Category Archives: Health - Page 2

Food Lasts A Lot Longer Than the Date On The Package

We’ve seen before that the three types of dates on food packaging (use-by, sell-by, best if used by) have nothing to do with how safe the food is, and that they’re just an indicator of quality. Now NPR wrote an article which sheds some light on how companies come up with those dates. There’s an outfit called The National Food Lab — which thinks its perfectly acceptable to call itself The NFL — that food companies hire to taste their aging food and rate it. As the food gets older, it starts to taste worse, so a yogurt company will look at the scores over time and say “ok, it looks like after five days, the scores have dropped 10%, so lets make that the sell-by date.”

 

After that date, the food might not taste quite as good as it did originally, but it will still taste perfectly fine. And if it’s been properly handled, it’s definitely not going to make you sick. Why? Because you have this thing called “the sense of smell” which makes you sick to your stomach before you even have a chance to put bad food in your mouth. If it’s spoiled, you’re not even going to want to eat it — so if that’s what you’re worried about, you can ignore the date on the package altogether.

In fact, even if you were to eat something spoiled — say milk or meat — it probably isn’t going to affect you that much. The outbreaks of food-borne illnesses usually arise from food that’s been improperly handled but is still well ahead of the date on the package, and looks and smells fine even though it’s riddled with salmonella or E. coli.

This is why freeganism and dumpster-diving exist: pretty much 100% of the 40% of our food that we throw away, is perfectly good. Canned foods, even though they have an expiration date, last for decades. So next time you’re cleaning out the fridge, give it a smell test: if it fails, throw it out; if it smells fine and tastes good, do your part for the environment and save it.

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From NPR

People Who Eat Healthier Snack More

Market research firm NPD Group followed people’s eating habits for two years and found out that those with the healthiest eating habits had 36% more snacks than average; the ones with the least healthy diets snacked 29% less than normal. Conclusion: snacking helps you keep to a healthy diet.

 

What should you be snacking on? The Huffington Post compiled a list of snacks that nutritionists eat:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Snack-size vegetables, like carrots
  • Apples (probably also pears, nectarines and bananas)
  • Roasted walnuts or almonds
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Edamame
  • Avocado

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From NPD and Huffington Post, via Lifehacker

Evaporated Cane Juice Is Actually Just Sugar

This is a sugar cane. Looks tasty, right? If only we stuck to eating things that look good before processing...

That term, ‘evaporated cane juice’, is everywhere now — because it sounds more natural. But it turns out evaporating cane juice is simply how sugar is made: you get the juice out of some cane, dry it out (meaning, evaporate it), then separate the molasses from the crystals and voila: white sugar. The only difference with evaporated cane juice is that the molasses aren’t fully separated out — so all the evil sugar is still in there, plus some brown goo. And no, molasses are not good for you.

In fact, juicing anything is not good for you: it’s like extracting the crack from a cocaine plant. An apple, orange or what have you contains a lot of fiber, so when you eat it you get its fructose — which has a lot of energy but is not great for you — but all the fiber will keep you from eating too much of it. (The fiber will also do wonders for your digestive system.)  But when you juice fruit, all you’re doing is getting rid of the great fiber and concentrating the high-calorie part of the plant into a liquid. So stop processing perfectly good plants:  just eat the much healthier unjuiced fruit.

But back to the main point: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice — same poison, different names.

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From NPR

 

We’re Drinking And Eating More, But At Least Smoking Less

Scientific American has a pretty interesting interactive graphic (there’s a non-interactive version below) that shows the trend, over the past 15 years, in five categories: heavy drinking, binge drinking, smoking, obesity and exercising. The top three causes of death are heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and too much eating, drinking, smoking and laziness are all causes of all of them, so this is important stuff.

However, it’s not easy to tell how much the figures changed using that graph. For example, binge drinkers went up from 14.1% of people to 15.1% and exercisers went up from 72.1% to 76%, which seems like a bigger deal, but in reality they both grew by about the same percentage. So instead of falling into the same trap, here, the stats are presented like stocks and ordered by the magnitude of the change, followed by the issues with the numbers:

  • Obesity: +74%
  • Heavy drinking: +69%
  • Tobacco use: -24%
  • Binge drinking: +7%
  • Exercise: +5%

So, obesity and drinking are way up, tobacco use is down a pretty healthy amount, and binge drinking and exercise are slightly up. Since exercise hasn’t changed that much, the giant increase in obesity can only be blamed on our diet, which makes sense given all the cheap food. That means we’re eating and drinking a lot more than we used to 15 years ago. And, thanks to the prolonged public education campaign, we’re smoking a good bit less.

 

And now, for the problems with the numbers

For binge drinking and exercising, the questions used are pretty ridiculous. We’ve talked about the binge drinking definition issue before: having five beers in five hours, five beers in one hour, and fifteen beers in five hours are all counted as binges. And the question asked about exercise is if you’ve done physical activity in the last month; if you helped someone move last week, that would count as exercise. Smoking is defined as “current smokers”, and there’s no category for the many people that are casual smokers and would not identify themselves as “current smokers”.

