Category Archives: Healthy Lifestyle

Fast food you can eat … at least without the topping

Greek-Yogurt-ParfaitChick-Fil-A has introduced a Greek yogurt parfait that’s actually a reasonable choice for food-conscious consumers. Of course, you’d be doing yourself a favor by foregoing either the granola or chocolate cookie crumb topping, which leaves you with the yogurt topped with strawberries and blueberries.

Let’s take a quick peek at the new parfait in all its forms so you can make an informed decision the next time you find yourself on line at a Chick-Fil-A near you.
Nutrition Facts

Plain Parfait                                                              Cookie Crumb Topping                 Granola Topping
Calories:                     100                                        120                                                    160
Fat:                              3.5 grams                             5 grams                                            5 grams
Sugar:                         11 grams                              12 grams                                          14 grams

The differences between the plain parfait and either of the two toppings is relatively small and not something most would worry about. Now let’s explore the ingredient lists:

Greek Yogurt (cultured pasteurized milk, cream, live and active cultures [S thermophilus, L bulgaricus, L acidophilus, L. lactis], sugar, water, pectin, vanilla extract), strawberries, blueberries.

Granola (toasted oats [whole rolled oats, soybean oil, honey], soybean oil, sugar, honey, glycerated raisins [raisins, sunflower oil, glycerin], golden seedless raisins [raisins, sulfur dioxide added for freshness], glycerated cranberries [cranberries, sugar, glycerin, citric acid, safflower oil], pecans, almonds, walnuts, corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, salt, natural flavors).

Oreo Cookie Crumbs (sugar, enriched four [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate {vitamin B1}, riboflavin {vitamin B2}, folic acid], palm and/or high oleic canola and/or canola oil, and/or soybean oil, cocoa [processed with alkali], high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, leavening (baking soda, and/or calcium phosphate), salt, soy lecithin [emulsifier], vanillin-an artificial flavor, chocolate)

While the number of controversial ingredients in either topping is small, can’t help but point out how fast food again takes a perfectly acceptable option and has to add to it in a way that makes it less acceptable. We don’t need the high fructose corn syrup in the cookie crumbs or the artificial and natural flavors in either topping. And we’re less likely to purchase this menu item because of those things.

Of course, we’d also like to point out that in order to consume a more natural, healthier option at a Chick-Fil-A, you’ll need to order yogurt – not chicken.

We’ve still got a long way to go …

Just when we were feeling better about school lunch …

150825125801_1_540x360There’s been plenty of controversy surrounding the new school lunch regulations. Overall, though, most people have felt that the changes were positive and that our children were being presented with healthier options. So was dismayed to find this new information that takes the wind out of the sails of the new program.

Less than a month before Congress votes on whether to reauthorize a controversial program mandating healthier school lunches, a new study confirms the suspicions of school officials — many students are putting the fruits and vegetables they’re now required to take straight into the trash, consuming fewer than they did before the law took effect.

The new study, published online in Public Health Reports on Aug. 25, is the first to use digital imaging to capture students’ lunch trays before and after they exited the lunch line.

It is also one of the first to compare fruit and vegetable consumption before and after the controversial legislation — the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — was passed.

After passage of the legislation and the USDA mandates it put in place 2012, the study found that students put more fruits and vegetables on their trays, as required, but consumed fewer of them and increased waste by approximately 35 percent.

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption,” says Sarah Amin, Ph.D., a researcher in Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont and lead author on the study.

“The answer was clearly no,” she said. “It was heartbreaking to see so many students toss fruits like apples into the trash right after exiting the lunch line.”

Amin and her co-authors documented almost 500 tray observations over 10 visits to two elementary schools in the Northeast before implementation of the USDA guideline and almost twice as many observations afterwards.

Forty to 60 percent of the students at the schools qualified for free or reduced lunch, a marker for low socioeconomic status.

The research team used a digital imaging method that they validated three years ago in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to measure consumption.

