Tag Archives: nutrition

Coconut oil might be as bad as butter or lard, new guidelines suggest

According to the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA), coconut oil might not be as healthy to eat as we thought.

Coconut oil might not be as good you thought. Image credits: PaulReis123 / Wikipedia.

Coconut oil has risen to fame in recent years, commonly sold as a healthier alternative to saturated fats. The AHA, however, says that there’s not enough scientific evidence to suggest that — we might have given coconut oil too much credit.

Choosing your fats

The “fats” name is rather unfortunate — because for a long time, it was thought that they are responsible for making you fat. But now we know that that’s not really the case, with sugar and not fats being the main culprit behind the obesity pandemic. Still, this isn’t saying that fats are necessarily good for you; fats come in numerous shapes and sizes, with the main categories being:

  • monounsaturated fats; these are the good guys, have then in moderate amounts and they’ll keep your cholesterol levels healthy. Notable foods: avocado, olive oil, hazelnuts, peanuts, cashew, etc.
  • polyunsaturated fats; they’re still OK, especially as long as you have them in low amounts. Notable foods: corn oil, oily fish, sunflower seeds, soya oil, etc.
  • saturated fats; we’re moving into unhealthy territory. These fats are not good for your cholesterol levels. Notable foods: fatty meats, butter, lard, processed meats, palm oil, hard cheeses and coconut oil.
  • trans fats; these should be avoided whenever possible. Notable foods: fried fast food, many takeaways, hard margarine.

This can be a bit confusing, but think about it this way: unsaturated fats, the “good guys” are almost always liquid at room temperature. Saturated and trans fats, the “baddies” are usually solid. Interestingly, the melting point of coconut oil is 76 degrees F (24 C), so depending on your room temperature, it could be liquid (if you’re over 24 C) or solid (under 24 C). Either way, it’s riddled with saturated fats.

Olive oil is an excellent source of healthy fats. Image via Pixabay.

Coconut oil

What I presented above is a simplified way of looking at things. In real life, things contain many kinds of fats, but we simplify that. For instance, when we say that olive oil is a healthy food because it has unsaturated fats — it also has saturated fats, though in a much smaller proportion. So where does coconut oil stand?

According to the AHA, 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, a whopping proportion. Compared to it, even butter (63%), beef fat (50%), and pork lard (39%) fare better. Judging by this alone, coconut oil is actually worse than all these. Of course, there are other aspects to consider, and no one is saying lard is healthier than coconut oil, it’s just that the latter has been given a lot of spotlight for qualities it just doesn’t have. Or rather, for qualities no one has thoroughly proven that it has.

“We want to set the record straight on why well-conducted scientific research overwhelmingly supports limiting saturated fat in the diet to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels,” said Dr Frank Sacks, lead author of the AHA advice.

As it’s so often the case, so-called nutritionists and faux doctors have influenced public opinion much more than actual science, and the hype around coconut oil has grown far beyond what the substance actually has to offer. The full article goes on:

“Taking into consideration the totality of the scientific evidence, satisfying rigorous criteria for causality, we conclude strongly that lowering intake of saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, will lower the incidence of CVD [cardiovascular disease]. This recommended shift from saturated to unsaturated fats should occur simultaneously in an overall healthful dietary pattern such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or the Mediterranean diet as emphasized by the 2013 American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology lifestyle guidelines and the 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The bottom line is, we should try to reduce the saturated fats from our diet, but there’s no need to lead an all-out war on fats. Researchers stress that fats are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. They’re a source of essential fatty acids and help the body absorb vitamins, such as A, D, and E.

Victoria Taylor from the British Heart Foundation, told the BBC we should have a whole approach to our diets. It’s not all about fats, it’s more about having a balanced nutrition and reducing risk factors, not falling for the latest fad in nutrition or the latest wonder food nutritionists pump out.

“To eat well for your heart health it is not just about reducing fat but reducing specific types of fat and taking care over what these are replaced with – unsaturated fats and wholegrains, rather than sugars and refined carbohydrates. Any change should be viewed in the context of a whole diet approach. The traditional Mediterranean diet has benefits for a range of risk factors for heart disease, not just cholesterol levels. We recommend replacing the saturated fats in the diet with unsaturated fats – using oils instead of butter and choosing foods like avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds instead of foods high in saturated fats like cakes, biscuits, chocolate and fatty meat.”


Fast Food.

It’s not just the poor: all Americans eat fast food about as often

If there’s a common denominator for every American today, it’s got to be fast food, researchers report. Everyone is having a bite, regardless of socio-economic background.

Fast Food.

Popular wisdom says that the poor gorge on fast-food and the rich dine on fine, healthy courses. There is definitely a kernel of truth to this stereotype, as fast food is usually very cheap, feels like a filling meal as it’s high in fats and salt, so it seems a good deal. For people who don’t have the shops or (especially) time or to ensure they get a healthy, balanced diet, fast food seems like a viable alternative — but it’s actually a barren wasteland from a nutrient point of view.

But the stereotype needs to be revisited, according to a team from the Ohio State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Following a nationwide study of young baby boomers, they report that middle-income Americans are the most likely socio-economic group to eat fast food. There was only a relatively small difference between them and the other groups, however, suggesting that everyone bites in — even the richest people were only slightly less likely to report eating fast food.


Fast food, wide reach

“It’s not mostly poor people eating fast food in America,” said Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study and research scientist at The Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research.

“Rich people may have more eating options, but that’s not stopping them from going to places like McDonald’s or KFC.”

