TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Tofu?

4/5 experts say yes.

It’s chewier than chicken! Better than beef! It’s…a big block of bean curd!

And 80% of our experts are wild about tofu.

Made from the curd of crushed-up soybeans, tofu is a meatless master of disguise. A serving packs 9 grams of protein and even more iron, gram for gram, than a lean cut of steak—plus far more calcium, zero cholesterol and a fraction of the fat.

It’s been a staple in Asian populations for thousands of years. “The traditional Okinawan diet provided among the world’s largest intake of tofu, and Okinawans not only have lived the longest—with the least disability—but have had among the lowest heart disease, breast, prostate and colon cancer and dementia rates in the world,” says Dr. Bradley Willcox, a principal investigator with the Okinawa Centenarian Study and director of research in the department of geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii.

Soy has a controversial reputation, since it contains phytoestrogen plant compounds that may or may not like the hormone estrogen, which is linked to breast cancer. Research on its health benefits is far from conclusive. But Maarten Bosland, a cancer researcher and professor of pathology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine who’s researched soy, says he knows of no evidence showing it’s harmful—and plenty that points in the opposite direction. In fact, several studies have suggest that soy is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer, a better survival rate among people with lung cancer, lower levels of inflammation and a smaller risk of hip fractures in women, says Cameron Wells, RD, acting director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Not everyone thinks consuming tofu is a good idea, including Elena Giordano, a biologist and nutritionist in Italy who researches the effects of soy in mice. 93% of soy is genetically modified, she points out. That’s because genetically modified soy is bred to be more resistant to herbicides. (There’s no solid evidence that GMOs cause any real harm, but if you’re worried, you can buy organic soy, which isn’t genetically altered.)

It’s also important how you eat your tofu. Soy products often hide in highly processed foods, from salad dressings to energy bars. And the world’s longest-lived populations aren’t noshing vegan processed soy cheese and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. “The key is consuming your soy in whole food sources,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, manager of wellness nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic.

Think miso, tempeh, edamame—and those blocks of tofu, of course.

tofu
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Read next: Should I Drink Almond Milk?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

2,500 Tons of the Food We Eat is Fake

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Fake alcohol was the biggest offender

Do you really know what’s in your cheese?

New evidence may cast some doubt on the purity of your favorite foods. Interpol, the international criminal police organization, announced that it seized thousands of tons of fake food in a joint operation with Europol over the past two months—including seemingly benign mainstays like mozzarella, eggs, bottled mineral water, strawberries, cooking oil and dried fruit—in 47 countries.

Adulterations cut across all kinds of categories. In Italy, 31 tons of seafood were labeled as “fresh” but had actually been previously frozen, then doused with a chemical containing citric acid and hydrogen peroxide to hide that it was rotting. At an Italian cheese factory, officers found expired dairy and chemicals used to make old cheese seem fresh. They also found that mozzarella was being smoked in the back of a van with burning trash as a heat source.

Egyptian authorities seized 35 tons of fake butter and shut down an entire factory producing that was sold as tea. In Thailand, officials destroyed 85 tons of meat that had made its way into the country without health and safety testing. And in the U.S., the FDA found that illegal dietary supplements were being sent through the mail.

All of that fraudulent food was seized in markets, airports, seaports and shops between December 2014 and January 2015. The crackdown, known as Operation Opson IV, is the largest effort of the agencies to target such inappropriately or mislabeled food and ultimately removed 2,500 tons of food and 275,000 liters of tainted drinks out of the food supply, Interpol says. Last year, Operation Opson III seized about 1,200 tons of fake food in 33 countries.

Read more: Waiter, There’s Fox In My Donkey Meat: The Global Scandal of Food Fraud

The most counterfeited product of all was alcohol. In the U.K., officials ferreted out a plant distilling fraudulent brand-name vodka, made in antifreeze containers and treated to take out the chemical smell. Officials in Rwanda found a shop selling a local brew that had been poured into used brand-name bottles to pass it off as more expensive.

It isn’t new, but the practice of substituting a less expensive ingredient for a pricier one, or finding ways to dilute a product, is increasingly the subject of scrutiny. One 2014 study by Oceana found that 30% of shrimp sold in the U.S. are mislabeled, and Europe’s recent horse meat scandal has made people across the world second guess what’s on their dinner plate when they’re served beef.

“It is a problem everywhere,” says Markus Lipp, senior director for food standards at United States Pharmacopeia, a non-profit organization that develops standards for ingredients in pharmaceuticals, foods and dietary supplements and maintains a database of known instances of food fraud. (U.S. Pharmacopeia was not involved with the Interpol/Europol investigation.) “Too good to be true is actually a real thing,” Lipp says. “If I get something really, really cheap but it’s usually very expensive, it might not be the right thing.”

