Posts about food

Go Slow with Genetically Modified Food

My thoughts on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), specifically GM foods, basically boil down to:

  • messing with genes could create problems
  • we tend to (and especially those seeking to gain an advantage tend to – even if “we” overall wouldn’t the people in the position to take aggressive measures do) ignore risks until the problems are created (often huge costs at that point)
  • I think we should reduce risk and therefore make it hard to justify using GMO techniques
  • I agree occasionally we should do so, like it seems with oranges and bananas.
  • I agree the practice can be explained in a way that makes it seem like there is no (or nearly no) risk, I don’t trust we will always refrain from stepping into an area where there is a very bad result

Basically I would suggest being very cautious with GMO. I like science and technology but I think we often implement things poorly. I think we are not being cautious enough now, and should reduce the use of GMO to critical needs to society (patents on the practices need to be carefully studied and perhaps not permitted – the whole patent system is so broken now that it should be questioned at every turn).

Antibiotic misuse and massive overuse is an obvious example. We have doctors practicing completely unjustified misuse of antibiotics and harming society and we have factory farms massively overusing antibiotics causing society harm.

The way we casually use drugs is another example of our failure to sensibly manage risks, in my opinion. This of course is greatly pushed by those making money on getting us to use more drugs – drug companies and doctors paid by those companies. The right drugs are wonderful. But powerful drugs almost always have powerful side effects (at least in a significant number of people) and those risks are multiplied the more we take (due to interactions, weakness created by one being overwhelmed by the next etc.). We should be much more cautious but again we show evidence of failing to act cautiously which adds to my concern for using GMO.

I love antibiotics, but the way we are using them is endangering millions of lives (that is a bad thing). I don’t trust us to use science wisely and safely. We need to more consciously put barriers in place to prevent us creating massively problems.

Related: Research on Wheat RustThe AvocadoOverfishing, another example of us failing to effectively cope with systemic consequences

Webcast: Examining the Scientific Basis Around Exercise and Diet Claims

Tim Noakes is the Director of UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Science, University of Cape Town and Professor, Discovery Health Chair of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Cape Town.

Tim examines some questions on science and exercise and health in the webcast. He shows the problem with drinking too much during exercise and the correlation of hospital admissions correlated to the sport drinks marketing and changing of the official drinking guidelines. He also discusses the outdated ideas related to lactic acid and muscles.

He is currently studying the science of food and human health and is skeptical of low fat health claims: “No evidence that dietary fat is related to heath disease.” He is certainly more knowledgable than I but I would still be cautious of completely accepting that premise. It does seem to me there is lots of evidence that claims of causation between eating a high fat diet and heart disease were too strong (many other factors were critical – such as weight, exercise, genetics, unsaturated fat v. saturated fat…).

Tim Noaks: “50% of what we teach is wrong; the problem is we don’t know which 50% it is. Our job as educated people is to spend our lifetime trying to figure out which 50% is which. Until it is disproven accept that for which the evidence appears solid and logical and is free of covert or overt conflicts of interest, because unfortunately industry is driving what you believe in many many things. But don’t ever dismis lightly that for which there is credible evidence… and there is such clear evidence the diets we are eating are horrendous.”

As I have said before, scientific literacy is critical to allow us to make those judgements about what is credible evidence and what are outright lies, foolish claims or highly suspicious claims tainted by conflicts of interest.

Related: Can You Effectively Burn Calories by Drinking Cold Water?Static Stretching Decreases Muscle StrengthLack of Physical Activity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a YearScience Continues to Explore Causes of Weight GainStudy Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as Smoking

Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying

For years the bee colony collapse disorder has been showing the difficulty of the scientific inquiry process. And that difficulty often becomes more difficult if interests with lots of money at stake want to block certain conclusions.

One-Third of U.S. Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter, Threatening Food Supply

Multiple factors — pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition — are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.

Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what’s considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006, when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers.

Most losses reported in the latest survey, however, don’t actually fit the CCD profile. And though CCD is largely undocumented in western Europe, honeybee losses there have also been dramatic. In fact, CCD seems to be declining, even as total losses mount. The honeybees are simply dying.