Zagorsky worked on the study with Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. They used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a survey conducted y Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research which has been questioning the same group of randomly selected Americans from 1979 to today.

The team drew on data from around 8,000 people who were questioned on their fast-food consumption in 2008, 2010 and 2012 as part of the survey. The surveyees, who were in their 40s and 50s at the time they answered the questions, were asked how many times they had eaten “food from a fast-food restaurant such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut or Taco Bell” in the past week.

The results were compared to the participants’ reported income and wealth. All in all, 79% of respondents ate fast food at least once and 23% ate three or more meals during any one of the weeks recorded in the study. While the team did find some slight differences in how fast-food consumption related to both self-reported indices, Zagorsky says that the results were statistically similar.

In one analysis of the data, the team divided the participants into 10 groups based on income. Around 80% in the lowest bracket, 85% of those in the middle (brackets 4 and 5), and about 75% in the highest bracket reported eating fast food least once in the last week. Some pretty consistent numbers overall.

A similar pattern emerged when the team looked at the number of fast-food meals eaten during the three weeks of the study. People in the lower bracket ate 3.6, those in the middle brackets ate 4.2, and those in the highest bracket ate 3 fast food meals during this timeframe.

The team also found that people whose income or wealth changed significantly since 2012 (either for good or for worse) didn’t actually change their eating habits.

So what does matter?

One defining feature of those who relied heavily on fast food for their meals was a lack of time — or time poverty. The authors report that fast food eaters tended to have less leisure time and were more likely to work — and work more hours — than their counterparts.

Another surprise find represented one very select group of people. The team reports that in 2008, 10 respondents claimed to eat only at fast-food restaurants, as did five people in 2010, and two in 2012. Given that the total sample was of 8,000 people, it’s likely that there are only a few people in the US who only eat fast food for longer periods of time.

Still, the study is not without limitations. First, participants were asked if they ate fast food, not what they ate. Some fast food restaurants do carry healthier options such as salads, or non-food items such as coffee. The study included only people in their 40s or 50s, so the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt when expanding to other age groups.

But all in all, the study is a good starting point for policy designed to fight obesity or improve the overall nutrition of the average American consumer.

“If government wants to get involved in regulating nutrition and food choices, it should be based on facts. This study helps reject the myth that poor people eat more fast food than others and may need special protection,” Zagorsky said.

The full paper “The association between socioeconomic status and adult fast-food consumption in the U.S.” has been published in the journal  Economics & Human Biology.

NASA is designing small away-from-home-ecosystems to make space exploration sustainable

Researchers at NASA and the University of Arizona, Tucson will be working together to bring long-term sustainability to our space pioneers — one greenhouse at a time.

NASA's Greenhouse.

The prototype greenhouse housed at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center.
Image credits University of Arizona

Astronauts have already shown the world their green thumbs by growing plants and veggies aboard the ISS. But when going farther away from our blue cradle, crews will have to rely on on-site resources for food and oxygen. To make sure they’re well stocked with both on future journeys, NASA researchers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the University of Arizona (UA) are working out how to grow enough plants to feed and air a whole crew on a long-term journey.

“We’re working with a team of scientists, engineers and small businesses at the University of Arizona to develop a closed-loop system,” said Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead scientist in Kennedy Advanced Life Support Research, about the Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse project. “The approach uses plants to scrub carbon dioxide, while providing food and oxygen.”

The prototype is an inflatable greenhouse specifically tuned to keep the plants happy and continuously growing and will provide food, scrub the breathing air while recycling both water and waste. They’re cylindrical, measuring 18 feet in length and more than 8 feet in diameter. They were designed and built by Sadler Machine Company, one of the project partners.

These greenhouses will maintain a waste-none, closed-looped process called a bioregenerative life support system. The CO2 astronauts exhale will be fed through the greenhouse so the plants can photosynthesize and generate oxygen. Water will either be shuttled along from Earth or sourced from “the lunar or Martian landing site,” NASA notes. The liquid will be enriched in gases and nutrient salts and will be pumped across the crop’s roots then recycled — basically, hydroponics in space.


The crops were selected to provide not only food, but air revitalization, water recycling and waste recycling.
Image credits University of Arizona.

Researchers at the UA are currently testing different species of plants to determine what would survive best, and what buds, seeds, or other material are required to make the greenhouses self-sufficient on a mission. Figuring out what to take and how to best use local resources afterward will be key, since deep space missions will be hard and pricey to constantly supply from home. So, NASA researchers are working on systems which can harness such resources — with an emphasis on water.

“We’re mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support,” said Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona. “The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth.”

The greenhouses will likely need to be buried under soil or rock to protect the plants inside from cosmic radiation, which means specialized lighting will be required to keep them alive. Currently, the team has succeeded in using either electrical LED light or hybrid methods “using both natural and artificial lighting” — which involves the use of light concentrators on the surface to track the movement of the sun and feed its light underground through fiber optic channels.

What’s left to do now is to find out how many greenhouses will be needed per crew. Giacomelli says the next step on the agenda is to test with additional units and computer models to ensure a steady supply of oxygen can be produced from the lunar greenhouses.


The Food Chain Project: Fighting Food Waste With Art

People in the developed world generally waste a lot of food – a lot! Nearly 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the European Union, which comes in at about 280 kg (620 lb) per person per year. Things are even worse in the US, where the waste is 295 kg (650 lb). With that in mind, Israeli-Dutch artist Itamar Gilboa has started a new project where he monitored everything he ate during a year and made a work of art out of it. It’s hard to imagine just how much food we eat… and how much we buy, but never use.

