Tag Archives: diet

Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist.

Write it when you bite it: logging food for just 15 minutes a day may be the most effective weight loss hack

Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist.

Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist.

What’s the most effective way to lose weight? Dieting and exercising are, of course, your bread and butter but it’s extremely easy to see no results because of lack of consistency. According to a new study, the people who were most successful at losing weight also wrote down everything they ate in a food journal. Although it might seem daunting at first, logging food only takes 15 minutes on average each day, and the results are well worth it.

For the study, researchers at the University of Vermont enlisted 142 people who had to self-monitor their calorie intake through a 6-month-long online weight control program. A certified dietitian managed a weekly online session for each group which followed the progress of the participants.

Over the course of the program, participants had to log their daily food intake. The food journal had to include the calories and fat for all foods and beverages they consumed, as well as the portion sizes and the preparation methods. The most successful study participant lost 10% of their body weight and spent 23.2 minutes each day self-monitoring their food intake during the first month of the program. By month 6, their average logging time had dropped down to only 14.6 minutes.

“People hate it; they think it’s onerous and awful, but the question we had was: How much time does dietary self-monitoring really take?” said Jean Harvey, chair of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont and the lead author of the study. “The answer is, not very much.”

Surprisingly, individuals who took more time or included more details in their self-monitoring were not the most successful. Instead, the best predictor for meeting weight loss goal was the frequency of log-ins.

“Those who self-monitored three or more time per day, and were consistent day after day, were the most successful,” Harvey said. “It seems to be the act of self-monitoring itself that makes the difference – not the time spent or the details included.”

It’s encouraging that spending only 15 minutes per day on a food diary can lead to such a significant effect. After all, we’re all guilty of spending much more than that mindlessly scrolling through social media or other time-wasting activities. However, that’s not to say that it’s easy. You have to match the food you just ate with those from a database. You also have to weigh and measure the food, which can be challenging when eating out. Luckily there are various apps (i.e. LoseIt, Calorie King, and My Fitness Pal) that make this a lot easier, although even pen and paper work just fine. The act of keeping your accountable (and doing so frequently) is what matters.

“It’s highly effective, and it’s not as hard as people think,” Harvey said.

The findings were reported in the journal Obesity.


Neanderthal diet revolved around meat, new study finds

Neanderthals may have enjoyed their meat — often.


Image via Pixabay.

An international research effort has found that Neanderthals were predominantly meat-eaters. The findings come from isotope analysis performed on Neanderthal remains recovered in France.

Haute cuisine

Our understanding of the Neanderthals has changed profoundly over time. At first, we simply assumed they were brutish, more ape than human. Among other characteristics, the prevailing theory was that their diets were primarily vegetarian — big apes are largely vegetarian, this line of thinking went, so Neanderthals must have been the same, right?

We’ve come a long way since then. Archeological evidence revealed that far from being simple-minded and lacking in general skills and finesse, these ancient humans were quite capable. They enjoyed beauty for beauty’s sake, they developed refined tools, established cultural and spiritual practices, and — as they managed to woo our ancestors into bed/the cave — some were probably quite dashing, as well.

The new study comes to flesh out our understanding of what Neanderthals liked to dine on. The team analyzed proteins from preserved collagen in Neanderthal bones found at two dig sites in France: the remains of a one-year-old baby found at Grotte du Renne, and a tooth from Les Cottés. The results show that Neanderthals were neither vegetarian nor simply content with scavenging meat from the kills of other beasts. In fact, they probably killed said beasts and ate them.

The team reports that the ratios of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 isotopes in the collagen samples are similar to what we’d see today in major meat eaters — wolves or lions, for example. The findings, the team explains, add to the body of evidence pointing to the Neanderthals being predominantly meat eaters.

Nitrogen ratio analysis is a widely-used tool for diet reconstruction in ancient species. Nitrogen is a reliable indicator of an organism’s position in a food chain, as organisms obtain it solely through diet. Higher N-15 to N-14 ratios are indicative of carnivores — who concentrate nitrogen from lower trophic levels through diet. The ratio the team found in the Neanderthal collagen is slightly higher than that found in carnivore remains at Neanderthal sites, which the team takes as evidence the Neanderthal’s high position in their local food webs.

There’s also a growing body of indirect evidence supporting this view, the authors note. Previous discoveries of spears found alongside their remains, as well as evidence of butchered animal bodies, suggests that they were quite adept at hunting and processing game. Neanderthals also likely had a bulkier, thicker thorax than modern humans (that’s us). This constitution allowed for larger kidneys and livers compared to our own, a feature common among animals whose diets are heavy in animal protein.

They note that another possibility is that the high ratios were owed to a diet heavy in mammoth meat, putrefying meat (I hope it was the mammoth), or fish. The team used a novel technique called compound-specific isotope analyses (CSIA) to separately analyze each amino acid found in the collagen. The exact isotope composition of amino acids is heavily influenced by diet.

“Using this technique, we discovered that the Neandertal of Les Cottés had a purely terrestrial carnivore diet: she was not a late weaned child or a regular fish eater [fish was not readily accessible at either site], and her people seem to have mostly hunted reindeers and horses”, says Klervia Jaouen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and first author of the study.

“We also confirmed that the Grotte du Renne Neandertal was a breastfeeding baby whose mother was a meat eater”.

Another finding was that Neanderthal diets were likely very stable over time, primarily meat, even after they had started to refine tool-processing techniques (possibly as a consequence of interacting with modern humans).

Taken as a whole, the study explains, these tidbits support the view that meat, particularly that obtained from herbivorous animals, was the main constituent of the Neanderthal diet. Small game was likely predominant on the menu, given that bones of fawns and other similarly-sized animals have been found at numerous Neanderthal dig sites and that smaller game is more readily killed with spears — but, as this study reveals, local food resources likely altered what Neanderthals ate in various areas.

The paper “Exceptionally high δ15N values in collagen single amino acids confirm Neandertals as high-trophic level carnivores” has been published in the journal PNAS.

The planetary diet: here’s what you need to eat to save the planet

As the world prepares for a population of 10 billion people, we are faced with the fact that our eating habits are unsustainable and need to be changed. Researchers have now proposed a healthy and diverse diet which can accommodate this huge number of people and is available to a wide range of geographies and budgets.

If we want to feed 10 billion people, we need more of this in our lives. But then again, it doesn’t look so bad does it? Image credits: Dana Tentis.

We don’t often think about it, but all our food comes from somewhere — it uses resources such as land and water, it needs to be transported, stored, and so on. Some foods are better than others, needing fewer resources and maintenance — often times, these are also the foods which are healthier for us. With this in mind, a team of researchers set out to develop a so-called planetary diet — a diet which doesn’t only focus on the people but also on the planet.

The diet was designed by the EAT-Lancet commission, comprised of experts from the Norway-based thinktank Eat and the British journal the Lancet. The team boasts world-leading researchers in nutrition, health, farming, sustainability and policy from across the world. Together, they spent two years on this project, creating guidelines that can feed 10 billion people, ensure that habitat destruction is reduced, minimize greenhouse gas emissions and save water.

So what should you eat?

If you like meat — that’s the first problem. It’s not like you can’t eat meat at all, but one burger or big steak a week is pretty much it. Worldwide, livestock accounts for between 14.5 and 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and it also requires vast areas of land. You can sneak in a couple of portions of chicken and fish every week though, and you get to drink a glass of milk (or a couple of cheese slices every day) — but the rest needs to come from plants.

Fruit and vegetables should make about half of what’s on our plates. However, we should place less emphasis on starchy vegetables such as the potato or cassava, which is very popular in Africa.

The good news is that you can easily get all your necessary protein and carbs with a planetary diet, and it features substantially more fiber than most of us eat, which is excellent for your health. Here’s an example of what an average day’s diet would comprise:

  1. Nuts – 50g a day;
  2. Beanschickpeaslentils and other legumes – 75g a day;
  3. Fish – 28g a day;
  4. Eggs – 13g a day (so 2 medium eggs a week);
  5. Meat – 14g a day of red meat and 29g a day of chicken (more likely, this would be compressed into a portion every week);
  6. Carbs – whole grains like bread and rice 232g a day and 50g a day of starchy vegetables;
  7. Dairy – 250g – the equivalent of one glass of milk;
  8. Vegetables – (300g) and fruit (200g);

Here’s the thing: there’s a great deal of variety in this. You can take all these foods and put them together in numerous different and tasty dishes — and this is only an example. You can easily devise a great variety of nutritious and delicious foods. Here are just a few examples:

A nutritious and eco-friendly breakfast. Image in public domain.


