Video: What’s the Best Way to Cook Pasta?

Pasta noodles contain only three ingredients: eggs, water and flour.

But how can you achieve a tasty result every time?

Cooking pasta chemically changes how the proteins and starches interact, making the noodles sticky and springy. Therefore, what you do — or don’t do — to the cooking water can change the edible result.

This video serves up four food-chemistry informed pasta pro-tips so you can serve up delectable al dente pasta instead of an unappetizing ball of overcooked noodles.


Watch video at You Tube (3:04 minutes) . . . . .

The Secret of Aging — and How to Slow It Down

Emily Gurnon wrote . . . . . .

What makes some people age more quickly than others? What exactly is aging? And can we do anything about the speed at which we grow old? Authors Elizabeth Blackburn, a molecular biologist, and Elissa Epel, a health psychologist, offer answers in a fascinating book, “The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer.”

In 2009, Blackburn was one of three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize for their research on telomeres (protective DNA at the ends of chromosomes) and how they protect chromosomes. Epel, one of the 2016 Next Avenue Influencers in Aging, studies how chronic stress accelerates aging, with a focus on telomeres. Both authors work at the University of California, San Francisco.


The following is excerpted from “The Telomere Effect” by Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D. and Elissa Epel, Ph.D. Copyright (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel.


It is a chilly Saturday morning in San Francisco. Two women sit at an outdoor cafe, sipping hot coffee. For these two friends, this is their time away from home, family, work, and to-do lists that never seem to get any shorter.

Kara is talking about how tired she is. How tired she always is. It doesn’t help that she catches every cold that goes around the office, nor that those colds inevitably turn into miserable sinus infections. Or that her ex-husband keeps “forgetting” when it’s his turn to pick up the children. Or that her bad-tempered boss at the investment firm scolds her — right in front of her staff. And sometimes, as she lies down in bed at night, Kara’s heart gallops out of control. The sensation lasts for just a few seconds, but Kara stays awake long after it passes, worrying. Maybe it’s just the stress, she tells herself. I’m too young to have a heart problem. Aren’t I?

“It’s not fair,” she sighs to Lisa. “We’re the same age, but I look older.”

Two faces of age

She’s right. In the morning light, Kara looks haggard. When she reaches for her coffee cup, she moves gingerly, as if her neck and shoulders hurt.

But Lisa looks vibrant. Her eyes and skin are bright; this is a woman with more than enough energy for the day’s activities. She feels good, too. Actually, Lisa doesn’t think very much about her age, except to be thankful that she’s wiser about life than she used to be.

Looking at Kara and Lisa side by side, you would think that Lisa really is younger than her friend. If you could peer under their skin, you’d see that in some ways, this gap is even wider than it seems. Chronologically, the two women are the same age. Biologically, Kara is decades older.

Does Lisa have a secret — expensive facial creams? Laser treatments at the dermatologist’s office? Good genes? A life that has been free of the difficulties her friend seems to face year after year?

Not even close. Lisa has more than enough stresses of her own. She lost her husband two years ago in a car accident; now, like Kara, she is a single mother. Money is tight, and the tech startup company she works for always seems to be one quarterly report away from running out of capital.

What’s going on? Why are these two women aging in such different ways?

The answer is simple, and it has to do with the activity inside each woman’s cells. Kara’s cells are prematurely aging. She looks older than she is, and she is on a headlong path toward age-related diseases and disorders. Lisa’s cells are renewing themselves. She is living younger.

Why do people age differently?

Why do people age at different rates? Why are some people whip smart and energetic into old age, while other people seem much younger and are sick, exhausted, and foggy? You can think of the difference visually:

Our healthspan is the number of years of our healthy life. Our diseasespan is the years we live with noticeable disease that interferes with our quality of living. Lisa and Kara may both live to 100, but each has a dramatically different quality of life in the second half of her life.

Healthspan vs. diseasespan

Look at the first white bar above. It shows Kara’s healthspan, the time of her life when she’s healthy and free of disease. But in her early 50s, the white goes gray, and at 70, black. She enters a different phase: the diseasespan.

What is the diseasespan?

These are years marked by the diseases of aging: cardiovascular disease, arthritis, a weakened immune system, diabetes, cancer, lung disease and more. Skin and hair become older looking, too. Worse, it’s not as if you get just one disease of aging and then stop there. In a phenomenon with the gloomy name multi-morbidity, these diseases tend to come in clusters. So Kara doesn’t just have a rundown immune system; she also has joint pain and early signs of heart disease. For some people, the diseases of aging hasten the end of life. For others, life goes on, but it’s a life with less spark, less zip. The years are increasingly marred by sickness, fatigue and discomfort.

At 50, Kara should be brimming with good health. But the graph shows that at this young age, she is creeping into the diseasespan. Kara might put it more bluntly: she is getting old.

