Tag Archives: Lose weight

Craving Change? Your Sciencey Guide to Food Cravings


We all get food cravings every now and then right? That undeniable need for some overly salty, sugary or fatty food that you know isn’t good for you, but you just have to have. Even if you do manage to resist the initial urge, it’ll come back to you a few days later and you know that there’s just no hope. You have to have that triple chocolate chip cookie, warm, with ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top.  Mmm. Cravings.


The problem is that you never crave something that is good for you. In fact cravings are usually for foods that you probably shouldn’t eat at all right? So why would our brain tell us that we need something that our body clearly doesn’t, it makes no sense!

Luckily scientists have been looking into the mysteries of cravings for a while now and can shed some light on the situation.

Cravings -- Do you want science with that

Why do we have cravings?

It’s a tricky question, and there isn’t a simple answer.

Sometimes if you’re craving something unusual it might be your body telling you that you need more of a particular nutrient found in that food. This is thought to be particularly true during pregnancy when women are craving all kinds of weird and wonderful things. But usually this isn’t the case and cravings are actually all in your head.

When you eat a delicious food like say, french fries or Russian fudge, your brain releases some wonderful chemicals called dopamine and seratonin. These chemicals make you feel good and are your body’s way of rewarding you for eating a high energy food like sugar or fat. This response dates back to cave man days when these foods were hard to come by and essential for survival. However these days it is much easier to load up on these energy dense foods, so much so that they are a health risk. But your body hasn’t caught up with the times yet and is still busy rewarding you every time you indulge.

Cravings are a product of this reward system. Your body feels sooo good when it gets a dose of dopamine or seratonin that it remembers that good feeling and gives you cravings to convince you to eat the foods that will make it happen again. Scumbag brain.

Can we resist them?

Probably, but it won’t be easy.

A French study in 2007 found that super sweet things like sugar and artificial sweeteners, are more appealing to lab rats than cocaine, even if the rats are already addicted! Then a study at the University of Florida found that commonly craved foods had the same effect on the brain as alcohol and other addictive substances. Eek.

So the happy juice that our brain feeds us when we eat delicious fatty and sugary foods is pretty strong and while the cravings might be all in our heads, there’s no doubt that they are there.

Is there any way to avoid cravings?

Not really, no, but there are ways to manage them.

The first tactic is simple; plan to give in every now and then. If you try to resist every craving you have you could end up pretty miserable and the more miserable you are the more cravings you will have.

The next tactic is sensible; make it healthier. If you’re craving french fries, don’t head straight to Burger King, bake your own hand cut oven fries for dinner instead.

The last tactic is super important; limit yourself. By all means give in every now and then, but don’t go overboard. Take three cookies out of the pack and put it back in the pantry, don’t sit on the couch with the entire packet while you watch Gossip Girl or you’ll have finished it before the first ad break.


So science hasn’t succeeded yet in finding a way to trick your brain into craving carrots not caramel, but it has taught us one thing; it’s okay to give in. In fact, it’s pretty hard not to, but if you have some tactics up your sleeve you should be able to curb your food enthusiasm, but still have a fair amount of fun.

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Are We Cooking the Nutrients out of Our Foods? The Raw Truth

Oh the world of diet fads. Every week there seems to be a new one! Our Facebook newsfeeds are always being bombarded with “before and after” photos of girls who have become miraculously slimmer (and more tanned, toned and generally happy) by adopting the newest crazy diet.

With all of these stories out there, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to healthy eating. Luckily that’s where I can help, and today I’ll be delving into the mysteries and myths of the raw food diet, a fad which has gained a fair amount of popularity recently.

The Raw Food Diet -- Science With That

Why go raw?

Raw food enthusiasts insist that it is better to eat food in its natural state – uncooked. They say that cooking food destroys all of the good nutrients and enzymes, essentially making it a dead shell of what it once was.
This is a bit of an exaggerated version of the truth. Heating food does take away some nutrients from food, it’s true. Levels of vitamins that dissolve in water like vitamins B6 and C are reduced in cooked foods compared to fresh ones, but that isn’t the whole story.

The benefits of cooking

Raw food might have higher levels of vitamin B and C, but it has lower levels of some other important nutrients. In a recent post on the health benefits of pizza I told you about a cool chemical called lycopene that is found in tomatoes. Lycopene is super good for your skin and can help reduce your risk of getting prostate cancer, wohoo. But do you want to know the craziest thing about lycopene? The amount of it drastically increases when you cook your tomatoes!

And tomatoes aren’t the only food that improves with cooking. The levels of antioxidants in carrots and corn have also been found to increase with heating, so when it comes to cooking, you really do win some and lose some.

Cooking your food also breaks down fibre which makes it easier for your body to process. Fibre is what makes your carrots crunchy and your asparagus stringy, and it can also give you bloating and gas. By cooking your veggies you break some of this fibre down and make it easier for your body to deal with, avoiding that puffy, gas-filled tummy feeling.

You might miss out on more than you gain

The biggest danger of the raw food diet is (ironically) that you are at risk of becoming deficient in a few vital nutrients.

