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