Monthly Archives: October 2015

This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, learn more about headlines linking processed meat to cancer, why sugar’s not toxic, race starts that give some sprinters an unfair advantage, Gary Player’s fitness tips, maintaining swimming speed as you age, how stress makes you sick, and more.

Cooked bacon stripsProcessed meat and cancer – what you need to know.  This week, the World Health Organization classified red meat and processed meats as carcinogens.  Bold headlines put meats in the same category as cigarettes and created plenty of confusion.  As someone who’s been involved in cancer and diet research for over 20 years, the link between red meats, processed meats, and cancer is nothing new.  Unlike many headlines, this is not one study but reflects decades of research.  Cancer Research UK does a great job explaining the WHO classification, and puts this information in perspective, and their article is worth reading.  Here is their summary:

“So if you’re someone who has a very meaty diet, and you’re worried about cancer, you may want to think about cutting down. That doesn’t mean you need to start stocking up on tofu, unless you want to, it just means trying to eat smaller and fewer portions, or choosing chicken or fish instead. As we said above, there’s no strong evidence linking fresh white meats such as chicken, turkey, or fish to any types of cancer.

So our advice on diet stays the same: eat plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables; cut back on red and processed meat, and salt; and limit your alcohol intake. It might sound boring but it’s true: healthy living is all about moderation.”

Why Do People Favor Opinion Over Scientific Evidence? This is something that frustrates me to no end, so understanding what’s going on might make me more tolerant! Keith E. Stanovich (University of Toronto) explains the kind of thinking and brain regions involved when faced with a complex problem: type 1 (least tiring cognitive process) vs type 2 thinking (slower, processes environmental cues).  It can be difficult for many to ignore persuasive opinions, especially for those untrained in science who have trouble objectively evaluating evidence: these people often default to type 1 thinking.  Stanovich argues that we can override a tendency toward type 1 thinking by practicing scientific thinking “to the point of automaticity, eventually making it our go-to option.” (Scientific American)

sugarsIs sugar toxic?   A new study published in the journal Obesity this week received much press proclaiming the extreme dangers of sugar.  In the small study, researchers reduced the sugar in the diets of obese children, and replaced it with starch, which led to improvements in metabolic health in 10 days.  The study provides new evidence related to sugar consumption and metabolic health in obese children, but should be interpreted with caution because it has many methodological flaws,  as outlined here and here (i.e., no control group, study participants lost an average of 2 pounds in just 10 days –  weight loss typically leads to metabolic improvements, so you can’t attribute outcomes to the decreased sugar intake). (Obesity, October 2015).

Many people do consume too much sugar and would be better off cutting down, but extremely restrictive diets aren’t necessary and often backfire.  Also, studies investigating sugar and carbohydrate intake don’t often rigorously evaluate physical activity, which can have a dramatic influence on how the body metabolises carbohydrates and sugars.  (I often think it’s not that we eat too many carbs or too much sugar, it’s that most people don’t move enough!).  Bodies that move are much better equipped to handle sugars: when diabetics exercise, they require less insulin to control their blood sugar; endurance athletes rely on sugar to fuel fast performances.  Here are two good articles on the topic:

Women Run 200mW At Josef Odlozil Memorial In Prague 14June2010 064 Pub DomainRace starts could give some athletes an unfair advantage.  A typical race start is . .

READY . . .BANG.

A new study shows that the Gap between the ‘R of the ready’ and the ‘B of the bang of a gun or horn can be the difference between 1st and 5th in a sprint race. The gap between the initial cue and the starting signal varies depending on the starter, and varies between different heats. Racers in heats that are held longer between the Ready and the Starting cue are at a disadvantage. The researchers advocate for a computerized fixed ready-start interval.  (Frontiers in Psychology, October 28 2015).

fad_diet_shutterstock_81459505 (640x427)The science is clear: most diets don’t work. Julia Beluz (Vox.com) looks at a systematic review and meta-analysis published this week that assessed the effectiveness of low-fat diet vs higher fat-diet on weight loss. Investigators looked at 53 studies and found that typical weight loss  was about 5-7 lbs over 1 year, a loss not clinically significant given the intensity of most interventions, and starting weights of the obese participants. The lead investigator is quoted “people need to look beyond restricting certain macronutrients (like fat or protein or carbohydrates) and instead try to incorporate healthy foods into their diets.”

