Horrible Stuff In Your French Fries And Potato Chips

Did you know that most French fries and potato chips contain insane levels of acrylamide?

OK, wait. First, what’s acrylamide?

Acrylamide is a chemical substance and is *known* to be a carcinogen. The problem here is that, at present, acrylamide has been confirmed to cause cancers only in laboratory animals. Human tests are in progress, but from the results so far, there hasn’t been a definite conclusion (read the papers referenced below). Read the rest

What Makes You Eat More When You Are Not Hungry

what makes you hungryRecently, TIME magazine published an online article that discussed a few reasons why sometimes we *feel* hungry even though we might have fed ourselves enough food. Awareness of these factors is important if you are trying to cut down on calories and mastering your appetite. The ways in which you can reduce your appetite can be more effectively implemented once you understand certain fundamental reasons behind why we become hungry in the first place.

Before we look at the TIME article, let us understand the two types of hunger that people experience: 1. physiological hunger, and 2. psychological hunger. Physiological hunger is the one which is triggered by the level of energy in your body (or sugar in your blood), and the food in your stomach - the lack of food/energy causes secretion of hunger inducing hormones (such as ghrelin) which tells your brain that your body needs more food.

In the second type of hunger, there is no physiological trigger signal from the stomach - it’s just your brain tricking itself into thinking that your body needs more food even when it already has enough [actually, brain triggers the hunger physiology which eventually gets translated into the feeling of hunger]. Psychological hunger increases the potential for problems caused by overeating (stomach disorders, obesity, etc).

Now, here are the factors behind hunger as discussed in the article - some are physiological, but others are classic psychological cases:

  1. Time: A part of the reason why feel hungry at certain times of the day is that we have been training ourselves to eat around the same time for many years around the same time. Whether you have a light breakfast or a very heavy one, you are bound to feel hungry around lunch time.
  2. Sight: That’s why the color and arrangement of the food matters - it directly affects the palatability. Sight of well arranged, delicious looking colorful food may not cause you to overeat in a given meal, but it can certainly trigger the feel for having a meal even when your body doesn’t need one.
  3. Variety: We discussed this in the previous post about controlling your appetite. Too many flavors trigger the production of appetite hormones and makes you feel hungrier than you really are.
  4. Smell: According to the article, the smell of food can trigger insulin secretion in your body which results in the feeling of hunger.
  5. Alcohol: It’s the same reason why you are not allowed to drive after drinking a certain amount of alcohol - it impairs judgment. If you are drunk, you are going to eat stuff that comes in front of you - just because it’s eatable, not because you are hungry. :)
  6. Temperature: Ever wondered why restaurants are always cold? That’s because we tend to eat more in cooler environments. Lower temperatures tricks your body into thinking it needs more calories to burn in order to keep your body warm.
  7. Refined carbohydrates: These foods cause the blood sugar drop, which in turn induces hunger. According to BBC Health, this is how refined carbohydrates are defined:
  8. Refined carbohydrates refers to foods where machinery has been used to remove the high fibre bits (the bran and the germ) from the grain. White rice, white bread, sugary cereals, and pasta and noodles made from white flour are all examples of refined carbohydrates.

So there.. more tools in your box to avoid eating more than your body needs. Eat well, stay healthy.

15 Tips To Reduce Your Appetite And Promote Healthy Eating Habits

food-drool-food Here are 15 easy and practical ways to suppress the feeling of “I want more food” and to develop eating habits that will go a long way in maintaining good health.

Not all tips will be universally applicable to everyone, so pick and choose according to what suits you. Wherever possible, I have tried to provide references from authoritative sources to back up the tips; however, a complete and exhaustive list of references is beyond the scope of this blog… I will leave it to your “Googling” abilities to find additional references.

