Monday, December 17, 2012

Vegan women have 34% lower risk of breast, ovarian, uterine cancers

A plant-based diet cuts cancer risk. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Good news for vegans and vegetarians! A new study shows that plant-based diets offer significant protection from various cancers. The study reveals benefits for vegetarians, but the strongest benefits for vegans.

In the US as a whole, cancer is the second leading cause of death. It's been known for some time that dietary factors account for at least 30% of all cancers in Western countries. That's scary! But it's also empowering. We can choose what we eat, and this new study gives us more evidence that plant-based diets are safest.

In the new study, researchers at Loma Linda University tracked the diets of 69,120 people over a period of four years - that's a big study and a lot of data! Their results were published Nov 20 2012 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers categorized the participants into five groups based on their diets: nonvegetarian, semivegetarians, lacto-vegetarians (consume dairy products and eggs), pesco-vegetarians (consume dairy, eggs, and fish),and vegans. They tracked the diets and the health of the subjects over the course of the four-year study. During that time, cancer developed in 2,939 of the participants being tracked. The researchers then analyzed which of the five diet groups developed which cancers.

Their conclusions

  • The overall cancer risk was less among vegetarians compared to non-vegetarians, for both genders.
  • The lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets seemed to confer protection from cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (but apparently not other cancers).
  • Vegan diets seemed to lower the risk of cancer overall for both genders, and for female-specific cancer compared to other dietary patterns.

The most significant finding

Vegans had a 16 percent decreased risk of all cancers in the study, and vegan women had a 34 percent decreased risk for other specific cancers including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers, compared with nonvegetarians.

Improved health is a big reason to stick to plants

A 34 percent reduced risk for breast, ovarian and uterine cancers is huge! I'll take it! The 16% overall risk reduction for cancer is impressive too. But health advantages to vegans include much more than cancer protection. There's also the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Those are big incentives for me to keep my diet plant-based.

Eco and animal benefits are huge too

Even bigger considerations for me? Our ailing planet, and all the living beings on this planet. The livestock industry generates as much as half of all greenhouse gases worldwide, so is a major contributor to climate change. And we're all aware of the humane issues, which include the plight of animals on factory farms as well as the loss of wildlife whose habitat is destroyed to grow crops for livestock. If you want to know more about all these matters - health, planet, animals - check out our investigations in our last two books, Veggie Revolution and Going Green (co-authored with my daughter Sadie). Diet can be a pretty easy choice!

The publication about cancer risk and diet

Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Fraser G. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published ahead of print Nov. 20, 2012.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Unhappy news for beloved French press coffee

I love my java, and my French press too! Photo: Sally Kneidel
I fell in love with French press coffee while getting my hair cut. The friend doing the cutting served me a cup of java that she said she had made the day before from the cheapest coffee available at the grocery store. I am very picky about coffee, but I didn't want to be rude, so I tasted it. Omg! The coffee tasted like a fresh expensive blend brewed at a good quality coffee shop! Aromatic, rich and full flavored, no bitterness, no stale taste. What the heck? She said her new French press was responsible. Wow!! I ordered one immediately when I got home, tired of the burnt taste and general substandard flavor from my electric drip coffeemaker. I find it very challenging, if not impossible, to get a really tasty cup from that thing. It resides under the kitchen sink now, for emergencies only.

So, yes, I use a French press now and I'm totally smitten with it. Right this minute, I'm having a cup of yesterday's coffee, and it's excellent! I'm purring as I sip. I do still shop for organic and Fair Trade coffee, but the cheapest variety of it I can find.

So where's the bug in this love story? Yes, there is a bug

A couple weeks ago, while savoring a cup from my darling device and perusing the newspaper, I stumbled upon an article that said coffee can be a health drink...if it's filtered. What? What kind of sacrilege is that? My darling doesn't filter! But I had to read the article, having written a post in July about the health benefits of coffee.

The article agreed with what I'd read and written before, when it said that coffee drinkers are less likely to have heart failure or develop type 2 diabetes (according to research "during the past decade"). The next sentence was new to me (and still good). Research also suggests that regular coffee consumption delays the onset of Alzheimer's and may help protect against prostate and uterine cancers. Nice! The long-term study of coffee benefits that I blogged about last month didn't report that.

Oh, no...