In countries with more effective regulatory agencies, food fraud happens less, but consumers can be smarter about their food purchases wherever they live, Lipp says. Buying the not-as-processed version of a food makes it less of a target. Whole coffee beans, for example, are more distinct in form and shape—and more difficult to adulterate—than the ground variety.

Same goes for ground brown burgers. “Everyone can tell a horse from a cow,” Lipp says. “But if it’s a patty, it gets much more difficult to tell horse meat from cow meat.”

The more intact our food, Lipp says, the more distinguishing features it has. Buying it in its natural state, or as close to that state as possible, “will aid us in helping to prevent adulteration or buying adulterated products,” he says.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Here’s the Minimum Exercise You Need for Maximum Results

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Finally, some good news for fitness minimalists

It doesn’t take much: women who exercise a few times a week have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots compared to women who didn’t exercise at all, finds a new study published in the journal Circulation.

About one million women in England and Scotland, who were an average age of 56, reported their physical activity starting in 1998 and were followed for up to a decade. Researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K. analyzed how much and how hard the women exercised, along with their incidence of heart disease, stroke and blood clots.

Interestingly, the women who exercised more did not necessarily lower their risk of heart-related problems. There seemed to be a threshold, or magic number after which the benefits started to decline. They found the biggest difference in risk of heart disease between the women who did some activity versus none, which should be a comfort to anyone daunted by the prospect of an intense exercise routine.

But the interesting patterns emerged when they looked more closely at how much exercise was enough to keep the women’s health risks low. Among those opting for moderate exercise, which included activities like walking, gardening and even housework, the benefits seemed to peak at 4-6 sessions a week. For women who did strenuous exercise, the kind that caused sweating and a fast heart beat, 2-3 times a week was best—it reduced their risk by about 20% compared to those who rarely or never exercised.

Exercising strenuously more than three times a week was associated with increased vascular risk, which echoes the findings of another recent report that found pushing your body too hard can undo the benefits of exercise.

MORE This Is How Much Exercise Experts Think You Really Need

The authors stress, however that the average middle-aged woman isn’t in any danger of over-exercising. “Activities may not necessarily need to be sports or exercise at the gym, because even everyday activities such as gardening and walking were associated with significantly lower risks in these women,” says lead study author Miranda Armstrong, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.

In an editorial published in the same journal, Rachel Huxley, professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, points out that about 25% of the women in the study smoked. Though the authors controlled for the effects of smoking on heart disease, they acknowledge that smoking may have contributed to the higher rates of vascular risk they found among heavy exercisers. And only 3% of the sample of women said they engaged in such strenuous exercise, so that data involves far fewer women.

The message for most of us is this: it doesn’t take much physical activity to start reaping its health benefits. “These findings may offer some hope—and even perhaps a dash of inspiration—to the estimated 30% of adults worldwide who struggle to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity,” Huxley writes.

Read next: 7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

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TIME Research

What Pheromones Really Reveal About Your Love Life

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In search of the lingua franca of odor

Beauty may not be in the eye of the beholder after all.

It may actually lie just south, in the nose. At least that’s what the latest research on pheromones, substances that social animals secrete to communicate with and attract other members of their species, suggests. Moths, pigs, goldfish, and even we, as social animals, have them. But exactly what role do these scents play in sexual attraction between people?

“There are millions of hits on websites that are trying to sell—mostly to men—the sex attractant,” says Charles Wysocki, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “Wear this and you’ll score tonight.” The promise: with the spritz of a mate-attracting mist, the sniffer would fall helplessly, chemically, scientifically under the smell spell of pheromone-emitting you.

Sounds good, but scientists have yet to conclusively identify a single known human pheromone, let alone bottle the stuff, although they have been chasing some fascinating leads. We now know, for example, that pheromones do help you smell someone else’s gender, and there’s some preliminary evidence that pheromones might be a potential X factor for attraction and fertility. According to one study, in which 18 professional lap dancers recorded their menstrual cycles, work shifts and tip earnings for two months, researchers found that during the phase when the women were most fertile, right before ovulation, dancers earned about $335 per shift, compared to $260 during other parts of their cycle. When they were menstruating, they only earned about $185 per shift. Interestingly, dancers who took birth control pills, which contain hormones that prevent ovulation, didn’t experience this fertile peak in tips.

Of course, many other explanations for the spike in sexual attractiveness are possible, but the data on the potential link between fertility and pheromones is getting hard to ignore. Another study published in Psychological Science found that when men smelled T-shirts worn by women who were close to ovulation, they displayed higher levels of testosterone than when they sniffed shirts from women further away from ovulation or T-shirts with a control scent.

