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Eating Better -- For Yourself and for the Planet

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Question: Can you be a food lover and a\r\nhealthy eater?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  I think if you are a true food lover,\r\nyou are a healthy eater.  Well,\r\nfirst of all, the term foodie is completely ridiculous because for someone to\r\n-- when you meet somebody and they say, "I really love to eat," I\r\nthink the appropriate answer is who doesn’t?  So, I mean look around.  Who do you know who is not a food lover?  Everybody's a food lover.

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The question is\r\ndo you eat responsibly?  Do you eat\r\nfor your own benefit?  Do you eat\r\nfor your planets benefit and do you eat the best food possible?  If the answer to all of those things is\r\nyes then you're eating well.  If\r\nyou're eating, if your style of eating is bad for your body, if your style of\r\neating is bad for the planet then you are not really eating good food.  You're eating lousy food and there's\r\nplenty -- as we know, there's plenty of lousy food around.

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Question: What is the most environmentally\r\nresponsible way to eat?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  The principled way to eat, if you were\r\ngoing to say, "I want to eat entirely for my own benefit, I want to eat\r\nentirely for the benefit of the planet, I want to eat in the most responsible\r\nway possible to minimize my carbon footprint, to minimize my impact overall, to\r\nminimize my effect on animals," you would be a vegan.  That's the bottom line.

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Veganism is the\r\nmost principled way to eat that there is. \r\nFrom the perspective of your own body, from the perspective of the\r\nplanet, from the perspective of animals, very few people are going to be\r\nvegans.  Let's be real.

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So what's\r\nnext?  I mean, if on the one hand\r\nyou have vegans and on the other hand you have people who eat whatever they\r\nfeel like eating, there's a middle ground.  The problem with the way most Americans eat right now is\r\nthat we are about as far from veganism as we could be.  So a vegan would get 100 percent of his\r\nor her calories from plants. 

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Most Americans\r\nget 90 percent of their calories from processed food, junk food, and animal\r\nproducts.  So, the goal, I think,\r\nis to move in the direction of eating more unprocessed plant food than we do\r\nnow and everybody's got a different starting place.  If you eat 20 cheeseburgers a week, or the equivalent, you\r\nmight look at eating 15 cheeseburgers a week or the equivalent.  If you're eating 15, you might look at\r\neating 10 and so on, and I think if people think about what's best for their\r\nbody, what's best for the planet, the answer is eating unprocessed plant food\r\nand then think about how can I eat more of that stuff at the expense of meat,\r\nwhich was the question, but also at the expense of processed food and junk\r\nfood.

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Question: What are some of the main things you\r\ncan do to eat healthily?

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Mark\r\nBittman: The idea is to\r\neat as many unprocessed plants as you can. What are\r\nplants?  Plants are vegetables,\r\nfruits, legumes, which means beans, nuts and seeds; what am I leaving out?  I think that's about it.  So the idea is to eat as many\r\nunprocessed plants as you possibly can and to eat those instead of eating\r\nprocessed foods, junk foods, and animal products. 

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Well, it works\r\nfor me -- what's worked for me for just about three years now, what works for\r\nme is to eat a very, very strict diet of plants only and unprocessed plants\r\nonly from the time I wake up in the morning until dinner time.  So from the time I wake up until\r\nroughly dark I eat a lot of fruit, I eat a lot of vegetables, I eat some whole\r\ngrains and sometimes I have some beans and that's pretty much it.  And then at night I eat whatever I want\r\nand that’s, which includes meat, which includes wine and which includes pasta\r\nand bread and stuff like that. 

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That's a huge\r\nchange for me.  I think that if you\r\nthink of your diet as a seesaw with the animal products, the processed or the\r\njunk food on the heavy side as it is for most people and the unprocessed plants\r\non the light side as it is for most people, I think for me my seesaw went from\r\nlooking something like this to looking something like this.  I think to the extent other people can\r\neat that way they will have a lesser impact on the planet, improve their\r\nhealth, probably lose weight, feel better.

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Question: Why did you decide to change the way\r\nyou ate?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  Well I think I decided to change the\r\nway I ate because of some of the things we've been talking about here.  One is that I recognize that one of the\r\nhighest contributors to greenhouse gases and global warming is the industrial\r\nproduction of livestock.  So I\r\ndecided okay that was one good reason to eat less meat.  The other good reason to eat less meat\r\nis that I was in my mid-50s and my health wasn't what it used to be.  So I was overweight, I had bad knees, I\r\nhad sleep apnea, had high cholesterol, I had high blood sugar or borderline\r\nhigh blood sugar, I think that's enough.

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So\r\nI decided to change my diet and it's so obvious to everyone who pays any\r\nattention to nutrition at all that if you want to be healthier the way to do\r\nthat is as I've already said is to eat fewer animal products and eat less\r\nprocessed and junk food.  So I\r\nstarted to do that and it worked. \r\nI lost 35 pounds; gained five of them back but hey.  Sleep apnea went away, I slept better,\r\nmy knees bothered me much less, in fact, they ran the New York marathon last\r\nyear.  My cholesterol is back to\r\nnormal and my blood sugar is back to normal.

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So it all worked\r\nand it's not a coincidence.  I mean\r\nno one would say it was a coincidence.

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Question: Are there any foods you avoid because\r\nof health reasons?

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Mark Bittman:  Actually not.  There's some things I don’t like.  But I think that it's important to recognize that there is\r\nno sort of single, I mean, arsenic and cyanide aside, there's not really a\r\nsingle ingredient that's going to outright kill you.  There's actually some evidence that a single can of soda can\r\ntrigger diabetes, but there's not a lot of evidence about that.  In general, one ingredient, one little\r\nkind of food, one meal, one day, even one week.  That's not what's determinant of your overall health or of\r\nyour impact on the planet.  What\r\ndetermines is your overall diet and if it's moving in the right direction,\r\nwhich for most Americans is towards plants and away from animal products and\r\nprocessed foods, than I think hip, hip, hooray.  That's the way to go.

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How a food lover can eat healthily and be environmentally responsible.

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  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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