Science Catch-up. Mouth Electrodes Let You Taste and Chew in Virtual Reality

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by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Welcome to our Thursday’s Science Catch-up: curated links by The Health Sciences Academy. Get our email updates every other Thursday here (it’s free).

Let’s catch you up with studies and news that recently made the headlines!

Click on your favourite topics to read our summary:

1. Mouth electrodes let you taste and chew in virtual reality

2. Which drinks exceed your sugar limit?

3. [VIDEO] What’s the best way to catch your sneeze?

4. Unreal: Two types of liquid water discovered!

5. Oxytocin, the love hormone, on satiety and hunger control

6. Don’t do well on low-carb diets? Let’s ask your genes!

7. Your brain on food colours: which ones does it prefer?

8. Yoga is somewhat safe, but know your limits…

9. Inglorious fruits and dented vegs: who buys them? [POLL]

 

Mouth electrodes let you taste and chew in virtual reality

News link

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Tech developments for tasting and chewing in virtual reality.

Imagine tasting and chewing food… but there’s no food in your mouth! How is that possible?

Well, there are a few inventions coming up, so let me mention some of them.

For example, a new thermoelectric device was designed to highjack receptors in your tongue, triggering the sensation of sweetness. The intention is to embed this system in mugs or cups to make drinks taste sweeter and help us cut our sugar intake.

The same researchers also created a digital lollipop that mimics different tastes. Oh, and a spoon embedded with electrodes which amplify the salty, sour, or bitter taste of the food eaten off it. This spoon could help those who need to cut their salt intake, for instance.

But that’s not all. A different team found a way to make our jaw muscles used for chewing give us the impression we’re chewing something, while we are not. How? By attaching electrodes to the jaw, externally, giving out electrical impulses and making you feel different types of chewing sensations as you bite down.

It’s thought that virtual food tech could help people with special dietary needs, such as weak jaws, food allergies, or intolerances.

And this is just the beginning….!

 

Which drinks exceed your sugar limit?

Study link

Before you can calculate whether that fizzy drink exceeds your “free sugars” limit for the day, you need to know what that limit is.

“Free sugars” are those added by manufacturers or naturally present in the drink.

Directly linked to obesity risk, type 2 diabetes, and dental caries, UK guidelines tell us that “free sugars” should be no more than 5% of your daily calories.

For the average adult, that’s no more than about 25 grams of free sugars a day. (Use this free step-by-step case study to calculate yours!).

In this new study, researchers analysed soft drinks available in UK supermarkets and found that 55% of them exceed our sugar limit in just a 330ml serving!

  • At the top, ginger beer contains the highest amount of sugar: 38 grams per 330ml.
  • Flavoured cola is on the second place, with 35 grams of sugar per 330ml, but the most consumed soft drink worldwide, in particular by children.
  • Ginger ale contained the lowest amount of sugar: 22 grams per 330ml – which is still exorbitantly high!

The new sugar tax in the UK encourages manufacturers to reduce the amount on sugar if they want to avoid the proposed tax:

  • High tax for drinks with more than 8 grams of sugar per 100ml
  • Low tax for drinks with 5 to 8 grams of sugar per 100ml
  • No tax for drinks with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100ml

Of the drinks surveyed in this study, 142 out of 169 need to be reduced to below 5 grams per 100ml for the manufacturers to avoid the sugar tax.

Take a look at this table with the free sugars content per 330ml in common fizzy drinks:

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Free sugars content in different flavours of carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages (g/330 mL) (Hashem et al., 2016)

Note: It’s not just fizzy drinks that you need to keep an eye on. That natural orange juice or fresh strawberry smoothie count towards your free sugars limit too! Use this free resource where I show you how to calculate these step-by-step.

 

[VIDEO] What’s the best way to catch your sneeze?

News link

No matter the cause, your sneezes spread germs. This video experiment about sneezing the right (and wrong) way gave me a bit of a chuckle.

The researchers recorded on camera how far the germs flew using 4 methods:

  • The rude way (no barrier)
  • Your evolutionary germ-catcher (using your hands)
  • The “vampire” method (using your sleeve)
  • The civilised way (using a tissue)

Guess which method won?

Find out in this 2-minute video from Texas A&M University:

 

Unreal: Two types of liquid water discovered!

Study link

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Published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology, physicists suggest that both structures of liquid water may influence the thermal stability of proteins, the building blocks of life (Maestro el al., 2016)

What if I told you that scientists uncovered two types of liquid water? It took all this time, but now we have the nanotech to see it.

An international team of physicists, including Oxford University, proved the existence of two states of liquid water. They found two different types of hydration shells in liquid water, each dissimilar at a crossover temperature of 50-60°C.

In other words, two kinds of water behaving differently at the same temperature!

This discovery can change our understanding of several aspects in molecular and cell biology, and have implications for nanomedicine, such as the behaviour of nanoparticles used in bio-imaging and tumour targeting.

 

Oxytocin, the love hormone, on satiety and hunger control

Study link

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Discovery of a missing component in hunger / satiety, namely the glutamate-releasing oxytocin receptor-expressing neurons in the arcuate nucleus, with a rapid satiety mechanism (Fenselau et al., 2016)

We have long known that hunger is regulated by two kinds of neurons, each with opposite effects:

  • Agouti-related protein (AgRP) neurons, which drive hunger and stimulate eating within minutes, and
  • Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons, which supress hunger, but more slowly.