  • The simplest choice would be milk & cereal or granola, with some nuts and fruits;
  • Whole wheat toast with jam or fruits;
  • Rice pudding with fruit syrup;


  • Whole bread sandwiches with cheese, lettuce, and tomato (maybe a slice of ham or chicken);
  • A bean and rice chili, with peppers and veggies;
  • Mushroom risotto with a vegetable stir-fry;
  • You have five meat servings over the week (one meat, two fish, two chicken). Of course, you can substitute these around, and say have six chicken servings over the week and only one meatless day. However, reducing meat consumption is one of the keys of this diet.


  • Whole wheat pasta would be a very strong contender — and as we all know, there’s a million ways to make pasta. Go easy on the meat and cheese, and you’re good to go;
  • Salads are another good idea, and they don’t need to be green leafy salads either — mix in some carrots, apples, or even a bit of fish;
  • A warming curry with lentil and green beans;
  • Cauliflower cheese.

Cut down food waste

The diet is extremely varied — you can create countless tasty recipes. Image in public domain.

However, this is only the first step, and we also need to work on the other end: food waste. The Eat-Lancet emphasizes that we need to drastically curb our food waste. Considering that 2 billion people are micronutrient deficient, and almost 1 billion go hungry — while 2.1 billion adults are overweight or obese, the problem is easy to understand. We waste an ungodly amount of food (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes every year), and that needs to be reduced drastically.

Furthermore, this approach would also make the world much healthier. Unhealthy diets are, the report says, have become “the largest global burden of disease”, posing a greater threat than “unsafe sex, alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined.”

Most importantly, these foods (or readily available alternatives) are found all over the world. Of course, something that is available in Washington D.C. might not be easy to find in Paris or Rio de Janeiro. Having adaptable foods is the crux of this approach, which is not a strict diet, but rather a lifestyle which is better for you and better for the planet.

The world is soon nearing a decisive moment. With global warming reaching catastrophic levels, with a growing population and an ever-increasing strain on the planet’s resources, we need to find a way to feed the world sustainably. If that means giving up on meat and potatoes every once in a while, you can count me in.

There’s no such thing as an ideal diet, new study suggests

As long as you keep a healthy balance and an active lifestyle, things should generally be okay.

A Tsimane member. Image credits: jambogyuri.


In modern times, diet studies are often confusing or even contradictory — some diets focus on proteins, others say you should eat more carbs, others emphasize fruits and veggies, there’s probably a diet for every imagination. But while some things are pretty clear by now (fruits and veggies are good, processed meats are bad), others are hotly debated.

Scientists have long debated whether there’s an ideal food diet, something that we as a species evolved to eat. A team of researchers explored that question by studying the diets, habits and physical activity levels of hundreds of modern hunter-gatherer groups and small-scale societies. These groups have a very similar lifestyle that of ancient human societies.

Right off the bat, there were major differences between these groups. Some groups got up to 80% of their calories from carbohydrates, while others got most of their energy from protein. Some groups such as the Hadza people in Tanzania eat a large amount of sugar in the form of honey, deriving over 15% of their calories from honey (which, for most practical purposes, is similar to sugar).

If anything, the common denominator is diversity.

“Diets in hunter‐gatherer and other small‐scale societies tend to be less energy dense and richer in fibre and micronutrients than modern diets but are not invariably low carbohydrate as sometimes argued,” researchers write.

A complex picture

In any given day, the Hadza eat red meat and honey, but also potato-like roots — not exactly what you’d imagine as a very healthy diet. Meanwhile, the Tsimane, a Bolivian population, eat more complex carbohydrates from plantain, corn, cassava, rice and banana, often complemented by fish and wild game. The percentage of different nutrients varies wildly, but the health effects seem negligible: previous studies have shown that these groups have almost no diabetes and cardiovascular problems. However, there are many examples with Tsimane people developing Type II Diabetes and other health issues after moving to neighboring villages and taking up sedentary jobs.

Here’s where things get really interesting: the calorie intake of people like the Tsimane and the Hadza is comparable to that of the average American. However, they have excellent fitness, extremely low rates of obesity and cancer, and are generally free from any chronic diseases. The reasons for this may not be all that jolly, however.

Infant mortality rates are high, and fatalities from infections and accidents are extremely high. Those who do manage to reach adulthood are more likely to be very healthy. They are active until old age, walking at least 5-10 miles a day, and exhibit very alert and active lifestyles. While calorie-wise this doesn’t make as much of a difference as you might expect, it does wonders for your health.

However, considering that when these people give up their native lifestyles they start to develop disease rates comparable to industrialized countries, the key seems to be in their lifestyle, not their diets. It is possible that genetics and other factors unrelated to lifestyle help protect them from chronic diseases — but there’s still another factor to consider.

Choice and variety

Foods rich in fibers are a staple of a healthy diet. This was one of the very few similarities across all investigated diets. Image credits: Keith Weller, USDA.

Another big difference between peoples like the Hadza and the Tsimane and modern urban people is the amount of variety in the diet. We pretty much take it for granted nowadays, but we have access to an unprecedented culinary variety. For all the obvious advantages that come with this, there’s also a disadvantage: it can make us overeat.

It’s called sensory-specific satiety, and it means that the more you eat a type of food, the less satisfaction you derive decreases in time. As a consequence, your appetite decreases when you keep eating the same type of food and increases when you keep eating different things — that’s why you always have room for dessert after a savoury meal. In truth, however, you don’t have the extra room, and you’re probably overeating.

The bottom line is that we’re not really sure what diets work best, but there seem to be some generally applicable rules: eat fiber-rich foods like fruits and veggies, avoid energy-dense foods (like sweets or meats), and keep an active lifestyle.

“A more integrative understanding of hunter‐gatherer health and lifestyle, including elements beyond diet and activity, will improve public health efforts in industrialized populations,” researchers conclude.

The study “Hunter‐gatherers as models in public health” by Pontzer, Wood, and Raichlen, has been published in Obesity Reviews.

What are carbs? Are they ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Credit: Pixabay.

Carbohydrates are macronutrients which the body uses to obtain energy and properly function. Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are sugars, starches, and fibers found in vegetables, grains, fruit, and a variety of other foods.

Macronutrients are what make up the caloric content of a food. There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Fat and protein are required in a person’s diet because the body cannot produce them on its own. However, the optimal macro ratios for a healthy lifestyle are still a matter of debate.

Not all macronutrients supply energy in the same way. Here’s a caloric breakdown for each type of macro:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories;
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories;
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories.

Carbohydrates are called this way because, chemically speaking, they are formed out of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Two major components join to form carbohydrates. These are aldehydes (double-bonded carbon and oxygen atoms, plus a hydrogen atom) and ketones (double-bonded carbon and oxygen atoms, plus two additional carbon atoms).

Carbs are stored in the body in two forms: as glycogen in the liver (⅓) and in skeletal muscles (⅔). Your glycogen stores provide you with energy during physical activity and are replenished when you eat a meal rich in carbs. Once glycogen stores are full, extra carbs are stored as fat. Conversely, if you have insufficient carbohydrate intake or stores, the body will consume protein for fuel, which also means that you’ll lose muscle — which is not recommended.

According to The Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, carbohydrates should account for 50% of daily caloric intake for the average adult, or around 250 grams of carbs per day. However, people with diabetes should not consume more than 200 grams of carbs per day.

The types of carbs

Carbs can be either simple or complex.

Complex carbs are preferable to simple sugars because they don’t lead to blood sugar spikes. Complex carbs are also richer in minerals, contain fiber, and make you feel fuller for longer.

The main difference between complex and simple carbs is in the way they are absorbed and digested. Simple carbs are digested and absorbed more quickly than complex carbs, which means they can provide bursts of energy faster. At the same time, simple carbs also cause sugar highs, while complex carbs provide energy over a longer time.

While simple carbs may be flashier, complex carbs get the job done better. What’s more, due to their high glycemic index, simple carbs (or refined carbs, as they’re also known) — foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice, and others — are associated with various health problems like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Simple carbs also tend to cause major spikes in blood sugar levels, which later lead to a crash that can trigger hunger, leaving a person craving more high-carb foods.

So, not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs can lead to obesity and metabolic diseases, while unrefined carbs (or complex carbs) are healthy.

Sources of complex carbs:

  • Fruits;
  • Vegetables;
  • Legumes (i.e. peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans);
  • Cereals and grains;
  • (Sweet) potatoes;
  • Whole-grain products;
  • Brown rice;

Examples of simple sugars: 

  • Sugar;
  • Products containing refined or bleached flour;
  • Sweets;
  • Sweetened soft drinks and fruit juices.

Carbs are differentiated by chain length into the following groups:

  • Monosaccharides: glucose (corn sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), galactose (milk sugar);
  • Disaccharides: sucrose (table sugar), lactose (dairy);
  • Oligosaccharides: melitose;
  • Polysaccharides (aka complex carbohydrates): amylopectin (plant starch), glycogen (animal starch), inulin.

