Can Fast Food be Sustainable?

Chipotle’s ambitious initiative to embrace and invest in the future of food through its $100 million Cultivate Next venture fund demonstrates a forward-thinking approach to the customer experience and increases access to real food.

“Our decision to double our commitment to our Cultivate Next venture fund is a clear indicator that we are investing in the right companies that we can learn from and utilize to improve the human experience of our restaurant teams, farmers, and suppliers,” said Curt Garner, Chief Customer and Technology Officer, Chipotle. Garner continues:

“The parallel growth of Chipotle and our partners will continue to further our mission to Cultivate a Better World by increasing access to real food.”

Technologies in play

The significant investments in the fund include Hyphen. The Hyphen robot represents a joint venture between Chipotle and Hyphen, aiming to revolutionize how Chipotle prepares its bowls and salads. These menu items, which form a large chunk of Chipotle’s online orders, are assembled with the help of an automated system that accurately dispenses ingredients into dishes as they move along a lower conveyor belt.

This innovative approach is designed to boost order preparation speed and precision, freeing staff members to dedicate more time to customer interactions and other essential duties. Currently under evaluation, this technological enhancement seeks to refine Chipotle’s digital service capabilities and elevate the overall dining experience for its customers.

Another fund component is an investment in GreenField Robotics, which is revolutionizing farming practices with its innovative approach to regenerative agriculture. The company leverages artificial intelligence, robotics, and sophisticated sensors, to deploy autonomous robots that manage weeds in crop fields without harmful chemicals.

These robots are designed to operate day and night, navigating between rows of crops to target and remove weeds precisely, thus significantly reducing the reliance on traditional herbicides. This method supports the health of the soil and the ecosystem and presents a sustainable and cost-effective alternative to conventional farming methods.

Nitricity is another component of the innovation investment. Nitricity is a company that produces nitrogen fertilizers through a sustainable and innovative process. This process involves creating “artificial lightning” to break down nitrogen from the air, which is then combined with rainwater to form nitrate, a natural fertilizer. This method is inspired by the natural process where lightning breaks atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates that nourish the soil.

Nitricity’s approach aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional nitrogen fertilizer production methods, such as the Haber-Bosch process, which is energy-intensive and relies heavily on fossil fuels. The investment aligns with Chipotle’s sustainability goals and commitment to enhancing food integrity throughout its supply chain.

By incorporating Nitricity’s climate-smart fertilizer into its agricultural practices, Chipotle aims to support more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices.

The Meati Foods investment enhances Chipotle’s menu with sustainable plant-based protein options that are aligned with its Food with Integrity standards. Using a fermentation-based process, Meati develops alternative proteins derived from mushroom roots, specifically mycelium. This method results in products that mimic chicken and steak in texture, flavor, high protein, high fiber, and no cholesterol.

Cultivated indoors, Meati Foods ensures its products are grown clean and free from common agricultural contaminants. Through the “Eat Meati” brand, the company is committed to offering nutritious, whole-food options that are environmentally friendly.

Zero Acre Farms is a food company focused on healthy, sustainable oils and fats that is on a mission to end the food industry’s dependence on vegetable oils. The company has introduced a new category of healthy oils and fats made by fermentation that are more environmentally friendly. Chipotle is in the early trials of testing Zero Acre Farms at its Cultivate Center test kitchen in Irvine, California.

Industry Players Invest in Fast Food’s Future

Several other fast-food companies invest significantly in food innovations, leveraging technology to address global challenges such as food security, affordability, and safety. These companies are exploring various technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, sustainable packaging, plant-based alternatives, and blockchain for supply chain transparency.

Here’s a list of notable players alongside Chipotle that are actively investing in the future of food:

  • McDonald’s is incorporating AI learning into its operations, making strides in the alternative packaging space, providing plant-based options, and investing in improved supply chain technologies—all ways that they are investing in and prioritizing health and sustainability.
  • KFC is experimenting with 3D bioprinting technology to create lab-grown chicken nuggets to offer more sustainable and ethical meat options.
  • Domino’s Pizza uses drones and autonomous vehicles to reduce delivery times and costs.
  • Burger King focuses on sustainability through initiatives like reducing greenhouse gas emissions and offering plant-based burger options like the Impossible Whopper, made from soy leghemoglobin, the same ingredient in the Impossible Burger, to cater to a broader range of dietary preferences.
  • Starbucks invests in sustainable practices, including efforts to reduce waste and water use. It is also exploring plant-based menu items to provide more environmentally friendly and healthier options.
  • Wendy’s utilizes food safety and quality assurance technology, implementing advanced tracking and monitoring systems in its supply chain.
  • Taco Bell is innovating its menu to include vegetarian and low-impact food options, aiming to make the fast-food industry more inclusive and sustainable.

Impact of Innovations on Food System

Why should we care about the investments these companies are making? The impact spreads far beyond the decision of “what’s for lunch today” and will untimely touch our children’s and their children’s lives.

Food Security: Innovations, especially in plant-based proteins and lab-grown meats, can significantly contribute to food security by providing alternative sources of nutrition, ensuring a stable food supply in the face of growing global demand and environmental challenges.

Affordability: Automation and AI in food preparation and delivery can lower operational costs, potentially making food more affordable for consumers. These companies can offer competitive pricing while maintaining quality by optimizing supply chains and reducing waste through better inventory management.

Safety: Technological advancements such as blockchain for transparent supply chains and AI for monitoring food quality can enhance food safety. These technologies allow for better tracking of ingredients from farm to table, ensuring that food meets health standards and reducing the risk of contamination and foodborne illnesses.

Answering a Call-to-Action by Consumers

These investments also answer a call from consumers, who, in recent years, have put the majority of the onus on food companies to lead the way for positive change. Today’s consumers are increasingly conscious of their food choices’ health, environmental, and social impacts. This heightened awareness drives demand for healthier, more sustainable, affordable food options. Consequently, consumers rely on food companies to make significant investments and changes to meet these expectations.

Consumers are seeking convenient, nutritious options tailored to various dietary needs, such as low-calorie, low-fat, plant-based, and allergen-free options. They expect food companies to innovate to reduce the use of artificial ingredients, preservatives, and high sugars and fats without compromising taste or affordability.

There’s also a growing demand for food produced in an environmentally friendly and ethically responsible manner. Consumers are looking for companies that invest in sustainable agriculture practices, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize water usage, and ensure animal welfare. They are also increasingly interested in local sourcing and reducing food miles. Moreover, sustainable packaging solutions to reduce plastic waste are critical to consumer choices.

While consumers strongly desire healthier and more sustainable food options, they also demand affordability. The challenge for food companies is to balance the cost of implementing innovative and sustainable practices with the need to keep prices accessible to a broad audience. This requires efficient production and distribution practices and, sometimes, rethinking entire supply chains to maintain competitive pricing.

To build and maintain consumer trust, food companies must be transparent about their practices, including sourcing, ingredient lists, nutritional information, and environmental impacts. Technology, such as blockchain, often facilitates this transparency by tracing the journey of food from farm to table, assuring consumers of the quality and safety of their food.

In response to these consumer expectations, food companies increasingly invest in research and development to create new products that meet these criteria. Companies like Chipotle are adopting innovative technologies to improve food production efficiency, exploring alternative ingredients to make their products healthier and more sustainable, and reevaluating their supply chains to increase transparency and reduce environmental impact.

These investments are not only a response to consumer demand but also an acknowledgment of food companies’ role in addressing global challenges like climate change, health issues, and food security. By aligning their strategies with consumer expectations, food companies can ensure long-term viability and contribute to a more sustainable and healthy food system.

