Monday, October 26, 2015

How to Know You're Reading a Legit Science Blog.

Whilst I was preparing a new blog post, I decided to take a break on Facebook (that’s just my way of glorifying procrastination- LOL) and I saw this post – I'm not going to say by who – and it was from a blog claiming to give the truth about cancer and how a certain type of chemical in food causes obesity and “excites the brain to death”.  If you know me personally, or if you realised this through my posts, I absolutely HATE scaremongering and I hate using that technique of writing in my blog.  They even use this technique to scare people into not taking protective measures against possible deadly diseases - i.e. anti-vaxxers.  If you want to explain something, explain it without using excessive comparisons in order to scare people. Fear isn't the right way to explain science.

There are bloggers out there that fill their blogs with pseudoscience; they are self-proclaimed experts in their chosen field, especially after they've graduated from Google University. My blog aims to debunk this pseudoscience that tends to spread in the blogosphere. You just have to remember: anybody can write anything on the internet. The issue is to find out who to trust.

So I would like to help you know when you’re reading legit science on the internet.

Here’s some things to look out for:

1 References, references, references!

At the end of each post, science bloggers usually state where they got their sources from – that’s all the scientific information, claims and research. There will usually be links for proper scientific journals either at the end of the post or linked throughout the article.

2 About profiles

Most blogs have an about page where the author(s) include a little biography about themselves, detailing their educational background and why they started their blog. Science bloggers will always list their academic backgrounds (see mine above) and most of educated at various degree levels in scientific subjects.

3 They’re not against chemicals!

Not all chemicals are bad and it’s the dose that makes the poison. Sounds cliché but it has to be said. Water is a chemical; chocolate contains chemicals and so does coffee – drinking / eating one of those in excess can cause detrimental effects. Water overdose is called hyponatremia. Any good science blog won’t have posts against chemicals in general, their posts will always be specific and detailed to a particular molecule they would like to write about. 

Here’s a really condensed list of my favourite and trust-able science blogs!

Compound Interest (to understand the chemistry of things)

The Scientific Beauty (for cosmetic chemistry and a little bit of fashion for academics) 

The Chemical Blog (chemistry related blog)

ASAP Science  (YouTube videos explaining everyday science)

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

What's in your Pumpkin Spice Latte? ( + A Recipe!)

Autumn is easing its way in and the leaves are turning orange and brown hues and the pumpkin spice latte is making a major comeback. So surely everyone is starting to feel it's autumn now.  The PSL is now the official symbol of autumn - forget the weather or the leaves changing colour.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Image
Anybody who has tried the PSL and tasted it knows that it doesn’t even taste of pumpkin, nor does it have any of its nutritional benefits.  A cooked, mashed cup of it has most, if not all of your daily vitamin A and a significant percentage of both your daily potassium and fibre. Recently, the autumnal drink has been in the news for its recipe, which doesn't include real pumpkin or real, natural flavours. All flavours are replaced with chemicals which make up the flavouring. The caffeinated drink now has pumpkin included in it as of this year, part of the recipe.  

Did the word “chemicals” scare you? Well, it shouldn’t. But thanks to a certain group of people, chemicals have been turned from something normal into something scary and could potentially harm our health, when in actual fact some chemicals are pretty harmless. Now let’s get back to our original topic: the chemicals in the pumpkin spice latte.

The new commercial recipe for this year is:
  • Espresso
  • Milk
  • Pumpkin Spice Flavoured Sauce (Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Pumpkin Puree, Contains 2% or Less of Fruit and Vegetable Juice for Colour, Natural Flavours, Annatto [Colour], Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Salt)
  • Whipped Cream (Light Whipping Cream [Cream, Mono and Diglycerides, Carrageenan])
  • Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavours, Potassium Sorbate [Preservative], Citric Acid)
  • Pumpkin Spice Topping (Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Clove).

After finding out the new recipe for the infamous PSL – we can find out what chemicals go into the famous pumpkin spice sauce that makes up the taste of autumn...
Chemicals in the Pumpkin Spice Flavoured Sauce:

  • This chemical is widely found in sports drinks and ready-to-drink protein shakes
  • It’s used as a thickener and is used to improve the texture of products
  • Carrageenan has been proven to be safe for use in food (and even in baby formula).
  • Carrageenan was incorrectly mistaken for the carcinogen: Polygeenan. Although their names are similar they are two completely different compounds with different purposes.  

Natural flavours

"Natural flavors in the United States are defined in 21CFR 101.22, as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”  “Natural Flavors Hit the Label” 

  • Is an orange-red food colouring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree.
  • Its scent is described as "slightly peppery with a hint of nutmeg" and flavour as "slightly nutty, sweet and peppery".[1]

Potassium sorbate
  • Potassium sorbate is a food preservative which has been used for many years.
  • Its E number is 202
  • Loads of tests have been conducted on this compound and have confirmed its safety for use in food.
  • However, there have been reports that some people may be allergic to potassium sorbate.

