Not Even This Adorable Robot Could Get My Fat Cat to Exercise

Illustration for article titled Not Even This Adorable Robot Could Get My Fat Cat to Exercise

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

My cat Pablo is fat. His fluffy tummy flops wildly from side to side when he runs, and he only runs to his food bowl. On the chart of chonky cats, he is most definitely a “megachonker” and a kibble binge or two away from graduating to “oh lawd he comin’.” I wake up most mornings to his tail smacking my face as he yowls because it’s been an unacceptable eight hours since his last meal. I don’t particularly care that he is a Big Boy so long as he’s relatively healthy. However, something had to be done after his last vet visit. Not only did he tip the scales at 19 pounds, the veterinarian called my husband to say, “We’re concerned. He’s far too young to be this fat.”

The high-fiber prescription diet food has not worked. We bought him a harness and leash for walks, but only managed to drag his prone body to the front door before the harness slid off, proving that cats are, in fact, liquid. The only form of exercise Pablo believes in is extreme napping. I write all this so you know the Enabot Ebo Pro did nothing wrong. The blame lies squarely on Pablo’s rotund shoulders.

The Cutest Robot in All the Land

The Ebo Pro is stupid cute. It’s a teeny, tennis ball-sized robot with pixelated eyes that express feeling. When you turn it on, it proudly says “EBO!” like it was a Pokémon. I’m pretty immune to cute stuff after a 7-year stint in Tokyo, a land of brain-breakingly cute things, but I’ll admit it: I squealed unboxing it. My review unit came with a secondary outfit, complete with reindeer ears and a Santa hat, which I can confirm is ridiculously adorable when you put it on the bot. It also comes with a two different “hats,one with a built-in laser pointer, and another to entice your kitty with silicone feather attachments.

Functionally, the Ebo Pro is a chimera made of a pet cam, robot vacuum, and cat toy. It has a 1080p camera that you can view through the companion app, and the Pro model also features AI that’s capable of recognizing your pets and family members. It can also auto-record videos. You can choose to either actively drive the robot through the app, or schedule it with various pre-set modes to play with your pet at a certain time or day of the week. When it runs low on battery, it’ll automatically return to its charging dock. And, like most self-navigating robots, it also features collision sensors.

Setup is fast and painless—you just download the Ebo app, create an account, and have the Ebo Pro scan a generated QR code. After that, it took about two hours for it to charge up to full, and then I was ready to torture—er, play—with Pablo.

Pablo prefers to just sit and stare at the Ebo Pro from a lofty perch.

Pablo prefers to just sit and stare at the Ebo Pro from a lofty perch.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

How It Works

Manually driving the Ebo Pro takes some getting used to, and I never got great at it. That just might be me, however. The camera feed helps you navigate, though the Ebo Pro is a wobbly bot. It’s not the worst thing, but sometimes when you’re chasing a pet under some furniture, you won’t get the smoothest video. This is exacerbated when you’re doing this away from home on spotty LTE, but I find that’s true of any pet camera. There are also a few buttons you can press to help the Ebo Pro interact with your cat. For instance, you can press a dash button to make it dart forward, while another makes Ebo pretend to play dead. Each action triggers another very cute “EBO!”, which Pablo has not once appreciated.

Frankly, Pablo was not a fan of me manually driving the Ebo Pro. Every time I drove the bot up to him, he’d give it a cool stare that said, “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” If I bumped into him too many times, he’d jump up onto a surface where Ebo could not follow. Just when I think Pablo is actually a glorified couch cushion, he does prove that he is a cat. Case in point, he’s bananas for laser pointers. However, he’s a fancy boy and only likes laser pointers if you flick it back and forth in a specific pattern. It wasn’t easy to manipulate the laser like this in manual mode unless I hit the button that makes the Ebo Pro spin in a circle. Pablo was unamused, and unmotivated to do anything other than stare into the camera like he was in an episode of The Office. This was disappointing, as he lost his shit when I reviewed the PetCube Play 2, which also has a built-in laser.

I thought I’d try enticing him by sticking the silicone feather onto the Ebo Pro’s head. Pablo loves his feathers, even if he can only chase them for a few seconds before it’s nap time again. I definitely caught him eyeing the feather, but again, he couldn’t be bothered to interact unless the bot was motionless on its charging dock.