Why are foods with sugar & fat so irresistible?

You know those moments when you’re faced with a gooey chocolate chip cookie or a crispy slice of bacon, and it feels like your brain is staging a full-blown rebellion against your dieting efforts? Well, it turns out there’s some fascinating science behind why these irresistible foods have a hypnotic hold over us.

Picture your brain as a bustling city with a network of roads. Now, imagine the flow of traffic on these roads is the signals sent by your gut, specifically, the vagus nerve. This nerve is like the messenger between your tummy and your brain, and its job is to tell your brain what’s going on in your belly.

For the longest time, scientists were like detectives trying to crack the case of why we’re so drawn to unhealthy foods. They were on a mission to discover the secret behind our food cravings. But the real puzzle was this: why do our brains go crazy over fats and sugars, especially when they team up in delightful duos like donuts or cookies?

What does new research reveal?

In the February 2024 issue of the Monell Chemical Senses Center‘s Cell Metabolism Journal, a team of scientists unraveled this culinary enigma. They discovered that it all starts in our gut, not in our taste buds.

You see, there are dedicated pathways in our vagus nerve for various things, including a pathway for fats and another for sugars, that act like separate lanes on that culinary highway we talked about. When you munch on something fatty, the fat pathway lights up like a neon sign in Las Vegas, and when you indulge in something sweet, the sugar pathway does a little happy dance.

Now, here’s where it gets even more interesting. Imagine these pathways as two separate party invitations: one for fats and another for sugars. When you’re at a party, you’re having fun, right? Well, our brain is no different. It enjoys these food parties, too. But here’s the kicker – when you combine fats and sugars, it’s like sending out a double invitation to the brain’s ultimate party central.

These two pathways join forces, and your brain responds with a surge of dopamine, the pleasure chemical, making you want more of that irresistible combo.

So, what does all of this mean for your eating habits? Well, your brain can be secretly wired to seek out these high-fat, high-sugar combos, even when you’re consciously trying stay away from these foods.

 

It’s like your gut has a sneaky food agenda, and it’s operating undercover.

But don’t despair! There’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The scientists behind this discovery believe that understanding this gut-brain connection could lead to some pretty cool strategies and treatments. By tinkering with these pathways, we might have a shot at making healthier food choices, even in the face of those devilishly tempting treats.

So, the next time you find yourself eyeing that mouthwatering chocolate cake, remember: it’s not just about will power; it’s a brain party happening on a microscopic level. And while the battle between your taste buds and your brain rages on, science is on the case, working to help you make healthier choices without sacrificing all the delicious fun.

Issues with overindulging

Overindulging in foods rich in sugar and unhealthy fats can have serious health consequences. One of the most immediate risks is weight gain, as these foods are often calorie-dense.

Weight gain can contribute to obesity, a significant risk factor for various health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Liver health can be compromised by high sugar intake, particularly fructose found in common sweeteners like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. This can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which may progress to more severe liver problems.

Mental health can also be impacted, as sugar and fat-rich diets can cause mood swings, irritability, and even symptoms of depression.

Inflammation is another concern associated with these diets, contributing to conditions like arthritis, autoimmune diseases, and a heightened risk of certain cancers.

Dental health is affected by excess sugar consumption, as it provides a breeding ground for bacteria in the mouth that produce acids, leading to tooth decay and gum disease.

Additionally, excessive sugar intake can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, potentially leading to digestive problems.

Tips to combat The Urge

While the scientific discoveries about our brain’s response to fats and sugars are fascinating, you don’t have to surrender to your cravings. Here are some practical tips to help you combat the effects of these food temptations:

Be Mindful of Portions

  • Instead of completely avoiding your favorite treats, practice portion control. Enjoy a small piece of that chocolate or a single bite of your favorite high-fat snack. Savor the flavor without going overboard.

Diversify Your Diet

  • Make sure your meals are balanced and include a variety of foods. Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your daily meals. This can help reduce the intensity of your cravings for high-fat, high-sugar items.

Stay Hydrated

  • Sometimes, thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Before reaching for that sugary or fatty snack, have a glass of water. Staying hydrated can help reduce cravings.

Plan Your Indulgences

  • Designate specific times or days when you’ll allow yourself to enjoy your favorite treats. Knowing that you have a treat coming up can make it easier to resist spontaneous cravings.

Keep Temptations Out of Sight

  • If you have a weakness for certain foods, try not to keep them readily accessible at home or in your workspace. Out of sight, out of mind!

Get Moving

  • Exercise can boost your mood and reduce cravings. So, when you’re hit with a craving, take a brisk walk or do a quick workout to distract your mind.

Mindful Eating

  • Pay attention to what you’re eating and savor every bite. Eating mindfully can help you enjoy your meals more fully and prevent overindulgence.

Healthy Alternatives

  • Seek out healthier alternatives to satisfy your cravings. For example, if you’re craving something sweet, opt for fresh fruit or a small piece of dark chocolate. If you’re craving something savory, try air-popped popcorn instead of chips.

Seek Support

  • If you find it challenging to control your cravings, consider seeking support from a registered dietitian, therapist, or support group. They can provide strategies and encouragement tailored to your specific needs.

Remember, you’re not alone in facing these cravings, and it’s entirely possible to make healthier choices without depriving yourself completely. By incorporating these tips and staying mindful of your eating habits, you can combat the effects of the brain’s love for fats and sugars while still enjoying the pleasures of good food. It’s all about finding that tasty balance!

Could Ozempic Ignite Food’s Healthier Future?

Today, the weight loss drugs highlight a consumer movement against processed and ultra-processed foods. These foods have added ingredients such as sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and artificial colors that provide no nutritional value…except great taste.

Eaten as an indulgence, they are not terrible. But, unfortunately, many people indulge in these treats as a dietary staple.

The Search for Nutrition

Consumers today are looking for nutritious foods. Foods that not only treat existing diseases but prevent ones from appearing. Foods that help you manage your health and help you age gracefully, with ‘food as medicine’  the sought-after goal.

Innova Market Insights identified nutritional value and balanced nutrition, along with naturalness are important for consumers.

Ingredients containing protein, Omega-3, fiber, vitamins, prebiotics, probiotics, and even esoteric mushrooms such as ashwagandha and lion’s mane are high in demand. Mintel also identified a changing attitude toward extending life in good health.

How GLP-1 Drugs Affect Our Diet

Further fueling demand for a healthier, more nutritious diet are among those taking a new class of prescription drugs: GLP-1 agonists. These medications, like Ozempic and Wegovy, help lower blood sugar levels and promote weight loss.

Morgan Stanley’s research survey of 300 patients taking a GLP-1 agonist found that these drugs reduced their daily appetite by 20-30 percent. They lost their appetite for candy, sugary drinks, and baked goods, creating room for adding healthy foods to their diet.

Especially as those on the GLP-1 drugs are not that hungry and might not meet the full 2,000-calorie minimal daily requirement, it is essential that what they do eat in a day provides their full complement of minerals and vitamins.

As the obesity epidemic continues to rise, so will the associated health issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and fatty liver disease.

Today, about 69 percent, or 178 million adults, are either overweight or obese. Adult obesity is at 42.4 percent and is expected to climb to 50 percent in just six years.

GLP-1 drugs seem to hold the answer to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Morgan Stanley estimated that 7 percent of the U.S. population will be take GLP-1 medications by 2035. This equates to a potential $44 billion market by 2030.

Will Food Sales Decline? 

Grocers and consumer products companies worry about the future if more and more people are cutting 20-30% of their calories out of their diet.

