Courtesy cyclonebillThe arrival of fall each year brings leaves changing colors, apples ready for the picking and a host of long-distance races contested in more temperate conditions. And with those marathons and other distance tests come the pre-race rituals of "carbo loading," the practice of eating a high carbohydrate meal of pasta to fill a body up with extra energy.
But several elite athletes are now shaking up that conventional wisdom. They're saying that they're feeling better and performing more efficiently by focusing their pre-performance meals on the right kind of carbohydrates: gluten-free carbs.
Tennis champion Novak Djokovic, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the entire Garmin cycling team are now crediting gluten-free diets as helping them feel and perform better. Djokovic went gluten free in 2010 and has now climbed to become the No. 1-ranked player in men's pro tennis and he credits his new diet with giving him better focus, more endurance and avoiding injury.
However, all these benefits so far are anecdotal. There have been no research studies done on the impact of a gluten-free diet on athletic performance. But some nutritionists point out that gluten, evolutionary speaking, is a pretty new entry into the human diet, having only been around 10,000 years. Our digestive systems don't know how to deal with it, so we get no nutritional benefit from it. For most of us, our immune system handles the gluten in our digestive track, just like stray microbes, and works it into our waste. About six percent of the population is gluten sensitive and has to avoid these types of foods entirely.
Does this new information change your thoughts about "carbo loading?" Do you avoid gluten foods even if you're not sensitive to them? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.
Courtesy DiliffWhen zookeepers at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo noticed their grizzly bears were getting flabby, they came up with a novel idea on how to turn their health around. They got the bears acting and eating more like they do in their natural environments. And the lessons learned for the grizzlies can easily be applied to us humans to eat better, too.
In fact, there's a growing trend in medicine now to for doctors and veterinarians to share their research to find out if new behaviors that can help animals could help humans, too. You can read all about it here.
But looking specifically at the grizzly bears in Chicago, zookeepers ditched the laboratory composed diets of mixing dog foods and ground beef for the bears and went to more traditional berries, grains and meats the bears would actually prey on like fish and rabbits. The food was no longer delivered on metal trays the same time each day, but hidden around the bear's enclosure, forcing them to forage and work to get their grub. Within a year, both bears had lost hundreds of pounds.
So what's the human equivalent diet modifications? For one thing, not stockpiling up several weeks worth of food is a good start. Rather, buy just a few days worth of fresher, seasonal foods at a time. Most vegetables at grocery stores now days are engineered to have longer shelf lives, but less nutrition. Buying foods at farmers' markets and the like can lead to healthier greens.
And like a grizzly, we can burn more calories if we "forage" by walking or biking to the market. Not using a cart in a store or a car to transport our food home will also limit the amount of what we buy to what fits nicely in a basket or bag.
I get some interesting questions from visitors when I out working on the museum floor. A lot of times I don't have the answers, praticularly about new trends of science that are in the headlines. Here's a top 10 list of things you don't have to worry about, from a scientific viewpoint at least, as you enjoy the final days of summer. Topics addressed include shark attacks, cancer from cellphones and the risks of using your car's air conditioning.
Courtesy brainloc on sxc.huThe cookie is no longer No. 1. Fruit is now the most common snack food consumed by kids ages six and under, according to a new study. NPD Group discovered that youngsters today have much healthier snacking habits than kids did 20-some years ago.
Back in the day, cookies were the most consumed snackible by the younger set with fruit second. But education efforts have flipped those positions, the new study found. It also discovered some other significant diet changes among kids. They are:
• Less likely to have carbonated beverages, ice cream, candy, cake and fruit juice than what kids consumed 20 years ago.
• More likely to be chomping on fruit rolls, gummy snacks, yogurt, cracker, granola bars and bottled water.
Is this a big deal? Nutritionists think so as snack foods make up about one quarter of the calories taken in by youngsters.
And one nutritionist has this new way of thinking of snack foods. Just serve regular food. For instance, a snack might be half a sandwich and a carton of 100% orange juice; bean dip and baby carrots; peanut butter on whole-grain crackers and a small glass of milk; or half a piece of pizza and small glass of milk.
For the record, here are a couple lists showing the biggest movers on the snack food rankings.