From a dietary standpoint, nutritionists talk about carbs in term of:

  • Sugars: Sweet, short-chain carbohydrates found in foods.
  • Starches: Long chains of glucose molecules which eventually get broken down into glucose in the digestive system.
  • Fiber: Humans cannot digest fiber, although the bacteria in the digestive system can make use of some of them. These bacteria can use the fiber to produce fatty acids that some of our cells can use as energy.

Carbohydrates and your body

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel. In fact, your body needs them in order to function well. During digestion, carbs such as sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars, which are subsequently absorbed into the bloodstream (blood glucose). The glucose eventually makes its way into cells, with the help of insulin, where it used for energy. Extra sugars are stored in the liver, muscles, and other cells. ‘Extra-extra’ sugars are stored as fat.

While fibers aren’t directly digested in the human gut, including them in your diet helps control weight by making you feel full on fewer calories. Fiber can also offer protection against obesity and type 2 diabetes.

If blood glucose levels rise too rapidly and too often, cells can eventually become faulty and not respond properly to insulin’s instructions. This generally happens when a person’s diet consists of carbs high in glycemic index, which enter the bloodstream quickly as glucose. Over time, the cells need increasing amounts of insulin to react, causing insulin resistance.

After producing high levels of insulin for many years, the beta cells in the pancreas can wear out. Insulin production drops and eventually can stop altogether. The person now has diabetes.

Do carbs make you fat?

People who are overweight or obese can lose weight by following a low-carb diet. A seemingly logical conclusion is that these people gained weight because of carbs — but this is not true. Humans have been consuming carbs long before the spread of the obesity epidemic that is rampant today in the United States (and the type 2 diabetes that naturally followed soon after). Think of Asian populations that have subsisted on high-carb diets (i.e. rice) for millennia while maintaining relatively good health with low of incidence of obesity.

In 1962, 46 percent of adults in the U.S. were considered overweight or obese. By 2010, that figure had jumped to 75 percent. The culprit? Obesity is a complex condition with multiple causes, but among its many suspects, added sugar is at the top of the list. Scientific literature is filled with evidence linking sugar to a variety of chronic diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) as well as cognitive decline and even some cancers.

The average American eats a whopping 20 teaspoons of sugar every day, according to U.S. government figures. That’s well above the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 per day for men.

“I don’t think we have enough evidence yet to suggest that sugar is the reason for the obesity epidemic,” said Johns Hopkins cardiologist Chiadi E. Ndumel. “But there is enough evidence to say that elevated sugar consumption is an important contributor to weight gain.”

So, it’s not carbs per se that make you fat, but rather refined carbs and processed foods.

There’s also something that ought to be said for low-carb diets. Replacing much of a person’s carb intake with healthy sources of protein and fat has been shown to result in weight loss. The low-carb diet was most beneficial for lowering triglycerides, the main fat-carrying particle in the bloodstream, and also delivered the biggest boost in protective HDL cholesterol.

But more recent studies show that while low-carb diets offer health benefits in the short-term, they can cause problems over the long-run. A study of 15,428 American adults found that, over a 25-year period, people who had a moderate carbohydrate intake (50-55% of daily calories) had an average life expectancy of 83 years — slightly longer than those with low carb intake (40%), who lived only 79 years on average. Participants with a high carb intake (more than 70% of daily calories) had an average life expectancy of 82 years, slightly lower than the moderate carbs intake group. Another study published this year found that people on a low-carb diet had a greater risk of premature death, particularly due to coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Bearing all of this in mind, it’s perhaps better to focus on including healthy carbs in your diet rather than cutting back on the nutrient. It’s also helpful to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in nutrition. An optimal carbs intake will depend a lot from person to person and be based on numerous factors, such as age, gender, metabolic health, physical activity, food culture, and personal preference. For instance, a person with type 2 diabetes will have to include fewer carbohydrates in their diet. On the other hand, if you’re a healthy person, there’s no reason to avoid complex carbohydrates.

Here are some tips you can try in order to cut back on refined carbs:

  • Avoid sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages;
  • Reach for fruits instead of candy, cookies or other sweet treats;
  • Read ingredient labels carefully. You’ll find sugar hiding in unexpected places, such as spaghetti sauce and sandwich bread.
  • Added sugars come by many names. When reading labels, keep an eye out for terms like corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.


Generally, carbs which can be found in their natural, fiber-rich form are healthy and do not cause weight gain, unlike processed and refined carbs. There are ‘good’ carbs and there are ‘bad’ carbs. A well-balanced diet that includes complex carbs, along with getting proper sleep and physical activity is more likely to keep a person in good health than focusing on eliminating a particular nutrient.

You burn more calories in the afternoon than in the morning

All other things equal, you consume about 10% more calories in the afternoon than in the morning — something which surprised even researchers.

“The fact that doing the same thing at one time of day burned so many more calories than doing the same thing at a different time of day surprised us,” says Kirsi-Marja Zitting of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, lead author of the paper.

A calorie is essentially a measure of energy. Our bodies get energy from food, and that energy can be measured in calories. Although it’s technically unofficial, the calorie is by far the most common measure of food energy, and is a common talking point of most diets and nutritional strategies.

If you’ve ever kept an eye on your calorie intake and consumption, then you probably know what the Resting Metabolic Rate is — essentially, it’s a measure of how many calories the body consumes without doing anything. Think of it this way: you get energy from food, and you burn some of it just by existing; it’s pretty nice.

Zitting and colleagues wanted to see how calorie consumption is affected by the time of day, so they studied seven people in a special laboratory without any clues about what time it was outside. There were no clocks, windows, phones, or Internet. Participants were given fixed hours when they had to go to bed and, to make things even more confusing, those times were adjusted four hours later each night.

“Because they were doing the equivalent of circling the globe every week, their body’s internal clock could not keep up, and so it oscillated at its own pace,” co-author Jeanne Duffy, also in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains. “This allowed us to measure metabolic rate at all different biological times of day.”

They found that the circadian rhythm has a strong impact on the resting metabolic rate. During the biological night, when the body cools down slightly, calorie consumption was lowest — which makes a lot of sense. What was unusual, however, was that energy consumption was highest 12 hours later, during the biological afternoon — 10% more than the normal rate. The participants’ respiratory quotient, which reflects macronutrient utilization, also varies by circadian phase, and the two may be connected.

This adds to an already growing number of studies showing that our metabolic rates differ greatly — not only from person to person, but also from time to time.

“It is not only what we eat, but when we eat–and rest–that impacts how much energy we burn or store as fat,” Duffy says. “Regularity of habits such as eating and sleeping is very important to overall health.”

Next, the team will look at how appetite and the body’s response to food vary with time of day.

Journal Reference: Current Biology, Zitting et al.: “Human Resting Energy Expenditure Varies with Circadian Phase” https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)31334-4

P. robustus skull.

One of our extinct ancient relatives developed a chewing pattern unique among primates

Not all human ancestors chewed the same way, new research reveals.

P. robustus skull.

Paranthropus robustus fossil from South Africa SK 46 (discovered 1936, estimated age 1.9-1.5 million years) and the virtually reconstructed first upper molar used in the analyses.
Image credits Kornelius Kupczik / Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

While we’re the only one that made it up to the present, we’re by no means the only species of hominins — the evolutionary group that includes modern humans and now-extinct bipedal relatives — that popped up throughout history. At least one of our human ancestors, new research shows, developed a unique way to chew.

Ancient chow

Being able to properly chew your food is a matter of life and death. It helps break food down into tiny pieces so they can be swallowed and digested. But every species has its own way of going about it — based on their diet and individual morphology.

You can learn a lot about an animal by looking at what it eats and the way it chews on it, and that stands true for humans as well as wildlife. Palaeoanthropologists go to great lengths to reconstruct the diets of ancient hominid species, as diet underpins our evolutionary history. A high-quality diet, for example, coupled with meat-eating, provided the nutrients that modern humans needed to develop our big brains. Some of our hominin relatives, by contrast, likely went extinct because of their diets (for example, the Neanderthals).

Two extinct hominin lineages — Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus — have constantly sparked debate in regards to their diet since their discovery. An international team of researchers, led by members from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, studied the splay and orientation of their fossil tooth roots in an attempt to settle the debate once and for all. Their findings surprisingly reveal that P. robustus employed a unique way of chewing food — one that hasn’t been seen in any other hominin species to date.

The team used high-resolution computed tomography and shape analysis to determine how teeth roots were oriented within the jaw of ancient hominin lineages. Based on this information, they then gauged the direction of the load during mastication — i.e. the direction force was applied while they chewed.

By comparing the virtual reconstructions of 30 hominin first molars from lineages in South and East Africa, the team found that Australopithecus africanus had much more widely-splayed roots than either Paranthropus robustus or the East African hominin Paranthropus boisei. This yielded a surprising revelation about P. robustus.

“This is indicative of increased laterally-directed chewing loads in Australopithecus africanus, while the two Paranthropus species experienced rather vertical loads,” says Kornelius Kupczik of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, first author of the paper.

