Category: health

The unfiltered truth about caffeine

Coffee! If you're not shaking, you need another cup.

Photo by Flickr user Timothy Appnel [timaoutloud], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Journalist Murray Carpenter has a new book out next week titled Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. As Scientific American summarizes, “His book examines the caffeine industry, the coffee and other products it churns out, and the complex effects the chemical has on our bodies.” Kirkus Reviews says that “Carpenter blends intriguing historical episodes with interviews, accounts of treks to caffeine-related locations and a multitude of test results.”

For a preview of some of the book’s themes, Maddie Oatman of Mother Jones interviewed Carpenter. Take the following as just one example of the lessons learned in his research:

There’s no standard amount of caffeine in each cup of coffee—even within the same brand.

“Starbucks gives an approximation of 20 milligrams per ounce. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks puts you at about 320 milligrams of caffeine. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks is for many Americans a good daily dose of caffeine.

“One researcher found that a 16-ounce cup had 560 milligrams of caffeine. The researcher, Bruce Goldberger, went to the same Starbucks and ordered the same blend of coffee for six days, and found that the levels varied more than twofold. He’s not the only one to have found those things. Even espresso shots, which are much more regimented, can vary.”

Check our her full post here.

The latest on the dangers of feeding antibiotics to livestock

Tom Philpott’s latest post for Mother Jones addresses a topic that’s high on my list of concerns about most modern meat production, i.e., indiscriminate antibiotic use on factory farms contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As he describes,

Nearly 80 percent of antibiotics consumed in the United States go to livestock farms. Meanwhile, antibiotic-resistant pathogens affecting people are on the rise. Is there a connection here? No need for alarm, insists the National Pork Producers Council. Existing regulations “provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance,” the group insists on its site.  It even enlists the Centers for Disease Control in its effort to show that “animal antibiotic use is safe for everyone,” claiming that the CDC has found “no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals.”

So move along, nothing to see here, right? Not so fast. On Monday, the CDC came out with a new report called “Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013″….. And far from exonerating the meat industry and its voracious appetite for drugs, the report spotlights it as a driver of resistance.

As usual, the post is informative and chock full of great links. Find it here.

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/09/cdc-meat-industry-yes-you-contribute-antibiotic-resistance

An infographic from the CDC report.

Where have all the phytonutrients gone?

Aronia Berries

Aronia berries. Photo by majorbonnet via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an interesting essay by JO Robinson. It examines the loss of nutritional compounds in farmed produce over the years thanks to ongoing selective breeding by humans:

Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers….

Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.

Robinson goes on to carefully examine the case study of corn. It’s a fascinating article and well worth a read; check out the full piece and accompanying infographic here.

Paleolithic movement harks back to “physical culture” of past

Eliza Barclay had a nice post on NPR recently (on the Shots health blog) that examined similarities between a century-old fitness philosophy and the modern paleo movement. She writes,

As Hamilton Stapell, a historian at the State University of New York, New Paltz, found when he went digging into the archives of physical culture, there are striking resemblances to the paleo movement today. And, he argues, this shows that people seem to romanticize a healthier past in the midst of great societal upheaval: the Industrial Revolution, in the case of physical culture; and the digital revolution, in the case of paleo.

“The problem, according to physical culture and paleo, is modern civilization,” Stapell tells Shots. “With so much change, people reject overconsumption of food, alcohol and mainstream medicine, and look for ways to get back to nature. Both movements have a clear sense of going back to the past to fix the present, and a willingness to throw out what’s normal and acceptable to try an alternative.”

It’s an interesting read; find the full piece here.

Edmond Desbonnet (1868-1953) opened the first of his many schools of physical culture in Lille in 1895. Caption and image of color lithograph from Wellcome Library.

Why cantaloupe can’t catch a break

Cantaloupe: Problem Fruit

Photo by News21 – National via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Luke Runyon recently wrote an informative post for Harvest Public Media focused on why the cantaloupe, more than other melon varieties, seems to keep cropping up in news stories about outbreaks of foodborne illness. (I previously posted about one such outbreak.) Runyon explains,

Studies show cantaloupe is more likely to carry bacteria than most other produce, even more than its cousins in the melon family, like honeydew and watermelon. Cantaloupe regularly makes the top five in fresh fruit and vegetables likely to cause an outbreak, according to Doug Powell, professor and food safety expert at Kansas State University. Though, outside of the realm of fresh fruit, produce accounts for a small percentage of foodborne illnesses, at about 13 percent in 2005….