Heavy drinking is defined as having more than two drinks per man per day, but other researchers define it as more than three per day, including the study that showed conclusively that heavy drinkers live longer than teetotalers. Which brings us to the other problem: if drinking heavily is a habit important enough to our health to be tracked, then it seems like abstaining from alcohol should also be. The fact that it’s not, indicates that some morality factor is also present in the surveys.

Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more. The BMI is a 200-year old measure with such severe problems that it actually says about 40% of obese people are not obese. Why? Because it only uses height and weight, which is great for easy research, but awful for figuring out how fat someone is: if you have a lot of muscle and no fat, it will say you’re overweight. If you’re nothing but fat and bones, it’ll say you’re normal weight. Ideally, obesity would be defined by body fat percentage, not BMI, but that would be impossible to figure out over the phone. Bottom line: the survey says 27% of Americans are obese, but that number is probably more like 45%.

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Science Tells Us What Works For Weight Loss

AsapSCIENCE makes short videos in which they explain the science behind various things — like hangovers — and then give you tips that make your life better. Their latest video has the dos (and a don’t) for losing weight:

  • Exercise: big surprise. The calories you burn during exercise come mostly from carbs; later, while you rest, it has no more carbs to get energy from, so it burns fat instead. So after you exercise, eat meat or cheese — not pasta. Also, don’t work out hungry, and your exercise routine should include weights, interval training, and metabolic resistance.
  • Don’t skip meals: when your body gets stressed out, it will release a hormone called ghrelin that makes you want junk food. That stress can be from working too much, not getting enough sleep, being too hungry, getting in a fight with your mistress, or what have you. You can resist that urge for a while, but your will power is limited, and your body will win out since it obviously always wins — otherwise you wouldn’t need to lose weight. (Crash diets don’t work for a similar reason.) So rather than skip a meal, eat a chicken breast and an orange, because that’ll keep you from giving in to pizza and a hot fudge sundae later.
  • Sleep as much as you need: see above
  • Avoid stress: you better have read that bullet about the ghrelin!

 

Not Ghrelin

 

  • Eat breakfast: not necessarily when you wake up, but eat when you first get hungry. That will keep your metabolism burning faster the whole day, and bring your blood sugar and hormone levels to where they should be.
  • Eat more meat: a little bit more protein keeps you full a lot longer. The body’s response to protein is to release a large amount of the peptide YY, which reduces appetite.
  • Eat low-fat dairy: the calcium binds to fat in your stomach and makes a substance that can’t be absorbed. The result: less fat gets from your food to your spare tire.
  • Drink soup and smoothies: thick liquids take a lot longer for your stomach to process, making you feel full longer than if the liquid and solid food were separate.
  • Count calories: studies show it does wonders for weight loss. Besides telling your brain what your body forgot (i.e., when to stop eating), it also shows you the price of junk food, when you realize that a can of soda and two cups of cherries have the same calories.
  • Use smaller plates: this is a psychological trick that makes the same amount of food look bigger, only because we want our containers to be overflowing with food. If you use smaller plates, you’ll be more satisfied with less food. There are other psychological tricks you can play on your brain, like having people tell you a meal had more calories than it actually did (which makes you feel full), or that your exercise routine is more effective than it actually is.

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From YouTube, via Neatorama

Heartburn Is Generally Caused By Caffeine, Alcohol, And Fat

Common thinking is that acidic foods and drinks — like orange juice, tomato sauce and jalapeños — cause heartburn. According to NPR, this makes no sense because the acid in our stomachs is going to be much stronger than almost anything we eat. Heartburn is simply that stomach acid escaping through the valve at the top of the stomach — the lower esophageal sphincter. Therefore, heartburn is independent of the food we eat, because even the healthiest, most non-acidic food will still need stomach acid to be digested and if it can overflow, it will. The trick is to keep the sphincter from opening, which it does for generally two reasons:

  • The sphincter is weak or broken for some reason (being fat makes this more likely)
  • The sphincter is relaxed and just doesn’t fully tighten up

The lower esophageal sphincter is #6

 

It turns out that caffeine and alcohol both relax the sphincter, so if you’re thin and getting heartburn, stay away from Irish coffee. Also, avoid eating big, fatty meals: fatty foods take longer to break down, so the stomach acid will be around longer, giving it more opportunity to back up through an opening in the sphincter. Ditto for large amounts of food, just due to their bulk. So large amounts of fat food, followed by alcohol or caffeine and a weak sphincter are a recipe for heartburn. Eating Tums and drinking milk will help by neutralizing some of the stomach acid so it doesn’t overflow, but that’s counterproductive to actually digesting the food in it.

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From NPR

Proper Running Form

The 30 second video below, made by Greatist, very quickly shows the elements to having great form while running.