Unlike all other hominins involved in the study, P. robustus showed a ‘twist’ in the roots of their teeth — suggesting a slight rotational and back-and-forth movement while chewing, the team explains. Other characteristics of their skulls support this observation, they add: the structure of the enamel also points towards a complex, multi-directional motion. Microwear patterns in the enamel (which the team reports are “unique among primates”) also point to a different motion of the jaw while masticating compared to how we do it, for example.

While diet also has a major part to play in shaping our and P. robustus‘ skulls, as well as in the patters of wear observable on their teeth, the team says dietary differences alone cannot account for all that they’re seeing.

“Perhaps palaeoanthropologists have not always been asking the right questions of the fossil record: rather than focusing on what our extinct cousins ate, we should equally pay attention to how they masticated their foods,” concludes co-author Gabriele Macho of the University of Oxford.

The research could have implications beyond paleoanthropology, the team explains. By studying the particularities of P. robustus‘ morphology, its mastication patterns, and its effect on the lineage’s teeth, “we can eventually apply such findings to the modern human dentition to better understand pathologies such as malocclusions,” explains co-author Viviana Toro-Ibacache.

The paper “On the relationship between maxillary molar root shape and jaw kinematics in Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus” has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Back to Basics: 5 Weight-Loss Diets and How Difficult They Are to Sustain

If your New Year resolution was to lose weight, chances are that by now, you’ve already given up on your gym membership, your diet, and are just wishing the weight away.

The biggest problem people face when it comes to weight loss is sticking to their diet and exercise plan. So, if you have decided to give your diet another shot, here are some of the most popular 5 weight-loss diets and (more importantly) how easy or difficult they are to sustain.


Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH is a dietary plan to prevent — you’ve guessed it — hypertension. This diet was created by the US-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The DASH diet emphasizes foods that are lower in sodium as well as foods that are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium, all of which lower blood pressure.

What you can eat: This diet gives importance to whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Additionally, you can eat low-fat or fat-free dairy products, poultry, beans, nuts, fish, and other fats that are healthy for the heart.

What you need to eliminate from your diet: Limit sodium-rich foods such as canned and salted nuts, canned fruits and vegetables, smoked or cured meat, processed cheese and sauces, salami, olives, pickles, and frozen dinners.

Difficulty level: Since the focus of this diet isn’t eliminating starchy food like bread, this diet is the easiest to sustain, and quite possibly the most rewarding, since it’s been medically proved. Also, since weight loss depends on how long you can stay disciplined, this is probably the most sustainable diet. You won’t lose weight overnight, but stick to it and you are sure to see results in a few months. Not to mention that you will also be working towards preventing hypertension or controlling it. So, win-win!

2. The Mediterranean Diet

Studies have shown that people around the Mediterranean Sea not only live longer than other people across the globe, but they also live healthier lives. This diet is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle since meals are low in red meat and saturated fats. It also emphasizes enjoying your meals with your friends or family. The best part? A glass of wine with your meal is not frowned upon!

What you can eat: Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, you can also eat moderate amounts of cheese, eggs, poultry, yoghurt, and of course, a glass of red wine!

What you need to eliminate from your diet: Red-meat, sugary foods, deep fried foods, carbonated drinks, pastries, burgers, and most fast food.

Difficulty level: Yes, the Mediterranean people are living proof that the diet works. But you have to take into consideration the fact that other lifestyle factors such as weather and physical activity also play an important part.

That being said, it isn’t a strict meal plan. It’s more like principles to follow to stay healthy. So, it really is up to you to decide how much unhealthy food you want to cut back on. It all depends on you. So, that may make it slightly difficult to sustain, but not impossible.

3. The Flexitarian Diet

Flexitarians are flexible vegetarians — all you have to do is cut back on meat consumption. This doesn’t mean that you completely restrict it from your diet. It just means that you eat more vegetables and less meat. Another upside is that you also significantly reduce your impact on the environment.

What you can eat: Add more vegetables and plant-based foods to your diet. These can include beans, legumes, lentils, pulses, and fruits, among other things. You can also eat meat, but cut down on how often you eat meat. If that isn’t possible, then cut down on the portion sizes.

What you need to eliminate from your diet: The best part about the flexitarian diet is that you don’t have to give up on anything or restrict yourself. All you need to do is cut back on how often you eat meat. It is that simple.

Difficulty level: This is a simple diet. Actually, instead of thinking of it as a diet, you can just think of it as a way to eat healthier. This could be very difficult if you are used to eating meat and enjoy large servings of food. Otherwise, this one shouldn’t give you too many problems!

4. The Keto Diet

Short for Ketogenic, this diet was the top Googled diet in 2017 and is still going strong. This meal plan was originally created for children to help control epileptic seizures. Today, it is the diet to go to for fat loss, though there are recent studies suggesting that low-carb diets aren’t really healthy in the long run.

The main idea of this diet is eating foods that force your body to enter a state of ketosis. This means that your body starts burning fat instead of sugar for energy.

What you can eat: It recommends that fat should comprise at least 60% to 70% of your daily caloric intake. The twist is, this isn’t the fat you get from a great greasy slice of pizza, it’s the healthier kind or trans fats as they are called.

So, you can eat avocado, fish, nuts, egg yolks, olives, low-carb vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and greek yogurt.

What you need to eliminate from your diet: Alcohol, candy and chocolates, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, starchy foods, and margarine.

Difficulty level: This is probably one of the most difficult diets to sustain because it is so restrictive of what you can and cannot eat. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to get used to it at first since your body needs to undergo a metabolic shift. So, you could end up experiencing dehydration and fatigue due to increased water loss (which is caused due to a reduced intake of carbs).

It is a proven way, however, to burn stubborn fat (looking at you stomach fat) and put on muscle. Once you reach your ideal body weight and want to get back to a normal diet, chances are that you will end up putting on weight if you are not careful. Other than water weight (that you will put on regardless of how strictly you stick to your diet plan), a safe way to get back on carbs is to reduce the amount you eat. Don’t overeat just because you can. It’s also a good idea to start with carbs that are unprocessed such as those found in whole grains and fruits rather than starting with a bowl of pasta (no matter how tempting it may be).

5. The Low-FODMAP Diet

A recent entry into the world of diets, this has been medically proven to improve digestive problems among people as well as reduce bloating.

If you are wondering what FODMAP means, then you aren’t alone. It is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are basically simple and complex sugars that are found in certain foods and are poorly absorbed by the body.

Before you try this diet, though, you should consult a doctor or a dietician since the restrictive nature of this diet could lead to you missing out on some nutrients.

What you can eat: Lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, berries, grapes, kiwifruit, chicken, beef, cold cuts, lamb, seafood, peanuts, walnuts, brown rice, gluten-free bread, and popcorn.

What you need to eliminate from your diet: Mushrooms, onions, garlic, prunes, peaches, avocados, meat that is dipped in batter or deep fried, seafood that is dipped in batter or deep fried, almonds, cashews, pistachios, lentils, rye, muffins, and pasta.

Difficulty level: Well, if you thought that Keto was difficult to sustain, then this is even more so since it is extremely restrictive and as a result can be socially isolating. This diet is also not recommended for long-term use since it reduces good bacteria in the gut. So, while it does reduce bloating and is especially useful if you have symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), you should consider this diet only if medically recommended.

Remember that when it comes to dieting and changing your eating habits, there are a number of options available. You need to find the one that suits you best and allows you to reach your health goal. So, if you aren’t someone who can stick to a diet that has too many restrictions or steps, then maybe you should try a simpler diet. It will take longer for the results to show, but there are more chances of you not falling off the wagon. Eating a healthy diet is often the right health insurance and can go a long way towards keeping you fit and happy.

Keep in mind that weight loss is a combination of the right type of diet and exercise. That being said, weight loss for cosmetic reasons shouldn’t be your goal. Being healthy should be the goal you work towards. When you make health your priority, everything else (weight loss included) falls into place.

So, if you started 2018 with the need to lose weight and haven’t been able to, don’t worry. Try changing your resolution to staying healthy and fit — you may just find it easier to sustain!

3 out of 4 black adults have cardiovascular problems by the age of 55

Cardiovascular health problems continue to disproportionately affect black people — a new study found that over 75% of black people aged 55 and more develop high blood pressure.

Researchers first identified 3,890 participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study who enrolled in the study between the ages of 18 to 30 years without high blood pressure. They tracked these people until they were 55 and over, finding that:

  • 75.5 percent of black men,
  • 75.7 percent of black women,
  • 54.5 percent of white men, and
  • 40.0 percent of white women developed high blood pressure.

The racial disparity is very significant and is consistent with what previous studies have found — black people, both men and women, suffer from heart problems much more than whites.

