Craving Cake? Mind Your Microbes

Craving chocolate cake? It could be your gut.

A recent study in BioEssays, that I read about on Women’s Health, found that the microbes that live in your stomach prefer fat, and others prefer sugar. If you have more of one kind or the other, they could send signals to your immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Those messages can influence you to pick a piece of chocolate cake over a bag of chips. The microbes manipulate you, and certain kinds can cause cancer, obesity, or diabetes. But luckily, the microbiome is influenced by what you eat, and can turn over within 24 hours of changing your diet or taking probiotics. At least now you know that it’s not totally your will power abandoning you, but tons of tiny things in your stomach undermining it.

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Romance Makes Everything Sweeter

cake

If there are two words that are thrown together often, they’re love and sweetness. We call our significant others sweet or sweetie. We gush about how sweet being in love is, and are often literally gifted sweet things, especially on Valentines day. Now, according to a study cited in the March issue of Women’s Health magazine, it turns out that being in love may actually make you perceive things as sweeter. In a study authored by Kai Qin Chan, researchers found that when participants thought about love before consuming chocolate, they rated the treat as sweeter than the same snack eaten right after writing about jealousy. The warm fuzzy feelings you get when thinking about your boyfriend or the chocolate covered strawberries in your fridge active the same part of the brain that anticipates rewards, which may make food taste better. So next time you are indulging, try thinking about love and romance before digging in. It just might make that chocolate cake a little bit more delicious.

Choose Your Own Adventure – Cereal Style

cereal

I am not a big cereal person. Ever since my mom told me I couldn’t eat Fruity Pebbles or Corn Pops because they were too unhealthy for breakfast, I kind of gave up the cereal game. I did develop quite a fondness for granola, but abandoned that too, when I found that most of it was loaded with sugar and waaaaay too many raisins for my taste. And, it left me hungry after a couple hours. The closest I come to cereal for breakfast is plain oatmeal that I mix with peanut butter, shaved coconut, chopped nuts, maybe a little jelly, or really anything I have in my pantry that seems good in combination. I prefer this breakfast because I can choose what, and how much I add in. Now there’s a website that will let you do just that, with your cold cereal options.

It’s called MixMyOwn, and it lets you create your own cereal blend. You can choose from 8 different bases ranging from flakes to grains, or mueseli. There are low sugar and gluten free options – removing two of the most common obstacles to good, healthy cereal. Then after you select the base, you can add as many fruits, nuts and seeds  as you like, choosing anything from macadamia nuts and chia seeds to dried mulberries and blackberries. You can even add quinoa or kamut puffs for an extra crunch. Then if that’s a little too healthy for you, you can choose to throw in some candies. Or if it’s not healthy enough, add some nutrition enhancing powders.

The boxes come in 12oz or 16oz sizes, and are delivered directly to your door. I love the concept because it’s like make your own trail mix. You can choose your own combinations, and avoid too much sugar or an overload of the things you don’t like. And if you’re not feeling creative, you can select their healthy mix of the month sent to you each month or view popular pre-mixes for ideas on what to include. Genius!

The Spotlight’s on Unnecessary Chemicals in Fast Food

subway

The petition against Subway to remove the chemical azodicarbonamide from their breads gave rise to some pretty funny social media jokes (like how now we all know where that unique subway bread scent comes from). And it’s definitely a good thing that this major chain is making a move to go more natural, and less chemical with it’s food products, even if it was under major public pressure. It made me pretty happy I have never been a fan of their sandwiches when I read the coverage. But, the same chemical is found in many products on other fast food restaurants menus, including:

  • McDonald’s: regular bun, bakery style bun, bagel and English muffin, Big Mac bun and sesame seed bun.
  • Burger King: specialty buns, artisan-style bun, sesame seed bun, croissant, English muffin, home-style Caesar croutons and French toast sticks.
  • Wendy’s: bagel, premium toasted bun, sandwich bun and panini bread
  • Arby’s: croissant, French toast sticks, harvest wheat bun, honey wheat bread, marble rye bread, mini bun, onion bread and sesame seed bun
  • Jack in the Box: bakery style bun, jumbo bun, croissant, grilled sourdough bread and regular bun
  • Chick-fil-A: chargrilled chicken sandwich, chicken salad sandwich, and chargrilled chicken club sandwich
  • Dunkin’ Donuts: Danish, Croissant, and Texas Toast.