In the fall of 2023, Walmart announced that it had seen a slight drop in food demand due to appetite-suppressing medications. It might be too soon to tell given that there is such a small percentage of the population on these weight loss programs, but as the numbers increase, how will CPG companies prepare?

However, CPG companies and grocers can benefit from this trend; consumers don’t have to be hurt by purchasing less food. Of course, if everyone ate more fruits and vegetables and fewer cookies, then obesity would not be an issue.

At D2D, we have written about changing one’s diet, but it is hard. What you eat is what you crave. Can anything be done to meet our nutritional needs while sating our  tastebuds?

How about a Healthy Oreo?

There are over 14 unique Oreos to choose from, with ‘Double Stuff’ being our favorite, mostly because it is reminiscent of our childhood.

But sadly, there is no benefit to eating these every day. Despite their great taste, they have no nutritional value, 12 grams of sugar, and 150 calories for just two cookies. They would be considered an indulgence and not a ‘food’.

What if the Oreo had the same basic ingredients but with added health benefits?

What if the creamy filling included Omega 3s for heart health, and fiber in the cookie for lowering cholesterol, aiding gut health, and reducing the risk of heart disease? Some vitamins like D3 could be added as an extra immune benefit. Instead of sugar, there could be stevia to keep the taste.

The mouthfeel and taste that any saturated fat provides could be replaced by an alternative fat from a plant oil called Epogee.

To be fair, in 2021, Mondelez did try to launch the Oreo Zero in China. Instead of sugar, they used sucrose and glucose, which gave a different taste from the original Oreo. They chose China because those consumers like less sugar in their snacks. Needless to say, it was not a success. Some of you readers might remember the backlash against the ‘New Coke’ in 1985. A change in the 99-year formula was a complete flop because Coca-Cola lovers liked the ‘Real Thing’.

How can CPG Companies Benefit? 

But are CPG companies ready to make such big changes? Already, many are starting to address their concerns about the potential for declining food consumption.

According to Food Dive, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have introduced small cans in response to consumers cutting back on sugar. Also, snack companies have created 100-calorie small snacks. Some have reduced salt and others have reformulated their products for added nutrition. But is it the right answer?

CPG companies have a range of opportunities to create healthier products. These changes can have meaningful impacts on consumer health.

How can the pharmaceutical industry influence the snack industry?

Healthier Product Formulations:

  • CPG companies can reformulate existing snacks to align with healthier profiles. For instance, reducing added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium content.
  • Whole grains, fiber, and protein can be added in to create more satisfying and nutritious snacks.
  • CPG companies can focus on nutrient-dense options that provide sustained energy.

Functional Ingredients:

  • Incorporating functional ingredients like prebiotics, probiotics, Omega-3, turmeric, and additional antioxidants can enhance the nutritional value of snacks.
  • GLP-1 users may want to seek snacks that support gut health and overall well-being.

Portion Control and Mindful Snacking:

  • Ozempic’s appetite-suppressing effects may encourage consumers to eat smaller portions.
  • CPG companies can develop snack packs with smaller, healthier portions, promoting mindful eating.
  • GLP-1’s impact on cravings could lead to decreased consumption of empty-calorie snacks (e.g., sugary treats).

Marketing Strategies:

  • Highlighting diabetes-friendly, weight-conscious, or blood sugar-friendly snacks can resonate with GLP-1 users.
  • Transparent labeling and clear health benefits can attract health-conscious consumers.

Collaboration with Healthcare Professionals:

  • CPG companies can collaborate with healthcare providers to educate consumers about healthier snack choices.
  • Ozempic users may appreciate guidance on suitable snacks to complement their treatment.

Are we what we eat? A Netflix film thinks so…

Netflix’s “You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment,” directed by the acclaimed Louie Psihoyos, presents a look at the effects of diet on health through the unique lens of an 8-week ‘controlled’ study by Stanford University. The documentary series, released in January 2024, unfolds the intriguing findings from an experiment involving 22 sets of genetically identical twins.

The overarching message of the series is that ‘meat is bad for you, and plants are good for you’, as is seemingly made evident by Dr. Christopher D. Gardner, Ph.D., the study’s author and principal investigator. However, a closer examination of the study uncovers limitations and concerns.

The study’s premise was straightforward: each twin was assigned a different diet—one vegan, one omnivore—both seemingly balanced and nutritious. Initially, the twins received pre-prepared meals to ensure dietary adherence, followed by a transition to self-prepared meals for practical application. Commentators then chime in to provide additional insights based on their expertise, including NYC Mayor Eric Adams, Senator Cory Booker, Dr. Michael Greger, and Marion Nestle.

Considering Overall Health

We agree that a diet rich in fresh produce and limited in red meat is certainly the way to go!

But before you jump into all vegan diet, consider some of the drawbacks and how to manage them.  This film entices you to become a vegan because the twin that eliminated meat showed significant outcomes: a 10% to 15% decrease in LDL cholesterol, a 25% reduction in insulin levels, and a 3% weight loss—all achieved through whole, plant-based foods without any animal products. Conversely, those on the omnivore diet showed no significant health benefits.

While the vegan group experienced positive changes in their LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and weight loss, they also had negative changes in HDL cholesterol (the good one) and triglycerides (bad fat).  High triglycerides may contribute to the hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery wall, therefore, contributing to heart disease.

Furthermore, the oversight of potential risks associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency in the documentary is a significant concern. Vegetarians need to take a B12 supplement to make sure they have enough of this crucial nutrient for their overall health, particularly for the proper functioning of our nervous system and the production of red blood cells.

Additionally, the documentary‘s observation that the weight loss in the vegan group primarily consisted of muscle loss raises concerns about the impact of unbalanced weight loss strategies.

Losing muscle mass during weight loss is generally undesirable because muscle tissue plays a crucial role in metabolism, physical strength, and overall well-being.

Muscles help burn calories and support daily activities, and their loss can lead to a decrease in metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

Another noteworthy concern is its feasibility as a long-term diet. Most participants in this study reported lower dietary satisfaction with a vegan diet suggests that long-term adherence to such a diet may be challenging for many individuals. This aspect challenges the feasibility and practicality of adopting a vegan lifestyle for a substantial portion of the population.

If you’re interested in adopting a better way of eating that eschews the potential bias, the study’s limitations, potential deficiency risks, and the challenges associated with long-term dietary adherence, consider The Mediterranean Diet. This tried and true eating style has the most peer-reviewed research showing its positive effects towards living a long and healthful life.

And should you want your diet to factor in particular health concerns, consider researching epigenetics. This is the study of how your behaviors and your environment can cause changes in how your body reads your DNA.

Ideological Issues

There are plenty of healthy vegans, so that is not the issue.  It seems as though those affiliated with the documentary is using diet to make a political stance on meat.

This becomes evident when we consider the affiliations of Dr. Gardner one of the study authors, who is connected to Beyond Meat, a prominent producer of plant-based meat alternatives. While financial conflicts of interest were disclosed in the study, there is also a strong conviction in promoting a plant-based diet.

The film also focuses on animal welfare concerns associated with meat production but fails to address issues related to growing our food.  Every single bite we take has its own, including labor issues, pesticide concerns, and water usage, to name a few.

By solely emphasizing animal rights, the documentary neglects broader ethical and environmental considerations in our food system that span to crops and plant-based diet foodstuffs as well.  This documentary falls into the same category as so many others.

Not The First…and Certainly Not The Last

Consumers are often drawn to exciting and visually compelling documentaries about food, especially when they promise groundbreaking revelations about nutrition and health.

