This Week's Nutrition News Feed

By: Sara Reistad-Long
milk bottle


Close-up of a bottle of milk on a breakfast table

©(c) Stockbyte

(c) Stockbyte

In this week's news: School cafeteria workers have reason to high-five; scientists make milk -- minus the cow; and umami is just the beginning of an avalanche of new tastes.

The Spork Set Surprises

Sure, most kids roll their eyes when they hear the phrase "healthy lunch." (Certain grown-ups, too.) But a funny thing happened on the way to upgrading the nation's cafeteria meals.  Although elementary school students complained when they first tried lunches that met new government standards in 2012, by the end of the school year most actually liked them, according to a just-out survey from the University of Illinois at Chicago. The data, which polled administrators at over 500 primary schools, found that 70 percent agreed strongly that kids liked their new meals (richer in whole grains and produce, and containing less fat). The picture gets even brighter, too. Another study, recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that children’s intake of fruits and vegetables had gone up since the guidelines were implemented. That said, participation in school lunch programs has dropped 3.7 percent since 2010, a slip that some officials worry has to do with these new standards.

Next Up in the Non-Dairy Case

In the lab-grown-meat-is-so-2013 and yes-this-is-happening departments: San Francisco biohackers Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi are, as we speak, hard at work on a drink they say will be nearly identical to cow's milk in taste and nutritional makeup. Ingredients include sunflower oil (which has a similar composition to milk fat), and galactose (a sugar very much like lactose). In addition to the animal-free bit, the product -- currently called Muufri -- may bank on its customizability: Once a core formula is established, it's easy to tweak out, say, a mix that would work for people who are lactose/galactose intolerant, or one that's cholesterol-free (in skim milk, small amounts of cholesterol remain in oxidized form). Come August 19, the first glass will be unveiled, and the company hopes to start selling the product commercially well before 2017.

There's No Accounting for Taste -- or is There? 
First there were four: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Then, savory swanned in and made it five. Yet over the past ten years, the case for not just a few, but a small army of new tastes has been growing. Here’s why: Taste is, at root, our body's system for letting us know what's nourishing and nutritious for us (yum) and what might be poison (mayday, mayday). A current theory is that each receptor might be more finely tuned than we’d thought to specific types of nourishment we need or need to avoid. Savory (aka umami), the newest kid of the block, is believed to correlate with protein, for example. In light of this, it's probably unsurprising that fattiness has been a strong candidate for the latest addition to the taste club. Yet even here, there appear to be multiple receptors, leading to the question: When we have, say, 30 tastes, is the category even useful? Or should we just think of words like "sweet" or "salty" as adjectives?

Sara Reistad-Long writes about science, wellness and lifestyle. She is the co-author of The Big New York Sandwich Book and can be followed on Twitter: @sarareistadlong

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