Opinion: Why Ditching Processed Foods Won’t Be Easy — Barriers To Cooking From Scratch

Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott and Joslyn Brenton wrote . . . . . . . . .

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” Michael Pollan, one of America’s most influential food writers, famously advised more than a decade ago. This pithy advice is perhaps the clearest distillation of a food philosophy that is so intuitive that it has become ubiquitous. To fix the problems in the food system, we need to consume whole, fresh foods grown on a farm rather than the engineered pseudofoods that populate the interior aisles of supermarkets.

A recent study now offers hard scientific evidence in support of Pollan’s message. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health conducted a randomized, controlled trial, the first to directly assess the effects of processed food on people’s health as compared with whole foods. Participants were randomly assigned a diet for a two-week period. One group was given a diet composed of ultra-processed food, while the other group ate unprocessed or minimally processed food. When the two-week period ended, the groups switched to the opposite diet. When people were on the ultra-processed diet, they ate an average of 508 calories more per day and gained an average of 2 pounds over the two-week period, providing evidence that there may be something about processed food that drives people to overeat and gain weight.

The study confirms what we’ve been hearing for years: Cooking from scratch and eating “real food” is better and healthier. The problem is that knowing this doesn’t make it any more doable for the average family.

Families in the United States spend quite a bit of time cooking, with many cooking almost every day. The most recent surveys suggest that Americans are actually cooking slightly more than they were a decade ago. But a large proportion of our diets — almost 60% of total calories — comes from ultra-processed foods. People living in poor households consume more processed foods than wealthier people, but the amount of processed foods that Americans eat is increasing overall.

Between 2012 and 2017, we conducted interviews and ethnographic observations with more than 150 mothers and grandmothers of young children from all walks of life. All were working hard to feed their families, often under very difficult circumstances. Their stories are a stark illustration of where Pollan’s advice, seemingly simple, falls short. While many people frame food decisions as a relatively simple matter of personal choice, our new book, Pressure Cooker, shows what it really takes to put a home-cooked meal on the table.

First, it takes money. Healthier diets — diets rich in fresh produce and lean proteins — generally cost more. The researchers who conducted the processed-food study recognize this: They note that the unprocessed diet they fed participants cost 40% more than the ultra-processed diet. And lots of American families don’t have more money to spend on food. Many of the families in our study were experiencing food insecurity, meaning that they lacked food to feed everyone in their household. Across the United States, one out of every eight people does not have enough food to eat, and many more do not have enough money to regularly afford healthy foods.

Lots of families in our study cooked almost every night, in part because it was the cheapest option. But when their cupboards ran bare, they ate ramen and hot dogs, not a pan of roast chicken and vegetables, as food gurus recommend. Mothers said that if they had more money, they’d buy fresh fruit for their kids, but this was just an occasional splurge, not an everyday reality. Even the more financially stable middle-class mothers in our study talked about making trade-offs between the foods they wanted to buy for their families and the foods they felt they could afford.

Cooking from scratch takes time. The photos of the unprocessed meals in the study represent hours of labor: the labor of shopping (often at multiple stores), researching recipes, chopping vegetables and prepping ingredients, and, of course, cooking. Researchers find that it takes extra time to cook the way that food reformers advise. Not surprisingly, it is usually women who take on this additional labor. And although women today spend less time in the kitchen than women did in the 1960s, they actually have less leisure time, as expectations around work and parenting have ramped up.

As real wages have stagnated, households often depend on every adult family member working, sometimes in multiple jobs, to make ends meet. And nonstandard employment arrangements, with unpredictable scheduling, are increasingly common, especially for low-wage workers. It’s hard to plan meals when you don’t even know who will be home for dinner. The middle-class families in our study had more resources and more options but felt completely overwhelmed by hectic schedules and competing demands that left little time to cook.

