protesting yoga in schools doesn’t make sense

Yoga is pretty easy to make fun of (plenty of yogis mock themselves), or to simply dismiss as a fad (its popularity and ubiquity will certainly be remembered as one of the hallmarks of the early years of this century), but for the most part, it doesn’t have a reputation as a source of disagreement — being banned or bringing parents together to “stamp that evil seed out” (a la rock ‘n’ roll in the ’60s). Yet yoga, which seems to make sense as a way to calm ever-more-anxious students’ nerves, and maybe keep a few pounds off kids who are now officially fighting an obesity epidemic, may be taken to court by parents in Encinitas, Calif., which is near San Diego. The parents’ beef? They see the stretching and strengthening routines of Ashtanga yoga as some kind of religious indoctrination.

“There’s a deep concern that the Encinitas Union School District is using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices,” attorney Dean Broyles, who represents the concerned parents, told the North Country Times.

The superintendent for the schools, Tim Baird, says he expects the classes, which are in nine schools currently (and set to expand to more via a grant of more than $500,000 from an Ashtanga yoga association) to continue, and his decision to bring yoga to the students to be upheld.

“Yoga is a worldwide exercise regime utilized by people of many different faiths,” he said. “Yoga is part of our mainstream culture.”

As a young atheist, I was sensitive to the plethora of Christian messages that were part of the common culture at my smallish public high school in New York state — enough so that I complained several times to the dean of students about the most egregious rule-breaking the school engaged in on behalf of Christian student groups, because I believed then (and I still do) that religion and spirituality are private concerns, to be kept in the home and places of worship. One of the reasons that I have left some yoga classes is because I felt I was being preached to about spirituality, and I left that behind when I left the Episcopalian church when I was 13. But I also know that yoga can be effectively taught without any religious or spiritual messages at all (which is actually how I practice it, and how it is being taught at Encinitas and at schools all over the U.S.).

I see it like this: some people walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain — which is a traditional pilgrimage route for the faithful that ends at a spectacular church at Spain’s Atlantic coast. I have also walked much of this ancient route; as an atheist I appreciated its history, its natural beauty, and the quiet charm that is all part of northern Spain’s DNA. Hiking the Camino doesn’t make me a Christian any more than doing yoga poses makes me a Hindu. Dancing the Hula doesn’t make me a native Hawaiian (I have done that too), nor does eating matzo ball soup make me a Jew.

Just doing yoga doesn’t make anyone a Hindu, or even more likely to become a Hindu. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of America’s 20 million yoga practitioners haven’t switched religions. Yoga can just be exercise —in fact this atheist wouldn’t have it any other way.

credit: Starr Vartan

24 smart uses for sugar

The history of sugar is not a simple one. From ancient China to the colonies to Candy Land, sugar has been making its mark throughout time in myriad ways. The “white gold,” as British colonists called it, has now reached mundane staple status for much of the western world, sitting in a five-pound bag in the pantry patiently waiting to be spooned into a cup of coffee or employed in a batch of cookie dough.

But that doesn’t mean the coruscating carbohydrate can’t be put to other uses. In a bind, regular table sugar can pinch-hit for a number of other concoctions, often times taking the place of more costly or possibly toxic solutions. Whether for health or beauty, in the kitchen or in the garden, here are a number of ways you can put this versatile ingredient to work.

1. Soothe your babe
According to a study in Pediatrics, babies who were given a one-to-four sugar-water solution (directly into the mouth or administered on a pacifier) before immunizations handled the pain of the shots better than children who received only water.

2. Treat a wound

You can treat wounds with a sprinkle of sugar: Wives’ tale or wise truth? This study showed that pouring granulated sugar on bedsores, leg ulcers or amputations before dressing killed the bacteria that prevents healing and causes chronic pain.

3. Soothe a singed tongue

For too-quick-a-gulp of too-hot coffee, sizzling pizza — whatever your tongue-burner may be — sugar can ease the sting. Suck on a sprinkle of sugar or a sugar cube and the pain should quickly dissipate.

4. Ease a spicy burn

Acidic foods and dairy can lessen the pain of too much spiciness in the mouth, but a dash of sugar works well too.

5. Make a body scrub

Sugar makes a splendid exfoliating agent for body scrubs. You can make a super simple one by mixing sugar with oil (canola, almond, jojoba or olive all work well) to create a loose paste. Add some essential oil or vanilla extract if you like fragrance. Gently rub on your skin and then rinse off in the shower.

6. Make a banana sugar scrub

When bananas have reached the point of no (edible) return, they can be appointed to your beauty routine. Banana is moisturizing and works perfectly as a vehicle for sugar in a body scrub. Mash a ripe banana with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. (Don’t over mix.) Gently rub on your skin and then rinse off in the shower.

7. Smooth your kisser

Blend a little jojoba or olive oil with caster sugar (also called superfine sugar; you can also make this by putting regular granulated sugar in the food processor for a minute) and a touch of peppermint or vanilla extract, if you like. Place some of the paste on your lips, massage and lick off.

8. Extend lipstick

Sprinkle a bit of sugar atop freshly applied lipstick, let it sit, then lick it off. This works to set the lipstick and will extend the application.

9. Clean cruddy hands

For extra mucky hands (think paint, grease, grime) add sugar to your soap lather to act as an abrasive. You can also use equal parts sugar and olive oil, which acts to soothe and moisturize over-worked hands.

10. Feed your flowers

Add three teaspoons of sugar and two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of warm water for fresh-cut flowers. The sugar feeds the stems and the vinegar restricts the growth of bacteria.

