TIME Diet/Nutrition

Is Turkey Actually Good for You?

Gobble, gobble?

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.

should i eat turkey
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

4/5 experts say yes.

As if you needed our blessing—but for the most part, experts say you can feel good about your Thanksgiving main dish. All of the bird lovers applauded turkey’s lean, filling protein. It packs the entire spectrum of B vitamins, in addition to selenium and potassium.

Two experts recommended skipping the skin, if you’re watching calories. Skin adds 35 calories to a typical 3.5-ounce serving, says Harriette R. Mogul, MD, MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine at New York Medical College. And sans skin, turkey’s low in saturated fat, says Kylene Bogden, registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic.

Don’t fall for the tryptophan myth, either. Tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleepy-time serotonin, is no more abundant in turkey than in many other meats. “In truth, it’s those carbohydrate-laden trimmings, not the turkey, that promote that all too familiar post-prandial sleepiness on Thanksgiving Day,” Mogul says. Because it’s so rich in protein, turkey stabilizes insulin levels after a meal and actually diminishes sleepiness, she says.

But serving a turkey isn’t all wishbones and three-cornered hats. “Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and to enjoy the company of loved ones, and we can do that without killing an animal,” says Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, an animal rescue organization (and past subject of TIME’s 10 Questions). “In addition to all of the delicious traditional Thanksgiving dishes that are naturally plant-based, there are countless plant-based turkey alternatives widely available on the market today that make it easy to skip the dead bird.” Instead, Farm Sanctuary urges you to Adopt a Turkey for $30—color photo and “fun details about your new friend” included. Sponsor a whole flock for $210—the perfect holiday gift.

If you’re committed to eating the bird, however, choose wisely, says Stacia Clinton, RD, regional director of Health Care Without Harm. “Turkeys raised conventionally are routinely given antibiotics,” she says, in order to prevent the spread of turkey illness in crowded conditions. “This is causing the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that threaten our health by reaching us through air, water, and contaminating the meat we purchase,” she says. This year, Health Care Without Harm asked clinicians to pledge to buy drug-free turkeys from local farms that don’t use antibiotics in feed or water.

Cage-free, vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free turkeys are a must, agrees Theo Weening, global meat buyer for Whole Foods Market. But please, for the sake of flavor, make sure yours is truly fresh, too, he says—it cooks faster and tastes better. “It’s a little known fact that when you buy a ‘fresh’ turkey from many conventional grocers, it can actually be from birds that have been harvested 9 months or more before Thanksgiving,” he says. “Before taking home your turkey, ask your butcher when it was harvested and where it came from.”’

Now that’s talking turkey.

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?


Is the Menstrual Cup Going Mainstream?

Lily Cup menstrual cup
Courtesy of Lily Cup

This Kickstarter cup got funded at 4,000% of its goal

Not a whole lot seems to have changed in the menstrual market since the 1970s, when you no longer had to wear a belt to keep a pad in place.

Lily Cup menstrual cup
Courtesy of INTIMINA

But an innovation in period care—a collapsible menstrual cup called the Lily Cup Compact—was just successfully crowdfunded at more than 4,000% its goal on Kickstarter.com. The campaign, led by Swedish brand Intimina, which has five physicians on its board, aimed for $7,800. After the campaign ended Sunday, backers gave more than $325,000 to help make the Lily Cup Compact real.

Menstrual cups have existed in some form since the 1930s, though earlier iterations were nothing like the Keeper, Softcup and the Diva Cup, to name a few modern models. Still, American women have been slow to adopt them. “The very first time I heard about [menstrual cups] was a year and a half ago,” says Taraneh Shirazian, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “When I talk to my patients about it, none of them are using it, and very few people know about it.”

Menstrual cups are flexible, goblet-shaped devices usually made of silicone or latex that are folded and then inserted like a tampon. Once inside, it opens up and forms a seal to stop menstrual blood from escaping from the uterus into the vagina. Other menstrual cups—the Keeper and the Diva Cup—are currently on the market, though they are not collapsible. The Lily Cup also comes with a carrying case, making it more convenient and discreet to tote around.

