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Posts tagged "Food"


Did Neanderthals Eat Plants? The Proof May Be In The Poop

"Neanderthals clubbed their way to the top of an ancient food chain, slaying caribou and mammoths. But a peek inside their prehistoric poop reveals that the meat-loving early humans may have also enjoyed some salad on the side.

Researchers excavating a site in southern Spain where Neanderthals lived 50,000 years ago were initially looking for remnants of food in fireplaces. Then they stumbled upon tiny bits of poop — which turned out to be the oldest fecal matter from a human relation ever discovered.”

Learn more from NPR.

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Cider May Be Healthier Than Clear Apple Juice

Clear apple juice may be prettier, but cloudy apple juice is probably better for your health. A new study shows that cloudy juice can contain more than five times as much of a health-linked antioxidant as clear juice has.

The color of most apples, other fruits, and vegetables comes from a family of antioxidants called polyphenols. Studies have associated these chemicals with health benefits ranging from a reduced risk of cancer to improved brain functions.

Generally, the stronger the color of the fruit is, the higher the concentration of polyphenols will be. The skin and seeds of an apple are particularly high in these compounds, and the process of making clear apple juice removes this solid matter.

"It is better if you eat whole apples than juices. But for juices, it’s better if you drink this cloudy juice," says the new study’s lead author Jan Oszmianski, who studies fruit and vegetable processing at the Agricultural University of Wroclaw in Poland.

While scientists had widely assumed that cloudy juice (cider) ought to be more healthful, Oszmianski’s study provides a more accurate picture of the difference in antioxidant activity between these two juice types. That’s because the most common way to measure this activity requires a transparent sample. In other words, it only works well with clear juice.

Oszmianski and his colleagues employed a technique called electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), which can measure the activity of antioxidants in both cloudy and clear juice. The method even accounts for polyphenols bound to solid bits of pulp, which include an especially potent class of polyphenols called procyanidins.

"This is the first time that I’ve seen [anyone] use [EPR] to measure antioxidant activity in plant extracts," says Joshua Lambert, assistant professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., who was not involved in the study.

Oszmianski’s team found that procyanidins were between 2.6 and 5.3 times as abundant in cloudy juice as in clear, depending on the variety of apple used. However, amounts of other antioxidants were more nearly equal between the two kinds of juice. Overall, the cloudy juice was 1.5 to 1.8 times as effective an antioxidant as the clear juice. Oszmianski and his colleagues report their results in an upcoming Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

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Why Do We Bother to Eat Bitter?

Through exploration of the ancestral context of taste, scientists can better understand how modern humans use the sense of taste to make decisions and survive. Evolution has shaped our sense of taste to guide us to seek the food we need to survive, while steering clear of foods harmful to us. It is understandable that early humans who avoided spoiled meat and poisonous berries were able to pass down their genes, giving modern humans the ability to avoid them too. But what explains the countless humans who voluntarily consume, and even enjoy, some bitter foods? Why do we eat bitter greens? Brussels sprouts? Hoppy beers? Why do we tolerate some bitter flavors and not others? Read more…

Photo credit: Melissa McClellan/Flickr

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Obama is no environmentalist. He’s helped increase fracking, expanded off-shore oil drilling, continues to stealthily approve parts the Keystone XL Pipeline, weakened endangered species protection, and will sign off on Alaska’s horrifying Pebble Mine gold mine.


Fresh or Frozen - which is more nutritious? Most are under the assumption that fresh is better, but that may not always be the case! Find out why:

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5 Things About Fruits & Veggies

At our 2013 public lecture Edible Education, Alice Waters, David Binkle, and Wendy Slusser discussed the challenges of eating healthfully in a “fast food” culture and how they are working to improve health and nutrition in schools and on college campuses. When it comes to healthful eating, what could be better than eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables? Here are 5 fun facts you might not know about fruits and veggies…


6 Things About Eating Insects

Chef Alex Atala is famous for scouring the Amazon for interesting new ingredients. At his Science & Food lecture, Primitive X Modern, Chef Atala shared some of his innovative creations with everyone in the audience. One ingredient in particular really challenged our perception of what we consider to be edible: Amazonian ants!

While we don’t expect insects to show up in American grocery stores any time soon, it is estimated that at least 2 billion people worldwide already eats insects on a regular basis. Here are 6 things you might not know about eating insects…

Photo courtesy of Matthew Kang/Eater


An on-off switch for eating

By triggering or silencing certain brain cells, scientists can get mice to feed regardless of hunger

By hijacking connections between neurons deep within the brain, scientists forced full mice to keep eating and hungry mice to shun food. By identifying precise groups of cells that cause eating and others that curb it, the results begin to clarify the intricate web of checks and balances in the brain that control feeding.

“This is a really important missing piece of the puzzle,” says neuroscientist Seth Blackshaw of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “These are cell types that weren’t even predicted to exist.” A deeper understanding of how the brain orchestrates eating behavior could lead to better treatments for disorders such as anorexia and obesity, he says.