The Food Chain Project is a pop-up supermarket made entirely of sculptural groceries that represent Itamar Gilboa’s consumption over 365 days — which is similar to most of us. Most of what he consumed is what you’d expect (apples, burgers, cheese and so on), and in the end, everything added up to 6,000 products. Thinking about his personal consumption habits, Gilboa started to research the social implications of individual consumption choices on global food issues. By presenting the 6000 products he consumed in a year, Gilboa aimed to raise awareness and generate a wider discussion on global food issues.

It took him three years to replicate all the items, building them from white plaster and materializing them into a unique exhibition. He then turned the exhibition into his “traveling supermarket”, taking it around the world for everyone to see. The message he’s sending is simple and powerful: the items are generic, they could be any product, and they could be used to end someone’s hunger – but we’re throwing them away.

Gilboa is part of a newer breed of artists, one that doesn’t aim to put itself in the center of art. Instead, he chooses bigger, broader topics, which affect more people, while still maintaining a down-to-earth approach. It’s art made not only to be beautiful, but also to stir up ideas and debates. Personally, I feel that this is a great approach, which can lead to some much-needed discussions.

‘Interestingly, as an artist I am not necessarily concerned with creating works that represent who I am. Rather I focus on larger subjects matters. Taking myself as the starting point in my work I am able to grasp these subjects. I am able to focus on consumption issues, migration or violence without being pompous. In this sense I see my work as social sculptures; in the end I have a story to tell’.

Ugly, marred apples are more nutritious than their ‘perfect’ counterparts

If you walk into any supermarket and check out the apples (or any fruits, for that matter) you’ll see that they’re almost perfectly round and lack any blemishes or bruises. In fact, a person only seeing grocery store apples might think that’s how they all look like – but that’s far from the truth. Many apples have all sorts of imperfections, and according to a new experiment, this might make the fruits even sweeter and more nutritious.

Image via Max Pixel.

Eliza Greenman is an experienced orchardist and consultant in growing fruits. In her own words, she’s obsessed with growing fruits. But after spending a few years learning how to grow the perfect fruits, she started to question this approach. Why focus so much on growing flawless fruits, when others are just as delicious and nutritious – or even more so?

“I’m absolutely infatuated with the idea of stress in an orchard,” Greenman told NPR. “After learning the management practices that go into producing flawless fruit, I’ve started to question the ethics currently involved in producing the status quo.”

Now, she also custom grafts and grows pesticide-free hard cider apples in Hamilton, Virginia. She believed that these unwanted apples may actually be sweeter than other, especially due to the stress.

[Also Read: Genetically modified apples don’t turn brown when sliced or bruised]

She conducted an experiment to test her theory. This isn’t a peer-reviewed study, just an unofficial experiment. But what she found is definitely worth thinking about. Focusing on the Parma apples, she reports that scarred apples had a 2 to 5 percent higher sugar content than unmarred apples from the same tree. This is a significant difference, and more sugar makes for stronger, tastier cider. But this isn’t where the extra nutrition stops.

Wear your scars like medals

Fruit scars are the result of stress. Whether it comes from fighting heat, bugs, or fungus, the scars on an apple show that the fruit fought a battle – and won. That stress forces forces apples to produce antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, anthocyanins and carotenoids. These act as the apple’s natural defense systems – and these compounds have a high nutritional value.

The science seems to back this idea up. In 2014, a review of 343 studies found that organic produce had a 20 to 40 percent higher antioxidant content than conventional produce. The same thing was reported a few years earlier by another study which found higher antioxidant phenols and fruit acids in organic apples. Organic apples are often scarred, and there does seem to be a correlation between the two – scars on one hand, and antioxidants on the other. But this isn’t necessarily so. Several factors also affect antioxidant content, including the soil type and mineral distribution. Until a more thorough study isn’t conducted, all we can do is speculate.

But Greenman’s experiments are not without merit. For her (and many other growers), the signs are there. Scarred apples are definitely sweeter, and there’s a good chance they’re even more nutritious — and they shouldn’t be kept out of grocery stores. In fact, several companies and countries are taking heed and selling “ugly” fruits and veggies. Imperfect produce is starting to claim its rightful place on the shelves – and I can only hope it’s here to stay. About a third of the world’s food is wasted, much of that because of the way it looks. In America, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown don’t fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards and are thrown away.

New device enables you to grow your own food from plant cells

Growing your own food is already becoming pretty popular in many parts of the world, but what if you could really grow your own food – from scratch ?


Researchers in Finland have developed a new device which can grow plant cell material from a seed culture, in a bioreactor. It develops all the proteins, fibres, and other plant-based compounds, offering you all the value of having your own greenhouse without any need for farming. They call it CellPod.

“CellPod utilizes the possibilities of modern biotechnology,” researchers write on their page. “The technology allows to grow plant cell material from a seed culture. Basically any living plant, or combination of different plants can be used. After few days of growing the seed culture produces few liters of plant cell mass. It contains proteins, fibers and other beneficial compounds that the plants are naturally producing.”

The reasoning for producing something like this is simple: due to urbanization and high population density in cities, bringing in food often comes at a great environmental cost. The food is also often not as tasty or nutritious as it should be, so people sometimes choose to grow their own. The only thing is that having a house greenhouse can be quite messy and time-consuming. This is where CellPod comes in.

“Urbanisation and the environmental burden caused by agriculture are creating the need to develop new ways of producing food – CellPod is one of them. It may soon offer consumers a new and exciting way of producing local food in their own homes,” said research scientist Lauri Reuter, from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT).