A 2011 survey found that 91% of women who tried a menstrual cup said they would switch to one—and recommend it to friends. The study also found that the cost of buying tampons for a year, approximately $37, was about equal to the price of a single menstrual cup, which can last for a decade. Menstrual cups come with other advantages. They can be left inside the body for 10 hours; tampons need to be changed every 8 hours to prevent the growth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, a cause of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). According to a different 2011 study, women who used the Softcup saw no changes in their vaginal flora and no growth of that dangerous bacteria.

Still, the rate of menstrual cup use in the U.S. is still low, partly due to squeamishness and worries about their cleanliness. Menstrual cups need to be washed with soap and water after being removed. Because they don’t come from a package, though, fears of not getting the cup “clean enough” are one of the main reasons Shirazian’s patients don’t use it, she says. “I think there’s this misconception about sterility versus clean,” she says. “The vagina itself is not clean…things can be clean and be introduced and you’ll be fine. You won’t increase your risk of infections.”

The first menstrual cup with lasting power in the U.S. market, the Keeper, was introduced in 1987, and it’s no stranger to confronting the ick factor. “You can tell a woman about it and her first reaction’s going to be ‘Gross,’ or ‘Oh God, no way,’” says Elizabeth Moore, general manager of The Keeper Inc. “It had to come through the midwives and doulas and vegans.” But there’s evidence that the mindset is changing, particularly among young women. Most of the Keeper’s customers are 18-25 years old, Moore estimates. And they’re less shy about getting informed. “Ninety percent of the questions were done via email early on, and now we’re seeing more and more phone calls coming in,” she says. “That’s showing that women are more comfortable talking about it.”

“I think women are tired of having only two options,” says Intimina’s Amandine Pranlas-Descours. The Lily Cup Compact campaign closed with 8,530 backers.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Suicide Risk Drops 26% After Talk Therapy

Suicide is a problem with few concrete preventive solutions, but a new study in Lancet Psychiatry finds that intervening with talk therapy after a suicide attempt seems to have some amazing long-term effects.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at data from about 65,000 people who had attempted suicide between 1992-2010 in Denmark. The country opened suicide clinics in 1992 and provided them nationwide in 2007, and some of the people had gone to one of these clinics and received 6-10 sessions of talk therapy. The rest of the people did not.

When the researchers analyzed the data after a 20-year follow-up, those who had received the talk intervention fared much better. They repeated acts of self-harm less frequently and had a lower risk of death by any cause, including death by suicide.

After five years, there were 26% fewer suicides in the group who received therapy than in the other group. About 145 suicide attempts and 30 suicides were prevented in the talk therapy group, the researchers estimated.

“People who present with deliberate self-harm constitute a high-risk group for later suicidal behavior and fatal outcomes, so preventive efforts are important; yet, implemented specialized support after self-harm is rare,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Though the study had a long follow-up period and population size, it was not a randomized controlled trial, but such an intervention would be ethically impossible, the study authors write. “These findings might be the best evidence available and provide a sound basis for policy makers who wish to limit suicidal behavior and fatal events in an accessible high-risk group, which, in many countries, receives little support.”


TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Dark Chocolate?

Fact checking this superfood's health promises

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.

Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

5/5 experts say yes.

Oh, chocolate! Are you even debatable? The experts have spoken, and it appears not.

“You can, of course, overeat the stuff—but in moderate doses it is perhaps the quintessential example of a food to love that will love you back,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “A considerable body of research, including several studies in my own lab, show decisive cardiovascular benefits with intake of dark chocolate,” he says, provided that it’s kept between one to two ounces.

Cocoa is rich in flavonols, bitter antioxidant compounds that have been shown to be good for the heart. Dark chocolate has been linked to lowering blood pressure and increasing anti-inflammatory activity, which helps protect against heart disease, says Augusto Di Castelnuovo, PhD, in the department of epidemiology and prevention at the IRCCS Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed in Italy. But his own study found that the positive effects vanish when you’re out of the moderate range, so keep dark chocolate to about 1.7 ounces per week and really savor it, he suggests.