This team of scientists from Harvard have been looking for neurons that would suppress eating a lot quicker than POMC.

In their search, they found that Vglut2 neurons could rapidly suppress appetite.

They also found that these Vglut2 neurons have receptors for oxytocin, the “love hormone”. Meaning that these Vglut2 neurons can receive signals from oxytocin, which is already being investigated for its satiety-inducing effects.

Note: Did you know that hugs, mom’s voice, seeing a baby, and your furry pet can all stimulate an upsurge of oxytocin in your body? Take a look at Hugs: The Ultimate Vaccine. Or borrow my fluffy kitten Coco here for an instant dose now.

 

Don’t do well on low-carb diets? Let’s ask your genes!

Study link

Obese carriers of the C allele in FGF21 lost more fat on a 2-year high-carb diet than the low-carb dieters carrying the same allele (Heianza et al., 2016)

As you’ll often hear me say, if it’s not personalised, it’s not effective. And whether you hardly lose any fat on low-carb diets may have a genetic explanation after all!

In this controlled weight-loss study, the gene investigated was FGF21.

FGF21 codes for Fibroblast Growth Factor 21, a hormone involved in fat cell metabolism.

However, not all of us carry the same variant of FGF21. It appears that those with the C variant don’t lose as much fat in a low-carb, high-fat diet.

After 2 years of eating low-carb, the C carriers lost significantly less fat mass than others. Surprisingly, the C carriers who followed a high-carb, low-fat diet lost much more fat.

This means that if you carry the C variant in the FGF21 gene, you may get better fat-loss results with a higher-carb diet.

As you can see from this example, personalising your diet around your genes may save you a lot of time and effort.

Note: But how do you know whether to go “keto”, vegan, or meat-rich? Will you thrive on a gluten-free diet, or do better with dairy and grains? Your inherited genes have a huge influence on how well (or not) you metabolise different foods and their effect in your body. If you want to learn over 21 nutrient/gene adaptations based on inheritance, take a look here.

 

Your brain on food colours: which ones does it prefer?

News link

Examples of the stimuli used. Arousal and perceived calorie content was greater in red-coloured foods than green-coloured foods (Foroni et al., 2016)

Just like a traffic light, food colour may make us want to eat something or not.

This new study conducted by Italian neuroscientists once again confirms that vision is the main sense we use to guide our food choices.

They’ve found that the calorie-counter in our brain may rely on “colour code”, with some food colours being perceived as lower-calorie than others!

In the experiment, the stimuli elicited by food differed depending on their red or green brightness.

For example, while red food colours increased arousal in the subjects, green decreased it. This indicates a preference for bright-red foods, which may have an evolutionary explanation.

Interestingly, bright green foods were perceived as lower-calorie, even if they weren’t!

In contrast, the foods with a red tint were judged as higher in calories.

Note: Vision is just one aspect in this process, but what else influences our food choices? What makes us choose healthy or unhealthy foods? Well, your brain is influenced by a multitude of different factors, and if you’d like to discover what makes you reach for that Danish croissant or an apple, see this.

 

Yoga is somewhat safe, but know your limits

Study link

Participating in yoga classes can provide numerous health benefits, and it’s relatively safe.

However, it can also give rise to yoga injuries.

I personally had a neck injury from a sudden head-stand in one of those “pretzel” yoga classes. My neck is fine but I haven’t done yoga since, which is a pity.

In this study, the incidence of different yoga injuries was investigated on a large scale for the first time.

As you can see on the table below, most injuries are on the torso (in here depicted as “trunk”). The trunk, or torso, extends from your neck to your pelvic region.

If you’re a yoga instructor or regular yogi, I’m interested in your views on this.

Incidence of different injury types from yoga practices. Most yoga injuries are on the torso, in here depicted as “trunk” (Swain and McGwin, 2016)

 

Inglorious fruits and dented vegs: who buys them?

Study link

While food scarcity is a theme in underdeveloped countries, food waste is an increasing problem in the developed world. Tons of fruits and vegs never make to the shelves, because they look “ugly” or “imperfect”.

Trashing perfectly-edible natural foods is bad business for producers, and let’s not forget about the environmental impact from the water and fuel used to produce and ship that food.

Using an online survey involving 4,214 consumers from Northern European countries, this paper revealed that they may buy the products depending on the type of sub-optimality, taste preservation, food preparation habits, and the right price discount – among other factors, such as waste behaviours at home, or environmental sustainability values.

Several start-ups are already “rescuing” imperfect produce that would otherwise be discarded, and processing them into natural juices or soups, or packaging them for home delivery in their imperfect state via subscription models.

Comparison of an optimal and suboptimal apple and cucumber. The suboptimal cucumber is bent and the suboptimal apple is indented (Hooge et al., 2016)

What’s your take on this? Would you buy “inglorious” fruits or vegs, such as a bent cucumber, or an indented apple, like in this picture? Let us know in this poll – and see what others voted too!

Do you mind buying imperfect or ugly fruits and vegetables?

Would you regularly buy imperfect or ugly fruits and vegetables?

 

 

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What’s your key learning from today’s Science Catch-up? What do you think of some of these discoveries? Tell us in the comments below!

The-Health-Sciences-Academy-Alejandra-Ruani-small1-right
Alex Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for students. She is a Harvard-trained scientific researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups every other Thursday.
Connect with Alex via email.


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