Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 12th, 2019

Multivitamins are a waste of money

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And so, we learn, are probiotic capsules. (Note post earlier today: fresh vegetables and fresh fruit are excellent probiotics.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 5:21 pm

Trump gives a thumbs-up for infant orphaned by El Paso white supremacist

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Trump lacks all human feeling. And I imagine he’s talking about crowd size, which to him seems to be the most important thing.

Rhonda Garelick writes in New York’s The Cut:

Imagine this: A shooter has entered a public place, where you are walking with your family. You have but a minute to realize you can save your 2-month-old by using your own body to shield him from the bullets raining down around you. Mere days later, your baby, the youngest survivor of the El Paso massacre, will appear on television with the very man who inspired the terrorist who killed both you and your husband. A photograph is taken, for posterity.

In the photo, your baby wears a bowtie and tiny jacket; someone has dressed him up for this occasion. He gazes off to the side (toward his aunt, who stands beside First Lady Melania Trump), his body stiff, his face solemn. He is not at ease in this strange lady’s arms. How could he be? Your child has just gotten out of the hospital, where he was treated for broken bones incurred when you desperately threw yourself over his little body and took the bullets that seconds later orphaned him and his two siblings.

Neither the president nor Melania so much as glances at Baby Paul. Oblivious (as ever) to the solemnity of their occasion, they smile broadly, matching veneers on full beam. Your husband came from a family of Trump supporters. Perhaps, in a different world, you might even have wanted to meet Donald Trump, or take a photo with him as he gave one of his signature thumbs-up gestures — everything is A-OK here.

Imagine this, then look at this photo again.

Babies make excellent political props — so useful for a quick kiss and cuddle during campaign stops, instant humanizers of even the stiffest politicians. But the Trumps are different. We rarely see them with babies. They are the least “familial” First Family in our lifetimes, despite (or perhaps because of) having created the most family-centered, nepotistic, mob-dynasty-style administration in history. We detect no family warmth from this president (save his unsettling attachment to Ivanka). No spousal affection. But also so little acknowledgment of any of his other children, of the fact of being a father (and grandfather) at all. Where is Barron, for example? We never see him or receive even the most anodyne updates about him — his progress in school, his favorite sports team. Where are the grandkids? Nothing. And certainly, Melania is the least publicly maternal First Lady we’ve ever had. She doesn’t even pretend to care.

No, in Trumpville, the emotional texture and familial feeling usually modeled by a First Family has been replaced with the enthusiasm of anonymous crowds, with the mass hysteria whipped up at Nuremberg-style rallies led by the President, where people seek the thrill of connection conjured by ritualistic chants of racism and misogyny (“Lock her up!” “Build that wall!” “Send them back!”). Donald Trump seems to experience love only in such soulless settings, with their underlying threat of violence — and he encourages his followers to do the same.

Those fascistic ceremonies lie at the root of the El Paso massacre, and that’s what makes this photo especially galling. Motherless Baby Paul is the latest victim of the hatred those rallies gin up. For Trump then to create uncharacteristically this faux portrait of familial love, to play-act a kind of happy Daddy, Mommy, and Baby — by borrowing THIS baby — is an abomination. In this simulacrum of a family portrait, the centerpiece is a direct evocation of the massacre that rendered him available for “adoption” in this photo in the first place. And since the picture blithely replaces the baby’s slaughtered parents — murdered for the family’s Latinx ethnicity — with two unconcerned, smiling white people, it performs a kind of symbolic kidnapping, cruelly appropriating someone else’s child for personal gain. (Note also the marginalized positions of the two Anchondo relatives.)

The abuse and kidnapping of children of color are recurrent themes in this administration. Consider the children of the 680 Mississippi food workers cruelly arrested this week, who returned from their first day at school to find their parents vanished. They are the victims of child abuse, if not outright psychological torture. Ditto for the many children who lost parents and other relatives in three, largely racially inflected gun massacres in the past two weeks. Not to mention the children who were themselves killed in those shootings (including a 6-year-old Latino boy in Gilroy, CA). As for the thousands of migrant children ripped from their parents’ arms and held in subhuman, lethal conditions (with no plans in place for family reunification) they are unmistakably the victims of ongoing mass-scale, state-sponsored de facto kidnapping.

