Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
While few people would contest that fruit and vegetables are good for you, there can be some confusion over how many servings of them you're supposed to eat in a given day. The USDA advises people to eat anywhere from five to nine a day, with international standards similarly converging around five or six, though some go much higher.
Luckily, a new study that reviewed the health and diets of 100,000 people and combined it with meta-studies of the available data puts the debate over how many servings a day you should get to rest.
The researchers followed 66,719 women from the Nurses' Health Study and 42,016 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study to see how their diet affected their long-term health and mortality rates. Over the three decades of follow-ups, a clear, non-linear relationship developed between how many servings of fruit and vegetables people consumed per day and their risk of death.
That overall risk reached its lowest point at five servings a day—two of fruit and three of vegetables—with further increases having no additional benefit. What type of vegetable was consumed mattered as well, with starchy veggies like corn and potatoes having fewer benefits than other types. Fruit juices were also less helpful than just eating the fruit. On the other hand, leafy greens, carrots, citrus fruits, and berries all demonstrated health benefits.
The net benefits of this compared to only getting two servings a day (roughly what the typical American is eating) are notable. It averages to about a 13 percent lower risk of death from all causes, a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer, and a 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
To confirm the findings, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 26 other studies involving two million people. The results were similar, with the greatest reduction in mortality occurring at the five-a-day mark, though one study found that eating 10 servings a day offered some improvement on that.
For those who are unsure, a serving of fruit is one medium-sized fruit (like an apple), half a cup of something canned, or a fourth of a cup of something dried. When it comes to vegetables, a cup of leafy greens is a serving, as is half a cup of anything else which is fresh, canned, or frozen.
The study is not without issues. The dietary data is self-reported and could be inaccurate. Participants could also choose to eat better as their health declines, reducing the observed benefits. Above all, the study was observational, and causation cannot be proven. Despite these limitations, the study provides a great deal of support for the idea that eating more fruit and veggies is good for you.
Now to just settle the problem of getting them into your meals.
A new observational study finds that red wine and cheese have protective effects.
- Iowa State University researchers found that red wine, cheese, and a weekly serving of lamb could help reduce cognitive decline.
- The observational study is based on a decade of research conducted at the UK Biobank.
- The team also found that excessive salt could help promote diseases of dementia.
The world is not in want of diet advice. Paleo living, vegan lifestyles, eating for your blood type, seasonal and regional eating, low sugar, Mediterannean ingredients, low fat, high fat—numerous bestsellers thrive in every category imaginable. The perpetual challenge is sourcing credible information amidst endless literature of hype.
Humans also gravitate towards diets that confirm our biases, making sound nutrition advice even more challenging. Coffee is good for us? Wonderful! Unless you gave up coffee for some strange reason; then you question the study's premise. Eat all the cheese and drink all the wine you want? I knew it! Well, maybe not "all," but according to research from Iowa State University, a bit of funk and fermentation might be the key to slowing cognitive decline.
Move over, Greece. The French were right all along.
For this study, published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, food science and human nutrition assistant professor, Auriel Willette, and neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, Brandon Klinedinst, analyzed data from 1,787 adults through the UK Biobank. This UK-based organization contains in-depth genetic and health information from a half-million British residents. Willette and Klinedinst focused on adults aged 46 to 77.
The team found that diet earlier in life affects your risk of cognitive decline later on. While added salt might put you at greater risk for diseases of dementia, the following finding is certain to make some of us cheer.
"Observations further suggest in risk status-dependent manners that adding cheese and red wine to the diet daily, and lamb on a weekly basis, may also improve long-term cognitive outcomes."
Between 2006-10, participants in the UK Biobank research filled out a Fluid Intelligence Test, followed by recurring assessments in 2012-13 and 2015-16. These analyses helped researchers understand each volunteer's ability to "think on the fly." They also filled out information regarding food and alcohol consumption.
As Willette and Klinedinst write, dietary modifications such as the Mediterranean-Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Intervention for Neurodegenerative 70 Delay (MIND) diet are proving to help slow cognitive decline. Such lifestyle changes later in life are important. The researchers wanted to know if youthful diets influence your risk of diseases like Alzheimer's before modifications are made.
