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Nutrition

Salad or cheeseburger? Your co-workers shape your food choices

Co-workers may implicitly or explicitly give each other license to choose unhealthy foods or exert pressure to make a healthier choice.

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Photo by Alice Pasqual from Unsplash.com

The foods people buy at a workplace cafeteria may not always be chosen to satisfy an individual craving or taste for a particular food. When co-workers are eating together, individuals are more likely to select foods that are as healthy–or unhealthy–as the food selections on their fellow employees’ trays.

“We found that individuals tend to mirror the food choices of others in their social circles, which may explain one way obesity spreads through social networks,” says Douglas Levy, PhD, an investigator at the Mongan Institute Health Policy Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and first author of new research published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Levy and his co-investigators discovered that individuals’ eating patterns can be shaped even by casual acquaintances, evidence that corroborates several multi-decade observational studies showing the influence of people’s social ties on weight gain, alcohol consumption and eating behavior.

Previous research on social influence upon food choice had been primarily limited to highly controlled settings like studies of college students eating a single meal together, making it difficult to generalize findings to other age groups and to real-world environments. The study by Levy and his co-authors examined the cumulative social influence of food choices among approximately 6,000 MGH employees of diverse ages and socioeconomic status as they ate at the hospital system’s seven cafeterias over two years. The healthfulness of employees’ food purchases was determined using the hospital cafeterias’ “traffic light” labeling system designating all food and beverages as green (healthy), yellow (less healthy) or red (unhealthy).

MGH employees may use their ID cards to pay at the hospitals’ cafeterias, which allowed the researchers to collect data on individuals’ specific food purchases, and when and where they purchased the food. The researchers inferred the participants’ social networks by examining how many minutes apart two people made food purchases, how often those two people ate at the same time over many weeks, and whether two people visited a different cafeteria at the same time.

“Two people who make purchases within two minutes of each other, for example, are more likely to know each other than those who make purchases 30 minutes apart,” says Levy.

And to validate the social network model, the researchers surveyed more than 1,000 employees, asking them to confirm the names of the people the investigators had identified as their dining partners.

Based on cross-sectional and longitudinal assessments of three million encounters between pairs of employees making cafeteria purchases together, the researchers found that food purchases by people who were connected to each other were consistently more alike than they were different. “The effect size was a bit stronger for healthy foods than for unhealthy foods,” says Levy.

A key component of the research was to determine whether social networks truly influence eating behavior, or whether people with similar lifestyles and food preferences are more likely to become friends and eat together, a phenomenon known as homophily. “We controlled for characteristics that people had in common and analyzed the data from numerous perspectives, consistently finding results that supported social influence rather than homophily explanations,” says Levy.

Why do people who are socially connected choose similar foods? Peer pressure is one explanation. “People may change their behavior to cement the relationship with someone in their social circle,” says Levy. Co-workers may also implicitly or explicitly give each other license to choose unhealthy foods or exert pressure to make a healthier choice.

The study’s findings have several broader implications for public health interventions to prevent obesity. One option may be to target pairs of people making food choices and offer two-for-one sales on salads and other healthful foods but no discounts on cheeseburgers. Another approach might be to have an influential person in a particular social circle model more healthful food choices, which will affect others in the network. The research also demonstrates to policymakers that an intervention that improves healthy eating in a particular group will also be of value to individuals socially connected to that group.

“As we emerge from the pandemic and transition back to in-person work, we have an opportunity to eat together in a more healthful way than we did before,” says co-author Mark Pachucki, PhD, associate professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “If your eating habits shape how your co-workers eat–even just a little–then changing your food choices for the better might benefit your co-workers as well.”

Nutrition

It doesn’t matter much which fiber you choose – just get more fiber

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

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Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash.com

That huge array of dietary fiber supplements in the drugstore or grocery aisle can be overwhelming to a consumer. They make all sorts of health claims too, not being subject to FDA review and approval. So how do you know which supplement works and would be best for you?

A rigorous examination of the gut microbes of study participants who were fed three different kinds of supplements in different sequences concludes that people who had been eating the least amount of fiber before the study showed the greatest benefit from supplements, regardless of which ones they consumed.

“The people who responded the best had been eating the least fiber to start with,” said study leader Lawrence David, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University.

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

“We’ve evolved to depend on nutrients that our microbiomes produce for us,” said Zack Holmes, former PhD student in the David lab and co-author on two new papers about fiber. “But with recent shifts in diet away from fiber-rich foods, we’ve stopped feeding our microbes what they need.”

