health + diet

Cat-Pork, Latex-Fruit and other Cross-Allergies

image via BuzzNet

Hay fever sufferers should take a pass on the swiss chard and sunflower seeds. No celery sticks in the shade of a birch tree either. Skip the dill pickles if you react to latex, steer clear of tropical fruit if dust mites make you sneeze, and yes, pork and cat dander can be problematic.

These are all examples of cross-allergies (also known as Pollen-Food or Oral Allergy Syndrome), and like the recent rise of food allergies, they are becoming more common. About a third of seasonal allergy sufferers will cross-react to the wrong foods, but the number is closer to two-thirds if birch or alder pollen are your triggers.

Here’s how it works: the same chemicals that cause hay fever and other airborne allergies can also be found in some foods. There’s a whole grocery list of reactive foods, but the culprit is usually a raw fruit or vegetable that has the same protein as the airborne allergen. Eat the wrong food, and it sends the immune system into overdrive and triggers an allergic reaction. Instead of the sneezing and itchy eyes you get when you inhale the allergen, you’ll end up with a tingly mouth, hives, difficulty swallowing, or even anaphylaxis—all food allergy symptoms.

These are the most commonly occurring cross-allergies and their offending foods:

  • Dust/Dust Mites: mangos, shellfish, plums, melons, tomato, avocado, pawpaw, pineapple, peaches, and kiwis.
  • Latex: almonds, apples, bananas, kiwis, avocado, dill, oregano, ginger, and sage.
  • Birch/Alder Tree Pollen: celery, apples, apricots, cherries and other stone fruits, parsnips, buckwheat, caraway seeds, and coriander.
  • Hayfever (Ragweed/Grasses): cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, sunflower seeds, zucchini, cucumber, and chamomile tea.
  • Cat Dander: pork.

Some foods contain more of the troublesome proteins than others—peaches more than plums, apples more than pears. And there can be differences between varieties—Gala and Golden Delicious apples cause more allergic reactions than Braeburns, and Crenshaw melons are benign while cantaloupe and watermelon are powerful triggers.

Not every pollen produces cross-allergies; some trees like maple, oak and poplar, don’t share reaction-causing proteins with foods. Nor does having one of these allergies mean you’ll necessarily cross-react with any of the implicated foods. And, if you do react, you may not be allergic to every food on the list.




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5 Foods for Senior Moments

[image via R2 Thoughts 4 You]

We’re having a national senior moment.

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are a demographic time bomb. Making up nearly one-third of the population, they’ve reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches. That’s 75 million boomers that can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

Brain foods really work.
In the same way that a low cholesterol diet can keep plaque from forming in arteries, there are foods that can keep plaque from forming in your brain. You can unclog your cognitive functions just like you can unclog your arteries.

There are also foods that can sharpen your focus and concentration, enhance your memory, and speed your reaction times. Add them to your diet early enough and you can stave off cognitive decline later in life.

Here are five foods that can make a real difference; if you’re one of those baby boomers, maybe you should write them down. Nothing preserves cognitive ability like wild salmon. That’s right, wild— not just any salmon will do. Farmed salmon doesn’t develop the same quality or level of essential fatty acids that make wild salmon the ultimate brain food. Just like the wild variety is souped-up salmon, matcha is high-test green tea. Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that’s ground into a powder. Instead of drinking an extract, like what you get when tea leaves are brewed, you consume the whole thing dissolved into the beverage. The brain buzz of focus and clarity is exponentially greater, and immediately noticeable. And the Kermit-green shade? That’s how it’s supposed to look. The brain boost from caffeine or sugar is short-lived but real. They both can make you alert and focused. Too much sugar, though, can actually interfere with your memory. The acai berry is this year’s pomegranate; the ‘it’ fruit that is showing up everywhere, blended into smoothies and dressings, flavoring teas, juices, and sodas. Oddly, for a fruit, its nutritional profile resembles that of wild salmon, high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire. The newest brain food discovery is turmeric. Turmeric is a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that is always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. It is such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.


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The Dirty Details: Food Imports from China

Can somebody tell me why we still import food from China?

Recent food scandals include:

  • contamination by a phosphorescent bacteria that causes pork to glow in the dark an eerie, iridescent blue
  • watermelons that explode like landmines from the application of growth hormones to increase melon size
  • industrial resins added to rice that makes eating three bowls of it equivalent to ingesting an entire plastic bag
  • processed animal skins added to milk to boost its protein content
  • foods processed with used cooking oil scavenged from sewer drains

The United States is awash in tainted, toxic, parasite-riddled, putrefying food imports from China—we know that they’re filthy and contaminated, but we’re still letting them in.

China is the world’s biggest polluter and a country that lacks widespread modern sanitation, with 55% of the country emptying raw sewage into its waterways. It’s also the world’s largest producer of farmed fish, which means that 60% of all the world’s seafood is raised in waters teeming with feces and industrial pollutants.

Chinese producers continue to use pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, fungicides, hormones, and other additives banned in most other countries, and its standards for allowable chemical residue levels fall far short of everyone else’s.

Does the United States really let this stuff in?
Don’t we have laws, and regulations, and the Food and Drug Administration to protect us?