Well it certainly looks nutritious. VTT

Basically, you don’t grow the whole plant, just the ‘good’ parts – the ones you eat. You don’t cultivate the shrub or leaves. This means that the food won’t really look like proper fruits and instead will resemble a kind of oaty breakfast cereal. It also isn’t designed to grow full meals, but rather provide healthy supplements.

“These cells contain the plant’s entire genetic potential, so they are capable of producing the same healthy compounds – such as antioxidants and vitamins – as the whole plant,” the team said. “The nutritional value of a cloudberry cell culture, for example, is similar to or even better than that of the berry itself.”

So far, there’s been no peer-reviewed publication so we don’t really know how well it works and how nutritious the foods really are, but this idea seems to be picking up more and more steam. Just last month, a Kickstarter campaign successfully funded a product called the Nanofarm which allows people to grow their own food inside a climate controlled container. The future of food may be creeping up on us.

Why coffee makes me poop

You wake up in the morning. You pour some of that sweet delicious hot nectar to get you going through the day but it’s not long before you feel something in your belly. For three in ten people, coffee brings much more than just a morning buzz – it brings a bowel movement. But why?

The morning coffee seems to be often followed by this view. Photo by Elya.

Before we start drawing any conclusions, it has to be said that the science isn’t settled on this. I’ve found no conclusive study about why coffee makes you go to the toilet, but there are a few smaller studies and other hints. So we’re a bit short on the why but we’re good on the how.

It’s probably not caffeine

At first, you’d probably be tempted to blame it on caffeine. After all, it’s the main active ingredient in coffee and it’s what makes coffee… coffee. But that’s almost certainly not the case. But if you think about it, other things have caffeine as well. Some sodas have it, as do some energy drinks and they don’t send you to the loo.

Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn / Unsplash.

Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn / Unsplash.

Furthermore, a study has found that decaf has a similar effect. Basically, they found that a cup of hot, caffeinated coffee stimulates the bowel on average by as much as a 1,000-calorie meal. The effect was 60% stronger than hot water and 23% more than decaffeinated coffee. So decaf had an impact, but not as strong.

The most referenced study on coffee and bowel movements recruited 99 healthy volunteers and found that 28 of them reported a coffee-induced urge to defecate. Now, this isn’t the largest sample size but it’s quite significant. The study also notes the time after which the urge is felt: 4 minutes. This indicates an indirect action because four minutes is not enough for the coffee to reach the colon through the intestines or through the bloodstream.

So then… what is it?

The study promotes two mechanisms. The first one proposes that acidity is the culprit. Coffee contains a substance called gastrin, a peptide hormone that stimulates secretion of gastric acid. Gastric acid sends a signal to the receptors on the epithelial receptors in the stomach, which then dumps its contents faster.

This inconspicuous does it all - and we still don't know exactly how. Photo by Natalie Collins / Unsplash.

This inconspicuous does it all – and we still don’t know exactly how. Photo by Natalie Collins / Unsplash.

Alternatively, the cause could be exorphines, a group of opioid peptides. Both regular and decaffeinated coffee contain exorphines that can bind to opiate receptors and again, stimulate the bowel, but we don’t know which of the many such substances could be responsible.

Another study investigating coffee’s connection to ulcers found that strong coffee and hot water both have a significant effect on bowel movement, though that of coffee is much stronger. However, in time, coffee drinkers can become immune to this. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics found that individuals who consume coffee regularly often develop a tolerance for these effects.

How the magic happens

The process through which it does this is called peristalsis. Peristalsis is is the formal scientific term for ‘muscle contractions which go like a wave in a tube.’ So when you’re drinking coffee, if you’re among the lucky 30%, your distal colon (the last part of the colon) is stimulated and muscle contractions go down it like a wave, forcing you to poop.

A time-space diagram of a peristaltic wave traveling down the esophagus during a water swallow. Data recorded at Department of Gastro-Enterology, University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland.

Peristaltic waves are vital for our digestive function. In the human gastrointestinal tract, smooth muscle tissue contracts in sequence to produce a peristaltic wave, which propels a ball of food along the tract. But sometimes, your body can be tricked and can create a peristaltic wave without having a ball of food to send forth.

Coffee’s effect is also likely exacerbated by the gastrocolic reflex. The gastrocolic reflex means that when your gastrointestinal tract is waking up after being inactive all night, it sends the colon a message to make some room.


So coffee doesn’t make everyone poop – just around 30% of all people (based on one study). If you’re among the lucky ones, then coffee sends wave-like muscle contractions down your colon, either due to an increase in acidity, a secretion of exorphines, both, or something else we’re missing completely. Some people develop a tolerance to these effects.

I would really love a bigger study would cover this. After all, coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the world, second only to oil and millions enjoy it every morning. It would be nice to know exactly why it makes us poop, doesn’t it?

New electric fork simulates a salty flavor by shocking your tongue

Adding extra-salt may make food tastier, but it can also has a negative effect on your health. With that in mind, Japanese researchers have invented a fork that creates a salty taste in your mouth at the press of a button, by releasing an electrical current which stimulates the tongue.

The “electric flavoring fork” generates a salty or sour taste. The metal part of the handle is held in the palm, and the button is pressed by the thumb. It can be used for about six hours per charge. The prototype is not water-proof, but presumably will be in the future.

Salt has long been associated with blood pressure, an increased risk of heart disease and even a risk of stomach cancer. It’s clear that many people are eating too much salt, but no one really likes bland food. There may be a middle way.