  1. Eat foods with low glycemic index: Gylcemic index is a measure of how fast a given food item increases our blood sugar level. Highest on the index is glucose with a rating of 100. High glycemic index foods have a rating of 70+, medium glycemic index foods have a rating of 56+, and 55 and below are low index foods.
  2. Foods with high glycemic index cause a sudden rise and fall of blood sugar level. Typically, falling blood sugar levels trigger the *need* to eat more food and that creates a sense of immediate hunger. Whereas, foods with low glycemic index cause a slow increase of blood sugar level and provide consistent levels of energy for a prolonged period of time (instead of rapid rise and fall). This slow release of energy prevents the triggering of our body’s hunger-circuit and results in decreased *appetite*. [Reference: Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University]

    Apples, bananas, green vegetables, and beans are some examples of foods with low glycemic index. Try eating more salads and fruits instead of heavy main course meals to reduce your intake of food during subsequent meals in the day.

  3. Eat slowly: This is bit controversial but there have been studies to prove that eating slowly suppresses appetite.

    In the study, 30 women made two visits to Melanson’s lab, and each time they were given a large plate of pasta and told to eat as much as they wanted. When they were told to eat quickly, they consumed 646 calories in nine minutes, but when they were encouraged to pause between bites and chew each mouthful 15 to 20 times, they ate just 579 calories in 29 minutes. Reference: Physorg.com

    Basically, eating your food slowly allows your brain enough time to analyze whether you stomach is full or not. :)

    Here are a few tips to help you eat slowly. Watch a movie, count the number of times you chew, engage in a conversation, read something while you are eating. There are other benefits of eating slowly - read about it in this post on Zen Habits.

  4. Eat a number of small meals instead of few large meals: Again, the reasoning is along the lines of slow release of energy. Large meals will raise your energy levels quickly, but that rise in the energy level is followed by a big drop soon after which induces more *hunger* and can lead to binge eating during the subsequent meals. Small meals will mean consistent level of energy - which means lower craving for food.
  5. Increase your dietary fiber intake: Dietary fiber increases the feeling of “fullness” and suppresses appetite.

    Stomach distension (feeling full) signals a person to stop eating … Once ingested, fiber enhances satiety and prolongs satiation after a meal through distending the stomach and by prolonging retention of gastric contents. Reference: Medscape Today

    Studies and clinical reports suggest that soluble fiber (such as psyllium, pectin, and guar gum) may enhance the sensation of fullness and reduce hunger cravings. For these reasons, incorporating soluble fiber into the diet may aid weight loss. Reference: University of Maryland Medical Center

    Foods such as apples, peaches, oranges, grapes, vegetables are good sources of soluble fiber.

  6. Choose foods with lower calories per volume: Apparently, we habitually choose to eat food based on how large the portion looks, rather than looking at the calories. If we eat large volumes of given food (even if it is very low in calories), we tend to eat less during the next meal.

    “As it turns out, the energy density of food has a very robust effect on food intake,” Rolls says. She and her students performed a study in which the same foods — chicken and rice — could be served in three different forms: as a chicken rice casserole, as a chicken rice soup, and as a chicken rice casserole served with a 10-ounce glass of water. The soup-eaters ate 26 percent less during the subsequent meal than either of the other two groups. Reference: Research Penn State Online

    She and her students incorporated varying amounts of air into milkshakes by blending. The researchers found that the more air, the bigger the shake — and the less subjects ate during the following meal. Reference: same article as above.

    The soup-eaters and the bigger-shake-drinkers ate less simply because of their serving size looked bigger.

    This means that eating food with low energy density (less number of calories for a given volume) might help reduce appetite. Most fruits and vegetables have low measures of energy density.

  7. Reduce the variety of flavors in a given meal: Some researchers have shown that certain appetite inducing hormones are activated when we eat foods with too many different flavors.

    “We stay hungry longer the more diverse the flavors in a meal or snack,” said Katz, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. “If flavors are thoughtfully distributed, we fill up on fewer calories. This explains why, for instance, people can eat a holiday meal to the point of feeling unpleasantly full, yet still have room for dessert. Reference: Medical News Today

    Try cutting on side dishes, and try cooking larger portions of just one dish instead of smaller portions of a variety of dishes.