Part Robot, Part Pet Cam

Even though Pablo wasn’t keen, I liked that this could work as a supplementary pet cam for when we’re away from home. The problem with regular pet cams is they’re fixed in a single spot, while your pets are free to wander. With the Ebo Pro, I can follow them around. As with other pet cams, you can also talk to your pets and record video. If a regular pet cam is a security camera, the Ebo Pro feels more like a robot camcorder. The auto-record function initially gave me the heebie jeebies, but I was pleasantly surprised that Ebo Pro doesn’t store any video in the cloud. You can only live stream, which you have to manually start, or watch saved videos on your phone. Another plus is because you don’t need to store data on the cloud, there’s no extra subscription fee.

Another feature I liked that Pablo hated was the auto-tracking. I was impressed at how well the Ebo Pro was able to recognize faces and move toward them without me having to drive the bot. (Side note: When Ebo recognizes a face, it rushes forward with heart eyes and, c’mon, how cute is that?) It meant I didn’t have to use my two remaining brain cells to figure out how to follow the cat. Again, Pablo was not having my bullshit. Whenever he’d had enough, he’d lead the Ebo Pro to my dog Daisy. While the Ebo Pro can recognize faces, it’s not so great at distinguishing between a cat and a dog (or human). This asshole just handed off the Ebo Pro to Daisy and said, “Your problem now.” Daisy’s reaction was to sniff the Ebo Pro and then nap harder. (Daisy also objects to any attempts at doggie fitness.)

After all my frustration in manual mode, I had more “success” with the Ebo Pro’s automated modes and scheduling. So long as the laser pointer was enabled Pablo would sometimes half-heartedly chase the laser for 10 minutes. Actually, “chase” is being generous. He sat there, stared at the laser on the ground for a few minutes, and once or twice, batted at it with his paw. Not quite enough to count as “exercise,as he still preferred to spend most of the hunt lying down. Whatever, I’ll take it. With Pablo, any engagement is good engagement.

This picture pretty much sums it up.

This picture pretty much sums it up.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Again, I have to stress the Ebo Pro did nothing wrong. It self-docks better than any robot vacuum I’ve ever tested—including the ones that cost several hundreds of dollars. It also wiggles its butt while backing into the dock, before letting out a celebratory “EBO!” when it succeeds. I can’t say how the Ebo Pro handles carpeting, as my floors are all hardwood, but I had zero issues with its ability to navigate around chair legs and other furniture. The collision sensors are also impressive. Even though the Ebo Pro definitely knocked into a few doors, it did so gently. (Once, a Roomba bulldozed and chipped the wood of my dining room chair, so never underestimate the damage a self-navigating robot can inflict.)

Look at this smug jerk. You win this time, asshole.

Look at this smug jerk. You win this time, asshole.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

No Match for a Lazy Cat

So no, Pablo does not love the Ebo Pro, though I do think he’s curious about it. Sometimes I catch him sniffing it or eyeing it warily as he walks past its dock. I can tell you what new toy he does love: empty laundry hampers. Every laundry day, this little shit discovers his inner rabbit and leaps in and out of them with abandon while rubbing his cat hair all over my freshly clean clothes. A highly sophisticated $299 robot? Pfft. No. An old, falling apart laundry hamper that he’s seen several hundred times before but is suddenly enamored with? Hell yeah.

This is the risk every cat owner is all too familiar with. Personally, $299 is too pricy for me, considering Pablo is lazy as hell and prefers guarding his water bowl from Daisy to playtime. However, if you have a cat that does like to play and are thinking of getting a decent pet cam, the Ebo Pro is a good option. It’s only about $100 more than higher-end interactive pet cams, but offers superior interactivity and stores an unlimited number of videos on your phone without a monthly subscription. To me, that’s a fair trade-off if you’re reasonably certain your cat (or dog) will enjoy playing with the Ebo Pro. Unfortunately, that’s not in the cards for me—even though I wish it was.

Pablo is sitting on our daybed as I write this review, smugly licking his paws because he’s fully aware that he’s won this battle. Enjoy it while you can, buddy. Mama’s got 10 tabs open on high-tech cat treadmills, so we’ll see who gets the last laugh.