This year, 24 million shipments subject to FDA regulation will pass through our ports, and the FDA expects to visually inspect less than 2% of the food imports, and a tiny fraction of those will be sent on for laboratory analysis. More than 98% of food imports are allowed to stock our nation’s supermarket without even a cursory glance. from a safety inspector.

Do you think that you’re not buying Chinese food imports? Think again.
Reading labels is not enough: American food companies are generally required to label only where their products are packaged or processed, not where the ingredients come from. A Swanson frozen dinner or a can of Campbell’s soup can contain 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries with no mention of this on the label. When you open a can of Bumble Bee tuna or Dole fruit, or pour your child a glass of Mott’s apple juice, you’re likely eating foods from China. All-American brands like Kraft, Lay’s, Pepsi, and General Mills all buy from Chinese growers and producers that harvest and process with lower labor costs than almost anywhere else.

For more information on where your food comes from, read A Decade of Dangerous Food Imports from China, a report from Food & Water Watch, a public interest organization that monitors the practices and policies of food and water systems world-wide, and advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and drinking water.

The Food and Drug Administration releases a monthly Inspection Refusal Report of goods that are determined to be out of compliance with the The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and refused admission at the port of entry.


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Is Access to Healthy Food a Basic Human Right?

Is access to healthy food a basic human right?
That’s the question being asked by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Not just food, but healthy food.
Food access is a right. That one has been with us since 1948, the result of the experience of the Second World War. At the end of that war, vowing that the world would never again see such suffering, the international community created the United Nations and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the various protections, guarantees, and liberties is the individual’s right to food.

Back in 1948, nobody thought to specify the type of food. When those words were written, the Big Mac was just a gleam in Roy Kroc’s eye, and the Colonel had yet to fry his first chicken. Who could have imagined a time when nutrition would be so divorced from food that malnutrition could go hand-in-hand with obesity?
This is the paradox of modern-day poverty.

It’s like the line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
Millions of Americans are adrift in a sea of junk food. They are surrounded by cheap and abundant processed foods, with little access to healthy foods. This landscape has been dubbed ‘food deserts,’ to describe low-income communities with plenty of processed foods at convenience stores and fast food outlets, but little or no fresh food, and the nearest supermarket is one mile away if it’s an urban community, and 10 miles away if it’s rural.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that this is a reality for more than 20 million Americans, and 1.7 million of them are living in California. The bill on Governor Brown’s desk would create the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It enables the state to collaborate with public, private, and philanthropic entities to bring loan and grant financing to the under-served neighborhoods. The goal is to encourage existing businesses to expand their healthier offerings, and to attract grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers’ markets, and other fresh food retailers.

Is access to high quality food a basic human right?
The State Assembly and the Senate in California think so; in fact they have thought so twice. The previous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was inclined to believe that healthy food is a privilege earned by the state’s wealthier residents who own cars or live within striking distance of farmers markets; last year he vetoed a similar bill after it passed both houses of the legislature. Once again, it sits on the governor’s desk where it is a signature away from becoming law.

Find out where they are: the Economic Research Service of the USDA created a Food Desert Locator based on census tract-level data.

The Food Environment Atlas lets you go deeper into a community’s statistics, looking at factors like restaurant expenditures and meals cooked at home.



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The Hungriest Organ


image via Walk the Road Less Traveled

According to the Journal of Physiology, your brain is just 2 percent of your body weight but sucks down 20 percent of your daily calories. Feed it right and you’ll be perky, productive, and alert. Junk it up with the wrong foods and you’ll never remember where you put your keys.

A little coffee and sugar can get your brain going in the morning. Caffeine fires you up pretty much instantaneously, and a sweet on the side adds to the effect: the duo can improve physical energy, short-term memory, and problem-solving skills, but it’s temporary, and there’s an equally fast drop in all of those as the caffeine wears off and your body has burned through the sugar.

Keep coffee and danish to a minimum; the better choice: citrus or berries (complex sugars to power up, anti-oxidants to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment), and cereal (protein for long-lasting brain energy, memory, and attention).

An omelette and a salad are perfect midday brain food. The antioxidants in a salad can mop up the cell-damaging free radicals you’ve run into all morning from the ozone and pollutants, and the combination of vitamins C and E can improve cognitive skills and stave off Alzheimer’s Disease. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds, nuts, or dried herbs will add the vitamins, and dark green (romaine, spinach) or orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes) are full of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The eggs are rich in choline, which your body uses to produce a neurotransmitter that snaps your brain to attention and boosts memory.

Have a little yogurt for dessert and you’ll produce dopamine, the happy neurotransmitter, and noradrenalin, the perky hormone. Together they will help you face the afternoon with a smile.

Your brain loves a good snack. A couple of pints of blood move through it every single minute, and the brain is always on the the lookout for nutrients in the flow; its favorite would be 25 grams of glucose in there, which is exactly one banana. Avoid junky processed foods with their trans-fatty acids. Rodents that are fed a steady diet of junk food get seriously confused by the classic rat-in-a-maze experiment, while in humans, highly-processed chips and baked goods have been implicated in a slew of mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD  to autism.