11. Battle nematode worms in garden

Have you nematodes? If the plants in your garden have unsightly knots at the roots, they may have fallen prey to the microscopic parasites. To combat them naturally, apply 5 pounds of sugar for every 250 square feet of garden. The sugar will feed microorganisms which will increase the organic matter in the soil, making it a hostile environment for the nematodes.

12. Trap wasps

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water, fill a jar with it and set it outside to attract wasps. They will fly in and become trapped. What you do with them next is up to you.

13. Make a natural fly strip

Fly strips can be unsightly, but flies on dinner can be even more so. If you can’t scoot them out the window and you require relief, you can make all-natural fly strips by combining equal parts sugar, honey and water in a saucepan. Boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Let cool. Cut pieces of brown packing tape, punch a hole on the end and make a loop with string through the hole. Dip the strips in the mix, hang to let excess drips drop (with a pan beneath to catch drips) until sticky, then hang where the flies are most active.

14. Make a roach motel

Well, more like a roach last supper. Mix equal parts sugar and baking powder and sprinkle over areas of infestation. Sugar attracts the buggers, the baking powder exterminates them. Replace frequently.

15. Feed the butterflies
Matthew Tekulsky, author of “The Butterfly Garden” (Harvard Common Press, 1985), recommends this formula for feeding butterflies.

1 pound sugar

1 or 2 cans stale beer

3 mashed overripe banana

1 cup of molasses or syrup

1 cup of fruit juice

1 shot of rum

Mix all the ingredients well and paint the mixture on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps — or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang it from a tree limb.

16. Clean your grinders

Coffee bean and spice grinders can collect oils that are strong in flavor, but sugar can clean them by absorbing the offending elements. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into the grinder and run it for 2 -3 minutes. Dump out and wipe well.

17. Attack grass stains

Make a paste of warm water and sugar and apply to grass-stained clothing, let sit for an hour (or longer for tougher stains) and then wash as usual.

18. Keep cakes fresh

If you store cake in an airtight container with a few sugar cubes, it will stay fresh longer.

19. Keep cookies fresh

See above!

20. Prevent cheese from molding?

Some swear that storing cheese with sugar cubes will prevent cheese from molding.

21. Transform berries

Nothing beats fresh berries as they are, but you can also make a quick no-cook dessert topping that is as simple as it is versatile. To make “macerated berries,” stir in a teaspoon of sugar and a squeeze of lemon for every cup of sliced berries. Let sit for 30 minutes. Serve alone, with ice cream or whipped cream, on top of cakes, bread pudding, etc.

22. Vanilla your sugar

Split a vanilla bean in half and sink it in a jar full of sugar, let it sit for a week, and voilà, vanilla-perfumed sugar.

23. Sweeten iced drinks

Iced coffee season! Cocktail season! Make simple syrup for easy mixing of sugar into cold beverages. Mix one cup sugar with one cup water in a small saucepan. Bring sugar and water to a boil and simmer about 3 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in a clean jar in the refrigerator.

24. Make rock candy

Old-fashioned rock candy is nothing more than sugar and water, and a kick to make with kids. Stir 2.5 cups sugar into 1 cup hot water until sugar is dissolved. Pour the syrup into open containers and add a grain of sugar to each dish. Store in a cool, dry place and check after a few days for crystals. As they form, scoop them out and let dry on a paper towel. A simpler candy does not exist.

Credit: Melissa Breyer

Phallus-shaped mushroom can instantly trigger an intense female orgasm

Hawaiian folklore speaks of an elusive, rare mushroom, found growing only on recent lava flows, that is sought after by women for its strong aphrodisiac properties. One whiff, it is said, can instantly induce a powerful female orgasm.

Naturally, science had to investigate. And it turns out, the mushroom is real. Yes, it actually works.

Back in 2001, researchers John Halliday and Noah Soule set out to collect and test bright orange-colored mushrooms found growing on 600-10,000 year old lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii. The fungus is labeled as a Dictyophora species, a group of mushrooms which are, perhaps appropriately, known for being phallus-shaped. The mushroom’s bright color and the fact that it grows on lava flows just makes it all the more sexier.

The study, which appeared in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, was the first to describe the morphology and chemistry of the mushroom. It also included a smell test whereby half of all female participants were recorded having experienced spontaneous orgasms while sniffing the mushroom.

Sound too good to be true? Well, there is a catch. While the mushroom’s odor produced a heightened arousal in most of the female participants, men who took the smell test found the odor to be absolutely disgusting. The aroma, in and of itself, was described as being “fetid,” which means it won’t exactly make for a very appealing cologne, in spite of its remarkable ability.

Researchers also discovered what they believe to be the mushroom’s orgasm trigger: hormone-like compounds found in the spore mass that may have similarities to human neurotransmitters released during sex. Thus, the reason the mushroom can induce sexual arousal despite smelling like rotting flesh simply comes down to chemistry.

The sexual aftereffects of the mushroom’s stink are likely just a coincidence. The reason for its foul smell is to attract insects, which transport the spores and allow the mushroom to reproduce.

There might be something to the aphrodisiac quality of the mushroom after all, though. Some other kinds of fungi are known to contain pheromones which can attract animals. For instance, androstenone, a human and pig pheromone, can be found in truffles– which is why boars are so compelled to dig them up. Perhaps the Hawaiian Dictyophora has evolved a similar strategy, though more research will need to be performed to know for sure.

credit: Bryan Nelson


What is hypnobirthing?

Advocates of hypnobirthing prize the technique’s emphasis on getting out of the body’s way during childbirth and allowing it to perform its natural processes.

