, published in the journal Hepatology, tracked 427 patients with fatty liver disease to see whether consumption of fructose made a difference in the progression of fatty liver to the organ's failure. The Duke University researchers asked subjects only about how many fructose-sweetened beverages a week they drank, including fruit juices and soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup -- yielding a conservative accounting, since the stuff is also used in baking and other processed foods. Though only 19% of the fatty liver patients consumed few or no fructose sweetened beverages, 28% drank at least one a day.

Best represented among the heavy fructose consumers were subjects who were younger, male and Latino, and who had a higher BMI.

Compared to subjects who drank the least fructose beverages, those who drank the most were significantly more likely to have the hepatic scarring that will more often progress to cirrhosis or liver cancer. And older subjects who regularly consumed fructose beverages showed more signs of liver inflammation. After they stripped out the effects of age, gender and body-mass index, the researchers also found that the heavy fructose drinkers also have lower levels of HDL (or "good") cholesterol.

Duke University hepatologist Dr. Manal Abdelmalek said in a news release that high-fructose corn syrup, which was first introduced into the human diet in the 1970s and has accounted for an average of 10% of Americans' caloric intake over the last decade, "may not be as benign as we previously thought." While researchers have demonstrated clearly that the stuff has "fueled the fire of the obesity epidemic," added Abdelmalek, "untill now, no one has ever suggested it contributes to liver disease and/or liver injury."

--Melissa Healy

Sure, pomegranate compounds have potential; so do many foods

January 5, 2010 |  4:45 pm

Pomegranates If you're on the lookout for food news you can use, you may have seen the latest headlines about pomegranates and breast cancer:

Pomegranates May Fight Breast Cancer, Pomegranate Compounds May Ease Breast Cancer RiskPomegranates Can Help With Cancer ....

But keep in mind that the findings on which these headlines are based come from lab work, not from people, not even from animals. It's true that some of the compounds within pomegranates seem  promising (although "can help" seems a bit of a stretch at this point), but much, much research remains before broad assumptions about pomegranates should be made.

Here's the abstract of the study, published in Cancer Prevention Research. And the news release.

As the researchers, from City of Hope in Duarte and from UCLA, point out: "These studies suggest that pomegranate ET [ellagitannins]-derived compounds have potential for the prevention of estrogen-responsive breast cancers."

Considering the marketing conducted after a few early resveratrol studies, that cautious word seems worth repeating: "potential."

Oh, resveratrol? Let's take a look at what those early studies wrought ....

Staff writer Melissa Healy wrote recently: "In the blinking come-ons of some resveratrol pitches and in the subtext and testimonials of others, remarkable claims for resveratrol supplements abound: They will forestall or prevent such age-related scourges as cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease; they will restore vitality, endurance and strength to the middle aged and older; they will make aging brains sharper and more agile. But the business of selling the supplement touted as an "anti-aging miracle" rests on a foundation of science that is as unstable and incomplete as it is promising....

"In fact, the marketing frenzy surrounding resveratrol is a prime example of how science can be distorted when it is mingled with hope, amplified for buzz and spun for profit."

Read the full story: If red wine's good, are resveratrol pills even better?

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Left to their own devices, individual humans likely would consume how many pomegranates? (Know where we're heading here? Yep. Eat a balanced diet -- with plenty of phytochemical-laden vegetables and fruits.) Credit: Associated Press

Cranberries -- soon to be in everything

December 3, 2009 |  8:07 pm

Watch for more and more and more cranberries showing up in your food. This year so far, there have been 562 "cranberry product" launches, according to the first of a whole honking four-part series on the cranberry at the trade website  

The article notes that "U.S. based Ocean Spray Cranberries ... has been highly influential in pushing the cranberry agenda" (which makes Ocean Spray sound kind of sinister, doesn't it?). Cranberries are showing up in bars, gum, chocolate and more and more drinks. Yes, the fruit has the well-known rep of helping with urinary tract infections, but they're now promoted as healthful because of their superfruit-y, loaded-with-antioxidant status.

Take Cranberry Raisinets, which launched this year -- they're aimed at "on-the-go women seeking healthier snacks," according to an Adweek article. "Kristen Mandel, Raisinets' marketing manager, said Cranberry should satisfy consumers' needs to get more fruit in their diets while enjoying 'a little chocolate indulgence,' " the article noted. 'Course, they had to kick out the raisins to make room for them. (The world of functional food marketing is a strange one....)

Nutrient content of dried cranberries are here.

Nutrient content of raisins are here.

--Rosie Mestel

Would you drink Coke or Pepsi for breakfast?

November 9, 2009 |  1:24 pm

It appears that L.A. Times readers love their juice. Dozens of you wrote in to sound off about Sunday’s story “Nutrition Experts See Juice Glass as Half Empty.” The bottom line – that 100% fruit juice can be as unhealthy as soda – was not welcome news to many readers.

Juice To recap, the story points out that fruit juice has comparable amounts of calories and sugar as soda on an ounce-per-ounce basis. Drinking excess soda will make you gain weight, and the same is true of juice. Health experts scratch their heads when schools remove soda from their vending machines and substitute juice instead. Though juice comes from fruit, it is not nutritionally comparable because it has more sugar and less fiber. As Dr. Charles Billington, an appetite researcher and endocrinologist at the University of Minnesota, put it: “It’s pretty much the same as sugar water.”

