Interview with a Food Science Student

As someone who loves Pinterest, I know how easy it is to be dazzled by a variety of "healthy" claims and trends.  There is no reason that what we eat can't be good to eat and good for us at the same time.  But how do we draw the line between what's real and what's futile?

Today I got to interview Rachel, a food science student at Clemson University.  She cleared up the questions that any amateur foodie might have.

What is food science?

Food science is a wide array of fields dealing with a lot of different properties of food.  It pertains to the human nutrition side of food; the food safety area, which covers things such as food microbiology; and the chemical and physical properties of food which can be used in areas such as product development.

What have you focused on most?

I've focused most on the chemical and physical properties of food and also some on the microbiological areas.

What can you tell me about GMOs?  First of all, what are they?

GMOs are genetically modified organisms- plants or animals, but more often plants.  Historically, we've been selectively breeding plants, which is a version of that.  The more common thing that people think of when they think of GMOs is organisms who have had very slight modifications in their DNA engineered in a laboratory setting which allows them to have beneficial properties such as increased yield, resistance to pests, resistance to drought, or they can add missing nutrients into them.  It's a really common thing, despite what people think.  Almost all the corn and soy in America is GMO.

Why do people hate the idea of it so much?

A lot of people don't understand the science behind it and are scared.  Other people who understand the science are often against GMOs because there have been ethical problems with the companies themselves who own them, because patenting a plant is often difficult and leads to problems.  For instance, if seeds end up in somebody's field who hasn't paid for them, then there are lawsuits and things like that, so they're working through the ethics of it.  But a lot of people who don't understand that part also don't understand the science of it and they're just afraid of what they don't understand.

But GMOs are safe to eat?

Absolutely.  Everything's been very rigorously tested.  The great thing about America is that there's no food that's not safe to eat because we have really strict regulations.

Changing paces... What can you tell me about antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that fix free radicals.  So what that means: a free radical is often made by oxygen.  Oxygen is a very unstable molecule, and sometimes you get a single oxygen or an oxygen with unpaired electrons, so what that really wants to do is either taken an electron or lose an electron really badly.  And those are at risk of doing that with things like DNA, which then screws it up really bad.  That's what a free radical is.  Antioxidants have a structure that allows them to accept that free electron, reducing the free radical to just, generally, oxygen or water.  Antixodiants are found in pigments, vitamin E, vitamin A- that's why you eat your vitamins.  Among other reasons.

How do we get the free radicals?  

It's a byproduct of just oxygen and water.  Just one of the things that happens.  Generally, it's things like either O instead of O2,or hydrogen peroxide, or H3O- not H3O+ like you see in chemistry, but H3O.  It's just something that happens.

What foods have antioxidants?

Any fruits or vegetables that are brightly colored will have them.  That's why they say "eat a colorful plate", because you get a variety of vitamins(even though they're not all antioxidants).  Carrots, bell peppers, red cabbage... think of the oranges and reds.

Can we trust the fad diets and the things that we read online?

Antioxidants are good to eat.  That being said, a well-balanced diet generally includes all the antioxidants you need.  You certainly don't need to be taking supplements or anything.  The key to everything is really just a well-balanced diet: meat, carbs, fruits, vegetables.  A little bit of everything, not too much of any one thing.  You don't wanna eat only vegetables, because then you'd be missing things too.  So any fad diet or strict, regulated diet, unless you have a severe health condition, should not be bothered with.

This is just for fun: What's the most shocking thing that you've learned in your studies?

One third of your poop is bacteria is from your G.I. tract.  One third of the mass.

A few of Rachel's food creations:

Chocolate Yule log cake with spice cookie "mushrooms"

Punjabi-style potatoes and green beans
Thanks to Rachel for the interview, and thanks to all of you for reading!  2016's been a pretty awesome year, and I wish you all the best for the remainder of it, as well as for the new year.

World peace and love,

Heather <3

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