There is, furthermore, strong evidence that some of those migrant children have now been forcibly adopted out to white American families via “Bethany Christian Services,” an anti-choice adoption agency known for its coercive practices and run by Brian DeVos, a cousin-by-marriage of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. This amounts to kidnapping on top of kidnapping — and probably represents the end of any hope that these children might ever reunite with their own families.

All of these ghastly truths make themselves felt in this single photo of the vacuous and smug Trumps masquerading as kindly hospital visitors, seeking to comfort the El Paso survivors. Posing for this photograph, the Trumps remove any last doubt about their dead-eyed cruelty and transactional view of life. Smiling emptily above this wounded little boy, whose life was shattered before he could take his first step, the president and his wife call to mind those famous safari photos taken by Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr. — in which they, like their father, smile brightly over the victims of their own heedless cruelty and violence. To Donald Trump, this baby is little more than a hunting trophy in his own brutal race war (which explains his triumphant thumbs up).

Injured, confused, squirming away from Melania’s brittle embrace, and straining toward what’s left of his family, Baby Paul now stands in for all the children — indeed, all human beings — who, like him, have been harmed and are being held against their will by a white supremacist president.

Of course, Trump would have liked to include many more of the survivors in his photo op, but he met with none of the others. Of eight survivors in the hospital, five outright refused to meet with the president. As speaking, sentient adults, they were able to withhold their consent. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 5:08 pm

How to Stop Hating Your Least Favorite Food

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Amanda Mull wrote in the Atlantic earlier this year:

Cucumbers are my nemesis. I want to fight every food in the melon family and many melon-adjacent foods, but melons avoid my primary disdain because they usually take their rightful place as easily avoidable fruit-salad filler. Cucumbers, though. Cucumbers. They hide in all kinds of things that otherwise seem safe to put in my mouth: sushi rolls, salads, sandwiches, the takeout “lunch bowls” that restaurants near my office sell for $14.

As far as I can remember, I’ve never liked cucumbers, mostly because they taste bad. If they’re present, they’re the first thing I notice, and it’s like someone has sprayed a middle schooler’s eau de toilette from 2002 on my food. Most other people appear to live on slightly different planes of cucumber reality from mine, which I’ve learned over several decades of watching people somehow eat them voluntarily.

My cuke avoidance is what’s known as a food aversion, and although aversions are widespread in the United States, hating a food that others love is socially coded as fussy or unsophisticated. People with many or severe aversions often experience isolating anxiety or social opprobrium. For people like me, it’s more commonly just a nuisance that might inspire an occasional eye roll.

Still, my distaste for such an innocuous food feels vaguely shameful, and after much deliberation, I’m ready to switch sides. I’m ready to make myself like cucumbers. Getting there is unlikely to make any huge improvement in my life, but at the very least, I’d like to reroute my energy to a more interesting source of shame. And the good news, according to researchers, is that most people can reset their neural pathways to one day enjoy—or at least tolerate—a nice gazpacho.

Before you can solve a problem, you have to understand what it is: Why is it cucumbers for me, and broccoli or oysters for some other people? There’s no neat explanation, according to Paul Rozin, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “The great majority of people have a fair number of things they don’t like,” he says. There is evidence of genetic differences that make some people more sensitive to certain chemicals in food, but those people might actually prefer the taste of those chemicals. “Sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean a person will be averse to something,” Rozin explains.

There is one type of aversion that scientists understand pretty well, though, according to Anthony Sclafani, a professor at Brooklyn College who studies the neurobiology of taste: If you eat a novel food and then experience nausea or vomiting, your brain is primed to blame that food. That’s true even if you know, on an intellectual level, that the food isn’t at fault. “We get sick to our stomach and automatically develop an aversion. It’s just hardwired,” Sclafani says. Because of this, people with cancer are often advised to “scapegoat” particular foods during chemotherapy: To avoid creating an association between the treatment’s nauseous side effects and a patient’s normal diet over time, the brain can be steered toward assigning those effects to novel foods instead.