The new methodology, which involved visual estimations and calculations based on digital photographs of trays as students reached the cashier and again after they passed the food disposal area, was faster and more accurate than conventional methodologies that simply weighed food waste.

“The beauty of this method is that you have the data to store and code to indicate what was selected, what was consumed, and what was wasted as opposed to weighed plate waste, where everything needs to be done on site,” said Amin, who hopes to develop an online training tutorial that could be used by schools across the country to measure consumption and waste.

In an earlier study published in the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management, Amin and colleagues looked at what types of fruits and vegetables children selected prior to the new guideline.

They found that children preferred processed fruits and vegetables such as the tomato paste on pizza or 100 percent fruit juice rather than whole varieties.

In addition to making sure those options are available, Amin and her colleagues offer these additional strategies in the paper for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in school lunch programs:

• Cutting up vegetables and serving them with dip or mixing them in with other parts of the meal;
• Slicing fruits like oranges or apples, rather than serving them whole;
• Adopting promising strategies targeting school settings such as Farm-to-School programs and school gardens, which can encourage fruit and vegetable consumption in addition to what the cafeteria is providing
• Putting public health programs in place that encourage fruit and vegetable consumption in the home, which could carry over to school.

Once schools have fully acclimated to the guidelines, Amin thinks consumption will increase, especially for students who entered as kindergarteners under the new guidelines in 2012 and know no other way.

“An important message is that guidelines need to be supplemented with other strategies to enrich fruit and vegetable consumption. We can’t give up hope yet.”

Amin’s co-authors at the University of Vermont include research associate Bethany Yon and Rachel Johnson, the Robert L. Bickford Jr. Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences, and Jennifer Taylor, a graduate student at UC-Davis.

There’s an old saying … “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” thinks we should all remember the truth behind that statement. But we also think that other strategies should be employed in the crusade to entice kids with healthier eating. There have been studies done that suggest that whole fruit isn’t as attractive as fruit that’s been cut up, appearing more “ready-to-eat.” That’s just one example of how this might be approached.

While we’re saddened to learn that kids are rejecting some of these efforts, we look forward to seeing solutions and hope that as the school lunch program moves forward, improvements will be made that work for the kids the program serves.

The negative effects of eating on the run … you may be gaining weight

Eatting on the goIf any one word were used to describe the current times we live in, it would probably be “busy.” We’re always running somewhere. To the gym, to a meeting, to work, to an event, to a school … we’re overscheduled, rushed and constantly on the go. As a result, most people aren’t sitting down to proper meals and are eating on the run. We’re trying to make sure that those grab and go meals are healthy, but according to new research it doesn’t make a huge difference in regard to weight control.

In a new study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers from the University of Surrey have found dieters who eat ‘on the go’ may increase their food intake later in the day which could lead to weight gain and obesity. The findings from the study also showed that eating while walking around triggered more overeating compared to eating during other forms of distraction such as watching TV or having a conversation with a friend.

The team examined 60 females who were either dieters or non-dieters and gave them all a cereal bar to eat under three different conditions. The first group was asked to watch a five-minute clip of the sitcom ‘Friends’ while eating. The second group was asked to walk around the corridor while consuming the cereal bar, and the third group was simply asked to sit opposite a friend and have a conversation. After the experiment, participants completed a follow-up questionnaire and a taste test involving four different bowls of snacks, including chocolate, carrot sticks, grapes and crisps. How much they ate was measured after they left the room.

The results showed that dieters ate more snacks at the taste test if they had eaten the initial cereal bar whilst walking around and specifically they ate five times more chocolate.

“Eating on the go may make dieters overeat later on in the day,” said lead author Professor Jane Ogden from the University of Surrey.

