Modern food packaging has transformed our diets for the better in many ways—fresh-tasting canned tomatoes in January and low rates of food-borne disease are not to be scoffed at. But increasing scrutiny of the materials in the cans, bottles, and vacuum packs you bring back from the store have raised fears that certain chemicals—notably, those like bisphenol A (BPA) that can mimic hormones such as estrogen—may be prompting early puberty in children, among other health problems. Last year, the National Resource Defense Council sued the FDA demanding that the agency respond to a petition to ban BPA in food packaging. Yesterday, the FDA announced that it would not be banning BPA, saying that the science linking the chemical to health risks is not yet convincing. But some companies, responding to consumer desires, are already moving to remove it from their packaging.
Even when you’re trying to eat healthy foods, it can be hard to know what to buy: Few us have the time to decipher the nutrition facts on every item we’re considering at the grocery store, and the dizzying number of health claims plastered on labels make the task, if anything, more confusing. The Institute of Medicine offered a possible solution in a report released yesterday: put a simple, standardized rating—zero to three stars or checkmarks—on every food package.
What’s the News: For someone with severe peanut allergies, the tiniest trace of the nut makes their immune system go into overdrive, attacking what it perceives as an intruder so vehemently that the person can go into anaphylactic shock. Scientists may have found a way to calm that immune overreaction, a new study in rats shows, by tacking peanut proteins onto certain immune cells, effectively teaching the whole system that peanuts aren’t a threat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 13 people have died as a result of a listeria outbreak linked to Colorado cantaloupes, making it the deadliest American case of food-borne illness in more than a decade, according to the Associated Press. The death toll could soon reach 16, health officials say, as investigators look into additional deaths in New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming. The CDC announced yesterday that 72 people in 18 states had been infected by several strains of Listeria monocytogenes. The bacterium has been traced to “Rocky Ford Cantaloupes” grown by Jensen Farms in Granada, Colo.
What’s the News: It turns out that the strong-jawed, big-toothed human relative colloquially known as “Nutcracker man” may never have tasted a nut. In a finding that questions traditional ideas of early hominid diet, researchers discovered that Paranthropus boisei, a hominid living in east Africa between 2.3 and 1.2 million years ago, mostly fed on grasses and sedges. “Frankly, we didn’t expect to find the primate equivalent of a cow dangling from a remote twig of our family tree,” researcher Matt Sponheimer told MSNBC. Read More
To a human living in North America about 9,400 years ago, dogs may have been both trusted friends and loyal protectors. But they were something else too: dinner.
A DNA analysis of an ancient dog’s recovered bone fragment reveal that dogs were already domesticated at this stage in North American history, and the fact that the bone bore evidence of passing through the human digestive tract reveals that our ancestors were willing to chow down on their canine companions.
The bone was recovered in ancient human fecal matter found in a southwestern Texas cave in the 1970s–but it wasn’t until recently that Samuel Belknap III, a University of Maine anthropology graduate student, found a bone within the ancient poo. The discovery was all the more welcome given that he wasn’t looking for dog bones in the first place.
“I didn’t start out looking for the oldest dog in the New World,” Belknap said. “I started out trying to understand human diet in southwest Texas. It so happens that this person who lived 9,400 years ago was eating dog.” [UMaine News]
What can eating M&Ms—or, rather, thinking about eating M&Ms—tell us about overeating?
The more we expose ourselves to a something, the more we get used to it. This process, known as ‘habituation’, applies to all sorts of things – bright lights, level of wealth and, yes, the taste of food. The first bite of chocolate is heavenly but the fifteenth usually feels less so. Now, Carey Morewedge from Carnegie Mellon University has found that people habituate to the taste of food even if they just imagine themselves eating it.
He asked 51 recruits to imagine either eating 33 M&Ms one at a time; putting 33 quarters into a laundry machine; or inserting 30 quarters and then eating 3 M&Ms. Afterwards, everyone was given a bowl containing 40 grams of real M&Ms, and allowed to snack to their hearts’ content. On average, Morewedge found that everyone who imagined shoving quarters ate around 4 grams of candy, while those who stuffed their imaginary faces ate around half as much.
Check out the rest of this post—with subsequent M&M experiments—at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Not Exactly Rocket Science: People who think they are more restrained are more likely to succumb to temptation
DISCOVER: How to Make Your Friends Fat (PHOTOS)
80beats: Cheesecake Is Like Heroin to Rats on a Junk-Food Diet
Image: flickr / FlyNutAA
It takes a tremendous amount of energy to move the largest animal on Earth from a standstill to chasing food in a fierce dive. Could the krill that a blue whale catches in its gargantuan mouth really provide a high enough calorie count to make all this effort worthwhile? To find out, Jeremy Goldbogen tagged whales with data recorders and monitored hundreds of their dives. It can take 770 to 1900 calories to get the whale moving, but it’s worth it.
When Goldbogen plugged the data from his recorders into a simulation of a feeding whale, he found that the lunge is staggeringly efficient. Despite the massive outlay in energy, the whale easily recoups anywhere from 6 to 240 times that amount, depending on how big it is and how tightly packed its krill targets are.
If a big whale attacks a particularly dense swarm, it can swallow up to 500 kilograms of krill, eating 457,000 calories in a single monster mouthful and getting back almost 200 times the amount it burned in the attempt. A smaller whale lunging at a sparse collection of krill would only get around 8,000 calories, but that’s still 8 times more than what it burned. Even when Goldbogen accounted for the energy needed to dive in search of prey, the whales still regained 3 to 90 times as much energy as they spent.
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Across an ocean, round a continent – the epic 10,000km voyage of a humpback whale
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Behold Livyatan: the sperm whale that killed other whales
80beats: Climate Scientists Enlist Narwhals to Study the Arctic Ocean
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Scientists knew that overweight mothers tend to have more overweight children. But is the same true for fathers? This week in Nature, Margaret Morris and her team demonstrated this effect in male rats, the first time it’s been shown to work in males. The findings are another example of how non-genetic factors, like how much a parent eats, can have a biological impact on offspring.
The researchers put one of their two groups of male rats on a high-fat diet, the other on a normal one. Unsurprisingly, the high-fat rats put on a lot of weight and began to show symptoms of type II diabetes, like insulin resistance and struggles with metabolizing glucose. And then there were their kids:
The real surprise came when Morris’s team went on to examine the obese rats’ female offspring. These too had problems regulating insulin and glucose levels. The healthy fathers, however, had correspondingly healthy daughters. Whether similar defects emerge in sons remains to be seen. [Nature News]