Although many press reviews of this study boast headlines like Time Magazine’s  “Don’t Cut Fat if You Want to Lose Weight”, given that the higher fat diet had only a slight edge (1-2 lbs) over the lower fat diet, the Vox article offers a better interpretation and significance of the research.  Obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff offers a similar perspective in a series of tweets here.

READ  Thinking of Trying a New Diet?

Gary Player’s 10 fitness tips for tearing it up even after 80 years old.  Exercise physiologist Micheal Joyner looks and comments on seemingly ageless golfer Gary Player’s tips for fitness. (Sports Illustrated)

dumbbellLifting weights twice a week helps the brain. Strength training is a hard sell for older women, who tend to prefer walking as their form of exercise. Although any form of exercise is good, resistance exercise is much better for bone and muscle health, which deteriorates rapidly with aging if they aren’t stimulated. A new study reveals that strength training is also good for the aging brain. Researchers divided 65 to 75-year-old women into these 3 groups prescribed these routines for 1 year:

  1. flexibility and balance training
  2. strength training once a week; and
  3. strength training twice a week.

Brain scans revealed typical aging progression (number and size of white matter lesions) in groups 1 and 2, but the brains of women in group 3 who strength trained twice weekly looked much healthier and didn’t age as much. Their walking gate was also noticeably better than groups 1 and 2.  This study adds to the growing evidence of the benefits strength training for overall physical and mental health. (New York Times)

Dara Torres could still outsprint most competition in her 40's.
Dara Torres could still outsprint most competition in her 40’s.

Theoretical Reasons for Decreased Swimming Velocity with Aging other than Power Decline! As the age of elite swimmers continues to rise, SwimmingScience.net explores reasons for declines in swimming performance with age unrelated to power.  They include the following:

  • decreased training volume/intensity;
  • decreased coaching on biomechanics;
  • decreased training intensity;
  • altered body (aka poor range of motion for performing biomechanics):
  • increased stress;  and
  • decreased sleep.

Mediterranean Diet FoodsThe Mediterranean diet: Is it the food or the lifestyle? A large body of research points to a Mediterranean-style diet as promoting good health. A Mediterranean diet typically focuses on plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil; moderate intake of fish and poultry, and low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets. This eating plan can include many delicious foods, and is not restrictive.  A new movie explores other factors of a Mediterranean lifestyle that might contribute to good health such as savoring food and socializing over meals with friends and family, spending time outdoors getting fresh air, engaging in leisurely physical activity, and having low levels of chronic stress. (New York Times)

Keep in mind that documentaries are telling a story, and can be quite convincing but not necessarily objective: scientific studies are still the best tool we have to determine health benefits of various health behaviors.

Healthy Or Hype Protein PowderHealthy or Hype? Protein Powder

I added another article to my Healthy or Hype? Series this week, investigating protein powder, a supplement that is growing in popularity. I look at the evidence for protein powder health claims, safety, and the latest research investigating how much protein individuals need. You’ll also find an infographic that lists protein amounts in a variety of foods.

How stress makes you sick

The Atlantic profiles a terrific animated video by Sharon Bergquist, Emory University professor of medicine that explains how stress affects our body.

The final message bears repeating, so if you don’t watch the video to the end, here it is:

“Your life will always be filled with stressful situations, but what matters to your brain and entire body is how you respond to that stress. If you can view those situations as challenges you can control and master, rather than as threats that are insurmountable, you will perform better in the short run, and stay healthy in the long run.”

******

  • Sprint start photo by Erik van Leeuwen [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Swimmer Dara Torres By Bryan Allison (This file was derived from:  Dara Torres 2.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Healthy or Hype? Protein Powder

358248The protein powder market is growing. Once primarily the realm of body builders (and sold in big tubs displaying pictures of big muscles), protein powders are now cleverly marketed to various demographics and available at most supermarkets. This wide availability and targeted advertising is prompting many to wonder if they need a protein supplement.

Here’s a look at the evidence.

What Are Protein Powders?