The prototype fork, which was built from just $24 worth of electronics, creates the sensation of both salty and sour, and can be adjusted for different intensities. The handle of the fork incorporates a rechargeable battery and electric circuit. When the user inserts the head of the fork into the mouth with food while pressing a button on the handle, a certain level of electric current is applied to the tongue. The fork was developed based on the “electric flavoring” technology being researched by Hiromi Nakamura at Rekimoto Lab, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, the University of Tokyo. It’s based on a technology which stimulates the tongue to make it feel salty or sour, the same “electric test” being used to see if some parts of the tongue are fully functional or not.

At this moment, it’s not clear whether or not the fork will become widely available. For now, the prototype was prepared for “No Salt Restaurant,” a project to offer a salt-free full-course meal.

The cake isn’t a lie — but the nutritional value on the box definitely is

Food packaging does influence the amount of calories consumed, a new study found. By showing portion sizes much larger than recommended, the pictures on various product’s packaging could make it difficult to eat healthy. Extras such as toppings or frosting on cakes are also usually not taken into account on nutritional labels, exacerbating the problem.

“Layer cake with chocolate bits. Layers filled with icing and cheesecake bits. Iced and topped with caramel sauce & cookies.”
Image credits to flickr user Ginny.

Dr. John Brand and his colleagues at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found that the way cakes are depicted on ready-mix cake packaging — in large servings covered with lots of frosting — cause consumers to overestimate portion sizes.

“If we see a slice of cake smothered in frosting on the cake box, we think that is what is normal to serve and eat,” he explained in a statement.

“But that’s not what is reflected in the serving size recommendation on the nutrition label,”

This can lead people to overestimate what constitutes an ordinary, healthy serving of the high-calorie desert, he and his colleagues found.

The team carried out a series of four studies to find out if images on food packaging can influence serving size. They used 51 different cake mixes to see if people would overestimate how much calories each contained by looking at the picture alone. This would in turn cause them to serve larger portions.

In the first study, they compared the cake’s caloric value as listed on the nutritional label with the actual number calories contained in the cake and frosting as shown on the package. The results showed that the products usually had 134 percent more calories than the label stated.

So for the final three studies, the team recruited undergrads or food-service professionals and gave each of them one typical cake mix box. Some were informed that the nutritional label doesn’t factor in the frosting, but most of them weren’t. They were then asked to asses whether or not the depicted piece of cake was a reasonable serving.

Undergrads that were warned about the nutritional labels’ inaccuracy wanted smaller portions than their peers. The final study found that even industry professionals would, on average, over-serve cake without that information.

“Undoubtedly, companies don’t intend to deceive us when they include frosting in cake box depictions, but these seemingly small elements of packaging can have a huge impact,” explained co-author Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab.

Simply including a warning that frosting or other extras are not included in nutritional labeling would make packaging “less misleading,” the study concludes.

Eating sweets with every meal may help your memory

Scientists at the Georgia State University, Georgia Regents University and Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center found that the brain uses sweet foods to form the memory of a meal. The paper shows how the neurons in the dorsal hippocampus — a part of the brain that is critical for episodic memory — are activated by consuming sweets.  Episodic memory records autobiographical events and their particular time and context.

Eating sweets helps your brain remember meals and eat less.
Image via wikimedia

The team fed rats with a sweetened solution, made with wither sucrose or saccharin. They found that eating this meal showed significantly increased expression of the synaptic plasticity marker called activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (Arc) in dorsal hippocampal neurons compared to other types of food.

“We think that episodic memory can be used to control eating behavior,” said Marise Parent, professor in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State. “We make decisions like ‘I probably won’t eat now. I had a big breakfast.’ We make decisions based on our memory of what and when we ate.”

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that increased snacking (both in quantity and frequency) has been associated with obesity. Research also shows that over the past three decades, children and adults are eating more snacks per day and deriving more of their daily calories from snacks, mostly in the form of desserts and sweetened beverages.

Previous work of the team showed how temporarily inactivating dorsal hippocampal neurons following a sucrose meal, during the period during which the memory of a meal forms, determines the rats to eat again sooner and ingest larger quantities of food.

A former London-based study investigated how disrupting the encoding of the memory of a meal in humans, such as by watching television, increases the amount of food they consume during the next meal. It also found that people with amnesia will eat again if presented with food, even if they’ve already had a meal.

The results of all these experiments illustrate the key role the brain has on meal onset and frequency, and how memory comes into play. To understand energy regulation and the causes of obesity, we need to have a better understanding of the organ’s internal workings, Parent said.

Now the team aims to determine if nutritionally balanced liquid or solid diets that typically contain protein, fat and carbohydrates have a similar effect on Arc expression in dorsal hippocampal neurons and whether increases in Arc expression are necessary for the memory of sweet foods.

A futuristic garden that lets you grow food at home just raised $230,000 on Kickstarter in 4 days

Imagine you could grow your own vegetables at home! Well wait, you can always do that, just plant them in pots and take care of them… Let’s try again: Imagine you could grow your food at home, year-round, using a futuristic aquarium/garden system! Well, that’s something else, isn’t it?

Image via Grove

Grove Labs, a startup based in Sommerville, Massachusetts, was founded by two MIT students who wanted to give people the opportunity to grow veggies all year round, regardless of their location and the local temperature, with minimum effort. The startup raised $4 million in seed funding, according to the Boston Globe, but it also went big on Kickstarter, raising more than $230,000 in additional funding. At $2,700, their product isn’t exactly cheap, so is it really worth it? Let’s see how it works.

