New Mountain Bike #BicycleGains

I got rid of my road bike and picked up a mountain bike to have some more fun.

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The dark truth about chocolate

Grand health claims have been made about chocolate, but while it gives us pleasure, can it really be good for us?

Chocolate has been touted as a treatment for agitation, anaemia, angina and asthma. It has been said to awaken appetite and act as an aphrodisiac. You may have noticed were still on the letter A.

More accurately, and to avoid adding to considerable existing confusion, it is the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree that have, over hundreds of years, been linked to cures and therapies for more than 100 diseases and conditions. Their status as a cure-all dates back over 2,000 years, having spread from the Olmecs, Maya and Aztecs, via the Spanish conquistadors, into Europe from the 16th century.

The 19th century saw chocolate drinking become cheap enough to spread beyond the wealthy, the invention of solid chocolate and the development of milk chocolate. Later came the added sugar and fat content of todays snack bars and Easter eggs, which time-travelling Aztecs would probably struggle to associate with what they called the food of the gods.

Recent years have seen chocolate undergo another transformation, this time at the hands of branding experts. Sales of milk chocolate are stagnating as consumers become more health-conscious. Manufacturers have responded with a growing range of premium products promoted with such words as organic, natural, cacao-rich and single-origin. The packets dont say so, but the message were supposed to swallow is clear: this new, improved chocolate, especially if it is dark, is good for your health. Many people have swallowed the idea that its a superfood. Except it isnt. So how has this magic trick-like metamorphosis been achieved?

Its foundations lie in chocolate manufacturers having poured huge sums into funding nutrition science that has been carefully framed, interpreted and selectively reported to cast their products in a positive light over the last 20 years. For example, studies published last year found chocolate consumers to be at reduced risk of heart flutters, and that women who eat chocolate are less likely to suffer from strokes. Consuming chemicals called flavanols in cocoa was also linked to reduced blood pressure. In 2016, eating chocolate was linked to reduced risks of cognitive decline among those aged 65 and over, while cocoa flavanol consumption was linked to improved insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles markers of diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk.

Such studies have generated hundreds of media reports that exaggerate their findings, and omit key details and caveats. Crucially, most recent research has used much higher levels of flavanols than are available in commercial snack products. For example, the blood pressure study involved participants getting an average of 670mg of flavanols. Someone would need to consume about 12 standard 100g bars of dark chocolate or about 50 of milk chocolate per day to get that much. The European Food Safety Authority has approved one rather modest chocolate-related health claim that some specially processed dark chocolate, cocoa extracts and drinks containing 200mg of flavanols contribute to normal blood circulation by helping to maintain blood vessel elasticity.

cocoa
Cocoa pods harvested on the Millot plantation in the north-west of Madagascar. Photograph: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Prof Marion Nestle, a nutritional scientist at New York University, uses the word nutrifluff to describe sensational research findings about a single food or nutrient based on one, usually highly preliminary, study. She points out that most studies on chocolate and health get industry funding, but journalists generally fail to highlight this. Industry-funded research tends to set up questions that will give them desirable results, and tends to be interpreted in ways that are beneficial to their interests, she says.

Research has repeatedly shown that when food companies are paying, they are more likely to get helpful results. US researchers who reviewed 206 studies about soft drinks, juice and milk, for example, found that those receiving industry money were six times more likely to produce favourable or neutral findings than those that did not. Most nutrition scientists who accept money from industry are in a state of denial, according to Nestle, whose book Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat is due to be published in October. The researchers involved feel it doesnt affect the integrity and quality of their work, she says. But research on drug industry funding shows the influence is generally unconscious, unintentional and unrecognised.

The public are also misled into believing chocolate is healthy through what scientists refer to as the file drawer effect. Two of the aforementioned studies those on blood pressure and markers of cardiovascular health are meta-analyses, meaning they pool the results of previously published research. The problem is that science journals, like the popular media, are more likely to publish findings that suggest chocolate is healthy than those that conclude it has no effect, which skews meta-analyses. Its really hard to publish something that doesnt find anything, says Dr Duane Mellor, a nutritionist at Coventry University who has studied cocoa and health. Theres a bias in the under-reporting of negative outcomes.

Then theres the problem that, unlike in drug trials, those taking part in chocolate studies often know whether they are being given chocolate or a placebo. Most people have positive expectations about chocolate because they like it. They are therefore primed, through the conditioning effect famously described by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov to respond positively. They may, for example, become more relaxed, boosting levels of endorphins and neurotransmitters, and triggering short-term physiological benefits.