Today, more than 50 percent of women giving birth in hospitals choose to have an epidural during childbirth, a testament to just how many women are terrified to go through labor and delivery naturally. Sure, many hospitals recommend new moms take Lamaze classes before their babies are born, but much of that education flies out the window when the first really painful contraction hits. Another lesser known birthing method, hypnobirthing, could help those women who’d like to have a natural childbirth but are just too scared. The method is based on knowledge that fully accepts and acknowledges those fears.

Hypnobirthing operates under the concept that muscles under tension create the experience of pain; conversely muscles that are in a relaxed state do not. “It’s like when you lift your arm without holding anything in your hand – it doesn’t hurt,” explains Rivkah Estrin, childbirth educator and postpartum doula, who herself practiced hypnobirthing successfully though five deliveries. “But if you’re holding something extremely heavy in your hand and then you try to lift your arm, then you feel it.”

So how does hypnobirthing work?

The method allows you, over the course of your pregnancy, to practice relaxation techniques that allow your uterus to function as it’s intended to. “The first part of the process is just about releasing your own fears and understanding the mechanics of the labor process,” Estrin says. “The more you know and the more you educate yourself, the more confident and relaxed you are.”

You can either take a local class or if one isn’t offered near you, buy the book “HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method” together with the guided meditation CDs. “You practice every night — either by doing guided meditations with your partner or alone. The more you use those meditations, visualizations, and affirmations, the more you end up really believing them, and the more empowered you become,” Estrin says.

Then, during labor itself, you create the environment that is most calming for you. For Estrin, it was dimmed lights with candles lit. She found that place within herself where she was most relaxed and allowed herself to breathe through a contraction — or a surge as it’s referred to in hypnobirthing. “I felt pressure but no pain,” Estrin says. “I still feel like that labor and delivery was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.”

There are two kinds of hypnobirthing — the Mongan method (named for Marie “Mickey” Mongan, who pioneered hypnobirthing) and HypnoBabies, which uses the same method for hypnosis used by people preparing for surgery without anesthesia (called hypno-anesthesia).

What advice would Estrin give to new moms interested in learning more about the method? “Absolutely pursue it, learn about it, educate yourself, and become your best advocate,” she says. “It’s about advocating for yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking questions or changing providers, who will allow to have the birth be what you want. It’s with any learned skill in life — once you’re educated and empowered, the fear really goes away and you focus on what you can do to assist your body in its natural process, rather than get in the way.”

Credit: Chanie Kirschner

8 unexpected habits of happy people


Everybody wants to be happy. Thus, the onslaught of lists enumerating various happy-making suggestions: Learn to let go! Live in the present! Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Which is all fine and good — there’s clearly nothing wrong with a positive outlook. But that list has been done to death … and aren’t those peppy platitudes slightly obvious anyway? Instead, we offer an alternative list of habits — more concrete and backed by science — employed by those who’ve successfully located the bliss button.

1. They go to parks

One study found that people who live in cities with more green space feel better than those surrounded by manmade materials. How much better? The happiness jump associated with green space is equal to about one-third the boost in well-being that people get from being married. In a similar vein, another study found that a five-minute dose of nature improves self-esteem; green areas with water were found to be the most beneficial.

2. They live in Scandinavian countries

Okay, so your place of residence may not be a habit so much as a circumstance, but this is interesting. According to the United Nations General Assembly’s second World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada. Note that all of these are generally northern countries, what’s the deal? See number 3.

3. They practice ‘hygge’

Huh? Pronounced HYU-gah, Danes make it through their long dark winters with a healthy dose of this to maintain their position as the happiest place in the world. With no real equivalent in the English language, hygge is a cultural concept that revolves around intimacy, gratitude and family; it’s a kind of emotional coziness. As described by one Dane, “It’s like a feeling, and it’s big at Christmastime. The candles, the food, being with your family.” But it lasts all year. (Read more: How ‘hygge’ can help you get through winter.)

4. They have satisfying jobs — and if not, they quit

It’s no surprise that workers who are happy with their work are happy with their lives. And in fact, a Gallup poll found that workers who were happily engaged and enthusiastic about work were happiest in life, with 71 percent of them describing themselves as “thriving.” And it’s probably not that surprising that only 42 percent of poll respondents who said they were disconnected from their work described themselves as thriving. What’s surprising is that 48 percent of those unemployed see themselves as thriving; that’s 6 percent more than those with jobs; for many, being unemployed is happier than having a crummy job.

5. They smell the flowers

No, this isn’t an homage to the “stop and smell the roses” cliché; it’s not about taking time for the delights in your life (although stopping and smelling the roses is a grand thing to do). It’s about floral scents and the effect they have on mood. Much research has been conducted on how floral scents can influence behaviors. In one set of experiments, researchers found that a floral-scented room led to increased happiness and friendliness. One researcher noted that the floral smell is an emotion manipulator and improves the mood. “The floral odors can make you happy; floral odors promote social interaction, social approach kinds of behaviors,” said Jeannette Haviland-Jones, of Rutgers University.

6. They get dirty

Commence making mud pies. Medical researchers in the U.K. found evidence that “friendly” bacteria found in soil may activate the immune system, boost the brain compound serotonin and help ward off depression.

7. They exercise

We know you didn’t want to hear that, but fret not. The good news is that middle-aged women don’t have to run marathons or go all-out for the emotional benefits of physical activity to kick in. And in fact, a study found that moderate intensity exercise — as opposed to intense exercise — caused more women to report later that they were in a better mood and to have greater feelings of energy, psychological well-being and “self-efficacy.”

8. They don’t try to be … happy?

Oops. Now that we’ve told you the secrets for happiness, we’re here to dash your dreams. A prominent study shows that making happiness a personal goal will actually stand in the way of your achieving it. The researchers found that women who valued happiness more reported being less happy and more depressed than women who didn’t place much importance on the goal.

