OSU Dishes Up Healthy Diet Discoveries

OSU Dishes Up Healthy Diet Discoveries
And more discoveries that keep us healthy



Eggs enriched with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—a healthy component of fat missing from many western, low-fat diets—may help decrease risk of heart disease and rid the body of fat. According to research by Gita Cherian, an OSU animal scientist, one serving of enriched eggs provides the same beneficial amount of CLA as around 7 cups of whole milk.


Milk with more omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fats is the result when dairy cows are fed flaxseed. Research by Gerd Bobe, an OSU expert in animal and human nutrition, found that feeding cows up to 6 pounds of pelleted flaxseed lowered saturated fats and raised polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 in milk, butter, and cheese.


Barley is a smart choice for people looking to control blood sugar as it slows absorption and improves glucose tolerance, says OSU’s resident barley-breeding expert Pat Hayes. Barley’s soluble fiber, beta-glucan helps reduce cholesterol and may reduce risk of heart disease.


Tomatoes may be common, but this Indigo Rose variety developed by OSU vegetable breeder Jim Myers stands out from the bunch, both because it is an unexpectedly purple color and because it is the first variety with anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant, in its fruit.


Albacore tuna caught off the west coast of the US contain lower levels of mercury than most commercially canned albacore tuna, according to Michael Morrissey, retired director of OSU’s Food Innovation Center. ” e west coast albacore tuna also showed higher levels of omega-3 oils that may protect against heart disease and help brain function.


Grapes, cherries, and raspberries contain ellagic acid, a chemical which could lower blood sugar and improve liver function in people who are overweight. Neil Shay, a biochemist and molecular biologist at OSU, found that the compound slows the growth of existing fat cells and boosts the burning of fat in the liver in experiments with laboratory mice.


Potatoes that are colorful, like the Purple Pelisse variety developed by OSU through the Pacific Northwest Tri-State Breeding Program, are also sources of health-promoting compounds. Red and purple spuds contain anthocyanin, an antioxidant, and yellow ones contain carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A.


Hops have a natural flavonoid, xanthohumol, which lowers weight gain and bad cholesterol and improves insulin resistance in obese mice, according to Fred Stevens, a professor in OSU’sCollege of Pharmacy. Most beer only contains a small amount of the compound, but efforts to develop it as a nutritional supplement are underway.

It takes guts to get healthy

Did you know that your gut serves as the largest immune system in your body?

Inside your intestinal tract live trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that help you digest food and protect your body against harmful bacteria. In fact, your body contains many more bacterial cells than human cells, and your gut is home to the largest proportion of this bacterial ecosystem. Keeping your microbiome healthy is of great interest to Gerd Bobe, an Oregon State animal scientist and researcher in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute, because, he says, a healthy gut offers trillions of potential allies in the fight against cancer.

“Take care of your microbiome, and it will take care of you,” Bobe instructs his OSU students.

Research has shown that what you eat—say, vegetables or meats—can dramatically alter the microbes that live inside you. This microbial community functions like any other ecosystem, Bobe says, where organisms compete for resources and produce by-products that can have a profound effect on other microbes, with good or bad consequences for you.

As advertised on yogurt cartons, “probiotics” are live bacteria and yeasts that help keep your digestive system healthy. Probiotics are good for you. But these live cultures require their own nutritious diet to stay healthy themselves. Bobe refers to the food that feeds the microbiome as “prebiotics.” Often these are nondigestible fiber compounds that stimulate the growth of good bacteria. He calls the whole microbiome bacterial food chain “synbiotic.”

Eating a variety of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables—not just extracts or supplements—helps to feed you and your gut bacteria. This starts a chain of events that can decrease inflammation in the colon, according to Bobe, and disrupt the progression of the adenoma-carcinoma precursors in colon cancer. Refined or processed foods lack the enzymes and living bacteria necessary for microbiome health.

For all the good it does for us, it might be time for us to do some good for our gut.

Common antimicrobial agent rapidly disrupts gut bacteria

The discovery of antibiotics in the 1920s was a huge breakthrough for preserving human health. However, overuse of antibiotics has been associated with negative consequences of microbial resistance. In addition, new research now suggests that some of the most common antimicrobial agents can rapidly disrupt beneficial microbes in the human gut, potentially contributing to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and malnutrition.

OSU microbiologist Thomas Sharpton and colleagues examined the compound triclosan, widely used as a hospital scrub since the 1970s and one of the most common antimicrobial agents in the world. Found in shampoos, deodorants, toothpastes, kitchen utensils, and toys, triclosan is a concern because it is so widely used and so readily absorbed through the skin and gastrointestinal tracts.

“There’s now a growing awareness of the importance of the bacteria in our gut microbiome for human health,” Sharpton said. “There are consequences to constantly trying to kill the bacteria in the world around us.”

The gut microbiome stimulates the development of the immune system, prevents colonization with pathogens, and produces micronutrients needed by the host. Using a zebrafish model and high-throughput technologies available at Oregon State University, the researchers found that triclosan exposure caused rapid changes in both the diversity and composition of the microbiome.

“Clearly there may be situations where antibacterial agents are needed,” said Christopher Gaulke, a microbiology researcher and lead scientist on the study. “However, we now have evidence that intestinal bacteria may have metabolic, cardiovascular, autoimmune, and neurological impacts, and concerns are valid about overuse of microbial agents.”

Published in: Food Systems, Health