The responses of study participants can be affected by their beliefs and assumptions about chocolate, says Mellor. Research has also found people who volunteer for studies are more likely to be affected by their beliefs about an intervention than the population as a whole.

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So hard to resist: a chocolate shop in Bruges, Belgium. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Many of the studies that involve people being given chocolate and tracking their health over time are short and have small numbers of participants. This adds to the difficulties nutritional scientists have in separating out the effects of consuming one food or nutrient from the rest of their diet and other variables and interactions within the body.

So when and why did chocolate companies become so keen on using science as a marketing tool? The answer depends on whom you ask.

During the 1990s, scientists became interested in the French paradox the now discredited observation that heart disease rates were low in France despite a national diet high in saturated fats. One proposed explanation was relatively high consumption of flavanols, a group of compounds found in red wine, tea and cocoa which, at high doses, had been linked to the prevention of cellular damage. US researchers caused a stir when from around the turn of the century they concluded that Kuna people off the coast of Panama had low blood pressure and rates of cardiovascular disease because they drank more than five cups of flavanol-rich cocoa per day.

This undoubtedly stimulated chocolate industry research. However in 2000, a Channel 4 documentary reported on the use of child labour and slavery in cocoa production operations in Ghana and Ivory Coast the source of most of the worlds chocolate. This triggered a wave of media reports and negative publicity.

Some say the industry poured money into science at this time to divert attention away from west Africa. Efforts by many of the large chocolate companies to demonstrate health effects started side by side with the outcry over the use of child labour and slavery, says Michael Coe, a retired anthropologist formerly of Yale University, co-author of The True History of Chocolate. Some of it was legitimate science, but it was stimulated, at least in part, by the need to say something positive about chocolate.

Industry figures strenuously disagree. There was no connection between those two things, says Matthias Berninger, vice-president for public affairs at Mars, Inc, when asked whether Coe is correct. The Kuna story sparked a lot of interest. The level of investment and energy and intensity of research was much more driven by that than it was by the idea of creating a halo around chocolate.

Critics have accused Mars in particular of using nutritional science to cast its products in a good light. Through its scientific arm, Mars Symbioscience, it has published more than 140 peer-reviewed scientific papers on cocoa flavanols and health since 2005.

The family-owned company has traditionally remained tight-lipped about its involvement in cocoa research. However, last month it published its policies on conducting and funding research. Asked whether it had previously been involved in using research to suggest chocolate was healthy, Berninger says: I do believe that that was so tempting, Mars couldnt resist it. If you look back 20 years, there was this idea that this could create huge opportunities for us.

But he says this changed long ago. As a marketing strategy, we have not engaged in that for more than a decade. In 2007, the European Union tightened regulations on nutrition and health claims. Meanwhile, research was making it increasingly clear that health benefits claims for commercial dark chocolate products were unrealistic because of their low flavanol content.

Yet campaigners highlight how chocolate companies, including Mars, have fought public health regulations that might undermine their profits using third parties. US public health lawyer Michele Simon produced hard-hitting reports in 2013 and 2015, documenting how the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and the American Society of Nutrition (ASN), were receiving large sponsorship fees from major food industry companies. In 2014, the ASN had gone in to bat on behalf of its corporate backers, including Coca-Cola, Mars and McDonalds, against a US government plan for added sugar content to be included on food labels, and questioning the evidence on their negative health effects. A year earlier, the AND stated its support for a total diet approach, and opposition to the overly simplistic classification of specific foods as good or bad. Its about co-opting health organisations, and buying legitimacy among professionals and members of the public, says Andy Bellatti, co-founder of US-based Dietitians for Professional Integrity.

Chocolate manufacturers have also used the classic corporate strategy of using third-party lobbyists to manufacture artificial scientific controversy. Science is, by its nature, about evidence-based probabilities not absolute certainties. The exaggeration of uncertainty was perfected by the tobacco companies in the 1950s, and later copied by the asbestos and oil industries. Chocolate makers have done this through lobbying groups such as the Washington-based International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which campaigned against added sugar labelling in the US, and opposed the World Health Organisations 2015 advice that less than 10% of daily energy intake should come from free sugars those added to food and drinks and occurring naturally in honey and fruit juice.