If you fantasize about squashing stress with sweets, dark chocolate’s for you. A September 2014 study showed that people who ate dark chocolate were significantly less stressed when doing a stressful task two hours later than the group stuck with placebo chocolate. “Dark chocolate buffers endocrine stress responses to acute psychosocial stress induction apparently at the level of the adrenal gland,” says study author Petra H. Wirtz, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany. It appears dark chocolate is as downright destressing as a bubble bath.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian and manager of wellness nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, is also jazzed about its stress-busting effects. “A 2009 study found that having a small amount of dark chocolate actually helped to ease subjective stress in study participants,” she says. “This is significant because only a small amount was needed to gain results and it was a food that we know is high in healthy flavonols, as opposed to the normal stress foods like mac and cheese, candy and alcohol.”

OK, but what about those pesky percentages? They’re meant to indicate how much of the bitter cocoa bean is in your bar, along with the healthy flavonols that go along with them. Katz advises sticking to at least 60% cacao, and Kirkpatrick recommends at least 70%. A rule of thumb is that the higher, the darker, the healthier.

But Tod Cooperman, president of the independent tester of health products ConsumerLab.com, led a recent investigation that tested popular brands of dark chocolate and found that you can’t judge a chocolate by its wrapper. While many of them had high levels of flavanols, many did not, and you couldn’t always tell which kind you were getting from the percentage printed on the labels. That’s because the percentage is a sum of cocoa liquor, cocoa powder and cocoa butter—and cocoa butter does not contain flavanols, the report says.

“Some have as much as three times the concentration of flavanols as others,” he says. One of the 85% bars actually had fewer flavanols than a 72% bar. But some brands, like Ghirardelli and Endangered Species, were true to their percentages.

And in an interesting twist, they also found that dark chocolate bars might be safer for your health, in some ways, than pure cacao powder. “[ConsumerLab] found heavy metal contamination in many cocoa powders, so chocolate may be a safer choice for heavy users,” Cooperman says.

Sadly, the world is running out of chocolate just as we here at TIME are finally convinced to embrace it. Reader, can you spare a square?

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Your Emotional IQ Predicts How Much You’ll Make

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Social skills at work lead to a bigger paycheck

How good are you at reading another person’s emotions? $50,000-a-year good? Or $150,000? Your level of emotional intelligence may predict how much you earn, finds a new study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

The researchers looked at a trait called “emotion recognition ability,” responsible for how well you can sense (and make sense of) another person’s emotions from their face and voice. Researchers tested and measured it along with other interpersonal skills—such as how socially astute they were, their networking savvy and how seemingly trustworthy they were—in 142 German workers.

High emotional recognition was linked to a higher salary, even after controlling for salary-bumping factors like age, gender, education, work experience and work hours.

“This very basic ability has effects on the interpersonal facilitation facet of job performance and, most notably, even on annual income, an objective indicator of career success,” the study authors wrote. “The better people are at recognizing emotions, the better they handle the politics in organizations and the interpersonal aspects of work life, and thus the more they earn in their jobs.”

That could give women, who may recognize emotions better than men, an edge—in theory, at least. One study found that female managers who could more accurately assess nonverbal cues got better satisfaction ratings from their subordinates—an advantage that wasn’t detected in men.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

How Trans Fat Eats Away at Your Memory

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Eating lots of trans fats has been linked to memory impairment

What’s the opposite of brain food?

Trans fat, finds a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014. Eating a lot of the compound that magically rejuvenates junk food that should have expired long ago is linked to higher rates of memory impairment.

After analysis of food questionnaires and memory tests from about 1,000 adult men, trans fat intake was linked to worse memory in people under age 45, even after controlling for mind-influencing factors like age, depression and education. Every gram of trans fat eaten per day was linked to 0.76 fewer words recalled. Put another way? Those who ate the most trans fat remembered 11 fewer words.