Other research suggests that pheromones may regulate people’s moods, and that may explain the link—albeit more indirect—to sexual attraction. Wysocki’s lab collected underarm secretions from men and put them on the upper lips of women, who reported feeling less tense and more relaxed when they smelled the sweat than when they smelled a placebo.

Read more: Is Perfume Bad For Me?

What element of that sweat, or of any scent we emit that’s picked up by others, is driving the attraction is still unclear. Experts believe it may likely be a bunch of them. People also seem to have one-of-a-kind odor prints, or signature smells that we can’t help but produce uniquely. That’s thanks to something called a major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a collection of proteins that regulate the immune system—and maybe even mate choice, say some scientists. According to their theory, you naturally sniff out a mate whose immune system is optimally different from your own, which would make the immune system of your offspring more diverse, robust and better positioned to fend off more pathogens.

“The evidence is strong that there’s something in the major MHC genes that influences mate choice,” Wysocki says. In one study also involving well-worn T-shirts, women sniffed shirts worn by men and picked the one they’d most prefer to socialize with. They tended to select shirts from men with MHC genes that differed from their own. Women on birth control pills, however, show the opposite effect and are drawn to MHCs similar to theirs, possibly because the pill puts the body into a hormonal state similar to pregnancy, when you’d want safe, supportive and similar relatives around. Wysocki believes that birth control pills might be messing with the mating game. “Some have argued that for women who are on the birth control pill, they’re not getting the right olfactory information about their potential mate,” he says.

“We know that hormones affect the sense of smell especially in women,” Wysocki says. But he’s reluctant to say anything more about what role, if any they play in attraction, since results from studies so far aren’t conclusive, and the topic is controversial and tough to investigate well. “That’s about as far as I can say; the underlying mechanism has not yet been established.”

Part of the challenge comes from the fact that people perceive smells in different ways; one of Wysocki’s studies determined that no two people experience the olfactory world in exactly the same way. Add in all of the other complexities of attraction, and it’s no surprise we haven’t found an eau d’amour quite yet. That bottle may be many, many Valentine’s Days away.

Read next: The Truth About Aphrodisiacs

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Pizza?

Here's why it depends on the pie

4/5 experts say yes.

But don’t dial for delivery just yet. These experts’ thumbs, though mostly up, advocate for fresh, homemade pizza—not the grease-soaked stuff from a box.

Bad news #1: A single slice of sausage pie has 14 grams of fat. Bad news #2: Pizza is the single biggest source of solid fat intake in kids: 20% of all that pizza comes from school cafeterias, and it’s pretty much equal in fat to the fast-food kind.

“Stay away from eating numerous slices at a time, and pizza laden with salty and fatty toppings,” says study author Lisa Powell, PhD, professor in the school of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her 2015 study found that on days when kids eat pizza—especially the fast-food kind—they take in more calories, saturated fat and sodium than usual. When you want to indulge, offset it with a big salad, she suggests.

All the salad in the world may not undo the damage of delivery, but rethinking the pizza can.

“Pizza is a typical Mediterranean dish, like it or not,” says Adam Drewnowski, PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington. Treat it as an open-faced sandwich, he says—a vehicle for whole grains, cheese, tomatoes, vegetables and even fruit, if you’re one of those people who likes pineapple on your pie.

Pizza has a lot going for it in ingredients alone. You already know how our experts feel about cheese, and tomato sauce has a lot of nutritional potential. Because it goes through thermal processing, it packs even more antioxidants than raw tomatoes, found one 2015 study. Heating up tomatoes helps break down their cell walls and releases tomato carotenoids like lycopene, “thus increasing their absorbance,” says study author Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventos, antioxidant researcher and associate professor at the University of Barcelona. Sometimes processed food does a body good.

One group in Scotland took a stab at formulating a nutritionally perfect pizza that people would still actually like to eat. Dr. Emilie Combet, lecturer in nutrition at the University of Glasgow School of Medicine, helped create a pie that cut back on salt and saturated fat while enhancing fiber. About 77% of adults—and a surprising 81% of children—said that the revised pie tasted as good or better than what they usually ate. “With the right ingredients, and the right proportions, pizza can be part of a nutritionally balanced meal,” Combet says.

That’s the right way to treat the pizza question, agrees Jennifer M. Poti, research assistant professor in nutritional epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of many pizza studies. Ditch delivery, she says, but “I would say yes to pizza with whole-grain crust, fresh vegetable toppings, and prepared with lower sodium and served in reasonable portion sizes.”

There you have it, pizza fiends. Let your love of pizza be your excuse to cook more.

Pizza

Read next: Should I Drink Seltzer?