“Wanting to be happy can make you less happy,” said study researcher Iris Mauss. “If you explicitly and purposely focus on happiness, that appears to have a self-defeating quality.”

So if you really want to be happy, try forgetting about it.

credit:Mellisa Bryer


10 things you should never eat

In a world of constant admonitions to eat this and not that, it’s hard to know what we’re supposed to be putting into our mouths. Science flip-flops, experts disagree and food companies get creative with spin — leaving even the best intentioned among us scratching our heads. What to eat?

One way to tackle the problem is by narrowing down the no-no list to the foods that rank as the worst in specific areas. With that in mind, here are our contenders for foods that you might want to kick to the curb if you share the related health concern.

1. If you value healthy cholesterol levels, never eat stick margarine.

At one point we were supposed to give up butter for the healthier option of margarine, but there was just one little problem. Early margarine was chockablock with trans fats, which deliver a double-whammy to cholesterol by raising LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Many margarines have been reformulated over the years, but not all margarines are created equal. In general, notes the Mayo Clinic, the more solid the margarine, the more trans fat it contains, so margarine that comes in stick form has more trans fat than tub margarines. Also, if you’re watching your processed food intake, remember that margarine is highly processed – so you’re better sticking with butter or olive oil.

2. If you think artificial sweeteners are helping you lose weight, you’re wrong.

One would assume that swapping caloric sugar for a non-caloric sweetener would lead to weight loss, but apparently the body has an ironic sense of humor. Evidence is mounting that artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain, and even worse, may lead to higher glucose levels. Time reports on a study that found sugar substitutes contribute to changes in the way the body breaks down glucose. As part of the study, researchers gave people who didn’t normally use fake sweeteners the sugar substitutes for seven days, and half of them showed higher blood glucose levels after just four days. Study author Dr. Eran says, “We found that the artificial sweeteners we think of as beneficial and that we use as treatment or preventive measures against obesity and its complications are contributing to the same epidemics they are aimed to prevent.” And not only are they bad for you, scientists have found artificial sweeteners in treated wastewater, posing potential risks to fish and other marine life.

3. If you like a calm hormone system, never eat canned coconut milk, soup and vegetables

Not all cans used for food are lined with the industrial chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA), but those that are should be avoided. BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the hormone system, even in small amounts. It has been associated with an array of ills, from infertility and breast cancer to obesity, diabetes, early puberty and behavioral changes in children. In 2011, FDA tests of 78 popular canned foods found the chemical in 71 of them; and a Harvard study found that those eating a single serving of canned soup daily for five days had 10 times the amount of BPA in their systems compared to those who ate fresh soup instead. BPA concentrations in different cans of the same food differ a lot, so specific items to steer clear of are hard to discern. But a study by the Breast Cancer Fund found the highest concentrations in canned coconut milk, soup and vegetables. Look for products from companies that have moved away from using BPA.

Avoid cereal

4. Never eat kids’ cereal if you’re watching your sugar intake.

This may come as no surprise, but cereals aimed at kids are packed with sugar. What you may not realize, however, is just how much sugar they contain. The leading sugar-crammed cereals, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs, both contain 56 percent sugar by weight. Yes, more than half of their weight is sugar. Ouch! And one serving, which is only three-fourths of a cup, delivers 50 percent of the recommended daily sugar intake per serving as recommended by the World Health Organization.

5. Never eat soybeans and soybean products if you’re concerned about genetically modified food.

Regardless of what side of the genetically modified (GM) fence you sit on, avoiding GM ingredients is not easy. Some say that more than 75 percent of the food in grocery stores is genetically engineered or contains GM ingredients. Corn and soybeans top that list. And while corn may be the more prevalent crop, much of the GE corn goes to livestock feed. Soybeans and their products, however are in a surprising array of products we consume. Around 93 percent of soybeans grown in this United States have been genetically modified, reports Environmental Working Group. Meaning that if you want to avoid GM foods, watch out for labels that list soy proteins, soybean oil, soy milk, soy flour, soy sauce, tofu or soy lecithin unless they are certified organic or GMO-free.

6. Never eat tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel if you’re worried about mercury.

Methylmercury is a neurotoxin that can be harmful to the brain and nervous system when a person is exposed to too much of it. Thanks to human activity, it is found in most types of fish and in some fish in much higher concentrations that others. The FDA and the EPA have this to say to pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers, and young children: Avoid tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Sounds like a good plan for everyone.

7. Never eat “industrial” hamburgers if you like clean food.

Grass-fed beef from cows that live on a farm is one thing, but industrial meat from factory farm cattle is a whole different beast. Filthy conditions, copious growth hormones and a diet comprised of genetically modified corn all add up to abysmal beef — but that’s not all. As Michael Pollan tells Rodale News, a steak or roast usually comes from a single animal, but processed ground beef is a mix of meat from hundreds of animals. “This vastly increases the risk of contamination,” he says — and indeed, the USDA has found dangerous levels of disease-causing bacteria in more than 50 percent of the ground beef samples it has tested. “I love hamburgers, but only eat them when they’re grass-fed and ground by a butcher,” Pollan says.

Avoid soda

8. Never drink soda if you don’t want diabetes.

A European study found that people who drank a 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soda daily were 18 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes over a 16-year period compared with those who did not consume soda. Previous studies in the United States found that daily soda consumption increased the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 25 percent.

