I read plenty of fun and potentially interesting stuff about food and nutrition every day, but some items just stand out. Here are a few from this past week:
- A study from Scotland compared skin complexion to the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate in a 6 week period. It turns out higher intake of fruits and vegetables gave people more skin color and a healthier appearance. Skin color and reflectance were both assessed. Fruit and vegetable intake increased red and yellow tones, and carotenoid content. This makes sense; carotenoids are the pigments in plant foods, like carrots, that give them their color. When you eat these types of foods, the pigments are absorbed and show up in skin tone. So if you want a healthier appearance, load up on fruits and veggies.
- Twenty percent of a person’s oxygen use is for brain function. That’s pretty huge, considering the brain is certainly not 20% of body weight. Another related fact: the brain uses 11% of the body’s available glucose in the morning, but by evening that number is up to 20%. What are we doing in the evening that requires all that glucose?
- High levels of homocysteine in the blood are linked to higher risk for heart disease. Homocysteine metabolism, which lowers blood levels, is dependent on folate, a B-vitamin found primarily in fruits and vegetables. Some people have higher levels of homocysteine because they have a genetic variation. Conventional thinking (WARNING: Nutritionism alert!) goes: give people more folate, and homocysteine will go down and heart disease risk will go down. Not so fast. An analysis of studies of 236,000 subjects shows that having elevated homocysteine didn’t raise heart disease incidence. So folic acid supplements aren’t likely to prevent heart disease.
- Calorie counts on menus aren’t really that helpful to customers. A team of volunteer researchers surveyed NYC restaurants and found that, while most restaurants posted calories, the numbers were frequently confusing and not very useful, especially when calorie ranges were given for different sizes or flavors of an item. Why do we even have calorie counts on menus? Food Police believe calorie counts are going to end the obesity epidemic. Restaurant customers will do calorie math before ordering food, and will only order items that fit their calorie limits. New York City has had mandatory calorie labeling for almost 6 years, but so far New Yorkers really aren’t getting dramatically thinner as a result of all these numbers.
- Ok here’s some really good news: exercise and cafffeine can change your muscle DNA, possibly leading to stronger muscles. I’m all for this. How does it work? The effect appears to be controlled by epigenetics. I’ve heard epigenetics explained like this: your DNA (the hard-wiring) is like a piano. Epigenetics is like the sheet music that tells your body how to play that keyboard: little alterations to the DNA caused by all kinds of factors like your environment or your diet. Exercise and caffeine appear to influence muscle cells in a way that makes them stronger. One catch: this study was done on muscle cells in a lab dish, not in actual humans. But then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that using muscles makes them stronger. So start your day with a jog or brisk walk and a cup of coffee. Your brain won’t be using so much glucose at that hour, so your energy supply can go towards exercise. Follow that up with a pure fruit smoothie for a healthy glow.