Have a cocktail or two to increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Eat fish to rebuild the cells and gray matter you were losing all day, and finish up with a dessert containing strawberries or blueberries, which seem to help with coordination, concentration, and short-term memory.

According to Men’s Health, you can tailor your food choices to suit specific mental tasks, from picking the best American Idol contestant to refinancing your mortgage. Check out its list of the best and worst brain foods for the job, which it claims can boost your brain’s productivity by 200 percent.


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Food Addiction: When food is like heroin, only worse- it’s everywhere.

image via Health Freedoms

The American Medical Association just got a lot closer to defining food addiction as a disease.
A new study from Yale University measured the brain activity of women tempted, and then rewarded, with a chocolate milkshake. For all the test subjects, neural activity surged in regions that govern cravings, identical to the neural response of alcoholics and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice. In the food addicted, activity fell off in the brain regions involved with self-control, just like the brain response of substance abusers. The findings suggest that setting a chocolate milkshake down in front of the food addicted is just like dangling a dime bag of heroin in front of a junkie.

There are more than 70 million food-addicted adults in the U.S. according to David Kessler, a biostatistician and a former commissioner of the U.S Food and Drug Administration; and they’re sick of being a pop culture punchline. To them, willpower is not enough to just say ‘no’ to french fries; they hope the biological basis of the Yale findings will bring understanding and compassion to their plight.

Food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. Every meal challenges them to resist the pathology of the brain’s reward center. They reel from the constant temptations on the calendar—Halloween candy gives way to Thanksgiving dinner followed by Christmas and New Years feasts. Just when they’ve made it through the back-to-back candy holidays of Valentines Day and Easter, the doorbell rings and it’s the Girl Scouts hawking those damn Thin Mints cookies. How long do you think sobriety would last if a glass of whiskey was placed in front of an alcoholic as often?

Then there’s the pervasiveness of foodie culture, which runs amok on dedicated cable channels, in the food porn everyone is snapping, and in countless tweets and food blogs. For too many, food appreciation has become an obsession. While some of us feel food fatigue, for the food addict it’s a constant, punishing minefield of temptation.

Foodies have created an environment in which celebrations of narcissism and gluttony are socially acceptable, blurring the line between preoccupation and pathology. Disordered, compulsive eating can be hard to spot. It rarely has the rock-bottom, aha moment of other addictions, but instead tends to be a slow, chronic creep of abuse of a substance we’ve indulged in our entire lives.

Are we all food addicts waiting to happen?
CBS News has an online test of addictive behavior based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale underlying the study.



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7 Foods the Experts Won’t Touch

image via Care2

Where do the chefs eat when they have a night off? That’s where you want to go. In the market for a new computer? Ask the head of your company’s IT department what he uses at home. If you knew what toothpaste your dentist’s family uses, you’d probably buy it too.
The skinny, the scoop, the inside track—that’s what you want.

Experts from a variety of food-related fields have made these 7 insider recommendations of foods to avoid. They’re based on professional wisdom and expertise, but more importantly, they represent personal choices. None are banned in the U.S.; they’re all USDA or FDA approved, but those in the know won’t eat them, and they won’t feed them to their own families.

1.Conventional Apples
The grafting techniques of conventional apple growers demand some of the most extensive pesticide usage in all of agriculture. While chemical producers and regulators duke it out over the residue, Mark Kastel, former executive for agribusiness and co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group, buys organic only. When that’s not feasible, then peel the apples and wash up well afterwards.

2.Canned Tomatoes
The resin linings of cans contain bisphenol-A, what we know as BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The acidity of tomatoes causes a large amount of BPA to leach out of the lining and into your food—so much that the BPA level from just a few cans’ worth of tomatoes is enough to have a health impact. Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist and bisphenol-A scholar at the University of Missouri, won’t touch them.

3.Microwave Popcorn
Actually, the popcorn is fine. The microwavable bag is another story. Its lining is coated with chemicals that, when heated, vaporize and migrate to the popcorn. One of those chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, accumulates in your body for years and is linked to infertility, liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. It’s such a known threat that DuPont and other manufacturers will phase it out by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan. Dr. Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, won’t be indulging until then.

4.Farmed Salmon
Dr. David Carpenter is the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and a leading authority on contamination in fish, and he won’t go near farmed salmon. Commercially farmed salmon is raised in packed pens and fed an unnatural diet of  soy, poultry litter, antibiotics, and chicken feathers. Contaminants in those items include carcinogens, PCBs, flame retardants, and nasty pesticides like dioxin and DDT. These substances are so concentrated in the fish that Dr. Carpenter says you increase your risk of cancer after just two salmon dinners in a year. Since there are no remaining commercial fisheries for wild Atlantic salmon, Dr. Carpenter sticks with Pacific salmon, like wild-caught Alaskan.