9. Never eat certain apples if you’re worried about pesticides.

Organic apples are okay, but if you’re concerned about pesticides steer clear of conventional ones. For four years running apples have topped EWG’s Dirty Dozen list with U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists detecting an average of five or more pesticides on raw apple samples, including some at high concentrations. One chemical in particular has caused a stir; diphenylamine (DPA) was found on 80 percent of samples tested. In 2012, the European Commission banned DPA due to its potentially potent carcinogens.

10. Never eat processed meat if you want to avoid … premature death!

We know you don’t want to hear this, but studies show that people who indulge in a lot of processed meat (like ham, bacon and sausage) have a greater risk of premature death and developing conditions such as cancer and heart disease. One comprehensive study included data from 448,568 people in 10 European countries and concluded that those who ate the most processed meat were 44 percent more likely to die prematurely from any cause than those who ate little of it. High levels of consumption bumped up the risk of death from heart disease by 72 percent and cancer by 11 percent. Many studies concur. One study from Harvard found that those who ate processed meat on a regular basis were more likely to die over a 20- to 30-year period, compared with those who didn’t consume red meat regularly; the same study also found that substituting other healthy protein sources, such as fish, poultry, nuts or legumes was associated with a lower risk of death over the study period. We know beans aren’t exactly the same as salty, smoky meat … but if you want to work towards living a longer life, you may want to abandon the bacon.

Source: Melissa Breyer

6 high-tech solutions to food waste

From composting food scraps and donating excess to food banks to a new Boston supermarket selling about-to-expire foods, a lot of effort has been devoted to reducing the 1.3 billion tons of food waste that are sent to the landfill annually.

To complement these low-tech efforts, several companies have turned their attention to developing new technologies to address the problem of food waste.

Check out six high-tech solutions that are having an impact.

1. LeanPath
The Portland, Oregon-based software firm developed a program that allows restaurants and institutional food service providers like hospitals and universities to track the amount of food being tossed out and use the data to adapt their processes to reduce waste. Clients like ARAMARK, MGM Resorts and Sodexo use scales to weigh waste and touchscreen terminals to document the source of waste, including spoilage and over-production. The info is stored in the cloud where LeanPath accesses it for analysis and provides reports that help users make changes like adjusting standing food orders or rotating foods in walk-ins. To date, users have reduced food waste up to 80 percent.

2. Spoiler Alert
A team of MBA students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a program that allows users like supermarkets and restaurants with excess food to post details about what is available and send it out to a network of recipients, including food pantries, that can use the food (and keep it from the landfill). The mobile and web-based platform gives users the option to conduct transactions via donations, discounted food sales and waste recovery opportunities (like coffee grounds for compost or vegetable oil for biodiesel). A pilot program launched in Boston and is ramping up for wide release this summer.

3. Local Roots

The perishable nature of food means there is a limited window to find a place to sell or donate excess food before it goes bad. A new app developed by Atlanta-based business, Local Roots, helps farmers and food artisans connect with shoppers interested in purchasing local food. Much like other shopping interfaces, the Local Roots app uses location data to generate a list of available products, purchase goods and schedule pick-up or delivery. How does a shopping app reduce food waste? According to creators, local farmers and food producers often struggle to connect with buyers; the app creates new opportunities to bring them together, reducing the amount of fresh food that spoils because it’s unsold.

4. Eco-Safe Digester
BioHitech America created a device that uses heat, moisture and oxygen to break down food into water in the food service facilities of companies like Amazon, General Electric and Marriott. The onsite digester sends wastewater through the sewer lines to water treatment facilities. Turning wasted food into wastewater doesn’t eliminate food waste, which is the reason the digester incorporates Big Data, allowing users to record details about the waste. Using the analytics, BioHitech America generates comprehensive reports that allow users to identify (and rectify) operational inefficiencies. To date, the technology has helped divert 50 million pounds of food waste from the landfill.

5. FoodKeeper

A lot of food is tossed over safety concerns, including questions about when leftovers spoil or if you can drink milk past its expiration date. To help educate consumers — and keep edible foods from going to the landfill — Cornell University developed an app with a searchable database of more than 500 foods, including cooking tips, food storage advice and info about expiration labels. The app will even sync with your smartphone and issue alerts when food expiration dates near. Through a partnership with USDA, the app offers a 24-hour virtual hotline (called “Ask Karen”) for real time answers to food storage questions.

6. FareShare FoodCloud
In the UK, grocer Tesco created an app that sends alerts to partner charities (FareShare and FoodCloud) about surplus food that is edible but at risk of being dumped. The charities use the app to confirm they want the food, which is offered free of charge, and arrange to pick it up and turn it into meals that are distributed through organizations like homeless shelters and school breakfast programs. Tesco estimates that 30,000 tons of the food that its stores threw out last year could have been eaten. The goal of the app is to reduce that number by getting into the hands of charities that can immediately put it to good use. In Ireland alone, 300 charities have collected and redistributed food using the app.

Credit: Jodi Helmer

Are carbohydrates good or bad?

Carbohydrates spark a lot of animosity and a lot of love. On one hand, they’ve been vilified by people who follow certain diets, but nutritionists are quick to tout their virtues.

So are these macronutrients good or evil? The not-so-simple answer is that they’re both.

Carbohydrates are found in a wide variety of healthy and unhealthy foods. They’re in beans, milk and potatoes as well as cookies, cakes and pies. Some are simple, and some are complex. And new research says they may be one of the reasons humans are so smart.

But let’s back up a little bit.

Types of carbohydrates

There are three common types of carbs: sugar, starch and fiber. Here’s a basic breakdown of what those are.

