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Your Early Ancestors Ate Insects, And So Can You

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Fried Instinct Food in Hand

For most people, the thought of eating bugs is as vomit-inducing as thoughts get, but a new study shows that insects were the food choice for our earliest ancestors and can still be eaten and digested by almost all existing primates, including humans.

The prevailing wisdom for the longest time has been that mammals didn’t produce an enzyme that could break down the exoskeletons of insects and, as a result, couldn’t effectively digest the little critters, but scientists at Rutgers University and Kent State University have proven that isn’t necessarily true.

Published in Molecular Biology and Evolution and led by Mareike Janiak, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology, the study examined 34 primate in search for genomes for CHIA, a gene necessary to break down the hard outer covering of insects called chitin . The researchers found that while most living primates have only one copy of the CHIA gene, our early primates ancestors had a minimum of three working copies, leading them to conclude that insects were an important source of food for early humans.

Primates like the tarsier, which eats more insects than any other primates and only exists on islands in Southeast Asia, have five copies of the gene because it was duplicated specifically in this lineage. It’s yet another case of use it or lose it, with Janiak pointing out:

“As some primates evolved to be larger and more active during the day than at night, their diets shifted a bit to other foods like fruits and leaves. Insects became less important and their digestive enzymes changed, but most living primates still have at least one working CHIA gene.”

There is still debate in the scientific community on how effectively humans can digest an insect’s exoskeleton, though cooking makes them much easier to chew and digest. Some studies have found that human stomach enzymes can digest the harder-shell outer covering of the insect, while other researchers say they cannot find any supporting evidence.

Fried Grasshopper Salad

Fried Grasshopper Salad

This might be because of the human subjects used in most studies on the matter, which Janiak noted have exclusively involved Western culture participants and not people from various cultures that actually eat insects regularly. In fact, according to the United Nations, insects make up part of the traditional diet of 2 billion people around the world, and 1,900 species are considered both edible and a highly nutritious food source, boasting healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and essential minerals.

While the consumption of insects is common in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, most Western consumers aren’t keen on eating whole, freeze-dried, fried or even processed insects, with a Dutch study in 2017 finding a presumption that cattle who had eaten insects could have meat that’s tougher to prepare, not as safe and not as flavorful.

We don’t expect this study to change the minds of squeamish eaters, but the fact that insects are loaded with nutrients, are available in great numbers, and don’t need many resources to produce (e.g. they have a far smaller environmental footprint than beef or chicken) may make them be best food source to accommodate the world’s rapidly growing population, which is expected to increase by 2 billion people over the next 30 years.

Despite their numerous nutritional advantages, insects have a tough road to becoming a culturally acceptable food choice, especially in the West. Whether ground into an unrecognizable powder or served whole, there is just something about them that many people can’t find palatable, no matter how much scientists insist that they are a healthy food choice.

Oh, what will we eat when the world actually does come to an end? What indeed…

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Diet & Health

Improve Your Gut Health By Eating Mangoes

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Fresh Mango

If you suffer from constipation, a mango might just be what the doctor ordered.

A new pilot study carried out by Texas A & M University and published in the the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that mangoes contain a combination of polyphenols and fiber that is more effective than an equivalent amount of fiber powder in relieving constipation.

Susanne U. Mertens-Talcott, a corresponding author of the four-week study and an associate professor in the department of nutrition and food science at Texas A & M University, stated:

“Our findings suggest that mango offers an advantage over fiber supplements because of the bioactive polyphenols contained in mangos that helped reduce markers of inflammation and change the make-up of the microbiome, which includes trillions of bacteria and other microbes living in our digestive track. Fiber supplements and laxatives may aid in the treatment of constipation, but they may not fully address all symptoms, such as intestinal inflammation.”

Researchers took 36 adult men and women with chronic constipation and randomly divided them into two groups — a mango group that ate about 300 grams of mango a day (equivalent to about 2 cups or 1 mango) and a fiber group that incorporated the equivalent amount of fiber powder (1 teaspoon or 5 grams of dietary psyllium fiber supplement) into their daily diet.

A food questionnaire was then given to the participants to assess their food intake and ensure their eating habits remained consistent (i.e. equivalent amounts of calories, carbohydrates, fiber, protein and fat) and measures of constipation severity were taken at the beginning and end of four weeks.

Their analysis revealed that while both the mango and fiber groups improved over the course of the study, mangoes proved more effective in reducing the symptoms of constipation than fiber alone.

Mango supplementation significantly improved constipation status (e.g. stool frequency, consistency and shape), increased short chain fatty acids levels, which indicate improvement of intestinal microbial composition, and helped to reduce certain biomarkers of inflammation.

Mangoes have long been know to be a rich source of dietary fiber, but Texas A & M University’s study is possibly the only study ever to be dedicated to the efficacy of the tasty fruit at relieving constipation.

But as promising as these findings are, the researchers concluded that more research is needed to determine the exact mechanism behind the protective effect of mangoes in constipation and the role mango polyphenols may play in supporting the beneficial effects of fiber.

A mango day keeps your food moving smoothly and easily, right?

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Diet & Health

10 Signs You Are Allergic To Gluten

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Long Bread

Intolerance to gluten has been a running buzz in the healthy living circles for the past decade, and there is no sign of that changing. The condition can lead to detrimental health effects relating to the gut, skin and even nervous system, with the most common symptoms being depression, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems and pain.

Gluten is a protein found in such grains as wheat, rye, barley, spelt and is what makes bread light and fluffy and dough a sticky texture. Wheat and rye are most commonly found in cereal and bread, as well as in pasta in the case of the former and even beer, salad dressings and soups with the latter. Barley is often used in stock feed products.