Citric acid
  • Is a natural preservative which can be found widely in citrus fruits.
  • Citric acid is also be added an acidic / sour taste to foods.

Vanillin and vanillin flavour
  • Artificial and natural vanilla flavours are used widely in food, derived from the pheonolic family.
  • Natural powdered vanillin is expensive compared to artificial vanillin plus artificial flavours last longer.
  • The purpose of artificial flavours is to deliver the sensory impression of a food or beverage product; note the official definition for NATURAL FLAVOUR.

Why do we need all these chemicals?
The coffee sauce flavouring is designed to taste just like cooked pumpkin spice: a blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. The aim isn’t to taste like pumpkin but more of the spice(s).  The coffee company have used the minimum number of compounds they need to reach their signature flavour.  These chemicals are essential because it’s not sustainable to harvest the vast amounts of ginger, cinnamon, or cloves needed to match our (the consumers) appetite for pumpkin spice lattes.
If there’s one thing to be worried about, it’s the copious amounts of sugar (in total 49 grams!!) in this drink. Everyone has to take care of what goes into their body. And always remember that everything in MODERATION is good. 


Since I’ve said the word pumpkin spice latte a million times in this post, you’re probably craving one right now so here’s a recipe which makes 2 mugs of PSL...

  • 1/2 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean
  • 2 cups full cream milk
  • 1/4 cup or espresso or strong coffee
  • 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin or homemade pumpkin puree (Here’s a simple recipe )
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or use a whipped cream packet (Optional)

Here’s how to make homemade PSL:

If you would like whipped heavy cream until stiff peaks form or prepare your whipped cream packet according to package instructions and set aside (Optional)
  • Begin by making your espresso and split it between two mugs
  • Next, cook your pumpkin puree along with your ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a small saucepan over medium heat then add the sugar, stirring until the mixture turns into a syrupy consistency.
  • Add the milk to the mixture and warm over medium-low heat, then stir in your vanilla. Put your warmed milk mixture in the blender and blend until frothy.
  • Finally, add the milk mixture to your coffee and top with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

IMAGES [1] [2] REFERENCES: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

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Monday, October 05, 2015

Understanding Detoxification and Teatox

We’ve all heard of detoxification and detox teas and you must have seen at least one advertisement for at least one of these products in your social media feeds.  They promise to cleanse out your body from all the dirty toxins that you come across in your day which could cause horrible diseases and they also promise help you lose those five pounds that just won’t budge. They even have a familiar famous face to encourage their products.

The definition for detoxification is the physiological or medicinal removal of toxic substances from a living organism, including, but not limited to, the human body, which is mainly carried out by the liver.

Basically, the liver is in charge of clearing up the body from toxins which include alcoholic, drug, metabolic detoxification. Detox has been turned into a sort of marketing strategy that treats a non-existent health condition (key word: non-existent). The actual act of detoxification occurs in a hospital under life threatening conditions usually when there are dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or other poisons in the body to extract the poisons out of the blood stream and out of the body. These aren’t products you can buy in a pharmacy and especially not for personal use.

“Detox” methods that are being promoted use a lot of irrelevant medical terminology to give the perception of scientific legitimacy to medically-useless products and services.  All of the false claims around detox are built around pseudoscience theories, but once you can spot the errors it’s easy to not get caught in scaremongering marketing ploys.

When in actual fact, we don’t need to detox to clear our bodies of “built up toxins”. Our body is fully capable of cleansing itself naturally.  The liver performs a series of chemical reactions to convert toxic substances into ones that can be eliminated in bile or urine. The liver is self-cleansing which means that toxins don’t accumulate in it, and unless you have a known liver disease, it normally functions without any problem. The healthy kidney normally excretes waste products into the urine. Anyone that suggests these organs need a “cleanse” is demonstrating their ignorance of human physiology, metabolism, and toxicology.

Detox isn’t limited to just juicing or water diets, there are also teas which claim to detoxify the body from built up crap. (To protect the anonymity of this particular brand I have hidden their name.) This brand of “teatox” claims:

XXXXX makes a point of using only the best natural ingredients for your body.  
That may sound like a mouthful, so we’ll cut the jargon and explain in short how XXXXX will help you achieve your goals.  
The aim of XXXXX is to give you the boost you need to get back on track with your healthy eating and active lifestyle. The ingredients used in our teas have been used for centuries for health and wellbeing purposes but it is only now we have finally brought all these unique ingredients into one perfect, rounded product. Teatox is a fancy word we use to describe the way the body goes through a natural process of elimination, by removing unwanted ‘toxins’ & built up waste matter, from your body via the lungs, kidneys, bowels and skin.
Here, toxins are alluded to –but not named (not even one!) and it’s recommended, even if you feel fine and healthy, you still need to detox and clean your body.  The body does not “build up waste matter”. There is no credible evidence to demonstrate that detox kits do anything at all. They have not been shown to remove “toxins” or offer any health benefits. 

References [1] [2] [3]  [4]

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