Now here's the part of the recent newspaper article I didn't like: "The problem with French press and other unfiltered coffee techniques lies with blood lipids. Compounds from coffee can raise total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol. The culprits are in coffee oils that get trapped by filters, so people drinking filtered coffee should get the benefits without the higher cholesterol."

Wah! Have my total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides been going up even though I eat no meat, no eggs, and almost no dairy? YES, they have!!! Do I drink a lot of unfiltered coffee from my darling French press? YES, I do!

Husband solved problem for himself

I showed my husband the article, he freaked out too, and now he pours his French press coffee through a coffee filter before he drinks it. He puts the filter in a kitchen strainer, rests the strainer on the rim of a sauce pan, and pours the coffee through the filter into the sauce pan. Yes, it tastes all right like that. But I can taste the absence of the oils that got filtered out. And it's not as good!!!! That makes me very sad. For now, I am still drinking my French press coffee with its cholesterol-raising lipids. But I'll probably cave before long.

Anyway, I thought it was something everyone should know, assuming it's all true. Sad. But good to know. Maybe some of you can continue on and have your blood cholesterol unaffected. I hope so! Still, cheers to the French press!! Even if my guzzling of its product may have to be tempered sooner or later.

Keywords: French press coffee cholesterol coffee lipids coffee oils coffee health benefits

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Weight loss cuts cancer risk, but only if....

My weight is always changing -- but not because I have any control over it. I've been dismayed over the years at how little control I've had over my weight changes, which have mostly been weight gains. Then I stopped taking a particular medicine that my doctor says is an "appetite enhancer," and miraculously I did seem to have some control. I no longer felt like eating constantly! How nice! Yep, I did lose a few pounds. Will they stay off?  Who knows.

I try not to think about weight too much, being mindful of the cultural and media pressures women feel to stay "skinny." Yes, I do read the tabloids in the grocery check-out line, and I look at all the pics! Bad habit!! Why poison my mind with unfair gender-based expectations?

But...the fact remains that leaner is healthier in general, and I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Weight loss with diet change reduces risk

With that in mind, I was interested to read a recent study that suggests weight loss can cut cancer risk. The study, published in the journal Cancer Research (May 1), reports that losing weight by dieting (or by dieting with exercise) reduces the level of chronic inflammation in the body. And chronic inflammation is known to be a risk factor for many cancers, including breast, colon, and lung cancers.

The first time I read about chronic inflammation, I thought, "What? I'm not inflamed anywhere." But chronic inflammation is common, and it's not readily apparent because it's internal. It occurs when the body's natural response to an injury or irritant doesn't go away completely.

Weight loss by exercise only does not reduce risk

The interesting thing about this Cancer Research study is that losing weight by exercise only (with no diet change) does not significantly reduce chronic inflammation. And therefore presumably does not reduce the risk of various diseases associated with chronic inflammation, including cancer.

Apparently, high-fat foods contribute to the likelihood of chronic inflammation and its consequences. In contrast, lots of vegetables and dietary fiber help fight inflammation.

Good motivation

That's good incentive for me. Even if my weight continues to yo-yo, I have more reasons than ever to watch what I eat. I'll continue to stick with the high-fiber vegetables and whole grains I already seek out. And I'm gonna lay off the grocery-store mags in the check-out line. That'll make it easier to keep my priorities straight: eating right is about health, period.

For more info:

For more about this study, see this summary in Science News.
Or check out the original publication in Cancer Research.
For one doctor's recommendations about food choices to reduce chronic inflammation, click here. You can find others by searching the internet.

Keywords: dieting low fat diet weight loss cancer risk exercise how to reduce cancer risk health

Monday, July 23, 2012

Good news for coffee addicts like me: coffee may extend life, prevent disease

Photo: Sally Kneidel
I've always regarded my coffee addiction as a vice. What good is java? It stains teeth, fuels anxiety, contributes to insomnia...  And I've always wondered about its connection to various diseases. I've never been able to figure that out. I know my OB told me no more than one cup a day when I was pregnant, without really saying why.

But outside of pregnancy, I've persisted with coffee in spite of its issues - simply for love of the brew. The taste of good coffee is as pleasurable as chocolate or a fine red wine. And the caffeine buzz was irresistible - until sleep issues gradually forced me to switch to mostly decaf. Even sans buzz, I still love the hot stuff.