“Even if CCD went away, we’d still have tremendous losses,” said entomologist Diana Cox-Foster at Pennsylvania State University. “CCD losses are like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The system has many other issues.”

Continue reading

The Wonderful Coconut

One of the treats of living in a tropical climate is drinking coconut water. I love drinking the water from fresh coconuts. This video provides insight into the many uses of all parts of the coconut tree.

The Truth About Coconut Water by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD – WebMD

[coconut water] has fewer calories, less sodium, and more potassium than a sports drink. Ounce per ounce, most unflavored coconut water contains 5.45 calories, 1.3 grams sugar, 61 milligrams (mg) of potassium, and 5.45 mg of sodium compared to Gatorade, which has 6.25 calories, 1.75 grams of sugar, 3.75 mg of potassium, and 13.75 mg of sodium.

There are some health benefits to consuming coconut water. It’s an all-natural way to hydrate, reduce sodium, and add potassium to diets. Most Americans don’t get enough potassium in their diets because they don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, or dairy, so coconut water can help fill in the nutritional gaps.

Beyond that, the scientific literature does not support the hype that it will help with a laundry list of diseases. “There is a lot of hype about coconut water, yet the research is just not there to support many of the claims and much more research is needed,” says Cheung.

I have tried bottled coconut water which was pitiful. I don’t know if that was just a bad type and good options exist or the fresh stuff is just much much better. But I’ll stick to fresh coconut water as long as I can.

Related: Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?Can You Effectively Burn Calories by Drinking Cold Water?How do Plants Grow Into the Sunlight?Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Can You Effectively Burn Calories by Drinking Cold Water?

Neil deGrasse Tyson stated on Twitter:

Wanna lose 1200 Calories a month? Drink a liter of ice water a day. You burn the energy just raising the water to body temp.

What if your body is trying to cool down? I would imagine we have to use energy to cool off (though I am no expert on this)? So if you drink cold water and your body has less need to cool off, couldn’t this actually end up “saving” your body needing to burn calories – and thus cause yourself to gain weight?

This model would be similar to a server room that was cooled with air conditioning and cold winter air to cool off the servers. If there was less cold air used then more electricity would be used running the air conditioner to cool down the servers. I don’t know if it is a decent analogy though – maybe that isn’t an usable model for how we cool off.

I know we cool off partially by pushing water out onto the exterior of our skin to have it evaporate and cool us off. I would think that takes energy to do.

I do get that it takes energy to raise the temperature of the water you consume. It does make sense to me that if you were cold (like say I was during the winter living in the house I grew up in) you would use energy raising the temperature of the water.

What the overall energy situation is if your body needs to cool down seems questionable to me. Please let me know your thoughts. In any event his statement is accurate. It is just that the implication may lead people astray; that you can consume 1,200 Calories extra to balance the 1,200 Calories drinking cold water uses (or loss weight by having reduced your excess Calories by 1,200 if you eat exactly the same things you would without the cold water).

Related: Why is it Colder at Higher Elevations?Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?Why Does Hair Turn Grey as We Age?How Corn Syrup Might Be Making Us FatWhy Wasn’t the Earth Covered in Ice 4 Billion Years Ago (When the Sun was Dimmer)

Quick Webcast With a Few Interesting Science Facts

Interesting facts: I didn’t know that we require 13 minerals or that alcoholic beverages contain amounts of all the minerals we need. An amazing fact: the average person walks the equivalent of 3 times around the earth in a lifetime.

The minerals we need (and the recommended daily amount)

Calcium – 1,200 mg
Magnesium – 320 mg
Phosphorus – 700 mg
Potassium – 4.7 g
Sodium – ?
Chloride?

trace amounts needed
Cobalt (as Vitamin B12) – 2.4 mcg
Copper – 1,156 mcg
Iodine – 150 mcg
Iron – 8 mg
Manganese – 1.8 mg
Niacin – 14 mg
Riboflavin – 1.1 mg
Selenium – 55 mcg
Thiamin – 1.1 mg
Zinc – 8 mg
Chromium?, Molybdenum? Fluoride?

