When Taste and Healthfulness Compete Taste Has Hidden Advantage

Alison Jones wrote . . . . . . . . .

You dash into a convenience store for a quick snack, spot an apple and reach for a candy bar instead. Poor self-control may not be the only factor behind your choice, new research suggests. That’s because our brains process taste information first, before factoring in health information, according to new research from Duke University.

“We spend billions of dollars every year on diet products, yet most people fail when they attempt to diet,” said study co-author Scott Huettel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “Taste seems to have an advantage that sets us up for failure.”

“For many individuals, health information enters the decision process too late (relative to taste information) to drive choices toward the healthier option.”

The new paper, which appears in Nature Human Behaviour, describes the advantage taste has over healthfulness in the decision-making process.

“We’ve always assumed people make unhealthy choices because that’s their preference or because they aren’t good at self-control,” said study co-author Nicolette Sullivan. “It turns out it’s not just a matter of self-control. Health is slower for your brain to estimate – it takes longer for you to include that information into the process of choosing between options.”

The research was undertaken when Sullivan was a postdoctoral associate at Duke. She is now an assistant professor of marketing at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

For the study, Sullivan and Huettel recruited 79 young adults of a median age of 24.4 years. Study participants were asked to fast for four hours before the experiment to ensure they arrived hungry.

Participants were asked to rate snack foods on their tastiness, healthfulness and desirability. They were then presented with pairs of foods and asked to choose between them – and the researchers timed their choices.

At the end of the experiment, participants were offered one of the foods they had chosen.

Study participants registered taste information early in their decision process – taking about 400 milliseconds on average to incorporate taste information. Participants took twice as long to incorporate information about a snack’s healthfulness into their decisions.

That may not sound like much time. In many cases though, it’s enough to alter the choice we make.

“Not every decision is made quickly – house purchases, going to college – people take time to make those choices,” Huettel said. “But many decisions we make in the world are fast – people reach for something in the grocery store or click on something online.”

The authors say their findings could apply to other choices, not just food. For instance, some financial decisions, such as saving and spending choices, may also be affected by how – and when – the brain processes different types of information.

Meanwhile, all is not lost in the war against junk food cravings.

Half of study participants received a blurb before the experiment, stressing the importance of eating healthy. Those participants were less likely to choose an unhealthy snack.

The authors also identified something simple that can help people with their food choices: slowing down the decision-making process.

When study participants took longer to consider their options, they tended to pick healthier ones.

“There may be ways to set up environments so people have an easier time making healthy choices,” Huettel said. “You want to make it easy for people to think about the healthfulness of foods, which would help nudge people toward better decisions.”

Source: Duke University

No Evidence Muscle Relaxants Can Ease Low Back Pain

Alan Mozes wrote . . . . . . . . .

Although tens of millions of Americans turn to muscle relaxants for lower back pain relief, a new Australian review finds little evidence that such drugs actually work.

That’s the conclusion of a deep-dive into 31 prior investigations, which collectively enlisted more than 6,500 lower back pain patients. Enrolled patients had been treating lower back pain with a wide range of 18 different prescription muscle relaxants.

But while the studies suggested that muscle relaxants might ease pain in the short term, “on average, the effect is probably too small to be important,” said study author James McAuley. “And most patients wouldn’t be able to feel any difference in their pain compared to taking a placebo, or sugar pill.”

Another concern: Beyond their ineffectiveness, “there is also an increased risk of side effects,” cautioned McAuley, director of the Centre for Pain IMPACT with the University of New South Wales’ School of Health Sciences in Sydney.

Such side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, headache and/or nausea, in addition to the risk that patients will develop a lingering addiction.

McAuley said his team was surprised by the findings, “as earlier research suggested that muscle relaxants did reduce pain intensity. But when we included all of the most up-to-date research the results became much less certain.”

One problem is that much of the research “wasn’t done very well, which means that we can’t be very certain in the results,” McAuley said.

For example, none of the studies explored long-term muscle relaxant use. That means the Australian team could only assess muscle relaxant effectiveness during two time frames: throughout an initial two-week regimen and between 3 to 13 weeks. In the first instance, they found low evidence of an insignificant pain relief benefit; in the second instance, they found no pain intensity or disability relief benefit whatsoever.

McAuley’s take-away: “There is a clear need to improve how research is done for low back pain, so that we better understand whether medicines can help people or not.

“Low back pain is extremely common. It is experienced by 7% of the global population at any one time. Most people, around 80%, will have at least one episode of low back pain during their life,” McAuley noted.

But because it’s often very difficult to isolate a precise cause, many treatments — including NSAIDs, opioids, exercise therapy and/or counseling — aim to control pain rather than provide a cure. Muscle relaxants — prescribed to 30 million Americans in 2020 — fall into that category, McAuley said.

Given that muscle relaxants provide neither a cure nor pain relief, there’s “a clear need to develop and test new effective and cost-effective treatments for people with low back pain,” he said.

In the meantime, McAuley says a move is underway to “de-medicalize” lower back pain treatment by embracing techniques that focus on alternatives to medicine or surgery.

For example, “we know that people with low back pain should avoid staying in bed,” he noted, “and they should try to be active, and continue with usual activities, including work, as much as they can.

“People with recent onset low back pain should be provided with advice and education about the low back pain,” McAuley added. “[And] they should be reassured that they do not have a serious condition, and that their low back pain is very likely to improve over time, whether or not they take medicines or other treatments.”

He and his colleagues reported their findings in the July 7 issue of BMJ.

“The problem is, back pain has so many causes,” said Dr. Daniel Park, an associate professor in the department of orthopedics with Oakland University’s William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Mich.

So when it comes to treatment, “there is no one-size-fits-all,” stressed Park, who is also a spine surgeon at Beaumont Hospital-Royal Oak.

Still, Park thinks that when it comes to muscle relaxants, “there probably is a place for short-term benefit to help patients manage severe pain.”

For example, he suggests patients with “muscle strain from overdoing it,” or those with a herniated disc may actually benefit from short-term muscle relaxant use.

But patients with garden-variety back pain from a degenerative disc? Not so much.

Regardless, long-term pain relief is unlikely, regardless of the source of the problem, Park noted.

“Long-term, therapy and core strengthening will be much more beneficial,” Park said, while every effort should be made to identify the specific cause, and to minimize the risk for a chronic condition, permanent damage and enduring discomfort.

Source: HealthDay

Char-grilled Steak Sandwiches


4 (80 g each) 1 cm-thick beef rump or topside steaks
4 thick slices bread
olive oil, for brushing sea salt
salad leaves, to serve
cracked black pepper
1/4 cup store-bought caramelised onion relish

Garlic Mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup store-bought whole-egg mayonnaise


  1. Preheat a barbecue or char-grill pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Make the garlic mayonnaise, combine the garlic and mayonnaise and set aside.
  3. Brush the steaks and bread with a little oil and sprinkle the steaks with salt. Place on the barbecue or char-grill and cook for 1 minute each side or until the bread is toasted and the steak is cooked to your liking.
  4. Place 2 slices of the bread on serving plates and spread with the garlic mayonnaise. Top with the salad leaves, steak, pepper, caramelised onion and remaining bread slices and serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: Fast, Fresh, Simple

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