OH Digest: Pesticide in breakfast cereal, health benefits of getting outside, and more

OH Digest: Pesticide in breakfast cereal, health benefits of getting outside, and more

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, was found in 21 products, from breakfast cereal to granola bars. (Photo credit: Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures)

By Gina Vitale

Our weekly round-up compiles stories and news, both from here at Penn and around the world, that highlight the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health.

Cheerios, Nature Valley cereals contain Roundup ingredient, study finds
CBS News, June 13, 2019
Six varieties of Cheerios and some varieties of Nature Valley granola bars were among 21 products that tested positive for traces of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup. In 17 of the products, glyphosate levels were above what is considered safe for children by the Environmental Working Group.

Are we killing off all the wild buffalo that still know how to roam? Most of the bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park are fair game.
Popular Science, June 6, 2019
A massive conservation effort revitalized the bison population after 19th-century colonization decimated the once-abundant population. While most are now in fenced-in herds, the last wild bison are much fewer in number, living in Yellowstone National Park. Those that travel outside of the park are often hunted, leaving researchers to wonder whether humans are forcing a natural selection that will favor bison that don’t roam free.

Pollution standards on the Ohio River are now optional and local environmental groups are alarmed
NEXT Pittsburgh, June 11, 2019
The Ohio River provides drinking water for about 5 million people, but as of last week, the member states of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission—Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—no longer have to abide by the commission’s regulations. For the first time since 1948, the states may choose to follow their own local rules for water quality.

Striking photos show a decade of environmental decline along the Ganges
CNN, June 12, 2019
The 1,500-mile Ganges River is a site of great spiritual significance to many worshippers in India. But lately, it has become littered with pollution. A series of photos captures this new reality.

Two-hour ‘dose’ of nature significantly boosts health—study: Researchers say simply sitting and enjoying the peace has mental and physical benefits
The Guardian, June 13, 2019
People who spent two or hours in nature per week were more likely to be in good health and satisfied in life, according to a new study. To get these results, researchers interviewed 20,000 people in England about how they spent their previous week.

Pro tips from Penn’s gardeners

Pro tips from Penn’s gardeners

Cole Jadrosich and Lila Bhide of Facilities and Real Estate Services care for edible growing spaces around campus, including the Penn Community Garden. (Photo: Scott Spitzer)

By Katherine Unger Baillie

Gardening as a pastime can seem so relaxing, even meditative—hands working the soil, communing with nature—yet it also has its share of frustrations: seeds that fail to germinate, plants that wither as temperatures rise, pests of every variety bent on decimating crops before harvest time.

Lila Bhide, coordinator of the University of Pennsylvania’s Community Garden, and Cole Jadrosich, an intern for the Penn Park Orchard, have experienced their share of setbacks when it comes to coaxing plants to bear fruit. Here they share their expertise on growing five different crops commonly found in urban gardens.

One mistake that Bhide herself made this year was to wait too long to get started with her tomatoes. “I see people just putting tomato plants in the ground in June or even July because that’s when it feels hot,” she says. “They’re not going to thrive.” If space allows, she recommends starting them indoors from seed in early spring, then transplanting them outdoors once the risk for frost is past. A rule of thumb for this region is that Mother’s Day is a good time to get tomato plants in the ground.

Once these vining plants get big enough, Bhide says to prune them. “What I usually do is pick one main stem and two main branches—or sometimes I’ll give them three if I’m feeling nice—and just pinch off or trim off the other branches,” she says. “Tomatoes naturally want to vine out so you want to direct them, you don’t want to let them go a million directions.”

Those with shady outdoor spaces may want to steer clear, Bhide notes, as tomatoes are a full-sun crop. They should be supported with trellises or cages. And lovers of Italian cuisine, rejoice; tomatoes pair well with basil growing nearby.

Cucumbers, like tomatoes, are vining plants and also need the support of trellises, “especially if you’re in an urban garden, that will help you create more space,” Bhide says. Cucumbers are mostly water, and, as such, require plenty of water to grow well and develop a nice, smooth flavor. “Make sure they’re well-weeded and give them lots and lots of water,” Jadrosich says.

The jury is out on pruning cucumbers, Bhide says. “Some people do, and some do not.” YouTube has a wealth of videos on techniques, she notes.

Fungal diseases are a common problem of many vegetable plants, including tomatoes and cucumbers. Bhide has sometimes used a copper spray to prevent fungal problems on both crops, and using proper mulch can also ward off such infections.

Perennial herbs like mint, thyme, and oregano are good choices for beginning gardeners. “Herbs are a really good bang for your buck because you can use them almost every day,” Bhide says. Annual herbs like basil and cilantro can also be grown easily in containers.

