Posts Tagged ‘health’

What Sugar Actually Does To Your Brain And Body

Source: Adam Dachis on Lifehacker

We consume an enormous amount of sugar, whether consciously or not, but it’s a largely misunderstood substance. There are different kinds and different ways your body processes them all. Some consider it poison and others believe it’s the sweetest thing on earth. Here’s a look at the different forms of sugar, the various ways they effect you, and how they play a role in healthy — and unhealthy — diets.

Of course, if you already know how sugar works and how your body uses it, feel free to skip down to the final section about healthier sugar consumption.

The Different Types of Sugar

There are too many types of sugar (and, of course, sugar substitutes) to tackle in a high-level overview like this one, so we’re really only going to look at the two (and a half) that you regularly encounter: glucose and fructose.

Glucose

Glucose is a simple sugar that your body likes. Your cells use it as a primary source of energy, so when you consume glucose, it’s actually helpful. When it’s transported into the body, it stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Your brain notices this increase, understands that it’s busy metabolising what you just ate, and tells you that you’re less hungry. The important thing to note here is that when you consume glucose, your brain knows to tell you to stop eating when you’ve had enough.

But glucose isn’t perfect. There are many processes involved when you consume glucose, but one that occurs in your liver produces something called http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_low_density_lipoprotein (or VLDL). You don’t want VLDL. It causes problems (like cardiovascular disease). Fortunately, only about 1 out of 24 calories from glucose that are processed by the liver turn into VLDL. If glucose were the only thing you ate that produced VLDL, it would be a non-issue.

Sucrose and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

For our purposes, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose are the same thing because they’re both highly sweet and they both contain a large amount of fructose. Sucrose is 50 per cent fructose and HFCS is 55 per cent fructose (which is high compared to normal corn syrup, but pretty normal when compared to cane sugar). The remainder of each is glucose, which we discussed above. In most cases, fructose is bad for you because of how it’s processed by the body. Fructose can only be metabolised by the liver, which is not a good thing. This means a greater number of calories — about three times more than glucose — are going through liver processes and that results in a much higher production of VLDL (the bad cholesterol mentioned earlier) and fat. It also results in a higher production of uric acid and a lot of other things you don’t want, which is believed to lead to fun stuff like hypertension and high blood pressure.

On top of that, fructose consumption negatively changes the way your brain recognises your consumption. This is because your brain resists leptin, the protein that’s vital for regulating energy intake and expenditure (which includes your keeping your appetite in check and your metabolism working efficiently). As a result, you keep eating without necessarily realising you’re full. For example, a soda containing high amounts of fructose (which is most non-diet sodas) will do little to make you think you’re full even though you’re taking in large amounts of calories. Your brain doesn’t get the message that you really consumed much of anything and so it still thinks you’re still hungry. This is a very, very basic look at part of how fructose is processed and doesn’t even touch upon many of its other problems, but identifies the issue most people care about: fat production.

This isn’t to say fructose is all bad. It does have a practical purpose. If you’re a professional athlete, for example, it can actually be helpful. HFCS actually repletes your glycogen supply faster, which is useful when you’re burning it off, so the use of HFCS in sports drinks actually has a practical purpose for those who can quickly burn it off. It’s not so helpful for those of us whose life focus is not physical activity — unless we find ourselves in a situation where we need fast energy that we’re going to quickly burn off.

Processed vs Unprocessed Foods

Fruit contains fructose, but as any food pyramid or suggested intake ratios will tell you, fruit is OK. How is that possible if fructose is almost always bad? This is because fruit, in its natural form, contains fibre. Fructose doesn’t provide a satiety alert to let your brain know to tell you to stop eating, but fibre does this to a high degree. This is why you can eat fruit — despite the fructose content — without experiencing the same problems as, say, drinking a sugary soft drink. This is why fruit can actually be beneficial. The same goes for processed sugar. Sugar doesn’t exist naturally as sparkly white crystals, but as a really tough stick called sugar cane. It isn’t until you process the sugar can that you lose all the fibre it contains. Without the fibre, you only have the tasty but problematic part of the original food. That’s why processed sugars can cause problems.

So why not keep the fibre (or at least some of it)? Because when you process food, you’re not processing it for the purpose of eating immediately. Instead you’re processing it to ship all over the country, or even the world. To do this, you obviously can’t let the food expire or it will be useless when it arrives. Because fibre causes the food to go bad much faster, it needs to be removed.