Criticisms of these tactics seem to be hitting home. Mars broke ranks with fellow chocolate-making ILSI members including Nestl, Hershey and Mondelz, which owns Cadbury, in 2016 when it denounced a paper funded by the group questioning research linking sugar consumption and poor health, and related health advice. Last month Mars announced it was leaving ILSI.

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Dont count on it: large quantities of the flavanols found in chocolate need to be consumed before they will have an impact on blood pressure. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Marss Berninger agrees that the chocolate industry could do more to prevent the spread of health myths. Chocolate is a treat you should enjoy occasionally and in small portions, not a health food, he says. Did we say that loud enough over the last 10 years? I would say no.

Public health campaigners welcome Marss new stance. Some see it as a genuine attempt to do the right thing, while others highlight how large food companies are seeking to reposition themselves in the face of growing environmental and health concerns. Whatever the motivation, the gulf between the chocolate industry and its critics seems to be narrowing.

Children hoping to celebrate Easter in the traditional chocolatey style on 1 April will be reassured to hear the two sides also agree on another aspect of the debate. While chocolate is probably not healthy, its also not harmful when enjoyed in sensible amounts, says Mellor. Chocolate is candy, adds Nestle. As part of a reasonable diet, its fine in moderation.

You can say anything with figures

The role of the media in helping chocolate makers exploit our failure to grasp the complexities of nutrition science was laid bare in a 2015 expos. German television journalists set up a three-week study in which they asked one group of volunteers to follow a low-carb diet, another to do the same but add a daily chocolate bar, a third to make no change to their diet. Both low-carb groups lost an average of 5lb, but the chocolate group lost weight faster. By measuring 18 different things in a small number of people, the spoofers made it likely they would find statistically significant but fake benefits of eating chocolate.

The peer-reviewed International Archives of Internal Medicine agreed to publish a hastily written paper within 24 hours of receiving it for a fee of 600. John Bohannon, a Harvard University biologist and science journalist in on the hoax, put together a press release. Within days stories had been published in more than 20 countries. The Mail Online, Daily Express, Daily Star and Bild were among those that fell for it.

I was just really ashamed for my colleagues, says Bohannon. These are people who regurgitate whole chunks of press releases and almost never call on outside sources. In my book, thats not even journalism. Its just an extension of PR.

Big Food: Critical Perspectives on the Global Growth of the Food and Beverage Industry, edited by Simon N Williams and Marion Nestle, is published by Routledge

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/mar/25/chocolate-the-dark-truth-is-it-good-for-you-health-wellbeing-blood-pressure-flavanols

David Laid Natty Or Not?

David Laid has made some massive strength gains lately so is he natty or not?

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Trying To Steal Parking At Comic-Con

Jasmin and I went to the Toronto Comic-Con where we had a little issue with parking.

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Vegan Nappa Gains

What I ate today + I've added a new DBZ figure to my desk.

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Some Chinese ready meals found to have more salt than 11 bags of crisps

Some takeaway dishes contain as much salt as five Big Macs with ready meals also high in salt

Chinese takeaways and ready meals should carry compulsory health warning labels on menus and packaging to alert consumers to astonishing and harmful salt levels, UK health experts have recommended.

The worst-offending Chinese takeaway dishes in a survey published on Tuesday by Action on Salt were found to contain as much salt as five McDonalds Big Macs, while many had more than half an adults entire daily allowance.

Supermarket Chinese ready meals were also laden with salt, with some containing more than the amount found in two Pizza Express margherita pizzas, the report reveals. Some rice dishes contained more salt than 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

Action on Salt is leading a group of health experts in calling on Public Health England to set tough new salt targets, make front-of-pack labelling mandatory and to follow New Yorks lead by requiring chains to put warning labels on high-salt dishes. They are also urging the food industry and restaurants to reduce salt by reformulating takeaways and ready meals.

Of 141 supermarket Chinese ready meals analysed, nearly half (43%) were high in salt containing more than 1.5g/100g, or 1.8g per portion which would trigger a red traffic light label.

Chines food graphic.

Salt is the forgotten killer as it puts up our blood pressure, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year, said Graham MacGregor, the chairman of Action on Salt and a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London.

Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease. We are now calling on Public Health England to take immediate action.

Accompanying rice dishes, spring rolls and prawn crackers and soy sauce can pile on the salt in a Chinese meal. Icelands takeaway egg fried rice has a shocking 4.1g salt per 350g pack more than in 11 bags of ready salted crisps.