Lengthening the healthspan

Lisa is another story.

At age 50, Lisa is still enjoying excellent health. She gets older as the years pass, but she luxuriates in the healthspan for a nice, long time. It isn’t until she’s well into her 80s — roughly the age that gerontologists call “old old” — that it gets significantly harder for her to keep up with life as she’s always known it. Lisa has a diseasespan, but it’s compressed into just a few years toward the end of a long, productive life. Lisa and Kara aren’t real people — we’ve made them up to demonstrate a point — but their stories highlight questions that are genuine.

How can one person bask in the sunshine of good health, while the other suffers in the shadow of the diseasespan? Can you choose which experience happens to you?

The terms healthspan and diseasespan are new, but the basic question is not. Why do people age differently? People have been asking this question for millennia, probably since we were first able to count the years and compare ourselves to our neighbors.

At one extreme, some people feel that the aging process is determined by nature. It’s out of our hands.

Today there are plenty of people who feel that nurture is more important than nature — that it’s not what you’re born with, it’s your health habits that really count.

The significance of telomeres on aging

We’re going to show you a completely different way of thinking about your health. We are going to take your health down to the cellular level, to show you what premature cellular aging looks like and what kind of havoc it wreaks on your body — and we’ll also show you not only how to avoid it but also how to reverse it. We’ll dive deep into the genetic heart of the cell, into the chromosomes. This is where you’ll find telomeres.

Telomeres, which shorten with each cell division, help determine how fast your cells age and when they die, depending on how quickly they wear down. The extraordinary discovery from our research labs and other labs around the world is that the ends of our chromosomes can actually lengthen — and as a result, aging is a dynamic process that can be accelerated or slowed, and in some aspects even reversed. Aging need not be, as thought for so long, a one-way slippery slope toward infirmity and decay. We all will get older, but how we age is very much dependent on our cellular health.

We are a molecular biologist (Liz) and a health psychologist (Elissa). Liz has devoted her entire professional life to investigating telomeres, and her fundamental research has given birth to an entirely new field of scientific understanding. Elissa’s lifelong work has been on psychological stress. She has studied its harmful effects on behavior, physiology and health, and she has also studied how to reverse these effects. We joined forces in research 15 years ago, and the studies that we performed together have set in motion a whole new way of examining the relationship between the human mind and body.

To an extent that has surprised us and the rest of the scientific community, telomeres do not simply carry out the commands issued by your genetic code. Your telomeres, it turns out, are listening to you. They absorb the instructions you give them. The way you live can, in effect, tell your telomeres to speed up the process of cellular aging.

But it can also do the opposite. The foods you eat, your response to emotional challenges, the amount of exercise you get, whether you were exposed to childhood stress and even the level of trust and safety in your neighborhood — all of these factors and more appear to influence your telomeres and can prevent premature aging at the cellular level. In short, one of the keys to a long healthspan is simply doing your part to foster healthy cell renewal.

For healthier aging

Your cellular health is reflected in the well-being of your mind, body, and community. Here are the elements of telomere maintenance that we believe to be the most crucial for a healthier world:

  • Evaluate sources of persistent, intense stress. What can you change?
  • Transform a threat to a challenge appraisal.
  • Become more self-compassionate and compassionate to others.
  • Take up a restorative activity.
  • Practice thought awareness and mindful attention. Awareness opens doors to well-being.
  • Be active.
  • Develop a sleep ritual for more restorative and longer sleep.
  • Eat mindfully to reduce overeating and ride out cravings.
  • Choose telomere-healthy foods like whole foods and omega-3s; skip the bacon.
  • Make room for connection; disconnect from screens for part of the day.
  • Cultivate a few good, close relationships.
  • Provide children quality attention and the right amount of “good stress.”
  • Cultivate your neighborhood social capital. Help strangers.
  • Seek green. Spend time in nature.

Source: Market Watch

Your Brain as Laboratory: The Science of Meditation

John Yates wrote . . . . . .

Meditation has surged in popularity in recent years, from a fringe interest to a mainstream trend championed by therapists, scientists, and celebrities. As part of this shift, misconceptions and dismissals have given way to the emerging recognition of meditation as a science. There are, however, those who would challenge this view. As both a scientist and a meditator, I feel a duty to respond.

In doing so, I must first acknowledge the huge number of activities commonly referred to as meditation. Many of those activities are not in any sense scientific. However, I will argue that some meditation practices, including the method I describe in The Mind Illuminated and other practices within the Buddhist tradition, do qualify as science. I will confine my discussion to those practices.

