Saturday, November 29, 2014

10 scientific findings to ruin your holiday fun

before the science of food chemistry gave us quiche
image: CoppertailBrewing
I love science.  Without it, we'd still be in caves eating berries and choking from the smoke from the raw monkey meat roasting over the open flames.

However, science has that way of ruining some of life's guilty pleasures and cool-sounding ideas by reminding us of inconvenient truths of all sorts.

This article highlights 10 buzzkills that are particularly relevant during holiday periods, as we focus on family, friends, and food.

The article summarizes findings from a number of studies you may not be happy to read, but getting sick from your cat or your snack are even worse, so here they are.  There are conflicting opinions on some of them (e.g. raw cookie dough), but you should at least be aware of health risks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What are you eating? Fast food calories

Across the globe, people have celebrated the annual harvest, especially where and when producing food required months of hard labor and having sufficient food around was not a given. Which was basically everywhere, up until recently.

The idea of giving thanks to the gods and the land for allowing the food to grow and sustain us has been around since humans started producing food, rather than just gathering it.  There are still harvest festivals, at different times of year, in many countries.  In addition to the food, dancing and costumes  still make them real parties.

Seu, Curacao harvest festival
photo: Monique Gomes Casseres
Dozynki, Polish harvest festival
photo: Karolina Szczepanska


Here in the U.S., people are busily shopping and planning their big annual feast for Thanksgiving, a traditional celebration of both the autumn harvest and, in this case, the thanks that English settlers gave to Native Americans for saving their bacon when the cold weather hit eastern North America in the 1620s. Food has clearly remained a prominent national past time.

a fancy Thanksgiving dinner
photos: AF.mil

You may have heard Americans have a thing for eating.

Speedy food, aimed at travelers or folks with no kitchens, has been around in urban societies for over 2,000 years, but the infamous plethora of modern high-fat, high-calorie fast food (read: junk food in big quantities) is a really recent phenomenon, dating only to the 1920s.



As common as commercial fast food is here, consumers have a terrible sense of the calories lurking in foods when they eat out.  This Washington Post article explains that the US Food and Drug Administration just approved "sweeping new rules" that will require many places where Americans eat out — chain restaurants, movie theaters, pizza joints, vending machines and more  --- to provide calorie counts of the foods they serve.

Yikes -- how many are in that burger? Or that chef salad?  Here's a peak:


Cheese fries with ranch dressing?  Who's had this?  Are they worth it?


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Swapping more than spit - the true intimacy of French kissing

We as humans have a strong need to share our worlds with our sweethearts - oh to be understood and feel that sense of belonging and togetherness with our loved ones.

It turns out that a few good kisses really do the trick.

A new study from the scientific journal Microbiome (no, not Us magazine) found that when you intimately kiss your partner (10 seconds, tongue has to participate), you exchange some 80 million bacteria with each other, along with all that passion.

Most of the exchange happens among the bacteria in our saliva, while the composition of bacteria on the tongue of apparently doesn't change much.  Still.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

House-hunting for hermits

I've just moved into a new apartment, after what was a relatively painless process, basically because we had little time to look. It's still a mess, but at least we're here.

Other species need to find housing as much as we do. Think caves, burrows, nests, and even their own shell. BBC has a wonderful video showing impressive organization by a hoard of hermit crabs, each looking for a new apartment. This crazy GIF is just a teaser:

These hermit crabs aren't wrestling (or mating!), they're real estate hunting!  The shell is too large for this group, so they must wait for an apartment hunter of the proper size.  Does one ever come?  Find out here

You may already know that, as a hermit crab grows over the course of his/her life, s/he uses a series of ever-larger shells, each discarded by another shell-producing animal. Hermit crabs' lower legs and body are soft, so they must protect them inside a shell, which they salvage from along shore.

But what happens when our crab starts to grow too large for the shell? And how to find a shell the right size when you need it?

Hermit crab making a snowball
photo: Bioexpedition

When a new shell washes up on the beach, the hermit crabs organize: they suss each other out for size, line up in height order, and wait for a crab that fits the new shell. Once it shows up, they all trade properties, each giving up the old shell and donning the new larger one, as David Attenborough explains.  I, for one, am inspired by this wonderful example of communal behavior in which bureaucracy falls aside and everyone gains.

Check out the video -- it's from BBC's Life Story (legally hard to embed, but worth the click), to see for yourself!

And for the especially hermit-crab curious out there, this video (from Kindergarten4TheArts, more accessible than BBC) shows a slower-motion version of single crab trading places.  Enjoy!




Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pollinators: aRT iN mOTION

Have a look at the breathtaking video below of gorgeous animals, blessed with crazy specialized tongues, wings, fuzzy faces and bodies, and other features, feeding on nectar and helping flowering plants reproduce.

They are pollinators, and in their daily behavior, they are amazing:



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Breakfast for champions

can't eat just one (unfortunately)
photo: DailyMail-UK
Happy Monday Morning!

Did you eat breakfast?

Was it nutritious?  Or was is doughnuts?

A healthy breakfast has been associated with greater strength, endurance, and concentration and may help keep you from feeding your morning hunger pangs with processed sweet or fatty snacks throughout the morning.

Nevertheless, while avoiding the junk food should keep your body and its fat cells functioning properly, the connection between eating breakfast and weight loss is still uncertain.