Finally, cooking from scratch requires resources that food experts take for granted. At a minimum, it requires a working stove and enough money to pay the electric bill to run the stove. One family in our book experienced homelessness during the time we spent with the family. Patricia Washington, her daughter and her two grandchildren moved into a hotel room after being evicted when they couldn’t keep up with both the rent and the heating bill. Dinners consisted of frozen pizzas or TV dinners heated in the microwave. Although most of the families in our study had a relatively stable place to live, many lacked basic kitchen tools like sharp knives or cutting boards, which made chopping vegetables both tedious and dangerous. Like Washington, some didn’t have a kitchen table or enough chairs for everyone in the family.

The idea that we have a responsibility to prepare wholesome, nourishing meals is appealing, and now there is more evidence to support that. For some food gurus, the decision to simmer homemade spaghetti and meatballs on the stove rather than heat up a can of ravioli in the microwave is evidence of a person’s moral fortitude.

But inequality is baked into our food system. If good health depends on eating real food, it’s time to make sure all families get the support they need to eat well. This means making healthy food more affordable, but it also means addressing the other challenges families face: for example, by guaranteeing workers a living wage and fair working conditions and by investing in families through universal free school lunch and subsidized child care, so that parents don’t feel like they’re doing it all on their own.

Source: npr

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6 Reasons Why We Enjoy Listening to Sad Music

Shahram Heshmat wrote . . . . . . . . .

Sadness is a primary emotion that is expressed and perceived equally across cultures. Basic emotions (e.g., anger, happiness, and sadness) are innate and universal. Understanding basic emotions in music is very quick and does not require musical training. For instance, hearing a sad cello performance may induce a genuine state of sadness in a listener.

The most important musical cues for the expression of sadness in Western music include lower overall pitch, slower tempo, use of the minor mode, dull and dark timbres, and less energetic execution (Juslin, 2013). Sadness is generally seen as a negative emotion. But we tend to find it pleasurable in an aesthetic context (known as the paradox of enjoying sad music). What is the nature of the pleasure that people experience from listening to sad music? Accumulated evidence suggests that pleasure in response to sad music is related to a combination of the following factors (Eerola, et al., 2018; Sachs et al 2015).

1. Nostalgia. Sad music is a powerful trigger for nostalgic memories of foregone times. Such reflective revisiting of nostalgic memories may enhance the mood, especially if the memories are related to pivotal and meaningful moments in life (i.e., high school, or college). We enjoy the sweetness of these memories via vivid imaginations. There is some pleasure felt in recollecting the good times, as well as sadness from missing them.

2. Vicarious emotion. Music generates vicarious (substitute) emotions in listeners without real-life implications. Music helps to channel one’s frustration or purge (catharsis) negative emotions (anger and sadness). When we listen to sad music (or watch a sad film), we are disconnected from any real threat or danger that the music (or movie) represents. When we cry at the beauty of sad music, we experience a profound aspect of our emotional selves (Kawakami, et al., 2013).

3. Prolactin. At the biological level, sad music is linked to the hormone prolactin (associated with crying), a chemical that helps to curb grief (Huron, 2011). Sad music tricks the brain into engaging a normal, compensatory response, i.e., the release of prolactin. In the absence of a traumatic event, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go. Prolactin produces feelings of calmness to counteract mental pain.

4. Empathy. Empathy plays a significant role in the enjoyment of sad music. Empathy can be broadly defined as a process by which we can come to understand and feel what another person is experiencing. Expressions of sadness and grief are likely to rouse support and help in others. Similarly, listening to sad music may evoke an empathic concern in those with a strong disposition to empathy.

5. Mood regulation. Sad music produces psychological benefits via mood regulation. Sad music enables the listener to disengage from distressing situations (breakup, death, etc.) and focus instead on the beauty of the music. Further, lyrics that resonate with the listener’s personal experience can give voice to feelings or experiences that one might not be able to express oneself.