Results of massive medical study surprised me

Given my years of guilty pleasure, I was a little startled to see recently a major new article in the New England Journal of Medicine suddenly suggesting the health virtues of coffee. After reading it, I wondered if I should not only continue my "vice," but abandon all restraint! Yes, bring on the joe and bring it right now!!

This exciting and novel study followed the health and coffee habits of more than 400,000 people over a median of 13.6 years! That is a huge study. With numbers like that, the results are "very powerful" and are unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon,says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Roy Ziegelstein. Not only very powerful, but very convincing.

The scientists documented the longevity of participants, excluding anyone who had cancer, heart disease, or strokefrom the outset. The researchers also accounted for differences such as smoking, alcohol intake, diet, and body mass - assuring that these factors did not affect their conclusions.

Drinking coffee reduced the chance of death

Unexpectedly, the researchers found that drinking coffee reduced the likelihood of death from heart disease, repiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections! Drinking coffee did not reduce the likelihood of death from cancer.

Over the 13.6 year duration of the study, participants who drank 2 or more cups a day were 10% to 16% less likely to have died than those who abstained. Women who downed 6 cups a day or more had a 15% lower risk of death than those who drank no coffee! Men drinking 6 or more cups per day had a 10% lower risk of death over the course of the study.

Who can drink 6 cups a day? Not me. My stomach couldn't take it. But good news anyway! Among the study's participants, drinking more than 2 cups a day lowered the risk of death from heart and respiratory disease and from diabetes. Four or more cups a day improved resistance to infections.

Decaf has same benefits!

Here's the part that I really liked, given my reluctant drift toward decaf. The researchers concluded that caffeine is not a big player in coffee's apparent health benefits! Decaf had about the same association with improved longevity as caffeinated coffee! Yay!

Am I recommending that you drink coffee?  No, I'm not an M.D.  But it's food for thought.  To read more about the study, check out this Science News summary.

Keywords: coffee longevity study coffee benefits coffee health

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Experts won't eat nonorganic potatoes

Photo: Sally Kneidel
On my weekly shopping jaunt yesterday, I was irked to find the grocery store was out of organic baking potatoes. Frustrating. I was planning to have them for supper last night, and I already had the vegan chili beans for a topping.

I thought about it for a minute – how could a vegetable that’s underground be sprayed directly with pesticides? The nonorganic potatoes must not be that bad, I thought. So I bought them instead.
After I got home, I remembered an article my daughter had e-mailed me entitled, “The 7 foods experts won’t eat.” I pulled the article out of my file and….dang, sure enough, #4 was “Nonorganic potatoes.”

I was dead wrong

I was definitely mistaken about underground veggies being relatively safe from pesticides. As it turns out, root vegetables absorb herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides that have washed into the soil. So these chemicals are not just on the vegetable’s surface, they’re absorbed into its flesh. Washing and peeling can’t get rid of them.

Because potatoes are the nation’s most popular vegetable and demand is so high, potato plants are sprayed at every opportunity to keep the spuds blemish-free. During the growing season, the potato plants are sprayed with fungicides… which wash and seep into the soil. At harvesting time, the vines are obliterated with herbicides to get them out of the way. More seepage down to the taters. After the potatoes are harvested, they’re sprayed directly with a chemical to keep them from sprouting. And they usually won’t sprout, even if you try to get them to. (Although I have sprouted a few conventional potatoes.)

Potato farmers won’t eat them!

Said Jeffrey Moyer as chair of the National Organic Standards Board, “I’ve talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”
The only solution is buying organic potatoes, or growing your own. If you’re desperate, peeling may help somewhat….at least with the sprout-inhibiting chemical.

Buying organic protects wildlife too

Remember – when you buy organic, you’re protecting not only your own health, but the health of the wildlife and ecosystems next to and downhill from those farm fields. When crops are sprayed, so are the soil insects and worms, which are eaten by frogs and birds and lizards….the toxic sprays move right along the food chain, poisoning the whole system. And that includes the streams and lakes and rivers downhill from the cropfields…as well as ground water and well water.

So looks like I’ll be taking those icky taters back to the store. Now, we did have some organic sweet potatoes on hand last night. I wondered briefly how those would taste with chili beans. Quickly abandoned that idea.

Instead we decided to saute some portabellos in a little olive oil with some fresh rosemary, a sprinkle of toasted sesame oil, and a splash of tamari. We put each portabello on a big slice of rosemary-olive oil bread with melted soy mozzarella on top. Had a salad on the side. Now that was tasty.