These documentaries can be engaging, emotionally charged, and persuasive, making them highly effective in shaping public opinion. However, it’s important for consumers to recognize that these films are often crafted with a specific agenda or perspective in mind and overlook some core components.

While documentaries can provide valuable insights into various aspects of our food system, they should not be the sole source of information when it comes to making important dietary decisions. Here’s why consumers should exercise caution and seek factual resources for nutrition information:

To make informed decisions about nutrition, consumers should seek out a variety of reputable, evidence-based resources. These can include peer-reviewed scientific journals, registered dietitians or nutritionists, government health agencies, and academic institutions specializing in nutrition and health research.

By consulting a range of sources and critically evaluating information, consumers can make dietary choices that are based on a well-rounded understanding of nutrition rather than being swayed solely by the excitement of a compelling documentary.

How to live to 100…and beyond

The concept and research surrounding Blue Zones originated years ago from the work of Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and explorer, along with a team of demographers and researchers. The journey to identify and understand these unique areas began with a demographic and geographic study of regions with unusually high numbers of centenarians and low rates of chronic diseases.

Origins of these Demographic Studies

The concept can be traced back to the early 2000s when demographers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain identified a region in Sardinia, Italy with an unusually high number of people living to 100 and beyond, called centenarians. They marked these areas with blue ink on a map, which led to the term “Blue Zone.” Dan Buettner, in collaboration with National Geographic and with funding from the National Institute on Aging, took the concept further. He assembled a team of scientists and researchers identify other areas in the world with similar characteristics.

Through this extensive fieldwork, data analysis, and interviews, Buettner and his team identified additional regions that met their criteria for longevity hotspots. These included Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece in addition to the initial region in Sardinia. The team focused on areas with high longevity rates, low incidence of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, and a high proportion of healthy elderly individuals.

Buettner’s work and the concept of Blue Zones were popularized through a National Geographic cover story in 2005 titled “Secrets of a Long Life.” He went on to author several books on the topic, including “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” where he detailed the lifestyles, diets, and practices of people living in these zones.

As you can imagine given this intriguing research, Blue Zones sparked a significant interest in longevity studies. Buettner and his team continued their work, turning the focus towards applying the lessons from Blue Zones to communities and cities around the world.

Key Contributions and Impact

The research in the documentary highlighted the importance of lifestyle factors, such as diet, physical activity, social engagement, and stress management, in promoting longevity and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Buettner and his organization have worked on initiatives to help transform cities and communities in the United States, applying principles from the Blue Zones to improve public health and wellness.

The research on Blue Zones represents a groundbreaking approach to understanding longevity, emphasizing the role of environmental and lifestyle factors in shaping health outcomes. As we often write and research about here at Dirt to Dinner, it is about both mind and body health.

How can I live to be a Centenarian?

These centenarians didn’t just start these habits at age 80, this lifestyle has been an integral part of their entire life. Improving our health now in all these aspects of daily living will affect our health as we age.

Dietary Practices: Foundation of Health and Longevity

  • A diverse range of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, forms the bedrock of daily nutrition
  • Meat is consumed in significantly smaller quantities, often as a small side or a special occasion dish, rather than a daily staple
  • Emphasis is placed on eating foods that are local and seasonal, thus ensuring that meals are fresh and nutrient-rich
  • Concepts like “Hara Hachi Bu” in Okinawa, advocates for eating until one is 80% full, exemplify mindfulness in eating habits

Seamless Integration of Physical Activity

  • Unlike the structured exercise routines common in many cultures, physical activity in Blue Zones is seamlessly woven into daily life and includes walking, gardening, and performing household and occupational tasks that require physical exertion
  • These activities are adaptable and can be sustained throughout life, suitable for a wide range of ages and physical capabilities

Work-Life and Family Balance: A Harmonious Blend

  • There is a cultural disposition towards maintaining a healthy balance between work, family, and leisure, contributing to overall well-being
  • Strong familial ties and active participation in community life centers around multi-generational living and community-centric lifestyles
  • These cultures place a lower emphasis on work-related stress and prioritize leisure and rest, including practices like napping and socializing

Reduced Dependence on Technology and Digital Media

  • Populations in Blue Zone areas prefer real-world interactions
  • Residents talk to each other in person, thus fosters deeper personal connections and community involvement

The Vital Role of Social Networks and Community

  • Strong social ties, encompassing family, friends, and broader community networks provide both emotional support and practical assistance
  • Regular social events, be it communal meals, religious ceremonies, or local festivities, are central to maintaining and strengthening community bonds
  • The depth and quality of these social connections play a significant role in emotional well-being, fostering a sense of belonging, happiness, and security

How to Start Today

The examination of Blue Zones in the recent documentary offers profound insights into the symbiotic relationship between lifestyle, environment, diet, physical activity, and social connections in fostering longevity.

By understanding and integrating these principles, individuals, and communities worldwide can adopt practices that not only extend lifespan, but also significantly enhance the quality of life during those years.

Achieving this delicate balance can seem overwhelming and near impossible. Take it in chunks. Work on one or two things at a time.

  • Get your diet in a good place and work on adopting a Mediterranean-type diet.
  • Follow that up with good physical activity but allow yourself time for rest and recharging with loved ones.
  • Work-life balance in our modern culture is always a struggle, something that many of the Blue Zones don’t face to the same degree as those in metro areas, for example, or those who have demanding roles; just be cognizant of where you spend your mental energy.
  • Do you control your use of technology? Reduce your phone and social media use. Call up or visit with a friend or family member rather than texting them.  Even Instagram and Facebook are not really warm connection points. They take you out of the present, and can often cause unneeded stress.

Can a diet mimic Ozempic’s results?

In the realm of health and wellness, a remarkable medication named Ozempic has dramatically transformed the lives of many individuals struggling with type 2 diabetes and obesity.

What is Ozempic, anyway?

Ozempic, containing the active ingredient semaglutide, made waves in the healthcare community initially in 2017 when the FDA approved it for managing blood sugar levels in conjunction with diet and exercise. But it has become a cultural tsunami this past year (especially on social media) as more non-diabetics have been seeking its myriad health-related benefits.

The benefits are now appreciated by both patients and healthcare professionals. This injectable medication works by mimicking the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) hormone, which plays a pivotal role in regulating blood sugars, slowing stomach emptying, curbing appetite, and improving heart problems (possibly preventing heart attack and stroke).

However, while medications like this are sometimes necessary, many individuals could achieve similar health outcomes by focusing on a strategic diet, emphasizing foods that naturally regulate blood sugar levels, reduce hunger, and promote weight loss. By eating the right foods, you can still have the “I’m full” effect of Ozempic and the benefits of getting the proper nutrients for your lifestyle.

As the adage goes, “Let food be thy medicine.

Harnessing the Power of Low-Glycemic Foods

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) of foods is paramount. Low-GI foods facilitate gradual blood sugar increases, mimicking Ozempic’s blood glucose-stabilizing effect. Integrating these foods into your diet means you’re investing in a spectrum of benefits that support your metabolic health.

Whole grains are a cornerstone here. Options like quinoa, barley, and steel-cut oats should be regulars on your grocery list. Consider servings of about a half-cup of cooked grains at mealtimes enough to reap the benefits without excessive calorie intake.

Incorporating legumes is also wise; foods like lentils, chickpeas, and various beans not only stabilize blood sugar but are also rich in proteins and micronutrients. A standard portion would be approximately a half-cup cooked, balancing blood sugar management and satiety.

Fruits, while often sweet, can also be low-GI superstars. Berries, cherries, and apples come with the added bonus of vital antioxidants and vitamins. A typical serving could be one small apple or a cup of berries, perfect for a snack or dessert without causing a sugar spike.

