Tag Archives: research

eating bacon to live longer

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bacon - sea of baconI just heard about a 105-year-old woman in Texas who says her secret is that she eats bacon every day.  I don’t know if that will stand up to medical scrutiny, but it’s worth something.

The article reveals her bacon “secret”, which should be enough for the whole article.  But then it talks about her birthday party, which featured over 200 guests, which is okay, I guess.  But then it goes into explaining why bacon has gotten a bad rap lately.  It’s somewhat ironic, given the subject of the article.  Apparently some research study linked processed meat to a premature death.  But check out their results — they claim that eating less than 20g per day (which is 0.7 ounces) could prevent an estimated 3% of premature deaths each year.  So if you eat only a bite or two of meat per day, you have a 3% chance of living longer.  For people who follow that advice, I wonder what the odds are on premature death due to not enjoying life as much…  (To each their own, but that advice wouldn’t work for me.)

The article then references another study saying that even a single serving of processed red meat increased the risk of participants dying by 20%.  I may not be a statistician, but I figure the risk of dying is 100%.  🙂  You can eat all the plants you want, but it is appointed for everyone to meet their Maker at some point.

Obviously bacon is somewhat unhealthy — not completely, but in some ways.  However, if a single serving of bacon (or any red meat) increases your risk of dying by 20%, and this woman has eaten bacon every day for 105 years so far (which could be up to 38,000 times), what would her risk of dying be?  I’d like to see one of those researchers calculate it and go tell her.  Maybe she’s like one of those cartoon characters who is invulnerable to the laws of physics because they don’t understand it.  🙂  Either way, whatever she’s doing has worked for her.

This breakfast platter from Tony's I-75 restaurant in Birch Run, MI, has 1 pound of bacon.

This breakfast platter from Tony’s I-75 restaurant in Birch Run, MI, has 1 pound of bacon.

I’m not claiming that all this research is bogus, but I think there’s a LOT more to it than just saying eating meat will kill you early.  I’ve known quite a few people — including my grandparents — who ate big country meals all the time (which included lots of butter, gravy, and fried foods), yet lived to be 90+ and still had above-average health.  I know that’s a small sample, but when you consider how Americans used to eat versus what we now “know” about nutrition, it’s amazing any of them lived past 25.  I’m not saying fattening foods are healthy, but I do wonder if natural / organic fattening foods might be healthier than much of the modern stuff with preservatives and additives and chemicals.  I can’t prove it, and I’m not convinced either way yet, but I do think there’s a lot more to nutrition and healthiness than we currently know.

Regardless of whether bacon is good for me or not, I’m now hungry for bacon…

holiday eating is not making you fat

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In recent years I’ve heard some “experts” on TV say you should eat light on Thanksgiving so you don’t become obese.  First of all, that’s stupid, and second, the research doesn’t support such tomfoolery.  According to a study, the average weight gain for the holiday season (including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s) is just 0.8 pounds.  That’s not a typo.  For all the hype from the media outlets, you’d think people were becoming instantly obese from a couple of big meals.  0.8 pounds is nothing — you can gain that just from eating normal, or if your regularity is not as regular.  I figured the number would be higher, given the big holiday meals, the extra cookies, and the parties.

Obviously some Thanksgiving meals are more fattening than others, but a traditional feast shouldn’t be that bad.  I figure a normal Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be more unhealthy than some of the things you can get at restaurants, particularly all-you-can-eat buffets.  Plus you might be eating less processed food, which could make it healthier.

To diet on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day is foolish, if you want my opinion.  It’s hard enough to diet and eat right, particularly if you enjoy eating.  To miss out on the most special meals of the year would be depressing.  If you’re seriously trying to lose weight, one way to approach it is to eat healthier in the days leading up to the big meals, to rationalize eating a lot at the family get-togethers and parties.

Of course, common sense disclaimers apply.  For example, if you’re on the verge of a heart attack or some other severe health problem, maybe you shouldn’t eat a huge meal, but in that case, you should do something about it NOW.