Keywords: organic potatoes nonorganic potatoes

Controversy over foie gras: California bans the stuff

An uncut foie gras liver. Photo: David Monniaux.
Used under Creative Commons Atrribution-ShareAlike license.

Foie gras will be illegal in the state of California as of July 1, 2012. The ban is a major milestone for animal-rights activists, and for anyone who cares about animal suffering. Foie gras is the fatty and grossly-enlarged liver of geese or ducks, an expensive “gourmet” meat created by force-feeding the birds.

It’s my understanding that California will be the first U.S. state to outlaw the sale and the production of foie gras. A number of European countries, as well as Israel and Argentina, have already banned it. The city of Chicago did so in August of 2006, but the ban only lasted two years before the city council overturned it, under pressure from restaurant owners and then-Mayor Daley.

In banning this meat considered a delicacy, the California state legislature apparently acted out of concern for animal cruelty. The ban was requested by a coalition of animal-protection organizations including the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, Farm Sanctuary, Los Angeles Lawyers for Animals, and Viva!USA. Sales of foie gras are way up in California at present, as diners fond of fatty livers make merry while they can.

Kate Winslet exposes foie gras farms on this video

No one disputes that force-feeding geese and ducks up to 4 lbs of grain and fat per day through a tube pushed down their throats is unpleasant and dangerous for the birds. Perhaps “cruel” would be a better word. Yet, feeding is just one piece of the picture. Between feedings, the birds are not swimming around a pond or frolicking through the grass to shake off the bad experience. On large-scale foie gras farms, each duck is confined permanently to a cage that hugs its body, unable to groom itself or even turn around. Only their heads and necks protrude from the long rows of battery cages, so that staff inserting the feeding tubes 3 times a day can move along the rows quickly. Check out this video of Kate Winslet narrating undercover footage of the feeding and housing of foie gras birds.

Under this regimen, the birds’ fat-laced livers grow so large that the animals are eventually unable to move or to breathe normally. The livers are prized as a delicacy because of their fatty, “buttery” taste.

Workers, consumers victimized too

I have not visited a foie gras farm. I have however inspected a Food Lion egg factory (over a million caged hens in one facility), a massive Tyson broiler farm (chickens), a Tyson breeder farm, and a factory hog farm – all of which are described in detail in our book Veggie Revolution.
Animals are not the only victims in these dismal places. We also interviewed farm-owners and workers – none of them were happy working under contract to meatpacking companies whose guiding ethic is shaving pennies from production costs. Worker safety, consumer safety, animal welfare, and environmental safeguards all take a back seat to shareholder profits for the meatpacking corporations that are calling the shots.

Laborers on factory farms and in meatpacking plants, including foie-gras farms, are paid minimal wages and are often illegal immigrants too vulnerable to object to exploitive and dangerous working conditions. Usually working under a quota of animals or carcasses processed per minute, they are forced to rush through procedures such as force-feeding of geese or ducks for foie gras. Consequently, workers often injure themselves as well as animals. The throats of the geese and ducks are often perforated and scraped as the tube is pushed into place for each feeding.

Fois gras a small market, can lead to bigger victories later

In reality, the plight of foie gras birds is not particularly worse than that of most factory-farmed animals. Foie gras has been targeted by animal-rights activists because it’s a relatively small market that is more vulnerable to change than more broadly entrenched practices. Banning foie gras is a far more achievable goal than, say, demanding that beef cattle no longer be fed the corn that marbles their meat and speeds their growth, maximizing profits for ranchers and meatpackers. (Corn makes cattle very sick.)

Supermarkets are customer-driven – your objection counts

What can you do? If you see foie gras for sale, tell the proprietor of the shop or restaurant that you find the sale distressing, and tell them why. They may not know much about how the liver is produced. Tell them that you won’t shop or dine there as long as they carry the product. We interviewed the manager of a large supermarket chain store about the veal they sell, for our book Veggie Revolution. He said supermarkets are purely customer-driven. They carry what customers buy, period. Sales of veal (another smallish market) have dropped dramatically in recent years due to publicity from animal rights groups, who have educated the public about what veal is exactly – it’s beef from anemic calves that are kept isolated in narrow stalls from the age of 1 day to slaughter at 4 months, often chained at the neck to keep their muscles weak and tender. Although Americans are still eating veal, demand in the U.S. dropped 62% between 1987 and 2006. As consumers learn more about foie gras, I believe its sales will drop as well. Hopefully more states will follow California’s inspiring example.