6. An imaginary friend. Music has the ability to provide company and comfort. People tend to listen to sad music more often when they are in emotional distress or feeling lonely, or when they are in introspective moods. Sad music can be experienced as an imaginary friend who provides support and empathy after the experience of a social loss. The listeners enjoy the mere presence of a virtual person, represented by the music, who is in the same mood and can help cope with sad feelings.

In short, music has the proven ability to affect emotions, mood, memory, and attention. The emotional power of music is one of the main motivations of people who devote so much time, energy and money to it (Juslin, 2013). The ability of music to express emotions is also the reason for its application in music therapy. The knowledge about ways in which sad music becomes enjoyable can inform existing music therapy practices for mood disorders. The primary way by which music listening affects us is via changes in stress response. For example, in one study, participants were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety drugs. The patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower cortisol than people who took drugs. Music is arguably less expensive than drugs, is easier on the body, and doesn’t have side effects (Finn & Fancourt, 2018).

Source: Psychology Today

Too Much Screen Time Tied to School Problems Even in Little Kids

Lisa Rapaport wrote . . . . . . . . .

Kindergarteners who get more than two hours of screen time a day may be more likely to have behavior and attention problems in school than their classmates who spend less time in front of televisions, smartphones and tablets, a Canadian study suggests.

Doctors urge parents of young kids to limit screen time or avoid it altogether because all of those hours watching videos or gaming have been linked to slowed development of speech and language, fine and gross motor skills, and social and behavioral skills. After all, time spent in front of screens means less time for scribbling with crayons or playing games that help kids learn how to kick a ball or take turns.

In the current study, researchers surveyed parents of more than 2,400 Canadian kids to assess screen time at three and five years. The second assessment also asked about behavior problems like inattention and aggressiveness as well as issues like sleep difficulties, depression, and anxiety.

Very few five-year-olds had these problems: just 1.2 percent of kids had so-called “externalizing” behavior problems like aggression or inattention and just 2.5 percent had “internalizing” problems like depression and anxiety.

But compared to kids who got less than a half hour of screen time daily, children who had more than two hours daily had an almost six-fold greater risk of attention problems and an almost eight-fold greater risk of meeting the criteria for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“It is never too early to talk to your child about limiting screen time,” senior study author Dr. Piush Mandhane of the University of Alberta in Canada said by email.

Canadian guidelines recommend that parents limit screen time to less than one hour a day for children two to four years old and less than two hours daily for older kids, researchers note in Plos One.

At age three, kids in the study exceeded these limits, getting an average of 1.5 hours a day of screen time. They got slightly less – 1.4 hours a day – by age five.

Overall, almost 14 percent of kids had more than two hours a day of screen time.

It’s possible that some kids in the study who already had challenges with behavior or social skills opted to spend more time in front of screens because they struggled to relate to peers.

The study also wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how screen time might cause behavior problems.

“This study does not draw any conclusion about certain types or contexts of media use being better for child development than others,” said Andrew Ribner, a psychology researcher at New York University who wasn’t involved in the research.

“However, other research has suggested screen time that has a slower pace, is relatively less fantastical, and provides some kind of contingent responsiveness — something like Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer rather than Spongebob Squarepants — is better than the alternative,” Ribner said by email.

Fast-paced digital media can precondition little ones to expect unnatural stimulation, leading to shorter attention spans because real life can seem slow and underwhelming by comparison, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

“We also know from decades of research that real, human interaction and play is critical to cognitive and social development,” Christakis, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Even if it were ‘harmless,’ the time spent on digital devices displaces these interactions.”

Beyond just limiting screen time, parents should concentrate on creating screen-free times in children’s daily routines, said Dr. Jenny Radesky of the C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“The more important thing is reducing tech distractions during meals, when playing solo or together, and before bedtime – and not giving in to every moment of boredom or whining with tech use,” Radesky, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “It’s so important for children to learn how to handle big feelings, tolerate boredom, and settle themselves down at night.”

