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Diet Tips for Weight Loss

Obesity and risk of death [1]

Heart disease and cancer are the two largest causes of death, and obesity is responsible for increasing the occurrence of these two diseases. Eating less to achieve a normal weight may help to lengthen your life by avoiding these two diseases. The graphs above show that the risk of death increases in direct relation to the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of obesity.

The practice of eating less is often called Calorie Restriction (CR). CR is the most effective nutritional intervention for slowing aging and preventing chronic disease in experimental animals. In humans, CR with adequate nutrition protects against abdominal obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Data obtained from individuals practicing long-term CR show a reduction of metabolic and hormonal factors associated with increased cancer risk.[2]

All you have to do is eat right. Your diet should have all the necessary nutrients and just enough calories to balance your level of activity. To lose weight, you need to eat less than what your body needs so that your body fat can be burned off. Here are some tips that can help you lose extra pounds and maintain a normal weight.

Use the diet calculator

[1] Adams KF. et al., Overweight, obesity, and mortality in a large prospective cohort of persons 50 to 71 years old, N Engl J Med. 2006 Aug 24;355(8):763-78, PMID: 16926275

[2] Omodei D, Fontana L., Calorie restriction and prevention of age-associated chronic disease,
FEBS Lett. 2011 Mar 11, PMID: 21402069

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Glycemic Index Diabetes Diet

Blood Glucose Response Curves

The glycemic index or glycaemic index is a measure of how the body reacts to dietary carbohydrates. Carbohydrates that increase blood glucose quickly have a high glycemic index and they are called high GI foods. Carbohydrates that break down slowly and produce a gradual rise in blood glucose are considered low GI foods.

The glycemic index was developed by Dr. D.J. Jenkins and his associates at the University of Toronto in an effort to find better diets for patients with diabetes.[1,2] The glycemic index of a food is calculated based on the area under the two hour blood glucose response curve after the ingestion of a specific weight of carbohydrate (usually 50 grams). To obtain the GI, the area under the curve of the test food is divided by the area of the standard (glucose) and multiplied by 100. An average GI value for a food may be calculated from data collected from several human subjects.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that elevates the level of blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because the cells of the body do not respond to the insulin that is produced. Low GI foods help diabetics maintain better control of their blood sugar levels by reducing the rate at which sugars are absorbed by the body.

The difference between high GI and low GI carbohydrates is due to their chemical structure. Glucose, which is a simple sugar (high GI), is absorbed very rapidly and causes large increases in the blood sugar level. Complex carbohydrates (low GI), on the other hand, need to be hydrolyzed before they can be converted into simpler carbohydrates that can be assimilated by the body. Some of the complex carbohydrates are metabolized by the intestinal microflora into short chain fatty acids which do not elicit a glycemic response at all. Thus, even with the same amount of total carbohydrate, a low GI meal produces fewer sugars that can increase the blood glucose level.

Learn more about carbohydrates

[1] Jenkins DJ, Wolever TM, Taylor RH, et al. Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:362–6.
[2] Foster-Powell K, Holt SH, Brand-Miller JC. International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:5–56.

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What is Faith?

Faith is the firm belief in something for which there is no proof. We act on faith for many decisions in our life because we do not have enough data to make an informed decision and because we cannot predict the future.

Faith is the basis of all religions. The belief in God, an afterlife, and the practice of a system of religious beliefs is based on faith because it cannot be proved that God exists or that there is an afterlife. People disagree about the concept of God and this has resulted in the creation of hundreds of different religions. Throughout history, people have believed in many gods. The Romans had a polytheistic religion that included gods for war, love and many other specialties. The Aztecs offered human sacrifices to their gods in the belief that these sacrifices sustained the Universe and made it possible for the sun to rise.