Keywords: foie gras ban animal cruelty factory farming animal products animal welfare California ban forced feeding gavage duck livers goose livers

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Top 5 myths about vegan and vegetarian diets

As a science writer and educator, I continuously hear misconceptions and fears about plant-based diets. Some of these fears are so prevalent that they qualify as "common knowledge" - except that they're all false! The five most common fears or myths I hear all stem from misleading advertising, or just from a lack of information. So here's the real scoop on those pervasive myths:

Myth #1: Cows' milk is the best source of calcium.
It's true that cows' milk is rich in calcium. But animal protein tends to leach calcium from bones - and cows' milk is high in protein. Calcium is more readily absorbed from plant sources, such as soy milk, broccoli, kale, chard, spinach and other leafy greens, navy beans, calcium-fortified orange juice. These sources not only provide more accessible calcium, they have no saturated fat or cholesterol. Usual cheeses made of cows' milk are 70% fat! And most of that fat is saturated. To see your daily calcium requirement based on your age, and a longer list of vegetable sources rich in calcium, look here.

In addition to being more healthful, plant sources of calcium are also more earth-friendly - just one dairy cow expels 120 pounds of waste every single day. The waste winds up in waste "lagoons" that leak and spill into our surface waters and ground water.

Myth #2: Animal products are essential for protein
This is probably the biggest myth we hear when doing presentations about our books Veggie Revolution and Going Green. Most Americans get more protein than they need, and a vegan diet can easily provide plenty of protein. For breakfast, a cup of cooked oatmeal alone provides 5 grams of protein. Add walnuts, ground flax and fruit for more protein and lots of fiber. One cup of soy milk provides 7-10 grams, depending on the brand. For lunch and dinner: one veggie burger is 10-12 grams, 2 tbsps peanut butter has 8 grams, 2 ounces dry whole wheat pasta are 9 grams. One cup of cooked lentils, beans, or peas has 15 to 17 grams of protein. Just one slice of whole wheat or multigrain bread has about 3 grams. Check out more tips on plant-based protein from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

In terms of earth-care, one of the most powerful choices we can make to preserve our planet for future generations is to give up our reliance on animal products. Factory farming is trashing our water, converting wild lands to livestock support areas, and greatly adding to our use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used to grow livestock feedcrops, to harvest and transport livestock feedcrops, to transport refrigerated animal products to markets, etc.

Myth #3: Fish is a healthy, earth-friendly alternative to meat
I often see other writers promote fish as a healthy option; sometimes they cite studies that extol the health advantages of seafood. Sure, fish has some advantages - when compared to red meat. Meat, especially red meat, is loaded with saturated fat that contributes to heart disease, obesity, and some cancers. And the average American eats a whopping 185 lbs of meat per year. But consuming fish is not a healthier choice than a vegan diet. Virtually all fish are contaminated with pollutants now, at least to some degree - whether from runoff, discharges, spills, or from airborne pollutants such as mercury, which settle into our surface waters. When you choose a fish-free diet, you not only reduce your exposure to mercury and other dangerous contaminants, you also take a step to protect our oceans and marine wildife. Most commercial oceanic fisheries now use indiscriminate large-scale fishing methods that catch and kill untargeted species ("bycatch") and ravage marine habitat. That bycatch includes oceanic birds and marine mammals.  For more about bycatch, see this previous post and the links at the end of it.

Myth #4: Fish is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s may be good for your heart; some studies suggest they are. But fish is not the only source or the best source. Flax seeds and walnuts are two plant sources that are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and are mercury-free. Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds per day are a good source of omega-3s; ground flax seeds are also an excellent source of fiber and support digestive health. The ground flax seeds can be stirred into a bowl of soup, mixed with cold cereal or hot cereal, sprinkled over salads and vegetables. I grind 2 tbsp of flax seeds in a coffee grinder every morning, and dump them into my bowl of bran flakes and cold soy milk. They actually improve the taste and texture of cold cereal, for me.

