TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s the Good-Bad News About Trans Fats

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We still need to slash trans fat consumption, a new study finds

We’re eating less trans fat than we did 30 years ago, but we haven’t cut it by enough. A new study in The Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the types of fat 12,000 adults were eating through six surveys that were part of the Minnesota Health Survey.

Between 1980-2009, both men and women slashed their trans fat consumption by about a third—32% and 35%, respectively. That’s encouraging, but the study also found that 1.9% of men’s daily calories come from trans fat, while 1.7% of women’s calories do. Per American Heart Association guidelines, that number should be much smaller: no more than 1% of daily calories.

Saturated fat dropped too, but people still eat about twice as much as the American Heart Association thinks is healthy. Omega-3 intake didn’t change much, and the group thinks it should be higher.

That makes for a mixed report card on fat, and another recent study found that we eat way more trans fat than we think. It lurks in all kinds of packaged foods—even in the labels that read “0 grams of trans fat”—and is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Last year, the FDA declared that it’s considering revoking trans fat’s classification as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.

To steer clear of added trans fat, check ingredient labels for words like “partially hydrogenated oil.” Even a little goes a long way toward 1% of your daily calories.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Cheese?

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

should i eat cheese
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

4/5 experts say yes.

Science types are a rational folk. But dangle a block of cheese in front of them and, nutrition be damned, taste comes first.

“Good bread, good cheese, and good wine? The best,” says Dr. David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “And frankly, pleasure is good for health.”

Meanwhile, Chuck Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, also gives cheese the thumb’s up—but with a caveat. He’s the author of several studies about dairy, including one from 2013 that found organic dairy has 62% more healthy omega-3s than conventional milk, partly due to the cow’s diet of fresh grass. Now, he’s a convert. “Pasture grasses and legumes provide milk cows with the building blocks for health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the rich, earthy flavor in grass-fed whole milk,” he says. And he only eats full-fat cheese (so there’s your scientific blessing to skip the skim stuff).

Speaking of fat, there might be something unique about the kind that comes from dairy. Recent research linked French Canadians’ dairy consumption to better metabolic health. The study author Iwona Rudkowska, a researcher at the CHU de Québec Research Center, points out that dairy contains a fatty acid has been shown to have health-promoting effects on metabolic health, including diabetes, she says.

Cheese—well, the fat in cheese—even helps our bodies absorb more nutrients during digestion, says Sylvie Turgeon, researcher and professor in the food science department at Université Laval in Québec. (The Québecois, it seems, really love their fromage.)

But in the health department, cheese gets a demerit from Katz. “In addition to be highly concentrated in calories and saturated fat, cheese tends to be very high in sodium,” says Katz. “It’s a good protein source, but there are better ones that don’t have such baggage.”

Registered dietitian Lindsay Malone, from the Cleveland Clinic, agrees. “A better way to spice up your salad, sandwich or snack,” she says, is “nuts, nut butters or avocados.”

If the thought of a grilled-nut-butter-sandwich gets you down, don’t despair. You can—and probably should—eat cheese sparingly for its protein, calcium and vitamin D, Malone says. Two slices of Swiss pack 44% of your daily calcium and 15 grams of protein.

The results are clear: even nutrition buffs go weak in the knees for cheese.

Read next: Should I Eat Eggs?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

There Are Antibiotics In Your Fish

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There's a veritable fish pharmacy in your freezer

When we think about food raised with antibiotics, we probably picture oversized chickens and plumped-up cows. But they’re also in our fish—both farmed and wild, finds a new study published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

Antibiotics are used in fish largely to treat and prevent disease, not to promote growth, says study leader Hansa Done, a PhD candidate at Arizona State University’s Center for Environmental Security. They’re dispersed into the water in fish farms and are sometimes injected into fish directly. And once they get into the fish, they generally stay there, even though their concentration diminishes over time.

MORE: Obama Plan to Fight Antibiotic Resistance ‘Disappointing,’ Critics Say

The study looked at 27 fish from 11 different countries, all bought at an Arizona supermarket. Researchers used a meat grinder to pulverize the fish and tested the meat for 47 types of antibiotics. They found residues of five antibiotics, some of which are also used to treat human diseases. Residues of a kind of tetracycline, for instance, showed up in farmed tilapia, farmed salmon and farmed trout. It was also present in wild-caught shrimp from Mexico—probably due to wastewater treatment plant runoff, Done says. Even fish marketed as antibiotic-free wasn’t off the hook: researchers found virginiamycin in one sample of farmed salmon bearing the label.

All traces of the drugs were within legal limits of what’s allowed—which is a victory for our food supply, says Done, but there is a caveat: “For there to still be something in there”—after untold stages of processing and months in Done’s freezer—“means that at one point, it was injected or fed a lot more,” she says. “We just don’t know how much.”