While the raw food diet does mean you can eat raw fish (sashimi) and raw beef (tartare), many people choose to skip meat altogether. This poses some risks when it comes to getting enough of the good stuff. Vegan raw foodies could be at risk of not having enough Vitamin B12, calcium, iron, Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, and that’s a lot to be missing out on! These nutrients can be found in other, non-meat foods, but that means you have to face the prospect of eating raw legumes or chickpeas… Not a hugely inviting thought!

The Raw Food Diet ... Science With That

All in all the raw food diet isn’t terrible. It is based on some fact, although you do gain just as much from cooking your food as you do from eating it raw. But the diet would mean you would eat a bundle of unprocessed food which is primarily fruit and vegetables, and that is going to have its benefits.

As far as religiously sticking to a raw diet though, it won’t do you as much good as the fanatics claim. Maybe just be raw in moderation and accept that cooking is okay too.

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The Benefits of Breakfast

Want to know which food can help you lose weight, concentrate better and lower you cholesterol? Well, it’s no one food in particular, but an entire meal: breakfast.

The Benefits of Breakfast - Do You Want Science With That

All this time you’ve been waiting for that magic pill or wondrous super-food that will improve your performance, make you healthier and help you knock a few pounds all at once and it’s been here all along. Your mum always told you to have a good breakfast, and she was right (as usual)!

I’d just like to add a little disclaimer though, before I tell you all of the wonderful ways your morning meal is helping you be a better person. The goods you reap from your bountiful breakfast depend a bit on what you eat. You’re doing fine as long as your breakfast is fairly healthy. That means it doesn’t contain over 50% sugar or fat and has a good amount of fiber and protein. Think muesli and yogurt not chocolate chip pop tarts. A sprinkle of sugar is fine on your cereal as long as its cornflakes not frosted flakes.

So being the logical and scientifically minded folk I know you all are, there must be one burning question on your lips:

Where’s the proof?

This is one of those brilliant times when the proof is everywhere! Lots of studies have been done on the magic of morning eating and they’ve pretty much all come to the same conclusion: breakfast is a keeper.


Breakfast and weight loss

There have been many studies like this one and this one, which have linked a healthy breakfast to lower body weight and long term weight loss in both adults and children.

But how? I hear you ask. Eating breakfast mean you are consuming more calories so how could it possibly help you lose weight? One of the theories is that breakfast makes you less hungry for the rest of the day. Breakfast eaters have been shown to make better food choices at lunch time and throughout the day than those who prolong their sleeping fast until midday.

This is particularly true if your morning munch is high in protein. Protein is the most satiating and keeps you feeling full for longest. There have even been studies which look at people who eat a protein rich breakfast (like eggs) versus people who have a lower protein meal which have found that the protein loader loses a significantly larger amount of weight. So get your whisk out, because scrambled eggs on grainy bread is the way to go!


Breakfast and concentration

There is a reason why governments all over the world are trying to convince parents to get their kids to eat a proper breakfast. And parents would benefit from the meal just as much.

There have been lots of studies, particularly on school children, which have found that breakfast eaters concentrate better at work and school. Studies have also found that those who have a morning meal have much better functioning memories than those who skip the wonder meal.

Why? You ask. One of the theories is that it has to do with blood glucose levels. While you’re asleep you don’t eat so your blood glucose levels drop. Breakfast is so named because you are literally “breaking the fast” of your sleep hours and thus raising your blood glucose levels. However if you skip breakfast your body has to wait longer before you break the fast. When your blood glucose levels are too low your brain just doesn’t work as well, so having breakfast may act to even out blood glucose levels and get your brain and body back to normal.


Breakfast and cholesterol

Your body needs cholesterol to work properly, but if you have too much of the stuff it starts to clog up your heart and arteries and can be very dangerous. Luckily for us, we can lower our cholesterol levels easily, just by eating breakfast.

The lowering of cholesterol levels by eating reakfast had been shown in lots of studies, like this one and this one. These studies both present very convincing evidence that adults and children who eat breakfast have lower cholesterol levels. This means that breakfast eaters are at a much lower risk of heart disease, yay!

But breakfast is eating things, how could that possibly lower cholesterol? Basically, eating breakfast kick starts your body’s response to insulin. So if you skip breakfast your body doesn’t start responding to insulin properly and it starts building up in your blood. Having so much insulin in your blood means that your sensitivity to it declines and low sensitivity to insulin means your body holds on to fats. Cholesterol just so happens to be a fatty blood fat and your breakfast deprived body is holding onto every fat it can so it doesn’t get rid of the heart harming fat like it should.

Toaster 1

So eat your breakfast! It’s a pretty easy (and thoroughly enjoyable) thing to do and you will end up being so much better at life. Or at least a little better.


And last, but not least…

A delicious healthy breakfast option

This is what I have for breakfast almost every day, and I love it!

It’s packed full of fibre, protein, calcium and vitamins. The perfect way to start your day!

  • 1/4 cup of museli
  • 1/4 cup of youghurt
  • 1 bananna
  • 1/4 cup of berries (I use frozen ones when they are out of season)

Put everything in a bowl, top with some milk and enjoy.