Photo by Dee’s Illustrations

Additionally, many processed foods are even worse off because of their low fat content. Sure, low fat content sounds good, but just because you eat fat doesn’t mean you retain it. Your body can efficiently process and excreted fat, so fat intake isn’t a huge issue by default. Nonetheless, the past 40 years brought us a low-fat craze. Fresh food can still taste good without a higher fat content, but processing low-fat food makes it taste like crap. Companies understand this, and so they add a bunch of sugar (and often salt) to fix that problem. This process essentially exchanges fat your body can actually use for fructose-produced fat that it cannot.

These are the main reasons why processed food is often an enemy if you want to stay healthy. This isn’t always the case, but it is far more likely than not. Check the sugar content on the back of every package of processed food you own or see at the supermarket and you’ll see it for yourself.

Healthier Sugar Consumption

OK, so some sugar isn’t really bad for you but some sugar, like fructose in high amounts, is unhealthy. Since fructose is plentiful in many processed foods, how can you eat better and still enjoy the sweet things you like? What follows are some suggestions. Some require a bit of sacrifice and will be difficult — but more effective — and others are easy enough for anyone to incorporate in his or her diet. If you want to try and curb your sugar intake, be reasonable about what you can accomplish. Failure is a lot more likely if you try to pack in large amounts of change at once . When you cut back on anything slowly, it feels much easier and is more likely to stick.

Stop Drinking Sugared Beverages
Of anything you can do, this is the most important. Fructose-heavy soft drink is remarkably problematic because, for reasons discussed above, you can keep drinking it while your body isn’t recognising your sugar intake — so your body remains hungry. On top of that, a lot of soft drink (Coke is a great example) contains high amounts of sodium. Why would you want salt in your soda? You wouldn’t, but it makes you thirsty and prompts you to buy more soft drink, so it’s great for the companies that make it. It also makes you pee (as does caffeine if your drink of choice has that) so you’ll feel the need to drink more as well. This is masked by simply adding more fructose to the drink, which is another obvious problem.

All of that is bad, but what makes it so important to stop drinkingsoft drinks is that you get absolutely nothing else with it. While other sugary items — such as a slice of cake or a doughnut — are no shining examples of nutrition, they at least contain some nutrients that will help to alert your brain that you’re actually eating. Fructose-heavy soft drink won’t do this, so it’s best to just cut it out entirely. This is the hardest thing but the most important. Cutting it out will make it easier to stop eating too much sugar (or anything, really), because you’ll be taking in far fewer calories that will go unnoticed by your brain.

What can you drink without issue? Water.

This may sound horrible to some people, but pretty much every other drink you can buy is a processed drink. This isn’t to say you can never have another sugared beverage again, but the more you drink them the harder it will be to control your appetite. If you want to incorporate sugared drinks and alcoholic beverages into your diet, try consuming them 20 minutes after you’ve eaten. You can use this same trick for desserts. (More on this in a minute.)

Eat Fibre with Your Sugar
As previously mentioned in the section about processed and unprocessed foods, fibre is very necessary in curbing sugar intake. It does what fructose can’t do, and that’s alert you that you’ve consumed calories and you don’t need to eat anymore. Basically, fibre and fructose need to work together. Fibre is fructose’s unattractive but brilliant friend. Fructose makes up for fiber’s lack of sweetness while fibre makes up for fructose’s uselessness.

So how do you eat fibre with your fructose? Don’t eat processed foods. Get your fructose from fruit or other sources that contain built-in fibre.

Avoid Processed Foods with High Amounts of Sugar
Cooking your own meals from unprocessed foods is almost always going to be a better option, but our busy lives make that difficult to accomplish for every single meal we eat. While avoiding processed foods altogether is a nice thought, it’s not very realistic. If you’re going to eat something processed, be sure to check the label for sugar content. If it is not a dessert food and the sugar count isn’t negligible, you should probably avoid it. If it contains HFCS early on in the ingredient list (or at all, really), you should probably avoid it. Buy whole wheat breads that are actually whole wheat. Avoid pre-packaged dinners whenever you can. Buy foods with more fibre. They’re likely to expire faster, which means more frequent trips to the grocery store, but that’s a pretty minor sacrifice to make.