Though many herbs like sun, Bhide notes, “if you’re in a West Philly rowhouse and don’t get a lot of sun, mint is a good choice; it will grow almost anywhere.”

When it’s time to harvest, cut or pinch back the herbs from the top, leaving the sides. This will encourage the plants to branch out instead of continuing to grow straight and go to seed, Bhide says.

A versatile culinary crop, garlic is not terribly demanding. It’s possible to special order cloves for planting, but Bhide says any organic clove from a grocery store or farmer’s market will suffice. “Plant it around Halloween, then mulch over it and just leave it,” Bhide says.

Garlic is typically ready for harvest some time in July, when several of the leaves die back and turn yellow, says Jadrosich.

Although garlic doesn’t require much care while it is growing, Bhide and Jadrosich say it’s not a foolproof crop. “There has been a huge wave of new pests, like allium leafminer, that target garlic,” Bhide says.

Though most of the other plants mentioned are ready for harvest in the summer, there are plenty of choices for fall gardening as well. Different types of greens, such as lettuce, kale, and collards, can all be started in the garden now to be ready for autumn picking. The cold weather doesn’t hinder them and may even be a help. It’s often said that kale, for example, takes on a sweeter flavor when picked after a frost.

For fall harvest, now is the time to sow greens. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and turnips can also be planted now and enjoyed when the weather turns cooler.


OH Digest: Toxic red tide, ‘zombie genes,’ and more

OH Digest: Toxic red tide, ‘zombie genes,’ and more

Toxic red tides pose a serious threat to marine life. One in Florida (not pictured) has led to a declared state of emergency.  (Photo: Alejandro Díaz/Wikimedia Commons)

Our weekly digest compiles stories and news, both from here at Penn and around the world, that highlight the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health.

By Jacob Williamson-Rea 

Florida declares a state of emergency as red tide kills animals and disrupts tourism
The Washington Post, August 14, 2018
Red tide, a bloom of toxic algae, has suffocated marine life and shut down local tourism in southwest Florida. Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency.

The ‘zombie gene’ that may protect elephants from cancer
The New York Times, Aug. 14, 2018
Theoretically, large animals should get cancer more frequently than smaller animals because they have more cells, which increases the chance of cell mutation. Elephants, however, have a special gene that can attack potentially cancerous cells, according to a recent study.

Palm oil: A new threat to Africa’s monkeys and apes?
BBC News, Aug. 14, 2018
Palm oil is used as a low-cost ingredient in many foods, cleaning products, and even cosmetics. As demand for such products increases, deforestation to expand oil palm tree acreage threatens native monkeys and apes in places like Indonesia and Malaysia.

A new pesticide may be as harmful to bees as the old one
Science, Aug. 15, 2018
The European Union and Canada have banned the use of several neonicotinoid pesticides, but the United States continues to use them. These pesticides have been found to have a detrimental effect on bee populations, even in low doses.

Not just land heat waves: Oceans are in hot water, too
Associated Press, Aug. 15, 2018
As summer heat waves cause droughts across the world, ocean temperatures have been spiking, too. This seriously threatens coral reefs, kelp forests, and marine life.

You don’t need to worry about Roundup in your breakfast cereal
Slate, Aug. 16, 2018
A new report from the Environmental Working Group states that glyphosate, a chemical found in Monsanto weed killer, may cause serious harm to those exposed to high concentrations. Glyphosate is found in trace amounts in popular breakfast cereals, but the amount is far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended threshold.

OH Digest: Arctic-cooling spiders, disappearing ‘ocean wilderness,’ and more

OH Digest: Arctic-cooling spiders, disappearing ‘ocean wilderness,’ and more

In a recent study, researchers used 19 human stressors to determine what marine wilderness was left in the world. They call for large-scale actions to protect these areas, including preventing overfishing and limiting run-off from land-based activities. 

By Michele Berger

Our weekly round-up compiles stories and news, both from here at Penn and around the world, that highlight the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health.

The last of the ocean wilderness
Scientific American, July 26, 2018
In a number once unimaginable, today just 13 percent—21 million square miles—of the world’s oceans remain untouched by humans, according to a study published in Current Biology. So far, large-scale international environmental policies have failed to protect these as-yet uncharted waters.

Could this tiny spider be helping the Arctic stay cool?
Science, July 23, 2018
Wolf spiders typically eat an insect called the springtail, whose diet is composed of fungi in the soil that release carbon dioxide and other potent greenhouse gases. But when the temperatures spike, the spiders eat each other instead, inadvertently allowing more of these gases to enter the atmosphere over the Arctic.