You’ll find quite the variety of protein powders. Generally protein powders are highly processed products: most contain isolated protein from one or more of a variety of sources (e.g., milk, soy, pea, hemp, etc.), and are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals, and often have other ingredients added to help them taste better, mix easily, and keep stable for a long shelf life (thickeners, stabilizers, artificial colors and flavors, fats, sweeteners, carbohydrates). Protein powders can be quite expensive.

The Claims

muscles (640x426)The longstanding and popular claim of protein powders is that they will help you build muscle. But many powders promise other benefits that include losing weight, gaining weight, delivering quick energy, boosting immune system health, fighting aging, helping wound healing, controlling food cravings, and stabilizing blood sugar.

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Because protein powders may be supplementing your diet with additional protein, it’s important to consider how much protein your body needs. The amount of protein that you need depends on your age, weight, and how active you are. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram per day (or 0.36 g per pound) for adults; children need more because they are still growing. This works out to about 45 g/day for a 125-lb (57 kg) adult, 55 g for a 150-lb (68 kg) adult, and 65 g for a 180-lb (82 kg) adult. But research shows this estimate might be on the low side, particularly for athletes and older individuals.

Daily Protein Requirments 28Oct2015The Evidence

Muscle growth and repair is a fascinating and critical area of research. Studies typically use a specific type of protein supplement or powder, which is necessitated by the research design to carefully control the exact substances, dose, and types of amino acids ingested. It is not really as practical or easy to compare with other research if your subjects are eating turkey sandwiches or yogurt to get their protein.

Some of these studies suggest that whey protein, a rapidly digestible protein found in milk and milk products, might have an edge on other protein sources for muscle building and repair. Whey is also a good source of three essential amino acids thought to be important for repairing and building muscle (the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine). But you can find these amino acids in many common foods like milk, tuna, turkey, edamame, or cottage cheese (to name just a few).

Here are some important things to consider when looking at protein intake:

Research has shown that people need about 20 to 30 grams of protein at a time for optimal muscle building and repair processes: ingesting more than that or large amounts of protein at one sitting doesn’t help muscles, as it’s not “saved for later” like carbohydrates or fat are, but is used for energy or stored as fat. So, a protein shake that contains this 20 to 30 g of protein can help this process, but isn’t necessarily better than real food (and isn’t needed in addition to actual food).

Distributing protein intake throughout the day is important. Studies show that most people are getting enough protein in their day, but don’t consume enough in the morning, and eat two to three times the amount they need at dinner. For optimal muscle growth and repair,  three to four meals or snacks a day that contain 20-30 grams of protein is best.  A protein powder might help you increase the protein content of your breakfast (e.g., mix into a smoothie or oatmeal), but again, you can do this with real food.

READ  6 Healthy Morning Meals: The Science Behind Breakfast

No research has shown that protein powders or supplements are better for health than a diet that gets adequate protein from regular foods.

Convenience

It’s hard to argue against the convenience of protein powders over foods. They are portable, with a long shelf life, and often just need to be mixed with a liquid. Some powders can easily transform a low-protein breakfast into a more balanced meal with adequate protein intake. But with a bit of effort, they aren’t entirely necessary, especially if you aren’t traveling and are in your own kitchen. For example, here are two smoothie recipes (that would work well in the morning or post-workout) that have a few simple ingredients and more than 20 g protein without protein powders.

high protein strawberry banana recovery smoothie High Protein Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake Are Protein Supplements Safe?

Protein powders are considered a supplement, which means that in the U.S. they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This lack of regulation could mean questionable safety, purity, and strength and unsubstantiated health claims. Although most products are likely safe, independent laboratory reviews do raise questions.

  • A ConsumerLab investigation found that 31% of the products tested failed the quality tests (didn’t contain what was on the label, and/or contained contaminants).
  • A Consumer Reports review of protein powders and drinks found that most contained contaminants including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury; although most levels were low and not of concern, 3 out of the 15 products tested showed levels that could be harmful if consumed according to product dosage (3 servings/day).
  • A CBC Marketplace investigation shows evidence of “spiking,” a process where manufacturers add inexpensive fillers (often nitrogen-based compounds) that are only detected by specialized testing (simple tests “count” these compounds as protein).
  • Case reports have described liver injury associated with whey protein and creatine supplement use and soy supplement use.