I’ve never had a traumatic barf experience with cucumbers, so my aversion is probably just an innate dislike. And the culprit behind my long-term cuke hatred might be in the vegetable’s smell, more specifically than its taste. “What we call ‘taste’ is really ‘flavor,’ which is a mixture of taste, smell, and texture,” Sclafani says. People lose olfactory sensitivity as they age, which is a big reason that many people seem to outgrow childhood aversions: A food that might have been overwhelming to a kid will read as more mellow to an adult. I’m in my 30s, so there’s a decent chance that, were I to give cucumbers a fair shake, I’d hate them a lot less than my childhood memories have led me to believe.

Childhood can be key to later-in-life food preferences in a lot of ways. Before a baby is even born, what a mother eats can influence what her infant will like because diet affects amniotic fluid, and that influence continues in the months after birth through lactation. “If an Italian mother eats a lot of garlic, the milk has a garlic flavor to it,” says Sclafani. “Her infant will be more accepting of garlic than the infant of a mother who doesn’t eat garlic.” For mothers who don’t breastfeed, varying an infant’s formula flavor can help prevent later pickiness.

The tie between early life and food preference goes beyond issues of exposure, says Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and therapist who studies and treats picky eating in both children and adults. In childhood, people acquire many of their emotional difficulties with eating, so understanding that emotional tie is key to both overcoming aversions and raising children with positive relationships to food. “In our culture, it’s all about what you ‘should’ be eating, not about how you feel about it or your enjoyment of food,” says Satter. “Children are coerced to eat certain amounts of certain types of food, which turns them off to those foods.”

Instead, she says, parents should be patient with their kids and let them come to new foods naturally. “Picky kids will desensitize themselves, and they do that by seeing [a food] on the table and watching their parents eating and enjoying.”

With adults, the process is pretty similar, according to all the experts I spoke to. Food aversions can generally be overcome with gentle, steady exposure, which can start with something as simple as buying the offending food and allowing it to be in the house. Satter says that adults should also . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

The best probiotics—a surprise

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James Hamblin writes in the Atlantic:

In April, researchers at Tufts University posed a nutrition riddle. They comparedpeople who took vitamin pills with people who got the same nutrients the old-fashioned way, by eating food.

Tracking intake of vitamins A and K, magnesium, and zinc, the scientists found that people were less likely to die of heart attacks and other diseases when these nutrients occurred in their diets. As the Tufts researcher Fang Fang Zhang said at the time, “There are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements.”

Many vitamin supplements are synthesized to be exact replicas of the compounds you’d get from eating an apple or an orange. The chemistry should have the same effects on the body. Unless, of course, something was missing from the equation.

In a similar puzzle, recent studies have illuminated harms associated with highly processed foods—even though many of these foods are packed with added vitamins. White pastas and breakfast cereals, for example, may contain an entire day’s worth of some vitamins (synthesized and added, sometimes by law). As long as we’re getting the nutrients, why should it matter whether food is “processed”? Is processing simply bad?

One explanation for the benefits of eating minimally processed foods is probably fiber, which processing often strips away. Fiber slows the absorption of sugars, so they don’t hit our blood as quickly and cause insulin to spike (as with eating an apple versus drinking apple juice). Fiber also feeds our microbes. People with low-fiber diets have less diverse gut microbes—the trillions of microorganisms that populate our bowels and are vital to our digestion, metabolic health, and the functioning of our immune systems. The best known indicator of a healthy biome is diversity.

But fresh produce and grains also give us more than fiber. An exciting, emerging idea is that fruits and vegetables are healthier than the sum of their parts, not just because of nutrients and fibrous skeletons, but because they contain microbes themselves.

That might seem like a bad thing. But it actually builds on a story I wrote last week about how the immune system, gut microbes, and the food we eat all work in harmony to influence weight gain and loss. The closest thing to practical advice from scientists was to maintain a “diverse biome.” But how do people actually do that? Many readers wrote to ask for more concrete advice. (“Sounds like you still want us to take probiotics every day?”; “What’s the best probiotic?”; “Can I buy your microbiome?”)