Frankly, in my quick looks around the internet I am not sure what they base the claim we need only 13 minerals on. It seems we need trace amounts of more minerals – did they just ignore those not in alcohol?

I couldn’t find good sources confirming just what minerals are needed. Many list some minerals but don’t list others. I am not really sure what the answer is. I am glad I seem to somehow get whatever I need just by eating somewhat healthfully. It is pretty cool we get these things that way. Of course if we didn’t our ancestors wouldn’t have survived to create descendants that finally became us – as they had a much harder time than me (who can just go the restaurant and grocery store and get all sorts of wonderful food).

Related: the atoms that make up the human body, were created in the crucible of starsScience Explained: Cool Video of ATP Synthase, Which Provides Usable Energy to UsVideo of Young Richard Feynman Talking About Scientific ThinkingScientific Illiteracy Leads to Failure to Vaccinate Which Leads to Death

How Corn Syrup Might Be Making Us Fat

How Corn Syrup Might Be Making Us Hungry–and Fat by Katherine Harmon

…Glucose lowered the activity of the hypothalamus but fructose actually prompted a small spike to this area. As might be expected from these results, the glucose drink alone increased the feelings of fullness reported by volunteers, which indicates that they would be less likely to consume more calories after having something sweetened with glucose than something sweetened with more fructose.

Fructose and glucose look similar molecularly, but fructose is metabolized differently by the body and prompts the body to secrete less insulin than does glucose (insulin plays a role in telling the body to feel full and in dulling the reward the body gets from food). Fructose also fails to reduce the amount of circulating ghrelin (a hunger-signaling hormone) as much as glucose does. (Animal studies have shown that fructose can, indeed, cross the blood-brain barrier and be metabolized in the hypothalamus.) Previous studies have shown that this effect was pronounced in animal models…

Most of the science indicates calories consumed is by far the dominant factor in weight gain. Different foods with the same calories can affect how hungry you feel. Thus the biggest factor in reducing weight gain seems to be reducing calories and one way to help is to eat food that leaves you feeling full and avoid foods that don’t.

The science is not completely clear though on whether certain diets can have a significant affect above and beyond calorie levels. I am skeptical of such claims, however. There are concerns beyond calories for healthy eating – getting a well balanced diet is important.

Healthy physical activity is also important. Burning off calories with exercise allows more consumption without weight gain. And exercise is important for health not just to avoid gaining weight.

Related: Researchers Find High-Fructose Corn Syrup Results in More Weight GainDoes Drinking Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?Waste from Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control WeightModeling Weight Loss Over the Long TermHow Caffeine Affects Your Body

Cancer Risks From Our Food

comic showing the dangers of drawing false conclusion based on statistical significance

Randall Munroe illustrates RA Fisher’s point that you must think to draw reasonable conclusions from data. Click the image to see the full xkcd comic.

Pretty much everything you eat is associated with cancer. Don’t worry about it. by Sarah Kliff

The changes in cancer risk were all over the map: 39 percent found an increased risk, 33 percent found a decreased risk and 23 percent showed no clear evidence either way.

The vast majority of those studies, Schoenfeld and Ioannidis found, showed really weak associations between the ingredient at hand and cancer risk. A full 80 percent of the studies had shown statistical relationships that were “weak or nominally significant,” as measured by the study’s P-values. Seventy-five percent of the studies purporting to show a higher cancer risk fell into this category, as did 76 percent of those showing a lower cancer risk.

Sadly the evidence is often not very compelling but creates uncertainly in the public. Poorly communicated results and scientific illiteracy (both from publishers and the public) leads to more confusion than is necessary. Even with well done studies, good communication and a scientifically literate population nutrition and human health conclusion are more often questionable than they are clear.

Related: Researchers Find Switch That Allows Cancer Cells to SpreadGlobal Cancer Deaths to Double by 2030Physical Inactivity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a Year

How Caffeine Affects Your Body

From the video by Alex Dainis: Caffeine prevents adenosine from slowing down your nervous system, by binding to the same receptors adenosine would. Caffeine also stimulates the production of adrenaline. And it increases the amount of dopamine present. The average half life of caffeine in the human body is about 6 hours.