Keep Sugar Products Out of the House
If you like dessert, don’t keep it at home. This is obvious, but it’s also one of the most effective options (you can’t eat something you don’t have). If you really want it, make yourself do a little work. Have dinner, and if you have a craving for dessert afterwards then go out and get some. Chances are it won’t take more than 20 minutes for that craving to die, as you’ll fill up and won’t want to eat anything else. In the event it doesn’t, go out and buy a reasonably sized dessert. As long as you’re not inclined to do this regularly, prolonging the decision to eat dessert should help you out.

Don’t Cut It Out Entirely

Photo by Nick Depree

If you’re currently eating quite a bit of sugar, or you really like it, cutting it out entirely is a bad idea. Not only is comfort food possibly good for your mental health, but it’s also believed that you can develop a dependency to sweet foods. As an experiment I cut out sugar for a month before writing this post. While the physical cravings were easy to curb, the psychological ones were much more challenging. Angela Pirisi, writing for Psychology Today, points to a study conducted by psychologist Dr Bart Hoebel, who believes sugar creates an actual dependency:

Laboratory experiments with rats showed that signs of sugar dependence developed over the course of 10 days. This suggests that it does not take long before the starve-binge behaviour catches up with animals, making them dependent. There is something about this combination of heightened opioid and dopamine responses in the brain that leads to dependency. Without these neurotransmitters, the animal begins to feel anxious and wants to eat sweet food again.

Artificial sweeteners didn’t change the dependence, leading Hoebel to believe that the sweetness was the main factor and not the calories. While the study couldn’t identify why these cravings exist, it could identify a dependency. If you’re cutting down on sugar, take it slowly.

Get Moving
Your metabolism pretty much goes in the toilet when you don’t move around at all, making sitting the harbinger of death. We’re big on standing desks, which, for starters, helps your burn far more calories than sitting. It’s just good for you all-around. As with any level of physical activity, from standing to walking to running, calorie burn is a poor focus to have. Going for a 20-minute run is about equal to two thin mint cookies (unless you’re really fast, in which case you might get a third cookie). Burning off a fast food meal would require exercising for most of your day. It’s just not feasible for anyone. Physical activity helps because it reduces stress (which reduces appetite) and improves the way your metabolism functions (so less fat is produced when processed by your body). These things are much more important than calorie burn.

Standing up is a good way to negate the effects of sitting down but you might not be able to do it all the time. If you can’t, make sure you get up and walk around at least every 30 minutes. If you just don’t want to stand up while you work, try doing it for only an hour a day. It’s a short amount of time and is better than nothing. Regardless of how much you sit, keep track of the time and try to engage in physical activity — even if it’s as mild as walking around — for as close to that amount of time as possible. Go for walks (or walk instead of drive), play a sport, exercise, clean the house, or do anything that keeps you moving around. Generally the entertainment you consume while sitting (television and movies) can still be consumed while you’re standing or moving around. This may not be your ideal situation, but it’s a good way to increase your physical activity without giving up a normally sedentary activity you enjoy.

Like with anything, sugar isn’t all that bad for you in moderation. The problem with sugar these days is that there’s a lot more of it in everything and it’s in practically everything. So long as you pay attention to what you’re eating and you don’t overdo it, sugar can be a pleasant part of your life few to no issues. The important thing is that you know what you’re consuming and make good choices as a result. The answer to this problem isn’t groundbreaking, but just a matter of paying attention.

Want to learn more about sugar and how it works? You’ll find a lot of links within this post to other studies and additional information that’s worth reading, but you also should check out Dr Robert H. Lustig’s lecture on sugar (which was the initial reason for writing this), as well as Sweet Surprise, which is an HFCS advocacy website that argues against the claims that it is bad for you.

Some molds cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. And a few molds, in the right conditions, produce “mycotoxins,” poisonous substances that can make people sick. When you see mold on food, is it safe to cut off the moldy part and use the rest? To find the answer to that question, delve beneath the surface of food to where molds take root.

What Are Molds?
Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. No one knows how many species of fungi exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more. Most are filamentous (threadlike) organisms and the production of spores is characteristic of fungi in general. These spores can be transported by air, water, or insects.

Unlike bacteria that are one-celled, molds are made of many cells and can sometimes be seen with the naked eye. Under a microscope, they look like skinny mushrooms. In many molds, the body consists of:

  • root threads that invade the food it lives on,
  • a stalk rising above the food, and
  • spores that form at the ends of the stalks.