Source: Reuters


Today’s Comic

Video: How to Fall Asleep in 2 Minutes According to the US Navy

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you toss and turn at night?

A good night’s sleep is necessary for optimal health.

So if you’re one of the millions of people in the world who suffers from a sleep disorder or you want to fall asleep faster, watch this video to learn a trick straight from the US military.

Watch video at You Tube (7:24 minutes) . . . .

Substantial Health Benefit from Replacing Steak with Fish

Miriam Meister wrote . . . . . . . . .

The average Dane will gain a health benefit from substituting part of the red and processed meat in their diet with fish, according to calculations from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. Men over 50 and women of childbearing age in particular would benefit from such a change in diet.

In a PhD study at the National Food Institute, Sofie Theresa Thomsen has developed a method to calculate the total health impact of replacing one food with another in the diet. The method has been used to assess the health impact that would be achieved by replacing red and processed meat with fish, so the intake reaches the recommended weekly intake of 350 grams of fish.

Fish is an important source of healthy fatty acids and vitamin D, but may also contain potentially harmful substances such as methylmercury. Red and processed meat contributes to the intake of saturated fat in the Danish diet and is associated with the development of different types of cancer, but red meat is also an important source of e.g. dietary iron. Replacing red and processed meat with fish in the Danish diet can therefore have a health impact on human health.

Seven thousand healthy years of life to be gained annually

Risk-benefit assessments weigh up the beneficial and adverse health effects by estimating how many healthy years of life a population gains because of health improvements, or lose due to reduced quality of life or by dying earlier than expected.

This is exactly what Sofie Theresa Thomsen has done in her calculations.

“They show that the Danish population as a whole can gain up to 7,000 healthy years of life annually, if all adult Danes eat fish in the recommended quantities while at the same time reducing their meat intake. This estimate covers among others the prevention of approximately 170 deaths from coronary heart disease per year,” she says.

However, the health benefit depends on the type of fish people put on their plates, as well as the age and sex of the persons whose diet is being altered.

Go easy on the tuna

The greatest health benefit comes from eating only fatty fish (such as herring and mackerel) or a mixture of fatty and lean fish (such as plaice and pollock), while a smaller health gain is achieved by eating only lean fish. This is because fatty fish contain larger amounts of beneficial fatty acids.

On the other hand, the calculations show a significant health loss if tuna is the only type of fish in the diet, because tuna is both low in beneficial fatty acids and can have high concentrations of methylmercury. The health loss is calculated as particularly high among women of childbearing age, as intake of fish with a high concentration of methylmercury can damage unborn children’s brain development.

Furthermore, the study shows that it is possible to reduce the proportion of Danes who have an insufficient intake of vitamin D significantly by replacing some of the red and processed meat with a mixture of fatty and lean fish. The study also points out that the proportion of Danes with an insufficient intake of dietary iron will not increase despite the lowered meat intake.

Greatest effect among men over 50 and childbearing women

The study shows large variations in the overall health impact when the red and processed meat gives way to fish. Everyone over the age of 50—but the men in particular—as well as women of childbearing age will reap the greatest health benefits from eating 350 grams of fish weekly, of which 200 grams are fatty fish.

For men, this is because the group as a whole is at higher risk than other population groups of developing cardiovascular disease. The risk is reduced by replacing part of the red meat with fish that contain fatty acids, which can prevent cardiovascular disease.

“In women of childbearing age the health benefit is particularly large because the intake of fish containing healthy fish oils will not only benefit the women themselves. The health-promoting properties of fish will also have a beneficial effect in the development of their unborn children, which is taken into account in the overall calculations,” Sofie Theresa Thomsen explains.

Useful when developed intervention strategies and dietary advice

The methods developed in the PhD study are useful e.g. when examining the health effects of various interventions designed to promote healthy eating habits or when developing official dietary guidelines.

Source: National Food Institute