The five foods/beverages that have increased the most in the snack diet of young children today compared with young children 20 years ago:
1. Fruit rolls/bars/pieces
5. Bottled water
The five foods/beverages that have decreased the most in the snack diet of young children today compared with young children 20 years ago:
1. Carbonated soft drinks
2. Ice cream
5. Fruit juice
A burger a day?
Researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health have found that adults who eat two or more servings of meat a day increase their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 25% compared with those who eat meat twice a week. The study, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association also linked a greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome with eating fried foods and drinking diet soda.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a group of cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk factors including:
If a person has three or more of these risk factors, their risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease increases.
The U of M findings came from a study of 9,514 participants from four U.S. communities in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study , funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The researchers divided the group based on an assessment of their food intake. One group ate a "Western-pattern diet" with many refined grains, processed meat, fried foods, red meat, eggs and soda, and an overall lack of fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grain products. Another group ate a "prudent-pattern diet" with vegetables, fruit, fish and seafood, poultry and whole grains, and low fat dairy.
After following the the participants for nine years, almost 40% of study participants had three or more risk factors for metabolic syndrome. When researchers analyzed the results based on specific foods, meat, fried foods, and diet soda were red flags for an increased risk for metabolic syndrome. The good news? They found that regular consumption of low-fat dairy products was beneficial in avoiding the same risk factors.
The authors acknowledge that more research is needed to determine how these specific foods, particularly diet soda, raise risk factors.
The lesson? Follow a balanced diet, include low-fat dairy, exercise, and eat your vegetables!
Sources and additional information:
"Dietary Intake and the Development of the Metabolic Syndrome. The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study." Pamela L. Lutsey, Lyn M. Steffen and June Stevens. Circulation; published online Jan 22, 2008.
Posted by Meredith Craven, a communications assistant in the Academic Health Center Office of Clinical Research at the University of Minnesota
Courtesy churlSince I was in third or fourth grade, I’ve been keeping a list of the things my mom has been wrong about. I think the first item involved her confusing Margot Kidder with Nicole Kidman (as if), the second had to do with whether or not a pack of cigarettes belonged to my teenage brother, and numbers 3 though 8 were all about advanced algebra. Number 9 famously involved her opinion on Terminator 2 (wrong, lady, it turns out it’s an awesome movie!). Item 10, to be honest, never would have happened if the cumin had been labeled properly, but I keep it on the list anyway. 11 is still pending (please, Mother, why would I have that CD? I mean, accordion music?), but I think I already have a solid number 12: cooking vegetables actually boosts their nutritional value, and not the opposite, as is often believed.
A study in last month’s issue of ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has shown that boiling and steaming (but not frying) vegetables like carrots, zucchini and broccoli may in fact increase the available amounts of certain nutrients. So if anyone starts to get all raw-foods on you, you can throw that in their face (unless it’s the carrot, which could take out an eye).
Now, I’m sure Mom would say that she knew that all along, and that it’s cooking methods like frying and microwaving that makes foods less nutritious, but that’s what I have lawyers for, and I would remind her that, before she starts anything new, we’re still working out the whole Thanksgiving libel situation.
I have to admit that I’ve been out of the school lunch loop for quite some time now. And I seem to recall that it wasn’t too long ago that many schools, faced with school lunch budgets that were feeling the squeeze, were turning toward more fast-food type menus to try to encourage participation and sales.
But a new study out last week says that schools are making a big move toward healthier meals for school kids who are increasingly dealing with overweight issues.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported that last year, about 19 percent of school cafeterias were serving French fries, down from about the 40 percent serving them six years earlier.
Another gauge of healthier school food items: the same survey showed that high-fat baked goods were becoming more rare at school fundraisers, declining to 54 percent of the offerings last year compared to 67 percent six years earlier.
One more sign of healthier times: about half of schools today offer bottled water instead of sugary sodas or sports drinks at vending machines or snack bars. Only about a third of schools had bottled water available six years ago.
Latest statistics show that about one-third of the kids in the U.S. are overweight and 17 percent are considered obese.
Here’s the study stat that I found really hard to believe: about one-third of schools in the country still allow tobacco use on campus and at school events by adults. That’s an improvement from six years ago, when about half of schools in the country had smoking bans. In Minnesota, schools have banned smoking on their grounds for a much longer time than that, I believe. Public health officials still have a goal of having a total smoking ban on school grounds.