In case you blinked:

  • The ball of the foot is the tough round part just under your big toe. Don’t land on that.
  • Don’t land on your heel either; it sends a lot of force up your leg.
  • Instead, the landing should strike just below the ball of the foot, at the mid-foot, under the arch.
  • Knees should be slightly bent as you land
  • Steps should be soft and springy, not heavy and hard
  • Land just in front of your center of mass, with your leg under your hip
  • Lean forward slightly to use gravity to propel your body, as if you’re always about to fall on your face but keep delaying it by stepping a foot in front of the fall
  • Drive your heel towards your butt after lifting it off the ground
  • Elbows should be bent at roughly right angles and drawn back

This advice agrees pretty well with what Runner’s World wrote on the subject last summer.

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From Greatist, via Lifehacker

Why Drinking Milk Is Just Not Right

Besides the fact that no one in their right mind would walk up to a cow’s udder and start suckling, the New York Times has an article that lists all the other reasons our dairy habits make absolutely no sense:

  • About 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant; that’s only about 17% of the entire country, but 90% of asians and 75% blacks, Mexicans and Jews. Why? Because the milk-drinking culture came from Northern Europe, where for some unknown reason — probably famine — people started drinking another species’ milk, as adults, and those whose bodies could still process milk as adults tended to have more kids than normal people. That mutation eventually became mainstream, and a few thousand years later pretty much all European adults are lactose tolerant; so, we make things like cheese and ice cream and the milk they sell in stores — which bears little resemblance to actual milk — and treat it like a sort of tonic that we actually need for our health.
  • Milk (even the non-fat kind) contains an amount of calories on par with soda, and half of it comes from sugars in the form of lactose.
  • Besides lactose intolerance, there’s a common food allergy called milk allergy, which most people have never heard of and which causes things like indigestion, constipation, headaches, and rashes. If you consume dairy often and have problems like that, try stopping for a week to make sure you don’t have an allergy or intolerance.
  • From a doctor quoted in the article: “It’s worth noting that milk and other dairy products are our biggest source of saturated fat, and there are very credible links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and the most dangerous form of prostate cancer.”
  • Milk production is propped up by the Big Milk industry, which is composed of factories filled with tens of thousands of cows, since that level of production is the only way to make a living selling milk. The 9 million dairy cows in this industry live miserable lives and pollute the environment with a ton of methane.
  • But it’s good for you, right? Actually, you would get more calcium from green, leafy vegetables than from milk. And all your bones need to stay strong is exercise and sunshine, from which you get vitamin D.

The modern milk farm/factory. Photo from The Daily Mail.

 

Milk products like yogurt and cheese are a little better, since they’re easier to digest. But — with the exception of yogurt, which has been shown to help with weight loss — dairy should be treated more like a guilty pleasure than a tonic. And in the end, let’s face it: if you wouldn’t drink human milk, you shouldn’t drink bovine milk either.

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From The New York Times, via Lifehacker

How To Avoid And Relieve Hangovers

A new outfit called AsapSCIENCE made an interesting video (below) explaining, along with scientific reasons, various things you can do around a night of heavy drinking that will lessen the pain the next day:

  • Eat fatty foods and carbs before you embark on your binge: you’ll get less drunk
  • Drink water — lots of it, throughout the night: alcohol causes dehydration, which causes headaches
  • Stick to light colored liquors and wines: not because you’re racist, but because the darker ones have more toxins that make you feel bad
  • Avoid carbonation: fizzy liquids help your body absorb alcohol quicker
  • Take an aspirin before going to bed: it inhibits the creation of a hangover-causing chemical. But don’t take Tylenol — that’ll make your hangover worse.
  • For breakfast, eat eggs, a banana and fruit juice: all of these contain stuff that will make you feel better
  • Avoid being a woman, Asian, or both: both tend to weigh less, have less body water and less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, so they can’t drink as much before the badness kicks in.

 

From YouTube, via Laughing Squid

Everyone Should Be Doing Squats

Last year, we saw a very interesting article explaining why you should quit your gym. It focused on how gyms are there to make money, not to make you fit, and therefore they deal in neophilia (new machines and workouts) and in getting you to spend as little time in the gym, crowding their machines, as possible. And it also said that gyms are pretty unnecessary, because you only really need to do four types of exercises:

These exercises work every major muscle group, but unlike the machines in the gym which isolate them, they also work the secondary, stabilizer muscles which prevent injury. In the same vein, the New York Times is now saying that everyone should be lifting weights — not just doing cardio like running and cycling — because besides being a good way to burn calories and prevent injury, weight training is also necessary to avoid the feebleness of old age. And if you only do one weight training exercise, it should be the squat.

 

The squat works almost every major muscle group and is the motion that people have trouble with when they get older: getting up. It can be done with a barbell, as shown above, or with regular dumbells, or with no weight at all (your arms crossed, or held straight out in front). In the video in the article, an expert explains how with weight training, heavy weights aren’t necessary as long as the muscle gets fatigued. It’s faster to get the muscle sore with heavy weights, but if you can do it by lifting lighter weights for longer, then you’ll get stronger either way.

In general, the expert — he’s Canadian, yet appears smart — says that cardio is a good exercise, but weights will help not only with strength, but also with the efficiency of the exercise. So even distance runners and cyclists will also benefit from weight training.

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From The New York Times, via Lifehacker