These other chains have not indicated an intention to remove the ingredient from their products, with the exception of Starbucks, which has already started a transition away from baked goods containing the chemical. So how concerned should you be? While it seems better to avoid it, there is no need to panic if you’ve been eating $5 foot longs for lunch every day. Europe and Australia ban the use of the ingredient, but it is actually FDA approved for use in controlled amounts. It has had bad effects in animal studies. It increases the level of urethane, a carcinogen, in bread when baked, but seems most harmful in its industrial form for workers exposed to it in high levels. The ingredient may not be desirable, but it is not so dangerous that it has been poisoning customers. Yet it is something to think about next time you find yourself looking for a quick bite. Is it really worth taking in all of those unnecessary chemicals from processed foods, or just waiting until you get home to make yourself a sandwich?

Ammunition to Resist that Cookie Binge- It will Protect your Brain

christmas cookie

During the holiday season, it can be tough to find a reason not to have that third cookie. After all, your bathing suit isn’t threatening to reveal that extra jelly roll around your middle, and it’s all part of the seasonal fun, right? Well, recent research might just give you a more convincing way to turn down all of the sweets sitting around the house in December, and the added bonus is maintaining your figure come January. Australian research found that rats who were fed a diet high in sugar and fat exhibited symptoms of memory impairment when compared with a group fed a healthy diet. The sugar had caused swelling in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus – where memories are maintained. This inflammation kept it from functioning (read: remembering things) at its typical level. And the swelling didn’t automatically go down when the rats cut it out with the cookies. It took about three weeks for the brain activity to return to normal. Just remember that fact when you’re reaching for another slice of cheesecake this Christmas.

Eat and Drink These Things to Stay Productive

coffee

It’s Monday, and it’s Veteran’s Day. Those of us who are stuck in the office instead of enjoying a day off to celebrate our nation’s heroes, may be experiencing a little drain on motivation from friends who are not at work today. You may be searching for some extra incentive to make it through the day. Luckily, The Huffington Post has a list of the food and drinks that can make you more productive while you’re at work. They can help keep your mind sharp, and give you a natural boost without needing a 5-hour energy. So, when you’re feeling sleepy or a little stalled, reach for one of these power foods and beverages:

  • Dark Chocolate: The flavanols found in cocoa will increase bloodflow to the brain, keeping you feeling energetic
  • Citrus Fruit: Even just the scent of citrus can give you a boost, but consuming the Vitamin C will give added alertness
  • Water: Dehydration zaps your focus and short-term memory. Keep your brain running like a well-oiled machine with lots of H2O.
  • Coffee or Tea: Most of us know this already, but having a cup of caffeine can improve your cognitive focus and concentration.

They just might make the difference between hitting a wall, and keeping on trucking. Now, go mark some things off your afternoon to-do list.

Helping Sort Out What to Eat and How to Eat it

omnivore's dilemmaI just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (long after it came out), and it really opened my eyes about the industrial food industry, and farm policy in the United States. It’s made me think about where my food comes from, how it is produced, and why it is produced that way. While I’ve read many animal ethics and food philosophy books in the past, I would recommend this one to anyone. It’s not over the top with the gross-factor, but still exposes the icky side of industrial meat, and dangerous environmental impacts of industrial agriculture without making you want to give up beef and chicken forever. It takes a look at organic food’s shortcomings and achievements, and examines the way humans and animals evolved to eat/live versus they way they actually eat/live through the lens of industrial production, small farm production, and hunter/gatherer food sourcing.

It can be a slow-read at certain points, but I am happy I forged through until the end. Am I now an expert on the best way to eat? No, but I feel more equipped with the tools I need to make food choices that fit the way I want to eat – more nutritious, less cruel, and more local. I think that if everyone read this book, we’d be one big step closer to changing the bad stuff in our food production, and moving towards a more humane and healthier way of life. Go pick it up!