When your gut bugs are happily munching on a high-fiber diet, they produce more of the short-chain fatty acids that protect you from diseases of the gut, colorectal cancers and even obesity. And in particular, they produce more of a fatty acid called butyrate, which is fuel for your intestinal cells themselves. Butyrate has been shown to improve the gut’s resistance to pathogens, lower inflammation and create happier, healthier cells lining the host’s intestines.

Given the variety of supplements available, David’s research team wanted to know whether it may be necessary to ‘personalize’ fiber supplements to different people, since different fermentable fibers have been shown to have different effects on short-chain fatty acid production from one individual to the next.

“We didn’t see a lot of difference between the fiber supplements we tested. Rather, they looked interchangeable,” David said during a tour of his sparkling new lab in the MSRB III building, which includes a special “science toilet” for collecting samples and an array of eight “artificial gut” fermenters for growing happy gut microbes outside a body.

“Regardless of which of the test supplements you pick, it seems your microbiome will thank you with more butyrate,” David said.

The average American adult only consumes 20 to 40 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber, which is believed to be a root cause behind a lot of our common health maladies, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders and colon cancer. Instead of having to go totally vegetarian or consume pounds of kale daily, convenient fiber supplements have been created that can increase the production of short-chain fatty acids.

The Duke experiments tested three main kinds of fermentable fiber supplements: inulin, dextrin (Benefiber), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) marketed as Bimuno. The 28 participants were separated into groups and given each of the three supplements for one week in different orders, with a week off between supplements to allow participants’ guts to return to a baseline state. 

Participants who had been consuming the most fiber beforehand showed the least change in their microbiomes, and the type of supplement really didn’t matter, probably because they were already hosting a more optimal population of gut bugs, David said.

Conversely, participants who had been consuming the least fiber saw the greatest increase in butyrate with the supplements, regardless of which one was being consumed.

In a second study the David lab performed with support from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, they found that gut microbes responded to a new addition of fiber within a day, dramatically altering the populations of bugs present in the gut and changing which of their genes they were using to digest food.

Using their artificial gut fermenters, the researchers found the gut microbes were primed by the first dose to consume fiber, and digested it quickly on the second dose.

“These findings are encouraging,” said graduate student Jeffrey Letourneau, lead author of the second study. “If you’re a low fiber consumer, it’s probably not worth it to stress so much about which kind of fiber to add. It’s just important that you find something that works for you in a sustainable way.”

“It doesn’t need to be a supplement either,” Holmes added. “It can just be a fiber-rich food. Folks who were already eating a lot of fiber, which comes from plants like beans, leafy greens, and citrus, already had very healthy microbiomes.”

“Microbiota Responses to Different Prebiotics Are Conserved Within Individuals and Associated with Habitual Fiber Intake” by Zachary Holmes, Max Villa, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Eric Dallow, Brianna Petrone, Justin Silverman, Pao-Hwa Lin, and Lawrence David appeared in Microbiome.

“Ecological Memory of Prior Nutrient Exposure in the Human Gut Microbiome” by Jeffrey Letourneau, Zachary Holmes, Eric Dallow, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Verónica Carrion, Savita Gupta, Adam Mincey, Michael Muehlbauer, and James Bain, Lawrence David appeared in ISME Journal.

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Nutrition

5 Reasons to add lobster to summer meals

In addition to its distinctly sweet flavor, consider these reasons to add Maine lobster to your menu this summer.

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The arrival of summer means favorites like fresh seafood are back on the menu for many families. This year, as you explore new and inventive ways to add variety to weeknight dinners and backyard barbecues, consider including lobster as a versatile, indulgent ingredient.  

Throughout the summer months, lobstermen up and down the Maine coast set off before dawn in pursuit of one of the most beloved crustaceans in the world. As one of the oldest fisheries in the country, the industry boasts a rich history with an unparalleled commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship that has allowed it to thrive for generations.

In addition to its distinctly sweet flavor, consider these reasons to add Maine lobster to your menu this summer:

Sustainability

To help protect the lobster population and the livelihood of those in the fishery, the lobstermen pioneered sustainability and traceability practices before it was fashionable. The sustainability measures developed and adapted over generations, such as protecting egg-bearing females and releasing juvenile lobsters, have preserved the fishery and produced abundant lobster stocks.

Small Business Support

Unlike many commercial fisheries, the Maine Lobster industry consists of more than 5,000 independent lobstermen who own and operate small day boats. Many lobstermen are from multi-generational lobstering families, which, along with a mandatory apprenticeship program, ensure its continued survival.