In the Bible, the gospel of Matthew describes faith in terms of a challenge. After Jesus casts out a demon that had been causing a boy to have seizures, the disciples asked him why they had not been able to do it. According to Matthew 17:20:
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Science, which is based on logical proof or material evidence, assumes that there is an order in the Universe that may be discovered and explained logically or mathematically. All physical phenomena are assumed to have a scientific explanation when sufficient data is obtained to create a model or hypothesis that can be incrementally refined through the scientific method. This expectation has been called a faith-based belief system, but the difference between religion and science is that religious beliefs are based only on personal convictions whereas scientific theories can be physically verified through experiments and observations.

How do we know what to believe? We are imprinted with many aspects of our faith and belief systems by our parents and our social environment when we are still young. These belief systems may change when we mature and become capable of independent thought, but social pressures may not allow us to express our ideas freely. A large percentage of the population retains the belief systems adopted in youth and never ventures outside of the comfort zone provided by these traditions.

Exposure to new environments and different cultures can provide perspectives that shake the foundation of our beliefs and may lead to the adoption of new philosophies. In the modern world, where international travel is relatively easy, we are exposed to immigrants and travelers with different customs and religions. An introspective person will start to analyze misconceptions accepted in youth and modify his beliefs to encompass a broader perspective of the world.

Faith supports the guiding principles of how we live, whether it is a reliance on the methodology of the scientific method, or a belief in God and an afterlife.

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Ingredients in Soap

Soap is a salt of a fatty acid that is used mainly for washing and cleaning. Soap and soap-like materials were made in Ancient Babylon as far back as 2800 BC by boiling ashes with fats. The ashes contain potassium and sodium hydroxide that react with the triglycerides in the fat to form soap. The chemical reaction to produce soap is called "saponification". Potassium salts generaly produce soft soaps, whereas sodium salts produce harder soaps. Most modern soaps contain more ingredients than just soap. Below is the list of ingredients for Irish Spring soap and an explanation of their function.

Ingredients: soap (sodium tallowate, sodium cocoate, and/or sodium palm kernelate), water, hydrogenated tallow acid (skin conditioner), coconut acid, glycerin (skin conditioner), fragrance, sodium chloride, pentasodium pentetate, pentaerythrityl tetra-di-t-butyl hydroxyhydrocinnamate, titanium dioxide, D&C green No. 8, FD&C Green No. 3.

The soap in this product is a mixture of sodium salts of three kinds of fats (tallow, coconut oil, or palm kernel oil). Sodium tallowate is the sodium salt of the fatty acids from tallow (animal fat). Sodium cocoate is a generic name for the sodium salts of a mixture of fatty acids from coconut oil. Sodium palm kernelate is soap made from sodium hydroxide and palm kernel oil. Water, as an ingredient, keeps the soap from becoming too brittle. The hydrogenated tallow acid, coconut acid, and glycerin serve as skin conditioners to keep the skin from becoming too dry after the soap is washed away.

The composition of the fragrance is unspecified. It could be a mixture of many different chemicals. Sodium chloride is ordinary table salt that remains in the product after salt is added to precipitate the soap after saponification. Pentasodium pentetate is a chelating agent used in cosmetics and beauty products that prevents minerals such as calcium and magnesium in hard water from binding to the soap and affecting the foaming and cleaning performance.

Pentaerythrityl tetra-di-t-butyl hydroxyhydrocinnamate is an antioxidant that inhibits reactions promoted by oxygen that could cause the unsaturated fats in the soap to become rancid. Titanium dioxide is a white pigment that serves to give a lighter color to the soap and modify the color obtained from the use of the green dyes (D&C green No. 8, FD&C Green No. 3).

Learn more about Fats and Triglycerides

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Vitamin E supplements may increase risk of stroke

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient found in spinach, watercress, mustard greens, and many green leafy vegetables. Good sources of Vitamin E are oily plant seeds such as peanuts and sunflower kernels. Vitamin E acts like an antioxidant, and a deficiency of this vitamin causes degeneration of nerve cells and fragility of red blood cells that is generally diagnosed as hemolytic anemia. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for d-alpha-tocopherol, which is the biologically active form of Vitamin E, is 15 mg (22.5 IU) for adolescents and adults.