The spores give mold the color you see. When airborne, the spores spread the mold from place to place like dandelion seeds blowing across a meadow.

Molds have branches and roots that are like very thin threads. The roots may be difficult to see when the mold is growing on food and may be very deep in the food. Foods that are moldy may also have invisible bacteria growing along with the mold.

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Are Some Molds Dangerous?
Yes, some molds cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. And a few molds, in the right conditions, produce “mycotoxins,” poisonous substances that can make you sick.

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Are Molds Only on the Surface of Food?
No, you only see part of the mold on the surface of food — gray fur on forgotten bologna, fuzzy green dots on bread, white dust on Cheddar, coin-size velvety circles on fruits, and furry growth on the surface of jellies. When a food shows heavy mold growth, “root” threads have invaded it deeply. In dangerous molds, poisonous substances are often contained in and around these threads. In some cases, toxins may have spread throughout the food.

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Where Are Molds Found?
Molds are found in virtually every environment and can be detected, both indoors and outdoors, year round. Mold growth is encouraged by warm and humid conditions. Outdoors, they can be found in shady, damp areas or places where leaves or other vegetation are decomposing. Indoors, they can be found where humidity levels are high.

Molds form spores which, when dry, float through the air and find suitable conditions where they can start the growth cycle again.

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What Are Some Common Foodborne Molds?
Molds most often found on meat and poultry are Alternaria, Aspergillus, Botrytis, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Geotrichum, Monilia, Manoscus, Mortierella, Mucor, Neurospora, Oidium, Oosproa, Penicillium, Rhizopus and Thamnidium. These molds can also be found on many other foods.

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What Are Mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins are poisonous substances produced by certain molds found primarily in grain and nut crops, but are also known to be on celery, grape juice, apples, and other produce. There are many of them and scientists are continually discovering new ones. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 25% of the world’s food crops are affected by mycotoxins, of which the most notorious are aflatoxins.

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What is Aflatoxin?
Aflatoxin is a cancer-causing poison produced by certain fungi in or on foods and feeds, especially in field corn and peanuts. They are probably the best known and most intensively researched mycotoxins in the world. Aflatoxins have been associated with various diseases, such as aflatoxicosis in livestock, domestic animals, and humans throughout the world. Many countries try to limit exposure to aflatoxin by regulating and monitoring its presence on commodities intended for use as food and feed. The prevention of aflatoxin is one of the most challenging toxicology issues of present time.

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How Does the U.S. Government Control Aflatoxins?
Aflatoxins are considered unavoidable contaminants of food and feed, even where good manufacturing practices have been followed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA monitor peanuts and field corn for aflatoxin and can remove any food or feed with unacceptable levels of it.

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Is Mushroom Poisoning Caused by Molds?
No, it is due to the toxin produced by the fungi, which are in the same family as molds. Mushroom poisoning is caused by the consumption of raw or cooked mushrooms, which are higher-species of fungi. The term “toadstool” (from the German “Todesstuhl” — death’s stool) is commonly given to poisonous mushrooms, but there is no general rule of thumb for distinguishing edible mushrooms from poisonous toadstools. The toxins that cause mushroom poisoning are produced naturally by the fungi. Most mushrooms that cause human poisoning cannot be made safe by cooking, canning, freezing, or any other processing. The only way to avoid poisoning is not to eat poisonous mushrooms.

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Are Any Food Molds Beneficial?
Yes, molds are used to make certain kinds of cheeses and can be on the surface of cheese or be developed internally. Blue veined cheese such as Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, and Stilton are created by the introduction of P. roqueforti or Penicillium roqueforti spores. Cheeses such as Brie and Camembert have white surface molds. Other cheeses have both an internal and a surface mold. The molds used to manufacture these cheeses are safe to eat.

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Why Can Mold Grow in the Refrigerator?
While most molds prefer warmer temperatures, they can grow at refrigerator temperatures, too. Molds also tolerate salt and sugar better than most other food invaders. Therefore, molds can grow in refrigerated jams and jelly and on cured, salty meats — ham, bacon, salami, and bologna.

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How Can You Minimize Mold Growth?
Cleanliness is vital in controlling mold. Mold spores from affected food can build up in your refrigerator, dishcloths, and other cleaning utensils.

