TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Surefire Way To Eat Healthier

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Why cooking cuts calories

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that cooking at home is better for our health. It’s also well known that eating convenience food is associated with poorer nutrition, obesity, and other metabolic diseases. Food experts, ranging from NYU professor Marion Nestle to author Michael Pollan and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, have long argued that homemade meals belong at the center of a healthy diet.

Yet little research to date has focused on the relationship between how often people cook at home and the quality of their diets. A new study presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting and published in the journal Public Health Nutrition provides strong evidence to support the connection.

“If a person—or someone in their household—cooks dinner frequently, regardless of whether or not they are trying to lose weight, diet quality improves,” write authors Julia Wolfson and Sara Bleich, researchers in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This is likely due to the relatively lower energy, fat, and sugar contents in foods cooked at home compared with convenience foods or foods consumed away from home,” they explain.

Wolfson and Bleich analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Study (NHANES) to find out whether the link between healthier diets and frequency of home cooking can be documented scientifically.

As part of the NHANES data gathered between 2007 and 2010, approximately 9,500 adults 20 and older were asked about their cooking habits. Researchers found that households that reported cooking dinner at home most frequently (6 to 7 times a week) consumed “significantly fewer” calories and ate better than those who relied more heavily on restaurant meals and frozen foods.

The researchers found that 8 percent of adults lived in households in which someone cooked dinner no more than once a week; 44 percent cooked dinner 2 to 5 times a week; and 48 percent reported cooking dinner 6 to 7 times a week. Compared to the low-cooking category, those in the high-cooking category consumer significantly more fiber, fewer carbohydrates, and less sugar.

“From first-hand knowledge, I know how much fat and salt can be in restaurant food, whether it’s fine dining or fast food,” said Wolfson, who worked for 10 years as a chef in restaurants in New York and Los Angeles. “The food is formulated for flavor, so health is not at the top of a list of concern.”

The same is often true for processed and pre-packaged meals, as Michael Pollan noted in his recent book Cooked. “Corporations cook very differently from how people do…” and “tend to use much more sugar, fat, and salt than people cooking for people do,” he writes.

What the study doesn’t reveal, Wolfson explained during her APHA presentation, is what people mean by “cooking.” While the NHANES data includes questions about frozen meals, including pizza, it doesn’t ask about other prepared ingredients, including those now available in most major supermarkets.

The researchers also found no significant relationship between cooking frequency and body weight. As they note, “not all cooking is healthy.” Additional questions remain about what obstacles might be keeping some cooks from cooking with fresh, whole ingredients.

At the APHA meeting, Wolfson presented some follow-up research suggesting that when it comes to cooking with fresh fruit and vegetables, income is a significant piece of the puzzle. Their research to date shows that people of lower income are buying and eating less fresh produce regardless of how often they cook at home.

While these findings are not necessarily surprising, the data will be important in improving “access to high quality ingredients and circumstances that allow people to cook,” and to how cooking is used as a strategy in combating obesity, Wolfson said.

This post originally appeared on Civil Eats.

TIME diabetes

Why 3 in 10 People with Diabetes Don’t Know They Have It

The surprising similarities between diabetes and HIV/AIDS

New research on diabetes suggests that nearly 30% of adults with diabetes remain undiagnosed—the same rate as people with HIV. And just like many HIV patients, only about 20% of diabetes patients are treated satisfactorily, finds the new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study used the cascade of care method, which aggregates data on people’s treatment for a particular disease and has been used to guide treatment of HIV/AIDS. Study leaders say that the new diabetes research is the first time the method has been applied to another disease.

The research found a lot of similarities between the two diseases and how they’re managed. To start, the consequences can be grave for patients who don’t receive treatment for either disease. HIV/AIDS weakens the immune system and allows patients to develop other ailments, while diabetes can lead to problems with the kidney, heart and brain. Researchers showed where people with diabetes fall through the cracks on the path from the onset of a condition to the development of other serious illnesses. Millions aren’t diagnosed, more than a million people haven’t been to the doctor in years despite a diagnosis and millions of others don’t take the proper medication.