Many people take Vitamin E supplements because consumption of antioxidant vitamins may reduce the risk of certain cancers. The supplement are usually sold in capsules of doses of 200, 400 and 1000 IU, but more is not better. A recent study of 118,765 subjects split relatively evenly between the placebo and vitamin E groups found that overall, supplemental vitamin E had no effect on the risk for total stroke; however, when examining the stroke subtypes, there was a 22 percent increase in risk for hemorrhagic stroke (intracranial bleeding), and a 10 percent decrease in ischemic stroke (blockage of the blood supply by a clot).[1]

It is not necessary to take Vitamin E supplements if you eat a nutritious diet with plenty of leafy greens and some nuts.

Learn more about vitamins

[1] Markus Schürks, et al., Effects of vitamin E on stroke subtypes: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials, BMJ 2010; 341:c5702

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Health Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil is sometimes described as having incredible and near-miraculous health benefits as a nutritional supplement. Some of these exaggerated claims are made by manufacturers or by websites that sell the coconut oil which is clearly a conflict of interest. Does coconut oil have any real benefits for health?

Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. There are several methods for extracting the oil and they produce oils with different characteristics. In the traditional method, the coconut kernel is shredded, mixed with a little water, and then squeezed to extract an emulsion called coconut cream or coconut milk. The coconut milk is then allowed to separate naturally, and the oil rises to the surface. In the dry process, shredded coconut is dried in the sun or in an oven and the oil is extracted by pressing. The dried coconut kernel is called "copra", and coconut oil is sometimes called copra oil. Virgin coconut oil is defined as coconut oil obtained by mechanical or natural means with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to alteration of the oil. Coconut oil prepared by cold pressing preserves polyphenols and other biologically active components that may be degraded by heat.

Coconut oil is used in foods, medicines, cosmetics, and industrial applications. In some Asian countries, coconut oil is used for cooking and frying, and coconut milk is used as an ingredient in curry recipes. Coconut oil is resistant to rancidity and its use increased as a replacement for hydrogenated fats when manufacturers were required to report trans fats in nutrition labels.

Chemically, coconut oil is a mixture of triglycerides (compounds made of glycerol and fatty acids) with carbon chains of 8 to 18 atoms. Over ninety percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, which means that they cannot oxidize and become rancid. Approximately 60% of coconut oil consists of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) with fatty acids of 6 to 12 carbon atoms. The only unsaturated fatty acids in coconut oil are oleic acid and linoleic acid which comprise only 8 percent of the total fatty acids. The typical fatty acid composition of coconut oil is given in the following table.

Caprylic Acid (C8:0) 8%
Capric Acid (C10:0) 6%
Lauric Acid (C12:0) 47%
Myristic Acid (C14:0) 18%
Palmitic Acid (C16:0) 9%
Stearic Acid (C18:0) 3%
Oleic Acid (C18:1) 6%
Linoleic Acid (C18:2) 2%

The health claims for coconut oil are based on the properties of some of the fatty acid components. Medium-chain triglycerides are absorbed directly from the gastrointestinal system and consumption of MCTs has been shown to increase energy expenditure and lead to greater losses of the adipose tissue in animals and humans.[1] Lauric acid is also found in human milk (6.2% of total fat) and it has antibacterial and antiviral activity[2,3].

Something that is less frequently mentioned about coconut oil is that its high content of myristic acid increases cholesterol strongly and the palmitic acid also increases cholesterol.[4,5] Even though coconut oil itself does not contain cholesterol because it is a vegetable product, its fatty acids produce a significant cholesterolemic response in the body.

One tablespoon of coconut oil (about 14 grams) provides 13.2 grams of saturated fat which is 65% of the Recommended Daily Allowance. This makes it difficult to add other sources of healthier dietary fats without exceeding the saturated fat allowance. Unfortunately, it is not possible to separate the fatty acids with potential beneficial effects from the ones that increase cholesterol.