MORE: 7 Foods That Wouldn’t Be The Same If Trans Fats Are Banned

That relationship eased when researchers adjusted for BMI and blood pressure, and a study like this can’t prove cause and effect. But the study author believes trans fat may be contributing to oxidative stress, a cell-damaging process. Trans fat appears to be a pro-oxidant: the opposite of an antioxidant. And indeed, prior research from the study’s lead author, Beatrice A. Golomb, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego, found that antioxidant-rich chocolate is linked to better word recall.

We’re not eating as much trans fat as we used to: a recent study found that between 1980-2009, we cut down on trans fats about 35% thanks to regulations and reformulations. Still, trans fat is the bane of every health nut’s label-reading experience—it travels under sneaky ingredient adjectives like “partially hydrogenated” and can even creep into foods labeled “0 grams of trans fat.”

But as hard as it is to figure out whether or not your snack contains trans fat, what the compound does to your brain is even more cognitively complex. “From a health standpoint, trans fat consumption has been linked to higher body weight, more aggression and heart disease,” Golomb said in a press release. “As I tell patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people,” Golomb said.

Read next: The Surefire Way To Eat Healthier


New Test May Predict Alzheimer’s 10 Years Before Diagnosis

A blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease a decade before diagnosis might be possible, suggests new research published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, DC.

The research is very early, the sample size is small and a commercial test is not yet available, but study authors found a way to measure insulin resistance in the brain—a symptom indicative of Alzheimer’s disease. The blood test can detect disease up to 10 years before clinical onset, the study found. Intercepting the degenerative disease early is important, since behavioral interventions might stall the disease and slow mental decline.

Researchers analyzed the blood of living patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their frozen blood samples taken 1-10 years before being diagnosed. Based on their blood levels of an insulin receptor called IRS-1, researchers could accurately tell which samples came from someone with Alzheimer’s, even up to a decade before diagnosis.

The findings are promising, but need to be replicated in a larger sample and expanded upon, senior study author Dr. Ed Goetzl told TIME. He and his team are looking at other proteins as well. “My vision of the future is you have your breakfast cereal, and on one side you have a statin for cardiovascular disease, and on the other side you have three pills to prevent dementia,” he says. “What I can see in this disease process is it’s far too complicated for a single magic bullet. The reason we’re trying to mine all these different pathogenic mechanisms is because I think they’re going to have to have at least two or maybe three targets against which a drug is directed.”

Still, “This study shows that insulin resistance is a major central nervous system metabolic abnormality in AD that contributes to neural cell damage,” Goetzl said in a press release by the company NanoSomiX, who sponsored the study and plans to develop a blood-based assay based on the results for researchers and pharmaceutical companies. “As insulin resistance is a known condition in type 2 diabetes mellitus and is treatable with several classes of existing drugs, these treatments may be useful as part of a multi-agent program for AD.”

Said lead author of the study Dimitrios Kapogiannis, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, to Bloomberg Businessweek at the conference: “We will need replication and validation, but I’m very optimistic this work will hold.”


This Soap Ingredient Linked to Liver Tumors In Mice

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Triclosan, a widely used antibacterial, is everywhere: in your cleaning supplies, soap, acne lotion, fabrics and even toothpaste. So too are the signs that it might be toxic: a 2012 study showed that triclosan impairs muscle contraction in cells, and other studies have linked it to endocrine disruption and bacterial resistance. Now, new research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that long-term use of triclosan may promote the growth of cancerous tumors in lab mice.

Mice exposed to triclosan for six months—which is the equivalent to about 18 human years—had significantly more liver fibrosis, or hardening of the tissues. “If you have a damaged cell that’s been attacked by a mutagen”—like tobacco smoke, for instance—”triclosan promotes the development of the tumor,” says co-leader of the study Robert H. Tukey, PhD, professor in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. The compound also causes inflammation, which means that “all the ingredients necessary for developing cancer” are present, Tukey says. Compared to control mice, those exposed to triclosan grew tumors that were larger and more frequent. Triclosan may wreak such havoc by interfering with the protein that detoxifies chemicals in the body, the study says.