“As health care systems move from fee-for-service to fee-for-quality, something like the cascade can really aid in that shift and help both providers and patients be more motivated and spot the gaps and close the gaps in care,” said study co-author Mohammed Ali, an assistant professor at Emory University. Incentives could encourage both patients and health care providers to screen and then treat diabetes.

“They’re extremely similar because they both require patients to be extremely proactive in managing their own condition,” said Ali, specifically citing diet, exercise and taking medication. “If you’re a good patient, you’re actually going to prevent a lot of those diseases that come with diabetes and a lot of those bad outcomes that come with HIV.”

As electronic records make it easier for doctors to look at large sets of data, the cascade-of-care method has potential to aid in understanding where the health system has failed at treating diseases, Ali said.

“This should be easy to do for anything,” he said.

Corrected Nov. 11, 2014: This piece has been updated. An earlier version of the story mischaracterized statements from Ali.

TIME

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.”

TIME

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

Your State Bird Could Be Gone By 2080

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If our climate continues to change, many birds will lose significant portions of their habitat

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By 2080, the skies over North America could be much emptier. A new report from the National Audubon Society, compiled from data collected over 30 years of bird counts and surveys, shows that more than half of North America’s most iconic birds are in serious danger. Of the 588 bird species surveyed, 314 are at risk for losing significant amounts of their habitat to a changing climate.

“Birds are a good barometer of the overall health and wellbeing of the natural systems we depend on for food, water, and clear air,” Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham wrote in an email. “If half the birds are at risk, the natural systems we depend upon are at risk too.”

Ken Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, cautions that it can be hard to tie any one specific effect on bird populations directly to climate change—other factors like human development, pollution, and invasive species play big roles. However, both Rosenberg and Langham point to clear examples of climate change affecting the avian landscape. Many birds are shifting their ranges farther north; some migratory species are arriving in the northern areas and the endpoints of their spring migrations earlier and earlier. Higher tides and storm surges are wreaking havoc on the nesting grounds of birds like the Saltmarsh Sparrow and the albatross. And foraging birds that live in Arctic sea ice environments are in decline.

“Some land birds, like the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, are finding that the availability of food supplies no longer matches their migration cycles,” Langham says. “And some seabirds, like Atlantic Puffins, are starting to run out of food as ocean temperatures change, causing adults and young to starve.”

If our climate continues to change, many birds will lose significant portions of their habitat, especially those birds that live in marshes and beaches, low-lying islands and snowy mountaintops. Tropical forests could dry out, spoiling the wintering spots for migratory birds. Drought and fire could devastate the habitats of prairie birds like the sage grouse. Even tiny differences in temperature can have big impacts. The gray jay, for example, hoards perishable food to get it through the winter, relying on freezing temperatures to keep it from spoiling, but a warmer climate will short-circuit its natural refrigerator.

“Every bird species has a ‘tolerance zone’ for climate conditions,” Langham says. “If the climate gets too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry, birds will be forced to leave their homes—but many will have nowhere else to go.”

These climate trends are set to impact birds big and small. By 2080, Audubon’s model predicts the summer range for bald eagles will shrink to 26 percent of the current extent. New areas could open up for them as areas get warmer, but it isn’t certain that food and nesting areas will be available to them in the new spots. Allen’s hummingbird could lose up to 90 percent of its summer range. The spotted owl, already a poster child for endangered birds, is expected to lose 98 percent of its wintering grounds. 10 states could lose their state birds—Maryland’s Baltimore Oriole, Vermont’s Hermit Thrush and the Mountain Bluebird (claimed by both Idaho and Nevada) are all among the imperiled.

But don’t count nature out of the game just yet. “A big ‘wild card’ is the ability of the birds themselves to adapt in ways we can’t predict,” Rosenberg told us. “For example, some Laysan Albatrosses have begun to nest in suburban yards and rooftops in Hawaii, as their usual nesting areas become more threatened.”

Rosenberg is also concerned about how humanity’s response to climate change will affect birds. In many areas, he says, sea walls are being built to protect coastal areas without taking into account how they will affect the ecosystem around them. The flow of water, nourishment of marches, and shaping of seaside habitats could all be negatively impacted by hastily built walls. And the rush to create alternative sources of energy has to be done in a smart way, he says. “Paving over fragile desert ecosystems for solar-panel fields, or placing wind farms in critical migration corridors and bottlenecks, or destroying natural habitats around the world to plant biofuels such as corn for ethanol, are NOT smart alternatives” to fossil fuels, Rosenberg says. “We will just be creating new environmental problems in an attempt to solve another.”