5.Conventional Potatoes
Conventional potatoes are chemically dosed three time: fungicides during the growing season; herbicides before harvesting; and a second herbicide after after they’ve been picked to keep them from sprouting. Since potatoes grow underground, they can’t be sprayed directly. Instead, the chemicals are put into the water and soil where they’re absorbed into the flesh of the potatoes. You can’t washing and peel them away. According to Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board and farm director of the Rodale Institute, potato growers “say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”

6.Grain-fed Beef
A cow’s steady diet of corn and other grains is, simply put, unnatural. Their multi-chambered stomachs are built for grass, and have never adapted to the corn and soybeans of the feedlots, so favored by most cattle ranchers because they are cheaper than pastured grazing and can fatten a cow for slaughter much more quickly. The feedlot environment, combined with the lack of adaptation in digestion, makes grain-fed cattle vastly more disease prone than grass-fed, and the bacteria they pass to beef eaters is much more dangerous. Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of numerous influential books on sustainable farming, would never, ever allow grain-fed beef to cross his lips.

7. Hormone-treated Milk
Most dairy cows are fed artificial growth hormones to increase milk production, and that milk contains elevated levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Unless the milk is organic or explicitly labeled hormone-free, it’s in there. IGF  is linked to breast, prostate, and colon cancers, and while the exact mechanism in milk is not clear, Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society points out that the hormones are banned in nearly every other industrialized nation.


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Did You Inherit the Supertaster Gene?

Most of us are born with around 10,000 taste buds on our tongues; many more and you’re a supertaster.

About 25% of us are supertasters– more women than men. It can be a mixed blessing. Flavors are perceived more vividly. Salt is saltier. Sugar is sweeter. But carbonation bubbles can be distractingly prickly. Hot peppers can be punishing. Hardly a garden of gustatory delights.

Taste is one of the most basic of all human experiences. It is also one of the most complex. It is dependent upon experience, context, and genetics. It embraces all of the senses.

It begins with the tongue.

Supertasters’ tongues are distinguished by two genetically determined traits. One is the profusion of taste buds densely packed into each square inch of the tongue’s surface. The greater sensory capacity leads to more nuanced sensing of flavors. The second trait is the perception of the chemical compound 6-n-propylthiouracil known as PROP.

Most people perceive PROP as a slightly bitter taste. About a quarter of the population will fail to taste it at all. Supertasters are overwhelmed by an intense bitterness.

Supertasters tend to prefer orange juice to grapefruit, tea to coffee, green beans to broccoli, spinach to kale. They have a penchant for creamy, fatty foods but as a group are thinner than the general population, perhaps because the palate is more easily satisfied. As children, they are often known as picky eaters.

Supertasters that succeed in developing tolerance for strongly-flavored foods can benefit from this genetic endowment. They can perceive far more subtle and nuanced flavors than the rest of us, distinguishing individual notes in a complex dish. Quite a few wine connoisseurs attribute their discerning palates to supertaster status, including wine writer Robert Parker who famously insured his taste buds for one million dollars.

Does this sound like you? There are a few tests to determine if you possess either of the attributes of a supertaster.

Bland, vile, or somewhere in between? The Supertaster Test Kit contains two sets of PROP-infused strips and a detailed test guide.

For an easy home test, swab a little food coloring on your tongue and check the number and concentration of taste buds.

Take this quick and easy quiz about food preferences to see if you could be a supertaster.



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The Fat Tax is Coming!

image via the Army of Epiphenomenon

How would you like to trim the deficit, healthcare costs, and your waistline in one fell swoop?
That’s what a fat tax can do. it’s been embraced by much of Europe, and the idea is gaining traction in Washington.

Hungary’s so-called ‘hamburger tax’ goes into effect next month, just a few weeks ahead of Denmark’s ‘saturated fat’ tariff, targeting pork, cheese, and butter. Finland is looking to add a fat tax to those it already levies on salt and sugar-laced foods. Germany, Romania, and Spain all have similar legislation moving through government channels.

Instead of taxing fatty foods, Japan taxes body fat. The Ministry of Health requires businesses to administer obesity checks for all employees and their family members ages 40 to 74. The legislated upper limit for the waistline is a strict 33½ in. for men, and 35½ in. for women, beyond which a tax is levied (by comparison, the average waistline in America is 39 in. for men and 37 in. for women).

We actually have some fat tax history in this country. In the months following the 1942 Pearl Harbor attack, a handful of states taxed obese citizens–per excess pound–to encourage them to eat less and preserve food resources for the war effort. The fat tax was revived in the 1990’s when a proposal was floated to tax certain foods and put the proceeds toward nutrition literacy programs. The concept was debated publicly when it was ranked #7 on U.S. News and World Report’s  list of 16 Smart Ideas to Fix the World, and the debate grew louder when Rush Limbaugh spearheaded the opposition.

The fat tax debate has stayed with us.
Current supporters include the World Health Organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, food writers Mark Bittman (with the New York Times as his soapbox) and Michael Pollan (who contends that the insurance industry is ready to get on board), and President Obama, who supports a tax on soda and other sugary foods.

Congress, though, has shown little enthusiasm for a federal fat tax, although most states are already getting their cut in the form of taxes on junk food and soda. The public, too, consistently shows low approval ratings for the taxes in polls. Critics point to its regressive nature, with the burden falling on lower income Americans who are the biggest consumers of junk food and already spend disproportionately on food, relative to their  incomes. And of course the notion of the food police is troubling in terms of both privacy issues and the broader concept of the role of government.