Let’s get back to the study, if I may rant for a minute.  The health “experts” shouldn’t try to make people feel bad during the holidays if the research shows that the holiday eating isn’t the problem.  Here’s what irked me most about the article:

In the study, 14% of overweight and obese individuals gained more than five pounds during the holiday. In the abstract, the researchers wrote, “holiday weight gain may be an important contributor to the rising prevalence of obesity, even though absolute values for weight gain in this study were less than anticipated.”

Okay, so obese people gained more weight than average.  That’s not exactly breaking news, since they’ve obviously been gaining weight before then, so they’re just continuing the trend.  But notice the quote from the researchers, which basically says they’re still sticking to their hypothesis even though the statistics don’t support it.  Hopefully some people were reprimanded over that kind of junk.

So in conclusion, don’t feel bad about eating a few big meals during holiday feasts and parties.  The obesity problem isn’t caused by a couple of big meals here and there.  (Shouldn’t that be common sense?)  And the next time a news person on TV says to cut back during the holidays, eat another piece of pecan pie… or pumpkin pie… or cookies… you get the idea.  🙂  Eat, drink, and be merry.

an unusual research study

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Earlier today I was switching channels on the TV and heard something unexpected.  Apparently some research group is looking for people to participate in an induced constipation study.  I just saw the end of the commercial, so I didn’t hear what the compensation was (if it was mentioned), but it would have to be a lot.  Actually, I’m not sure you can put a price on being regular.

I don’t know what it feels like to be constipated, but I figure it would be quite bad after a while.  And using experimental drugs to get there just seems like a really bad idea.  I don’t even want to know what the potential side-effects of that are…  Besides, shouldn’t the drugs be fixing constipation, not causing it?

That whole scenario just sounds wrong.  I hope it’s not some scheme of the Important Evil Genius trying to rule the tri-state area with constipation… it sounds like some lame plan he’d make up.

tasty animals more likely to be eaten

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In the news last month, Discovery published an article that concluded that bad-tasting animals were less likely to be eaten than good-tasting animals.  It seems like that should be obvious…

The researchers concluded this by studying chemical compounds and by coating certain animals with bitter-tasting substances to see which were chosen.   That methodology may have its place, but it seems like part of the research should’ve involved grilling lots of animals to see which taste better, then look at what humans have been fond of eating, whether taste is the primary motivation.  This test should also involve copious amounts of gravy.  🙂

steak-and-milk-gravyThis link was sent in by Turtle Dundee, who happens to be an expert in the field of tasty animals and who already knew this information before reading the article.  Perhaps he should publish some of his research on tasty animals…

On a side note, while looking for pictures of steak with gravy, many of the pictures didn’t have enough gravy.   I know some parts of the country do things differently, but if there’s one thing we in the South know about, it’s frying food and making gravy with it.  So let me make this clear: the gravy should cover the entire portion of the meat (and mashed potatoes too!).   If that’s too much for some people, serve it on the side, or have the dish include unlimited gravy.  Just don’t serve a chicken-fried steak with only enough gravy for half of it.  That just ain’t right!

country fried steak with little gravy, green beansAlso, many of the pictures included vegetables like green beans, celery, lettuce, or broccoli.  To each their own, I suppose, but I’m a “meat ‘n taters” type of guy.   Adding “green” to the picture doesn’t make it look more appealing — just add more meat, more taters, and more gravy, and that will impress people.

On another side note, I had a small, healthy lunch today, and all this talk of gravy is making me incredibly hungry!  I know there’s a lot of great foods out there, but you just can’t top a meal of fried chicken, mashed taters, biscuits, and milk gravy.  (And of course Southern-style sweet tea should be served with this meal, but that should go without saying.)

Buffet o’ Bacon 3

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Last night I had the Buffet o’ Blog staff over for a regular team outing (where we played video games and discussed funny stuff — how meetings should go!).  As has happened before, this meeting turned into a Buffet o’ Bacon.  It was kinda like an Iron Chef episode, where 3 contestants brought an original dish based around bacon.  (At these impromptu cooking sessions, the theme is always bacon.  Not that I’m complaining!)