  • Clean the inside of the refrigerator every few months with 1 tablespoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water. Rinse with clear water and dry. Scrub visible mold (usually black) on rubber casings using 3 teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water.
  • Keep dishcloths, towels, sponges, and mops clean and fresh. A musty smell means they’re spreading mold around. Discard items you can’t clean or launder.
  • Keep the humidity level in the house below 40%.

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Don’t Buy Moldy Foods
Examine food well before you buy it. Check food in glass jars, look at the stem areas on fresh produce, and avoid bruised produce. Notify the store manager about mold on foods!

Fresh meat and poultry are usually mold free, but cured and cooked meats may not be. Examine them carefully. Exceptions: Some salamis — San Francisco, Italian, and Eastern European types — have a characteristic thin, white mold coating which is safe to consume; however, they shouldn’t show any other mold. Dry-cured country hams normally have surface mold that must be scrubbed off before cooking.

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Must Homemade Shelf-Stable Preserves be Water-Bath Processed?
Yes, molds can thrive in high-acid foods like jams, jellies, pickles, fruit, and tomatoes. But these microscopic fungi are easily destroyed by heat processing high-acid foods at a temperature of 212 °F in a boiling water canner for the recommended length of time. For more information about processing home-canned foods, go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation at: www.uga.edu/nchfp/.

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How Can You Protect Food from Mold?

  • When serving food, keep it covered to prevent exposure to mold spores in the air. Use plastic wrap to cover foods you want to stay moist — fresh or cut fruits and vegetables, and green and mixed salads.
  • Empty opened cans of perishable foods into clean storage containers and refrigerate them promptly.
  • Don’t leave any perishables out of the refrigerator more than 2 hours.
  • Use leftovers within 3 to 4 days so mold doesn’t have a chance to grow.

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How Should You Handle Food with Mold on It?
Buying small amounts and using food quickly can help prevent mold growth. But when you see moldy food:

  • Don’t sniff the moldy item. This can cause respiratory trouble.
  • If food is covered with mold, discard it. Put it into a small paper bag or wrap it in plastic and dispose in a covered trash can that children and animals can’t get into.
  • Clean the refrigerator or pantry at the spot where the food was stored.
  • Check nearby items the moldy food might have touched. Mold spreads quickly in fruits and vegetables.
  • See the attached chart “Moldy Food: When to Use, When to Discard.”
Molds on Food
FOOD HANDLING REASON
Luncheon meats, bacon, or hot dogs Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.
Hard salami and dry-cured country hams Use. Scrub mold off surface. It is normal for these shelf-stable products to have surface mold.
Cooked leftover meat and poultry Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.
Cooked casseroles Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.
Cooked grain and pasta Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.
Hard cheese
(not cheese where mold is part of the processing)
Use. Cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot (keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the cheese). After trimming off the mold, re-cover the cheese in fresh wrap. Mold generally cannot penetrate deep into the product.
Cheese made with mold
(such as Roquefort, blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, Brie, Camembert)
Discard soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert if they contain molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process. If surface mold is on hard cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Stilton, cut off mold at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot and handle like hard cheese (above). Molds that are not a part of the manufacturing process can be dangerous.
Soft cheese
(such as cottage, cream cheese, Neufchatel, chevre, Bel Paese, etc.) Crumbled, shredded, and sliced cheeses (all types)
Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Shredded, sliced, or crumbled cheese can be contaminated by the cutting instrument. Moldy soft cheese can also have bacteria growing along with the mold.
Yogurt and sour cream Discard Foods with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface. Moldy foods may also have bacteria growing along with the mold.
Jams and jellies Discard The mold could be producing a mycotoxin. Microbiologists recommend against scooping out the mold and using the remaining condiment.
Fruits and vegetables, FIRM
(such as cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, etc.)
Use. Cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot (keep the knife out of the mold itself so it will not cross-contaminate other parts of the produce). Small mold spots can be cut off FIRM fruits and vegetables with low moisture content. It’s difficult for mold to penetrate dense foods.
Fruits and vegetables, SOFT
(such as cucumbers, peaches, tomatoes, etc.)
Discard SOFT fruits and vegetables with high moisture content can be contaminated below the surface.
Bread and baked goods Discard Porous foods can be contaminated below the surface.
Peanut butter, legumes and nuts Discard Foods processed without preservatives are at high risk for mold.