Integrating these foods into your daily meals, in addition to having a half-cup of cooked quinoa or incorporating legumes into your salads, can contribute to the slow and steady absorption of carbohydrates, akin to the metabolic balance that Ozempic promotes.

The Satiating Effect of Dietary Fiber

If you’re aiming to naturally replicate the appetite-reducing effect of Ozempic, dietary fiber is your ally. High-fiber foods add bulk to your diet and slow digestion, which can fend off hunger pangs.

Vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots — and fruits like pears and apples — are high in fiber.  Whole grains and legumes also join this list, offering twice the benefits with their low GI and high fiber content.

Consuming these not only helps with digestion but also keeps you full longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating. Adults should aim for at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, spread across all meals. In practical terms, this could be about two cups of mixed leafy vegetables, a medium-sized pear, or a half-cup of cooked, high-fiber grains like barley.

Don’t forget about seeds such as chia or flaxseeds, either. Just one tablespoon can provide about 5 to 6 grams of fiber. These are easy to sprinkle over salads and yogurts, or incorporated into baked goods, allowing for a fiber boost without a significant increase in food volume.

One of my favorite daily high-fiber meals is creating a colorful salad loaded with leafy greens, chopped carrots, and sprinkled with a handful of beans. Try this out and you’ll be introducing a meal into your routine that keeps you fuller for longer, potentially reducing overall calorie intake, much like the weight management benefit observed with Ozempic use.

Proteins & Fats: Allies in Weight Management

Proteins and healthy fats, while fundamental for various bodily functions, also play a direct role in weight management, metabolic regulation and satiety. Lean proteins like chicken breast, fish, and tofu should be staples in your diet. A 3- to 4-ounce serving of these proteins at meals — roughly the size of your palm — is generally adequate to support muscle maintenance, especially important as you lose weight. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel, and walnuts, improve insulin sensitivity, an effect beneficial for type 2 diabetes management.

Healthy fats, also found in foods like avocados, nuts, and olives, contribute to a meal’s overall GI, slowing digestion and helping to moderate blood sugar levels. A quarter of an avocado, a tablespoon of olive oil in cooking, or a small handful of nuts is sufficient. They not only enhance your meal’s nutritional profile but also add flavors that taste good.

Meanwhile, lean proteins like chicken breast, turkey, and tofu help preserve muscle mass, essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism. Balancing your meal with a good protein source and perhaps a dash of healthy fats, like cooking with olive oil or topping your salad with sliced almonds, can help you feel full and maintain consistent energy levels, two things associated with Ozempic.

The Power of Hydration

Proper hydration is an often overlooked aspect of metabolic health. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water a day, depending on your physical activity. Regular water intake is crucial for overall bodily functions, including maintaining optimal blood sugar levels.

Hydration’s role in health is so foundational that it complements any approach aiming to improve metabolic stability. Adding a slice of cucumber or lemon can make the same old water taste better, ensuring you meet your hydration goals.

Crafting a Balanced Diet: Practical Tips

Bringing all these elements together requires balance and moderation.

  • Start your day with a breakfast rich in proteins and low-GI foods; think a bowl of steel-cut oats topped with chia seeds and berries, or a spinach and mushroom omelet cooked with olive oil. These options set the tone for your metabolic responses throughout the day.
  • For lunch and dinner, half your plate should be vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter low-GI carbohydrates. This could be a mixed greens salad with grilled chicken and quinoa or a serving of chili using lean turkey and an array of beans.
  • Snacks should also be nutrient-dense. Yogurts, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits are your go-to items. These ensure you’re not just filling up but nourishing your body, supporting the microbiome, and maintaining blood sugar levels.

Concluding Bite

While Ozempic represents a medical advancement, our daily food choices are just as impactful. Understanding and harnessing the power of nutrition can help sustain health and wellness, often achieving the benefits provided by such medications.

Of course, these dietary strategies don’t replace professional medical advice. Instead, they should encourage a conversation with your healthcare provider about integrating holistic approaches into your health regimen, tailoring them to your individual needs, and, perhaps, letting your meals function as medicine.

Are You Deficient in Key Nutrients?

We have all heard the term ‘eat a balanced diet’. But what does that mean? And, honestly, why should we do it? Finding the ‘right’ foods can be complicated and time-consuming. Is it really worth it?

The answer is ‘Yes!’. Otherwise, your body can be subject to all kinds of complications and diseases. Particular attention should be paid to fruits and vegetables.

Epidemiological and clinical studies have consistently demonstrated the numerous health benefits associated with eating fruits and vegetables, each day. And be sure to get your daily recommended fiber.

Calcium Deficiency

Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, regulating muscle function, and supporting nerve transmission. Unfortunately, 70% of Americans fail to meet their recommended daily intake of calcium, which can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include muscle cramps, weakened bones, and dental problems.

To combat calcium deficiency, include calcium-rich foods in your diet. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources. For individuals who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet, calcium-fortified plant-based milk, tofu, leafy greens (like kale and collard greens), and almonds can provide adequate calcium intake. Aim for 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day, depending on your age and gender.

Vitamin D Deficiency

Even after all the conversations about the importance of vitamin D to fight Covid, half of the U.S. population has a deficiency, especially among those who live in locations with limited sun exposure and northern latitudes.. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones, regulating the immune system, and supporting overall well-being.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, bone pain, cancer, bone fractures, and a weakened immune system.

To combat a vitamin D deficiency, the best thing to do is to get out in the sun without sunscreen for about 10-15 minutes a day. For best sunlight, make sure your shadow is shorter than your body. If sun is not available, then incorporate vitamin D-rich foods into your diet.

Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources. Additionally, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, and mushrooms exposed to sunlight are also good dietary sources. Aim for 600-800 IU of vitamin D per day to meet your body’s needs.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that supports immune function, collagen synthesis, and iron absorption. Although severe vitamin C deficiency (also known as scurvy) is rare in America, mild deficiencies are still prevalent, with 43% of U.S. adults and 19% of children deficient.

Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, poor wound healing, and susceptibility to infections.

To combat vitamin C deficiency, incorporate vitamin C-rich foods into your diet. Citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruits), strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, and broccoli are excellent sources of vitamin C. Aim for 75 and 90 mg of vitamin C per day for women and men, respectively.

Iron Deficiency

Iron is vital for the production of red blood cells and the transportation of oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, is a common nutrient deficiency, with 17% of premenopausal women and 10% of children in the U.S. . Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and difficulty concentrating.

To combat iron deficiency, include iron-rich foods in your diet. Animal sources such as red meat, poultry, and seafood are excellent sources of heme iron, which is the most absorbable type of iron. Plant-based sources of iron include legumes, tofu, spinach, and fortified cereals.

Pairing iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or bell peppers, can enhance iron absorption. Aim for 18 mg of iron per day for women and 8 mg per day for men.

Creating a Balanced Diet to Combat Nutrient Deficiencies

Now that we have discussed the top five nutrient deficiencies in America, let’s explore how to create a balanced diet that can help combat these deficiencies. The table below provides a breakdown of the recommended daily intake of each nutrient and the corresponding foods to include in your diet.

We went straight to Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not to Die. He has a ‘daily dozen’ list of foods to put on your meal plan every day. He even has an app so you can check them off.

See his list below for more ways to get all those nutrients into your diet:

Small changes make a big impact

By incorporating these practical tips, you’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to meet your daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables while ensuring you’re getting adequate fiber and protein as well. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized guidance based on your specific nutritional needs.

Consider these Meal Plans!