  8. Don’t starve yourselves: Starving is one of the greatest enemy of healthy eating habits. It creates a feeling of energy deficiency and people try to eat more after periods of starving to “make up for the lost food”. Nothing increases hunger/appetite more than starving for an extended period of time. Eating number of small meals a day (see the point #3) is one way to avoid starving. Include foods with low glycemic index in these small meals (see point #1).
  9. Exercise more and eat immediately after exercising: This seems to go against conventional wisdom, but apparently, exercising stimulates the release of certain appetite-suppressing hormones and reduces the feeling of hunger.

    … levels of hormones called PYY, GLP-1 and PP, which tell the brain when the stomach is full, increased during and immediately after exercise. Volunteers also said they felt less hungry during this time.

    In the past we have been concerned that, although exercise burns energy, people subsequently ate more after working out. This would cancel out any possible weight reduction effects of exercise.

    But our research shows that exercise may alter people’s appetite to help them lose weight and prevent further weight gain as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Reference: BBC News - Health

    Physical activity at a moderate rate does not increase the appetite. In some situations, the appetite will actually decrease. Research shows that the decrease in appetite after physical activity is greater in individuals who are obese than in individuals who are at their right body weight. Reference: NIH MedlinePlus

  10. Choose a smaller dish: This is purely psychological. There is only so much you can stuff in a smaller dish and additional food will require additional tips to the kitchen. At times, it creates guilt faster - especially when you are having some company with your meal. Also, a larger dish (or a deeper bowl) holds a lot more food and sometimes we pressurize ourselves to completely finish everything that’s on our plate (to avoid appearing like a wasteful idiot). Naturally, if a larger dish has tricked you into loading up more food, you are going to end up eating much more than what you “need” - meaning, you will whip up some kind of an artificial appetite as an excuse to clean your plate up.
  11. Drink a glass of water before a every meal: I mentioned this earlier in a post about benefits of drinking plenty of water and I will quote those lines here:

    Since water does not have any calories, it acts as an ideal *filler* material in your stomach and gives you a sense of “I am full” - which in turn decreases your appetite. This works best for people who are already over-weight and are controlling their appetite in order to lose weight.

    This falls in line with the concept of energy density discussed above in point #5.

  12. Drink a lot of soup/broth before a meal: Vegetable/Chicken broths are awesome to taste and very easy to prepare. Keep in mind, if you drink too little (like the portions they serve in restaurants), it might act as an “appetizer” and make you eat more. The key is to drink more volume of soup/broth after you gulp down the small “appetizing” portion of it. So, essentially, drink enough so that you *almost* start filling full and then proceed for the main course dishes.
  13. Remove food from your sight: This is a factor I term as “psychological appetite” - and it’s not really a *craving*, it’s just the lack of control when you see something that tempts you. You just tend to eat more of anything that is easily visible. You don’t have the appetite as such, but when you see something you can gobble down without much efforts, you start to have a feeling that you are hungry.A clear example of this is a bag of Hershey’s mini chocolates at my home. When we keep it outside, we devour it within a couple of days. However, the last time we got one, we shoved it in our refrigerator drawer (the drawer is at the very bottom) - and now it’s more than two weeks and there are still some chocolates remaining. :) So this is a simple solution - just keep the food out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth.
  14. Serve from the kitchen: Don’t bring all the food to the dining table. This works very well with having smaller dishes. Every additional serving will mean walking back to the kitchen for more - this will probably discourage the lazy ones amongst us from eating more. :) Also, like I mentioned above, the “out of sight, out of mouth” concept applies here as well.
  15. Maintain a good mood: Researchers have known about a relationship between serotonin (a chemical that regulates anger, aggression, and mood - among other things) and suppression of appetite:

    “When serotonin is made and becomes active in your brain, its effect on your appetite is to make you feel full before your stomach is stuffed and stretched,” said Wurtman. “Serotonin is crucial not only to control your appetite and stop you from overeating; it’s essential to keep your moods regulated.” Reference: MIT news.