Myth #5: Since eggs and milk don't require the death of an animal, these animal products are relatively "humane." I can eat them "guilt-free."
I used to believe this. Not so long ago, I believed it. Then I visited a Food Lion egg factory. The hens there are indeed slaughtered, as soon as their egg production begins to wane. That's usually at about 2 years of age. They are so bedraggled and wasted after 2 years, the manager himself told me "Their bodies are so spent, we can't give them away." For more about the life of a typical laying hen, check out this earlier post. Cows in most dairies these days are slaughtered after 3 years of injections and living on concrete, when their milk production takes a dip and they're replaced. Their slaughtered then, and their flesh then goes to hot dogs or canned meat - not good enough for fresh beef. In my experience, the only hens and milk cows that may have lives worth living are those on small farms that are open to your inspection.

Truth: Resources for plant-based dining are abundant these days, in books and online. This website is a good start. It's easy to choose guilt-free and healthy foods, and protect our precious Earth at the same time. Every plant-based meal helps.

Keywords: Top 5 myths about vegan diet animal welfare calcium soy mercury omega-3 fatty acids protein vegan health

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Does willpower work? Maybe not, says new study

Chocolate chips and peanuts. Photo: Sally Kneidel 
If I can resist eating that delectable snack now, then resisting it later will be easier. Right? That's what I've always told myself. But does my experience support such a conclusion? Not really.

He can get away with it

For example, my husband has recently taken to pouring himself a little bowl of chocolate chips and roasted peanuts when he gets home from work.  He can get away with such indulgence, being naturally slim. Not me. For a while I was able to regard the chocolate chips as "off limits" for myself. But one day I caved...and now.....well, there's a bowl of peanuts and chocolate chips right beside my keyboard as I type this.

Such struggles are continuous for me, partly because our kitchen is always stocked with tempting items.

Desires get stronger...

So I was intrigued to read about a recent study of willpower, from psychologists at the University of Chicago and Florida State University. Just how effective is self-control in resisting temptations? Contrary to public opinion, exerting self-control does not have the effect of fortifying our resolve. Rather, it saps a person's mental energy and makes the next temptation harder to resist.  Said researcher Roy Baumeister, "Prior resistance makes new desires seem stronger than usual." I found this surprising when I first read it. But on further reflection, it began to ring true.

Food, sleep, and sex were most intense

Baumeister and co-author Wilhelm Hofman arrived at their conclusions after contacting 205 adults throughout the day for a week. The subjects used hand-held devices to report more than 10,000 desires and temptations to the researchers during the week. Overall, desires for food, sleep and sex were rated as most intense, outscoring alcohol and tobacco. Less intense urges included checking e-mail and attending to job-related matters.

The key finding was the fluctuation in willpower within a given day. Early in the day., respondents failed to resist urges 15% of the time. But when a temptation recurred later in the day, the failure rate more than doubled, rising to 37%. Researcher Baumeister said that fatigue alone does not account for this change.

Curiously, volunteers in the study had no awareness of having weaker resistance when facing a temptation more than once in a single day.

Stay away!

So. If resistance does not strengthen resolve, then how can a person like me control unhealthy urges? The answer is to avoid the confrontations with tempting items. Researcher Wilhelm Hofmann said people best able to resist temptations find ways to stay away from the desired actions or items, so that they rarely have to rely on self control. Ah, that makes sense. I've written myself that the easiest way to avoid unhealthy foods is to keep them out of the house. And all 12-step programs encourage abstainers to change their habits, to avoid situations where temptation presents itself.

Love those pepitas

I guess I'm learning....however slowly. Last week I stopped by Earth Fare to pick up some groceries, and for a little present, I bought my husband some roasted pumpkin seeds, which he dearly loves. Now these are not an unhealthy snack. But because they're so tasty, I could overdo it. I could plow right through them in short order, leaving none for my husband. So, I put them in a jar in his study, where I won't see them. I told him to keep them out of my sight.

Those scrumptious pepitas.  Photo: Sally Kneidel
And I haven't eaten them! Because I don't think about them. See, I knew instinctively to do that, even before I read Baumeister's and Hofmann's study. My willpower is weak to begin with and now I know that it gets weaker when challenged. So, avoidance really is the best strategy.

Check it out:

NY Times review of book Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney

Baumeister and Hofmann reported their findings at the January 28 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (This link is to the program for the meeting, a 6.59 MB pdf document that has only a brief summary of the will-power study.)

Keywords: willpower, self control, diet, snacking,  Wilhelm Hofmann, Roy Baumeister

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Face your baby when you talk: Infants lip-read to learn the language

Have you ever noticed a baby watching your mouth while you speak?  They all do it - but only at very specific ages.