First on the menu was bacon-wrapped smokies covered with barbecue sauce and grilled, and served on a stick.

smokies, bacon, & BBQ, on a stick

That one used turkey bacon, which works better for grilling and is a lot healthier.  The taste was really good.  You just have to make sure the bacon is cooked to the point of getting slightly crispy, or it’ll be easier to notice it’s turkey bacon.

The second item we sampled was bacon-wrapped cream-cheese-filled jalapenos.   We removed the seeds so they wouldn’t be too spicy (for some).  These were also delicious, although I’d like to experiment with different types of cheese.  Cooking them on a rack is essential (as I will explain in further detail on the next item).  They were also served on a stick (well, a toothpick).

bacon-wrapped cheese-filled jalapenos

Third on our list was the most ambitious creation, and the one that slightly concerned me.  It consisted of club crackers topped with shredded cheese, then bacon-wrapped and cooked for two hours at 250 degrees.  Here’s a picture of them during preparation.

bacon-wrapped club crackers, with cheese, in preparation

Notice there was no rack used to elevate the food above the inevitable bacon grease.  Supposedly it wasn’t necessary according to the recipe, that the crackers wouldn’t absorb all the grease.  I was concerned because we’ve been down this road before.  /* flashback */ At the initial Buffet o’ Bacon, there were some bacon-wrapped croissants, and the bread absorbed almost all the bacon grease during cooking.  The consistency of the croissants was like butter at room temperature, and it was deemed the “gut-bomb”.  (Read the second comment on our initial Buffet o’ Bacon for an explanation.)  /* end flashback */ So how did it turn out?  Let’s have a look:

bacon-wrapped club crackers, with cheese

What’s missing from this picture is the grease that was drained before I got in there with the camera.  Supposedly there was a pool of grease.  And if it isn’t evident in the picture, the crackers were saturated with grease, along with the cheese, and the bacon was quite greasy also.  Someone looked at the recipe to see where they went wrong, and they noticed the last line of the recipe said to cook it on a rack over a pan.  Obviously that line was never read, and the excuse was used that the picture included with the recipe didn’t have a rack in it.

We each tried a couple of them, and you could tell there was a lot of potential there, if not for the extreme load of grease.  The rest were discarded, for the sake of healthiness.   Hopefully a lesson was learned from this, because it’s really sad to throw away bacon and cheese.  (Should we have a moment of silence?)

If you want to read about our previous bacon research sessions, the link to part one is above, and here’s part two.  There are other food-related experiments and discussions — too many to list — but you can search for them if you want.

For those of you who live nearby and would like to participate in one of these in the future, there has been talk of hosting one on a Saturday afternoon and making a party out of it.  Stay tuned to this blog for further details.

some say exercise won’t make you thin

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The blogosphere has been abuzz lately about an article in TIME magazine called Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.  It is interesting, because we’ve joked about such things before, yet here’s an article in a credible magazine suggesting it.  But before we dig into it, let me mention that the author of this article exercises regularly and talks about how he isn’t losing fat, yet he weighs only 163 pounds.  Unless he’s abnormally short, that’s not a bad weight for an adult male to be at.   I don’t see how he could be considered fat or obese.  Actually, my “ideal weight” is supposedly 190-200 for my height, so 163 seems too skinny to me.  Anyway, let’s get to the article.

First, let’s start with the author’s premise for his hypothesis:

Like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don’t.  Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight? ~ John Cloud

He also quotes some other experts who back his claim: “In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher.  That sounds extreme to me, but I’ll keep reading.

The notion that we eat more because exercise makes us more hungry and thus exercise makes it harder to lose weight sure sounds like something the “Important Doctor” came up with.  The article also mentions the idea that intense sessions of exercise may cause people to reward themselves by eating what they want.  I can see that — it’s much easier to justify a milkshake or snack if you’ve worked out.

