Courtesy Terence OngIn one of the biggest breakthroughs in food and dietary history, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced today (April 1, 2013), that it is permitting the sale of genetically modified ice cream to the public. The announcement comes on the heals of 16 years of experimenting and testing to come with a healthier version of the dairy food.
"Through the genetic modification (GM) process, we've been able to remove up to 93 percent of the calories you find in traditional ice creams, explained FDA spokesman Herman Guernsey. "And with that breakthrough, we've eliminated 100 percent of the guilt associated with eating ice cream. Now, people will be able to enjoy healthier and happier ice cream."
Of course, such breakthroughs also require some significant changes to the ice cream. The GM process did not work for traditional ice cream flavors like vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. "We did have to turn to some more health-oriented flavorings, but our focus groups seemed to especially like the GM ice cream flavors of broccoli, spinach and tuna," said Guernsey.
Cost is another issue for consumers. In order to push the GM ice cream through this advanced process, the cost right now is about $10 a pint. While public sales start today, GM ice cream may not be available in all grocery stores. But internet orders are being accepted at the website www.gmicecream.com. "We strongly advise anyone making internet orders do do so in the winter time as the ice cream is shipped by U.S. mail," Guernsey added.
He concluded: "We think people will enjoy this new GM ice cream and have a good laugh while reading this blog post."
Courtesy Jeff BedfordWhat did I learn this summer? I didn't have to go back to school this week, but yet this question jumped out at me when I read this article. That's because I did learn that it's a bit of a complicated line in deciding if you should just drink water or a sports energy drink after that hard workout.
This Washington Post article matches up with what I learned this summer working on a sports nutrition video for another museum. And with the onslaught of football season and all the sports drink commercials that come with it, it might be good to find out what nutritionists think about when it's best to drink sports drinks or just plain water.
Courtesy Walter J. PilsakAs a general rule, if you've been exerting for a hour or less, water is your best bet. More than an hour of hard activity, many sports drinks will give you needed energy boosters to keep you going. But as with anything you put into your body, you want to read the labels closely and make sure that the right kinds of things are going into to replace your lost energy.
I highly recommend this article. And be sure to make it to page two to find out about the pee test, which is a quick way to gauge if you're properly hydrated or in need of more fluids in your system.
What do you think about sports energy drinks and their use? To you have your own rule of thumb on when to use them? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.
Courtesy trayThis is wonderful news! Not for you, obviously, but it is for me. You see, I don't drink diet soda, and I love to shame people for their diet choices, so this news is just perfect for me:
Shame on you. Shame on you for drinking diet soda, shame on you for believing so foolishly that it would be part of a healthy diet plan, and shame on you for even trying to control your weight.
Why don't you just drink cool spring water, seasoned with a sprig of mint and a squeeze of lemon, like I do? That's nature's soda. Or are you too good for nature? No, you're not. Nature is too good for you. You know how I know? Because you drink diet soda, you shameful little shame shame.
It was good to get that out of the way. Didn't it feel nice? For me, I mean? It did.
As far as the research goes, it's one of those things where, despite the black and white, "Diet soda makes you fat" headlines (which I pretty much used here), the actual link between consuming pop with artificial sweeteners and human weight gain is pretty unclear. Researchers followed 474 subjects for ten years, and found that the people who consumed diet soda gained significantly more belly fat than those who did not drink diet soda. (The drinkers' waistlines grew about five times more than the non-drinkers' waistlines did.)
10 years seems like a decent length for the study, although I'm not sure if 474 is a very large number of participants. The main thing, however, is that this study doesn't show any actual mechanism behind the extra weight gain of diet soda drinkers. While there could be something in the artificial sweeteners themselves that encourages weight gain, it's also likely that the link is based more in behavior/psychology. Diet soda-drinkers could be substituting extra calories from other sources, because they avoided them in the soda. Or maybe they exercise less. Or perhaps they crave other sweet things, because of the sweetness of the soda.
As far as I can tell, too, the study compared diet soda drinkers to people who don't drink diet soda, not to people who drink soda sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, so it's not necessarily stating that diet sodas are a less healthy alternative to regular pop.