A new study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that babies pay selective attention to either the eyes or mouth of the speaker, depending on the infant's age and developmental stage. Watching a speaker's mouth probably helps babies learn to shape the words they hear. Watching the speaker's eyes helps them master social cues. 

The ingenious experiment to assess changes in babies' attention to facial features was conducted by scientists at Florida Atlantic University. The researchers tested 179 infants at ages 4, 6, 8, or 12 months. All the babies were from English-speaking uni-lingual families. Each infant was shown a 50-second movie of a woman talking in either English or Spanish. The baby's eye gaze was recorded with standard eye-tracking methods. See a photo of the testing set-up here.

Babies learn to lip-read when they start to babble
Infants at 4 months looked significantly longer at the speaker's eyes than the mouth. At 6 months, they looked equally at the eyes and the mouth.  At 8 months, the infants looked mainly at the mouth of the speaker. "Babies start to lip-read when they learn to babble," said primary researcher David Lewkowitz.

At 12 months, the infants begin to shift their gaze back from the mouth to the eyes of the speaker. With a growing language mastery, the babies can at that time afford to look back at the speaker's eyes to improve their understanding of the words' emotional and social meaning.

Babies surprised by an unfamiliar language
Lewkowitz and graduate student Amy Hansen-Tift also tested infants by showing them a speaker of an unfamiliar language (Spanish). The results were the same, except that the 12-month shift from mouth to eyes did not occur. The 12-month-olds continued to watch the mouth of the Spanish speaker, presumably because mastery of the language sounds had not occurred. The scientists also reported that infants watching Spanish speakers showed increasing pupil dilation between 8 and 12 months, an indication of surprise at finding an unfamiliar language.

A future tool for autism screening?
It's known that 2-year-olds with autism tend to avoid eye contact and instead watch speakers' mouths.  Lewkowitz said that it's possible his study could be helpful in screening children on the road to autism. But autism researchers say there is no research showing that children who continue to look at the mouths of native-language speakers past the age of 1 year are more likely to develop autism or other communication problems than are children who switch to looking at eyes.

How is this useful for parents?
Pediatrician and author Dr. Martin T. Stein says he tells parents to "narrate their lives" to their children at each moment, to improve their language and speech development. Given this new information about how children learn language, he says he'll now tell parents to narrate their lives while looking at their children's faces.

More info:
David Lewkowitz' publications and research  pages.

Keywords: infants baby language baby talk learning to talk language acquisition babies lip-read David Lewkowitz Amy Hansen-Tift Florida Atlantic University

Saturday, January 07, 2012

New food book slams it home: "Healthy Eating, Healthy World"

Young hogs on a N.C. factory farm.  Photo: Sally Kneidel
I was recently asked to review the book Healthy Eating Healthy World. Imagining it to be a cookbook, I readily agreed. But when the book arrived in my mailbox, I was surprised to find not a cookbook but an impressive and comprehensive volume as to why humans must stop consuming animal products, and fast. I already have a number of books about the damage and suffering caused by the meat industry and the ingestion of flesh, eggs, and dairy. Consider Diet for a New America, Food Revolution, The Way We Eat, Forks Over Knives, Eating Animals, Animal Factory, The China Study, my own Veggie Revolution, among others. Why would anyone need another book on the subject?  Is this one special?

A go-to source for all the evidence
It is special. Healthy Eating, Healthy World by J. Morris Hicks is one of the very few books that cover just about every major argument that can be made for choosing a plant-based diet. The information in the book is documented by scientific studies, cited in Hicks' 306 footnotes. The book contains few if any brand-new revelations; rather, its merit lies in its tying together scads of information from disparate angles and sources. Hicks has painted the big picture - how livestock are no longer compatible with a viable future for a planet with shrinking resources and a mushrooming population. Nor are animal products improving our personal health and longevity.

Vegan diet reduces chance of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, assorted cancers
The first part of the book reviews the considerable health benefits of a plant-derived diet. Hicks summarizes the findings of Dr. T. Colin Campbell, co-author of The China Study, and the medical research of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, whose prescribed plant-based diet actually reverses heart damage in his patients. These specific health benefits of vegan dining have been described elsewhere, in the documentary Planeat for example, but warrant inclusion in Hicks' book as well. A plant-derived diet has been shown to reduce the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, various cancers, and other ailments. Citing research, Hicks also dispels common myths about vegan diets, such as difficulty in getting enough protein, calcium, Vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and so on.