“This may be because walking is a powerful form of distraction which disrupts our ability to process the impact eating has on our hunger. Or it may be because walking, even just around a corridor, can be regarded as a form of exercise which justifies overeating later on as a form of reward.”
“Even though walking had the most impact, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks can lead to weight gain. When we don’t fully concentrate on our meals and the process of taking in food, we fall into a trap of mindless eating where we don’t track or recognize the food that has just been consumed.” misses the days when we weren’t always running somewhere. The world is, however, a more complicated place with greater demands assigned to us all. We can’t turn back the clock. But we can make a conscientious effort to make time for healthy, balanced meals. Let’s learn to put busy to bed when it’s mealtime and give up mindless eating for good.

Healthier mayonnaise? Just Mayo from Hampton Creek bets you’ll think so

4795230377_d9bfb79b31So what’s in the jar of mayonnaise sitting in your refrigerator? We know it’s mayonnaise, but have you explored any further than that?

If it’s a jar from Kraft, this is how the ingredient list reads:

INGREDIENTS: Soybean Oil, Water, Eggs, Egg Yolks, Vinegar, contains less than 2% of Sugar, Salt,Lemon Juice Concentrate, Calcium Disodium EDTA as a Preservative, Dried Garlic, Dried Onions, Spice, Natural Flavor.

In a serving size of one tablespoon, you’ll find 90 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 5 mg of cholesterol and 90 mg. of sodium.

This information is pretty typical for the mainstream brands of mayo. The ingredients could certainly be better. They’re only using two controversial items and we’re fairly certain those could be replaced. And the nutrition facts are something most have learned to live with. Mayonnaise is a fat. It’s made from fats. So the nutrition facts fall in line.

Hampton Creek thinks we should have better mayonnaise. You may have seen it on your grocery shelf sitting in between Kraft and Hellmann’s. Just Mayo tells us that we’ll consume less sodium and cholesterol with this new brand AND we’ll be consuming better ingredients.

So let’s take a look at the nutrition facts for one tablespoon of Just Mayo.

Calories:                   90
Fat:                            10 grams
Saturated fat:          1 gram
Cholesterol:             0 mg
Sodium:                    80 mg

The tablespoon of Just Mayo is a little better in terms of nutrition facts than a tablespoon of Kraft Mayo. With .5 grams less saturated fat, 5 mg less cholesterol and 10 mg less sodium, we could say it’s a bit ahead of the game than its mainstream counterparts.

Non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, White Vinegar, 2% or less of the following: Organic Sugar, Salt, Pea Protein, Spices, Modified Food Starch, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Fruit and Vegetable Juice (Color), Calcium Disodium EDTA (to preserve freshness).

No natural flavors. That’s a great thing. would have to question the Non-GMO statement regarding canola oil, as canola oil begins as a genetically modified product (there’s no such thing as a canola plant). This product still contains Calcium Disodium EDTA and that kind of ruins it for us.

If we have the time, we can make our own mayonnaise. If we don’t have the time, there are organic products that we like better than this one. It isn’t bad. And we get that they’ve identified a niche somewhere between mainstream brand mayo and organic mayo – something that’s better for you but doesn’t cost what organic products cost. Maybe that niche exists. But if it does, we think the consumers that are sitting inside that gap between products aren’t looking to see Calcium Disodium EDTA on the ingredient list.

Foods rich in Vitamin C can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and early death
has always believed that a long, healthy life can be achieved through a healthy, balanced diet. As we all strive for optimal health and well-being we take into consideration the latest information available on those foods we shouldn’t – and should – be consuming. Let’s face it, those recommendations can change from year to year and decade to decade. Trends and fads aside though, certain things have staying power – like the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diets. New research is now linking fruit and vegetable consumption with a whole new health benefit.

New research from the University of Copenhagen and Herlev and Gentofte Hospital shows that high vitamin C concentrations in the blood from the intake of fruit and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and early death.

The study, which has just been published in the well known American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is based on the Copenhagen General Population Study.