For the first time, a female Ebola survivor infects others
The New York Times, July 23, 2018
For more than a year, the Ebola virus hid out in the body of a woman who had survived the infection during the epidemic in West Africa. When she relapsed, the virus was still contagious, the first known case of this type.

The world is hot, on fire, and flooding. Climate change is here.
Grist, July 24, 2018
The headline kind of says it all: As droughts and heat waves amp up both in frequency and intensity, fires are happening more often. More intense rains are causing flooding around the world. Plus, it’s already one of the hottest years on record—and we haven’t even hit August.

Top EU court: GMO rules cover plant gene editing technique
Reuters, July 25, 2018
The Court of Justice of the European Union decided that plants that have undergone gene editing called mutagenesis fall under the same laws as other genetically modified organisms, a boon for environmental advocates but a setback for the biotech industry.

New drug wipes out malaria in a single dose—but there’s one hitch
NPR’s Goats and Soda, July 26, 2018
A new drug called tafenoquine is extremely effective at wiping out malaria, preventing relapse by as much as 70 percent. But to use it, health care providers must administer a test that determines whether someone’s red blood cells will respond poorly to it, an expensive diagnostic that’s not yet widely available.

Michele Berger is a Science News Officer in University Communications and chair of the One Health group. 

BBQ breakdown: Health risks of some summertime staples

BBQ breakdown: Health risks of some summertime staples

Barbecue season is in full swing. Though some may prefer meatless options, summertime staples like hot dogs and hamburgers still occupy a good bit of paper plate real estate. In fact, July has been named National Hot Dog Month by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, with July 18 marking this year’s National Hot Dog Day.

While these classics have been the centerpiece of many American BBQs for decades, the harsh reality is that they remain some of the unhealthiest choices.

“Eating foods that are highly processed, high in fat, and high in sodium, such as hot dogs, ground beef, and the toppings used to dress them, can impact one’s risk for heart disease and diabetes, among other diseases,” said Helene Glassberg, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine. “While enjoying these foods occasionally may not put you at an increased risk, frequent consumption, coupled with other risk factors such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and genetics, can quicken the onset of these life-threatening diseases.”

Despite these known risks coming from clinicians, and data from organizations such as the World Health Organizations (WHO), which reported in 2015 that processed meat was linked to an increase in cancer risk, these items are not likely to disappear from party menus. So while moderation is king, here Penn experts in nutrition dissect some typical barbecue fare.

Deviled eggs
“Eggs have generally been given a bad rap for their cholesterol, but the truth is they are actually quite healthy,” Glassberg says. “They only have 80 calories, of course with some fat, but very little carbs, lots of vitamins and minerals, and great protein. But for some, the amount of cholesterol found in eggs can be an issue.”

Those with higher-than-normal cholesterol levels, a history of heart disease, or who are already taking medications to treat a cardiovascular condition should steer clear of these. Glassberg says that for the most part, “there is a limit to how much direct cholesterol we absorb in our diet, so I generally support egg consumption. But deviled eggs, on the other hand, they’re another story.”

If made the traditional way, these bite-sized snacks are very high in fat and calories, from the added mayonnaise and mustard. More creative recipes even call for cheddar cheese and bacon (more on that later), which really put these snacks on the bad list. Fear not, Glassberg says. “If you decrease the number of yolks used—say, if you make 12 eggs but only use the yolks from six—and replace the mayonnaise with non-fat Greek yogurt, these can still be a healthy summer snack.” All in all, when slightly modified, these snacks are a keeper.

Corn on the cob
This one can go either way, depending on how it’s eaten. “Corn on the cob by itself can be a healthy choice, but the problem arises [with] toppings,” says Colleen Tewksbury, program manager for the Penn Bariatric Surgery Program. “Typically butter, salt, or cheese are added, which bring unnecessary calories, sodium, and added fats to the plate.”

Tewksbury and folks in the Bariatric Surgery Program work with patients on the road to bariatric surgery to make adjustments in their eating habits and approach to food to set them up for success following the procedure. Many patients start logging their food as part of the pre-surgery steps, either with pen and paper or with apps such as My Fitness Pal or the newly launched Penn Life Gained, designed to streamline tracking steps and exercise, recording caloric and water intake, monitoring sleep time, altering diet, etc. for patients undergoing bariatric surgery.