US Food & Safety Inspection Service 2010


Let us be clear: Baking soda is not going to permanently cure your acne or turn back the cruel hand of time. But if you’re looking to detoxify your body and your household, this multitasking ingredient will make your life easier (and more beautiful) without denting your coffers. Mom may have taught you that baking soda will make your bread rise and your fridge smell better, but did you know of its many cosmetic applications?

Even the ancient Egyptians—and what beauty post would be complete without them?—used a compound similar to baking soda as soap. The stuff is antiseptic, antifungal, and lightly exfoliating. It will take the stains off your coffee mug and your not-so-pearly whites, and can be consumed internally to ease your tummy ache. And fridge odors aren’t the only smells it absorbs so don’t turn your nose up, and bring on the baking soda!


Brush Your Teeth With It Most conventional toothpastes use sodium lauryl sulfate as their primary ingredient. You may remember this verboten surfactant from previous posts explaining its harsh effects and possible contamination with a carcinogen called 1,4-dioxane. If you don’t want peroxide in your mouth, whitening strips are out too. Go natural instead with some bad-breath-killing-tooth-whitening baking soda on your brush (tastes like the ocean, salty but bearable), or add it to your SLS-free Tom’s for extra-whitening powers.


Wash Your Face With It As a rule, we think that harsh scrubs and exfoliants do not belong on your face—not least of all because you need that top layer of skin to keep bad stuff out and moisture in. Most exfoliating scrubs also contain other sketchy ingredients—like plastic balls. If you’re hellbent on scrubbring, though, at least switch to baking soda. It works great on elbows and feet too, and combined with some raw honey, this DIY face wash is refreshing and soothing—and anti-acne, too.

Create a DIY Deodorant This recipe from our book makes for a pretty effective homemade deodorant. Here’s what we suggest: Mix four tablespoons of baking soda with about ten drops of your favorite essential oil and apply to underarms. Guys, this sounds girly, but there are plenty masculine smells too—like Texas cedar wood. Ladies looking to reapply throughout the day can carry it in their purses: Just fill an empty mineral makeup container with it and use one of those stubby Kabuki brushes for no-mess application.

Spot-Treat Acne Our favorite natural acne remedy is clay, like this green tea one we swear by. But in a bind, making a little paste from baking soda and water and applying it to an unwelcomed visitor will help dry it out. We don’t recommend this for deep cysts, but for more surface afflictions, it works like a charm.

Cleanse Your Hair If you’re looking to join the ranks of non-shampooers (we know a few), to reduce how often shampoo, or simply to get rid of some product build-up on your roots, look no further than baking soda. Just fill a glass with warm water and dissolve about a tablespoon of baking soda into it. Take that to the shower, and after wetting your hair pour the mixture through. Comb it well before rinsing—your hair will feel a little coated and slippery until it’s fully rinsed out.

Soothe Your Stomach Acid stomach, heartburn, gas, and other tummy issues are quickly relieved by baking soda because its slight alkalinity can neutralize the acid causing the problem. Just mix a teaspoon into a glass of warm water and drink it down. We swear by this trick.

Soak Your Skin That’s right, dissolve some into your bath for a soothing and skin-softening experience. The added bonus? You won’t need soap—and sometimes that’s a good thing.

Know of any other cool uses for this magic powder?

This is a series inspired by No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, a book by GOOD’s features editor Siobhan O’Connor and her co-author Alexandra Spunt.

Read more on their blog

Illustrations by Brianna Harden

Via Good Health – check out their page for comments with more ideas on baking soda use!

Genentech, part of Roche Group, inventor of Avastin and Lucentis

Many great scientific discoveries were born out of pure accident.  How about curing blindness in only one or two treatments with a drug that was originally designed to combat cancer? What if it only cost around the same as taking your family to the movies? Impressed yet? You should be. Doctors have been using Avastin (bevacizumab), an anti-cancer drug, to treat certain types of blindness, such as vascular retinopathy, and the initiative paid off more than anybody ever imagined, the drug being 20% more effective than conventional laser therapy. However, there are always obstacles to great ideas, and this time they are human rather than technical. Roche Group, the company behind Avastin, simply does not support its use for treatment of retinopathy. Why? Roche’s official position is that they are concerned about patient safety since Avastin was not designed to be used for eye conditions. However, perhaps it has less to do with supposed safety concerns and more with the fact that Avastin costs approximately forty times less than Lucentis (ranibizumab), Roche’s officially supported retinopathy treatment?