Meat industry is a key driver of oil depletion
Since health is a prime motivator among those who shun animal products, health was a good place for Hicks to begin his exposition. But the next part of the book is the dearest to my own heart - the section on how the meat and dairy industry impact our fragile planet. The most "special" aspect of Hicks' book to me is his description of how the livestock sector is accelerating the oncoming freight-train that will entirely derail modern society - the ominous but inevitable "end of oil."  From the oil-based fertilizers for feedcrops to the refrigerated trucks that transport packaged loins and rump roasts, the animal-product industries consistently slurp down 30% of the oil used on the planet. Your switching to an animal-free diet will do more to protect our oil reserves than switching to a hybrid car.

Greenhouse gases, deforestation, pollution...
Hicks of course addresses the standard environmental complaints about the meat industry - deforestation for grazing and the cultivation of feedcrops, pollution from the 9 truckloads of livestock waste per year per person in the U.S., and the volume of greenhouse gases resulting from the creation and distribution of animal-products.

Hell on earth
Hicks also has a chapter entitled "Hell on Earth" that reports on the unrelenting misery of animals raised on factory farms, a well-documented fact by now, which I photographed and wrote about myself (with my co-author) in Veggie Revolution and Going Green. This suffering has been going on since animal production began to be industrialized in the mid-1900s. Peter Singer and Jim Mason first detailed the heinous and hidden operations of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) in their landmark 1980 book Animal Factories.

What to do
The last part of Hicks' book is about solutions and his prescription for change, which is worth reading. For the individual, the change is simple. Buy some vegan cookbooks, or look for vegan meal plans on the internet, and stop eating animal products.

Be a shopping-cart activist
I enthusiastically recommend this book, because changing the way we eat is perhaps the most powerful action we can take to improve the future prospects of our trampled planet, our civilization, and our health. Anyone can easily do it, with so many wholesome and tasty plant-based options in markets these days.

A strong educational tool
Hicks' book is a great resource for anyone interested in health, animal welfare, wildlife, the environment, climate change, and the end of oil. The book is an especially useful tool for educators - to inform their own lessons, or to assign as student-reading. It's also especially useful for parents because they're shaping the future pilots of spaceship Earth - and frightfully few people, at present, understand the heavy repercussions of our diet choices.

Should have included...
I wish Hicks had written more about climate change and the mass wildlife extinctions that will result from climate change and are underway right now. I wish he had referenced the so-important work of Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, two World Bank scientists who documented that the livestock sector is responsible for half of the world's greenhouse gases. Their paper "Livestock and Climate Change," published by Worldwatch Institute, is in my view one of the most important papers published in the last decade. Instead, Hicks referenced "Livestock's Long Shadow" by U.N. scientists, which is a valuable analysis, but is outdated by the work of Goodland and Anhang.

For a deeper and more thorough coverage, read Lester Brown's work
In spite of these shortcomings, Healthy Eating Healthy World is among the most useful current volumes to review most ramifications of our diet choices. For those who want more in-depth coverage of our environmental crisis including the role of livestock, I strongly recommend Lester R. Brown's Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. Lester Brown is founder of Worldwatch Institute, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, and author or co-author of more than 50 books on global environmental issues. He has been honored with multiple prizes worldwide.

More books about the end-of-oil, and sustainability solutions
I also recommend these four books on the over-exploitation of the planet and what we can do about it: The Long Emergency, The Post Carbon Reader, The End of Growth, and Deep Green Resistance (or other books by Derrick Jensen).

Some of my other recent reviews of books and DVDs about food:
My review of vegan cookbook "Blissful Bites: Food bytes from an inspired chef"
Urban gardening in offbeat settings: My review of DVD "Truck Farm"
My review of new vegetarian cookbook: "Veggiyana: The Dharma of Cooking"
My review of documentary "PLANEAT: Nothing changes the planet as much as the way we eat"
The Happy Herbivore: Best, most versatile cookbook since Moosewood
My review of new food film: "What's on YOUR plate?"

Keywords: Healthy Eating Healthy World J. Morris Hicks food book review Lester Brown Lester R. Brown Derrick Jensen end of oil climate change livestock sector Jeff Anhang Robert Goodland meat industry sustainability vegan diet