Sugar: Sugar is found naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy products. It’s also added to some foods during processing like cookies or canned foods that are packed in heavy syrup. In the U.S., the average American consumes 126 grams (about 30 teaspoons!) of sugar every day. The World Health Organization recommends less than half of that, or 50 grams of sugar max per day.

Starch: Starch occurs naturally in some vegetables like potatoes and corn. It’s also in dried beans and peas, such as pinto beans, kidney beans and split peas. Many grain products are also high in starch.

Fiber: Fiber is found only in plant foods. It’s in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grain pastas, cereals and breads, and cooked dry beans and peas.

Simple or complex?

Carbohydrate are classified as either simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates have only one or two sugars. Simple carbs are used quickly and easily by the body for energy because of their simple chemical structure. That may seem like good news if you’re dragging and need a burst of energy, but it’s usually bad because it can lead to a spike in blood sugar followed by a quick plummet. Soda, white bread, candy and pastries have simple carbs. Although the sugars in fruits and vegetables are simple, the fiber they contain makes them more complex.

Complex carbs are more complicated, as the name implies. With three or more sugars linked together, they have more complex chemical structures. They take longer to digest and have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise at a slower pace. Because they take longer to break down, complex carbs provide you with even more longer-lasting energy. Complex carbs include whole-grain breads and cereals, and starchy vegetables such as beans and peas.

Typically, complex carbs are considered healthy or “good,” while simple carbs are the unhealthy or “bad” choices.

How many carbs do you need?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should get 45 percent to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. The guidelines recommend 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. (The average American gets only about 15 grams of fiber every day.)

Fibers are the carbs with the most-touted health benefits. They contribute to digestive health, keep you regular, and make you feel full longer. Some evidence also suggests that dietary fiber may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

array of colorful high-fiber vegetablesIn general, the darker the veggie, the higher the fiber content. (Photo: yonibunga/Shutterstock)

Be carb smart

Choose your carbs wisely. Even though they both have carbs, a side salad with veggies is a smarter choice than fries, and a bowl of fresh fruit tops a piece of cake (nutritionally, anyway).

Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic to help make carbs a smart part of a nutritional diet:

Emphasize fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Choose whole fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables without added sugar. Whole fruits and vegetables also have the added benefit of fiber.
Choose whole grains. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients than refined grains.
Stick to low-fat dairy products. The amount of carbs varies in dairy products, so read the label. Stick to low-fat dairy with no added sugars.
Eat more beans and legumes. Legumes are typically low in fat; contain no cholesterol; and are high in fiber.
Limit added sugars. Too much added sugar, and sometimes naturally occurring sugar, can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition and weight gain.
Carbs and your brain

Still not convinced carbs have redeeming qualities?

According to a new study published in the Quarterly Review of Biology, carbohydrates could get some of the credit for the evolution of the human brain. Researchers argue that the human brain depends on the consumption of carbs — starch in particular — to thrive. The scientists say carbs were key in the brain’s growth and development around 1 million years ago.

Makes you want to have some beans and a whole-grain bagel.

credit: Mary Jo Dilonardo

Is religion a good way to help preserve biodiversity

How can we slow the world’s biodiversity loss? Maybe it’s time we turn to God, or Allah, or Ganesha for the answer. According to a new study, the most important conservation areas around the world correspond with the distribution of the world’s top religions. Tapping into the basic beliefs and ethics of Christianity and other religions might therefore help to improve actions to preserve biodiversity.

“A greater involvement of religious communities in the conservation discourse, and a greater inclusion of conservation issues in religious ethics, could be beneficial for biodiversity,” the authors write in their study, published Aug. 28 in the journal Oryx.

“Our study examines the spatial distribution of different religions in the world and how they overlap with areas important for biodiversity at a global scale,” lead author Grzegorz Mikusinski from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SUAS) said in a press release. “Our analysis indicates that the majority of these focal areas are situated in countries dominated by Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism.” Other areas of overlap include Southeast Asia (Buddhism), the Indian subcontinent (Hinduism) and large portions of Asia and Africa (Islam). You can see some of this distribution overlap in the maps below:

Co-author Malgorzata Blicharska, also with SUAS, said this information provides a new strategy for the scientists working to conserve the planet’s dwindling biodiversity, who to date have mostly concentrated on working with governments and environmental non-governmental organizations. “Conservation scientists need to refocus on strategies that reshape ethical attitudes to nature and encourage pro-environmental thinking and lifestyles. Religions are central to basic beliefs and ethics that influence people’s behavior and should be considered more seriously in biodiversity discourse.”

In their paper the authors argue that government and NGO failure to conserve biodiversity has led to the creation of market-based approaches, such as cap-and-trade, but that just turns natural systems into quantities that can be exploited. (Forests become “agriculture” and schools of fish become “stocks.”) The authors say that in addition to science- and market-based approaches, conservationists should also embrace strategies to “shape ethical attitudes and strive for more pro-environmental thinking and lifestyles amongst individuals and nations.”

The authors came to their conclusion by studying the World Religions Database, which reports the percentage of people in various countries that adhere to the world’s major religions. They then compared this to seven global biodiversity conservation priority templates, including areas of high biodiversity, crisis regions, key bird areas and frontier forests. They found large areas of overlap for all religions but particularly for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

There are limitations to this study, the authors say. The World Religions Database does not reflect religious distribution within a country and does not show trends. But they do say this is important evidence that “the conservation community, including researchers, should be more active in finding good arguments to engage religions in biodiversity conservation.”

Credit: John Platt

6 time tested way to revitalize your metabolism

We may be able to live without food for three weeks, water for three days and air for three minutes. These are our most basic needs. But to thrive, we also need love, fulfilling relationships and harmony with nature, according to Suhas Kshirsagar in his new book “The Hot Belly Diet.” The quality of those experiences — from breakfast to the bedroom to the wild blue yonder — affects the quality of our health and ultimately of our lives.

