Science Catch-up. Shocking Stats: How Much Food Do We Waste?


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

Welcome to our Thursday 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. Shocking stats: How much food do we waste?

2. High sat fat causes sugar cravings?

3. Two pints of lager and a packet of… jellyfish?

 

Shocking stats: How much food do we waste?

Study link

Many people base their diet around trying to be kind to the environment – I know because they ask us how to make sure they stay healthy as they do it!

So if that’s your goal, here’s a tip…

The biggest problem might be the food we don’t eat. Did you know that, globally, a third of all food grown is never eaten?

New research shows that here in the UK alone, enough food is wasted to feed a city the size of Birmingham…

This is absolutely heart-breaking, especially because most of the food often gets wasted before it even reaches your fridge. For example, farmers sometimes have no choice but to throw away up to a quarter of their carrots just because they aren’t pretty enough!

It seems that consumers are less likely to buy produce which is the “wrong” shape, size, or colour…

Cauliflowers going to waste on a UK farm (Feedback, 2018).

Now, as your resident scientist I can tell you – wonky vegetables are just as good for you as the more photogenic ones.

But since I’m always being asked, here’s one way we can help make sure the veg that does make it into our fridge doesn’t get thrown away when we forget about it: freezing!

Research has shown that freezing significantly reduces the amount of food that ends up in the bin instead of our stomachs.

(And if you want to know whether freezing reduces the nutrient content in vegetables or not, check out our short training that puts fresh vs frozen vegetables head to head!).

A lot of us need to get more vegetables into our diet, and not only are the ‘contorted’ kind cheaper and just as healthy…

Eating so-called “wonky veg” could also help cut down on the amount of water, land, time, and energy that’s wasted on growing bent carrots or deformed onions, just for them to be thrown away…

And this is really important, because food production is responsible for around a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and a massive 86% of global water usage (it takes 160 litres of water to produce a single banana)!

So, making changes in your diet is an easy way to make a positive impact on the planet.

Ultimately, less food waste = happier Earth.

 

High sat fat causes sugar cravings?

Study link

I’ll show you a fantastic new experiment in a moment. But first, let’s set the scene…

What not many people know is that most experiments on food addiction and cravings begin in the lab using mice models. And this is not just for practical and ethical reasons; it also helps define the methodology for later human research…

In this case, scientists from Canada found that mice fed on a diet high in saturated fat compulsively ate sucrose (aka the ‘table sugar’ many people use in their morning coffee or tea).

But where might that compulsion to overeat sugar come from?

The scientists compared mice on a palm-oil-based diet (high in saturated fat) versus an olive oil alternative (high in mono-unsaturated fat), as well as a low-fat ‘control’ diet.

They wanted to see the possible neurological effects of saturated fat, so they tested a brain region called the nucleus accumbens

(The nucleus accumbens often makes the headlines in food addiction research – mainly because it’s known to affect the way we feel rewarded by eating food. As you can imagine, if we get a bigger ‘kick’ from food substances, we’re more likely to gorge unhealthily).

So, what did they find?

High saturated fat feeding led to brain inflammtion, depressed mice, and comfort eating (Décarie-Spain et al., 2018).

The researchers saw that while both high-fat diets led to obesity, only the mice on the palm-oil-based diet (high in saturated fat) developed inflammation in their nucleus accumbens. Inflammation indicates that there’s a large immune response in that area, which is often a bad thing when it isn’t needed.

And what’s more, when their diet was manipulated to make them crave food, the palm oil-fed mice had a much greater craving for eating sugar…

But what’s the connection here?

Well, it’s thought that an inflamed nucleus accumbens makes us feel a bigger reward from eating high-calorie foods, leading to compulsive cravings of things like sugar. These scientists think there’s a link between poor diet, obesity, and depression with each feeding into one another in a vicious triangle.

Let’s think about how strong their evidence is…

When the researchers stopped the inflammation in the brain region through genetic manipulation, the mice had reduced sugar cravings.

That’s pretty convincing evidence that there really is a link between the palm oil, the nucleus accumbens inflammation, and the sugar cravings.

So is this an end to the big saturated fat debate? Should we banish it from our diets forever?

Of course not!

As you’ll often hear me say, it’s all about the individual and considering their diet as a whole…

First of all, there are several factors that can affect our food cravings (which we tackle in our Advanced Clinical Weight Loss Practitioner™ certification – PDF curriculum here).

Secondly, when it comes to saturated fat, different people respond in different ways (which you can read plenty about here, here, and here, and here, here, here, here, and here!). And if you want to see how your genes may influence your ability (or lack of!) to process saturated fat without ill effects, get this short training on nutritional genetics.

The take home message?

We keep seeing compelling evidence about the impact of fats and sugars on food cravings. So it’s definitely something to watch out for, but always remember to think about how it relates to you or your client in particular.

 

Two pints of lager and a packet of… jellyfish?

Study link

Jellyfish: abundant, nutritious, sustainable, very easy to catch – but slimy and unappealing. Although they’re a delicacy in Asia, most western fisheries regard jellyfish as an unappetising pest that can cause problems for their own watery food gathering efforts…

But that might all be about to change with the introduction of a new snack that’s much healthier than your standard potato crisp.

What’s so good about jellyfish? They’re thought to be an excellent source of vitamin B12, magnesium, phosphorous, iron – even selenium. And yet…

Nobody wants a tasteless and gel-like snack, right?

A dish with crispy jellyfish prepared by Danish chef Klaus Styrbæk. Credit: Kristoff Styrbæk (Pederson et al., 2018).

This is where the science of taste perception comes in! Scientists in Denmark have been hard at work focusing on the other senses that need to be stimulated when we put things in our mouth…

We probably won’t want to eat crisps that aren’t… well, crisp. But researchers have been working on a drying method to replace the traditional Asian salting process, producing a noodle-like texture.

The Danish way actually avoids some of the undesirable metals and salts normally used by soaking the jellyfish in alcohol!

Soaking doesn’t sound like a good way to dry things, but the treatment naturally makes the jellyfish shrink and gives them a crunchy texture – without frying them.

The alcohol then evaporates out completely, leaving a nutritious chip with just a hint of the sea…

It may sound crazy, but it turns out tasting things isn’t just about their chemical flavour! The way we perceive taste is also affected by what foods look like, in this case what they feel like, and a whole host of other factors.

Environmentally friendly jellyfish snacks sound fascinating, I can’t wait to try them!

To find out more about how we perceive taste, check out this short training where we ask (and answer!) the question: “Can we trick our taste to enjoy foods we dislike?”

 

 

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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 their students. She is a Harvard-trained scientist and UCL doctoral 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.
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1 Comment

  • Linda Wilson

    Reply Reply April 23, 2018

    I enjoy the free updates and all information I get.

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