It could be that there's a causal link (that is to say, that artificial sweeteners are directly responsible for weight gain, as opposed to simply being associated with other behavior that causes weight gain). Artificial sweeteners do seem to have physiological effects on us, altering insulin secretion, gut pH, and appetite, and mice exposed to the artificial sweetener aspartame for three months were found to have higher blood sugar levels. But that doesn't mean that the diet sodas are for sure responsible for the weight gain in this study's participants. So, for now, take the research seriously to the extent that helps you be more conscious about the things you eat and drink I guess.
That's not the important thing, though. The important thing, of course, is that the study provides you with something to worry and feel bad about, and me with something to dangle over your head as I encourage those feelings in you.
Courtesy Another Pint Please...Ok, Buzzketeers, buckle up for some meaty issues, juicy discussion, and humorless punnery. But first:
Do you eat meat?
Let me say off the bat that this isn’t a judgment thing. Yeah, I am judging you, but only on your grammar, clothing, height, gait, pets, personal odor, and birthday.
But not on your diet. So there will be no bloodthirsty carnivore or milquetoast vegetarian talk here. Y’all can have that out on your own time.
This is more of what I like to call an entirely unscientific poll about meat, the future, and your deepest secrets. (Depending on what you consider secret.)
When you get to the end, you can see what everyone else voted.
Courtesy Andrew_BAbout a month ago I fell off my bicycle and got a brain injury. Can you imagine? The doctor called it a “corncussion.” I was thinking I would do a Science Buzz post on corncussions, but I couldn’t find any information on the condition. What gives, Google? Did I invent the corncussion? I don’t think so.
What I did find, however, was also pretty interesting: this new research on corn syrup.
Don’t run off! Corn syrup is interesting! And it’s relevant! On my desk, for instance, I see three food-related items: a half-full pack of m&m’s, a Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper, and an apple. Of these items, only the apple doesn’t have any “high-fructose corn syrup” in it. High fructose corn syrup is the sweetener of choice for lots and lots of food in this country (check your kitchen), and it has been for decades. It’s cheap, it’s really sweet, and it’s made from corn (we like making things from corn in these parts), so what’s not to like?
Lots of things, according to some people, and nothing, according to other people. The problem is that the above disagreement usually goes something like this when it is discussed:
“Corn syrup is horrible! Why? Because, like, it’s not like regular sugar, and your body doesn’t… your body treats it, like… it’s different and bad! Chemistry! Biology!”
“Corn syrup isn’t bad, it’s awesome! It’s made from corn, and corn is natural, and when has anything natural been bad for you?”
And both sides, frankly, are pretty dumb. Because in the former’s case, people usually aren’t really saying anything. What you sort of heard from a friend who might have read something about how the body treats corn syrup differently or something doesn’t count as solid scientific backing for your position. Be honest—it’s just your way of saying that you shop at Whole Foods.
On the other hand, it’s not like we’re sprinkling kernels of fresh corn on our food when we’re using high-fructose corn syrup—lots of fancy refining goes into making that sweetener, which may or may not be a good thing. And, in any case, being “natural” doesn’t make something healthy. You know what else is natural? Syphilis, arsenic, and getting punched in the face.
The thing is, there seems to be an association between the rise in obesity rates (and related diseases) and the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (let’s call it “HFCS” from here on) to American diets about 40 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that there really is a link between the two—we don’t know exactly how HFCS would cause obesity, and we don’t know if it was for sure HFCS that made us all fatter, or if it was some other widespread lifestyle change. Or if it was a combination of things.
The issue is complicated by stuff like research that indicates that drinking too much pop can raise your risk of cancer. Is that because too much of a sweet drink is bad for you? Or is it because lots of soft drinks use HFCS as their sweetener?
It’s confusing, and we’ve never really been able to definitively say, “HFCS is/is not bad for you.”
And we still can’t.
However, yesterday I read an interesting article about a study that seems to reinforce the connection between HFCS and obesity, even if it doesn’t show a causal relationship. (That is, it seems to show that something really is happening, but it can’t say why.)
Researchers at Princeton studied two groups of rats. One group got regular rat-chow, and water sweetened with HFCS. The other group got the same amount of rat-chow, and water sweetened with regular sugar from sugar cane or beets (this sugar is called sucrose). All the rats consumed the same amount of calories each day, no matter what their beverage was.