Scroll down for some examples of meal plans that include each of your recommended daily intake of vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin C. This also includes your daily value of fiber, fat and protein while taking into consideration your recommended caloric intake, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet (unless otherwise noted).

 

5 Nutrients Meat Has that Plants Don’t

Meat is a natural source of many vitamins, minerals, and amino acids and has specific protein compounds fundamental to overall health. Let’s investigate what nutrients meat has that plants lack.

5. Vitamin B12

The B12 vitamin is almost exclusively found in animal foods, including fish, meat, and eggs.

B12 is crucial to maintain a healthy body. It helps develop red blood cells and helps keep our cells healthy. It also supports and maintains nerve and brain function. B12 increases our energy levels by preventing megaloblastic anemia, which makes people tired and weak.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the average daily recommended amount of B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms. It’s also important to note that plant foods do not naturally contain any vitamin B12 unless they’re fortified, making it difficult to achieve the recommended daily value on a plant-only diet.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D comes in two forms – D2 in plants and D3 in animal foods – and both are important. In our bodies, vitamin D, in both its forms, promotes calcium absorption, helps bone growth and cell growth, reduces inflammation, and works to maintain proper immune function. And, although both forms of vitamin D are vital, a vitamin D3 deficiency has been linked increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis.

If you want to increase your vitamin D3 intake, the best sources are fatty fish and egg yolks.

3. DHA

DHA, otherwise known as Docosahexaenoic is an omega-3 fatty acid that’s essential for brain function.

DHA is vital for infant brain development, as well as maintenance and normal brain function for adults. Deficiencies in DHA have been linked to cognitive decline and increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, cancer, and depression. One study found that a low-fat diet with less DHA increased women’s plasma triglycerides, and the severity of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The best source of DHA is in fatty fish, but there are algal oil supplements you can take if you are following a plant-based diet.

2. Complete Proteins

There are two types of proteins – complete and incomplete – and they differ based on their amino acid profile.

There are over 20 types of amino acids and nine essential amino acids. Complete proteins contain all nine, while incomplete proteins lack at least one amino acid. Because our bodies can’t make these crucial amino acids, they must come from our diet.

Animal-based foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, are all sources of complete proteins. Plant-based foods, like fruits and veggies, seeds, nuts, and grains, lack one or more essential amino acids, making them incomplete proteins and not a good sole source of protein in your diet.

However, you don’t necessarily have to eat meat to get your amino acids, but you do have to be strategic. You can mix and match incomplete proteins to create a complete one. For example, when consumed together, rice and beans create a complete protein. So do peanut butter and whole wheat bread. Below is a chart to help guide you on what foods contain certain amino acids and what they lack.

1. Digestive properties

Plant and animal proteins are different because they contain different set of amino acids. But they also differ in digestive processes. Animal-based proteins are more nutritionally efficient than plant-based since they are absorbed into the body more quickly.

It takes the body 36 to 72 hours to properly break down protein into its amino acids where they can be absorbed. Since plant proteins have to link up with other foods that contain the amino acid they lack, digestion and absorption take much longer than animal proteins. How fast a protein is absorbed directly affects our metabolism. Plants’ lack of essential amino acids, specifically branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), provide a lower anabolic effect, meaning lower digestibility.

How Much Protein Should We Eat?

protein shake with almonds

A case study in how much protein is enough

Take, for instance, Patrick and Cynthia. Patrick’s day consisted of sitting at his desk at work, working on his computer, and then coming home to relax on his couch with some TV shows. He rarely engages in any physical activity or exercise except for an after-dinner stroll with his wife.

Patrick’s protein needs are usually calculated based on his body weight, which is 195 pounds. His recommended daily protein intake is  0.35g per pound of body weight, which amounts to approximately 70g of protein per day. This amount of protein is enough to meet Patrick’s minimum physiological protein needs and support his lifestyle.

On the other side of the spectrum is an athletic individual named Cynthia. Cynthia is gearing up for a marathon while weightlifting and doing high-intensity intervals as part of her training.

How much protein does Cynthia need each day? Based on her body weight of 154 pounds and intense level of activity, her recommended daily protein intake is about o.73g per lb., which amounts to approximately 112g of protein per day. This is necessary because her body needs more protein to repair and build muscle tissue, support her high-intensity workouts, and recover faster.

Body weight & lifestyle factors

Most of us fall in between Cynthia and Patrick. We exercise between 30-60 minutes a day, and it can range from yoga and walking to lifting weights and high-intensity cardio. Our protein intake depends on our lifestyle and energy needs.

The American College of Sports Medicine indicates that anywhere from 10-35% of the average American’s diet should contain proteins. In terms of bodyweight, this means a recreational athlete weighing 150 pounds should strive for between 75-90 grams per day.

Of course, if you exercise more, you can increase your protein consumption— but you don’t need to overdo it! If you are eating protein with the hopes of building muscle, the quality, quantity, and timing of consumption is more important than the overall amount you eat.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating 20-30 grams of complete protein within 2 hours of exercise.

Which protein sources are best?

When eating protein, you want to make sure it is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Eggs, milk, and lean beef are high-quality proteins that are easily digestible. For instance, one large egg contains around 6 grams of protein.

Turkey, chicken, and fish are also a good source of protein. 3 oz. of chicken or fish contains anywhere from 19-24 grams of protein.

Dairy is another great source of protein: a 5.3 oz container of plain Greek yogurt contains 15 grams of protein. A cup of milk has roughly 8 grams of protein and an ounce of cheese contains 7 grams of protein.

Legumes have protein, too! A cup of lentils contains roughly 16 grams of protein. Including a variety of vegetable protein sources in your diet is also a good strategy to ensure you’re getting a range of nutrients.

But let’s say you are the average athlete, and you weigh 150 pounds and need about 75-90 grams of protein. In one day, if you ate:

  • 1 cup of oatmeal (10g of protein)
  • two eggs (12 g)
  • 6 oz of chicken (42g)
  • ½ cup of lentils (8g)
  • 1 cup of black beans (15g)

…you would have consumed 87 grams of protein.

But honestly, that is a lot of food. Plus, you need to add in more fruits and vegetables and some carbs. So, it is tempting to throw in some protein powder on your oatmeal in the morning or eat a protein bar as an afternoon snack.

What about protein supplements?

Are protein products, like shakes, powders, and bars, part of your daily routine? The protein supplement market has been rapidly expanding, with the industry fueled by factors such as the aging population, fitness trends, growing interests in plant-based protein supplements, and accessibility to e-commerce. There is also a continuous interest in self-care, contributing to the growth of this industry.

The question of whether protein supplements are good for you depends on various factors, including your dietary needs, health status, and lifestyle. Of course, like any change in your diet, it is best to ask your doctor.

However, EatingWell suggests that high-quality, third-party tested protein powders with minimal sugar and no harmful additives can be a healthy choice. As we age, we lose muscle, and boosting our protein intake may help increase strength and lean body mass, especially if you have a restricted diet.

Medical News Today also shares research suggesting that protein supplements significantly improve muscle size and strength in healthy adults who perform resistance-based exercise training.

Protein powder considerations

However, it’s important to consider the quality control of protein supplements. As per a review published on Human Kinetics, safety assessments are crucial, especially given the potential addition of cheaper ingredients to increase total protein content.

According to Harvard Health, protein powder supplements can harbor health risks and are recommended only for certain conditions, such as impaired appetite or wounds. You should make sure that the protein powder is ‘clean’ and does not have unnecessary additives. NIH published a study indicating that some protein powder supplements can have heavy metals.