They found that cheese was particularly helpful in protecting against age-related cognitive problems; daily consumption of alcohol, especially red wine, improves cognitive function; eating lamb (but not other red meat) on a weekly basis appears to be helpful; excess salt promotes cognitive decline over time.
While they were unable to pinpoint exact reasons for this protective effect, they cite calcium, vitamin B12, gut-friendly bacteria, and lactopeptides in cheese as potential candidates. A moderate serving of red wine has long been touted as healthy; interestingly, volunteers with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's appear to benefit most. They also note other research finding that regular beer intake increases the risk of dementia. Not all alcohol is created equally.
Willette notes that cheese and wine are not only protective against cognitive decline but are also stress relievers in a world living through a pandemic. That said, he knows this is an observational study—randomized clinical trials are needed to provide substantial proof. As with any diet, genetic factors play a role. You should know personal risk factors before making drastic changes to your diet.
As Klinedinst concludes,
"Depending on the genetic factors you carry, some individuals seem to be more protected from the effects of Alzheimers, while other seem to be at greater risk. That said, I believe the right food choices can prevent the disease and cognitive decline altogether. Perhaps the silver bullet we're looking for is upgrading how we eat. Knowing what that entails contributes to a better understanding of Alzheimer's and putting this disease in a reverse trajectory."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
"Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035," said Patrick O. Brown at the 2020 Web Summit.
- Impossible Foods is a company that makes plant-based meat alternative products.
- At the 2020 Web Summit, CEO Patrick O. Brown spoke about the impacts of meat production on the environment, and his company's long-term goal of phasing out the industry.
- Livestock currently contribute about 14.5 percent of global emissions.
What's the world's most important scientific problem?
To Impossible Foods CEO Patrick O. Brown, it's decoding the chemistry behind what makes meat delicious, and then replicating those flavors in sustainable plant-based food products that outcompete the meat industry.
Solving this problem isn't only about boosting profits for Impossible Foods, which is already valued at an estimated $4 billion. Brown said it's about protecting the world against two of the "biggest environmental threats that humanity has ever faced": rapidly progressing climate change and the catastrophic loss of biodiversity.
"By far, the biggest factor in both [of those problems] is the use of animals as a food technology, globally," Brown said. "It's by far the most destructive technology in human history," Brown said last week at Web Summit 2020, adding that the animal food-product industry is more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels.
So far, international efforts to curb climate change have been only marginally effective. The U.N. Environment Programme reported that even if the signatories of the Paris Agreement meet their stated goals, global temperatures are still projected to rise throughout this century, "bringing even wider-ranging and more destructive climate impacts."
On the national level, getting governments to set and stick to climate policies is obviously difficult. And on the individual level, it might be even harder to get people to change their behavior in the name of environmentalism; think how difficult it'd be to influence people to stop flying, use less electricity or switch to an electric vehicle. Now imagine asking your average American restaurant patron to give up meat forever.
That's why Impossible Foods' strategy is to appeal primarily to consumers' taste buds, not their inner environmentalist. The company is aiming to make its meat alternatives more delicious, healthier, and cheaper than the real thing.
"By next year, I think our mainstream product will actually, if we do a side-by-side comparison with nothing by meat eaters, will be preferred by a majority of them," Brown said.
The ultimate goal is to phase out the meat industry.
"Our mission is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology by 2035," Brown said. "We're dead serious about it. We totally believe it's doable."
Land deforested to make room for cattle pasture
Credit: Adobe Stock
That may seem like a quixotic goal. After all, meat alternative companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have been around for about a decade. And while both have been undeniably successful, meat consumption in North America hasn't changed much in recent years (although people are eating slightly less beef).
Still, mainstream meat-alternative options—like Burger King's Impossible Whopper, added to menus last year—are a relatively new phenomenon to most consumers. And as people become increasingly familiar with these products, and as meat-alternative companies scale up to make plant-based products cheaper than meat, preferences could start to tilt.
One industry that's betting on that happening: big meat. In 2019, leading meat companies like Tyson, Smithfield, and Perdue all began rolling out their own alternative meat products.
