TIME Diet/Nutrition

Dining Out May Be Linked To High Blood Pressure in Young People

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One additional meal eaten away from home correlates with a more than 5% increase in the chance of having prehypertension

Young people who eat out often are more likely to have high blood pressure than their counterparts who cook their own food, according to a new study in the American Journal of Hypertension.

The study, which looked at more than 500 university students in Singapore, found that one additional meal eaten away from home correlates with a more than 5% increase in the chance of having prehypertension, or slightly elevated blood pressure. Researchers explained that meals eaten out typically contain more calories, saturated fat and salt than homemade meals. All three of those factors have been shown to cause high blood pressure.

Overall, 38% of students ate at least 12 meals, or around half of the total meals in a week, away from home each week and half of the male participants had prehypertension, compared with only 10% of the women.

The study authors note that the research doesn’t identify cause and effect and is likely more applicable to residents of South East Asia than elsewhere.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Drink Fat-Free Half and Half?

5/5 experts say no.

“Hell no!” says Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, followed by: “What is it?” Those were sentiments echoed by all of our experts in this week’s burning food question.

Lest you, too, are left scratching your head, here’s the lowdown. Half-and-half math is simple: whole milk plus cream. The fat-free version requires some more advanced calculations, however. “It typically replaces the milk fat with corn syrup and thickeners,” says Julia Zumpano, an RD at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute. (Kristi King, senior clinical dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital, agrees that the real thing is better than additives.) The ingredient list on a typical brand of fat-free half and half contains fat-free milk, corn syrup, carrageenan, cream, artificial color, disodium phosphate, guar gum and vitamin A palmitate. It has half the calories (20) as regular half-and-half and about twice the sodium (20-30 mg), plus sugar (1-2 grams).

“Fat-free half-and-half strikes me as an absolutely unnecessary product,” says Mario Kratz, PhD, a dairy researcher and nutrition scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. It exists, of course, because people want the rich texture and flavor and calcium benefits without the fat or calories. But that dairy phobia is misguided, according to Kratz’s recent review on dairy. “Our work shows that consuming dairy foods in their full-fat form (rather than nonfat or low-fat) is associated with lower weight gain, a lower risk of obesity, and possibly even lower risks for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he says.

MORE Why Full-Fat Dairy May Be Healthier Than Low-Fat

These findings are largely drawn from observational studies, so they can’t establish cause in the way that a randomized controlled trial can, Kratz cautions. Nor do the findings imply that chugging a carton of regular half-and-half is a good idea—just that drinking the fat-free version might be a worse one.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing as fat-free half-and-half. Sounds awful,” says Andrew Weil, MD, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Weil steers people away from nonfat dairy products (though he cops to dipping into fat-free sour cream every once in a while) because taking the fat out of dairy, he says, might have hormonal effects. “Milk contains natural sex hormones,” he says. “The centrifugation process for preparing nonfat milk and products made from it causes differential concentration of male and female hormones in the separated watery and fatty components.” Some studies link skim milk to increased risk of type-1 diabetes, male acne and infertility in women, he says.

Without the fat, half and half is a lot like the skim milk that makes it up—it just isn’t quite whole.

fat-free half and half
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

Read next: Should I Eat Falafel?

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s a Record Number of Organic Farms and Processing Facilities in the U.S.

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The number of organic producers in the U.S. has risen more than 5% in a year

There are nearly 20,000 certified organic operations in the U.S., which is a new record, officials announced on Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) counted 19,474 organic farms, ranches and processing facilities, up more than 5% from last year and 250% from 2002, when officials began tracking certified organic producers. Worldwide, there are more than 27,800 organic producers.

“As demand for organic products continues to soar, more and more producers are entering the organic market,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “USDA tools and resources have created opportunities for organic farmers and more options for organic consumers. Growing demand for organic goods can be especially helpful to smaller family operations. The more diverse type of operations and the more growing market sectors we have in American agriculture, the better off our country’s rural economy will be.”

Recently, the USDA put forward $66.5 million in funding to support specialty crops and organic food production. The USDA is also creating an organic operations database that will streamline organic certification processes, and keep updated information about certificated facilities in the U.S. The USDA says the database will likely roll out in September.

Other recent data shows that U.S. consumers are continuing to buy organic produce even despite rising prices, which is good news for producers.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Baby Food Recalled for Containing Glass

Beech-Nut Nutrition has recalled approximately 1,920 lb. of baby food

A baby-food company has recalled around 1,920 lb. of its product due to possible contamination with small pieces of glass, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The company, Beech-Nut Nutrition, is recalling its “Stage 2 Beech-Nut Classics sweet potato & chicken” baby food in 4-oz. glass jars. The baby food was made on Dec. 12, 2014, and the recall applies to food expiring December 2016. The company learned of the problem when a customer reported a small piece of glass in their baby food, and the USDA notes that a consumer reported an oral injury from the product.

