The juiciest tomatoes and the sweetest corn are two of summer's most anticipated gifts, which is why we were both happy and troubled to read the latest health news on both those favorite foods.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona and the Institute of Health in Spain compared the amount of natural antioxidants called polyphenols -- found to protect against heart disease and some cancers -- in organic versus conventionally grown tomatoes. (In case you're wondering, Spain is one of the top exporters of tomatoes.)
Polyphenols are produced as the tomatoes ripen and are affected by the plant's growing conditions. Researchers said that antioxidants increase in response to "stress conditions," or how hard the plant has to work to access the nutrients in the soil.
Organic tomatoes evidently work harder: "Organic farming doesn't use nitrogenous fertilizers; as a result, plants respond by activating their own defense mechanisms, increasing the levels of all antioxidants," researchers explained in a statement.
Raw organic tomatoes were found to have higher levels of a variety of polyphenols. The Spanish team had previously found that organic ketchup and tomato juice also has more antioxidants than non-organic versions.
The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
As for that other summer delight, sweet corn, the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that retail giant Walmart has decided to sell genetically modified sweet corn from Monsanto, engineered to resist a common herbicide and certain pests.
The decision prompted an outcry from consumer groups and activists who say it poses environmental and health risks. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and General Mills have all vowed not to sell or use this type of corn.
"After closely looking at both sides of the debate and collaborating with a number of respected food safety experts, we see no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product," a Walmart official told the Tribune.
Consumers, however, will not be able to recognize which corn is the genetically modified variety because the government doesn't require labeling of such foods.
Genetically modified food contains a gene from one species that is transferred to another to add certain traits. It's estimated that such modified ingredients are in 70 percent of all American processed food, according to the Center for Food Safety.
The sweet corn from Monsanto contains a gene that produces a protein called BT that is toxic to pests. The corn is also engineered to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
According to EcoWatch.org, the only sure-fire way to avoid modified food is to buy products labeled as organic. Genetically modified crops are not permitted in organic food production.
So, if you're loading up on luscious, organic tomatoes and bountiful ears of sweet corn from your local farm stand -- or maybe even your own garden -- here are some ways to serve them:
In other health news:
New coupons aim to keep patients off generic drugs. An Associated Press story says drug-makers are betting that coupons that reduce the price of brand-name drugs to the level of generics will keep patients using well-known drugs like cholesterol fighter Lipitor, blood thinner Plavix and blood pressure drug Diovan - along with drugs for depression and breast cancer.
FDA issues warning for Reumofan Plus. Federal health officials are warning consumers that Reumofan Plus, marketed as a "natural" dietary supplement for arthritis pain relief and other serious conditions, contains several active pharmaceutical ingredients not listed on the label that could be harmful. The FDA has received multiple reports of adverse events associated with the use of Reumofan Plus, including liver injury, sudden worsening of glucose (sugar) control, weight gain, swelling, leg cramps, and adrenal suppression (problems with kidney functioning).
Nearly half of U.S. doctors struggle with burnout. Reuters reports on a survey that finds that job burnout strikes doctors more often than it does other employed people in the United States. More than four in 10 U.S. physicians said they were emotionally exhausted or felt a high degree of cynicism, or "depersonalization," toward their patients, which some worry could lead to medical errors.
Photo: Courtesy burgundavia via flickr