The problem with low-dose antibiotics isn’t that they’re immediately harmful to human health, Done says. It’s that high or low levels in our food supply can breed antibiotic resistance. “Antibiotics present at levels well below regulatory limits still can promote the emergence of drug resistant microorganisms,” the researchers write in the study. In a related meta-analysis of studies on antibiotics and seafood, Done found that antibiotic resistant bacteria in seafood has grown more than 8-fold in the past three decades.

Beyond fending off disease, it’s not clear what antibiotics are doing to the fish themselves. “There’s this rumor that high levels of [the antibiotic] oxytetracycline could lead to spinal deformities in rainbow trout if it’s fed to them during their growth stages,” Done says, though she notes a definite lack of research on the matter. In the six fish she tested, the group with normal spines didn’t have detectable levels of oxytetracycline, but the three with deformed spines did—though only very slightly detectable levels, she says.

More research is needed.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Tea Lowers Blood Pressure Naturally

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The best brew for your heart

Recent research has come down squarely on the side of caffeinated morning beverages, suggesting that coffee can protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes. Tea has enjoyed a healthy reputation for years as a heart-protector, and a study published in the October issue of British Journal of Nutrition suggests it might even help lower blood pressure.

Researchers were intrigued by the inconclusive link in studies so far regarding blood pressure and tea intake, so they analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of scientific research—to further explore on the association.

They found that in the short term, tea didn’t seem to make a difference for blood pressure. But long-term tea intake did have a significant impact. After 12 weeks of drinking tea, blood pressure was lower by 2.6 mmHg systolic and 2.2 mmHg diastolic. Green tea had the most significant results, while black tea performed the next best.

Those might not seem like big numbers, but small changes in blood pressure can have a significant impact on health, the study authors write. Reducing systolic blood pressure by 2.6 mmHg “would be expected to reduce stroke risk by 8%, coronary artery disease mortality by 5% and all-cause mortality by 4% at a population level,” they write.

Tea is thought to offer endothelial protection by helping blood vessels relax, allowing blood to flow more freely. It’s a high source of antioxidants that have been linked to better cardiovascular health.

The researchers weren’t able to pinpoint the optimal number of cups to drink to get the benefit, but other studies have shown protective effects at 3-4 daily cups. The researchers said they didn’t see a difference in caffeinated tea vs. decaf.

“These are profound effects and must be considered seriously in terms of the potential for dietary modification to modulate the risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease],” the authors write.

Read next: 6 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

TIME Diet/Nutrition

You’ll Never Guess What Chia Seeds Can Do To Your Esophagus

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How to eat the superfood safely

Chia, the superseed du jour, is all the rage for its abundant fiber and plant-based protein and fat. But swallowing chia seeds, warns new research presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting, should also come with a note of caution.

That’s because the seeds can absorb 27 times their dry weight in water—expanding in size so much that the thickened, gel-like mass got lodged in a man’s esophagus, sending him to the ER. The 39-year-old man swallowed a tablespoon of dry chia seeds and then chased them with water. When he did, he discovered he couldn’t swallow any of his own saliva. The man had a history of intermittent dysphagia—or the sensation of things getting stuck as he’s swallowing them.

Chia Seeds Esophagus
Courtesy of Carolinas HealthCare System

How could a seed so tiny actually cause a blockage? “It got to be this sort of almost Play-Doh-like consistency, very hard in terms of a liquid but also sort of soft,” says Dr. Rebecca Rawl, MD, the gastroenterology fellow at Carolinas HealthCare System who helped treat the patient. None of her regular tools worked at dislodging it, so using a tiny endoscope meant for babies, she broke of little chunks of chia until it got small enough to push the whole thing through. “It was labor intensive,” she says.

MORE: The Truth About 6 “Superfood” Seeds

Rawl has seen plenty of things get stuck in the esophagus, but the obstructions are usually meat: things like steak, chicken and hot dogs. “Generally, vegetative matter and seeds at least can get broken down and slide through,” Rawl says, and the chia case was the first she’s heard of. “The popularity of chia seeds is growing, and I think this will come up more frequently,” she says.

You don’t have to swear off the smoothie-enhancer for good: just let them expand fully in liquid before eating or drinking them, Rawl recommends.

TIME Addiction

Gamblers Get Less Of a Buzz From Pleasure, Study Finds

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New research presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Berlin sheds light on what happens in the brains of gamblers.

Pathological gambling is a difficult condition to classify. Though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) formerly classified it as an impulse control disorder, the most recent version, the DSM-5, made the switch to defining it as an addictive disorder because of the growing research finding that “gambling disorder is similar to substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, physiology, and treatment,” the DSM website says.