“Outside of this single report, we have no indication that any other jar of our Classics Stage 2 Sweet Potato & Chicken is affected, but as a company of parents and families we are acting with an abundance of caution,” the company said in a statement posted to its website. “The quality and safety of our products is our number one priority. We know we have not met the expectations of parents who rely on Beech-Nut for quality nutrition for their babies and toddlers in this case, and for that we apologize.”

People who have bought the affected product can return the baby food to the store they purchased it from for a refund or exchange.

The recalled baby food contained the product numbers “12395750815” through “12395750821.” It also contains the inspection code “P-68A.” Customers can get more information on the Beech-Nut Nutrition website.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

What 5 Days of Junk Food Does to Your Metabolism

There's far more than weight gain to worry about

It takes surprisingly few days of a mac-and-cheese-rich diet to do some really bad things to your metabolism. Just five days on a diet full of processed food was enough to alter a body’s healthy response to food, finds a small new study published in the journal Obesity.

Researchers wanted to look at how skeletal muscles adapt when we pound our bodies with fatty processed foods, so they took 12 healthy college-aged men and put them on an eating regimen designed by the researchers, including an initial control diet. Those on the fatty diet ate 55% of their calories came from fat—and about 18% of their total calories came from saturated fat. That’s a lot more saturated fat than most Americans eat, no matter how bad their diet. The control diet was about 30% fat.

“When we were toying around with what diet we were going to use, we looked at things like gift certificates for McDonald’s,” says Matthew W. Hulver, PhD, department head of Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise at Virginia Tech. “But a McDonald’s diet isn’t even saturated enough compared to what we fed the people in our study.”

They settled on a Westernized diet topped with butter, featuring foods like macaroni and cheese, ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and butter, and fatty microwavable meals. The researchers took muscle biopsies from the men before and after the high-fat feeding. The researchers formulated the fatty diets to be identical in calories to the control.

When researchers looked at specific gene targets, the effects on metabolism were dramatic. “The normal response to a meal was essentially either blunted or just not there after five days of high-fat feeding,” Hulver says. Before going on a work-week’s worth of a fatty diet, when the men ate a normal meal they saw big increases in oxidative targets four hours after eating. That response was obliterated after the five-day fat infusion. And under normal eating conditions, the biopsied muscle used glucose as an energy source by oxidizing glucose. “That was essentially wiped out after,” he says. “We were surprised how robust the effects were just with five days.”

While their overall insulin sensitivity didn’t change in the short time frame, the findings suggest that longer exposure to a diet of this kind might lead to insulin resistance down the line.

If five days of fat is enough to mess with metabolism, the chronic effects raise interesting questions, Hulver says. “Our question is: does this prime the body? When you go into a period where you are overconsuming calories, would individuals who have a chronic high fat diet be predisposed to weight gain?”

Hulver says he doesn’t know the answer yet, but his lab’s future studies hope to find out.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Egg Company Execs Get Jail Time For Food Safety Breach

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The execs were tied to a 2010 salmonella outbreak

The former owner and Chief Operating Officer of the company Quality Egg were sentenced to three months in jail on Monday for their role in a 2010 outbreak of salmonella.

Quality Egg owner Austin “Jack” DeCoster and his son and the company COO Peter DeCoster pleaded guilty to distributing adulterated eggs. Quality Egg must pay a fine of $6.79 million and each of the DeCosters must pay $100,000. After three months in prison, the DeCosters will also have one year of supervised release. The company has been placed on a three-year probation. The pair was not taken into custody and may appeal the sentence.

In 2010, adulterated eggs from Quality Egg were tied to 1,939 reported consumer illnesses from salmonella. Workers for the company disregarded food safety standards, according to prosecutors, and mislead its customers—including major retailers like Walmart—about its food safety practices. The court says that the company also falsified documents for food-safety audits and used false expiration dates that misled customers about how old the eggs were.

Quality Egg pleaded guilty to its employees bribing an U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector on at least two occasions to release eggs that had been flagged for failing to meet quality standards. As NBC reports, it’s not clear when the DeCosters learned about the bribes.

“The message this prosecution and sentence sends is a stern one to anyone tempted to place profits over people’s welfare. Corporate officials are on notice. If you sell contaminated food you will be held responsible for your conduct. Claims of ignorance or ‘I delegated the responsibility to someone else’ will not shield them from criminal responsibility,” said U.S. Attorney Kevin W. Techau for the Northern District of Iowa in a statement about the verdict.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Ways to Tell If a ‘Natural’ Food Is Actually Good for You

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Because 'natural' doesn’t always mean healthy

As a nutritionist I loathe “diet” foods, meaning processed products with labels including terms like reduced fat and sugar free—and according to a recent report, consumers are with me. Shoppers are curbing their consumption of foods with “better for you” label terms like low sugar, low carb, and fortified. In fact, the data show that these kinds of products are in their sixth straight year of decline.