Avastin was originally developed as a treatment for colon cancer. However, unlike the traditional chemotherapy, it works by preventing growth of capillaries in cancer tissue. Since cells receive the necessary nutrients through the blood, halting proliferation of blood vessels effectively starves the cancer until it dies off naturally. The idea to use Avastin to treat vascular retinopathy, a type of blindness caused by overcrowding of blood vessels in the retina, seems only natural as the next logical step, as many doctors have figured out, successfully treating age-related macular retinopathy in pre-maturely born babies. By using Avastin to stop the unchecked growth of blood vessels, doctors were able to prevent the degeneration of the retina, sometimes in only one treatment.

The difference? Around 1,550 bucks.

However, since Roche does not seem to be too keen on approving Avastin’s use on the eyes, doctors undertake such treatment at their own risk. The treatment of vascular retinopathy with Avastin remains off-label and unofficial. Of course, all is not lost: Roche is coming to the rescue with Lucentis, a patented retinopathy treatment from the makers of Avastin. The only problem is that Lucentis is nothing more than a smaller derivative of Avastin’s active compound. Sure, it has been subjected to a technique called affinity maturation, which, theoretically, makes it bind more strongly to the blood vessel proteins, but on a practical level, it does not seem to be all that more effective. In fact, the only practical difference between Avastin and Lucentis, when it comes to the treatment of vascular retinopathy, is the price. Avastin costs an average $40 per dose as opposed to Lucentis’ $1600.

Doctors both in the United States and Britain have been trying for many years to get Roche to organize clinical trials to compare the efficacy of Avastin and Lucentis, but Roche has been reluctant for obvious reasons. A recent study conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI), which included over fifty-five participant medical centers, is supposed to finally put an end to the controversy of which drug to use to treat eye conditions. The study was only finished in February with the results showing no difference in efficacy between Avastin and Lucentis in treating vascular retinopathy. A smaller scale study was done in parallel in Boston University School of Medicine that reached the same conclusion.

All of this really begs the question of just how genuine the pharmaceutical industry is. It is no secret that pharmaceutics is an expensive industry, especially in America. The United States spends the most on healthcare out of the developed countries, in large part because of medication, and still manages to have the highest rates for infant mortality and diabetes. Incidentally, the United States is also the only country in the world that allows advertising of medicines on public television. It is this practice that inflates the price of drugs for the average consumers – the marketing budget for a particular solution is usually always factored into the manufacturer’s price. This and other business practices hike the prices of medicines to obscene amounts even though the actual drug costs cents per pill to produce.

However, much more is at stake here than pharmaceutical companies trying to recuperate the indirect costs of production by charging a higher price for the drug. The most insane fact in this whole controversy of Avastin vs. Lucentis was that Roche blatantly refused to approve, or even test, a product that was obviously effective, all the while trying to push through an almost exact copy for forty times the cost. Of course, in a capitalist economy, everyone is within their right to make a profit on a product of their making, but therein also lies the problem. The chief priority of any private company is not to actually produce anything, but to make a profit on whatever it is producing.

Of course, the study that was conducted by NEI should clear everything up in this case, but who can really be sure that other companies and other medications are not involved in similar incidents? How can the person paying for a drug know that he is really paying what the drug is actually worth? Perhaps this is a good moment to take a closer look at the pharmaceutical industry and possibly reform or tighten some of their regulations. Hopefully, this case will be a strong stimulus to launch such a reform and see that it is carried out to completion. Sadly, though, few of us believe that will actually happen.

[Source: The Guardian, National Eye Institute, Roche Group, Visual Economics]

A woman’s diet during pregnancy can alter the function of her baby’s DNA in the womb, increasing its risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in later life, an international study has found.

Researchers said the study provided the first scientific evidence linking pregnant women’s diet to childhood obesity, with important implications for public health.

”This … gives us the potential to work out the optimal diet a mother should eat,” said Peter Gluckman of the Liggins institute at Auckland University.

The study, conducted by scientists in Britain, New Zealand and Singapore, showed that what a mother ate during pregnancy could change the function of her child’s DNA through a process called epigenetic change.

Children with a high degree of epigenetic change were more likely to develop a metabolism that ”lays down more fat” and become obese. Such children were about three kilograms heavier than their peers by the time they were aged six to nine, Professor Gluckman said.