As part of the study, the researchers had access to data about 100,000 Danes and their intake of fruit and vegetables as well as their DNA. “We can see that those with the highest intake of fruit and vegetables have a 15% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 20% lower risk of early death compared with those who very rarely eat fruit and vegetables. At the same time, we can see that the reduced risk is related to high vitamin C concentrations in the blood from the fruit and vegetables,” says Camilla Kobylecki, a medical doctor and PhD student at the Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Herlev and Gentofte Hospital.

Among other things, vitamin C helps build connective tissue which supports and connects different types of tissues and organs in the body. Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant which protects cells and biological molecules from the damage which causes many diseases, including cardiovascular disease. The human body is not able to produce vitamin C, which means that we must get the vitamin from our diet.

“We know that fruit and vegetables are healthy, but now our research is pinpointing more precisely why this is so. Eating a lot of fruit and vegetables is a natural way of increasing vitamin C blood levels, which in the long term may contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and early death. You can get vitamin C supplements, but it is a good idea to get your vitamin C by eating a healthy diet, which will at the same time help you to develop a healthier lifestyle in the long term, for the general benefit of your health,” says Boerge Nordestgaard, a clinical professor at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, and a consultant at Herlev and Gentofte Hospital.

The researchers are now continuing their work to determine which other factors, combined with vitamin C, have an impact on cardiovascular disease and death.

Including foods rich in vitamin C in our diets isn’t a difficult proposition. There are so many options that are easy to incorporate each day. These significant findings are a great motivation for us all to expand our dietary universe and make sure we’re consuming our share of vitamin C foods. Let’s all live a longer, healthier life!

Giving up soda after 50

sodacanWe’re a very different society today than we were 30 years ago. We’re more active and more active as we age. We live longer. And we don’t quite think about age the same we that we used to. embraces the idea that we are able and willing to make the kind of changes that extend our lives and keep us healthier as we age. Our friends over at Huffington Post agree, and recently shared some important information that we think our community will find significant.

A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society of 749 adults age 65 or older showed that those who consumed diet soda daily over a 10-year period had double the gains in waist circumference than those who did not.

Increased belly fat and an increased waistline can be linked to many diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, to name a few.

We think that when we switch from regular soda to diet soda we are doing a good thing by cutting out all those calories. Think again. Just because it’s calorie-free doesn’t mean it’s a healthy alternative.

In diet sodas as well as regular sodas, there are ingredients such as phosphoric acid and caffeine. Doesn’t phosphoric acid sound appetizing?

You may already know that phosphoric acid is great at removing rust. But since we do not typically harbor rust inside our bodies, let’s talk about what phosphoric acid really does when we consume it.

It can be responsible for removing calcium from our bones. That is the last thing we need, right? Especially for women over a certain age.

We also know that consuming excess caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption, so those two together can provide a double whammy for our bones.

Hopefully, everyone knows by now that we need to strength-train to make our bones stronger. But what if you eliminate sodas from your diet and strength train, too? We may certainly cut our risk for osteoporosis and unnecessary bone breaks as we age.

Many experts believe that if you are drinking a lot of soda, then you probably are not drinking milk or juices that may be fortified with calcium.

According to Better Homes and Gardens, there are seven super foods you can eat or drink that are rich in calcium: yogurt, milk, romano or Swiss cheese, tofu, spinach, broccoli, and orange juice fortified with calcium.

Try substituting some of the sodas you drink with milk or OJ.

Recommended calcium intake for women over 50 can differ, but should be around 1,200 milligrams per day. Other factors play into these numbers, such as estrogen loss.

For men over 50, recommended calcium intake is around 1,000 milligrams per day.

We’d like to remind everyone that the messages written in icing on millions of birthday cakes is really very true – 50 IS fabulous. Soda is not. We should all act accordingly.