Besides contaminants that you don’t know about, most protein powders come with extra ingredients you probably don’t need, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other special added ingredients.

Can’t You Get Your Protein from Real Foods?

Of course you can! In fact, most people exceed the recommended daily intake for protein from foods alone (on average, Americans are eating about 82 grams of protein a day) . Not only is real food more delicious, in many cases it will be less expensive and more nutritious. Engineered and processed foods like protein powders often lack fiber and other protective nutrients found in whole foods. Here’s an example of how an average-sized endurance athlete (70 kg/154 lbs) can get the protein they need in a day. Note that this food intake is on the low side, as an athlete this size would typically be eating more calories than this, leading to a greater protein content (the table excludes several foods including fruits and vegetables, that contain small amounts of protein).

How to Get Protein from Real FoodWhat Are Good Sources of Protein?

It’s easy to get caught up in looking for the foods with the most protein, or for foods containing specific amino acids, the best protein for muscle building, etc. I can hear the protein powder devotees and manufacturers saying “but these foods might not contain the perfect amino acid balance for muscle building” or similar thoughts (and actually, some of these foods are perfect for muscle building!).

But for optimal health, it’s important to look beyond a food’s amino acid composition and total protein content: the entire food package is important:  consider the important nutrients or protective compounds that you’re getting (or not getting!) along with the protein.

  • MILK & MILK PRODUCTS have the added benefit of calcium
  • MEAT provides iron and zinc
  • FISH and SEAFOOD are also a good source of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats
  • LEGUMES are rich in fiber and other protective phytochemicals
  • TOFU and other traditional soy-based foods like tempeh are a healthful source of protein
  • NUTS contain fiber, healthy fats, and other protective compounds

How Much Protein?

This infographic gives you an idea of how much protein various foods contain. I’ve expanded on non-meat sources since they vary so much, but you can expect about 22 g – 30 g for cooked beef, fish, or poultry.

How Much Protein in Foods Infographic

Bottom Line

  • Your first option for protein should be real foods like beans, legumes, meats, and dairy, because these foods offer other important nutrients that your body needs.
  • Most people are already eating more than the recommended amount of protein through their diet and don’t need protein powders or protein supplements. Even body builders can meet their protein needs with real foods.
  • If you’re after strength, the most potent stimulus for muscle growth is effective strength training, and not ingesting extra protein. Eating more protein than your body needs doesn’t lead to bigger strength gains.
  • Protein powders are not a magic potion for building muscle or recovering quickly from a workout. They are best viewed as a convenient substitute for protein from real foods, not a mainstay of your diet. If you are buying a powder, look for one with a short ingredient list without added vitamins, minerals, and few other additives.

Other Foods in the Healthy or Hype Series . . .

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Butternut Squash Soup with White Beans & Greens

Butternut SquashSweet butternut squash, aromatic onions and garlic, white beans, and dark leafy greens deliver terrific flavours and great nutrition to this nourishing soup. Pair a bowl of this tasty soup with hot crusty bread and you’ll have a wonderful and warming meal.

The nutrient-dense vegetables and beans help you obtain a variety of nutrients and many health-promoting compounds in one bowl.  In fact, some research suggests that nutrient-dense soups such as these can help keep us healthy.

You can substitute other winter squash for the butternut. Acorn, kabocha, or pumpkin would work well. Exact proportions aren’t important, so adjust the ingredients to suit the size of your vegetables and your taste.

READ  Beyond Taste: Can Soups Help Keep Us Healthy?

Ingredients

  • 1 large (or 2 small) butternut squash (about 2 lbs, should yield about 3.5 cups cooked)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 3-4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 4 cups cooked white beans* (or two 19-oz cans, rinsed and drained)
  • 2 cups dark leafy greens, chopped (spinach, Swiss chard, or kale)
  • A generous amount of pepper, and salt (to taste)
  • Additional seasoning (optional) – thyme and sage

*white kidney beans (cannellini beans), navy or Great Northern beans will all work

Directions

1.  Cook squash (you have a few options here, depending on how much time you have – see how to cut and cook squash).  If you have time, roasting the squash deepens the flavour, but any method will work! Once cooked and cooled, scoop the squash out of the skin and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into rough 1-inch chunks and mash 1/3 of the squash.