Dishes from six Chinese restaurants were also analysed, with 97% found to contain 2g of salt or more. More than half (58%) contained in excess of 3g of salt per dish half an adults maximum recommended daily intake.

At the start of salt awareness week, Action on Salt is calling on Public Health England to revive the UKs salt reduction programme. The last set of salt targets drawn up under the Department of Healths responsibility deal was published in 2014.

The findings from the survey are very concerning, said Hemini Bharadia of Blood Pressure UK. We are all eating too much salt. This can lead to high blood pressure causing strokes and heart attacks, most of which could be avoided through better lifestyle choices.

Quick guide

Processed foods

These are some of the UKs best-selling ultra-processed foods

Mr Kipling Angel slices

Batchelors Super Noodles

McVities digestive biscuits

Kelloggs Rice Krispies

Walkers cheese and onion crisps

Cadburys Crunchie

Haribo sweets

These are the ingredients in Mr Kipling Angel slices


SugarListed first, so it is the biggest ingredient. Each slice contains 13.2g of sugar, which is 15% of an adults recommended daily intake

Vegetable oils (rapeseed, palm)Rapeseed oil is healthy, but palm oil is a highly saturated fat, widely used in industrially-produced foods because of its very low cost

Wheat flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin, thiamin) Added vitamins but this is finely milled white flour

Water

Glucose syrupAnother form of sugar, made from maize in the USA, where it is called corn syrup, or from potatoes and wheat

Humectant (vegetable glycerine) Reduces moisture loss

DextroseAnother form of sugar

Dried egg white

Whey powder (milk)Gives texture

Vegetable fat (palm) Cheap form of saturated fat

Maize starchOften used as an anti-caking agent in sugars

Skimmed milk powder

Raising agents (disodium diphosphate, sodium bicarbonate)

Emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, sorbitan monostearate, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, soya lecithin, polysorbate 60)Emulsifiers are additives used to stabilise processed foods

Tapioca starchThickening agent derived from cassava roots

Salt

Stabiliser (xanthan gum)Made from fermented sugars. Prevents ingredients from separating

Preservative (potassium sorbate)

Milk proteinCan be used in industrially-made sponge cakes to replace egg, giving volume, elasticity and texture

Flavourings

Gelling agent (sodium alginate) This is E401, extracted from brown seaweed and used as a stabiliser in cream

Colours (titanium dioxide, cochineal, lutein) Titanium dioxide is an additive used in paint but also massively in food to give a white colour. Cochineal is the red colouring derived from insects. Lutein is yellow colouring extracted from marigolds

Acid (acetic acid)A leavening ingredient in baked goods when combined with baking soda

Alison Tedstone, the chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: Our salt consumption has decreased over the last decade a loaf of bread has 40% less than it used to. However, some products are still too high in salt and we know this can be reduced further.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/13/calls-for-warnings-on-astonishingly-salty-chinese-food

I Bought Leather Gloves #Not Vegan Anymore

I accidentally bought a pair of leather gloves and I thought I'd discuss the difficulties of being a vegan motorcyclist trying to avoid leather products.

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Is vitamin D really a cure-all and how should we get our fix?

Evidence is growing that the sunshine vitamin helps protect against a wide range of conditions including cancers

Vitamin D is having quite a moment. In the past few months, evidence has been growing that the sunshine vitamin not only has an important role in bone and muscle health, but might also help prevent a range of cancers, reduce the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis, protect against multiple sclerosis and cut the risk of colds and flu.

But is vitamin D truly a cure-all? And if the benefits are real, should we all be taking vitamin D supplements or even fortifying our foods?

Vitamin D is not one chemical, but a label that covers a group of substances, including vitamin D2 and D3. The latter is the form made when sunlight hits your skin and is also found in other animals. Non-animal sources such as fungi and yeasts primarily produce the D2 form. Once in the body, these substances are converted into biologically active steroids that circulate in the blood.

One area where the impact on health appears to be clear is vitamin Ds role in keeping bones and teeth healthy and improving muscle strength.

The musculoskeletal stuff is really good and really strong, said Helen Bond, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, pointing out that vitamin D is important in calcium and phosphate absorption.

Too little vitamin D can be serious: the skeletal disorders osteomalacia and rickets are known to be caused by a vitamin D deficiency, and the latter is on the rise in the UK, a finding some put down to the impact of poverty on poor nutrition.