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Cholesterol Is Not a ‘Nutrient of Concern,’ Report Says

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New dietary recommendations are due later this year from the U.S. government, and big changes could be coming for cholesterol.

A preliminary document from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, released in December and reported this week by the Washington Post, states that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” That one sentence could drastically change the way Americans think about cholesterol-containing foods, like eggs, shrimp, butter and cheese. If the stance is adopted in forthcoming recommendations from the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which jointly set national nutrition guidelines, it may mean a vast departure from guidelines set just five years ago. The 2010 dietary guidelines put cholesterol under the “foods and food components to reduce” category, and the guidelines advise that people eat less than 300 mg per day. (Eggs, a source of dietary cholesterol, contain about 164 mg each.)

Experts say this would mean that recommendations are finally catching up with the evidence, which suggests that dietary cholesterol bears little impact on a person’s risk of heart disease.

“There have been multiple analyses and meta-analyses now looking at intake of dietary cholesterol and the risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “In the general population, there’s really not any strong evidence for a link.” However, a few studies have shown that there may be increased risk in people with type-2 diabetes, he says.

Dietary cholesterol isn’t solidly linked to cholesterol levels in the blood, says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “There’s virtually no association,” Katz says; much more profound are the impacts of saturated and trans fats. Several of his own lab’s studies have shown that eggs don’t adversely affect blood cholesterol.

Read more: Should I Eat Eggs?

The final report isn’t yet available. In a statement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says this: “The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is currently finalizing its report to the federal government detailing its scientific recommendations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) joint development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. We expect the Committee’s advisory report to be released to the public in the coming weeks.”

If cholesterol gets its nutritional exoneration, that doesn’t give you license to swap your steel-cut oatmeal for five-egg, bacon-wrapped omelets. “We do not have evidence that people who eat more eggs have less heart disease,” says Katz. “But we do have evidence that people who eat more whole grains have less heart disease.” Eggs are safe to add to a heart-healthy diet, but don’t count on eggs to be the cornerstone.

“From my perspective, our dietary guidelines should be based on where we have strong evidence for good and where we have strong evidence for harm, and everything else should be kind of left out until we get strong evidence,” says Mozaffarian. “Dietary cholesterol is not in a place, I think, where there’s strong evidence for harm.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Drink Seltzer Water?

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

5/5 experts say yes.

Seltzer—also known as bubbly water, carbonated water, soda water and sparkling water—comes with as almost as many health myths as it does names. Does it leach calcium from bones? Or destroy the enamel of teeth? Will water plus carbon dioxide equal certain death?

You’re in luck. Seltzer is one of the rare instances where something you love drinking isn’t bad for you. All of our experts say bottoms up to bubbles.

seltzer water
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Most obviously, seltzer’s a great soda alternative, since it lacks the calories and sugar of sweetened carbonated drinks. Switching to unsweetened bubbles is a healthy step for anyone, says Laureen Smith, PhD, RN, associate professor at the Ohio State University College of Nursing, who’s studied how to get kids to stop drinking sugary sodas. “For those who choose carbonated sodas, it may provide the sought-after carbonation without the sugar,” she says.

It won’t weaken your bones, either. In one study, Douglas Kiel, MD, associated professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School found that cola was associated with lower hip bone density in women—but not other carbonated drinks like seltzer. Other studies, like this one by Robert Heaney, MD, professor in the Creighton University School of Medicine in Nebraska, also found that carbonation did not leach calcium from bones.

Both agree that seltzer is a safe bet. (And both bone researchers add, predictably, that milk is the best choice of all as an alt-water beverage.) “It’s not harmful,” Heaney says of seltzer. “But if it displaces a beneficial beverage, such as dairy milk, then that’s not good.”

Your fear of weakening enamel is also nothing to worry about, according to one study that tested sparkling waters on extracted human teeth. Levels of erosion were very low.

Now for the good news: seltzer water counts toward your daily H2O, say two of our experts. “Seltzer water is like drinking regular water,” says Sara Bleich, PhD, associate professor in health policy and management at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “It’s harmless.”

It might even help you drink more water, according to the findings of one study, in which people who made carbonated water at home drank significantly more total water than people who didn’t make their own water. Seltzer-drinkers also ate less fat. That would make sense to Smith, who adds that bubbles can make you feel full.

So should you insist on sparkling? If you like the taste and you don’t mind paying for water, then go for it. Professor Adam Drewnowski, PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, has studied the demographics of water drinking in the U.S. and determined that seltzer graces the glasses of the rich. “Seltzer is just plain tap water going upscale,” he says. “My answer is drink up and don’t worry about it.”

Read next: Should I Drink Diet Soda?

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