Lastly, online sales of protein supplements have increased, indicating a shift in how consumers purchase these products. However, this also highlights the need for further education on potential health risks from unregulated protein supplements, as stated in a study on Wiley Online Library.

Can you consume too much protein?

You might not need your morning protein shake as much as you think. Of course, like anything else, too much of a good thing is just…too much.

Cleveland Clinic stresses that aside from bad breath, too much protein can overstress your kidneys causing kidney damage, digestive problems, and dehydration. It is always important to drink enough water to make sure your kidneys function well.

MDPI suggests the following:

“…Instead of adding protein and amino acid supplements to high-protein diets, protein should be preferably received from whole foods, such as fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and cereals, along with fibers and other food components supporting the well-being of both the host and their gut microbiota.

This should be highlighted in the nutritional plans of athletes, sportspeople, as well as more sedentary populations.

Protein supplements can certainly be a healthy addition to your diet, but they’re not for everyone. These supplements are often utilized by athletes and those with specific dietary requirements who may struggle to meet their protein needs through food alone.

So, while protein supplements can be beneficial for some, they should be used wisely and under the guidance of a healthcare or nutritional professional.

A Guide to Time-Restricted Eating


On the run? LISTEN to our post!

Time Restricted Eating (TRE) has been around for a while, but many of the earlier studies kept suggesting that “more research was needed” to fully understand the benefits of this type of time-based dieting. Well, here it is: a hub for all the recent studies about the topic that build on prior research and speak to how beneficial TRE can be. Of course, each individual is unique and some benefits might be more evident based on individual diets and overall lifestyles.

Time-restricted eating is a form of intermittent fasting that limits what time of day you can eat. TRE has gained popularity as a weight loss strategy, but recent research has also suggested that it has benefits for overall health and longevity. One popular form of TRE is the 16:8 method, where an individual fasts for 16 hours and eats during an 8-hour window, though many other variations exist (e.g., fasting for 14, 16, or 18 hours).

Interested in different benefits of TRE? Jump to the health benefit most relevant to your needs:

SLEEP & CIRCADIAN RHYTHMInsulin Sensitivity & Metabolism, Hormonal Regulation, Melatonin Production, Improved Sleep Quality

BRAIN HEALTHMemory Improvement, Anti-inflammatory, Anxiety and Depression

CHRONIC ILLNESS REDUCTIONType 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Health, Metabolic Disease, Oxidative Stress

WEIGHT LOSSWeight Regulation, Fat Burn, Improved Insulin Sensitivity, Improved Energy Metabolism

 

Need Help Resetting Your Circadian Rhythm?

Circadian rhythm is the internal biological process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and other physiological processes in the body, including hormone production and metabolism.

Recent studies have shown a strong link between circadian rhythm and metabolism. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm can lead to metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. One of the key ways in which time-restricted eating may benefit the circadian rhythm is by synchronizing the timing of food intake with the body’s natural rhythms.

  • INSULIN SENSITIVITY & METABOLISM: Research has shown that when food intake is aligned with the natural rhythm of the body, it can lead to improved insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, and also lipid, or fat, metabolism.
  • APPETITE REGULATION: Additionally, time-restricted eating may help to regulate appetite by synchronizing the release of hunger-regulating hormones with the body’s natural rhythm.
  • MELATONIN PRODUCTION: Another potential benefit of time-restricted eating is that it helps to regulate the body’s levels of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness and is responsible for signaling the body to prepare for sleep.
  • IMPROVED SLEEP QUALITY: Research has shown that eating late at night can disrupt melatonin production and lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. By limiting food intake to earlier in the day, time-restricted eating may help to promote healthy melatonin levels and improve sleep quality.

 

Want to Improve Brain Health?

Time-restricted eating is not only beneficial for supporting sleep patterns, but it may also have positive effects on cognitive function.

  • MEMORY IMPROVEMENT: Studies have shown that TRE can improve memory, attention, and learning abilities in both animals and humans. This is likely because fasting can stimulate the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that plays a key role in neuroplasticity and the growth of new neurons.
  • ANTI-INFLAMMATORY: Additionally, BDNFs derived from fasting also have anti-inflammatory effects that can protect the brain from damage and disease. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in 2019, found that time-restricted feeding improved cognitive function in mice.
  • ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION: TRE not only offers physical brain benefits, but also psychological benefits. It has been shown that time-restricted eating can improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. This may be because it can help regulate the body’s stress response and improve the overall sense of well-being.

 

Want to Reduce Likelihood of Chronic Illness?

Another potential benefit of time-restricted eating is that it may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Studies have shown that TRE can improve markers of metabolic health, including reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.

  • TYPE 2 DIABETES: TRE may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a growing public health concern affecting over 3 million people in the U.S. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019 found that time-restricted eating improved markers of diabetes in obese men.
  • CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH: TRE also benefits cardiovascular health, as it can improve endothelial function and reduce the risk of heart disease by helping to regulate blood clotting, aiding in the body’s immune response, controlling substances like electrolytes that pass from the blood into tissues, and appropriately dilate and constrict blood vessels.

  • METABOLIC DISEASE: In 2020, a study titled Time-restricted Eating for the Prevention and Management of Metabolic Diseases was published in the journal, Endocrine Reviews. The meta study reviewed TRE’s effects on metabolic health with a focus on its potential to prevent and manage metabolic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The study found that TRE leads to weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved markers of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These findings are consistent with other studies that have shown that time-restricted eating can promote weight loss and improve overall metabolic health.
  • OXIDATIVE STRESS: The study also found that time-restricted eating leads to improvements in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, which may help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. This is supported by the Salk Institute study which found that time-restricted eating led to a decrease in the expression of genes involved in inflammation, which ultimately lead to these chronic diseases.

The study explored the different protocols of time-restricted eating and how they vary in their effects on metabolic health.

For example, 12 to 18-hour fasts, or short-term fasting protocols, have greater effects on weight loss and insulin sensitivity. However, 24 to 36-hour fasts, or longer-term protocols, have greater effects on markers of oxidative stress and inflammation.

 

Focused on Weight Loss?

 It’s also worth mentioning that time-restricted eating can be a convenient and easy way lose weight since you’re less focused on counting calories or eliminating certain foods. This makes it a more sustainable approach to weight loss and overall health, as it can be easily incorporated into a person’s daily routine.

  • WEIGHT REGULATION: A study published in the journal Obesity in 2018 found that TRE, in conjunction with a high-fat diet, led to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity in obese individuals. The study also found that TRE led to an increase in the expression of genes related to circadian rhythm and metabolism, suggesting that TRE may work by aligning the body’s metabolic processes with its natural circadian rhythm.

  • FAT BURN: Another study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2019 found that TRE led to a reduction in body weight and fat mass, as well as improvements in glucose tolerance in obese individuals.
  • IMPROVED INSULIN SENSITIVITY: A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2020 found that TRE led to a reduction in body weight and fat mass, as well as improvements in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in overweight and obese individuals.
  • IMPROVED ENERGY METABOLISM: One of the latest studies in Cell Metabolism in 2021 showed that TRE improved energy metabolism and reduced the risk of developing metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Want more information on time-restricted eating?

We’ve got you covered. Check out these articles to learn more about TRE:

Are snacks masking your body’s protein needs?

A year-long Australian study published in the latest issue of the journal Obesity showed eye-opening conclusions about our dietary habits: populations with a preference for highly processed foods like pizza, chips, and snack bars, lead to staggeringly high percentages of obesity.

According to a press release, the lead author of the study, Amanda Grech, Ph.D. stated that: “As people consume more junk foods or highly processed and refined foods, they dilute their dietary protein and increase their risk of being overweight and obese, which we know increases the risk of chronic disease.”