Doctors have insisted for decades that unnecessary antibiotics should be avoided, to prevent the evolution of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Upsetting one’s own personal microbial diversity adds yet another reason. Fermented foods of course contain bacteria, and their consumption has been linked to some health benefits. Beyond that, many people believe it’s necessary to turn to supplements. Even Harvard Medical School’s website tells patients as much, advising that “there are two ways to get more good bacteria into your gut: fermented foods and dietary supplements.”

But supplements are an enormous and barely regulated industry. Even the best clinical trials are limited and short-term. Taking a probiotic supplement of Akkermansia was found last month to have some metabolic benefits—but the same bacteria are also associated with multiple sclerosis. Such things are not to be wantonly introduced into everyone’s guts, but used strategically in specific populations with specific needs—more like a drug than a food.

For all of human history, the gut microbiome has gone without bacterial pills. Fermented foods have been part of many cuisines around the world, but our ancestors didn’t live on kombucha. There had to be another source.

And, it turns out, there is: fresh produce.

In a study from July in Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers found that the average apple contains about 100 million bacteria. Most are inside, not on the skin. They came from many different taxa—as opposed to the probiotic-supplement pills, which tend to be only one type of bacteria. Of the millions of bacteria in any given apple, very rarely are any the sort that cause diseases; most are innocuous or even beneficial.

The idea, the apple researchers explain, is that these bacteria join and interact with the trillions of microbes that are in our guts already—which are vital to our digestion and metabolic health, and the functioning of our immune systems. Food is the main way that our gut biomes are populated throughout our lives, and microbe-rich foods seem to be important to maintaining diversity. The researchers suggest that microbial profiles could eventually become standard information on nutrition labels (currently limited to fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals).

When it comes to apples, most of the microbes turn out to be in the core, central part, which most people don’t eat, because it is fibrous—full of fiber and microbes. If you eat only the flesh and skin, you miss out on 90 percent of the bacteria, some of which are the same species sold in expensive pills at Whole Foods. As I’ve argued in the past, if you eat the apple from bottom to top, the fibrous “core” is barely noticeable. The seeds of the apples had the most microbes of any part. They do contain trace amounts of cyanide, but adults should have no problem with a single daily core. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more useful information.

I’ve eaten apples entirely (save for the stem) for more than 50 years. The seeds have a very nice flavor, often reminiscent of cinnamon.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 1:48 pm

Break the Breakfast Mold—Eat What You Want

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Amanda Mull wrote in the Atlantic a few months ago:

There’s no good reason you can’t eat a chicken-parmesan hoagie for breakfast. That’s what I decided last year when I woke up one morning, hungover and ravenous, craving the sandwich’s very specific combination of fried chicken cutlet, melted mozzarella, and tomato sauce. “Breakfast food,” as a category, suddenly felt like my middle school’s dress code: unnecessarily prim and preordained by people whose rules I should no longer heed.

I wrestled with the idea while summoning the wherewithal to leave bed. Why did a breakfast chicken parm seem so louche to me when an egg sandwich—a similar combination of protein, dairy fat, grease, and carbohydrates—seemed so benign? If I marched up to the counter at my local bagel shop, which makes chicken-parm sandwiches for lunch, could I even order one at nine in the morning? If I succeeded, would it open a Pandora’s box of forbidden-food hedonism from which I could never return? Why was breakfast food even breakfast food in the first place?

My pep talk to myself was for nothing. When I ordered, the counter attendant didn’t seem to care about my brave departure from the useless strictures of American breakfast. I wolfed down my sandwich with unrestrained joy. Since childhood, I’d mostly disliked cereal, oatmeal, and yogurt, which always put me at odds with breakfast as a concept. Now I knew I had been right all along. Any insistence that only certain foods are appropriate for the day’s first meal was silly.