There are few privacies more worthy of protection than what we choose to eat and drink. While these are personal decisions they’re not private ones; not when our healthcare system spends nearly $150 billion dollars annually to treat obesity, nearly as much to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more goes toward the treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancers that are linked to diet.

How do you weigh individual freedoms and social responsibilities?



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Contest Winners: Designing a new food label


Daniel Campuzano 



The old label (far left) just isn’t working for us.

Not that it ever really did. In fact when the FDA first introduced nutrition labeling in 1993, the agency deliberately didn’t choose the best option; instead, it opted to play it safe by choosing the design that was characterized as ‘the least poorly understood.’

The FDA is taking another crack at it. Later this year it will introduce revised food labeling, and the hope is that it set its sights a little higher.

Melissa Messer- Daily Nutritional Value Paul Frantellizzi

The School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, is lending an unsolicited hand. It held a public competition called Rethink the Food Label,  judged by a panel of designers, health professionals, and food activists (including faculty member Michael Pollan). Entrants were encouraged to “re-imagine the label to include geography, food quality, food justice, carbon footprint, or lesser-known chemosensory characteristics.”

Joanne Frederick- The Real Food Label

The biggest shortcoming of the current label is the nutritional arithmetic. All those grams and percentages tend to cause our eyes to glaze over. It also gives manufacturers the ability to ‘game’ the system by adding irrelevant and inert ingredients that improve the labeling profile without making the food any healthier. Instead of improving food and nutrition literacy, the current label is a distraction that doesn’t directly answer the real questions:  Is this good for my health? Is this good for the planet?

The best of the contest submissions (some seen here) use a visual shorthand to answer those questions. They finesse a graphical yes or no with design elements like thumbs up or thumbs down, report card-style letter grades, color coded food groups, and red light or green light.

We will soon find out if the FDA has incorporated any of these elements in its final redesign. The contest makes one thing clear —the existing model can be vastly improved with a dose of simplicity and a little creativity.

See who won at Rethink the Food Label.


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How Did Rich and Fat Become Rich and Thin?

Richer, thinner, younger, smarter; what if you could change one thing about yourself? Which would you choose?

A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

We tend to forget that this has not always been so.

Thinness was, for most of recorded time, the fate of the lower classes with their inadequate diets and physical labor. Traditionally, only the rich could afford to be well-fed. Fat was a status symbol.

Not any more. In fact the polar opposite is now true: as income and education falls, obesity rises– both the rate of obesity and the amount of excess weight. The poorest Americans, those living below the poverty level, are the most likely to be morbidly obese.

The underlying causes are many, especially for the urban poor who face high concentrations of fast food outlets and low concentrations of grocery stores, plus limited time for exercise or access to outdoor space. But the big culprit is our out-of-whack food system that can sell highly refined, fat and sugar-laden, processed foods at far lower prices than fresh, whole foods.
The terrible irony is that these days, thinness is a luxury reserved for the rich.

For the record, the complete poll results are:

  • richer    43%
  • thinner  21%
  • smarter   14%
  • younger   12%
  • and 9% seem to like themselves just fine.

Visualize the caloric bang for the buck: see why a Big Mac costs less than a salad (spoiler alert– it’s the federal subsidies).

The Rich & Thin Club claims to simultaneously whip your waistline and your bank account into shape by monitoring calories coming in and dollars going out. It theorizes that small, unnecessary, everyday indulgences are the undoing of both. Calculators demonstrate the impact of 10 years of Starbucks lattés or restaurant appetizers in terms of accumulated pounds versus an early mortgage payoff or the compounded interest of savings. It’s an eye-opener.


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Attack of the Belly Fat Ads

They’re the ads that ate the internet.
You know the ones—crudely drawn, often animated, with cellulite deflating and re-inflating above the waistline of a pair of too-tight jeans, in a never-ending before-and-after of fat to fit to fat to fit. The headline, looking to be hand-lettered, touts a simple, unnamed tip to trim the fat.

To say you know the ads is an understatement. The ads are so ubiquitous that you’ve likely seen them hundreds or even thousands of times. Their sponsors are clients of half of all the ad networks in the U.S., running on the homepages of powerhouse websites like Facebook, CNN, and the Washington Post. They’ve appeared tens of billions of times as banner ads and popups. You read that right—billions, with a b.

The Federal Trade Commission is going after the perpetrators of a hustle.
The FTC has asked federal courts to halt the belly fat ads and freeze the operators’ assets, alleging that the ads are the leading edge of a vast and elaborate con built on false claims and deceptive practices.

Click on the ad looking for a homespun diet tip and you’re taken to a second site. This one looks like news coverage of a reporter’s investigation into the health benefits of diet supplements. The faux news report, named something like Weekly Health News or Health News Beat, typically investigates diet pills made from mangoes or acai berries, or from the human hormone hCG. It might include the names and logos of major networks and news outlets, and because the ads run on their websites, the reporter will falsely represent that the networks have run the news report.