Part of the shift is a movement toward foods that are real, rather than altered. As a fan of natural foods and clean eating, I’m all for it. But “natural” doesn’t inherently mean healthy. Here are three key points to consider when evaluating natural products, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Read more: 10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar from Your Diet

Read the ingredient list

You may be surprised to learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t developed a legal definition for the term natural. They allow its use if a product doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances, but there is definitely a lot of gray area regarding the interpretation of natural. For example, carrageenan is an ingredient that can be derived from seaweed, but I bet you’ve never seen it sold at your local farmer’s market or supermarket. And while it’s technically natural, its consumption has been tied to digestive problems and inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and diseases, including obesity.

What to look for: Use the term natural as a starting point, then always read the ingredient list. It should read like a recipe you could craft in your own kitchen. In other words, you should think, “I could have gone to the market, bought all of these ingredients, and made this myself, but I didn’t have to, because someone else made it for me.” I call that “homemade for you” and to me, it’s the true mark of a clean product.

Read more: 12 Crazy Things That Happen to Your Food Before You Buy It

Check the sugar content

I recently attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, where literally thousands of natural foods and goods are featured. As I sorted through the myriad energy bars, sports drinks, and snack foods, one thing was clear: many natural products are loaded with sugar! And while I would rather see someone consume a natural form of sugar over an artificial sweetener, the amount of sugar you consume still matters.

What to look for: The type of sugar you need to limit is called added sugar, the kind put into a food by the manufacturer—not what’s inserted by Mother Nature, like the naturally occurring sugar found in fruit. Unfortunately, the current Nutrition Facts label lumps these two together, which means if a food contains both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar (like yogurt with both real fruit and sugar added), there’s no way to tell how much comes from each type.

The only way to glean more info is to read the ingredients. If you see sugar grams listed on the Nutrition Facts panel, but no sweeteners appear in the ingredient list, you know that no sugar was added, so any grams listed are all naturally occurring. But if you see any terms like these, it means sugar was added: brown sugar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, agave, or date sugar. (And take note: some manufacturers use multiple types of sugar in the same product.) For added sugar, every 4 grams on the Nutrition Facts label represents one teaspoon, and the American Heart Association recommends that women and men limit their daily intake of added sugar to six and nine teaspoons, respectively.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Scope out refined grains

I’m all about eating real food, but it drives me bonkers when natural foods that contain refined grains are perceived as healthy. I was at a health food store with a client recently, and at least half a dozen foods he regularly buys contained refined starch, like gluten-free crackers made with white rice flour, and vegan cookies made with organic, but still refined, wheat flour.

What to look for: I’m not saying there isn’t a place for treats or splurges—there is. And I would absolutely rather see someone eat a cookie made with natural ingredients rather than manufactured ones, even if that cookie contained white flour and sugar. But I think it’s important to note that there are now plenty of natural and organic versions of processed foods are still, well, processed. To maximize the quality and nutritional value of your overall diet, you should limit these products and focus on whole food options, like hummus and veggies over chips, and fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate over sweet treats. Bottom line: quality is king.

Read more: 16 Most Misleading Food Labels

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Your New Science-Backed Reason to Eat More Cheese

Your good bacteria love stinky fromage as much as you do

Americans have long been bewildered by the French paradox: that despite consuming a dream diet full of cheese, baguettes and red wine, people in France have generally low rates of coronary heart disease. By some estimates, the average French person eats 57 pounds of cheese each year—more than in any other country—while the average American eats a measly 34.

Scientists have yet to solve the puzzle. Some point to the resveratrol in red wine as one possibility; a more likely reason, say a growing number of experts, is that we were wrong—or at least partially wrong—to condemn saturated fat as a primary cause of heart disease. A small new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests yet another delicious possibility: cheese.

More research is needed, but in this paper—funded in part by Arla Foods (a Danish food company that produces dairy products) and the Danish Dairy Research Foundation—Danish scientists analyzed data from 15 healthy young men who ate three diets for two weeks. All of the diets had the same amount of calories and fat, but one was rich in 1.5% fat milk, another required eating 1.7 grams of cow cheese per day, and there was a third control diet. The researchers analyzed the men’s urine and feces to figure out how dairy is metabolized and what effect it had on markers of blood cholesterol levels.

When people gorged on dairy products—but especially cheese—their microflora seemed to change. In their feces, researchers saw some metabolites that they know are related to the metabolism of the microflora: short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and propionate both appeared at increased concentrations compared to the control diet. They also had lower levels than the control group of TMAO, a metabolite produced when the body metabolizes choline, which is found in many animal-derived foods, especially red meat. (Lower levels seem to be a good thing; other research has shown that TMAO may help transport cholesterol to the arteries and predicts mortality rates.)