“Breakfast food” might be an arbitrary concept in America, but it’s a distinct one: cereal with milk, a cup of yogurt, eggs, muffins, fruit, oatmeal, juice. Maybe pancakes or waffles on the weekend, if you have some extra time. There are some regional variations, like bagels or biscuits, but the menu tends to be far more predictable than lunch or dinner. And although American breakfast isn’t nutritionally or philosophically cohesive, how the country goes about its morning meal isn’t a mistake. Modern breakfast in the United States tells the story of more than a century of cultural upheaval.

American breakfast begins in Europe, which provided the food norms imported by early colonizers. There, the day’s first meal had emerged from centuries of prohibition under the Catholic Church. “There was a period of time in England and western Europe where eating breakfast was sort of tied to gluttony,” says Heather Arndt Anderson, the author of Breakfast: A History. That all changed with the Protestant Reformation, when morning sustenance became more broadly permissible, if not all that exciting, or even distinct from everything else people ate. Lack of refrigeration meant the meal was usually sour and tepid. In Germany, beer soup was common.

In early America, breakfast remained a matter of convenience for most people: bread; preserved meats; repurposed leftovers; and things, like eggs, that were easy to prepare and regularly available to rural families, Arndt Anderson says.

According to Krishnendu Ray, a professor of food studies at New York University, that’s consistent with how much of the world still approaches the day’s first meal. “Poorer people everywhere, especially in places like India and China, eat the same kind of food for meal after meal,” he says. “The strict differentiation of meals is partly an American thing, but partly a thing of upward mobility.” Breakfast food, as a concept, is a luxury. As colonial America developed into a more robust culture with distinct class markers, breakfast started to change with it.

At first, this evolution was slow. America was a growing country, but technological limitations in both communication and food preparation meant that the morning meal was a largely regional concern, dictated by crops and livestock, as well as the previous day’s leftovers. In at least one sense, a college student waking after a night out and scarfing down two slices of unrefrigerated pizza rapidly aging in their delivery box is actually just participating in what breakfast has historically meant to billions of people.

The alarm with which Americans now commonly regard eating day-old, unrefrigerated food started to develop as the Industrial Revolution changed food preservation, the workday, and cultural conceptions of health. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Memes

How Gut Bacteria Tell Their Hosts What to Eat

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Knvul Sheikh wrote in the Scientific American a couple of years ago:

Scientists have known for decades that what we eat can change the balance of microbes in our digestive tracts. Choosing between a BLT sandwich or a yogurt parfait for lunch can increase the populations of some types of bacteria and diminish others—and as their relative numbers change, they secrete different substances, activate different genes and absorb different nutrients.

And those food choices are probably a two-way street. Gut microbes have also been shown to influence diet and behavior as well as anxiety, depression, hypertension and a variety of other conditions. But exactly how these trillions of tiny guests—collectively called the microbiome—influence our decisions on which foods to stuff into our mouths has been a mystery.

Now neuroscientists have found that specific types of gut flora help a host animal detect which nutrients are missing in food and then finely titrate how much of those nutrients the host really needs to eat. “What the bacteria do for appetite is kind of like optimizing how long a car can run without needing to add more petrol to the tank,” says senior author Carlos Ribeiro, who studies the eating behaviors of Drosophila melanogaster, a type of fruit fly, at Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Lisbon.

In a paper published recently in PLOS Biology, Ribeiro and his team demonstrated how the microbiome influences drosophila’s nutritional decisions. First, they fed one group of flies a sucrose solution containing all the necessary amino acids. Another group got a mix that had some of the amino acids needed to make protein but lacked essential amino acids that the host cannot synthesize by itself. For a third group of flies, the scientists removed essential amino acids from the food one by one to determine which was being detected by the microbiome.

After 72 hours on the various diets, flies in the all three groups were presented with a buffet offering their usual sugary solution alongside protein-rich yeast. The researchers found that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Science

Food links fixed

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I posted a few days ago the contents of an email I received, “The Life-Changing Magic of Food,” and though the links work fine from the email, they don’t work at all once posted in the blog. Those links have now been fixed, and some of the articles are extremely interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2019 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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