Food, Medicine, and Science

Today’s lunchtime news chum post brings you three interesting recent reports related to food and medicine:

  • Artificial Sweeteners. Obesity is a growing problem in the world — although the issue should really be not the size, but the health of the individual. For the longest time, people believed that “diet” products were (a) good for you, and (b) helped you either lose or not gain weight. Increasingly, we’re believing and discovering otherwise. Specifically, a recent analysis of data from 37 studies has shown that artificial sweeteners are associated with weight gain and heart problems. After looking at two types of scientific research, the authors conclude that there is no solid evidence that sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose help people manage their weight. And observational data suggest that the people who regularly consume these sweeteners are also more likely to develop future health problems, though those studies can’t say those problems are caused by the sweeteners.  In other words, if you are going to have something sweet, have the real sugar.
  • Carbohydrates. If you have tried to lose weight, you know how it is. Those carbs call to you. Here’s an explanation of why it is so hard to cut carbs. The answer is: Insulin. It directly links what we eat to the accumulation of excess fat and that, in turn, is tied to the foods we crave and the hunger we experience. It’s been known since the 1960s that insulin signals fat cells to accumulate fat, while telling the other cells in our body to burn carbohydrates for fuel. By this thinking these carbohydrates are uniquely fattening. As insulin levels after meals are determined largely by the carbohydrates we eat — particularly easily digestible grains and starches, known as high glycemic index carbohydrates, as well as sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup — diets based on this approach specifically target these carbohydrates. If we don’t want to stay fat or get fatter, we don’t eat them. This effect of insulin on fat and carbohydrate metabolism offers an explanation for why these same carbohydrates, are typically the foods we crave most; why a little “slip,” as addiction specialists would call it, could so easily lead to a binge.Elevate insulin levels even a little, and the body switches over from burning fat for fuel to burning carbohydrates, by necessity. In other words: The more insulin you release, the more you crave carbs.
  • Expiration Dates. We’ve all been taught to throw away stuff that is expired. Food, medicine, grandparents. If it is expired, throw it away. But it turns out, that’s really bad advice and a waste of money. Food dates rarely are true expiration dates: most are “best by” dates and the food remains perfectly fine and nutritional, and for some, the printed date can be overtaken by poor handling. A study recently released shows that medicine expiration dates are also meaningless. A cache of medicine was recently found in a hospital from the late 1960s, and it was tested for efficacy. Of the 14 drugs, 12 were as potent as when they were manufactured.  Both of these findings point to needed better rules on “expiration dates” to avoid waste and early unnecessary disposal; it also should teach you to use your common sense. Look and smell before using. You may discover it is still good.

 

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