Researchers also found that in addition to causing liver fibrosis, triclosan caused some kidney fibrosis. That’s concerning to Tukey, since “there are really not a lot of environmental agents that have the potential to cause kidney fibrosis,” he says. “It definitely is doing some nasty stuff with long-term exposure in these mice.” Since it was performed in animals, the results don’t automatically apply to humans. But past studies have found the chemical in 75% of people and the breast milk of 97% of lactating women, suggesting at the very least that the chemical is ubiquitous.

“It has contaminated virtually all of the waterways in the United States, many in the world,” Tukey says. “It’s the major contaminant in sediment in most lakes. It’s present really everywhere.”

The FDA is “engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient,” the agency website notes.

TIME Research

Here’s How Many Bacteria Spread Through One Kiss

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Pucker up, ladies and germs

First base is a great place to get your mouth microbes some new friends, finds a new study in the journal Microbiome. A ten-second French kiss can spread 80 million bacteria between mouths.

Study author Remco Kort, a professor and scientist at Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), asked couples visiting a zoo in the Netherlands if they wanted to participate in a study on French kissing. 21 couples agreed and had their tongues swabbed and saliva collected, both before and after a kiss.

Researchers discovered that the bacteria on the tongues of couples was much more similar than the oral bacteria of two strangers. “Apparently, being with somebody for an extended amount of time and having a relationship leads to a similar collection of bacteria on the tongue,” Kort says.

In order to find out just how similar the shared bacteria were, one person in the couple was instructed to sip a probiotic yogurt drink, wait a bit and kiss their partner a second time. The probiotic bacteria, which aren’t usually found in the mouth, indeed transferred: along with about 80 million other bacteria. Through questionnaires, the team found that the more often a couple kisses, the more bacteria they seem to share.

“There are a number of studies that show if the diversity in bacteria increases—more different types of species—this is a good thing,” Kort says. Kissing might also act as a form of immunization, he adds, allowing you to build up resistance from exposing yourself to more microorganisms. “If you look at it from this point of view, kissing is very healthy.” (Of course, he admits, the health boons kind of depend on who you’re kissing, and what types of oral microbial colonies they have.)

If you want to learn what kind of bacterial kisser you are, grab your partner and head to Micropia in Amsterdam, the brand-new museum of microbes—like a zoo for invisible animals, Kort says. A “Kiss-o-meter,” based on this research, will rate your make out on a scale from “dry, prudent kiss,” which transfers a meager 1,000 bacteria, to a “hot” one, spreading bacteria in the millions. You’ll even get a readout of the microorganisms you’ve exchanged.

And if you’re single? There’s never been a better scientific defense to bring back the kissing booth.

TIME Research

Racism Could Negatively Impact Your Health, Study Finds

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High blood pressure and kidney decline may be linked to feelings of discrimination

Feeling judged because of your race could have a negative impact on your physical health, a new study finds.

A team of researchers studied 1,574 residents of Baltimore as part of the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span study and found that 20% of the subjects reported feeling that they had been racially discriminated against “a lot.”

Even after the researchers adjusted the results for race, this group had higher systolic blood pressure than those who perceived only a little discrimination.

Over a five-year followup, the group who felt more racial discrimination also tended to have greater decline in kidney function. When the researchers, co-led by Deidra C. Crews, MD, assistant professor of medicine and chair of the diversity council at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, adjusted for age and lifestyle factors, the effect stayed constant for African-American women.

“Psychosocial stressors could potentially have an effect on kidney function decline through a number of hormonal pathways,” Dr. Crews said. The release of stress hormones can lead to an increase in blood pressure, and high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney disease.

This isn’t the first time that perceived racial discrimination has been linked to chronic diseases: a 2011 study found that lifetime discrimination was linked to higher rates of hypertension.

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