Seeing How Much We Ate Over the Years

How long will chicken reign supreme? Who wins between lemon and lime? Is nonfat ice cream really ice cream? Does grapefruit ever make a comeback? Find out in these charts.

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Growing similarity in global diet

Diet around the world is growing more similar. National Geographic charted estimates of the similarity over time:

People increasingly eat the same types of food. They now get more calories from wheat, rice, corn, sugar, oil crops, and animal products. Meanwhile, consumption of grains such as sorghum, millet, and rye and of root crops such as cassava and yams has fallen.

Comparing diets by country, the international agricultural research group CGIAR tracked five decades of change.

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How Much We Eat vs. How Much We Need

Calorie consumption and needs

On average, we use less energy as we age, and so we should eat less. We don’t always adjust soon enough though. Read More

Change in the British diet, since 1974

British diet trends

From the Open Data Institute, an interactive looking at diet data made available by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “The British diet has undergone a transformation in the last half-century. Traditional staples such as eggs, potatoes and butter have gradually given way to more exotic or convenient foods such as aubergines, olive oil and stir-fry packs.”

The above is just an overview. You can see detailed breakdowns for meat, fish, vegetables, and more. You can also sort by time series characteristics, such as biggest rise, biggest fall, and most steady. Poor ox liver didn’t even see it coming.

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Eat chocolate and lose weight! Plus more on the fraudulent gay marriage paper

Eat chocolate! Lose weight! Lie to everybody! The first response to journalist John Bohannon’s latest sting operation against schlock science journals and schlock science journalists–publishing a paper claiming that a chocolate bar a day helps people lose weight–was a savory … Continue reading »

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Cholesterol and coffee ok, plus head transplants soon?

  Dietary committee not sweet on sugar So, what’s most noteworthy about the big fat report just issued by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC)?  The declaration that dietary cholesterol is next to irrelevant? DGAC’s casual endorsement of coffee? … Continue reading »

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Read: Weight-Loss Pills on the Market and Their Downsides

Here’s an interesting look at the various weight-loss pills available on the market, published recently in the Montreal Gazette:

“This benefit has to be weighed against the risks, which are considerable. Any pill that ‘boosts your metabolism’ will put more strain on your heart. Blunting appetite is all well and good until you realize that most people overeat for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. And blocking fat absorptions sounds like a good idea until you get foul smelling diarrhea.”

This opinion piece has it all: drug names you can use playing Scrabble, science education, and the words “fecal incontinence”. It was also written by Dr. Christopher Labos, who was my guest on episode 205 of Within Reason, talking about the adoption of so-called alternative medical practices in hospitals.

You can read Dr. Labos’ Gazette article on weight-loss pills by clicking here.


New lab paper: The microbes we eat: abundance and taxonomy of microbes consumed in a day’s worth of meals for three diet types

A new paper out from my lab (with Jenna Lang as the 1st author and in collaboration with Angela Zivcovic from the UC Davis Food For Health Initiative and the Department of Nutrition):  The microbes we eat: abundance and taxonomy of microbes consumed in a day’s worth of meals for three diet types.  The work in the paper focuses on characterizing the abundance and taxonomy of microbes in food from three model diets.

Basically, Angela prepared meals for these three diets
Food was purchased and prepared in a standard American home kitchen by the same individual using typical kitchen cleaning practices including hand washing with non-antibacterial soap between food preparation steps, washing of dishes and cooking instruments with non-antibacterial dish washing detergent, and kitchen clean-up with a combination of anti-bacterial and non-antibacterial cleaning products. Anti-bacterial products had specific anti-bacterial molecules added to them whereas “non-antibacterial” products were simple surfactant-based formulations. The goal was to simulate a typical home kitchen rather than to artificially introduce sterile practices that would be atypical of how the average American prepares their meals at home. All meals were prepared according to specific recipes (from raw ingredient preparation such as washing and chopping, to cooking and mixing).
And then she blended them and we characterzied the microbial communities in the blended samples:
After food preparation, meals were plated on a clean plate, weighed on a digital scale (model 157W; Escali, Minneapolis, MN), and then transferred to a blender (model 5,200; Vita-Mix Corporation, Cleveland, OH) and processed until completely blended (approximately 1–3 min). Prepared, ready to eat foods that were purchased outside the home were simply weighed in their original packaging and then transferred to the blender. 4 mL aliquots of the blended meal composite were extracted from the blender, transported on dry ice and then stored at −80 °C until analysis. The following analyses were completed using these meal composite samples: (1) total aerobic bacterial plate counts, (2) total anaerobic bacterial plate counts, (3) yeast plate counts, (4) fungal plate counts, and (5) 16S rDNA analysis for microbial ecology.
And Jenna Lang coordainted the sequence analysis and then Angela and Jenna (with some help here and there from me) coordianted the analysis of the different microbial data and the writing of the paper.
Figure 5: Biplot of taxa in sample PCoA space.

Lots of interesting things reported in the paper (read it, I insist).  I note - this is a demonstration project in a way - trying to get the community and others to think about the source pools of microbes that come into our system from our food.  It is by no means comprehensive or conclusive (read the caveats section of the paper).  Congrats to Jenna and Angela for all their hard work. Anyway - the paper is Open Access in PeerJ.  Eat it up.

UPDATE: Some press and blog coverage

Fecal Matters: A Stepping Stool to Understanding Indigenous Cultures

Humans differ by opinions, traits, and baseball team preferences. But one constant factor unifies all humans–we excrete feces, and scientists have recognized that number 2 is number 1 in terms of material for ancient population studies. Humans expel hundreds of … Continue reading »

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Consumer Information in 1991


A few months ago, Alexis Rudd sent my kids some of her science books from her childhood. They have greatly enjoyed the books. My wife and I, being 30-somethings, greatly enjoyed finding a 1991 Consumer Information Catalog produced by US General Services Administration.

A catalog of free and low-cost federal publications of consumer interest

It is a spectacular snapshot of what US Federal Government thought “consumer interest” was in the Autumn of 1991.

Ah, yes, the microwave revolution. Heady, delicious times.

Is it still a “fad” diet if we were already worrying about it 20+ years ago.

Oh dear. Always a bit embarrassing when the US Federal Government sounds like your grandfather. Also, very little of the description says “good news”. I think Futurama stole this line.