    A feel of “good-mood” is usually an indication of serotonin being active in your brain - which means you will probably have lesser appetite when you are feeling good. Earlier, I mentioned that bananas can act as mood enhancers by initiating serotonin secretion - which means that eating a couple of bananas a day will not only keep you in good mood, but could also help reduce your appetite a bit.

  16. Sleep More: This strategy is not very well appreciated among people trying to decrease appetite and lose weight. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of extra sleep - or rather, sufficient sleep.

    Participants with short sleep had reduced leptin and elevated ghrelin. [Note: leptin is a hormone in our body that suppresses appetite, whereas ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite]

    The combination of low leptin and high ghrelin is likely to increase appetite. In other words, short sleep might stimulate appetite, which increases weight.

    Reference: Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index [NIH, PubMed Central]

Or.. on a lighter side, just go ahead and watch a gross/horror movie when you are having your meal. That’s one sure way of killing your appetite. :)

[Image credit: www.devon.gov.uk]

Banana Abuse


Looks like some people took the banana advice too seriously. :)

Just read this snippet on BBC:

An Indian suspect was forced by police to eat 50 bananas as a laxative, to retrieve a necklace he was accused of stealing and swallowing.

Police say he snatched a gold necklace worth £550 ($1,100) from a woman as she shopped for toys on Saturday.

When cornered by police, he swallowed the necklace.

The suspect was fed 50 bananas on doctor’s advice, after the X-ray dealt a blow to his denials.

Considering the average weight of a medium banana to be 125 grams, this guy was force-fed 6.25 kilograms (13.77 pounds) of bananas!

OK, I understand that bananas are rich in fiber and facilitate smooth bowel movements, but come on - 13 pounds in one sitting! That has got diahrrea written all over it - not smooth bowel movement. :)

6 Awesome Health Benefits Of Bananas

Before we start discussing the health benefits of bananas, here is some nutritional information for a serving of banana (source - these numbers can be slightly different when obtained from a different source):

Serving size = 1 medium sufficiently ripe banana [about 7″ long and 126 grams (0.28 pounds) in weight]

Total Fat = 0 g; Cholesterol = 0 g; Calories = 110

Potassium = 400 mg (10% of daily recommended value)

Dietary Fiber = 4 g (16% of daily recommended value)

Sugar = 14.8 g; Protein = 1 g (2% of daily recommended value)

Vitamin C = 16% of daily recommended value

Vitamin B6 = 20% of daily recommended value

With this nutritional information in the background let’s work through the incredible health benefits of this commonplace fruit. I will try and list only substantiated facts with references wherever possible. I am particularly concerned about this because there have been some unsubstantiated claims (rumors) about extraordinary banana benefits floating around the internet (here is an example).