Whether we want to lose weight, gain energy, heal from a chronic disease or simply find more meaning, the Hot Belly diet gives a simple yet uncommon prescription from India’s 5,000-year-old holistic medicine of Ayurveda. As a classically trained Ayurvedic doctor, Kshirsagar sees patients with everything from autoimmune conditions and heart disease to obesity and fatigue that all share a common denominator: a weak “digestive fire,” or metabolism. To stoke that fire in the belly, Kshirsagar says it starts, not surprisingly with our gut.

The gut stops here

You’ve probably had gut instincts about something or gut feelings about someone that proved spot-on. The only evidence you had were butterflies in your stomach or a burning desire to take action. Ayurveda looks at the digestive system as a second brain, and new science backs it up.

The Hot Belly diet explains that nerves in our gut actually process information and generate responses just like our gray matter. Research shows our gut can act separately from our brain to independently control our functions! Pretty wild, huh?

Not to Ayurveda, which has long viewed digestion as the cornerstone of health. Kshirsagar says a whopping 70 percent of our immune system lies in the gastrointestinal tract. Whether you want to lose weight or improve immunity, you need to befriend your digestive system. Nutrients from that butternut squash and spinach curry you ate for dinner (see recipe in “The Hot Belly Diet”) feed all your tissues, from arteries to adrenal glands. If digestion is impaired, toxins build up in the organs and over time, cause disease.

Here’s some surprisingly simple gut-nourishing strategies:

Ditch the ice. Just say no to cold, carbonated drinks. Instead of a frosty glass of H20 with dinner, drink it room temperature or warm instead. (I ask food servers all the time and they never flinch.) Cold water extinguishes digestive enzymes just when you need them to break down that Caesar salad. (Raw vegetables require more digestive power than cooked ones.)
Better yet, drink warm water throughout the day to stoke your metabolism, increase the absorption of food (think less bloating, gas and belching), lose weight and dispel toxins. When possible, boil water for 10 minutes before drinking to purify and energize it. We are made of about 70 percent water after all, and interestingly, more than 70 percent of the earth is covered in water, NASA says.
Make a medicinal beverage by adding a slice of alkalizing lemon, warming ginger or herbal tea to hot water. The Hot Belly diet also suggests spicing it up with cinnamon, mint, thyme or turmeric.
Add digestion-enhancing spices to your meals, such as fresh ginger, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and fenugreek.
woman at farmers market surrounded by vegetables
Try to shop at farmers markets or natural food stores.

It’s about the prana

You may have seen the Sanskrit word prana written on yoga T-shirts. It translates into energy or life force. We extract energy from food. It stands to reason that freshly harvested, whole foods carry more nutrients than processed flours, sugars and fats manufactured in a factory or pesticide-treated produce shipped thousands of miles from the seed to your spoon.

According to the Hot Belly diet, one out of two Americans eats fast food every day. One out of four people drink at least one sugary soda. Is it no wonder more than two-thirds of adults are overweight in the U.S.? Those rates have tripled since 1980, and we’re foisting unhealthy habits on our youngest citizens. One out of every three American children is overweight.

We know now that lifestyle causes up to 80 percent of all illness, according to Kshirsagar. The glass-half-full part: Diet, exercise and stress management can prevent, or even reverse, four-fifths of chronic disease. Empowering, right? Ayurveda goes beyond the typical “eat your veggies” prescription to say what goes into your mouth is only as nutritious as the prana it contains.

The Hot Belly diet fix: Eat super foods made in and by nature. If you can, shop at farmers markets or natural food stores where groceries are organic and non-GMO. Favor seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts and lean proteins. Avoid simple starches including flour and white sugar, as well as alcohol, red meat and leftovers. “The wisdom we’re talking about lies in eating foods that are fresh, alive and vibrant,” Kshirsagar says.

Feed your genes

If you climb on a surfboard and do nothing, you’ll soon be under water. Kshirsagar likens this to the dynamism of our body. Our molecules literally respond to the quality of our environment. As we surf life, it’s up to us to ride waves of food, water, air, thoughts, livelihood, people and purposes that are nourishing. It just feels better. And, it actually changes the expression of our genes. Seriously.

Ancient Ayurveda and modern epigenetics reach the same conclusion: genes are not fixed. The Hot Belly diet says just 10 percent of diseases are genetic.

“The old rule was your genes are mechanistic,” Kshirsagar explained by phone. “Once you inherit those from your parents, you can’t change those. Now we understand you can turn your genes on and off. You can actually change your brain structure.”

Imagine the body as an energy and information field with particles integrating and disintegrating in every moment. Take exercise. New science proves that physical activity literally reverses the aging process by altering how genes act. In 2008, Canadian researchers who put seniors on a six-month strength training protocol found the sexagenarians’ strength shot up 50 percent. Not too shocking. What did surprise the scientific community: Seniors showed changes at the genetic level comparable to their 20-something counterparts.

We’re wired to move. The Hot Belly diet recommends doing something active every day. A walk after lunch or dinner works wonders for digestion. Not only does movement improve circulation, release happy-feeling endorphins and turn on good genes, you may feel better in your blue jeans.

Rise, set and dine with the sun

Since we Homo sapiens migrated indoors, we often overlook that teaming ball of fire that powers our solar system. Like all life, we’re inextricably tied to the sun, which regulates when biochemicals, acids, hormones and other substances are released in our body. Our digestive fire runs hottest at high noon, for instance. Why? The sun is literally highest in the sky and in Ayurveda we have the same element of fire within us — along with water, earth, space and air.