Benefits of Breakfast - Do You Want Science With That

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The Skinny on Salad Dressings

We’d all like to lose a few pounds right? And on the quest for a slimmer waistline we find ourselves exchanging lots of full fat foods for their low fat and fat free counterparts. This is a great way to easily cut down on some calories, but could it be doing us more harm than good?

Take salads for example. You’ll be having far less calories if you switch your mayonnaise for balsamic vinegar, but cutting the fat could actually be making your salad less healthy.



Oils are good for your heart

For starters, fats aren’t always bad. The fats in olive or canola oil are called monounsaturated fats and are actually good for you. This study looked at the effect of fats on a person’s risk of heart disease. They found that people who ate lots of saturated fats (like the ones in processed meat and dairy products) had the highest risk of heart disease. That’s no surprise right? And you’d think that people who ate less fat altogether would have the lowest risk right? But they actually found that the people with the lowest risk of heart disease were those who replaced saturated bad fats with monounsaturated good fats like the ones in vegetable oils and nuts. Who’d have thought!

You miss out on your salad’s nutrients if you skip the dressing

The vegetables in salad are virtually fat-free and packed full of carotenoids. Carotenoids are super good for you and can be converted into vitamin A or used in your body as antioxidants. But your body needs a little help to be able to absorb these wonder compounds, and that help comes in the form of fats.

A study by researchers at the University of Iowa showed this in a recent study. They had three groups of people and fed them each the same salad. The difference was in the dressing. The first group’s salad had a fat free dressing, the second a low fat version and the third had a salad with full fat, traditional salad dressing. The researcher fed their subjects the salads and then took blood samples and measured the levels of carotenoids in each person’s blood.

The results were pretty clear. The people who ate their salad with fat free dressing had very small amounts of the healthy carotenoids in their blood in comparison to those with the fattier dressings. The people who had 1 or 2 tablespoons of oily dressing on their salads absorbed lots more of the good nutrients from their salad than their fat free counterparts.

So full fat mayonnaise is good! Without it you might be short changing yourself and missing out on a lot of the good stuff in your salad.

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Should You Be Gluten Free?


A few years ago there was almost no such thing as “gluten free”. Recently though, little gluten free signs can be found everywhere from the supermarket to your favourite cafe. And we humans are simple creatures, when we start seeing lots of signs boasting that their foods are gluten free, we start wanting things that are gluten free.

Our funny human brains just want to follow the trend. What? Jessica Alba has gone gluten free? I have to go gluten free too! We don’t tend to ask too many questions, after all the cafes wouldn’t make gluten free brownies if people didn’t want them right? Well I’m people, I want them!

There is a reason for the surge of gluten free products on our shelves though, and that is celiac disease. This is a genetic disorder that you inherit from your mum or dad (thanks guys) which makes your intestine super sensitive to gluten. This means that your body can’t deal with gluten and instead you have all sorts of nasty reactions to the stuff. You might have diarrhoea, anaemia or feel very tired all the time. Luckily for you if you think you might have the disease all you have to do is visit your lovely doctor and they will run some tests to see if you do.

If you are celiac then a gluten free life is essential to be a happy chappy, but what if you aren’t? Are there health benefits of cutting out gluten even if your gut is able to process it?

The simple answer is not really, no.

Even though it’s super easy to Google up hundreds of the health claims for being gluten free, there is actually very little scientific evidence to back them up.

This study, aptly titled; Gluten-Free Diet: Imprudent Dietary Advice for the General Population?” looks into just that. It asks whether a gluten free diet really is a good idea for the everyday, healthy public. Their answer is no, and they have a bunch of reasons to back this up.

Going gluten free won’t help you lose weight: The study points out that there is actually no published research showing that cutting out gluten will help you lose weight. It did find though, that in studies on celiac people who switched to a gluten free diet it has been found that the switch might actually cause weight gain. A high proportion of obese celiac patients who changed to a gluten  free diet actually gained weight. Not good news for those looking for a dieting option.

Gluten is good for your gut: People who have celiacs disease have bad gut reactions when they eat gluten. However healthy poeple actually need gluten to have a healthy gut, who’d have thought? The study looked at lots of research which shows that gluten is a vital chemical that you need for all sorts of health reasons like immune function, lipid metabolism and vitamin absorption. It has even been found that a gluten free diet might reduce the amount of good bacteria in your gut, which is exactly what was also found in this study. Those little guys are helping us out and we want all the good bacteria we can get.

Plus there are other health benefits of gluten: The study also looked at how gluten can improve your health. Turns out the stuff can help lower your blood pressure ad boost your immune system as well as improving your blood lipid levels, yay!


Moral of the gluten story? If eating anything with gluten in it makes you feel a bit sick, go to the doctor and get him to test you for intolerance. If it doesn’t, keep eating it! Going gluten free won’t make you magically skinnier, more energetic or have a superhuman sense of smell. In fact not eating gluten might make you more likely to get sick and farty. No one wants to be farty.



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