  1. Bananas are good for your heart and nerves: Bananas contain a high dose of potassium - an essential ingredient to keep your heart and nervous system in good shape. Potassium is essential for proper muscle contraction and hence plays an important role in muscle-influenced activities including: the normal rhythmic pumping of the heart, digestion, muscular movements, etc., Some studies have also linked low potassium intake to high blood pressure and increased risk of stroke. Most Americans don’t get enough potassium in their diet (recommended dose is about 4 g per day) - blame it on our fast food culture. Including a banana (or two) in your diet everyday would take you a step closer towards getting your daily recommended dose of potassium (references: American Heart Association, University of Maryland Medical Center, Colorado State University).
  2. Bananas are good for your kidneys and bones: Benefits to the kidneys and the bones are again due to the high potassium content of bananas. A normal intake of potassium suppresses calcium excretion in the urine and minimizes the risk of kidney stones. Also, for the same reason (suppressing of calcium excretion), it minimizes the loss of calcium from the body and thereby reduces the risk of osteoporosis (references: University of Maryland Medical Center, University of Kansas Medical Center).
  3. Bananas can act as mood enhancers or mild sedatives: Bananas contain tryptophan (although it’s not one of the major sources, a medium still contains about 10.6 mg of tryptophan). Tryptophan is one of the 20 amino acids which are building blocks of proteins (btw, an incredible number of articles on the internet call tryptophan as a “mood-enhancing protein” and that is technically not correct). Tryptophan helps the body to produce serotonin - which has a calming effect on the brain (creates a stable mood) and acts as a mild sedative. It should be noted that the only way our our body gets it’s dose of tryptophan is through our diet - it does not produce tryptophan naturally; bananas is one of the easiest ways to get it (references: Nutritiondata.com, Chemistry Daily, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, NIH MedLinePlus).
  4. Bananas are good for your blood: Bananas are one of the highest sources of naturally available vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 plays an important role in converting tryptophan to serotonin (read #3 above), and also helps the body to make hemoglobin - a crucial ingredient of your blood. Vitamin B6 is also essential for antibody production and to maintain a healthy immune response. It also helps to convert carbohydrates to glucose and thereby maintains proper blood sugar levels. A medium banana can take care of 1/5th of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B6 and is one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to increase your dietary intake of the vitamin (references: NIH Office of Dietary Supplements).
  5. Bananas are good for kids: Let me quote this from NIH’s Medical Encyclopedia -

    Bananas are part of the BRAT diet, a diet many physicians and nurses recommend for children recovering from gastrointestinal problems, particularly diarrhea. BRAT stands for the different components that make up the diet: Bananas, Rice cereal, Applesauce, Toast. These are binding foods that make the stools harder.

  6. Bananas are good source of dietary fiber: A single serving (one medium-sized banana) contains 16% of the daily recommended dietary fiber intake for a normal adult - that’s substantial for a single serving of any food. Fiber improves laxation (smooth bowel movements). Fiber-rich diets have also been linked to lower risk of coronary heart disease and of type 2 diabetes. Also, view this information in light of the following facts (references: Health.gov, NIH PubMed - abstract is sufficient):

    Current recommendations suggest that adults consume 20-35 grams of dietary fiber per day. Children over age 2 should consume an amount equal to or greater than their age plus 5 grams per day. Yet the average American eats only 14-15 grams of dietary fiber a day. source: Harvard School of Public Health

Availability is the best part: Bananas are very affordable at about 35~40 cents per pound (on an average - in the US) and are generally available in almost all grocery stores; you don’t need to cook them or wash them (unless you want to eat the outer skin) and that makes them ideal as quick lunch substitutes. Consider bananas as an awesome and affordable dietary supplement.

Got sugar concerns?: People worry a lot about the carbohydrates (especially the sugar part) in bananas. To that end, here are a few quotes from a couple reliable sources:

A banana has a glycemic index of 52 and 24 grams of available carbohydrate. This gives a glycemic load of 12. In comparison, an apple having a glycemic index of 38 and 15 grams of available carbohydrate has a glycemic load of 6 … Although an apple may be a little better choice for a snack, eating a banana isn’t all that bad either because foods with glycemic loads in the low teens and below are the ones that should be selected as part of a balanced diet. (source: USDA.gov)

Despite being erroneously called “fattening” and too high in sugar, a small banana only contains about 100 calories, which is not much more than a medium apple. Nor should it raise your blood glucose level too high. (source: American Diabetes Association)

Like always, stuff should be done in moderation and it should be noted that all the above health benefits are “general observations” - and there must be, for sure, exceptions to general observations. If you have specific health conditions related to any nutritional constituents of bananas, make sure you consult your doctor before you go bananas on bananas.

If you have additional information (or even folklore :) ) about bananas, feel free to share it with us through your comments.

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