The findings suggest that cheese and milk might help modify the gut bacteria to decrease production of TMAO, the authors write. “I was surprised,” says study co-author Morten Rahr Clausen, a postdoc in the department of food science at Aarhus University in Denmark. “I didn’t expect to find anything in the cheese that would change the microflora.”

MORE Should I Eat Cheese?

The researchers can’t be sure whether the increase in gut-friendly compounds came directly from the cheese or if they were formed by the microbiota, Clausen adds—but they could still have a beneficial effect either way. “I’m not completely sure why, but it seems like the cheese and also milk, but mainly cheese, affects the microbiota after eating cheese and that might affect the composition of the lipids in the blood,” he says.

The study adds a new dimension to our understanding how fermented milk products interact with the body. “The previous mechanism was that calcium binds the fatty acids and they’re just flushed through the gut,” he says. “Our study suggests another mechanism that the cheese might work through.

More research and studies on bigger, more diverse populations are needed before we definitively solve the French paradox, but these results are promising. “We didn’t know beforehand what to look for,” Clausen says. “Sometimes you find something that you didn’t expect.”

Read next: People Who Love Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Have Way More Sex Than Those Who Don’t

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Hummus and 5 Other Foods You Shouldn’t Eat This Week

This week saw six recalls

Correction appended, April 10

Every week lots of foods are pulled from grocery shelves for contamination. There were several recalls this week, but since not every recall reported by the Food and Drug Administration makes headlines, we’ve listed them for you. Here’s all the recalls that have happened over the last week. Remember, if you’ve purchased recalled foods, you can often return it to the vendor for a full refund.

Brand: Sabra
Contaminated with: Listeria
Sabra Dipping Co., LLC, the company behind Sabra hummus recalled 30,000 cases of its classic hummus due to possible contamination with the bacteria, listeria. So far no one has reported getting sick from the hummus.

Ice cream
Brand: Blue Bell
Contaminated with: Listeria
Blue Bell Creameries has had a bad month. After five people in a hospital were infected with listeria after eating ice cream from the company (and three people died), Blue Bell has continued to recall more and more of its ice cream after identifying listeria in more product lines. This week, they expanded the recall to include banana pudding ice cream pints.

Macadamia nuts
Brand: Nature’s Eats and Central Market
Contaminated with: Salmonella
Texas Star Nut and Food Co., Inc. recalled some of its Nature’s Eats and Central Market brand macadamia nut products due to possible contamination with the bacteria salmonella.

Brand: Deer
Contaminated with: Undeclared peanuts
Best Foods Inc. recalled some of its 7-ounce and 14-ounce packages of Deer brand cumin powder because the products may contain peanuts which are not declared on the label. This could pose a serious problem for people who have peanut allergies.

Soybean sprouts
Brand: Henry’s Farm
Contaminated with: Listeria
Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, Virgina recalled packages of soybean sprouts that were distributed to retailers in Virginia and Maryland due to possible listeria contamination. No illnesses have been reported.

Teriyaki Salmon Jerky
Brand: Central Market
Contaminated with: Undeclared soy and wheat
World Wide Gourmet Foods recalled 2,916 packages of Central Market Teriyaki Salmon Jerky due to undeclared soy and wheat, which is problematic for people allergic to those ingredients.

Read next: What a Massive Spinach Recall Teaches Us About Food Safety

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Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of cases of hummus recalled by Sabra. There were 30,000.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Group Wants to Ban the Word Diet From Diet Sodas

Diet soda
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A consumer-advocacy group is calling today for federal regulatory agencies to investigate the use of the word diet by diet-soda manufacturers, calling the adjective “deceptive, false and misleading” and citing research that finds diet soda may actually lead to weight gain instead of weight loss.

“This looks like a classic case of false advertising,” says Gary Ruskin, co-founder and executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, Calif., which wrote two letters — one to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and another to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — demanding a sweeping investigation into the use of the word diet in advertising by companies that use artificial sweeteners. U.S. Right to Know claims that the use of the word violates federal law against false advertising, branding and labeling of food products. “We’re doing this to make sure that people don’t get sicker from these products and gain weight when they want to be losing weight,” Ruskin says.

MORE: Should I Drink Diet Soda?

Some research suggests that diet soda may contribute to weight gain instead of weight loss, possibly by decoupling the link between sweet taste and caloric consequences, thus leading to overeating.

“Previous research, including human clinical trials, supports that diet beverages are an effective tool as part of an overall weight management plan,” said the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing the beverage industry, in a statement provided to TIME. “Numerous studies have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of diet beverages — as well as low-calorie sweeteners, which are in thousands of foods and beverages — in helping to reduce calorie intake. Furthermore, low- and no-calorie sweeteners have repeatedly been deemed safe by decades of scientific research as well as regulatory agencies around the globe — including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

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