Coconut oil may not be a good dietary fat, but when used as a skin moisturizer, it is as effective and safe as mineral oil.[6] In addition, applied topically as a cream or lotion, coconut oil has antimicrobial properties against yeast infections such as Candida[7], and antifungal properties against Trichophyton[8] which is the fungus that causes tinea fungal infections like ringworm, athlete's foot and jock itch. The antifungal properties of coconut oil may be due to its content of medium chain fatty acids such as capric acid.[9]

Learn more about the effect of dietary fats on Cholesterol

Learn more about Fats

[1] M-P. St-Onge, P.J.H. Jones, "Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue", International Journal of Obesity 27: 1565–1571 (2003).

[2] Hornung B, Amtmann E, Sauer G., "Lauric acid inhibits the maturation of vesicular stomatitis virus", J Gen Virol. 1994 Feb;75 (Pt 2):353-61. PMID: 8113756

[3] Nakatsuji T, Kao MC, Fang JY, Zouboulis CC, Zhang L, Gallo RL, Huang CM., "Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris", J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Oct;129(10):2480-8. Epub 2009 Apr 23. PMID: 19387482

[4] Hegsted DM, McGandy RB, Myers ML, Stare FJ, Quantitative effects of dietary fat on serum cholesterol in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 1965 Nov; 17(5):281-95.

[5] Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):1017S-1022S.

[6] Agero AL, Verallo-Rowell VM (September 2004). "A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis". Dermatitis 15 (3): 109–16. PMID 15724344.

[7] Ogbolu DO, Oni AA, Daini OA, Oloko AP., In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on Candida species in Ibadan, Nigeria, J Med Food. 2007 Jun;10(2):384-7.

[8] Garg AP, Müller J., Inhibition of growth of dermatophytes by Indian hair oils, Mycoses. 1992 Nov-Dec;35(11-12):363-9.

[9] Chadeganipour M, Haims A., Antifungal activities of pelargonic and capric acid on Microsporum gypseum, Mycoses. 2001 May;44(3-4):109-12.

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Weight-Loss Ring

I received in the mail a catalog of household goods and trinkets. The cover had an advertisement for a "weight-loss ring" that is claimed to target weight loss in specific problem areas such as the tummy, hips or buttocks. The adjustable ring is supposed to work on the principle of acupressure. The ad claims that the Japanese apply pressure on different fingers to target weight loss in specific areas. This miraculous ring costs only $3.99!

P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American circus entertainer, said "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute". His incisive bit of wisdom is still true in the 21st century. If you believe that you can lose weight by putting on a ring, and that it does not matter how much you eat, then you are a sucker. If you believe that you can lose weight in specific areas, then you are misinformed. Weight loss cannot be targeted.

The advertisement is selling a dream. Many people will pay $3.99 on the chance that the ring might work. The amount of money is small enough that customers will not complain if it does not work. The effort to try to get a refund will cost more than the ring itself, so probably none will be returned. The manufacturer makes a profit of about 1,500%, since a little piece of twisted wire that costs $0.25 can be sold for $3.99. Good business!

This is clearly a scam. Why doesn't a government agency stop it? The answer is that it is not clear which agency would have jurisdiction. The Food and Drug administration cannot do it because the ring is not a food or a drug. The Consumer Protection Agency probably will not get involved unless someone is injured. So the consumers are left to fend for themselves.

Learn how to lose weight

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Lava splash confirms impact origin of Aïr Massif in Niger

For many years geologists have considered the formation of the Aïr Mountains in Niger to be the result of magma accumulation. The area has no craters typical of meteorite strikes, and the circular features that hint that the formation could have been caused by meteorites have been explained as the result of complex tectonic activity.[1]

A new theory proposes that a large meteorite cluster melts the surface of the Earth thereby preventing meteorite impacts from forming craters. The interpretation of the geological features has to rely on the waves created by meteorite impacts on the molten surface. The theory states that the circular waves created by meteorite impacts on the molten surface and the resulting overlapping circular rings can be used to distinguish meteorite strikes from volcanic or tectonic events.

Application of the new theory has found a splash zone, shown above, that confirms that the Aïr circular formations are the result of impacts by a large meteorite cluster. The splash is typical of what you would find by the edge of a swimming pool after someone does a cannonball dive.