The researchers found that some of the rats eating regular sugar gained weight, and that some of them gained no weight. However, all of the rats eating HFCS gained weight (from body fat), and showed an increase in blood fats called “triglycerides.” The researchers pointed out that even rats given a high-fat diet don’t show such consistent weight gain.
The next part of their experiment tracked the long-term effects of a high HFCS diet on the rats. These rats all showed signs of a condition known (in humans) as metabolic syndrome. They had lots of blood fat, and gained lots of weight, especially around the belly. In fact, they gained 48% more weight than rats eating a normal diet.
What about that?
Well, the Corn Refiners Association has something to say about it: They think it was a misleading study. In their response to the research the CFA points out that there was no regular sugar control for the second part of the study—HFCS-eating rats were only compared to rat-chow-eating rats, not to rats eating regular sugar. So it would be like comparing weight gain between someone who just ate candy bars, and someone who just ate granola, instead of between a candy bar-eater and an ice-cream eater. (Does that sentence make any sense?) I don’t know if the original study really did lack that control, or if there was a reason they felt it wasn’t necessary. The CFA calls it a “gross error,” but it could be that it was just outside the intended scope of the research.
The CFA also thinks that the portions of HFCS given to the rats constitute a “gross error.” According to them, a proportional amount given to a human would be about 3000 calories from HFCS a day. They point out that adults eat only 2000 calories a day, from a variety of sources. It’s a good point, but not a great one, I think. That 2000 calorie figure is based on the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended diet (you know, the label you see on the back of everything you eat), and how many people stick exactly to the recommended diet? A 3000-calorie/day diet would definitely not be out of the question for lots and lots of people. And, sure, those calories are supposed to come from many food sources, but, again, go check your kitchen, and see how many items in there us HFCS. (Lots do.)
Keep in mind, though, that just because the people that make HFCS are arguing that it’s safe doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not safe. Of course they want to defend their product. Not everything is a global corporate conspiracy.
But the Princeton study sure does make it look like there’s something about HFCS that causes it to contribute to obesity more than regular sugar. The study just doesn’t show how it might do that. That’s the causal relationship we talked about earlier. They have some ideas, though.
The CFA claims that “a sugar is a sugar, whether it comes from cane, corn or beets. Both sugar and HFCS are handled the same way by the body. Maybe, but sugar and HFCS aren’t totally identical. Both sweeteners are made up of two kinds of sugar molecules, called glucose and fructose. Regular sugar is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose. HFCS, on the other hand, has more fructose (about 55%), less glucose (about 42%), and a small amount of larger sugar molecules called saccharides (3%). The way these molecules are put together in the difference sweeteners differs too: in regular sugar, each fructose molecule is bound to a glucose molecule, but the process of making HFCS causes its fructose molecules to all be “free and unbound.”
Some scientists think that because the fructose in HFCS is free, it is more easily metabolized (used by your body) and is more quickly turned into fat. The extra step needed to separate the fructose from the glucose in regular sugar might cause it to be metabolized differently, with more of it being stored in the liver or muscles as carbohydrates.
But, once more, that part is what people are uncertain about.
It’s a tricky issue, because there are a lot of dogs in the fight—I’m sure the manufacturers of regular sugar are just as defensive about their product (and just as likely to be very selective about which studies the promote) as the corn refiners are. But what about us poor norms? All we want is to sit and eat sweet things all day, while gaining as little weight as possible. I mean, we could just consume sweeteners in moderation until science proves who’s really right, but… where’s the fun in that?
It’s something to consider. Choose wisely, and stuff.
Courtesy TheBusyBrainOn this date in 1884, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg applied for a patent for "flaked cereal". Kellogg was a health-food fanatic, and was trying to improve the diet of patients at his hospital. His search for a digestible bread-substitute led him to boiling wheat and by accident letting it stand too long and become somewhat hardened. Despite the mistake, Kellogg put the concoction through a rolling process that turned each grain of wheat into a flake, which he then baked into a crispy and light breakfast product. Kellogg's brother Will helped improve the process, began marketing it to the general public, and the rest is cereal history.
Courtesy Jose P Isern ComasAhoy, Buzzketeers. I’m a-travelling, far across the ocean. I’m not sure which ocean (I fell asleep on the plane), but things are very different here, and I’ll keep you updated with any science I come across as I have the time.