We can define science as the systematic study of the natural world through observation and experiment, yielding an organized body of knowledge on a particular subject. The human mind is undeniably a suitable subject for scientific study, and one purpose of meditation is careful observation of one’s own mind. This observation reveals consistent patterns that meditators share with one another and with teachers who direct their practice. Master meditators weigh these observations against their own experience and knowledge passed down from previous generations of meditation masters, thereby generating models of the mind. Over thousands of years, meditators have tested, refined, and reworked their models of the mind based on new insights as later generations developed new meditative techniques. Thus, over time, an organized body of knowledge has accumulated describing the nature and behavior of the mind at a very fine level of resolution. This is one sense in which certain forms of meditation qualify as science.

However, meditation is not simply passive observation, nor could it be, since the very act of observation is itself an activity of mind. Rather the meditator intentionally employs attention, awareness, and other mental faculties in a variety of ways to better understand the functional behavior of the mind. (The effect of observation on the thing observed is not different than what occurs in quantum physics.) Precisely how these mental faculties are used in the investigation of the mind is subject to modification that can increase or decrease the efficacy of this endeavor. Thus meditation is also technology.

In the history of meditation practices that qualify as scientific, meditation masters have used models of the mind generated by meditation to modify meditation techniques for increased efficacy. Such modifications can be viewed as hypotheses, and their implementation as experiments. When these modifications are subsequently preserved because they are effective, the experimental results have passed the tests of replicability and falsifiability required by the scientific method. The picture of meditation as science is complete. The hypotheses generated in response to observation and analysis have been tested, validated, and incorporated into the expanding body of knowledge. Such meditation practices are justifiably described as an evolving science, and the laboratory in which this science is carried out is the mind.

Some would argue that the results must be objective in a sense that precludes any element of subjectivity. This requirement is ultimately indefensible and would exclude much of the important work being done today in psychology and social sciences. On the other hand, we are increasingly able to verify brain changes in subject populations employing particular meditation techniques. Thus there is an emerging ability of third-person science to corroborate the models created through the first-person mind science of meditation.

When discussing meditation as a science and technology, it’s important to acknowledge the ultimate goal is a profound cognitive shift to a more accurate perception of one’s self and one’s relationship to the world. This cognitive shift, is traditionally known as “liberation,” “enlightenment,” or “awakening” (the latter being my preferred term), which in turn, produces a dramatic and persistent increase in well-being. Therefore, both knowledge acquisition and its consequence also serve as outcome measures by which to evaluate efficacy.

We are fortunate to live in a time when the investigation of the mind through meditative science comes face-to-face with the investigation of the brain through material science. The conjunction of these different but complementary approaches provides us with an incredible opportunity. What is the mind other than the brain as experienced from the inside? And what is the brain other than the mind experienced from the outside? We have succeeded in identifying the neural correlates of many behavioral and experiential phenomena and can expect the rapid acceleration of this process. (NB: this is not a description reflecting materialistic reductionism but is equally compatible with philosophical positions of idealistic reductionism and non-dualism!)

The knowledge of the mind that meditation provides can be of enormous value in guiding the future research of neuroscientists. On the other hand, this continued unfolding of our knowledge of the physical brain can allow us to understand more clearly the most amazing and powerful experiences of adept meditators, including awakening. This cognitive transformation, characterized by wisdom, compassion, and freedom from most forms of suffering, might ultimately become available to millions, completely transforming human society and helping us solve the enormous threats our species and our planet now face.

Source: Scientific American

Science Can’t Explain Why Everyone is Drinking Bone Broth

Markham Heid wrote . . . . .

The term “miracle” is thrown around a lot these days, especially when it comes to how and what we eat. Whether it’s adding turmeric or subtracting gluten, people are always searching for a dietary panacea that will fend off disease and rid our bodies of excess weight.

One of the latest food trends, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, is bone broth: a stock made primarily from the bones and connective tissue of animals or fish. (The term “bone broth” is a bit of a misnomer; traditionally, a “broth” is differentiated from a “stock” precisely because it doesn’t include animal bones.)

According to the book Nourishing Broth, which seems to have either launched or turbocharged the current broth brouhaha, “real” animal stock (that is, a stock not made from powders) can quell inflammation, speed healing, calm allergies and combat fatigue.

It can do all this, the authors write, thanks to its “unique combination of amino acids, minerals, and cartilage compounds.” The authors highlight the benefits of the broth’s collagen and cartilage content which the authors say may help bolster their analogs in the human body, where it’s necessary for healthy bones and skin. Eating it may, then, prevent or relieve osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other bone- or skin-related diseases, the authors say.

But does it? There isn’t much research on bone broth to support—or refute—these health claims. But several experts on human digestion say the nutrients that supposedly make bone broth special are not, in fact, all that unique.

“The idea that because bone broth or stock contains collagen it somehow translates to collagen in the human body is nonsensical,” says Dr. William H. Percy, an associate professor and biomedical scientist at the University of South Dakota who has spent more than three decades studying the ways the human gut breaks down and absorbs the food we eat. “Collagen is actually a pretty poor source of amino acids,” he says.

