Raising kidney awareness on World Kidney Day

Today, 13 March 2013, is World Kidney Day, a day which “aims to raise awareness of the importance of our kidneys to our overall health and to reduce the frequency and impact of kidney disease and its associated health problems worldwide.” Every year the day has a unique theme, and this year it’s “Kidneys for Life – Stop Kidney Attack.”

The main role of the kidneys is to remove toxins from the blood. It also helps control blood pressure, produces red blood cells and helps control blood acidity. Unfortunately, the incidence of chronic kidney disease, and other kidney-related diseases, is increasing significantly around the world, placing huge added pressure on already stretched health systems. It is estimated that between 8 and 10% of all adults have a notable level of kidney damage, with the impact of this ranging from loss of productivity to premature death.

Kidney beans, like most legumes, are super foods when it comes to controlling blood sugar and preventing diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop kidney damage. So, interestingly, kidney beans are actually good for kidney health!(© All Rights Reserved)
Kidney beans, like most legumes, are super foods when it comes to controlling blood sugar and preventing diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop kidney damage. So, interestingly, kidney beans are actually good for kidney health!
(© All Rights Reserved)

The important message on World Kidney Day is that there are things we can do to reduce the risk of kidney disease. Focus is placed on 8 golden rules of kidney care:

  1. Keep fit and active.
  2. Control your blood sugar levels.
  3. Monitor your blood pressure.
  4. Eat healthy and avoid obesity.
  5. Maintain a healthy fluid intake.
  6. Do not smoke.
  7. Avoid excessive over-the-counter medication such as anti-inflammatory drugs.
  8. Finally, if your habits related to points (1) to (7) above place you at risk, get your kidney-functions checked on a regular basis.

Be aware of kidney-health, and take action before it’s too late – it might just save your life!

Singing the praises of pasta

Fettuccine, ravioli, lasagne, tortellini, cannelloni, spaghetti, macaroni… If (like me) the mere mention of these words make your mouth water, you’ll be happy to know that today, 25 October, is World Pasta Day.

And this is not just some willy-nilly food day like Chocolate Milkshake Day or Hamburger Day, this is serious stuff. The idea for a World Pasta Day was born out of the World Pasta Congress held in Rome on this day back in 1995. To quote the Union of Organisations of Manufactures of Pasta Products of the EU (UN.A.F.P.A. – believe it or not, there actually is such an organisation):

“Account was taken and stress was laid on the importance of spreading to the utmost the knowledge of pasta among consumers throughout the world by means of collective initiatives of promotional nature and institutional information campaigns. 

The countries with greatest experience in this field made available their know-how for the benefit of those countries which have only recently come to realise the virtues and merits of pasta.”

It all sounds terribly formal, but basically the idea of the day is to organise annual events around the world to promote the benefits of pasta and show that it is “appropriate for a dynamic and healthy life style capable of meeting both primary food requirements and those of high-level gastronomy.”

Lasagne with homemade pasta – that’ll hit the spot!
(© All Rights Reserved)

I’m all for it, of course. If I had pick a favourite category of food, pasta would definitely be at or near the top. Its versatility makes it ideal for everything from a quick snack to a hearty home meal to a gastronomic feast.  And I know many people share this passion – quite amazing for a simple dough made from only flour and egg. But of course the magic doesn’t lie in the pasta itself, but in the way it serves as the perfect base for anything from a basic sauce or pesto to a mouthwatering combination of vegetables, meats or seafood.

And the best part of it is that pasta can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Pasta is a good source of complex carbohydrates, low in sodium, cholesterol free and (in the case of whole wheat pasta) a good source of fibre. And of course it works well with other healthy foods – to quote the Pasta Fits website, it is the perfect partner for “fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart-healthy fish and vegetable oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein-packed cheese, poultry and lean meats.”

While pasta may be traditionally Italian cuisine, the rest of the world has certainly caught on to its appeal. The Italians still eat by far the most pasta (26 kg per capita per year, according the the International Pasta Organisation’s 2010 consumption figures), but Venezuela, Tunisia and Greece also consume more than 10 kg per person, while Switzerland (9.7kg), USA (9.0kg), France (8.1kg), Germany (7.7kg) aren’t too far behind. Australia is a bit down the list, at 4kg per capita, and I have no idea what the figure for New Zealand is. (While the USA may not top the per capita list, they consume the most pasta in total – almost a quarter of the global consumption!)

But wait, enough talking – I’m ready for a good hearty lasagne. Buon appetito!

Charles Glen King and the story of Vitamin C

Today is the birthday of Charles Glen King (22 Oct 1896 – 23 Jan 1988), an American biochemist and the ‘other guy’ who also discovered Vitamin C.

In the early 1930s, King was doing research on the anti-scurvy effects of lemon juice on guinea pigs (guinea pigs are one of only a small group of animals besides humans who cannot produce their own vitamin C, hence they can get scurvy like us). At the same time, Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi was studying the chemical hexuronic acid that he had previously isolated from animal adrenal glands. Within 2 weeks of each other, both King and Szent-Gyorgyi published papers on the discovery of Vitamin C, showing that the vitamin and hexuronic acid were the same compound.

Szent-Gyorgyi went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1937, for his part in the discovery of Vitamin C, while King was not similarly rewarded. Controversy remains over the extent to which both men deserve partial credit for the discovery.

Given the extent to which Vitamin C is lost from food due to storage, cooking etc, a dietary supplement may be necessary to ensure that you get enough of the good stuff.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, thanks to its anti-scurvy properties (a- = not; scorbus = scurvy). Besides fighting off scurvy, Vitamin C has many other benefits – it is a cofactor in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body, and it has important antioxidant properties. It also enhances iron absorption, and is a natural antihistamine. However, while it is found in high concentrations in immune cells, its flu-fighting power may be a myth. Despite extensive research, Vitamin C has not been proven effective in the prevention or treatment of colds and flu. It does not reduce the incidence or severity of the common cold, but there are some indications that it may help reduce the duration of illness.

Still, even though it may not ward away the sniffles, getting a decent daily dose will definitely do you more good than harm – there doesn’t appear to be many adverse effects from overdosing, since excessive amounts of Vitamin C is simply lost through nonabsorption or urination.

So, don’t hold back on the chilli peppers, guavas, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, fresh herbs, kiwifruit, strawberries and, yes, good old oranges.

And while you’re feasting away, spare a thought for Charles Glen King, the unsung hero in the Vitamin C story.