“Regardless of blood pressure levels in young adulthood, blacks have a substantially higher risk for developing high blood pressure compared with whites through 55 years of age,” said S. Justin Thomas, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It is urgent that healthcare providers counsel young patients, particularly blacks, about eating a healthy diet, being physically active and controlling body weight. The risk of high blood pressure can be significantly reduced with a healthy lifestyle.”

As expected, one of the main factors contributing to high blood pressure was higher body weight. Regardless of race and gender, people with a higher Body Mass Index are more likely to develop cardiovascular problems. Researchers also found that study participants who opted for a DASH-style diet were much less likely to suffer from this type of health issue.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”DASH Diet” footer=””]DASH is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life, increasingly recommended by medical bodies.

The DASH diet is more a set of guidelines than a diet. It recommends:

– Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
– Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils;
– Limiting foods that are high in saturated fats, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and palm oils
– Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.[/panel]

But it’s not all bad. The most important takeaway, researchers say, is that cardiovascular risk can be reduced dramatically through healthy lifestyle changes. It’s important to encourage people of all races to consume healthier foods and be more physically active, but researchers emphasize that these shifts are particularly important in black people.

“It is important to note that most high blood pressure is preventable through lifestyle changes,” said Willie E. Lawrence, Jr. M.D., a spokesman for the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri. “We need to encourage all young people, and especially our young African Americans who are at highest risk, to think about their future health and make choices that will change these statistics.”

Journal Reference: Thomas et al. “Cumulative Incidence of Hypertension by 55 Years of Age in Blacks and Whites: The CARDIA Study.” https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.117.007988

Ancient jawbones hint at ancient humans’ diet

Over 10,000 years ago, humans in Borneo feasted on dried meats and palm plants, new research suggests.

Two human jaws from the Niah Caves in Borneo were originally discovered in 1958 but only just revealed. Top jaw is 30,000 years old, bottom jaw 11,000 years old; left image is Niah Caves archaeological site where they were both found. Image credits: Darren Curnoe.

While researchers have a fairly good idea about the diet of Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, not much is known about populations in South-East Asia, since very few remains have ever been found. But the Niah Caves in Borneo might change all that: researchers have made several promising findings in the area, shedding much-needed light on the island’s inhabitants.

The cave isn’t a new discovery; in fact, it’s been studied for decades. But new technologies are enabling researchers to see these findings in a new light. In a new study, Darren Curnoe from the University of New South Wales, Australia, along with colleagues, have re-analyzed three human mandibles that were previously excavated from the West Mouth of the Niah Cave in 1957.

The mandibles were dated with Uranium-series techniques to 30,000, 11,000, and 10,000 years old respectively. The shape and characteristics of the jawbone can provide important clues about what its owner usually ate. For instance, the older mandible was smaller but more robust than the other two, indicating that it was subjected to a lot of strain, probably due to chewing a lot of tough foods — the most likely candidates are dried meats or palm plants, a diet that has previously been identified in the Niah Caves.

Niah Caves – Malaysian Borneo. Entrance to the Great Cave. Image via Wikipedia.

It likely wasn’t an easy life for any of these people. Living close to a rainforest was challenging, and not many resources were around. These people were likely struggling to make a living and eating raw plants and dried meats likely made up much of their diets.

“These early modern humans were seemingly adapted to a difficult life in the tropical rainforests with their very small bodies and ruggedly build jaws from chewing really tough foods,” says Curnoe. “They tell us a lot about the challenges faced by the earliest people living in island Southeast Asia.”

It’s unclear to what extent they were able to adapt to the changing environment.

Journal Reference: Curnoe D, Datan I, Zhao J-x, Leh Moi Ung C, Aubert M, Sauffi MS, et al. (2018) Rare Late Pleistocene-early Holocene human mandibles from the Niah Caves (Sarawak, Borneo). PLoS ONE 13(6): e0196633. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196633

Weight gain is mostly controlled by what you eat — not genetics

If you want to blame someone for those extra pounds, the best place to look is probably in the mirror.

As the world tries to deal with its ever-growing obesity crisis, the main causes of this problem are still under debate. However, more and more studies are indicating that the main culprit is, as expected, food.

Genes decide a lot of things about your body — your eye color, your hair, even how you look like. But, according to a new study, it doesn’t really decide how much you weigh (as an adult, at least). Scientists at King’s College London recently carried out a study on twins to assess how the gut processes and distributes fat.

Essentially, they analyzed poop samples from over 500 pairs of twins to build up a picture of how the gut microbiome distributes fat. They also analyzed how much of this process is genetic and how much is directed by environmental factors. Overall, they found that only 17.9% of all gut processes could be attributed to hereditary factors, while 67.7% of gut activity was influenced by environmental factors — mainly, the regular diet.

This is an exciting study, not just because it confirms that what we eat governs how our weight is distributed, but because it allows researchers to understand which microbes are associated with which chemical metabolites in the gut. Ultimately, this could help scientists understand how the gut bacteria affects us, and how it can be modified for weight management.

The fecal metabolome largely reflects gut microbial composition, and it is strongly associated with visceral-fat mass, thereby illustrating potential mechanisms underlying the well-established microbial influence on abdominal obesity. Dr. Jonas Zierer, the lead author of the study, believes this could one day be instrumental in dealing with obesity.

‘This study has really accelerated our understanding of the interplay between what we eat, the way it is processed in the gut and the development of fat in the body, but also immunity and inflammation. By analysing the faecal metabolome, we have been able to get a snapshot of both the health of the body and the complex processes taking place in the gut.’

This is also good news because it means that most of the factors associated with extra pounds are modifiable. Zierer adds:

‘This new knowledge means we can alter the gut environment and confront the challenge of obesity from a new angle that is related to modifiable factors such as diet and the microbes in the gut. This is exciting, because unlike our genes and our innate risk to develop fat around the belly, the gut microbes can be modified with probiotics, with drugs or with high fibre diets.’

Head of the Department of Twin Research at King’s, Professor Tim Spector was also excited by the possibility. He emphasizes another advantage of this study — the fact that potential treatments or supplements might be implemented at a large scale through innovative approaches.

‘This exciting work in our twins shows the importance to our health and weight of the thousands of chemicals that gut microbes produce in response to food. Knowing that they are largely controlled by what we eat rather than our genes is great news, and opens up many ways to use food as medicine. In the future these chemicals could even be used in smart toilets or as smart toilet paper.’

Worldwide, over 2 billion people are overweight or obese, and over the past 20 years, obesity rates have more than doubled. The growing trend shows no sign of stopping or slowing down, as childhood obesity also grows at dramatic rates: 1000% in the past 40 years.

Journal Reference: Zierer et al. “The fecal metabolome as a functional readout of the gut microbiome.” Nature Genetics (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41588-018-0135-7

Snapshot of typical ingridients for a Mediterranean diet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Healthy diet may prevent brain shrinkage in older adults

Eating a healthy diet rich in veggies, fruit, nuts, and fish may help prevent brain shrinkage, according to a new study performed by Dutch researchers.

Snapshot of typical ingridients for a Mediterranean diet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Snapshot of typical ingredients for a Mediterranean diet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Meike W. Vernooij and colleagues at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam surveyed 4,213 people in the Netherlands with an average age of 66 and no history of dementia. The participants self-reported their diet by completing a questionnaire asking how much they ate of nearly 400 items over the past month.

Based on the Dutch dietary guidelines, the researchers examined the quality of the diets based on the intake of the following food groups: vegetables, fruit, whole grain products, legumes, nuts, dairy, fish, tea, unsaturated fats and oils of total fats, red and processed meat, sugary beverages, alcohol and salt.

The quality of each person’s diet was ranked with a score of zero to 14. The average score was found to be seven, while the best diet consisted of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, dairy and fish, with a limited intake of sugary drinks.

To determine brain volume, the researchers scanned the brain of each participant with magnetic resonance imaging. Besides the brain scan, researchers gathered important information that could affect brain volumes, such as blood pressure, smoking history, and physical activity.

The average brain volume was 932 milliliters. After adjusting for age, sex, education, smoking and physical activity that a higher diet score was linked to larger total brain volume, when taking into account head size differences.

Those that consumed a healthy diet had an average of two milliliters more total brain volume than those who did not. According to the researchers, 3.6 milliliters less brain volume is equivalent to one year of aging.

It’s worth mention that diet was not linked to white matter lesions or small brain bleeds.

“People with greater brain volume have been shown in other studies to have better cognitive abilities, so initiatives that help improve diet quality may be a good strategy to maintain thinking skills in older adults,” said  Vernooij in a statement. “More research is needed to confirm these results and to examine the pathways through which diet can affect the brain.”

“There are many complex interactions that can occur across different food components and nutrients and according to our research, people who ate a combination of healthier foods had larger brain tissue volumes,” she added.

Findings appeared in the journal Neurology. 