False advertising lawsuit filed against Almond Breeze: shockingly few almonds in the almond milk

Almond-Breeze1People love their almond milk. It tastes great. It’s healthy for you. It’s dairy free. Depending on the brand you buy, it’s a natural product. Unfortunately there are more than a few brands that are riding the coattails of that “health halo” that has formed around the product itself. Just do things the way and check the labels of some of the popular brands and you might be surprised. Now a new difficulty has come to the forefront in the form of a false advertising law suit against Almond Breeze almond milk.

According to a class action lawsuit filed in New York this past May (and amended on July 14), these popular items are more full of lies than they are actual almonds.

A pair of brave citizens are squaring off against Blue Diamond Growers, the largest processor and marketer of almonds in the world (according to their company website) in civil court. The plaintiffs, Tracy Albert and Dimitrios Malaxianis, are claiming that Blue Diamond’s almond milk brand, Almond Breeze, has been fraudulently advertising itself as primarily containing almonds, when in actuality, it only contains about two percent.

According to the amended complaint, available to the public, Albert and Malaxianis were avid almond milk lovers — Albert even residing in California, where Blue Diamond helps produce a significant amount of the almonds grown in the U.S. every year. However, they became shocked when they learned that their Almond Breeze, according to nutritional information displayed by its UK counterpart, only contained two percent real almond. No such disclosure exists on the U.S. side of the almond milk aisle.

“Defendant is using its website to lead distributors, grocery stores, restaurants, consumers and other buyers and resellers of almond milk in the United States to believe that their almond milk branded products are primarily made from almonds,” read their complaint. “Said information from Defendant’s website has created a false perception amongst the public that Defendant’s almond milk labeled products are premium products that are healthy for you because they are primarily made from almonds.”

Regardless of the outcome, the civil case, filed in New York because of Malaxianis’s residency there, is coming at a time when almond milk has become incredibly popular. An article referenced by the complaint notes that sales of almond milk cleared over $700 million last year, with Blue Diamond the top dog (the original suit also named Whitewave Foods, which produces Silk, a brand that now includes almond milk). According to research they conducted online, the average amount of almond that should be found in almond milk is around 25 to 35 percent.

The two, fighting on behalf of themselves and “all other persons in the United States” who have ever purchased Almond Breeze, are claiming the company has committed unfair and deceptive business practices, false advertising, fraud, and unjust enrichment.

So it appears that Almond Breeze almond milk contains only 2% actual almonds. Of course, they needed to leave room in the product for the carrageenan and evaporated cane juice that are used to make Almond Breeze the tasty alternative to dairy milk so many consumers enjoy. Like we said, make sure you read the labels.

Saturated fats not as detrimental as trans fats

150811215545_1_540x360Is butter your enemy? How about other saturated fats like those that come from milk, meat or egg yolks? The theories surrounding these foods change over time and research. We had an entire decade filled with fat-free anything and everything – even cookies and cheese. That faded as more emphasis was placed on the importance of the presence of fats in our bodies in specific quantities and types. But knows that there are still rumblings among the folks who lived through the “fat-free” era about these and other types of fats. This new research may be of interest.

A study led by researchers at McMaster University has found that that trans fats are associated with greater risk of death and coronary heart disease, but saturated fats are not associated with an increased risk of death, heart disease, stroke, or Type 2 diabetes.

The findings were published today by the British Medical Journal (BMJ). The lead author is Russell de Souza, an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics with the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

“For years everyone has been advised to cut out fats. Trans fats have no health benefits and pose a significant risk for heart disease, but the case for saturated fat is less clear,” said de Souza.

“That said, we aren’t advocating an increase of the allowance for saturated fats in dietary guidelines, as we don’t see evidence that higher limits would be specifically beneficial to health.”

Guidelines currently recommend that saturated fats are limited to less than 10 per cent, and trans fats to less than one per cent of energy, to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.

Saturated fats come mainly from animal products, such as butter, cows’ milk, meat, salmon and egg yolks, and some plant products such as chocolate and palm oils. Trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) are mainly produced industrially from plant oils (a process known as hydrogenation) for use in margarine, snack foods and packaged baked goods.