2.  In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add onion, celery, and garlic and cook for a few minutes.  Stir in cooked squash and 3 cups of broth.

3. Mash about 1/3 of the white beans with a fork or masher, and add all beans to the soup.  Add extra broth (or water) depending on whether you prefer a thinner or thicker soup. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

4. If you’re using kale, chop finely; more tender greens like spinach or chard can be roughly cut.  Add greens to your soup and simmer until greens are wilted (about 5 to 10 minutes).

5. Taste and season with pepper or salt as needed.  Serve hot.

Makes about 10 cups.

Butternut Squash White Bean Soup Text

Nutrition Notes

  • butternut squash_fotoliaThe deep-orange colour of butternut squash is a sign of protective carotenoids (mainly beta-carotene), which can act as an antioxidant, inhibit cancer cell growth, and improve immune response. A number of studies suggest that diets rich in carotenoid-containing foods can help discourage the development and progression of several types of cancer.
  • Onions are rich in protective phytochemicals. The sulfur compounds — which give onions their pungent taste and smell — help lower blood cholesterol and protect arteries.  Onions are one of the richest dietary sources of flavonoids, especially quercetin, which is linked to reduced muscle damage after exercise, and reduced chronic inflammation that can trigger heart disease and some cancers.
  • White BeansWhite beans are a good source of carbohydrates and protein. In addition, beans are rich in iron, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium, zinc.  The fiber and resistant starch in beans are health promoting, and help keep blood sugar levels stable.  Like other beans, white beans are also rich in B vitamins, particularly folic acid, which is being studied extensively for its disease-fighting properties.
  • Dark leafy greens are nutrition powerhouses rich in vitamins A and C, dietary nitrates, folic acid, fiber, magnesium, and carotenoids.

supersoupstightNutrition per cup

  • 160 calories
  • 7 g protein
  • 28 g carbohydrates
  • 3 g fat (<1 g sat),
  • 0 mg cholesterol
  • 9 g fiber
  • 695 mg sodium
  • 575 mg potassium

Check out my cooking tips for this recipe:

More About Soups, and More Soup Recipes:

More Healthy Eating Articles . . .

 

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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about how wind resistance affects performance in cycling and running, Herbalife, Shakeology, new research on muscle cramps, nutritious foods you should stop throwing away, beet juice for high altitude, eating to heal sports injuries, dietary supplement regulation, and more.

Shakeology: Nutrition Scam & Waste of Money.  A look at the nutrition in the shake, and the multi-level marketing scheme. (Fooducate)

Herbalife. Dietitian Diana Chard provides a nice review of Herbalife, summing it up with “Herbalife is a company with a dubious sales model, selling questionable products (I’m being generous here) that’s run by a doctor with a clear lack of integrity. If you want soy nuts, go to the Bulk Barn. Don’t waste your money supporting a despicable company like Herbalife.” (Diana Chard, Bite My Words)

Find more News and Reviews of Popular Diets here.

Can reducing wind resistance improve your performance? Drag is a big deal in some sports. This week Alex Hutchinson looks at how professional cyclists are working on reducing drag without sacrificing power by making small adjustments that lead to considerable gains in performance. (Globe and Mail).  He also goes further in his Runners’ World column wondering how much drag can influence running performance. While not as pronounced as cycling because of reduced speeds, drafting behind other runners has significant benefits, and swift runners (faster than 4:00/km) may see benefits with small adjustments, though this hasn’t been studied.  Other sports with faster speeds (i.e., cross country skiing) would likely see benefits from drag reductions (better tucks on downhills, maybe even hats instead of headbands with ponytails . . .).

Peeled ApplesNutritious foods you should stop throwing away. A lot of food waste happens at home. Beyond better purchasing and food storage, you can reduce your food waste by changing some eating habits.  This article offers good tips for celery leaves, apple peels, broccoli stalks, citrus rind, beet greens, and squash seeds.  (Washington Post)

Social media content may hold keys to important health information.  A new study shows that the language individuals use in their social media posts may have a strong connection to their health. (BMJ Quality & Safety, 2015).