Many of these adjustments also focus on planning ahead for events or parties, so patients can think about what they will eat, prepare to avoid certain items, and plan out their days prior to account for the foods served at parties. Corn alone is high in fiber, and is a good source of vitamins and minerals, but it’s definitely a slippery slope when toppings are involved.  “When in doubt, keep it plain,” Tewksbury says.

Baked beans
“These may sound like they are a good option to gravitate toward since beans are typically seen as good sources of fiber and protein, but baked beans are often very high in sugar and calories,” Tewksbury says. “The sugar and molasses in the sauce take this protein- and fiber-rich item, and turn it into something more akin to a dessert. At the end of the day, the benefits from the beans may not be worth all of the additional calories.”

The issue of sugar in traditional BBQ fare is one that William Duffy, an internal medicine specialist at Penn, discussed with Men’s Health earlier this month. Duffy stressed the importance of avoiding store-bought dressings and rubs, which can be high in sugar, just like store-bought (or even homemade) baked beans, which can pack up to 12 grams of sugar in just one half cup.

To put this in perspective, according to the American Heart Association, the average male should consume no more than 36 grams of sugar a day, and the average woman, no more than 25 grams. With that scale, one serving of baked beans could amount to half of a woman’s daily sugar limit. In this case, Tewksbury urges portion control, especially if sweets will hit the table at the end of the barbecue.

Pasta and potato salad
These sides are also a bit tricky. “The calories in pasta or potato salad tend to add up quickly, particularly for such a small side dish,” Tewksbury says. “One cup of either salad can be more than 350 calories, which can raise the total calorie content of a meal rapidly.”

In addition to the calorie counts, much like with deviled eggs, the addition of “hidden” ingredients like mayonnaise can put this side dish is the “not so healthy” bucket. Substituting again with non-fat Greek yogurt, or avocado (which is full of “good” fats), can make this a bit better. That said, when paired with the other BBQ items, a green salad might be a better choice.

 Linda Sartor, a certified diabetes educator, clinical dietitian, and diabetes nutritionist in Penn’s Rodebaugh Diabetes Center, said what might actually be best is to “opt for only half of an ear of corn, or to choose just one starch side (either potato/pasta salad or baked beans) instead of eating all of them. Being selective with these items will help manage blood sugars.”

Providing these kinds of alternatives is one way Sartor and her team help patients with diabetes in the clinic navigate cooking and meal planning. Patients newly diagnosed with diabetes participate in nutrition workshops—often led by Sartor—where they learn about foods they should avoid, swaps they can make for indulgent dishes, and new food groups to focus on to manage their disease. Some patients may even reverse their diabetes by making changes to their diet, like cutting out grains, carbs, sweets, meat, dairy, and night eating.

Hot dogs and hamburgers
These items are often the main event—and perhaps those with the most potential for negative impacts.

“Grilling or barbecuing meats creates advanced glycation end products (AEGs) like nitrosamines, that have been linked to increased risks of cancer, specifically colorectal and pancreatic,” says Sartor, a fact that made headlines following the WHO report on this connection and new USDA dietary guidelines that stressed moderation when consuming not only processed meats, but all processed foods.

While these foods don’t need to be stricken entirely from the diet, they should be eaten sparingly, and perhaps not all in one sitting, says Daniel Rader, chair of the department of Genetics and chief of the division of Translational Medicine and Human Genetics.

On top of these carcinogens, Sartor adds, “processed meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, wings, and ribs contain lots of artery-clogging fats and salt, which can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the body.” Instead of loading up on red or processed meat, Sartor suggests making baked chicken breast (without the skin) with homemade BBQ sauce, or opting for boneless BBQ chicken “wings” from chicken tenders, and baking them in the oven instead of grilling.

One key tip Sartor offers for managing many BBQ staples is to try homemade sauces. Duffy echoed this in the Men’s Health article, noting that many meat rubs “are loaded with salt, sugar, and preservatives,” which the experts seem to agree can negatively impact health.

“The average hot dog and hamburger come in at around 300 calories with a bun, but the real challenge comes with the toppings,” Tewksbury says. “Most people load up their burgers or dogs with cheese, ketchup, mayo, and other high-calorie, high-fat items. If you do decide to have one of these and opt for a condiment, stick with low-calorie ones like mustard and add veggies like lettuce, tomato, onion, or pickles.”

Duffy agrees, telling Men’s Health that “mustard is also a great sugar-free option—assuming you don’t opt for honey mustard, which tends to include lots of sugar.” Ultimately, consuming BBQ fare sparingly is key, as is opting for homemade sauces and condiments, making selective choices, and substituting high-fat ingredients for low-cal options. Taken together, this advice can take some of the health risks—and the guilt—out of these summer foods.