You can now add pasta to your list of healthy diet foods, study suggests

Nowadays, people tend to blame carbohydrates for the obesity epidemic, but a new paper suggests that not all refined carbs — that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream — make you fat. Pasta, for example, in spite of being a member of the refined carbohydrate family, has a low glycemic index (GI).

Via Pixabay/marker_photography

The glycemic index is the number that shows the effect of carbohydrates on a person’s blood sugar concentration. The glycemic index is usually applied in the context of the quantity of the food ingested and the amount of carbohydrate present in the food.

Another measure, the glycemic load (GL), factors this in by multiplying the glycemic index of the food in question by the carbohydrate content of the actual serving. For example, watermelons have a high glycemic index, but a low glycemic load for the quantity typically consumed. Fructose, however, has a low glycemic index but can have a high glycemic load if a large quantity is ingested. In other words, it’s not always tit for tat with these two parameters.

Researchers analyzed data from 30 randomized control trials involving almost 2,500 people who ate pasta, instead of other carbohydrates, as part of a healthy low-glycemic index diet.

“The study found that pasta didn’t contribute to weight gain or increase in body fat,” said lead author Dr. John Sievenpiper, a clinician scientist from the St. Michael’s Hospital’s Clinical Nutrition and Risk Modification Centre. “In fact, analysis actually showed a small weight loss. So contrary to concerns, perhaps pasta can be part of a healthy diet such as a low GI diet,” he added.

Participants involved in the trials ate on average 3.3 servings of pasta per week instead of other carbs, one serving of pasta meaning one-half cup of boiled pasta. At the 12-week follow-up, scientists observed that participants had lost 0.5 kilos on average.

Although pleased by the findings, researchers highlighted that these results are generalizable to pasta consumed along with other low-glycemic index foods as part of a low-glycemic index die

“In weighing the evidence, we can now say with some confidence that pasta does not have an adverse effect on body weight outcomes when it is consumed as part of a healthy dietary pattern,” said Dr. Sievenpiper.

I, for one, couldn’t be any happier. As a pasta lover, and a health freak, this news is incredible. The only thing left for me to say is ‘Buon appetito’!

The paper was published in the journal BMJ Open.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Healthy food significantly improves major depression symptoms, new study finds

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Image credits Moyan Brenn / Flickr.

Researchers at Deakin University found that switching from an unhealthy diet, high in sugar and processed foods, to a healthy diet, rich in veggies and protein, significantly reduced depression symptoms. What’s more, the switch to a healthier diet helped more than simply attending social support sessions. The findings suggest that, in some cases at least, improving diet is the low-hanging fruit that people with depression should try first.

“You are what you eat”

The researchers enlisted 67 subjects, men and women who were all taking antidepressants and attending psychotherapy. All subjects had an unhealthy diet at the beginning of the study, high in sugar, processed meat, and salty snacks, and low in fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber. Half of the subjects were placed on a healthy diet, which included extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, veggies, fatty fish and grass-fed beef. The other half kept their unhealthy diets and were additionally required to join social support sessions.

Three months later, the intervention group on a healthy diet saw marked improvements in their depression symptoms, as rated by a common depression scale. The average improvement was by 11 points, and 32% of the participants had scores so low they no longer met the criteria for depression. Meanwhile, the social support group saw only 4 points of improvement, on average. Only 8% of participants achieved remission in this latter group, the scientists reported in the journal BMC Medicine.

These findings underscore the potentially life-changing impact something as relatively simple as eating more healthily can have on the human psyche. The relationship between food and mood has been receiving a lot of attention lately, and for good reason, but we’ve only scratched the surface so far

It makes a lot of sense, too. Take a moment to realize that about 95% of your serotonin — the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, but also mediates mood and inhibits pain — is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which, by the way, is lined with over a hundred million nerve cells.

Important nutrients affect brain chemistry, impacting mood, memory and cognitive function. What’s more, simply eating at regular intervals, regardless of the food you intake, can have a significant impact. Research carried out by the University of Illinois Extension found that eating regular meals and snacks at the same times every day helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, which also helps keep the mood steady.

Refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, are mood-boosting foods — the bad kind — and it’s wise to keep them off your grocery list. Junk food satisfies our taste buds and makes us feel better short-term, but it will probably ruin your mood in the long-run, according to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic. It’s worth mentioning that alcohol is a depressant that can also disturb sleep, so everyone should also be mindful of how much alcohol they intake.

Previously, scientists who compared “traditional” diets, such as the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet found that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet. Such diets are rich in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, with very modest amounts of lean meats and dairy. Traditional diets also completely lack processed or refined foods and sugars, present in ample amounts in the typical Western diet.

Concerning the mechanisms by which diet impacts mood, research suggests that there may be a link between inflammation and depression. A poor diet can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, which is linked to Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Healthy foods provide micronutrients like magnesium or vitamins that help the brain cope with daily stress: this may explain why simply cutting down on junk food can have such a pronounced effect on depression symptoms.

Foods that can improve your mood


  • eggs
  • poultry
  • seafood
  • tofu
  • low-fat Greek yogurt


  • low-fat milk
  • egg yolks
  • soymilk
  • broccoli
  • lentils
  • oatmeal
  • oranges
  • dark leafy greens
  • cottage cheese
  • lean beef
  • salmon


  • oats
  • beans
  • pears
  • peas
  • Brussels sprouts

In Victorian Britain, poor rural areas had the best diet and health

It seems counterintuitive but in the 19th century, the poor were better off than the rich, health and diet wise. A new study found that these rural societies enjoyed a more traditional lifestyle where high-quality foods were obtained locally and were overall better off than their richer, urban counterparts.

The Poultry Cross, Salisbury — a painting by Louise Rayner.

We often talk about eating like “the good old days” and most of the time, that’s just us using rose-colored glasses. We tend to idealize and romanticize days long gone and forget about all the bad things. However, this study shows that at least in some instances, doing things the good old way is truly rewarding.

The study’s author, Dr. Peter Greaves, of the Leicester Cancer Research Centre, examined the impact of regional diets in Victorian Britain, comparing it to available health and mortality data. The diets of the poor consisted mostly of cheap foodstuffs such as potatoes, vegetables, whole grains, milk, and fish — which also happen to be quite healthy. Modern healthy diets also incorporate many of these elements, as Greaves explains:

“The fact that these better-fed regions of Britain also showed lower mortality rates is entirely consistent with recent studies that have shown a decreased risk of death following improvement towards a higher Mediterranean dietary standard.”

Meanwhile, the rich Victorians would have access to daily meat and dairy, and even though they had access to a larger variety of foods, they also had much more access to unhealthy foods. The study didn’t analyze this in particular, but sugar was also a big problem in Victorian times: during Victorian times, sugar consumption increased dramatically, leading to tooth decay and many associated problems. Poorer people didn’t have this problem.

“The rural diet was often better for the poor in more isolated areas because of payment in kind, notably in grain, potatoes, meat, milk or small patches of land to grow vegetables or to keep animals.”

The English breakfast is a staple of British cuisine — though not a particularly healthy one. Here, it includes scrambled eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, and half a tomato. Image credits: Theorb / Wikipedia.

Researchers paid a special interest to deaths from pulmonary tuberculosis, which is typically associated with worse nutrition. All in all, not only did these rural communities have a lower mortality rate, but they also had fewer deaths from pulmonary diseases, indicating that they were significantly better fed.

The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, from 20 June 1837, until 1901. Thanks to the absolute supremacy of the Britannic Navy, it was a period of peace between the world’s great powers (Pax Britannica). It was also a period of economic, colonial, and industrial expansion, and the latter part of the Victorian era was characterized by massive urbanization in Britain. This urbanization brought massive social changes, and the health superiority of the rural areas was short-lived. Living in urban areas simply brought too many advantages — such as better health services, better living standards, and access to imported food — for a simple diet to overcome.

The rural societies were doomed to fall behind sooner or later.

“Unfortunately, these societies were in the process of disappearing under the pressure of urbanisation, commercial farming and migration. Such changes in Victorian society were forerunners of the dietary delocalisation that has occurred across the world, which has often led to a deterioration of diversity of locall produced food and reduced the quality of diet for poor rural populations.”

Dr. Greaves added:

“Conversely, in much of rapidly urbanising Britain in the mid-19th century, improvements in living conditions, better transport links and access to a greater variety of imported foods eventually led to improved life expectancy for many of the urban poor.”

It’s not the first study to praise the diets of Victorian-age people. In 2002, in the same journal, Paul Clayton and Judith Rowbotham published a series of three papers (here, here, and here) where they analyzed Victorian diets in great detail. Their papers showed the urban mid-Victorians, including the working classes, ate a notably good diet, including significant amounts of vegetables and fruit, which enabled a life expectancy matching that of today. So if the urban Victorians ate pretty good diets, and the rural ones ate even better, perhaps we ought to look back and learn a thing or two from them.