Contrary to prevailing dietary advice, a recent evidence review found no excess cardiovascular risk associated with intake of saturated fat. In contrast, research suggests that industrial trans fats may increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

To help clarify these controversies, de Souza and colleagues analysed the results of 50 observational studies assessing the association between saturated and/or trans fats and health outcomes in adults.

Study design and quality were taken into account to minimise bias, and the certainty of associations were assessed using a recognized scoring method developed at McMaster.

The team found no clear association between higher intake of saturated fats and death for any reason, coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), ischemic stroke or type 2 diabetes.

However, consumption of industrial trans fats was associated with a 34 per cent increase in death for any reason, a 28 per cent increased risk of CHD mortality, and a 21 per cent increase in the risk of CHD.

Inconsistencies in the studies analysed meant that the researchers could not confirm an association between trans fats and type 2 diabetes. And, they found no clear association between trans fats and ischemic stroke.

The researchers stress that their results are based on observational studies, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. However, the authors write that their analysis “confirms the findings of five previous systematic reviews of saturated and trans fats and CHD.”

De Souza, a registered dietitian, added that dietary guidelines for saturated and trans fatty acids “must carefully consider the effect of replacement foods.

“If we tell people to eat less saturated or trans fats, we need to offer a better choice. Unfortunately, in our review we were not able to find as much evidence as we would have liked for a best replacement choice, but ours and other studies suggest replacing foods high in these fats, such as high-fat or processed meats and donuts, with vegetable oils, nuts, and whole grains.”

Clearly, trans fats do not belong in our diets. And, not so clearly, saturated fats (within limits) aren’t the enemy at all. It can be difficult to wrap our arms around the idea that butter isn’t the enemy. Overdoing anything IS the enemy. Moderation and balance are imperative for a healthy diet … and certain fats (especially those that have been – or will be – manufactured industrially) are the things we need to avoid. Eat real food. Buy ingredients at the grocery store (milk, eggs, cheese, produce, protein, nuts, grains, spices). Keep your diet balanced and interesting. We’ll all be on the right track for health and wellnesee.

Carbs played an essential role in human brain development

Oxalis-tuberosaWe don’t like carbohydrates much these days. They’ve been the new avoidance food for quite a while now. A few decades back, eggs and beef were off the menu. Then we went through the anti-fat revolution which saw the dawn of every fat-free product imaginable in our grocery stores. Today, we try to avoid carbohydrates as much as we possibly can. We should be more specific and talk about the avoidance of starches. Many of us aren’t eating potatoes, rice, grains, breads, pastas, etc. Honestly, we do lose weight that way. It is restrictive, though. In addition, whole grains are very good for us. So do carbs get a bad rap? Maybe … if you consider new information that credits carbohydrates with the development of our human brains.

It is widely accepted that the addition of meat to our ancestors’ diet contributed greatly to the evolution of the brain into the complex organ it is today, but for the most part the role of carbohydrates has been overlooked. What’s more, in recent years carbohydrates have been somewhat demonized as a major contributing factor for obesity. A new study, however, is suggesting that carbs, specifically starches, have had a significant role to play in the evolution of the human brain over the last million years.

Lead author Karen Hardy and her colleagues analyzed archaeological, anthropological, physiological, anatomical, and genetic data in order to prove their hypothesis that starchy foods were no less important than animal protein for making humans smarter, reports The researchers argue in their paper, aptly named “The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution”, that starch-rich foods were essential for satisfying the increased energy needs of the growing human brain during the Pleistocene period and later. The digestion of carbs was helped by the development of cooking, which transformed many foods rich in difficult to digest carbs into a form that ensured easier digestion and subsequently higher levels of blood glucose – an essential development because the brain consumes as much as 60% of blood glucose, as well as a quarter of the body’s overall energy needs.