Not only do all of these grains contain gluten, but they can also cause insensitivity to gluten. Unfortunately, they are a common part of the diets of millions, if not billions, of people around the world.

Gluten intolerance has also been associated with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that can cause damage to the small intestine, making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. Around 1 out of 100 people suffer from the condition in the United States alone!

Fortunately, symptoms of gluten intolerance subside after removing gluten from one’s diet. Here are 10 of the most usual signs that you may be suffering from it:

1. Unexpected Weight Gain

Caused by malabsorption and gut permeability from the systemic inflammation triggered by the protein, unexpected weight gain is related to gluten intolerance. Sufferers who eliminate gluten from their diet will notice an improvement in their weight.

2. Brain Fog

In an article published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, one titled “Gluten sensitivity as a neurological illness,” researchers found that immunoglobins (AKA antibodies) react abnormally to gluten and the reaction contributes to reduced cognitive function.

3. Abnormal Immune function

The IgA antibodies, which are found in the gastrointestinal tract and saliva, are the body’s primary response to colds, flu or other illnesses. If you are gluten sensitive, these antibodies have a counter effect on your immune system, inhibiting its ability to properly defend against such illnesses.

4. Headaches, Migraines

A recent study discovered that 56 percent of the gluten intolerant participants suffered from migraines, while only 14% of the control group had the condition.

5. Dental Issues

A study published in the BMS Gastroenterology found that there is a connection between gluten intolerance and “aphthous stomatitis”, a condition characterized by the repeated formation of mouth ulcers and canker sores in otherwise healthy individuals. Malabsorption can cause gluten intolerant people to also have low calcium levels, which undermines oral health.

6. Skin Problems

Malabsorption resulting from gluten intolerance has been associated with eczema, acne and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), with symptoms including redness, itching, rashes, burning and blisters. Described by the Gluten Intolerance Group as “a chronic disease of the skin marked by groups of watery, itchy blisters that might resemble pimples or blisters,” DH is a very difficult condition to have.

7. Joint And Muscle Aches

Researchers have long known that people with autoimmune forms of arthritis are at higher risk for celiac disease, and a growing body of research now finds that here is a possible connection between gluten and non-pathologic joint pain. When a person with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity eats gluten, the immune system jumps into action, causing inflammation.

8. Fatigue And Exhaustion

This symptom is similar to brain fog in that the mechanism involved are still a mystery. There is little scientific research on the the purported correlation between fatigue/exhaustion and gluten intolerance; however, the fact that fatigue is one of the most frequent symptoms mentioned by those with celiac or gluten sensitivity has led medical experts believe gluten intolerance can cause fatigue and exhaustion through inflammation likely because of de-allocation of the energy reserves.

9. Hormone Imbalances

Gluten is a known to disrupt a number of hormones, including estrogen, and has been linked to Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), abnormal PMS, and unexplained infertility. According a article published by the Gluten Free Society, the removal of gluten often resolves hormone imbalance.

10. Anxiety, Depression, ADD, Mood Swings

Depression and anxiety symptoms have been linked to gluten consumption in celiac sufferers, while one small study found that excess gluten possibly depleted the serotonin levels of non-celiac suffers, leading to feelings of depression.

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Food Research

Junk Food Is Two Times More Distracting Than Healthy Food

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Melting ice cream cone

That the average person has an implicit bias for fatty, sugary foods is nothing new, but did you know that images of junk food are almost twice as distracting as those of health food?

That’s what a new Johns Hopkins University study published online by the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found at least, confirming the old adage that you shouldn’t grocery shop hungry.

Led by Corbin A. Cunningham, Distinguished Science of Learning Fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Howard Egeth, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, the team of researchers first created a complicated computer task that rendered food irrelevant and required a group of participants to complete the task as quickly as possible. As the participants worked diligently, pictures of high-fat, high-calorie foods, healthy foods, or non-food items flashed in the periphery of the screen for only 125 milliseconds, which is too quick for people to fully realize what they just saw.

While all the pictures distracted people from the task, it was things like doughnuts, potato chips, cheese and candy that were found to be most the distracting — twice as distracting, in fact. The healthy food pictures — carrots, apples and salads, etc. — were no more distracting to people than non-foods like bicycles, lava lamps and footballs.

Junk food distracting

Egeth noted in a Johns Hopkins University article:

“We wanted to see if pictures of food, particularly high-fat, high-calorie food, would be a distraction for people engaged in a complicated task, so we showed them carrots and apples, and it slowed them down. We showed them bicycles and thumb tacks, and it slowed them down. But when we showed them chocolate cake and hot dogs, these things slowed them down about twice as much.”

To make things more interesting, the researchers then recreated the experiment, this time involving a new group of participants that were given two fun-sized candy bars to eat before starting the computer work. What they found surprised them — after eating the chocolate, people weren’t distracted by the high-fat, high-calorie food images any more than by healthy foods or other pictures.

One wonders if less chocolate or even other snacks would have the same effect. Egeth added:

“I assume it was because it was a delicious, high-fat, chocolatey snack. But what if we gave them an apple? What if we gave them a zero-calorie soda? What if we told the subjects they’d get money if they performed the task quickly, which would be a real incentive not to get distracted. Could junk food pictures override even that?”

According to Cunningham, the results demonstrate that even when food is entirely irrelevant, and even when people think they’re working hard and concentrating, food, especially junk food, has the power to sneak in and grab our attention — at least until we eat a little of it.

Are you surprised by the studies findings? Let us know in the comments below.

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