Some scientists imply that it’s evolution’s fault that humans can easily get fat.  We don’t have much “brown fat”.  Rats, among other species, have a lot of it, which turns off their mitochondria (which are the cells’ power plants), so they don’t get an energy boost from eating too much — they just get warmer, which helps the calories burn effortlessly.  So for animals like that, it’s really difficult for them to get fat, even if they overeat.  In contrast, humans can barely overeat and yet gain weight, because unused calories get stored in regular “white fat” cells.

One example cited in the article explains why our compensation for exercise keeps us from losing weight:

A standard 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories.  If you’re hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it’s easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds, in which case the caloric expenditure and the caloric intake are probably a wash.  From a weight-loss perspective, you would have been better off sitting on the sofa knitting.

Well, few people knit these days, but I think it would be fair to replace that part of the example with sitting on the sofa playing video games.  So there’s your proof that playing video games can help you lose more weight than running! (That definitely sounds like something from the “Important Doctor”.)

The article also says that self-control is like a muscle, that it gets weaker when you use it too much.  So if you force yourself to jog for an hour, your capacity for self-control becomes weakened, and you’re more likely to eat pizza than a salad.  (Although I’m always more likely to eat pizza than a salad, given those choices.)

Steven Gortmaker, who heads Harvard’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity, agrees that exercising makes you more hungry, therefore he’s suspicious of the playgrounds at fast-food restaurants: “Why would they build those?  I know it sounds kind of like conspiracy theory, but you have to think, if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000.”   One study has shown that exercise causes kids to eat an average of 100 calories more than they had just burned.

Of course, some sites have countered the TIME article, with one even saying it is an “Epic Fail”.  The TIME article makes some points, but we don’t have to give in to overeating because we exercise.  And I don’t think self-control is like a muscle from a physiological sense, but the analogy may work if you carry it out further.  The more you resist something, the stronger you get, instead of weaker — after a while.  For example, if you give up cokes, it may be hard for a few days, but eventually you don’t even miss them anymore.  (I know, because I gave them up.)

I reckon what all this debate results in is that you can find a study that backs up whatever lifestyle you want to live.   If you don’t want to exercise, then you shouldn’t, because it makes you gain weight.   But if you want to lose weight, well, it’s hopeless.  (Of course the last one isn’t true — but if you want to blame it on evolution or misinformation or whatever, there’s an excuse.)  To me, it still seems really simple — if you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight.  Maybe that seems too-good-to-be-true, but it adds up, if you do the math.

what is locust bean gum?

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Do you ever look at the ingredients of the pre-prepared foods you eat?   Occasionally I do.  And thus begins our story.

My wife recently acquired a coupon for a free package of Starbucks’ caramel macchiato ice cream.  It’s a mix of vanilla and coffee ice cream, with swirls of caramel.  I don’t care much for coffee, but she liked it.   We happened to look at the ingredients on the back of the label, and noticed that the last ingredient was “locust bean gum”.  I don’t know what that is, but the name of it doesn’t sound appealing.

Normally the lower-tier ingredients have scientific names, such that the average consumer has no idea what it stands for (and is too lazy to bother looking it up).   But with a name like locust bean gum, that just opens the door to a lot of questions.  Let’s start with, “What does that mean?”  Is it locusts ground up into beans, or do the locusts eat the beans and then “extract” the gum (a la a certain coffee), or is it locust-flavored beans?  I have no idea, apart from rampant speculation.

So it’s time for some research*.  I found that it’s a galactomannan consisting of a B-D-mannopyranose backbone with 6 branchpoints linked to a-D-galactose.  A detailed explanation of what that means is WAY beyond the scope of this article.  However, a quick summary in English is that it retards ice crystal growth by forming a structured gel at a solid/liquid interface.  I suppose it has to do with the texture and viscosity of the ice cream.  But that still doesn’t answer where it comes from.

But I’m not sure I want to know…  Sometimes it’s good to not ask too many questions.  Just enjoy your ice cream…  🙂

* My research consisted of a single search and looking at one link on the first page of results.