Langham urges bird lovers concerned about climate change to speak up.

“We can’t afford to sit quietly on the sidelines while a well-funded oil lobby gets a small number of people to intimidate the rest of us,” he says. “Decide what you want to say to your child or grandchild in 20 years. The day will come when that generation asks: What did you do to leave a better world when the science was clear? I think about my answer a lot and it motivates me to act boldly.”

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

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.

TIME Research

Firefighter Deaths Could be Linked to Poor Sleep

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Almost 40% of firefighters suffer from at least one sleep disorder

Sleep problems could be a major factor in explaining why more than 60 percent of firefighter deaths are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents, a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found.

Researchers sampled almost 7,000 firefighters across the U.S. and examined how many tested positive for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift-work disorder and restless leg syndrome, the New York Times reports.

They found that 37 percent of firefighters suffered from at least one type of sleep disorder.

“Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters,” said lead author Laura K. Barger. “Unfortunately, more than 80% of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated.”

Barber’s team found that when compared with those who had a good night’s sleep, firefighters who had a sleep disorder were more likely to crash their car or fall asleep at the wheel.

They are also more likely to report serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

[NYT]

TIME Research

Speaking More Than One Language Could Sharpen Your Brain

Skip the sudoku, try learning French

Speaking more than one language does the brain some good.

A recent study found that bilingual speakers may actually process information more efficiently than single-language speakers. Researchers from Northwestern University, in Illinois, and the University of Houston used brain imaging to look at bilingual people’s comprehension abilities. They found that people who speak more than one language are comparatively better at filtering out unnecessary words than monolinguals, whose brains showed that they had to work harder to complete the same mental tasks.

The study, published in the journal Brain and Language, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at what’s called coactivation and inhibition in the brain. Coactivation is the ability to have both languages simultaneously active in the brain, while inhibition is that ability to select a correct language while hearing more than one at a time. The researchers studied 17 Spanish-English bilinguals and 18 monolinguals, and had them undergo tests that assessed their brains’ ability to eliminate irrelevant words.

For example, in one task the participants heard the word cloud and were then immediately shown four pictures. One of the photos was of a cloud, and another was a similar-sounding word like clown. The goal was to watch how quickly the brain could make connections to the correct word. Bilinguals were consistently better at the task.

The results create a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Is a bilingual person better at such tasks because of their expertise in both languages, or are people with greater comprehension capacity better equipped to master multiple languages? It could be a mixture of the two. The researchers of the new study believe that being bilingual is a constant brain exercise. So instead of tackling a puzzle, why not give a new language a shot, if not solely for the brain challenge.

Read next: The Secret to Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult

TIME Research

Repeated Pot Use Linked to Lower IQ

File picture shows marijuana plants at a indoor cultivation in Montevideo
Marijuana plants are seen at a indoor cultivation. Andres Stapff—Reuters

The average marijuana user's IQ was five points lower than that of a non-user

Repeated marijuana use is correlated with lower IQ scores and less volume in the region of the brain that helps make decisions, according to a new study.

The study found that the average marijuana user’s IQ was about five points lower than that of a non-user. The earlier the study participants began consuming the drug, the worse the condition of the brain. The study, which compared almost 50 marijuana users to a control group, suggests that at first brains affected by marijuana compensate for the deficit in decision-making brain volume by increasing connectivity, a key brain function. But marijuana-affected brains can’t keep up in the long term.

“The results suggest increases in connectivity, both structural and functional that may be compensating for gray matter losses,” said study co-author Sina Aslan, a faculty member at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Eventually, however, the structural connectivity or ‘wiring’ of the brain starts degrading with prolonged marijuana use.”

While previous studies have showed that marijuana causes harm to the brains of animals, researchers said they couldn’t be sure whether marijuana use was the cause of the negative changes in the brain. Nonetheless, the study joins a growing body of evidence that marijuana harms the brains of young people.

 

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