Another argument in favor of starchy foods having played a key role in the evolution of humans is that they contributed to the expansion of our lung volume and to “successful reproduction”. Hardy et al note that a modern human needs a reliable source of what are called glycemic carbohydrates – carbs that can be metabolized into glucose – to support the function not just of the brain, but also of the kidneys, red blood cells and the tissues of the reproductive organs. Although there is still a debate on whether carbohydrates are essential for the proper functioning of the body, seeing as glucose can be synthesized from other food groups such as fats, evidence seems to point towards a certain necessary minimum of glycemic carbohydrates – 30g to 50g daily – in order for the brain to function properly.

Starchy foods, such as potatoes and some seeds and nuts, are a widely available source of glycemic carbohydrates. Evidence from archaeological sites around the world shows that tubers, seeds, and nuts were often found in abundance in areas occupied by early hominins, which would have made them a readily available source of nutrition.

Alongside cooking was a genetic evolution which aided human’s consumption of carbs. Hardy and her team found that salivary amylase – the enzyme that is crucial for the breaking down of carbohydrates into sugars – is present in around six gene copies in modern humans. To compare, other primates have it in just two gene copies. While the exact point in time when this multiplication of amylase-bearing gene copies occurred remains uncertain, genetic evidence suggests it was some time in the last million years. In other words, cooking, the addition of carbohydrates to the human diet, and the increase in gene copies responsible for amylase in the salivary glands happened or evolved at around the same time, spurring the rapid growth of our brain size in the last 800,000 years.

Really fascinating. Is it enough to tell us that carbs are an important component in our diets. We need somewhere between 30 and 50g a day in order for our brain to function properly. understands that most are eating far more than that requirement. We can – and do – overdo just about anything. But never eating a potato again is probably not the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Just some food for thought.

Spice things up for a longer life

150804202650_1_540x360Like a little spice in your life? Your proclivity for spicy foods may actually help extend your lifespan. While has long understood that previous research has linked health benefits like reduced risk of obesity, inflammation and cancer to certain beneficial spices, we thought this newest finding was particularly interesting.

An international team led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences examined the association between consumption of spicy foods as part of a daily diet and the total risk and causes of death.

They undertook a prospective study of 487,375 participants, aged 30-79 years, from the China Kadoorie Biobank. Participants were enrolled between 2004-2008 and followed up for morbidities and mortality.

All participants completed a questionnaire about their general health, physical measurements, and consumption of spicy foods, and red meat, vegetable and alcohol.

Participants with a history of cancer, heart disease, and stroke were excluded from the study, and factors such as age, marital status, level of education, and physical activity were accounted for.

During a median follow-up of 7.2 years, there were 20,224 deaths.

Compared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 1 or 2 days a week were at a 10% reduced risk of death (hazard ratios for death was 0.90). And those who ate spicy foods 3 to 5 and 6 or 7 days a week were at a 14% reduced risk of death (hazard ratios for death 0.86, and 0.86 respectively).*

In other words, participants who ate spicy foods almost every day had a relative 14% lower risk of death compared to those who consumed spicy foods less than once a week.

The association was similar in both men and women, and was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol.

Frequent consumption of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases, and this was more evident in women than men.

Fresh and dried chili peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods weekly, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chili tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes.

Some of the bioactive ingredients are likely to drive this association, the authors explain, adding that fresh chili is richer in capsaicin, vitamin C, and other nutrients. But they caution against linking any of these with lowering the risk of death.

Should people eat spicy food to improve health? In an accompanying editorial, Nita Forouhi from the University of Cambridge says it is too early to tell, and calls for more research to test whether these associations are the direct result of spicy food intake or whether this is a marker for other dietary or lifestyle factors.

* A hazard ratio is a measure of how often a particular event happens in one group compared to how often it happens in another group, over time.

Some of us are bigger fans of spicier foods than others. So, if you’re a little on the spicy side, you may want to kick up the heat in your meals on a regular basis. While it’s not proven, it certainly can’t hurt!