The key component is an aquarium, where fish eat fish food and turn it into waste. The incorporated bacteria then take the waste and turns it into nitrates, which are an excellent fertilizer for plants; this fertilizer is pumped through a pumping system to the plant beds, thus encapsulating a functional ecosystem. You don’t need to water it, you don’t need to weed it, and there’s no waste.

This induced symbiosis between fish, bacteria and plants is called aquaponics. Here’s how Grove describe it:

“The Ecosystem harnesses beneficial bacteria, fish, and plants in a natural cycle to reliably grow delicious produce in a space the size of a bookshelf. This cycle is called aquaponics, and it’s used in the most sustainable, resilient, and productive commercial greenhouses around the world. Now this beautiful cycle can fit in your home.”

That sounds quite creative and seems like a big innovation… except it’s not. Aquaponics has been used, in one form or another, for years – a simple search revealing several examples (1, 2, 3). There’s an entire sub-reddit dedicated to aquaponics, where people describe how they built similar systems for 10 times less money. Sure the MIT version has more advanced sensors and you can control it through wi-fi, but let’s be honest here – $2,700 is a lot of money, especially considering the amount of vegetables you can actually grow with it. It’s pretty obvious that this will not be a cost-effective way of growing veggies. So is it actually worth it, all things considered?

I’m not convinced. I’m definitely a fan of growing food or herbs inside your own apartment or office, and aquaponics is an extremely interesting concept, but I haven’t seen anything here to justify the price. As it stands, for the money, it’s just not efficient enough – you can build your own for way less, or, depending on where you live, purchase similar systems much cheaper.


Eggs !!

Study: Eat Eggs at Breakfast to Avoid Evening Snacking

Eggs !!

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that a breakfast rich in protein can help to prevent unhealthy snacking in the evening.

Lead researcher Heather Leidy said that protein in the morning significantly improves appetite control throughout the day and particularly in the evening when many snack on high fat or sugary foods. This study is one of the first to assess how breakfast affects both appetite and evening snacking in young people who usually skip breakfast.

[RELATED] Breakfast sandwich? The effects are felt before lunch

Three Scientific Study Groups

During the study overweight women were split into three groups; no breakfast, a breakfast of eggs and lean beef or a typical breakfast of ‘ready to eat’ cereal. Each meal delivered 350 calories and the same amount of dietary fat, fibre and sugar.

Participant blood samples were taken throughout the day and each woman completed a series of questionnaires. Each participant also underwent a functional MRI just before dinner to assess brain signals related to food motivation and reward driven eating behaviour.

The study showed that a breakfast of eggs and lean beef had a significant impact on satiety throughout the day as well as reducing brain activity responsible for food cravings. The result of which led to reduced evening consumption of high fat and high sugar snacks.

Leidy said:

“These data suggest that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one potential strategy to prevent overeating and improve diet quality by replacing unhealthy snacks with high quality breakfast foods.”

While it may be difficult initially to switch to a high protein breakfast, Leidy suggests trying plain greek yoghurt, cottage cheese or a handful of nuts as good alternatives to reaching the recommended 35 grams of protein.

This study builds on a previous 2011 paper published in the journal Obesity which found that a protein rich breakfast can help to control food cravings during the day.

A high protein breakfast will also help to maximise the muscle building potential early morning training sessions according to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Peanut Butter & Honey

6 Ideas for a Protein Packed Breakfast

  • Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich – 10 grams of protein
  • Whole Wheat Waffle with Maple Yogurt – 13 grams of protein
  • Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal – 21 grams of protein
  • Honey Nut Parfait – 16 grams of protein
  • Veggie Fritatta – 21 grams of protein
  • Good old fashioned Bacon and Egg Sandwich – 30 grams of protein

New dietary guidelines will bring fats back

“Fat is bad” seems to be a general rule when concocting dietary guidelines, but fatty foods may be making a comeback for all the right reasons. The latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is due out later this year will eliminate the upper limit for total dietary fat intake.

Why this is a good thing

Image via UIC.

You may be under the impression that all fat is equally bad, but that’s simply not true. If you look at the healthiest populations in the world vary greatly in their consumption of fats, so it can’t be fat consumption that’s making people healthy or unhealthy. In fact, if you look at their dietary habits, you’ll find other similarities: they all eat diets of wholesome foods in sensible combinations, so why not focus on that?

If you look at the report earlier this year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of 14 experts, on the latest scientific evidence on diet and health since the current Dietary Guidelines, you’ll see that they too value not the total quantity of fat, but rather the type of fat.

“We wanted the emphasis to be on fat quality rather than total fat, because the evidence really emphasizes that saturated fat is the driver of risk rather than total fat intake,” said Barbara Millen, president of Millennium Prevention and chair of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

There are also other significant indications, such as “(c)holesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumptio.” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, who was not involved in the current report and Dr. David S. Ludwig, of Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote a commentary about it that was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

[Also Read: Sugar, not fat the main culprit behind the obesity epidemic]

“I think it is crucial for all government agencies to formally state that there is no upper limit on fat,” Mozaffarian said.

But clearly, the change of direction when it comes to fats is the biggest thing – it’s a change that comes after decades in which we’ve been told that fats are not good for us.

Good fats, bad fats

Image via GX Program.

Some classes of fat, notably manufactured trans fats, are consistently and incontestably harmful.

“Choosing the right types of dietary fats to consume is one of the most important factors in reducing the risk of developing heart disease,” says Tufts University researcher Alice Lichtenstein. DSc.

The good fats are basically polyunsaturated fats, found mostly in vegetable oils. They help lower both bloodcholesterol levels and triglyceride levels — especially when you substitute them for saturated fats. They’re good for your health and blood circulation.

