Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Soups and glycine betaine

Boiling is a wonderful way to extract glycine betaine (AKA trimethylglycine or TMG) from foods that contain it. Around 60-80% of the TMG in plant material leaches out into the water when it is boiled. For instance, one study found 1472 mg/g of TMG in organic pasta when uncooked; once cooked, the amount of TMG was only 352 mg/g. Where did three-quarters of the TMG go? Into the cooking water, from which most of the TMG can be recovered, as it is fairly heat-stable. Yet what do we do with that cooking water in the USA? We throw it down the drain! All that boiling-extracted TMG, a nutrient that supports our bodies in converting homocysteine--see this article for a partial summary of the health problems that appear associated with having too much homocysteine--and we give it to our sewers. Why?

When one thinks of food in the USA, one thinks of one word in particular: "convenience." Yesterday, I looked over the breakfast and lunch menus for our local school district and found that there will be no oatmeal mush, stew, soup, or chili offered during the entire month of May. All those high-liquid foods are messy! They require separate bowls and don't come prepackaged like fruit cups. Also, who really wants to clean up soup spills in a school full of young children? I rarely serve my own children soup because 1) they don't initially appreciate it, and 2) they spill it.

US breakfasts have been mostly toast, cold cereal, eggs, Pop-Tarts, etc., and in recent years, we've been moving towards even more portable breakfast choices such as yogurt and breakfast bars. ( Americans like to eat "on the go." Long ago, when I was a typical multitasking US college student, I was surprised at the reaction I got in Poland when Poles saw me eating my sandwich while strolling down the street at lunchtime; what was normal in the USA definitely wasn't normal in Warsaw.

Polish people have traditionally eaten a large main meal, called "obiad," in the early afternoon, and it customarily includes a soup course. Even though traditional eating habits have had to partially give way before workday requirements, Poles still love their soups. In 2015, Poles ate more soup per capita than every other country in the world, according to a 2016 marketing survey (

Soup was traditionally always an important part of Polish cuisine, as the consumption of 100 litres per capita recorded in 2015 was the largest in the world. Soup was a part of almost every family dinner, often even being a small meal in and of itself. However due to saturation and shifting preferences towards healthier, home-made soup, the growth of packaged soup in Poland was severely hindered. Polish customers still enjoyed occasional help from dehydrated soup or shelf stable soup, which was often considered to be a relatively good base for soup preparations.
That's over a cup of soup each day. How often do Americans, in contrast, eat soup? Or even stew, chili, or curry? From what I've seen, we in the USA tend not to eat high-liquid cooked foods (eat, not drink--we love our blended beverages) and are far below the Poles when it comes to soup consumption. Canned soup has declined in popularity to the point that the Campbell Soup company had to close two of its soup plants a few years ago. ( Soup is viewed as "old-fashioned" by younger people and is a struggling market, per a 2017 US market study (

Experiencing struggles in recent years, soup experienced a volume decline of 2% over the review period, even as value shot up by a 2% CAGR. The latter was because prices rose from sales of more premium offerings and companies’ struggles to make sales were largely passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Shelf stable soup, occupying a 95% volume share of the category, has reflected and fuelled many of these stagnating trends, as much of its products have traditionally been disproportionately popular among older consumers (aged 55-74). For this reason, soup has often been perceived as a largely “old-fashioned” or “conservative” product, making it less popular among influential younger consumer groups, particularly millennials who are increasingly health-conscious and have avoided the high sodium and artificial ingredients contained in many soup products. 
Not only do Poles eat a lot of soup, but their main soups tend to be 1) based on beets, 2) based on rye flour, or 3) thickened with thin wheat noodles, flour, and croutons (Poles are taught from childhood not to waste bread, and croutons are a tasty use for stale bread). If you've been reading my blog, you know that beets, rye, and wheat contain substantial amounts of TMG.*

Since I hypothesize that TMG helps protect against autism spectrum disorders--remember, Poland diagnoses autism at a rate of around 1/2900 while the US rate is 1/68--I think it would be very beneficial if the US population were to increase its intake of TMG-containing soups. Perhaps we could all eat minestrone containing spinach and whole wheat pasta and sold in little disposable cups that can be microwaved; that would be convenient, tasty to the pizza-trained palate of Americans, and a good source of TMG and other important nutrients. (Wouldn't it be nice if someone from Campbell's happened across my blog and used this idea?)

* Based on all the TMG they get in their soup, Poles should be quite healthy, right? Unfortunately, they really like another liquid in that part of the world: vodka. The name means "little water," and too many people (mostly male) in eastern Europe and Poland (now considered "central Europe" by some, but it still shares many diet commonalities with its neighbors to the east) seem to drink it like it is water. Per wikipedia, Polish women have basically the same life expectancy as US women, but Polish men's life expectancy trails Polish women by nearly 8 years. A study of life expectancy in Russia points to alcohol abuse as a major causative factor behind earlier death for Russian men. (; see also

No comments:

Post a Comment