"There is a growing demand out there," John Pauley, the chief commercial officer for Smithfield, told The New York Times. "We'd be foolish not to pay attention."
Brown might advise these companies to invest even more heavily in plant-based foods.
"It's game over for the incumbent industry, they just don't realize it yet," he said.
If Brown's right, phasing out the meat industry could measurably reduce climate change, considering livestock currently contribute about 14.5 percent of global emissions.
Italian meatballs recipe from Impossible Foods
Credit: Impossible Foods
"By replacing animals as our technology for making meat, we can turn back the clock on global warming and restore native ecosystems," Impossible Foods wrote in a blog post. "The recovery of biomass on land currently devoted to livestock would remove enough CO2 from the atmosphere to offset 20 years of emissions at current levels, and once livestock methane emissions stop, rapid decay of atmospheric methane would effectively negate another 10 years of total GHG emissions at current rate."
Still, even if alternative-meat companies destroy the beef industry by 2035, that wouldn't solve the problem of climate change. It's also worth mentioning that some methods of raising livestock and producing meat are worse than others.
A 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems notes that the "carbon footprint of meat alternatives is likely lower than the majority of beef consumed" in the U.S., but that the:
"...ecological impacts of human diets are not as simple as plant vs. meat discussions might suggest. The global food system is far too diverse and contingent on unique environmental and socioeconomic circumstances to allow for one-size-fits-all policy recommendations."
The future of meat alternatives
For Impossible Foods, the main goal has always been to keep tweaking their plant-based meat alternatives until they taste better than the real thing. So, assuming the company succeeds and displaces the meat industry, what's next?
We asked Brown whether Impossible Foods would ever consider developing entirely new forms of plant-based foods, instead of products that mimic familiar meat flavors.
"Oh absolutely, and this is something internally, and in our [research and development] team, we love to think about," Brown said. "Once we've completely replaced animals as a food technology, then the gloves come off. There's all sorts of novel meat flavors and textures we could create and we're super eager to do it."
Traci Des Jardins, a chef and restaurateur in the San Francisco area who also participated in the 2020 Web Summit presentation, said creating new types of plant-based "meats" might not be as strange as it sounds.
After all, we already have strange foods that have "become their own thing" simply because we give names to them. Case in point: the hot dog.
"I can imagine products that we could create at Impossible that would be amazing things that could become as iconic as the hot dog," Jardins said. "Because a hot dog really means nothing. It's just a name that's been attributed to this thing that goes in this bun. And so, I think there are many, many possibilities, and that we could create all kinds of delicious things that don't have the environmental impact that animal-produced meats have."
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Non-meat diets may help you maintain healthy cholesterol, body weight, and blood-sugar levels. But these diets, particularly veganism, may also boost your risk of suffering broken bones, according to a new study published in BMC Medicine.
While the causes aren't totally clear, the researchers suggested it might stem from vegans not consuming enough calcium and protein, or from having a lower body mass index (BMI), which leaves the body more vulnerable to fractures.
The study is the largest to date on the relationship between fractures and non-meat diets. The researchers examined data from the long-running EPIC-Oxford study, which issued health surveys to nearly 55,000 people in the U.K. between 1993 and 2001, and followed up with them in 2010.
For the recent study, the researchers collected additional follow-up data in 2016 using National Health Service records. To study the relationship between diet and fracture risk, they sorted participants into four groups: meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.
After controlling for variables like physically activity, sex, smoking, dietary supplement intake, and alcohol use, the study found that vegans had a 43 percent increased risk of any kind of fracture compared to meat eaters. The increased risk for vegetarians was 9 percent.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.
The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.
One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can help offset losses). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.
Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, when consumed in normal levels. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.
Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.
Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.
Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.
The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."
Staying healthy on a vegan diet
So, does a vegan diet necessarily lead to worse bone health? Not necessarily. But it's safe to say that people who don't consume meat, dairy and eggs should be extra vigilant about consuming enough essential nutrients. That can be harder than it seems.