But do the wider health claims stand up?

Intuition suggests that it cant all be right, said Julia Newton-Bishop, professor of dermatology and vitamin D expert from the University of Leeds. But while a recent review of evidence by the scientific advisory committee on nutrition only found strong evidence in the case of bone and muscle health, Newton-Bishop says a growing body of research is exploring other conditions.

Newton-Bishop says the fact that receptors for vitamin D are present on a huge array of body cells suggests the substance might indeed play a central role in our health, adding that human history offers further evidence: as humans moved to higher latitudes, skin tone became paler. [One] explanation is that vitamin D was so important that that was a selective pressure, she said. The fact that Inuits arent pale-skinned and for millennia they have had an exclusively fish diet is an argument for the fact that vitamin D was a driver, because why would they be different to everyone else?

Martin Hewison, professor of molecular endocrinology at the University of Birmingham, who carried out the recent study into vitamin D and rheumatoid arthritis, said evidence from cell studies backs up the idea that the vitamin is important.

In most of the models, vitamin D appears to have quite a positive effect, he said. If you are using cancer cell lines or cancer cells, vitamin D has anti-cancer effects, and likewise in cells that have been used for models for infection and immune disorders, vitamin D has quite clear antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

But when it comes to studies in humans, the picture is far from clear-cut. While some studies find links to diseases, others do not.

That, say experts, could be partly down to the way they are conducted for example, not all studies take into account the starting levels of vitamin D in participants, or they may have been carried out in populations with different genetic factors that might affect the impact of vitamin D.

Other experts have doubts about vitamin Ds influence. Prof Tim Spector, author of The Diet Myth, wrote in the Independent: The evidence so far suggests (with the possible exception of multiple sclerosis and some cancers) that low vitamin D levels are either irrelevant or merely a marker of the disease.

Hewison says that while vitamin D might help prevent certain conditions such as tuberculosis, respiratory infections and autoimmune diseases,it should not be seen as a cure for them. It is good at protecting against things, he said, but once a disease is settled in, it is unlikely you are going to be able to give somebody who has got prostate cancer vitamin D and it is going to get dramatically better.

What about the case for supplements? With some having previously been found to cause more harm than good, Newton-Bishop says caution towards this apparent panacea is unsurprising. Everyone within the cancer world is nervous about supplements, she said. I would say to patients dont take supplements, with the exception of avoiding a low vitamin D level.

But how low is low? With the amount of sunlight needed varying with genetics, skin colour, time of day, how much one covers up and a host of other factors, the scientific advisory committee on nutrition said it was too difficult to say how much sun we need to make sure our vitamin D levels are up to scratch. In any case, from October until March the sun in the UK isnt strong enough to do the job.

The upshot is that national guidelines now recommend that during the autumn and winter at least, individuals should consider taking supplements or boosting their intake of vitamin-D-rich foods to get an intake of 10 micrograms a day, with higher-risk individuals such as some ethnic minority groups advised to follow the guidelines all year round.

However, Bond says it is hard to get enough from diet alone.

There are very few naturally rich sources of vitamin D, and most really good sources are of animal origin, which doesnt bode well for vegans and vegetarians, she said. A serving of oily fish like mackerel will give you easily your 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, but if you drop down to a tin of canned tuna, you are only getting 1.5 micrograms.

And as Adrian Martineau, clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, points out, even in the summer, sunshine isnt going to be the answer, especially because there is an associated risk of skin cancer.

If you are considering taking supplements, it might be worth checking which form of vitamin D they contain. Some people dont want an animal form of vitamin D, said Hewison. However, What studies have shown is that if you want to raise your blood vitamin D levels, vitamin D3 is much more efficient at doing that.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, a consultant paediatrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says supplements are not enough as it is hard to make sure people actually take them. Instead, he suggests the UK consider food fortification.

Some countries, including Canada and Finland, have embraced fortification of milk. But although infant formula and some breakfast cereals, plant-based milks and fruit juices are already fortified in the UK, most foods are not.

Hewison believes the government should consider a national fortification plan and that the risks of it resulting in dangerously high vitamin D intake are negligible: I think most people in the field agree that if you want to have a large-scale improvement in peoples vitamin D levels then it can only really be done through fortified foods.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/mar/09/is-vitamin-d-really-a-cure-all-and-how-should-we-get-our-fix

Markiplier Wants To Ban Guns

Markiplier has some interesting ideas on firearms control.

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