Read about the impact theory for meteorite clusters

[1] C. Moreau, D. Demaiffe, Y. Bellion and A.-M. Boullier, A tectonic model for the location of Palaeozoic ring complexes in Aïr (Niger, West Africa), Tectonophysics, Volume 234, Issues 1-2, 15 June 1994, Pages 129-146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0040-1951(94)90208-9

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Meteorite Craters near Agadez, Niger

There is a spot in the Niger Sahara Desert that looks like the surface of the moon, and for good reason. It appears that at least twenty meteorites struck this part of Africa millions of years ago. One crater is 60 kilometers in diameter, and another is 42 kilometers wide. The combined areas of all these impacts is probably greater than the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Considering that the impact features are relatively black compared to the desert sand, it is remarkable that the craters have not been recorded in the Earth Impact Database of the Planetary and Space Science Centre, University of New Brunswick. The largest of the circular areas is 60-kilometers wide with its center at Latitude: 18.820749, Longitude: 8.75553. The Northwest edge of the area is very distinct and located at Latitude: 19.072668, Longitude 8.602214. The Southeast edge of the area is at Latitude: 18.652018, Longitude: 8.980622.

These prominent features are considered to have been formed by lava flows because impact craters usually have features created by the shock of the impacts. However, the impacts of a dense meteorite cluster are so intense, that the surface melts and many of the meteorites fall on the surface that has been melted by previous impacts. Consequently, typical impact features like brecciation and shatter cones are not present in the Aïr Mountains of Niger. Instead, the surface has overlapping rings and splash zones that are characteristic of impacts on liquids.

Learn more about the Agadez craters

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Forest Fires in Russia and Floods in Pakistan

The Earth's weather patterns are changing. Floods in Pakistan have destroyed many villages and killed thousands of people. A heat wave in Russia has started forest fires, burned grain fields and filled the air in Moscow with smoke that has doubled the death rate from heart and lung ailments. These extreme meteorological conditions are examples of events that provide further evidence that global warming is a real threat in our lifetime.

Moscow in the Western part Russia typically has summer temperatures that average 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but this summer has been very hot and very dry with temperatures as high as 100 degrees. More than 500 forest fires have filled the air with smoke and ignited underground peat-bog fires. The smoke has filled many buildings, and the State Historical Museum on Red Square was forced to close because it couldn't stop its smoke detectors from going off. The cloak of smoke turned the picturesque spires of St. Basil's Cathedral into gray outlines. The pedestrians that had to be outdoors had their faces hidden by surgical masks and water-soaked bandanas.

The heat and smoke in Moscow have nearly doubled the mortality rate in recent days. The health minister, Andrei Seltsovsky, said that the daily death toll had risen from an average of between 360 and 380 to around 700. Ambulance calls were up by about 25% because of increases in heart and lung ailments and strokes. Many residents are leaving the Moscow area temporarily to escape the polluted air.

In 2009, Russia was the world's third-largest wheat exporter, but this year's severe drought has destroyed at least 20 percent of the harvest and the fires have burned many fields. Global commodity prices for wheat have been climbing since June as a result. Fearing domestic deficits, Russia has imposed a ban on wheat exports and this has pushed prices even higher.

While Russia is suffering droughts and sweltering record temperatures, Pakistan has been deluged by torrential rains that brought death and destruction to many villages. Millions of Pakistanis are affected by the worst floods to hit the country in decades, and the heavy rains make it very difficult to deliver supplies to communities in the Swat Valley that have been isolated by the high waters. According to UN estimates, as many as four million Pakistanis face food shortages after floods destroyed up to 570,000 hectares of crops in central Punjab province alone. The prices for fruits and vegetables were reportedly soaring throughout Pakistan.

Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of Earth's oceans and surface air. Most of the temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century has been caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide which results from burning of fossil fuels. As warming continues, the tawing of the permafrost in the northern latitudes will release methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The warmer temperatures will evaporate more ocean water and create more violent storms and more unpredictable weather patterns.

Learn more about Earth's Mass Extinctions

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