Because fats can be so different in their effects, scientists argue that the limit shouldn’t be imposed on the total consumption of fats – because you can consume smaller quantities of unhealthy fats, be right in the dietary guidelines, and that’s unhealthy for you; on the other hand, you can also eat larger quantities of healthier fats, and that’s perfectly fine.

There has also been a large disconnect between the lingering reference to total fat and recommendations for specific foods. Fish, especially fatty fish, are consistently associated with health benefits, and the same can be said about avocado and seeds – it doesn’t make much sense to limit the total consumption of something that’s good for you.

The good thing is that the public has been more receptive to these changes than scientists expected – but ironically, governments haven’t reacted so good.

“I think the government and scientists may be afraid to embrace the new science,” Mozaffarian said. “Consumers, ironically, get this message and are moving toward a low carb diet, so I think they would pretty quickly embrace it.”

If anything, this is yet another reminder that we still don’t fully understand human nutrition; it’s a volatile, ever-changing and complex issue.

9 Foods to Make Sure You’re Eating Enough Potassium

Potassium is one of the more important nutrients in our diet, and the recommended daily dietary intake is 4700mg – but few of us actually get even close to that figure (you may need more or less potassium depending on your body and if you have certain medical conditions). Sure, you can take dietary supplements, but that’s really the wrong way to go about it – here are some healthy, potassium rich foods you can easily include in your diet:

Bananas (358 mg / 100 g)

Image via Wikipedia.

Bananas are the “famous” foods when it comes to potassium, and for good reason. Their potassium content is quite high, and while other foods may have even more potassium, bananas will certainly do the job.

Prunes (730 mg / 100 g)

Image via Nuts.

OK, at least as far as fruits go, prunes definitely take the crown! With more than double the potassium content of bananas, prunes are drastically underappreciated. They also contain lots of fiber and magnesium.

Potatoes (421 mg / 100 g)

Potatoes often get a bad rep for having lots of carbohydrates, but when it comes to potassium, potatoes do really good. Sweet potatoes have even more potassium according to some sources, though Google’s nutrition facts tends to disagree. Either way, potatoes have a lot of potassium. Carrots come in at 320 mg / 100 g.

White beans (1,795 mg / 100 g)

Image via Good Cooking for Bad Times.

White beans is simply the richest food in potassium I managed to find. Its other relatives come in close, with black beans at almost 1,500mg/100g, lentils at 955 mg/100g, chickpeas at 875, and boyled soybeans at 515. Beans have a lot of potassium people.

Avocado (485 mg / 100g)

Aside for potassium, avocados have a lot of vitamin C and a lot of fat and fiber.

Spinach (558 mg / 100g)

Spinach, as well as all other dark leafy plants have a lot of potassium. Spinach itself has huge quantities of Vitamin A (you can get all your daily requirements from just over 50 g), as well as Vitamin C.

Yogurt (141 mg / 100g)

Image via Fix my BP.

Yogurt always seems to come up on the list of “foods high in potassium”, but from what I could find, it’s not really among the richest ones. Sure, yogurt come in many types, but the average value seems to revolve around 150 mg / 100 g. Still, it deserves an honorable mention on this list.

Garlic (400 mg / 100g)

You’re pretty much never going to actually eat a lot of garlic, but still – the overall potassium quantity in garlic is certainly noteworthy.

White Mushrooms (318 mg / 100g)

I mentioned white mushrooms because they seem to be the most common these days, but potassium content in mushrooms naturally varies from species to species. Chanterelle mushrooms for example have 506 mg per 100g.

These are just some of the foods you can include in your menu to ensure you satisfy your body’s daily potassium requirements. All these numbers were obtained from Google’s Nutrition Facts, and it should be kept in mind that they are just estimates and can vary significantly based on the source of the food (how it was grown and so on). The point of this article is not to convince you to eat these foods, but rather to help you find ways to healthily complement your diet

cafeteria serving usa

Here’s what kids eat at school lunch around the world. Needless to say, US trails behind

cafeteria serving usa

Typical lunch in US school cafeteria: Fried “popcorn” chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, fruit cup and a chocolate chip cookie.


The fact that the US has an obesity problem among its populace doesn’t come as a surprise any longer, but what we should all find concerning is how this has spiraled  away to school kids as well. One in three American kids are classed as obese, according to the government. Sure, much of this stems from home – what parents serve their kids, how they educate them about nutrition and so on. What we should also keep in mind is that a major role is played by school cafetieres which more or less force feed children certain foods. Bloomberg reports that some  32 million children were included in the  National School Lunch Program in 2013, a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools, During this time  5.1 billion lunches were served.

A typical school cafeteria serving contains fried food stuff like nuggets, mashed potatoes or peas. Kids’ nutritional uptake and diet could be a lot better, as proven elsewhere by schools all around the world. Sweetgreen, a restaurant the values local and organic produce, recently published on its Tumblr an amazing photo journal detailing what a typical cafeteria serving looks like in countries like South Korea, Brazil or Italy. Of course, these servings were made and arranged by the Sweetgreen staff, but according to them these were based on government standards for school lunch program and real-life photos shared by children via social media.

Most, but not all, all of the servings are believed to be healthier and more nutritious for children since they contain fresher, greener and more nutrient-rich foods. These are essential for both good physical and mental development.

Pork with mixed veggies, black beans and rice, salad, bread and baked plantains.

Pork with mixed veggies, black beans and rice, salad, bread and baked plantains.

Local fish on a bed of arugula, pasta with tomato sauce, caprese salad, baguette and some grapes.