But what if we wrapped up our food before it was even cooked the first time?
Researchers are working with the concept right now, finding ways to use natural-occurring germ and disease fighters into thin films and powders that could coat our foods before they get to our dinner table. If they’re successful, we could have safe materials coating our foods that could keep them safe from E. coli, salmonella or other food-borne health problems.
Here’s just one idea: strawberries could be coated with a soup-like material made from egg proteins and shrimp shells. That coating would deflect molds from growing on the berries and leave them to be riper for a longer period of time. Likewise, a film made up of a weave of thyme derivatives – which can kill E. coli – could be used in the lining of spinach bags, ending the health alerts like we’ve recently heard about for that vegetable.
The films are made from a variety of natural products that will dissolve in water. And in some cases, they can even be manipulated to carry flavors, although the big push is to make them flavorless so that the coated food’s natural flavor comes through.
To most researchers’ knowledge, none of these new coatings is being used in food products being offered in our stores today. But they’re coming fast. Patents have been applied for and business agreements are being drawn up with food companies to start using this new concept.
Have you ever tried one of those new breath-freshening strips or cough drop film? They look like a piece of tapes, you pop them in your mouth and they quickly dissolve to carry their payload into your mouth. These new food films are just like that. In fact, researchers say consumers should be much more likely to embrace this idea if they’ve tried those products already on the market.
It’s not a radical new idea as it might sound. Wax has been used as a coating on apples and aspirin for a long time. Some frozen pizzas have a thin layer on film over their crusts to keep the pizza sauce from seeping into it before the pizza is cooked.
So what do you think? Would you eat food with thin film on it if you knew it would be safer food? I think this is pretty much a no-brainer “yes” to me. Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
After seeing the movie “Supersize Me” I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce my visits to McDonald’s and other fast food outlets. Presenting with that overpowering evidence, I was able to make a decision to make fast food a much smaller portion of my diet.
But what about kids who haven’t developed critical thinking skills or the factual data to come to the same conclusion? The results of a new study show that most kids have views that are very skewed toward wanting fast foods.
Conducted at Stanford University, the taste test had kids ages 3 to 5 enrolled in Head Start programs sample various foods. Some were packaged in McDonald’s wrappers some were not. Nearly anything that the kids thought was made by McDonald's – even carrots or apple juice – was deemed tastier by the kids than the non-McDonalds sample.
The study findings come out just about a month after many major food corporations announced that they were backing off on their marketing efforts to kids. Still, researchers comment, the sales pitches of the past have had a huge impact on little consumers.
Here’s how the study worked: A group of 63 kids sampled three McDonald's menu items — hamburgers, chicken nuggets and French fries — and store-bought milk or juice and carrots. Children got two identical samples of each food on a tray, one in McDonald's wrappers or cups and the other in plain, unmarked packaging. The kids were asked if they tasted the same or if one was better. (Some children didn't taste all the foods.)
McDonald's-labeled samples were the clear favorites. French fries were the biggest winner; almost 77% said the labeled fries tasted best while only 13% preferred the others.
Fifty-four percent preferred McDonald's-wrapped carrots versus 23% who liked the plain-wrapped sample.
The only results not statistically clear-cut involved the hamburgers, with 29 kids choosing McDonald's-wrapped burgers and 22 choosing the unmarked ones.
McDonald’s recently announced that it will begin promoting Happy Meals to kids that contain fruit and have lower calories and fat.
An independent critic of the study pointed out that a different comparison should have been made on kids’ brand-name product identification.
A better comparison might have been to gauge kids’ preferences for McDonald’s items vs. Disney products or some other kid-friendly brand, said Pradeep Chintagunta of the University of Chicago. “I don't think you can necessarily hold this against McDonald's,” he said, since the goal of marketing is to build familiarity and sell products, adding that parents play a large role in the food choices kids make at that age.
What do you think? Is this evidence that McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises are exploiting kids? Will a new self-monitored marketing emphasis by fast-food outlets make a difference? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently drew a correlation between drinking excess amounts of soda or sugary drinks and weight gain. Researchers stated an extra soda or sugary drink a day can pile on fifteen extra pounds in a year.