[Colorado State University food microbiologist Larry] Goodridge said from farm to table, there are many places where melons can be subjected to bacterial growth, whether on the rind or in the cantaloupe’s flesh. They’re also dense with water, which make them susceptible to the growth of listeria, salmonella, and E. coli.

“Bacteria love water to grow,” Goodridge said. “Inside the melon, there are a lot of nutrients. The pH of the flesh is neutral and bacteria love that.”

On the production and processing side of things, there are also increased chances of cantaloupe contamination. Unlike in many other fruits, bacteria can still grow inside cantaloupe after it has been picked.

For the full story, including a lot of great links, head here, then check out Runyon’s story about Colorado’s “Sweet Melon Capital,” which was struck by a listeria outbreak in 2011.

Is good fast food the next big thing?

Lyfe Kitchen

Photo by Paul Robert Lloyd via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I’ve finally gotten around to reading some of the recent “Food and Drink Issue” of The New York Times Magazine. I especially enjoyed Mark Bittman’s piece titled “Yes, Healthful Fast Food Is Possible. But Edible?” He writes,

Numbers are tricky to pin down for more healthful options because the fast food industry doesn’t yet have a category for “healthful.” The industry refers to McDonald’s and Burger King as “quick-serve restaurants”; Chipotle is “fast casual”; and restaurants where you order at the counter and the food is brought to you are sometimes called “premium fast casual.” Restaurants from these various sectors often deny these distinctions, but QSR, an industry trade magazine — “Limited-Service, Unlimited Possibilities” — spends a good deal of space dissecting them.

However, after decades of eating the stuff, I have my own. First, there are those places that serve junk, no matter what kind of veneer they present. Subway, Taco Bell (I may be partial to them, but really…), McDonald’s and their ilk make up the Junk Food sector. One step up are places with better ambience and perhaps better ingredients — Shake Shack, Five Guys, Starbucks, Pret a Manger — that also peddle unhealthful food but succeed in making diners feel better about eating it, either because it tastes better, is surrounded by some healthful options, the setting is groovier or they use some organic or sustainable ingredients. This is the Nouveau Junk sector.

Chipotle combines the best aspects of Nouveau Junk to create a new category that we might call Improved Fast Food. At Chipotle, the food is fresher and tastes much better than traditional fast food. The sourcing, production and cooking is generally of a higher level; and the overall experience is more pleasant. The guacamole really is made on premises, and the chicken (however tasteless) is cooked before your eyes. It’s fairly easy to eat vegan there, but those burritos can pack on the calories….

Chipotle no longer stands alone in the Improved Fast Food world: Chop’t, Maoz, Freshii, Zoës Kitchen and several others all have their strong points. And — like Chipotle — they all have their limitations, starting with calories and fat….

Despite its flaws, Improved Fast Food is the transitional step to a new category of fast-food restaurant whose practices should be even closer to sustainable and whose meals should be reasonably healthful and good-tasting and inexpensive. (Maybe not McDonald’s-inexpensive, but under $10.) This new category is, or will be, Good Fast Food, and there are already a few emerging contenders.

The essay is thoughtful and interesting (as usual with Bittman), so I encourage you to check it out here.

Less sodium, longer lives

photo.jpg

Photo by revjdevans via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The New York Times ran an article earlier this week on the public health benefits of reduced sodium intake. Jane Brody’s piece begins this way:

Centuries ago, salt was more valuable than gold, but today the condiment has fallen out of favor. Now we know that its main component, sodium, can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

A new report, prepared by experts from three leading universities, projects that a small, steady reduction of sodium in the American diet could save up to half a million lives over the next decade. And a more rapid reduction could save even more lives — as many as 850,000.

The Finns have already proved this projection. As described last month in The New England Journal of Medicine, since the early 1970s, when Finland launched a national campaign to reduce salt intake, daily consumption has dropped by 3,000 milligrams a day in men and women, with a corresponding decline in death rates from stroke and coronary heart disease of 75 to 80 percent.

It’s a very informative post. For example, think overtly salty foods like pretzels are the worst sodium culprits? Nope, it’s bread! The article includes some nice links as well, so check out the full piece here.