Category Archives: food

The Best of Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist

Earlier this year The New York Times published the last of Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist: a weekly column designed “to get people cooking simply, comfortably, and well”.

To honour this occasion he reviewed the 1,000+ dishes that have appeared in his almost 700 columns, the culmination of which is a list of Mark Bittman’s favourite twenty-five recipes from thirteen years of writing The Minimalist:

via Fat is Flavor (Where you can follow Carl’s progress as he makes all twenty-five of the dishes.)

Food-Based Body Clock the Key to Jet Lag

The primary cause of jet lag (or desynchronosis as it’s correctly known) is the disruption of our circadian rhythms based on the daily light–dark cycles we experience. However this is only the case when food is in plentiful supply, with new research suggesting that circadian rhythms based on food availability are able to override those of the light-dark cycle. This could offer us a simple and effective way of preventing jet lag: fasting for sixteen hours prior to your new time zone’s breakfast time.

I mentioned this in passing two years ago (just before undertaking a 25-hour Sydney to London flight), but after recently coming across the study again I felt compelled to point to it in more detail.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have now pinpointed a second [biological clock] that is set by the availability of food. […]

Clifford Saper, the senior author of the study, said this second clock probably takes over when food is scarce. It may have evolved to make sure mammals don’t go to sleep when they should be foraging for food to stay alive.

Dr. Saper says long-distance travellers can probably use this food clock to adjust rapidly to a new time zone.

“A period of fasting with no food at all for about 16 hours is enough to engage this new clock,” he said in a statement released with the study. Once you eat again, your internal clock will be reset as though it is the start of a new day […] and you should just flip into that new time zone in one day.

Background Noise and Taste Perception

It has been suggested that the physiological effects of pressurisation are responsible for the blandness of in-flight airline meals. However the real reason behind “diminishing gustatory food properties” (food tasting rubbish) while 32,000 feet above sea level could be a lot simpler: the background noise.

A study conducted by Unilever R&D and the University of Manchester has shown that the background noise experienced while flying reduces the perception of food properties not related to sound (saltiness, sweetness, etc.) while simultaneously increasing the perception of food properties related to sound (e.g. crunchiness)–in other words, the background noise we experience while flying could be responsible for the food we eat being tasteless but crunchy.

On possible future applications of the findings, the BBC reports:

“We are still at an early stage of proceedings and this is a relatively small study to really draw definitive conclusions from […] but they suggest that the retail sector could well tailor their choice of food for a given environment.”

Also in the group’s findings there is the suggestion that the overall satisfaction with the food aligned with the degree to which diners liked what they were hearing – a finding the researchers are pursuing in further experiments.

Sweetness and the Problem with Diet Sodas

The link between the sweetness of a food and its caloric content may be a trait that our bodies have evolved to recognise. By disrupting what could be a “fundamental homeostatic, physiological process” by using artificial sweeteners, we could be promoting obesity.

That’s the conclusion Jonah Lehrer draws from a study that looks at how sweet tastes may be used to regulate our caloric intake and the adverse effects of diet sodas.

Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were given differential experience with a sweet taste that either predicted increased caloric content (glucose) or did not predict increased calories (saccharin). We found that reducing the correlation between sweet taste and the caloric content of foods using artificial sweeteners in rats resulted in increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity, as well as diminished caloric compensation and blunted thermic responses to sweet-tasting diets. These results suggest that consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes.

Blood Sugar and the Depletion of Self-Control

Self-control is a finite resource, goes the ego depletion theory, and through various means can be “used-up”. What, exactly, depletes and builds this resource isn’t fully known but a number of studies have shown some intriguing correlations with blood glucose level (explaining, possibly, the cookie self-control study).

The abstract of a study by Roy Baumeister summarises the findings nicely, showing clearly the possible importance of keeping a moderate blood sugar in order to maintain self-control:

Past research indicates that self-control relies on some sort of limited energy source. This review suggests that blood glucose is one important part of the energy source of self-control. Acts of self-control deplete relatively large amounts of glucose. Self-control failures are more likely when glucose is low or cannot be mobilized effectively to the brain (i.e., when insulin is low or insensitive). Restoring glucose to a sufficient level typically improves self-control. Numerous self-control behaviors fit this pattern, including controlling attention, regulating emotions, quitting smoking, coping with stress, resisting impulsivity, and refraining from criminal and aggressive behavior. Alcohol reduces glucose throughout the brain and body and likewise impairs many forms of self-control. Furthermore, self-control failure is most likely during times of the day when glucose is used least effectively. Self-control thus appears highly susceptible to glucose. Self-control benefits numerous social and interpersonal processes. Glucose might therefore be related to a broad range of social behavior.

via Hacker News