“It is increasingly clear that our bodies eat to satisfy a protein target,” said Professor David Raubenheimer, the Leonard Ullman Chair in Nutritional Ecology at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, “but the problem is that the food in Western diets has increasingly less protein. So, you have to consume more of it to reach your protein target, which effectively elevates your daily energy intake.”

Of course, unless you have been living under a rock, you already know this. But what is new news to us is that our bodies are searching for protein and instead reach for the easy to grab, tasty, highly processed foods.

Searching for Protein in Processed Foods

Studies over the years have found that more than half of our daily calories are coming from highly processed foods. An almost two-decades-long study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ultra-processed food consumption grew from an alarming 53.5% of daily calories in 2001-2002 to an even more worrisome 57% by the study’s completion in 2018. If the trajectory continued at this rate, it would trend towards 60% by 2035.

The work of these studies set the stage for the latest research on the “protein leverage hypothesis” which details that people eat more fats and carbs to satisfy their protein demand, causing unbalanced diets.

And we need protein for a reason. It fortifies our body in multiple ways.  Among just a few tasks, It helps build cartilage, tissues, repairs your body, carries oxygen through your body, and helps to digests your food.

Compounding research is building a case for the “protein leverage hypothesis,” which was first proposed in 2015 by University of Sydney researchers. To summarize, the hypothesis suggests that our body has a strong appetite for protein, and favors it over fat and carbohydrates. To quickly satiate that protein hunger drive, people unknowingly overeat fats and carbs.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

For example, a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kilograms, should consume 60 grams of protein per day.

Think of it like this—instead of seeking a lean piece of grilled chicken, the majority of westerners will instead seek something convenient, like a bag of chips, which you can break open the seal and pop in your mouth in an instant.

However, to satisfy that protein hunger, your body might signal to your brain that, even though you just ate a bag of chips, your hunger still remains, and off you go opening another processed snack until you feel full.

Substituting Highly Processed Foods for Protein Causes Obesity

According to the Institute of Food Technologists, 47% of American adults eat snacks at least three times a day. This has sent the snacks market skyrocketing, with snack food sales reaching over $25 billion in 2019.

Consumer research firm YouGov found America’s most popular snack foods to be Cheetos, Tostitos, Snickers, Fritos, Pringles, Lay’s, Oreos, Jif peanut butter, Planters nuts, Doritos, Ritz, Reese’s, Hershey’s, and M&M’s. According to Statista, we love our convenient, shelf-stable snacks. Most Americans reported having at least one bag of Cheetos per month in 2020, 3 out of 4 Americans eat at least a bag of Fritos per month, and Lay’s is the top dog with the best-selling chips in the U.S.

But at what cost are we consuming these low-protein, ultra-processed snacks? According to this new research, our body will continue to crave calories until that protein hunger is met, leading to a vicious cycle of increased snacking for many.

Let’s do a little protein density comparison, shall we?

  • A 3-ounce chicken breast contains 27 grams of protein and 128 calories. To get the same amount of protein, you would have to eat almost TWO full-size 8.5oz bags of Cheetos, totaling over 2,000 calories. 
  • A 3-ounce salmon filet contains about 17 grams of protein and 108 calories. To comsume the same amount of protein, you would need to eat over 50 Oreo cookies – that’s about 3,000 calories!
  • A 3-ounce cut of lean steak contains about 21 grams of protein and 100 calories. You could have that, or you could opt for a dozen Reese’s cups, about 1,300 calories.

Keep in mind that we’re only talking about protein here. When we choose convenience over protein-dense foods, our body doesn’t get essential nutrients like fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. What we get instead when we eat these foods are excess sugars, omega 6s, and other ingredients causing immune system suppression. There’s a reason why we call highly-processed foods “empty calories”.

Nutritional information stated above sourced from nutritionvalue.org.

But then why don’t we just eat the lean protein-dense options if we know the snack food is bad for us? CONVENIENCE! We live in an era where everything must be easy, quick, and at-your-fingertips. Food is no exception. If you can eat a bag of Fritos while simultaneously working or running errands, we will opt for that every time, as opposed to spending 20 minutes preparing a fresh meal like a grilled chicken breast with veggies.

According to the USDA, ready-to-eat foods like those listed above save time and money but at the cost of our health.

But the research emerging now is giving us some important warnings about these bad habits, AND most importantly, helpful tips like having a protein-dense breakfast, that can help solve a negative eating cycle of highly processed, high-fat, high-carb, low-nutrient snacking.

What you eat first every day matters most

The University of Sydney analyzed nutritional and physical activity surveys from 9,341 adults, known as the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey which was conducted from May 2011 to June 2012.

Researchers plotted calorie intake versus time of consumption and found that the pattern matched that predicted by the Protein Leverage Hypothesis:

People who ate lower amounts of protein in their first meal of the day went on to increase their overall food intake in subsequent meals, versus those who received the recommended amount of protein ate significantly less throughout the day than their counterparts.

According to Dr. Reubenheimer, we will innately eat more to get the protein our body craves, no matter what form it comes in.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to protein intake, however. Requirements can vary between 10 to 35 percent of our total amount of calories for the day.

It is also important to note that not all protein has to come from meat—sources like grains, legumes, eggs, and vegetables can also be well-rounded sources that are not highly processed.

Tufts’ Befuddling “Food Compass”


On the run? LISTEN to our post!

Occasional mental confusion is common as one grows older and is nothing to be particularly alarmed about. Really smart people have told me that repeatedly over the years, and I’ve taken comfort in what they said.  Especially when I repeatedly forget where I put my car keys (typically in my coat pocket). Or where I’ve left my reading glasses (usually on my head). Or what my Amazon account password is (a highly punctuated profanity).

But I’ve got to admit I was thrown for a very serious loop when I came across something called the Tufts Food Compass Score…

In case you haven’t heard, the Food Compass Score is supposed to be the latest and best offering from the Really Smart Scientists Community for people trying to make better choices about the food they eat.  The Score applies page after page after page of detailed and elaborately footnoted criteria for judging just how good for us various foods are.

There are all sorts of smart-sounding evaluative criteria related to diet and nutrition, chemistry, biology and all the other subjects I either failed or scraped by with a solid “D” in high school and college.

So I was prepared to be wowed by this newest and supposedly simplest way to judge the food options I have and the choices I make every day. Lord knows I want to live a long, long time. More accurately, I need to live a lot longer if I’m ever going to pay my way out of debt. And what’s better for that than a smart-decision-making tool based on science from an outfit like Tufts University?

Now this prestigious institution has gone and made me wonder: either I’m having a serious period of senior mental confusion, or my faith in the Tufts name and reputation may be misplaced.

You see, the conclusions drawn in their new Food Compass create some real mental disconnects for me. Foods that I like and thought of as at least somewhat “healthy” and good for me fare poorly on the Food Compass. Many I considered suspect at best rank nearer the top of their charts. I don’t pretend to be a scientist or an intellectual, but I have survived seven decades by making what I think are halfway intelligent decisions about what I eat.

The Food Compass Nutrient Profiling System evaluates more than eight thousand foods and beverages, spanning all major food categories against a complex mix of science-based measures related to nutrition and health. The formula also tries to consider foods that are actually mixtures of different foods, such as pizza. Each food winds up with a cumulative score based on a scale of 100 points. The higher the point ranking, the better the food is supposed to be for me.

Foods and beverages scoring 30 or below are to be “minimized.” Those with scores of 70 or better are to be “encouraged.” Anything in between – you’re on your own to decide.