The fake reporting has suckered millions of people into giving up their credit card numbers to obtain ‘free’ samples. It turns out to be not so free when the initial orders obligate them to a stream of $79.99 shipments. There’s a toll-free number for cancellations, and the tens of thousands of people who have filed complaints after their calls went unanswered will be happy to tell you about that one.

We keep seeing the ads because they work. So far, these unsavory businesses have raked in more than a billion dollars in sales—again, that’s billion with a b.

Read about the 10 legal challenges filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has also posted a consumer alert to warn the public about the proliferation of deceptive claims and fake news sites that pedal weight loss aids.


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Beer Makes You a Mosquito Magnet

As if we didn’t have enough reasons to hate the little buggers.
It seems that mosquitoes like the smell of beer. Beer ranks right up there with stinky feet and limburger cheese, two of the other known mosquito attractants.

It’s always been clear that mosquitoes prefer some people over others. They like us fat and juicy, especially targeting the overweight and pregnant among us. They also like us sweaty and active, going after the movement and the carbon dioxide we’re pumping out. Basically, if you’re outside at a barbeque they’re going to bite you, whether you’re sitting in a lounge chair with a cold one or running around in a volleyball game.

It’s not clear what they like about beer drinkers.
Insects can get drunk, and they do things like fly upside down when they’re inebriated. But they can hold their liquor, staying upright even while taking in vapors as high high as 60% alcohol (If you were wondering, yes, there are tiny little bug breathalyzers called inebriometers).

You, on the other hand, are completely hammered after a half a dozen beers. Your drunken blood alcohol level of 0.10 is a fraction of the alcohol concentration that a mosquito can tolerate. They’re definitely not biting us for the buzz.

Short of moving to Antarctica there’s really not much we can do about mosquitoes biting us. So go ahead and light a citronella candle, slather on the insect repellant, and drink up. Just know that if you drink beer, the mosquitoes will drink you.

[Most of the mosquito research in this country (including the studies referenced here) takes place at the Medical Entomology Center at the University of Florida.]

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It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s the chips.










A new study, conducted by Harvard University scientists and published in this month’s New England Journal of Medicine, says that potato chips are making us fat.
Uhhh…. really?

Of course we already know potato chip are bad for us. We just didn’t know how bad.
120,877 test subjects were followed over 20 years in what’s hailed by the scientific community as the most comprehensive look ever at the effects of food and lifestyle choices. There was an average weight gain of 17 pounds over the 20 year span, and on average, 7 of those pounds came from potato chips.

We know they’re bad for us, but we can’t help ourselves. Potato chips are America’s hands-down favorite snack, holding down the number-one spot for more than 50 years, despite the ever-expanding body of nutritional wisdom.  Maybe we really can’t help ourselves.

Feeling stressed? It’s possible that a chips binge will make you feel better. Eating potato chips can light up the dopamine reward pathways in the brain in the same way as cocaine. Gorging on chips can also cause a metabolic change that suppresses the release of stress hormones. Unloved? When it comes to monkeys and banana chips, the lower-status monkeys will keep stuffing themselves to feel better. Sound familiar?

Looking at each four-year segment of the study, potato chips contributed 1.69 of the nearly four-pound weight gain; more than sweets, soda, and even french fries (all other potatoes, combined, added another 1.28 pounds). The other culprits:

  • soda was good for a pound every four years
  • an alcoholic drink a day added 0.41 pounds
  • an hour of TV viewing each day added 0.31 pounds
  • quitting smoking added five pounds
  • meat added a 0.95-pound uptick in weight, and processed meats (yes you, bacon) were right behind at 0.93 pounds

Test subjects who consistently slept less than 6 or more than 8 hours each night gained even more, as did heavy TV viewers. Regular exercise knocked off 2 pounds per four-year segment.

The individuals followed in the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, were all health professionals—in other words, people who should know better. One can only imagine how the rest of us would have fared.

You can read the complete study, Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men, in the June 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.



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Does a Good Review Make the Food Taste Better?

image via Foodists

We know that food tastes better when it’s eaten outside. Or when it’s free. Or when one of our kids cooks it for us.
What about a meal in a restaurant that’s gotten rave reviews? Researchers who study the science of taste tell us that our expectations actually exert a kind of strange magic on our taste buds that can truly alter our sensory perceptions.

Your taste in music or art is subjective, but those opinions come after you’ve sensed it. Your eyes are seeing a color or a shape and your ears are taking in the tones—they do the sensing before your brain chimes in with its opinion. The sensations themselves are unjudged; there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about them.

Taste is different.
It is good or bad: nutrition or poison; swallow or spit. Taste is survival.

It’s more than the sum of the sensory data.
Your tongue identifies hot or cold, salty or sour, sweet or savory, but the survival mechanism requires your brain to interpret the data: ingest or reject? Taste is created only when the brain takes the sensory data from the taste buds, tosses in data from the other four senses, and views it all through the lens of experiential and psychological factors.