“I see so many patients in my practice that eat whenever they want, they sleep whenever they want, they have sex whenever they want. They are totally violating all the rhythms of nature,” Kshirsagar says. “When they are sick they would like to find a natural cure for their unnatural living. Ayurveda is a true natural medicine. It talks about respecting food, air and water that is given to us free by mother nature.”

Recent studies indeed show when people consume most of their calories midday, they lose weight compared to people who eat the same number of calories later in the day, according to the Hot Belly diet. If you want to improve your metabolism, make lunch your primary main meal and eat a light supper. I experimented with this protocol when writing about Ayurveda’s ideal daily routine and lost 12 pounds in a few months, even though that wasn’t my intention. (I feel so much better skipping a heavy dinner that I’ve continued this regimen and haven’t regained the weight.)

Here’s the Hot Belly diet meal plan to maximize your digestive fire, shed pounds and just plain feel better:

Eat breakfast between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Indulge in lunch as your heartiest meal from noon to 1 p.m. If your diet includes harder-to-digest foods such as meat, dairy, nuts and raw vegetables, you can best metabolize them midday. Only eat until you’re about two-thirds full, leaving space for your stomach to digest all that food!
Dine lightly for supper before 7 p.m. on soups, cooked vegetables, grains and other vegetarian fare.
Midnight munchies sit partly undigested in your GI tract, packing on pounds instead of infusing you with prana. If you wake up feeling groggy, eat dinner earlier, skip seconds and notice if you feel better the next morning. Ayurveda calls sleep the “diet of the mind.”
In “The Hot Belly Diet,” Kshirsagar explains the body metabolizes waste and revitalizes our immune system primarily between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. If we’re awake during those hours we lose vital functions that don’t happen any other time. No wonder studies show poor sleep habits contribute to brain fog, memory loss, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, according to the Hot Belly diet.

Let us eat while we eat and fast while we fast

Wolfing down a burrito at your desk, binging on leftovers and Showtime or snacking while surfing Instagram — sound familiar? What about grazing throughout the day while doing just about anything? In a food and media-saturated land, we tend to treat eating as a robotic nuisance, forgetting what we put into our mouths gives us the fuel to live and literally becomes our bodies. Staring at an electronic screen while eating may be the social norm, but there are downsides. The obvious one: We miss our body’s fullness cues and eat more. Distracted eating also compromises our digestion since we’re not taking the time to chew properly, the first step in breaking down food. And Ayurveda contends we can only digest so much at once — whether that’s food, drink or information.

Hot Belly Diet Author, Suhas KshirsagarHere’s a simple fix that may take practice for us multi-tasking moguls: Take small bites, savor the smells and flavors of your meal, notice how it feels in your mouth. Try eating with your left, or less dominant, hand to slow you down. Before eating, Kshirsagar also suggests looking down at your plate and asking, “Do I think this is good for me to eat at this time?”

Then, when you’re sated, stop eating. That’s right, don’t eat again until your next meal. “Of all the lessons I teach, one of the most important one goes against conventional dieting wisdom that says ‘you should never wait until you’re hungry to eat,’” Kshirsagar says. “This is perhaps one of the most harmful pieces of advice out there in diet circles. Hunger is a vital marker of health.”

He says appetite means digestive acids and enzymes are building. If you snack between meals, especially when you’re not hungry, you sap your metabolism, storing excess fuel as fat and toxins. Remember, our DNA is still wired from our ancestors who, by necessity, went long stretches without food while hunting and gathering. We may fly by a drive-through for a double cheeseburger, supersize French fries and 32-ounce soda, but our biology is designed to work up an appetite before feasting on something as labor-intensive as meat.

Sure enough, the New York Academy of Sciences published a study in 2002 stating that grazing all day can put one at risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the Hot Belly diet. NBC News reported on a 2013 study showing diabetics who ate only a large breakfast and lunch lost more weight than those who consumed six mini meals with the same number of calories. Kshirsagar says we’re made to relish well-deserved meals when we’re truly hungry. Ayurveda’s takeaway is to find pleasure in food when you do eat, offering thanks for this bounty with your attention.

Scenery, silence and sex

Lest you think Ayurveda is about deprivation, Kshirsagar advocates cultivating a healthy sex life. “Just as we need water, food, and oxygen to live, so do we need to practice one of the greatest creative forces through which we can express and share our love,” he writes in “The Hot Belly Diet.” Not only can lovemaking be a potent source of pleasure and intimate bonding with our partner, science shows that sexual appetite and performance is indicative of overall health and longevity.

As you’re probably gathering, Ayurveda advocates that our well-being rests on the health of our relationships with ourselves, others and the greater world around us. Nature can be a portal into our place in a grander picture. With lives that are electronically connected 24/7, Kshirsagar believes it’s even more essential to disconnect from that flat stream and experience the living sensations of the natural world.

Walk, hike, swim or cycle in the fresh air. Explore local parks. Feel your feet sink into the grass, sand or dirt. Move your chair to a skyward window. Bathe in the metamorphosis of dawn and dusk. Stargaze on a clear night. Whether in nature or somewhere private, find a few minutes for quiet self-reflection every day. Ask how your body feels. And your heart.

“Slowing down aligns you with what’s happening around you in the universe,” Kshirsagar says. “I always like to say to my patients for fast acting relief, try slowing down. When you find times of quietude and silence, this is the language nature speaks. You’re able to turn into that language which is very nourishing.” Ayurveda speaks of immortality, not that the body is immortal. Rather that there is a part of our self that is never born and never dies.

Credit: Rebecca Tolin