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The scientist who decided what you’ll eat and whether you’ll like it

Rose Marie Pangborn has almost certainly decided what you’re going to eat today. Possibly it’ll be a soda. Maybe it will be potato chips. It could be some candy. Whatever it was, her work made it possible to understand what you’ll taste, and how much you’ll like it.

Rose Marie Valdes Pangborn was born in 1932, when food science was mostly concerned with not poisoning people. She wound her way through New Mexico State University and Iowa State University before finally teaching at UC Davis - where her academic career really took off. She directed hundreds of grad students, taught one of the university’s most work-intensive classes to many hundred more undergraduates, and published over 180 papers. The subject of all that teaching and research? You’re probably nibbling on it right now. Pangborn was one of the first sensory researchers, to precisely measure a person’s responses to the food they eat.

The idea of such researchers conjures up images of tedious and cynical focus groups for a new line of soups marketed as “home style,” or the carefully edited taste tests shown in television commercials. Although Pangborn’s kind of research is worth a lot of money to companies, Pangborn’s interest was scholarly. Despite the bad press, the subject needs scholarly analysis. No one quibbles with the idea that it’s academically important to measure when a person first consciously or unconsciously responds to light, to pain, or to sound. It should be the same to measure a person’s first response to salt, or to sweet. If anything, as Pangborn discovered, the measuring of taste is a lot more complicated than the perception of light or sound.

One of the common themes running through Pangborn’s many papers is how taste is not an absolute, but depends on many different factors. She measured how body weight related to a person’s experience of milk fats. She tested how color affects a person’s experience of sweets - people tend to prefer blue and hate yellow-green. Most of all she related how a person’s regular diet caused them to react to new foods. Did someone who habitually tasted wine perceive a new kind of wine as more or less astringent than an infrequent drinker? How did someone who was accustomed to eating fats and sweets react to lemonade and milk fat compared to someone who rarely ate them? The data she got showed how complicated biochemistry and perception can be. In one paper she describes testing how regular sodium intake affects a person’s experience of salt. When salt was added to water, high-intake people recognized it first. In tomato juice, low-intake people noticed it first. Low-intake people added less salt to their food, but didn’t generally recognize when more was added. She concluded that showing that a person noticed, or liked, salt in one solution did not guarantee a better response when adding salt across the board. (She added, a little bit testily, that they needed to develop a better process to verify the salt intake of their subjects.)

Sadly, Pangborn died in 1990, but she left behind a science - sensory analysis - that she helped shape throughout its infancy. The Association for Chemoreception Sciences, which she co-founded, and the Sensory Reception Scholarship Fund, which she established, both continue to shape the science of sensory perception. Although few people will read their research, we all undoubtedly have tasted it. 


UCSF’s Dr. Robert Lustig was recently on the Colbert Report to debunk some common nutrition dogma: A calorie is a calorie (and it doesn’t matter if those calories come from carrots or cheesecake). 

Here are just four examples that refute this idea (from Dr. Lustig’s article in the Huffington Post):

  • Fiber. You eat 160 calories in almonds, but you absorb only 130. The fiber in the almonds delays absorption of calories into the bloodstream, delivering those calories to the bacteria in your intestine, which chew them up. Because a calorie is not a calorie.
  • Protein. When it comes to food, you have to put energy in to get energy out. You have to put twice as much energy in to metabolize protein as you do carbohydrate; this is called the thermic effect of food. So protein wastes more energy in its processing. Plus protein reduces hunger better than carbohydrate. Because a calorie is not a calorie.
  • Fat. All fats release nine calories per gram when burned. But omega-3 fats are heart-healthy and will save your life, while trans fats clog your arteries, leading to a heart attack. Because a calorie is not a calorie.
  • Sugar. This is the “big kahuna” of the “big lie.” Sugar is not one chemical. It’s two. Glucose is the energy of life. Every cell in every organism on the planet can burn glucose for energy. Glucose is mildly sweet, but not very interesting (think molasses). Fructose is an entirely different animal. Fructose is very sweet, the molecule we seek. Both burn at four calories per gram. If fructose were just like glucose, then sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) would be just like starch. But fructose is not glucose. Because a calorie is not a calorie.

For Peat’s Sake - Peat is not a renewable resource. What does that mean for my favorite Scotch whiskies?

The peat that the Scotch industry burns by the ton to make peated whiskies isn’t renewable, but it’s not quite a fossil fuel either. A sort of proto-coal, peat is a mush of partially decomposed plant matter that lies on the surface of the Earth and accumulates imperceptibly, by about a millimeter a year. It only forms in places where a handful of climatic conditions are in balance. Soil chemistry, density of flora, precipitation, temperature, humidity, and average wind speed must be just so, yielding a habitat with more rainfall than evaporation can subsequently carry away. When all these variables line up, plants never fully decompose; an initial, brief round of decay produces a bath of weak acids that prevents any further decomposition. Over centuries, mummified plants pile up and get compressed into a carbon-rich gunk that resembles crumbly, wet Oreo cookies. Give it a few more million years, and this peat turns into coal.