Two Common Food Dyes Could Be Linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease Symptoms

Illustration for article titled Two Common Food Dyes Could Be Linked to Inflammatory Bowel Disease Symptoms

Photo: Irina Marwan (Getty Images)

Certain food dyes may play a role in triggering symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), new research, done in mice, suggests. The study found that yellow and red food dye could trigger chronic gut inflammation in mice, but only if their immune systems were already dysfunctional. The findings will need to be further investigated, but they could carry some important implications for the treatment and management of IBD patients, whose symptoms are often triggered by specific foods and drinks.

People with IBD develop prolonged episodes of gut inflammation, which can lead to recurrent flare-ups of symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and painful cramps. The exact causes of IBD are still a mystery, but it’s known that genetics and an imbalanced immune system are major drivers of IBD symptoms. One of the components of the immune system often linked to IBD is higher levels of a protein known as interleukin-23 (IL-23), and several treatments for IBD are thought to work by tamping it down.

Researchers from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine have been working with mice made to have the sort of dysregulated IL-23 seen in some IBD patients. But their earlier research had shown that simply having too much IL-23 wasn’t enough for the mice to start developing colitis, or chronic inflammation of the colon. It was only after feeding them a certain diet that the mice became sick. And after looking at specific parts of the diet, the researchers theorized that two common food dyes, Red 40 and Yellow 6, could have been the instigating ingredients.

Their new study, published in Cell Metabolism on Thursday, seems to show they were right. When they fed these mice food or water that contained the dyes, they developed colitis. But no similar effect was seen when they fed healthy control mice these dyes or when the dysregulated mice were fed diets without either dye.

“Our studies reveal that food colorants contribute to development of colitis in conditions characterized by increased IL-23 signaling,” they wrote.

IBD is a complex condition, and IL-23 isn’t the only culprit that’s thought to raise the risk of having IBD episodes. These new findings, the authors caution, also have to be confirmed in people before we can be sure that there’s a true connection between IBD and food dye consumption. But if this link is confirmed, then it could certainly impact the care of IBD patients. Some people with IBD report that certain foods or drinks make them more likely to experience flare-ups. And if these food dyes are implicated as a trigger, that could heavily affect their people’s diets, since Red 40 and Yellow 6 are found in so many products. Both are also commonly used in drug packaging.

“The dramatic changes in the concentration of air and water pollutants and the increased use of processed foods and food additives in the human diet in the last century correlate with an increase in the incidence of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases,” said senior author Sergio Lira, a researcher at the Precision Immunology Institute at Icahn Mount Sinai, in a statement released by the school. “These environmental changes are thought to contribute to development of these diseases, but relatively little is known about how they do so. We hope this research is a step toward understanding the impact of food colorants on human health.”

Aside from studying people with IBD, the researchers say more work could be done to study the role of the gut microbiome in relation to this link, since they identified some species of bacteria that seem to break down the dyes in their mice.

More: A Common Yeast May Cause Trouble for Crohn’s Patients

20 deals to smile about: Toothbrushes, flossers, and teeth whitening kits on sale

Your smile is magical. No, really. A simple smile can help you recover faster from stress, reduce your heart rate, and even boost your mood. So, if you’re not confident in that grin of yours, you could be missing out on some major benefits.

The solution, however, is simple: Invest in some great oral health care products. For a limited time, you can save on 20 different toothbrushes, flossers, and teeth whitening kits to get a healthy, glowing grin all season long. That’s something to smile about.


In a relationship or have a roommate? Invest in oral hygiene for two with this duo of luxury ADA-approved ultrasonic toothbrushes with three cleaning modes. For a limited time, you can snag the set, along with 10 extra brush heads and two travel cases for just $54.95 (regularly $249).

Polish your pearly whites and obliterate plaque with the Platinum Sonic’s 40,000 strokes per minute. And when you’re finished, you can sanitize and charge your brush with the included base. Regularly $259, you can snag the brush, base, and two bonus brush heads in gold or silver for just $42.99.