Muscle Cramps and side stitches. . .

Two articles this week looked at muscle cramping – a frustrating experience for many athletes.

Is there a way to prevent muscle cramps during exercise?  Although many believe dehydration and sweating is at the root of most muscle cramps, the most recent studies don’t support this. Most new evidence points to fatigue and overexcited nerve endings as causing muscles to spasm. Strengthening and stretching the affected muscles are the current recommended treatments. (New York Times)

Can some foods prevent muscle cramps? Here is a list of 5 foods showing some evidence at reducing cramping, but the research isn’t solid, and it seems that the fatigue issue noted above in the New York Times article has more support. (Fooducate)

Some people call side stitches cramps, but this is likely a different phenomenon than a cramping calf or hamstring muscle. Clinically known as “exercise related transient abdominal pain,” this condition can be persistent and difficult to treat. Here’s a very thorough and recent review of the research,  and a popular press article based on this research on side stitches here. Side stitches are likely caused by irritation of the parietal peritoneum, a membrane that wraps around the center of your body and abdomen.

Though at this point the research isn’t clear, some recommendations include improving core stability and posture (especially in the thoracic region), integrating core strength into a warmup routine, and running tall for good posture.  (Some evidence suggests that side stitches are worse in cold-weather running races). Also avoiding large volumes of food/drink before might help – sports drinks might be best tolerated since athletes need the calories and carbs for their workout and they are well generally absorbed. If a stitch strikes during an event, deep belly breathing or pushing the affected area might help.

 

Supplements cause more than 23,000 ER visits a year. Although many consider supplements “natural” and “safe,” they are unregulated and many adverse side effects likely go unreported. A study this week in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that an estimated 23,000 emergency department visits in the US yearly are attributed to adverse events related to dietary supplements. (New England Journal of Medicine).

Why aren’t dietary supplements regulated? Here’s a great explanation.

Enter the rockstar scientist, exit trust in science.  This article comments on two scientists whose personal beliefs have led them to disregard evidence-based science (or any study that doesn’t support their view). Sarah Wild provides the example of Tim Noakes, a popular exercise physiologist, who endorses a very low carbohydrate diet (limiting daily carb intake to the equivalent of 1 apple) as the best diet for health, and supporting his views on social media with anecdotes that lack good science. Previously Noakes has been criticized for disregarding science (that doesn’t support his opinions), promoting his high-fat low-carb diet as evidence-based, and stating that a proven link between vaccines and autism have been covered up.

Can what you eat help heal sports injuries? Muscle and tendon injuries are common in athletes, and new studies are uncovering new rehabilitation and diet strategies that can help muscle and tendon heal faster.  Exercise physiologist Asker Jeukendrup summarizes evidence presented at a recent conference for muscle injury and tendon injury. (Asker Jeukendrup, Mysportscience.com)

tomato_public domain_nci-vol-2642-72Increasing lycopene absorption.  Lycopene is an antioxicant compound belonging to carotenoid family that gives tomatoes, papayas, and watermelon a red hue. A large body of research has investigated lycopene for its health-promoting properties. Tomatoes are especially recognized for their lycopene content, and some research  suggests that eating tomato products can decrease inflammation, an important underlying contributor to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.   This article offers tips on increasing your body’s absorption of lycopene. Although many people believe “fresh is always best,” processing and heating actually improve lycopene absorption (think canned tomatoes/tomato sauces). So does eating tomatoes with fat – which makes olive oil and tomatoes a winning combination for more than taste! (American Institute for Cancer Research).

A placebo can make you run faster.  Another study reveals the power of the mind on athletic performance (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times).

New study helps explain why eating disorders are so difficult to treat.  Although many people make poor food choices, anorexia nervosa is a serious illness where maladaptive food choices can lead to starvation. In a new study, researchers from UC San Diego look at the neural mechanisms underlying anorexia nervosa with brain scanning techniques, and show that brain circuits involved in habitual behavior might help explain the destructive choices. When presented with images of food, brain areas of women with anorexia were more involved than in women without anorexia, suggesting that anorexics weren’t weighing the pros and cons of the food, but choosing based on past experience.  The findings emphasize the importance of seeking treatment early. (Nature Neuroscience, October 2015).

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