Front Lines of Science

Mother Nature and science guide the fishery, meaning ongoing collaboration between scientists and fishermen to research the health of the lobster population and adapt to the effects of climate change to help protect the oceans.

Protection of Endangered Species

Sustainability for the industry means taking care of the larger marine environment and the species that rely on it. Since the 1990s, Maine lobstermen have taken proactive steps to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales by eliminating surface float rope, incorporating weak links to allow whales to break free in the event they encounter gear and marking rope to ensure traceability.

Community Engagement

The lobster industry goes well beyond the fishermen on the water; including the dealers, processors, restaurant owners, trap and boat builders and more. The fishery is part of the identity of Maine, which means enjoying lobster rolls, grilled tails or steamed lobsters this summer directly supports the community and the lobstermen who call it home.

To find more ways to support the industry and recipes to enjoy this summer, visit lobsterfrommaine.com.

Chilled Lobster with Orange and Basil Vinaigrette 

Recipe courtesy of Erin Lynch on behalf of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative 
Servings: 4Dressing:

1          tablespoon minced shallots
2          tablespoons olive oil
2          tablespoons fresh orange juice
1          tablespoon fresh lime juice
2          tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1          tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2       teaspoon salt, plus additional, to taste, divided 
1/4       teaspoon Dijon mustard
            pepper, to taste
1          pound cooked Maine Lobster meat, cut into 1-inch pieces

1          head butter lettuce, torn
1          ripe avocado, peeled and diced
3          radishes, thinly sliced
            kosher salt 
            freshly ground black pepper

To make dressing: In medium bowl, whisk shallots, olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, basil, parsley, salt and Dijon mustard. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste.

Add lobster to bowl; toss to coat. Chill at least 1 hour, or up to one day.

To serve: Arrange lettuce on serving plate and place lobster on top. Sprinkle with avocado, radishes, kosher salt and ground black pepper.Traditional Lobster Rolls

Recipe courtesy of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative 
Yield: 4 rolls

1          pound cooked Maine lobster meat 
            mayonnaise, to taste, for binding
            freshly ground black pepper, to taste
            salt, to taste
            fresh lemon juice, to taste
4          buttered, toasted rolls or preferred bread 
            sliced chives, for garnish

In bowl, combine lobster meat; mayonnaise, to taste; pepper, to taste; salt, to taste; and lemon juice, to taste.

Place 3-4 ounces lobster salad on each roll.

Garnish with chives and serve.

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Nutrition

Revamp your pantry, start living healthy

Eat and live better with products that make healthy living a lifestyle.

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In the past, many Filipinos put wellbeing and wellness on the back burner until major health concerns arose. But since the pandemic began, health has been thrust into the forefront, taking on a new importance for many.

Now more than ever, individuals are finding ways to live healthier lifestyles. Whether that means taking precautions against getting sick, eating wholesome and nutritious food, or managing a healthy weight. 

A quick Google search about healthy living and dieting will result in a ton of information that it can be hard to know what is accurate. Be wary of fad diets all over social media that promise quick and easy results. The truth is these quick fixes don’t work. What does work is a lifestyle change. It’s more sustainable too. Here are a few tips to make a healthy change to one’s lifestyle.

Munch on good snacks

Not all snacks are bad. Go for snacks that include protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Good snacks also help curb sugar cravings. In fact, snacking is beneficial when increasing intake of nutrient-rich foods for a burst of energy. Snacks that are good to have on hand are those that will keep the stomach full throughout the day. Consider the Macro Fruit Free Muesli Bar and Classic Fruit & Nut Muesli Bar for great sources of fiber. 

Eat whole, organic food

Whole foods are those that have not been overly processed. They have many benefits because they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that help keep the immune system and body strong. Try products that can be used in more ways than one such as Macro Tomato Garlic & Basil Chunky Pasta Sauce which can be used as a sauce for fish or chicken. Another versatile product is Macro Quick Oats which can be used in baking or to make a classic oatmeal recipe or overnight oats. These products promise more than just great taste, but also healthier alternatives to traditional ingredients.    

Stock up on superfoods

Superfoods are those that are rich in antioxidants, good fat, and fiber. Instead of foods that are high in sugar, consider superfoods like Macro Turmeric Latte and Macro Black Chia Seeds. Turmeric helps lower inflammation levels in the body and reduces the risk of health problems. Chia seeds on the other hand are packed with antioxidants and fiber which can help lower high blood pressure and regulate the digestive system.

All Macro products are available in Shopwise, Robinsons Supermarket and The Marketplace Rustans branches nationwide. Woolworths products are also available via the GoCart website.

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