Our expectations play right into the psychological factors, sometimes even refracting the sensory input in defiance of reality.
You’ve probably seen some of the classic studies: the young children who insist the hamburger in McDonald’s packaging tastes better than the no-name burger, or the wine drinkers who show a marked preference for the bottle with an expensive label. The newest studies using MRIs and brain mapping techniques confirm it—your expectations really are defining what you taste. That Michelin star or Zagat 27 score will light up your brain when you sit down to dinner, giving it a head start in delicious before the first bite (You’ll have to trust me on the technical details of this one- I think we’ve had enough neuroscience for one day. Or else read the studies cited below).

Eating is a multisensory experience taking into account genetics and gender, historical and cultural influences, mood, emotions, context, and hunger. The empirical scores of a restaurant review can shape the experience, but no two people can ever truly taste the same thing. Like good art or music, good food is subjective.
Of course food lovers already know this.

Studies referenced:
Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children’s Taste Preferences from the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine;

The Interactive Effect of Cultural Symbols and Human Values on Taste Evaluation from the Journal of Consumer Research;

various studies from Alfredo Fontanini at the Neuroscience Lab at Stonybrook University.


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Taste with your Ears

The fish tastes fishier when the background sounds are nautical.
We reach for Bordeaux wines when La Vie en Rose is on the soundtrack, and oompah bands have us craving Reisling.

The music playing, the swirl of conversation, the ambient noise in the background—they all have the power to affect our taste buds.

Drink a glass of wine in a noisy bar with the jukebox blaring.
Now sit down in a quiet room, queue up a little jazz and have another glass. It’s an entirely different experience. A British study found that the musical selections played while drinking wine can change the way the taste is perceived by up to 60 percent: a little 80’s New Wave pop makes white wine taste zingier, while ponderous German classical music gives heft to a Cabernet.

Another study, reported in the journal Food Quality and Preference, linked background noise to the taste of food. The study found that loud ambient noise makes flavors lose their intensity. Sweet foods taste less sweet and salty foods taste less salty. The researchers attribute this to the distraction—the noise seems to overwhelm the senses, drowning out the taste of food in the same way as it drowns out conversation.

Too much quiet, though, does nothing for the palate, and the solitary clink of cutlery becomes grating. The sweet spot for dining pleasure is found between 62 and 67 decibels, with a combination of muted classical music and a hint of background chatter (about as loud as the rinse cycle of a dishwasher at 10 paces).

When you want to be where the action is.
It’s not always just about the food. The smart restaurateur knows that nothing says fun like clattering dishes, chattering diners, and a pounding bass line. Some will cultivate the noise level to signify that the place has a buzz; it’s busy and lively and happening. Sedate and quiet feels empty. Raucous draws in customers who will want to be there because so many other people feel the same way. But if you want to really enjoy the meal, you’ll need a side of earplugs.


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Mike Tyson: Vegan Role Model ?!

[billboard: Sunset Boulevard and Doheny Drive, West Hollywood, California]

Mike Tyson snacked on Evander Holyfield’s ear. He threatened to make a meal of Lennox Lewis’ children. He is perhaps the planet’s most notorious flesh-eater.

But these days there’s nothing meatier than a seitan cutlet in his George Foreman Grill.

Mike Tyson: holier than thou?

Vegans have a reputation for self-righteous arrogance. They are in the trenches combating  environmental degradation and world hunger through personal deprivation and self-sacrifice. They can claim moral superiority over meat-eaters for the greater compassion they show to animals.

Does this mean we want to be like Mike?
He’s a man known for brutality in and out of the ring, he has been dogged by a string of charges for assault and spousal abuse, and has served time in prison for a rape conviction, drug possession, and DUI. Currently embroiled in a PETA controversy for pigeon racing(?), he is hardly the poster boy for a compassionate diet.

Iron Mike, not iron deficient.

But then again, he can be a heck of a role model for the healthfulness of the vegan diet. Vegans have labored under a wimpy, neo-hippie label for far too long. The robust, bulked-up physique of an elite athlete can invalidate lingering misconceptions about meatless diets.

Real men do eat plants.

Bill Clinton’s a vegan; even Glenn Beck gave it a shot this spring.
Has your manly man gone green too? Learn to spot the tell-tale signs: Brace Yourself: Your Man Might be a Vegan.

Politicians, movie stars, scientists, pop stars, and athletes; vegans come from all walks of life: check out The VeganWolf’s list of herbivores.


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Your Beer has a Secret (and you’re not going to like it).

The clear amber hue? Thank the fish bladder that filtered out yeasty sediments.
That creamy head of foam? It comes courtesy of a froth conditioner derived from the gastric enzymes in a pig’s stomach.

Water, malt, hops, yeast: the label might list as few as four ingredients, when in fact a whole host of unnamed additives were used as brewing ingredients or processing agents. It’s a dirty little secret of the beer industry.

There can be hidden animal by-products in your beer. It’s troubling, to say the least, and if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, keep kosher or eat halal, it’s wholly unacceptable.

And it’s not just beer—animal-derived ingredients and agents make unannounced appearances in virtually every aisle of the supermarket. Gelatin from pig skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in frozen cheesecake . You’ll find beef fat in Twinkies, fish oil in Tropicana’s Heart Healthy Orange Juice, and dough conditioners sourced from duck and chicken feathers that are added to bagels and donuts.