Anyway, the last place I remember being in was Los Angeles. (And even that was pretty hazy.) I saw lots of strange things, including several awesome cyborgs. (Although… if I were to become a cyborg, I think I’d have to go with laser eyes or robot arms. Do bags of silicone give you mega-strength, or something?) I heard some strange things too, including the following exchange between a father and his two tiny children:
“We can go to McDonalds?”
“If your mother said it was OK… yeah!”
“But remember… you have to finish your protein before you eat your fries.”
The dad had clearly done some exceptional fathering, according to the look on his face… but what? Were they speaking in some sort of code? Is there a tonal component to west coast language that Midwesterners can’t recognize?
I typed the whole thing into Google, and it came back with a bunch of words like “low-carb,” and “atkins.”
So what’s happening here? When L.A. dad said “protein,” he was probably referring to meat specifically—meat is mostly fat and protein. The fries waiting in the little girls’ future, on the other hand, are high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are things like sugar and starch (and starch, kids, if you look at it on the molecular level, is pretty much just a long chain of sugar molecules.) Carbohydrates can be quickly turned into energy in the body, but if you aren’t being very active, they can be stored in your body as fat.
Way back in the way back, before French fries and cake were invented, people were mostly hunter-gatherers, and what they hunted and gathered probably would have been high in protein and fat, and low in the sort of carbohydrates our bodies can digest. So some folks think, with good reason, that our bodies are adapted to function best on that sort of diet.
Also, when we eat sugars, our pancreases have to produce the hormones insulin and glucagon to regulate the amount of sugar in our blood, because having too much blood sugar is toxic, and having too little blood sugar essentially starves our cells. In this time of cake and French fries, though, we eat lots of sugar, and our bodies produce lots of insulin, and our poor little pancreases can’t keep up, and they freak out and get sick and can’t produce those hormones in the right amounts any more—we call that diabetes. So regulating sugars before they enter the body is a good idea.
A good idea! Thanks, dad!
But, wait… what else? It turns out that little kids (or, as I call them, lil’ kids) are often pretty active in the first place, and can probably deal with carbohydrates pretty well. They might get hyper, but those carbs may not ever be turned into fat. Also, when there isn’t enough sugar in one’s diet, the body produces chemicals called ketones, which cause fat to be turned back into carbohydrates. That’s cool if you want to loose weight, but if you’re a lil’ kid, and not a fat lil’ kid, ketosis just makes your body think it’s starving and your lil’ brain is robbed of sugars, making you feel… kind of dull. (So say some scientists, anyway.)
Also, let’s consider dad’s specific protein: we don’t know exactly what the kid were going to order, but let’s go with the McDonald’s standby, the Big Mac hamburger. See, while dad was advocating good, old fashioned (Paleolithic), hunter-gatherer values, the high fat and protein items hunted and gathered back then rarely, if ever, included Big Macs. A Big Mac has almost half of the fat an adult should eat in a day (29 grams, so about 45% of the daily value), and a kid is going to have even lower nutritional requirements than an adult. And a lot of that fat is what is called “trans fat.” There are different kinds of fat, and trans fat (trans fatty acids, partially hydrogenated whatevers, etc) are probably one of the fats that you don’t want to have too much of. I won’t get into it, but trans fats really aren’t that great for you.
So it looks like those lil’ kids aren’t going to be deprived of carbs after all. Thanks for thinking it all out, dad!
Holy smokes! Are we learning or what? Anyway, LAX was awesome.
Courtesy White HouseFor the past week, it's been all Michael Phelps, all the time on the media. So why shouldn't Science Buzz jump on the bandwagon as well. Here's an interesting story from National Public Radio about the food consumption that the all-time Olympic gold medal winner puts down as part of his training regimine. Be sure to listen to the listing of the typical Phelps breakfast. It puts Old Country Buffet to shame, right down to the chocolate chip pancakes.
His daily calorie intake during peak times of training is 12,000 calories. Standard diets for mere mortals suggest a caloric intake of up to 2,000 calories. Ah, now I get it. He's winning all those gold medals by eating a lot. That's great news for me with the approach of football season and all the calories I'll be consuming on my sofa while watching the games. I should be in gold medal shape by November, don't you think?
And if you haven't gotten your fill of Michael Phelps info by now, here's another NPR story about the technology behind the timing systems used at the Olympic pool that can figure out the winners of races who are separated by just a hundreth of a second.