Local fish on a bed of arugula, pasta with tomato sauce, caprese salad, baguette and some grapes.

Pea soup, beet salad, carrot salad, bread and pannakkau (dessert pancake) with fresh berries.

Pea soup, beet salad, carrot salad, bread and pannakkau (dessert pancake) with fresh berries.

Fish soup, tofu over rice, kimchi and fresh veggies.

Fish soup, tofu over rice, kimchi and fresh veggies.

Steak, carrots, green beans, cheese and fresh fruit.

Steak, carrots, green beans, cheese and fresh fruit.

Baked chicken over orzo, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and cucumber salad, fresh oranges, and Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds.

Baked chicken over orzo, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and cucumber salad, fresh oranges, and Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds.

Mashed potatoes with sausage, borscht, cabbage and syrniki (a dessert pancake).

Mashed potatoes with sausage, borscht, cabbage and syrniki (a dessert pancake).

Sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange.

Sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange.

Kids eat 54% more fruits and veggies if recess comes before school lunch

Children nutrition in schools in the US has a big problem – not only are the kids not eating enough fruits and vegetables (which leads to health issues later on in life), but a study has shown that kids waste millions of dollars every day by throwing away the fruits and veggies. Now, a new study has found that a no-cost trick could greatly improve that: just have recess before lunch – not after.

I used to love recess when I was in school; to be honest, it was my favorite thing about school for a long time. Most kids are like that – they can’t wait to get outside and play and talk to their friends. Of course, if you had to choose between playing and eating, most kids would clearly prefer the former; after all, eating is no fun.

“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time,” said Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. “You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high.”

In other words, it costs them something – precious play time. Switch around that time, and they will start eating more fruits and veggies. Price is the lead study author and collaborated with Cornell’s David Just for this study. They had three schools in in a Utah school district (grades 1-6) switch to recess before lunch and monitored them. They also monitored normal schools, who stuck to the old schedule.

Image via Harvard.

For four days in spring and nine days in the fall, they measured how much healthy food was wasted by standing next to the trash cans and recording the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also measured whether or not the students actually ate the fruits. After analyzing 22,939 data points, the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables.

There was also a 45% increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. When this doesn’t happen and kids don’t have a balanced meal at school, their academic performance can drop. This can also lead to excessive snacking which of course can, in time, lead to obesity and a myriad of health related issues. Because moving recess is a no-cost way to make kids healthier and make the school meal program more successful, Price and Just recommend that every school do the switch.

“Increased fruit and vegetable consumption in young children can have positive long term health effects. Additionally, decreasing waste of fruits and vegetables is important for schools and districts that are faced with high costs of offering healthier food choices.”

This is the kind of study which will leave policy makers wondering “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”.

Journal Reference: Joseph Price, David R. Just. Lunch, recess and nutrition: Responding to time incentives in the cafeteria. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.016

Danish researchers finally solve the lasting riddle of obesity

Obesity is a condition that affects a significant portion of people throughout the world; as a result, a whole industry of “get rid of obesity” emerged, each offering its own “unfailable” method that just has to work. However, until now, nobody conducted a extremely thorough study to pinpoint exactly what you have to do to have a healthy diet. A team of scientists from eight European research centres and headed by Thomas Meinert Larsen solved that problem.

The results are quite clear amd simple: if you want to lose weight and be healthier, you have to eat foods rich in protein with more lean meat, low-fat dairy products and beans and fewer finely refined starch calories such as white bread and white rice. However, this extensive study concludes that following these recommandations are not enough to prevent obesity – they are however the best dietary guidelines.

This study called Diogenes (you gotta love the irony) investigated a huge number of cases in order to find out what the optimum diet composition for preventing and treating obesity is. A total of 772 families were investigated during the nutrition study. The bottom line was that they came up with five different ways of healthy diet types:

* A low-protein diet (13% of energy consumed) with a high glycemic index (GI)*

* A low-protein, low-GI diet

* A high-protein (25% of energy consumed), low-GI diet

* A high-protein, high-GI diet

* A control group which followed the current dietary recommendations without special instructions regarding glycemic index levels

Out of these five, the best and most recommended is the low-protein low-GI diet.

Taking a glance at space food

space food

space food

Astronauts definitely don’t have it easy; preparing and training for most of your life, to go on a mission that is dangerous in most cases, and that has many difficulties to say the least. But perhaps the most interesting aspect in the life of an astronaut is eating. Because there’s not any room for your mother’s pancakes, or your favorite food. On a space ship, they use syringe to prepare food.

Basically, one of the most common foods for them is made in the following way; you take the needle and put it in the frozen and dried shrimp cocktail that NASA cooked for you, and inject a bit of water. That’s dinner for you. However, things have evolved in the past years, and you can choose from more than 150 beverages to “eat”, but all the focus is on how many nutrients they have, not how tasty they are.

Astronauts cook by heating a thermostabilized food pouch by putting it in an electric warmer, no bigger than a backpack, or by putting the frozen dehydrated food in a rehydration station. There are instructions, in English and Russian, about how to cook the foods, and they’re also double packed, so astronauts cut them with scissors, which are way useful than your traditional dishes in space.

Also, nutritionists have to take in considerations other factors, such as portability and shelf life, which are way more important than the taste and flavor for the food. Actually, flavor doesn’t matter one bit in space, because they can’t go up the nose. A menu could consist of foods such as beef, beans and tortillas, chicken, peanut sauce, and many more. You can have desert too, but don’t expect the world from it. Still, the food is way healthier than your average, and when you get to space, the final frontier, you definitely need food…. the final frontier.