But this new small study shows that it might be unique in some neurologic ways, too. Researchers performed Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans on 14 male pathological gamblers and 15 non-gambling volunteers to measure their levels of opioid receptors, the parts of the brain activated by pleasure-inducing endorphins. People with addictions like alcoholism or drug addiction have been found to have more opioid receptors. In problem gamblers, however, the researchers saw no difference from healthy volunteers, a finding that surprised them.

Then, participants took an amphetamine capsule, which unleashes endorphins with similar effects to the rush you get from exercise or alcohol, the study says. An additional PET scan revealed that pathological gamblers responded differently to the drug. They released fewer endorphins than those who didn’t gamble, and they also reported lower levels of euphoria on a questionnaire afterward. This might help explain the addictive part of pathological gambling: to get pleasure from the act, problem gamblers might need more of it or to work harder for it.

These findings suggest the involvement of the opioid system in pathological gambling and that it may differ from addiction to substances such as alcohol,” says lead researcher Dr. Inge Mick of the Imperial College London in a press release. “We hope that in the long run this can help us to develop new approaches to treat pathological gambling.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Soda May Age You as Much as Smoking, Study Says

The link between soda and telomere length

Nobody would mistake sugary soda for a health food, but a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health just found that a daily soda habit can age your immune cells almost two years.

Senior study author Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco, wanted to look at the mechanisms behind soda’s storied link to conditions like diabetes, heart attack, obesity, and even higher rates of death. She studied telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes in every cell in our body, from white blood cells. Shorter telomeres have been linked to health detriments like shorter lifespans and more stress, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, the study notes.

Epel and her team analyzed data from 5,309 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from about 14 years ago. They found that people who drank more sugary soda tended to have shorter telomeres. Drinking an 8-ounce daily serving of soda corresponded to 1.9 years of additional aging, and drinking a daily 20-ounce serving was linked to 4.6 more years of aging. The latter, the authors point out, is exactly the same association found between telomere length and smoking.

Only the sugary, bubbly stuff showed this effect. Epel didn’t see any association between telomere length and diet soda intake. “The extremely high dose of sugar that we can put into our body within seconds by drinking sugared beverages is uniquely toxic to metabolism,” she says.

She also didn’t see a significant link between non-carbonated sugary beverages, like fruit juice, which Epel says surprised her. But she thinks the results might be different if the data were more modern. “We think that the jury’s still out on sugared beverages—theoretically they’re just as bad,” she says. “But 14 years ago people were drinking a lot less sugared beverages…they were mostly drinking soda.” At the time of the study, 21% of adults in the study reported consuming 20 ounces or more of sugar-sweetened soda each day, but soda consumption has been on the decline for years.

Telomere length dwindles naturally as we age, but it may not be an irreversible process. Previous research shows that it’s possible to increase telomere length by as much as 10% over 5 years by stressing less and eating a healthy diet—no soda included.

Read next: Here’s How to Stop Teens From Drinking Soda

TIME Obesity

How Jet Lag Can Contribute to Obesity

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Changing your circadian clock messes with your microbes

Working the night shift has long been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart attack and breast cancer. One 2011 study even showed that shift work lasting a decade or more boosts your risk for type-2 diabetes by 40%. And new study published in the journal Cell looked at why.

Researchers led by Eran Elinav, MD, PhD, senior scientist in the immunology department at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, suspected the gut microbiome, which he calls “the neglected organ,” might be affected by a disrupted circadian rhythm. It wasn’t an obvious choice. Microbes hang out in the dark of our guts, so they’re never directly exposed to light and dark cycles, he says. That’s why it was surprising to find out that the microbiome is very much affected by disruptions to our bodies’ inner clocks.

Elinav started by making mice work the graveyard shift, subjecting them to a state that would be the equivalent of jet lag from an 8-hour time difference in humans. Mice are nocturnal, so in this case, they stayed awake during the day. “We saw that in the presence of jet lag, their microbes were completely messed up,” he says. The bugs changed in composition and function, losing their circadian rhythm and becoming far less efficient at tasks like cell growth, DNA repair and detoxification. Like humans, mice microbes perform housekeeping and repair functions while they sleep, and growth and energy-promoting functions when they’re awake. But in the study’s graph of these functions in jet-lagged mice, the tasks hardly vary throughout the day and are performed at much lower levels.

These mice were also more susceptible to obesity and diabetes, and when Elinav transferred their gut bacteria into sterile, germ-free mice, they also transferred the heightened risk for disease, “proving that it’s actually their microbes driving this susceptibility,” he says.