The study was published in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Open

We owe the shape of our jaws, at least in part, to our ancestors’ love of cheese

The advent of farming, with its ‘softer’ foods compared to previous hunter-gatherer menus, had a subtle but noticeable effect on the shape of human skulls, anthropologists from the University of California, Davis report.

Skull jaw.

Image credits Eliane Meyer.

Wild foods generally tend to be rougher than the stuff we’re used to nowadays. In other words, our hunter-forager ancestors had to put a lot more effort into chewing dinner than we do — they had to chew more and more often before dinner got in their bellies. Previous research has shown that there is a connection between skull shape and the advent of agriculture, but they haven’t gone as far as quantifying exactly how these changes developed over time.

So a team from UC Davis, made up of postdoc David Katz, statistician Mark Grote and associate anthropology professor Tim Weaver looked at 559 skulls and 534 lower jaws from over two dozen pre-industrial populations to see exactly how diet altered the shape and size of human skull bones as we transitioned to agriculture.

“The main differences between forager and farmer skulls are where we would expect to find them, and change in ways we might expect them to, if chewing demands decreased in farming groups,” said Katz, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calgary, Alberta.

Overall, the team found subtle but noticeable changes in the skulls of communities that grew and consumed dairy, cereals, or both. The greatest effects were associated with groups whose diets included a large percentage of dairy and dairy products, which suggests a direct link between the softness of the food and morphological changes.

However, diet wasn’t the most important factor dictating skull characteristics. For example, the team reports that morphological differences between males and females, or those between individuals eating the same diet but came from different populations had a more pronounced effect.

It’s interesting to see how our lifestyles play a direct role in our evolutionary path. The effects are less pronounced than “neutral evolutionary processes” such as genetic drift, mutation, and gene flow structured by population history and migrations. But even diet’s more muted contribution to the Homo sapiens we all know and love today shows that we’ve been meddling with our evolution for a long time now — whether we want to or not.

With the advent of genetic engineering, we’re bound to have an even more pronounced influence in the future. Time will only tell what that influence will be.

The paper “Changes in human skull morphology across the agricultural transition are consistent with softer diets in preindustrial farming groups” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mammoth Chunks.

Modern humans might’ve killed off the Neanderthals by eating all the mammoth

The diets of early modern humans weren’t as diverse as previously believed, researchers from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. In fact, they shared much of the menu with earlier Neanderthal populations — and competition for food might be what eventually drove these earlier human species extinct.

Mammoth Chunks.

Image via Todayilearned.

The first modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) are believed to have reached Europe some 43,000 years ago. They weren’t the first ones here, however. So they spent some 3,000 years or so steadily displacing and/or dating the local Neanderthals into extinction.

A big part of why they were able to do so is believed to come down to chow: modern humans, the theory goes, had much more varied diets. They’d eat stuff like fish and other seafood, for example, while the locals didn’t. Over time, this wider range of food gave them greater food security, more resilience to changes in flora and fauna, and greater access to nutrients and energy — so they could outbreed the Neanderthals, populate areas these couldn’t find enough food in, and gradually displaced them by relying on their greater adaptability.

“Many studies examine the question of what led to this displacement — one hypothesis postulates that the diet of the anatomically modern humans was more diverse and flexible and often included fish,” says paper co-author Prof. Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) at the University of Tübingen.

But that may not have been the case, an international team led by researchers from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, reports. Their work suggests that modern humans’ diets weren’t more flexible than that of Neanderthals. Just like them, early Homo sapiens diets revolved around mammoth meat and plants, the team finding no evidence for fish consumption. If the two human species’ diets overlapped as much as the research suggests, it’s likely we didn’t out-adapt Neanderthals — we simply out-ate them into extinction.

The Chowdown

To see if this theory holds water, the team studied the oldest known modern man fossils, recovered from the Buran Kaya caves on the Crimean Peninsula in the Ukraine. They were looking for chemical fingerprints left over from the stuff these populations ate, trying to piece together what early sapiens populations would have on the menu.

Buran Kaya.

Image credits Dorothée G. Drucker et al., 2017.

“In the course of this study, we examined the finds of early humans in the context of the local fauna,” explains Dr. Dorothée Drucker, co-author and biogeologist from Tübingen University. “Until now, all analyses of the diet of early modern humans were based on isolated discoveries; therefore, they are very difficult to interpret.”

To reconstruct the ancient dinner tables, the team measured the percentages of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes (same chemical element but with extra neutrons, making them heavier and distinguishable) in the bones of ancient humans and animals they might’ve hunted — such as antelopes (Saiga tatarica), red deer (Cervus elaphus), horse (Equus sp), hare (Lepus sp), and mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). Furthermore, as “all the selected specimens provided well-preserved collagen” the team looked at the nitrogen-15 content in this amino acid to allow them to trace the origin and proportion of nitrogen isotopes in the food.

The team reports that early modern humans incorporated a lot of plants in their diets, and they represented a significantly higher percentage of their overall food intake compared to Neanderthals. On the other hand, mammoths seem to have been the mainstay source of meat for both species, putting them in direct competition for food.

“Our results reveal a very high proportion of the nitrogen isotope 15N in early modern humans,” Bocherens adds. “However, contrary to our previous assumptions, these do not originate from the consumption of fish products, but primarily from mammoths.”

“Fish remains are missing in the site despite systematic sieving of the sediment during the excavations,” the paper notes.

In the end, this competition might have ended well for the Neanderthals. But it did for us so yay to that!

The paper “Isotopic analyses suggest mammoth and plant in the diet of the oldest anatomically modern humans from far southeast Europe” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Vegetarian diet found to be twice as effective at reducing weight

A new study has found that going vegetarian is not only good for the planet — it can help you get rid of those extra pounds as well.

Image credits: Zeetz.

There is a lot of controversy and plenty of misconceptions floating around the vegetarian diet. It certainly doesn’t help that some people are treating it like a fad, or that others are boasting it to no limit, but going vegetarian (and science has proven this time and time again) can be very healthy for you, and is certainly eco-friendly. Saving plenty of animal lives is, of course, a very significant bonus. Another bonus might be losing extra weight.

Dr. Hana Kahleová, Director of Clinical Research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington DC conducted a study with 74 participants, randomly assigned to follow either a vegetarian diet or a conventional anti-diabetic diet. The vegetarian diet was varied, consisting of vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts. Animal products were limited to a maximum of one portion of low-fat yogurt per day. The anti-diabetic diet followed the recommendations of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes and allowed meat and other animal products.

Both diets forced participants to eat 500 calories less than what they would usually have, but the results were quite different.

Although both diets led to a significant weight reduction, people following the vegetarian diet reported an average loss of 6.2kg compared to 3.2kg for the conventional diet. Kahleová commented:

“Vegetarian diets proved to be the most effective diets for weight loss. However, we also showed that a vegetarian diet is much more effective at reducing muscle fat, thus improving metabolism. This finding is important for people who are trying to lose weight, including those suffering from metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes. But it is also relevant to anyone who takes their weight management seriously and wants to stay lean and healthy.”

There was another added benefit to the vegetarian diet: while both diets led to a reduction in subcutaneous, subfascial and intramuscular fat  (as was highlighted by Magnetic Resonance Imaging), the vegetarian diet greatly reduced muscle fat, improving metabolism. Reducing intramuscular fat is particularly important for people with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, as this type of fat has been associated with insulin resistance. Reducing intramuscular fat also improves overall strength and mobility, especially in older patients.

Of course, it has to be kept in mind that this study is limited both in its sample size and in scope. This doesn’t, in any way, claim that a vegetarian diet is the be-all-end-all of losing weight. It does, however, show even more benefits of going vegetarian.

Journal Reference: Hana Kahleova et al — The Effect of a Vegetarian vs Conventional Hypocaloric Diabetic Diet on Thigh Adipose Tissue Distribution in Subjects with Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Study. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2017.1302367


Fresh veggies.

Americans aren’t only wasting the most food — they’re also throwing out the best bits

If you live in the United States, it’s likely that the single densest concentration of nutrients near you is in the garbage bin.

Fresh veggies.

America is an incredibly paradoxical place when it comes to food. In the land of deep-fried butter and happy meals, the average diet in is bristling with calories but nutritionally equivalent to a handful of stale dirt. This is a country who loves food to the extent that everything American is as American as apple pie, then turns around and throws away between 31% and 40% of all the food they produce each year — more than anyone else in the world. That comes down to roughly 1200 calories wasted per person, per day. Which is about what you’d need to feed an average five, six year old each day.

Over-consumption and malnutrition, at the same time. Obesity, hand-in hand-with over-waste. It flies against common sense and shouldn’t be happening, but it is. To understand how, we have to take a look not only at the quantity but also the quality of what the U.S. throws away, according to a paper from the Johns Hopkins University’s Department of International Health.