One major reason is that the body generally has an easier time absorbing nutrients from animal foods than plant-based products. So, while a salad could contain the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk, the body absorbs more calcium when you drink milk. What's more, there are some molecules and nutrients you simply can't get from plants.
As such, many vegans round out their diets with supplements, including zinc, iron, iodine, long-chain omega-3s, and vitamins D, K-2, and B-12, to name a few. If you're on a vegan diet or considering making the switch, it's probably best to consult a dietician, and to make sure you maintain a healthy BMI.
Never made a turkey before? Don't worry, science can help.
- This year, many people will be making a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. It's often harder than it looks.
- Luckily, an online calculator website has one just for thawing turkey, and can explain why you need to wait so long.
- The website has other calculators as well, for needs you didn't know you had.
This year, with the Center for Disease Control advising Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving, many people will be faced with the prospect of preparing dinner for a smaller table or cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal by themselves for the first time. The latter of these two issues can seem particularly daunting.
The art of preparing a turkey can seem incredibly arcane to those who haven't done it before—foul it up enough and you'll give yourself salmonella.
Luckily, science is here to help. A quick review of thermodynamics provided by the Turkey Thawing Calculator at Omni Calculator will show you not only how to thaw your turkey correctly but how math and science are all around us.
How to thaw a turkey using science!
The Omni Calculator website is home to calculators that can determine many things, including how long you can be in the sun safely, to the odds of your town having a white Christmas. It now has a dedicated tool for finding how long it will take you to prep your turkey in time for a socially distanced holiday. The Turkey Thawing Calculator was created by Jagiellonian University cognitive science graduate Maria Kluziak with the help of Wojciech Sas, a Ph.D. candidate in molecular magnetism and nanostructures at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Poland.
The fundamental problem is that you need to add heat to the frozen bird to unfreeze it without also encouraging the growth of bacteria. To do this, you have to put the turkey somewhere where it will heat up slowly and evenly. There is a trick, though; this can take a long time because of the amount of energy involved. Exactly how long you need to spend on it can be hard to determine if you've never done it before.
This is where practical, day-to-day science comes in. The processes of heating something are well-studied areas of thermodynamics which we use every day.
As Kluziak tells Big Think:
"If you look closely, you'll notice how we're all surrounded by numbers. Yet most of the time people choose to go with their intuition while making day-to-day decisions. We, as scientists and experts in our own fields, are trying to build a world where people make better, more informed decisions backed by concrete science - Using physics to chill drinks, math to find out how much pizza to get, and even calculating how much groceries are enough to survive a quarantine. It works."
So, how do I thaw a turkey?
Credit: Omni Calculator
By slowly exposing the turkey to cool air or water, it heats up to a point where the bird is above freezing but not so warm that bacteria will start multiplying. Two of the safe ways to do this stand above all others; you can thaw it in the refrigerator or the sink.
Using a refrigerator can take days; the calculator creators suggest a day for every four pounds of bird. Doing it with cold water in the sink is faster, needing only two hours per pound, but requires that you drain and refill the sink with new, cold water every thirty minutes. The ideal temperature during thawing shouldn't exceed 39°F/4°C.
"In our thawing model, we use a scientific approach, which is based on the use of heat transfer equations," the scientists write. "Since these types of problems are, in general, very complicated, we use some approximations, which allow us to estimate the thawing time with reasonable accuracy. As a result, you can see how the average temperature of the turkey changes in time."
You can learn more about the equations and get tips on using the calculator here. You can also learn why you shouldn't use a hairdryer or a tub full of hot water to do the job.
One of the best parts of science is that its findings are often universally applicable. If you understand why something works in one case, you can use it everywhere else. Kluziak reminds us why this might be great for cooking:
"The rules that govern the process of thawing are roughly the same for every kind of food, what's different are the numbers that determine the more specific things like thawing time. The general ideas remain the same regardless of the food, and I would say they are pure common sense. For example, if you're defrosting food, don't do it at room temperature to avoid bacteria - this is true every time!"
Whoever said you'd never use the science you learned in high school at home didn't understand how often we use physics—this calculator remind us that it is everywhere. So fear not, ye first-time turkey chefs! Science can help you have your main course and eat it too.