”That’s a hell of a lot of extra weight at that age,” he said, adding that the extra fat was likely to be carried into adulthood, raising the chances of diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers used umbilical cord tissue to measure the rate of epigenetic change in 300 babies, then examined whether it was linked to the children’s weight when they were aged six to nine.

”The correlation was very strong. We didn’t believe it at first, so we replicated it again and again,” Dr Gluckman said.

He said the rate of epigenetic change was possibly linked to a low carbohydrate diet in the first three months of pregnancy.

One theory was that an embryo fed a diet containing few carbohydrates assumed it would be born into a carbohydrate-poor environment and altered its metabolism to store more fat, which could be used as fuel when food was scarce.

Dr Gluckman said the study, which will be published in the journal Diabetes next week, confirmed long-held suspicions that poor pre-natal nutrition could have a significant impact on adult heath.

Agence France-Presse

From Killer Infographics

I don’t think the following Harvard Business Review article provides any new information to the topic, but it seems to be quite a good reminder for how important sleep is.


Let’s cut to the chase.

Say you decide to go on a fast, and so you effectively starve yourself for a week. At the end of seven days, how would you be feeling? You’d probably be hungry, perhaps a little weak, and almost certainly somewhat thinner. But basically you’d be fine.

Now let’s say you deprive yourself of sleep for a week. Not so good. After several days, you’d be almost completely unable to function. That’s why Amnesty International lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

Here’s what former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had to say in his memoir White Nights about the experience of being deprived of sleep in a KGB prison: “In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep … Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”

So why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising? We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity.

Many of the effects we suffer are invisible. Insufficient sleep, for example, deeply impairs our ability to consolidate and stabilize learning that occurs during the waking day. In other words, it wreaks havoc on our memory.

So how much sleep do you need? When researchers put test subjects in environments without clocks or windows and ask them to sleep any time they feel tired, 95 percent sleep between seven and eight hours out of every 24. Another 2.5 percent sleep more than eight hours. That means just 2.5 percent of us require less than 7 hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested. That’s 1 out of every 40 people.

When I ask people in my talks how many had fewer than 7 hours of sleep several nights during the past week, the vast majority raise their hands. That’s true whether it’s an audience of corporate executives, teachers, cops or government workers. We’ve literally lost touch with what it feels like to be fully awake.

Great performers are an exception. Typically, they sleep significantly more than the rest of us. In Anders Ericcson’s famous study of violinists, the top performers slept an average of 8 ½ hours out of every 24, including a 20 to 30 minute midafternoon nap some 2 hours a day more than the average American.

The top violinists also reported that except for practice itself, sleep was second most important factor in improving as violinists.

As I began to gather research about sleep, I felt increasingly compelled to give it higher priority in my own life. Today, I go to great lengths to assure that I get at least 8 hours every night, and ideally between 8 ½ and 9, even when I’m traveling.

I still take the overnight “redeye” from California to New York, but I’m asleep by takeoff — even if takes an Ambien. When I get home at 6 or 7 a.m., I go right to bed until I’ve had my 8 hours. What I’ve learned about those days is that I’d rather work at 100 percent for 5 or 6 hours, than at 60 percent for 8 or 9 hours.

With sufficient sleep, I feel better, I work with more focus, and I manage my emotions better, which is good for everyone around me. I dislike having even a single day where I haven’t gotten enough sleep, because the impact is immediate and unavoidable. On the rare days that I don’t get enough, I try hard to get at least a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon. That’s a big help.

Here are three other tips to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep:

  • Go to bed earlier — and at a set time. Sounds obvious right? The problem is there’s no alternative. You’re already waking up at the latest possible time you think is acceptable. If you don’t ritualize a specific bedtime, you’ll end up finding ways to stay up later, just the way you do now.
  • Start winding down at least 45 minutes before you turn out the light. You won’t fall asleep if you’re all wound up from answering email, or doing other work. Create a ritual around drinking a cup of herbal tea, or listening to music that helps you relax, or reading a dull book.
  • Write down what’s on your mind — especially unfinished to-do’s and unresolved issues — just before you go to bed. If you leave items in your working memory, they’ll make it harder to fall asleep, and you’ll end up ruminating about them if you should wake up during the night.

For more tips on sleep and other forms of renewal visit the Harvard Business Review web site.

Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at Twitter.com/TonySchwartz and Twitter.com/Energy_Project.