“There’s some peat that’s 20,000 years old,” says Sandy Neuzil, a peat specialist with the United States Geological Survey. “But most of it’s between 4,000 and 8,000 years.”

In peat-rich regions, which are located mostly in Northern Europe, Canada, and Russia, people have long burned the gunk for heating and cooking. For most of human history, consumption was at the household level and without serious consequences. However, in at least one place, Ireland’s Blasket Islands, the peat resource was totally exhausted. (For this reason, the islands have been uninhabited since 1953.) In the past 150 years, peat consumption ticked up as it became a primary fuel in some power plants, though most of these plants are closing or reducing the amount of peat they burn.

Every year, about 25 million tons of peat are harvested and burned, by individuals, power utilities, and companies of various kinds (including, but not limited to, distilleries). Another 14 million tons are used by farmers, landscapers, and gardeners to amend deficient soil. Peat keeps golf courses looking sharp. As massive as these numbers are, they amount to about 0.1 percent of the global peat resource. An additional 10 percent of the global resource has been lost to real-estate development and agriculture.

Thankfully, the majority of the Earth’s peatlands remain undisturbed. Jean-Yves Daigle, outgoing chair of the Canadian National Committee of the International Peat Society, estimates that there are around 1.5 million square miles of peatland on Earth. This figure only scratches the surface: Square miles measure surface area, but peat deposits can be up to 60 feet deep. (Neuzil reported this anecdotal figure in a stage whisper, as if it were a shamefully tasty rumor.) So, Daigle says, call that between 5 trillion and 6 trillion tons. He reckons that we are using about 0.05 percent of this resource every year. If the trend holds, and if the incidence of peatland fires—such as one that burned uncontrollably in Minnesota last year—doesn’t increase dramatically, that works out to another 2,000 years of Scotch.

However, Neuzil told me that if peat were used only to make Scotch, its most noble purpose (my words, not hers), the supply would never run out. Accumulation would keep pace with consumption, and from now until the end of time there would be Scotch on Earth.

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Iridescence With My Tea

As a cup of tea was steeping one morning in my sun-filled kitchen, I noticed the colorful patterns shown here.

Sunlight scattered through the steamy mist just above the surface of the hot tea, produced an iridescent mix. The similarly sized lipids (perhaps 0.01 mm in diameter) on the surface of the tea deflect sunlight in such a way to produce the pastel colors.

Color intensity results from minuscule variations in the size of the droplets. Photo taken on April 1, 2012. — Photographer: Hans Juergen Heyen // Summary Authors: Hans Juergen Heyen; Jim Foster

It’s fun to know we can science even when doing something as simple as drinking tea. Strangely satisfying :)


Is that really red snapper on your plate?

A recent survey done by Oceana says that fish found at the market are not always correctly labeled.  So, scientists are working on a genetic sequence technique called fish barcoding that can positively identify fish species.

Marine biologist Ron Burton of the UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography says it’s important for the public to make sure they’re getting what they think they’re getting:

“In a market like red snapper, we can be seeing red snapper at many fish markets and that would lead somebody to believe that the fish is very common, when in fact what’s being sold is a diversity of species - some of which are common, some of which aren’t. And so it can lead to a false impression about the abundance of species to the public.”

Read more on Science Today

The Secret to Olive Oil’s Anti-Alzheimer’s Powers:

People living in the Mediterranean have a much lower risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease than those of us stuck in other parts of the world. Researchers looking for an explanation nailed down an association between extra virgin olive oil and low rates of the disease. They attributed olive oil’s disease-fighting power to high amounts of monounsaturated fats. But now, however, new research shows that a natural substance found in olive oil called oleocanthal is the real hero, writes.

Past studies have identified oleocanthal as the likely candidate behind olive oil’s protective effects, but this study helped fill in the blanks of how specifically it bestows that advantage. In trials with mice, oleocanthal protected nerve cells from the kind of damage that occurs from Alzheimer’s disease. It decreased the accumulation of beta-amyloids—the amino acid–based plaques that scientists believe cause Alzheimer’s—in the brain and boosted production of the proteins and enzymes that researchers think play roles in removing those same plaques. 

In their paper, published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, the researchers write:

This study provides conclusive evidence for the role of oleocanthal on Aβ degradation as shown by the up-regulation of Aβ degrading enzymes IDE and possibly NEP. Furthermore, our results show that extra-virgin olive oil-derived oleocanthal associated with the consumption of Mediterranean diet has the potential to reduce the risk of AD or related neurodegenerative dementias.

As if deliciousness and protection against Alzheimer’s were not enough to recommend it, other researchers have found that extra virgin olive oil helps to clarify thinking and improve memory.