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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Food

In Elemental. More on Medium.

What makes Okinawa’s longest-living community the healthiest village

Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

While most of us would never think of saying something to someone for their unhealthy choices, people can be oddly critical when it comes to pointing out healthy ones. The person who eats and drinks a lot at parties is fun, the person who decides to have a moderate portion and some water is boring. Oftentimes choosing the healthy choice is equated with being the spoilsport.

It can feel odd to write it out, but these assumptions of how I would be perceived in social situations used to make me very nervous about making healthy choices when I was with…


The rise (and rupture) of intuitive eating

Photo: Asnim Ansari/Unsplash

Imagine yourself, if you will, in the midst of the exquisite diet chaos of the 90s. Pick your fighter. Diet juggernaut Robert Atkins (who first introduced his eponymous low-carb diet in the 70s) released “The New Diet Revolution” in 1992, vying for hearts and stomachs against the perfect nothingness of the new fat-free Snackwell cookie. 1994 saw the publication of low-fat lobbyist Dean Ornish’s punchy “Eat More, Weigh Less,” putting a slick gloss on magical thinking. Barry Sears fired out his pro-protein “Enter The Zone: A Dietary Road Map” the following year. …


Good Question

New research intensifies the debate

Photo: Promodhya Abeysekara/Unsplash

Americans are inveterate snackers.

More than 90% of the U.S. population eats at least one snack a day, and most of us eat several. Some experts have called snacking “a hallmark of the American dietary pattern.”

Our enthusiasm for snacking isn’t new. Between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, the average number of snacks we consumed hardly budged; we ate two or three snacks a day back then, and that’s about how many we eat now.

While we may not be snacking more frequently than we used to, there’s some evidence that our snacks have gotten bigger.

Measured in…


My science-based journey to a plant-based lifestyle

Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

“Heart disease? Oh, c’mon, that’s so old school.” So went my thinking as I rode a conveyor belt into a CT scan in one of those dreary medical-imaging facilities I’d managed to avoid for the entirety of my 51 years. I was fairly certain this was just another test that didn’t really apply to me, one of the many my doctor had tacked on to the growing list of exams we Americans find ourselves subjected to as we move through the decades.

And why should it? I’d never smoked, I drank only in moderation — usually red wine. I exercised…


Good Question

Beans, broccoli, and many other plant foods can be major gas triggers

A unidentifiable woman carrying a bag of fruit and vegetables over her shoulder.
A unidentifiable woman carrying a bag of fruit and vegetables over her shoulder.
Photo illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

In my household, for reasons that are obscure even to me, “fart” is a bad word. At some point, my wife and I must have decided that we didn’t want to hear our kids use the F-word all the time, so we adopted “toot” as a gentler substitute. Beans and other legumes are often on our menu, and things can get pretty tooty around here.

The medical term for gas is “flatus.” While gas production varies from person to person, research has found that healthy people “pass flatus” up to 25 times a day. According to a 2013 study in…


The Nuance

Experts say a range of factors — including how we eat — may explain the rise of IBD and other gut disorders

Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

Gut health in America is poor and seems to be getting worse. According to a 2020 study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina, roughly one in four U.S. adults regularly experiences diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, or other symptoms of gastrointestinal dysfunction.

Meanwhile, about the same proportion of Americans — one in four— has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which the stomach’s contents migrate up into the throat and food pipe, causing heartburn and other symptoms. …


Illustrations by Julia Dufosse for Elemental

The rise in food allergies has been weighing on the health system for a couple decades now — with little understanding of where it came from and where it’s headed

During a grocery run long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Michael Pistiner, MD, a second-year pediatric allergy fellow at Children’s Hospital Boston, was standing in a Boston Whole Foods aisle basking in the glow of how darn cute his son Scott was. His three-and-a-half-year-old had just tasted a chocolate bar with walnuts for the first time and said, “That’s delicious!” It was such a big word. A nice moment for father and son.

As an allergist in training, Pistiner knew he was doing everything right, exposing his totally healthy child to a walnut at the American Academy of Pediatrics-recommended age. But…


PANDEMIC WINTER HEALTH HACKS

Fiber is your friend

Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants

My primary care doctor is a keeper. Sharp, gracious, and no-nonsense, she frequently impresses me with how well she’s kept her human shine intact after a long career in clinical medicine. After all, as many docs will readily acknowledge, the grind of patient care and ensuing burnout can suck the gentle goodwill right out of you.

Six months ago, Dr. Amazing enlightened me about something I won’t soon forget: “We should all be pooping about a pound a day.” Okkkkay. Because she’s so cool, I listened as she got excited about the topic — nodding slowly and repressing my urge…


Pandemic Winter Health Hacks

Good for your body, good for your stress levels

Perhaps now more than ever, healthy routines are powerful companions. Making batches of soup in the cold weather months is one routine I swear by. Because my winter self is most alert, willing, and creative (thanks in part to the boost from morning light) in the first part of the day, I like to cook then.

Soup making pairs particularly well with a body clock tuned this way. I can chop, sauté, and season during coffee hour and let things simmer and stew throughout the day. As I write this, a bean soup is on the stove — loaded with…


There’s a scientific reason to just eat what you want

Illustration: Avalon Nuovo

If history tells us anything, we are on the edge of a new age of extreme dieting, disordered exercising, and systemic size bias. It’s a long-held cultural pattern: Periods of hardship and uncertainty tend to yield extreme diet fads and a general rise in disordered eating. As dietary historian Susan Yager notes, some of our most bizarre and restrictive diet trends emerged in the middle of the Great Depression. A century later, we find ourselves one year into a devastating pandemic, slogging through an economic crisis, and at the start of a winter of uncertainty. We are vulnerable and stressed…

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