As for beer, with the exception of specialty brews made with honey or dairy products, animal products are most commonly used for flavoring, coloring, head retention, and as a clarifying agent. Not all brewers and brewing processes use them—animal-free alternatives are often available—but they appear almost universally in English and Irish brews (yes, Guinness too), and in beer that has been cask-conditioned. The U.S. doesn’t require labeling for animal ingredients or agents in beer, and even the stringent Reinheitsgebot, Germany’s 500-year old purity law, permits their use.

See if your favorite brew is animal friendly: Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date list of the vegan options available through nearly 1,500 breweries world-wide.

Perhaps in homage to cock-ale, a 17th century favorite, the Boston Brewing Company recently cooked up a Sam Adams beef heart brew that is served exclusively in David Burke’s restaurants.



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We Had it Wrong: Skip breakfast to lose weight

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.

Could we have been wrong all along?
That’s what recent studies are saying.

Eat breakfast to lose weight: it’s what we’ve always heard.  The theory went that breakfast would jump start the metabolism for a steady burn of calories throughout the day. Skip it, and your body adapts to the longer between-meals gap by burning nutrients more slowly to make them last longer. We were also taught that we would be hungrier during the day if we skipped the morning meal, that the big blood sugar swings from empty to full would have us gorging when we did finally eat.

Now we are hearing a different message. There is a new weight-loss theory that involves ‘intermittent fasting,’ which basically means skipping meals. Intermittent fasting puts the old ‘breakfast like a king’ adage on its head telling us to eat like a king at night after a pauperish day. It claims that the episodic deprivation of missed meals takes your body off its usual track, allowing it to reinvigorate and recalibrate, and in doing so, you end up burning more fat. [Intermittent Fasting 101 – How to Start Burning Fat]

While I’m not sure I buy into something that IF proponents call ‘up-regulating your gene expression,’ there is plenty of evidence that exercise and other activity performed on an empty stomach coaxes the body to burn a greater percentage of fat for fuel instead of relying on carbohydrates from food. Athletes and bodybuilders have known this for years. [The Journal of Physiology – Training in the Fasted State]

And the notion that skipping breakfast leads to less controlled eating throughout the day—you can scratch that one off your list of diet do’s as well. A new study published in the Nutrition Journal suggests that all a big breakfast leads to is a bigger calorie count for the day. In itself, breakfast doesn’t curb appetite later in the day.

What researchers now believe is that regular breakfasts occur along with a constellation of other healthy habits. Individuals with a breakfast routine are more likely to exercise, abstain from smoking, and generally maintain a healthy diet. The reverse holds true as well: individuals who don’t have regular breakfasts are more likely to have a cluster of unhealthy behaviors; in fact fewer than 5 percent of smokers eat a daily breakfast.

The message is this: if breakfast is already in your routine good for you; if not, you’re probably better off not adding it.


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Why Skinny Mothers have Fat Babies.

It’s been said that you are what you eat.
Now a new study tells us that you are what your mother ate.

For years, scientists have been stumped by a phenomenon they observed during the Second World War: the babies born to underfed, malnourished mothers were more likely to grow up to be obese adults. There was an obvious explanation—it was only natural that after the war the mothers became overindulgent, spoiling their children to compensate for their wartime suffering. But the scientists postulated that something physiological was going on as well.

They suspected a certain metabolic occurrence. They already knew that a poor diet can trigger a metabolic survival mode that increases the body’s ability to store fat—very handy in times of famine; less so when food is abundant, and then the result is a propensity toward obesity with its constellation of weight-related health problems  They theorized that the babies’ metabolism had been impacted in the womb by their mothers’ diet, but had no idea of the body’s mechanism that would cause it to take place.

After decades of research with mother/child test subjects and advances in the study of genetics, the scientific community finally has an explanation. Details of the breakthrough appear in this month’s Journal of the American Diabetes Association.

The researchers concluded that the quality of an expectant mother’s diet can actually cause modifications in the baby’s DNA. These modifications won’t change the DNA sequence, but they will change how it functions. They are like volume knobs that attach themselves to DNA and can raise or lower the activity level of certain genes. In this case, researchers have located the tags on a particular gene—one that creates vitamin receptors that determine how fat is processed.

A diet that is very low in carbohydrates, particularly during the first trimester of a pregnancy, can be an obesity time bomb that wreaks habit throughout a child’s life. And we’re not talking about concentration camp levels of starvation. One of the popular low-carb diets like an Atkins- or Zone-type regimen is probably enough to trigger the effect.

The DNA modification can be identified in a newborn, but the impact won’t be immediately obvious. In controlled studies, birth weights were normal, but follow-up studies at ages 6 and 9 already revealed significant obesity in children with tagged DNA.

It’s a fascinating piece of research that carries a vital warning for parents-to-be. But perhaps more significantly, it has the potential to change the way we manage and redress the current runaway rates of obesity.

Read the full text of the study Epigenetic Gene Promoter Methylation at Birth Is Associated With Child’s Later Adiposity in the Journal of the American Diabetes Association.



Posted in health + diet, Science/Technology | Tagged , | 4 Comments
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