Such a theory is much harder to test in humans, of course, but Elinav studied two people traveling from the U.S. to Israel, which induced an 8-hour jet lag similar to the mice. He sampled their gut bacteria three times over two weeks, capturing the main stages of jet lag, and found that their microbes indeed changed in composition, and in ways that were startlingly similar. Elinav even transferred the humans’ jet-lagged bugs into germ-free mice. “We could very nicely see that transferring the gut microbes from the point where jet lag was at its highest induced much more obesity and glucose intolerance,” he says.

Thankfully, the gut microbes of the travelers had returned to normal two weeks after their flight, and transferring their bugs into mice no longer led to increased obesity and glucose intolerance. But the implications of the findings are troublesome for frequent travelers and especially shift workers, whose work demands a consistent disruption of circadian rhythms.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Eggs?

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer the food questions really gnawing at you.

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Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

4/5 experts say yes.

The great breakfast conundrum seems a lot simpler when you ask a bunch of science types who know eggs inside and out (and sunny-side up). And most of them are pretty wild about eggs.

Each of the five experts noted that eggs are a fantastic source of vitamins—“one of nature’s most perfect foods,” gushes Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a nutrition expert at Cleveland Clinic, since a fatty neon yolk makes lots of those fat-soluble nutrients way easier for your body to use. Unlike many other foods packed with vitamins—like kale, say—you don’t have to combine eggs with fat to get the most out of them. “Whole eggs are a source of highly bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that protect against oxidative stress, inflammation and age related macular degeneration,” says Maria Luz Fernandez, PhD, professor in University of Connecticut’s nutritional sciences department. One egg contains 35% of your daily choline, a key component for cognitive function that may protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

You can make a compelling “vitamin-filled” case for nearly any food Mother Nature manufactures, but egg’s secret sauce is what it doesn’t have. “When we eat more of A, we eat less of B,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. Eating eggs in the morning, for instance, helps steer us away from the carbier, meatier breakfast offerings, and that’s a good thing. A recent study showed that when people followed a low-carb diet for a year, they lost more weight and cut their heart disease risk factors more than the low-fat group.

Eggs don’t wreak havoc on your heart or cholesterol, several experts pointed out. Recent clinical studies have debunked that myth, and some evidence suggests they might actually be good for cholesterol. “They help raise your HDL ‘good’ cholesterol and may help in the prevention of some eye diseases,” says Thomas Wilson, associate professor of nutritional sciences at University of Massachusetts Lowell. And they keep you full. One large egg has 6 grams of protein.

Our lone dissenter Ronald Ross Watson, PhD, professor at the University of Arizona College of Public Health, doesn’t take issue with the nutritional composition of eggs—“When cooked and/or processed otherwise, they become a great source of essential protein, lipids, vitamins & minerals,” he writes in an email. He’s more miffed by the misappropriation of eggs, whose noble destiny is species survival and life development in birds, not to become your fancy frittata. “It remains a shame to use eggs for such purpose as feeding,” he says.

Sorry, chickens—but it looks like the egg comes first in this debate.

Read next: You Asked: Will Eating Before Bed Make Me Fat?

TIME Cancer

Can Low-T Therapy Promote Prostate Cancer?

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New rat research raises health questions for researcher

“Low T” therapy is a fast-growing trend for men who want to jack up testosterone—which declines naturally with age but which can also be clinically low in some people—and the testosterone therapy industry is predicted to reach $5 billion by 2017. The long-term safety effects of supplementing with the hormone is still in question, however—especially in light of a study earlier this year that found double the heart attack risk in certain men after starting testosterone treatments. Other research suggested there was no meaningful increase in heart risk, adding to the confusion. But a new rat study published in the journal Endocrinology raises some alarming questions about the increasingly popular drugs.

Maarten Bosland, PhD, study author and professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Medicine, devised an animal model to test the tumor-promoting effects of testosterone in rats. He exposed a group of rats to a carcinogen, which would put them at risk of developing cancer. He also gave some of the rats testosterone, but no carcinogen. In a third group, he administered both the carcinogen and the testosterone. Then, he measured tumor growth among the two groups.

None of the rats developed prostate cancer when they were just exposed to the carcinogen, but 10-18% of them did when they were just given testosterone. When the rats were exposed to the carcinogen and then given testosterone—even at very low doses—50-71% developed prostate cancer. “I was totally amazed about how strong testosterone can work to promote the formation of prostate cancer in these animals,” he says.

Of course, an animal model can’t determine what will happen in men, but Bosland thinks a similar effect is possible. “Absent of having solid human studies, we won’t be able to say that—it’s just an extra warning signal,” he says. “But I think it’s a clear indication that there is risk.”

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