Juice drinkers wrote in with their complaints. Among them:

If [your butt] is super-glued to the couch, you can become obese eating celery. (I doubt it – that would mean eating a LOT of celery – but in principle, you could become obese if all you ate were apples and oranges.)


My Dad lived to be 96 and drank more than one glass of orange juice, squeezed fresh every day. He hooked me, but I am only 80.

One reader pointed the finger at the way juice is packaged:

Just as with soda, having a big old half gallon in the fridge leads to pouring big old glasses of it any old time -- and a whole lot of calories.

But he added:

My father in his 60's was thinking that he was so healthy drinking his Tropicana orange juice every day -- a whole quart. Then suddenly, wham!! Diabetes hit him and he almost died. This is a Yale Medical School grad very aware of medical issues. In hindsight, he realized that he had been in sugar denial.

Several readers also wrote in to say that they’ve been on to juice for some time now. For instance:

I stopped drinking fruit juice several years ago when I realized I had high triglycerides, which can be a symptom of the body having trouble processing sugar and other carbohydrates. The large amount of sugar in orange juice even makes my teeth hurt now when I try some.

A researcher from the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center commented:

The "healthy halo" around juice has been in great need of a reevaluation.

He pointed to this study, published last week in the journal Cell Metabolism, that found that sugar consumption reduced the lifespan of worms. (I know, people are not worms, but they are useful models for studying aspects of human health.)

If you’d like to add your two cents, please feel free to post a comment here.

The problem of excess sugar consumption certainly raises the question (asked by one reader) of how much sugar one can consume each day without getting into trouble. The answer depends on how many total calories you’re shooting for each day. A helpful guide is available from For instance, a 2,200-calorie diet can include up to 12 teaspoons (or 44 grams) of sugar each day.

I also got questions from many readers asking whether their beverage of choice (pomegranate juice, cranberry juice) was any healthier than orange or apple juice. You can look up almost anything at this website from the Agricultural Research Service’s Nutrient Data Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Be sure to check the 1-cup option to get an accurate read on calories, sugar and other components of an actual serving size (the program defaults to “100 grams”).

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Though it comes from real fruit, this glass of orange juice might was well be a Coke or Pepsi. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Watermelon fun

July 7, 2008 |  4:43 pm


Like many last weekend, I ate slice after slice of watermelon, scrunching the fruit right down to the rind. My appetite insatiable, I took another whole watermelon and ground it up, making a pitcher of watermelon juice. And I am here to report, the melon and the juice tasted good.

Yep. That's it.

Who knows what else I'd have to say if I were a man? According to a news release from Texas A&M University, watermelon contains a chemical with Viagra-like properties. The chemical in question-- citrulline, richest in the rind of the melon--is converted into the amino acid arginine when it gets into the body. "Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, the same basic effect that Viagra has," says watermelon researcher Bhimu Patil of Texas A&M, in the news release.

The release doesn't refer to any studies done by the scientists demonstrating Viagra-like properties in humans or animals, or experiments in dishes with little pieces of human penile tissue, as was done for compound UK-92,480, the name that Viagra once went under.  And if arginine's the business, why not cut out the middle man and scarf it directly? Or go for protein-rich foods? (Proteins, you'd think, would have plenty of arginine, since they're made of amino acids.)

Though these are pressing issues, maybe what we're really seeing here is yet another jostle in the battle for superfruit supremacy. Already, as we reported last week, mangosteens and açai berries are facing potential healthful-fruit challenges from the decidedly-odd-looking baobob tree. And now, this.  "The more we study watermelons, the more we realize just how amazing a fruit it is in providing natural enhancers to the human body," Patil says.   

Fruit. It's good for you. Eat lots of it. Maybe we should just be satisfied with that?

-- Rosie Mestel

Photo: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press   

Mangosteens are so yesterday

July 1, 2008 |  4:29 pm

Baobab trees

Move over, goji berry! Sayonara, acai! Fickle is the consumer seeking everlasting life in a bowl or smoothie glass, and we've just gotten wind of a new fad fruit -- that of the baobab tree.

The baobab has everything a superfruit should have. Unfamiliarity. A name that's hard to pronounce. The fact that it grows far away (in various countries in Africa) and that its fruit has been eaten by ancient peoples. And lord, just look at it! I mean, seriously. Something that odd-looking has got to be good for you.

Plus, it's pollinated by fruit bats.

An article in the online food trade publication reports that scientists in Britain have been studying use of baobab fruit pulp in smoothies and cereal bars. A spokesperson with PhytoTrade Africa, a natural products association of southern Africa, says plans are afoot to research its "health giving properties." The fruit is reportedly high in antioxidants, and stimulates growth of good bacteria in the gut.

Of course, it's a matter of debate whether a baobab -- or any of these superfruits -- are more healthful than a proletarian apple or pear would be -- as we explored in a March 10 article about superfruits.

(Still, let's take one more look at it, shall we?)

-- Rosie Mestel

photo credit: DreamWorks Animation SKG, from the animated feature "Madagascar"


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