Related: Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?Mental Pick-Me-Ups: The Coming BoomRitalin Doesn’t Show Long Term Effectiveness for ADHD

I have been curious about the caffeine content of various drinks and writing this post is a good enough reason to actually look it up.

  • expresso (2oz) 100 mg (varies – 60 mg to 180 mg)
  • coffee (8oz) 100 mg – this can vary quite a bit, 50 to over 100 mg is common. Brewed coffee has more caffeine 100-200 mg.
  • Red Bull (8.2 oz) 80 mg
  • tea (8oz) 20 to 80 mg (depending on strength and type, can also be higher, green tea is on the lower end)
  • Mountain Dew (12 oz) 54 mg (diet has 54 mg also)
  • Diet Coke 46 mg (regular Coke 34mg)
  • Pepsi 38 mg, Diet Pepsi 36 mg

Sprite, 7Up and some root beers have no caffeine.
Chocolate can also be a significant source of caffeine – dark chocolate can have over 80 mg per 100 g (approximately 4 ounces).

Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?

Most of us want medical studies to provide clearer (more certain, more specific, more universal) indications than they actually provide. The conclusion of medical studies are often very clouded. Each person has a myriad of complex factors effecting how nutrition, activity and medication will affect us. Certain general conclusion can be drawn but it is very complex and difficult to universally state without various equivocations.

Advice For Diet Soda Lovers: Skip The Chips

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that diet soda drinkers who ate a so-called “prudent” diet, rich in fruit, fish, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and milk, were significantly less likely to develop metabolic syndrome over 20 years than those who ate a “Western diet” heavy in fried foods, meats and sugars.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by excess abdominal fat, elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol. About 32 percent of the participants in the “Western diet” cluster developed the condition.

The question of whether diet soda truly helps people manage their weight turns out to be a very tough one to answer.

Conflicting findings abound. A large study published in the New England Journal of Medcine last year found that diet soda had no effect on weight. But another one, published in 2008, found that drinking more than three diet drinks a day led to weight gain.

I would like to know, with much greater certainty what nutritional and food related advice I need to consider when making my choices. To a significant degree I think there is going to be quite a bit of uncertainty (much more than we want) for at least the next 30 years (projecting far out into the future with any accuracy seems very difficult to me.

I am skeptical of purely correlational results. You can try to have similar subsets of people but that is actually hard and if you allow for similar groups and then let the choose something (like diet sodas or not) the chance of that actually being a significant choice that results in many other decisions being different between the subgroups seems a big risk (that makes accepting the correlation as evidence as risky). When you have a scientific explanation it makes the evidence much more compelling, but it is also easy to be taken in by explanations meant to fit the results of a study.

I can believe diet soda can do some bad things to your health. I believe if you are trying to reduce your weight by reducing calories drinking diet soda in place of sugary soda is a big help. I can believe drinking water instead of diet soda would be even better. I want caffeine and don’t like coffee. I have cut down drinking Mountain Dew to less than 2 a week. I have substituted diet soda over the last year. I am not sure that is the right choice, but it is the one I have made so far.

Related: Science Continues to Explore Causes of Weight GainStudy Shows Weight Loss From Calorie Reduction Not Low Fat or Low CarbAnother Paper Questions Scientific Paper AccuracyContradictory Medical Studies

Capuchin Monkeys Don’t Like Being Paid Less

Quite a fun video. Frans de Waal shows us a task he gave Capuchin monkeys to see if they responded to a sense of fairness. See the rest of the talk.

Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior in the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia. His research centers on primate social behavior, including conflict resolution, cooperation, inequity aversion, and food-sharing.

Related: Rats Show Empathy-driven BehaviorCapuchin Monkeys Using Stone ToolsDolphin Delivers Deviously for Rewardsoverpaid executives harm companiesCrow Using a Sequence of Three Tools