And while there are two protein compounds that are found only in collagen, neither confers any special health benefits, says Dr. D. David Smith, an associate professor of biomedical sciences at Creighton University and an expert in the chemistry of peptides and the biological activity of amino acids.

Just as the dietary fat you swallow doesn’t directly translate to body fat, swallowing collagen doesn’t become collagen in or between your bones. Percy says bone broth may contain both essential and inessential amino acids, and that your body can use these nutrients to augment or support various parts of your skeleton.

While that’s also true of meat, eggs, chicken, and other protein sources, it doesn’t make bone broth a terrible source of these amino acids. Your body takes the nutrients from the foods you eat and sends them where they’re needed most, says Dr. Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and principle at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food research company. So if your diet was deficient in protein-sourced amino acids, sipping bone broth could provide some of the stuff your body requires to fortify your bones and joints.

But even in this context, you’d benefit more from eating milk or eggs than you would from slurping bone broth, Percy adds.

Like many nutrition trends, Percy says the claims surrounding bone broth are “loosely based” on nutrition science. They just overstate or sensationalize the benefits, and use a lot of personal endorsements to support their claims. “Anecdotes along the lines of ‘I ate bone broth and my gut problem cleared up’ do not count as evidence-based medicine,” he says.

More research is needed, though none of this is to say that bone broth is unhealthy.

It just may not be the magical elixir for all that ails you.

Source: Time

Scientists have Unlocked the Secret of Making Tomatoes Tasty Again

Colin Tosh, Niall Conboy and Thomas McDaniel wrote . . . . . .

If you shop in a supermarket you may well have asked why the fruit and veg you buy there is so tasteless, especially if you’ve also tried homegrown alternatives. Traditional breeds of tomatoes usually grown in gardens, known as heirloom tomatoes, for example, are often small and strangely shaped and coloured but renowned for their delicious taste. Those in the supermarkets, meanwhile, are often pumped up in size but somewhat insipid to eat.

This is because plants used by most tomato farms have gone through an intensive artificial selection process to breed fruit that are big, red and round – but at the expense of taste. Now a 20-strong international research team have identified the chemical compounds responsible for the rich flavour of heirloom tomatoes and the genes that produce them. This information could provide a way for farmers to grow tomatoes that taste of something again.

The unique flavour of a tomato is determined by specific airborne molecules called volatiles, which emanate from flavour chemicals in the fruit. By asking a panel of consumers to rate over a hundred varieties of tomato, the researchers identified 13 volatiles that play an important role in producing the most appealing flavours. They also found that these molecules were significantly reduced in modern tomato varieties compared to the heirloom ones. And they found that bigger tomatoes tended to have less sugar, another reason why large supermarket fruits often fail to inspire.

Tomatoes originally hail from the Andean region of South America and belong to the Solanaceae family, making them relatively close relations of potatoes and peppers. The original, ancestral tomato was very small, more like a pea, showing just how much human intervention has swollen the fruit. We don’t know how long they have been grown for human consumption but they had reached an advanced stage of domestication by the 15th century when they were taken to Europe.

Before the 20th century, tomato varieties were commonly developed in families and small communities (which explains the name “heirloom”). With the industrialisation of farming, the serious business of tomato breeding began with intensive selection for fruit size and shelf life.

Some more recent effort has been put into improving the flavour of tomatoes through breeding. But the new research appears to indicate that this has ultimately been unsuccessful and that earlier breeding efforts have doomed modern commercial varieties to mediocrity.

The new paper, published in Science, emphasises what seems to be a constant conflict between the food industry’s desire for profit and what the public actually want. The researchers tactfully excuse the way tomatoes have been bred for size and shelf-life at the expense of taste as being down to breeders’ inability to analyse the fruit’s chemical composition and find the right volatiles.

But many people will find this hard to swallow. After all, the new research itself used the most ancient volatile analysis system there is: the human taster. It wouldn’t have taken much for farmers to incorporate taste trials into their breeding programmes.

Because modern farmed tomatoes have only lost their flavour in the last hundred years or so and varieties are still available that produce the tasty volatiles, it should be possible to reinsert the crucial taste genes back into commercial varieties. This could be done by genetic modification or conventional breeding. Just as we are seeing a resurgence in organic and artisan growing, it would be great to see a new generation of tomato breeders interested in returning flavour to the fruit using wild and heirloom varieties, while maintaining other commercially desirable traits.

There is significant public opposition to the idea of genetically modifying foods by inserting genes into a plant’s DNA in the lab. But the idea of reinserting lost genes may be more palatable to the public than introducing completely new ones. Either way, it shows how perverse the food industry’s methods are that we may need to use one of the world’s most advanced technologies to give an inherently delicious food some flavour.

Source: The Conversation