“Other researchers had already tracked the amount of food that’s wasted in terms of how much it weighs, the economic value, and how many calories were in it,” said lead author Marie Spiker, a doctoral student in the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins University. “Our primary motivation was to go beyond calories and look into other nutrients to really show the magnitude of the food that we waste.”

“Even in this environment of abundance there still are nutrients that we’re not consuming enough of on average. So, we were particularly interested in looking for these nutrients that we’re not getting enough of, and seeing how much is actually ending up in the landfill.”

Protip: it’s a lot

The team worked with two sets of data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). First, they looked at the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability (LAFA) figures, which tracks waste along 213 different commodity foods, both at the retail and consumer levels, to see how much of everything gets thrown out. Then, they turned to the National Nutrient Database which records nutritional data for foodstuffs — how much calcium is in a cup of milk, the vitamin C content in an orange, stuff like that.

Armed with these two sets of data, Spiker’s team was able to get an estimate of the amount of 27 different nutrient groups contained in those 213 types of food that gets thrown out each day. And good golly.


Might as well chuck the whole thing at once!
Image credits Magic Madzik / Flickr.

Let’s take dietary fiber, for example. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of fiber for your average 19-30 year-old woman in the U.S. is 25 grams (0.88 oz) per day. But the averaged real intake of fiber for women in this age category is only 16.1 grams (0.56 oz) daily, about two-thirds of the recommended intake. For men, the RDI of fiber is 38 grams (1.34 oz) but the real intake is only 20 grams (0.70 oz), which cuts just over half of the RDI.

So maybe there’s not enough fiber to go around? Well, yea because so much of it gets thrown away: the paper reports that wasted fiber could bump some 206.6 million women or 103.9 million men up to their recommended intake levels. To put that into perspective, there are 321.4 million people living in the whole of the U.S., according to 2015 census data. Let’s assume that this fiber would be perfectly distributed in a 1:1 ratio to the men and women in the U.S., for discussion’s sake — it could potentially satisfy the RDI needs of 155.25 million middle-aged adults, or account for almost half of the gap for everyone. It’s a mind-boggling figure.

This pattern repeats itself for all other 26 nutrients investigated including protein, calcium, potassium, and a host of vitamins.

Why should I care

The study also looked at what types of foods are most frequently wasted and by whom. While retailers and consumers waste about as much calorie-wise, consumers take the prize when it comes to nutrient content. It all comes down to perishable food: unprocessed, fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and meat.

Perishable food.

Basically, all the best bits.

“[…] these foods that are perishable are also the ones that are really rich in nutrients,” according to Spiker. “When they are sitting in our kitchens, if we don’t use them, they’re the ones that tend to spoil faster than processed and packaged foods.”

The problem is that a meal thrown out isn’t just a meal missed which, although bad for you, ultimately affects only you. The problem is that the food on our plates comes from a really long and complicated supply chain — so when you throw away food, you also throw away all the work and resources that went into growing it. That means all the land, water, fertilizer, and fuel used in agriculture and transport, the energy required to keep it refrigerated in transit and in stores, it all goes in the bin.

All those resources further translate into an environmental strain with land clearing and ecosystem destruction to make room for crops, all the greenhouse gasses released during the production process, and in certain cases (such as wild fish or seafood) a depletion of stocks which don’t have time to regenerate — all wasted. And to add insult to injury, the food which reaches landfills merrily starts decomposing and releasing methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.

Take it a step further, and this waste has a direct cost for you. There’s the time you had to spent at work to be able to afford all this food. As we’ve seen that this waste eats into your basic nutritional needs, there’s also a secondary cost it will carry in time — in the form of dietary supplements and medical costs to treat the effects of poor diet. Think far long enough and this waste adds a teeny tiny mark towards climate change and widening social inequality.

A single item doesn’t make much of a difference — but it add it up with everything you threw and will throw out during your lifetime, and it becomes significant. Compounds with what everyone else in the country wastes, and it becomes massive.

Ok, what should I do

“Know your onions” wartime poster promoting food efficiency.
Created by the Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services in World War 2 / Public Domain.

Policy is probably the best way to solve the issue en masse, but a personal touch can also add up the same way. Spiker recommends checking what food you have at home before going out grocery shopping for more. Also, with the exception of baby food, you can pretty much ignore any sell-by date on packages. As we’ve said before, these are there as a guarantee of taste not edibility. Your best bet is to go with your instincts. We have a huge chunk of time behind us in which we’ve evolved to know what we should and shouldn’t eat. If it smells or tastes off, just don’t eat it; else, chow down.

Another way to limit waste while still eating healthily is to buy frozen veggies. After all, whatever health benefits fresh, hand-picked, slowly-massaged-to-classical-music kale has don’t matter if it spoils in the fridge and you throw it out. Buying frozen food will give you more time to eat it before it goes bad.

And finally, consider what you’re purchasing and try to be realistic — can you actually eat everything before it goes bad? Then, once you’ve actually got the food into the house make sure you’re turning them into meals — even if takeout would be the easiest choice.

In the end, the best rule of thumb would be to follow the wisdom of Andrew Burd — be stingy, and make sure you save that money by eating everything you buy.

The full paper “Wasted Food, Wasted Nutrients: Nutrient Loss from Wasted Food in the United States and Comparison to Gaps in Dietary Intake” has been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Old Store.

Where you shop influences how healthily you eat — but only about half as much as who you are

The way shops advertise different types of food can have a big impact on the quality of your diet — but only if we let them, a new paper from the RAND Corporation shows. The researchers found that while more frequent shopping at convenience and neighborhood stores was associated with a higher intake of added sugars, individual social and demographic factors were nearly twice as powerful in predicting diet quality.

Old Store.

Image credits Brad Carpenter.

The role shops play in shaping the U.S diet has long been under debate, especially in the context of the nation’s rising rates of obesity. Establishing new stores in food deserts (areas that do not have easy access to full-service supermarkets and the wider range of healthy food they carry) was thought to be enough to improve the quality of what people eat, but new research from the nonprofit RAND Corporation challenges this notion and puts dietary education on the list of priorities.

The study found that sociodemographic factors had the strongest association with the types of food people consumed. It surveyed 1,372 households in areas considered to be food deserts throughout 2011, gathering data about consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, discretionary fats, fruit and vegetables, food shopping patterns, and other dietary habits.

To determine the residents’ range of choices in foodstuffs, the team audited 24 local food stores in the study area and 14 from outside the area where residents reported doing their major food shopping. Both groups included outlets such as convenience stores, wholesale clubs, supermarkets, and fruit and vegetable stands. They were then rated on their ‘healthiness’: unhealthy stores had unhealthy food dominating the view from the main entrance and had more displays promoting unhealthy food rather than healthy food. For the most part, it held convenience stores, neighborhood stores, and dollar stores. Moderately unhealthy stores included discount grocery stores, supercenters, and wholesale clubs. Healthy stores included full-service supermarkets, specialty grocery stores, and fruit and vegetable shops. But even some of the healthy stores prominently displayed unhealthy food, according to the team.

The young and reckless

  • They found that social and demographic factors were almost twice as important in determining someone’s diet than their usual shopping spots — being younger and male was associated with more intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, and discretionary fats.
  • Lacking a college degree was significantly associated with greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and discretionary fats, and lower fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits was significantly associated with greater consumption of added sugars.
  • Being older and male, especially for those having a college degree, upped the chance of eating more fruits and vegetables.

“Our findings suggest that interventions that focus on modifying the food retail environment by opening more stores that sell healthy food will have relatively little impact on reducing consumption of unhealthy food,” said Christine Vaughan, lead author of the study and a behavioral scientist at RAND.

“Instead, strategies designed to modify the choices people make about food stand a better chance of reducing consumption of unhealthy foods.”

That’s not to say that the shops themselves don’t play a part in diet. More frequent shopping at convenience stores significantly increased the quantity of added sugars in participants’ diets, while buying food primarily from neighborhood stores predicted greater intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and discretionary fats. Buying more food at supercenters was significantly associated with greater intake of discretionary fats. Shopping more often at specialty grocery stores was linked to greater consumption of fruits and vegetables.

“While both the food shopping environment and sociodemographic characteristics were associated with eating more unhealthy food, the personal characteristics were more important,” said Tamara Dubowitz, co-author of the study and a RAND senior policy researcher.

“This work suggests we need to do more than just trying to eliminate food deserts. We need strategies that can encourage healthy eating and discourage unhealthy eating.

The team says that we need targeted interventions aimed at improving the choices individuals from those critical sociodemographic backgrounds  — in other words, education. They also highlight the importance of policy in the issue, saying officials should consider strategies that previous research has shown will change the lay of shopping environments, such as imposing taxes on sugary beverages or limiting the display of unhealthy foods in stores.

The full study “Does where you shop or who you are predict what you eat?: The role of stores and individual characteristics in dietary intake” has been published in the journal Preventive Medicine.