With four operation modes and 40,000 vibrations per minute, the AquaSonic Vibe can remove 10 times more plaque along the gum line than a manual toothbrush. For a limited time, you can get the brush, a travel case, and eight extra brush heads for only $39.99 (regularly $169).

Fight plaque and achieve better gum health with the Flux brush’s 8,000 oscillating dynamic movements per minute. It’s suitable for use with braces, fillings, crowns, and veneers. Get the brush, charging base, and three extra brush heads for $37.99 (regularly $128) for a limited time.

This ADA-approved sonic toothbrush was presented with Wired magazine’s Favorite Subscription Electric Toothbrush award and People magazine’s 2019 Travel Award for Best Electric Toothbrush. It features four cleaning modes, a two-minute timer, five adjustable intensity settings, and diamond-shaped bristles to clean and buff your teeth. Treat yourself to the Shyn Sonic, along with a travel case and eight extra brush heads, for just $59.95 (regularly $170).

This advanced plaque-fighting machine is equipped with three unique modes to polish and clean your teeth for a healthier and brighter smile. It’s also got an LED pressure sensor that eases up on your enamel if you’re pressing too hard. Grab the ProSpin for only $39.95 (regularly $99) for a limited time.

Rated 4.2 out of 5 stars on Amazon, this futuristic sonic toothbrush cleans itself with UV-C rays when you slip it inside its docking station. Plus, it cleans your teeth at 40,000 tiny brush strokes per minute in multiple brush modes. Get it on sale for $69.95 (regularly $129).

Amazon’s Choice, with 4.3 out of 5 stars, the Mouth Armor brush set comes with everything you need to step up your oral care routine — a sonic toothbrush, water flosser, flosser tips, brush heads, travel case, charging base, and more. Get the full set for only $69.95 (regularly $279) for a limited time.

With five cleaning modes to adapt to your oral needs, 48,000 sonic motions per minute, a UV sanitizing station, and eight extra brush heads, it’s easy to see why the JetWAVE oral care set is Amazon’s Choice with 4.4 out of 5 stars. Regularly $290, you can get the full set for only $59.95.

This unique three-sided sonic electric toothbrush was created by dentists and has earned 4.2 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Cut back on brushing time by tackling three sides of your teeth at once. For just $47.95 (regularly $69), you can get the Triple Bristle Toothbrush, plus a tongue cleaner and two extra brush heads, and brush headcovers.

Grab two Triple Bristle brushes with this discounted set for a limited time. They come with a dual charging base with built-in storage, which you’ll need since you’ll get four brush heads, four brush head covers, and a tongue cleaner — all for just $67.95 (regularly $109).


Integrate flossing into your daily routine by hooking up this water flosser to your shower head. With an adjustable stream, gum massager, and dual-headed brush, this device actually makes flossing enjoyable. Get it for $89.99 (regularly $119).

As portable as a cell phone, this water flosser can remove plaque with its 360-degree rotating nozzle and high-pressure pulsed water jet. As a German Red Dot Design Award Winner in 2017, it comes as no surprise that it’s just as sleek and stylish as it is effective. Get it on sale for $46.95 (regularly $59).

This dental scaler from DR.BEI uses intelligent ultrasonic cleaning technology to remove tartar, plaque, stains, and stubborn spots from your teeth before they build up and cause damage. It features three different cleaning modes, multiple cleaning heads, and is on sale for just $62.95 (regularly $69).

With three cleaning modes, five attachments, a rotating nozzle, and high-frequency water pulses of 1,400 to 1,899 RPM, this flosser ensures you’ll never miss a spot. Take care of your teeth in a comfortable and hassle-free way for only $49.99 (regularly $159).

Teeth Whitening

This innovative whitening solution takes your personal sensitivity, brushing habits, and diet into consideration to create the most effective whitening formula for you. Just answer honestly on the short online quiz to get your results. This $60 voucher for glowup. is just $49.99 for a limited time.

A quick twist of this whitening pen lets you glide it across your teeth for a simple and seamless whitening experience. It does not contain any peroxide, so you can use it regularly without worrying about damage or sensitivity. Get it for $76.99 (regularly $105).

With 100 percent natural whitening gels and a blue light LED accelerator, you can whiten your teeth in just 10 minutes using the SmileME kit. Regularly $69, you can slash the price down to just $59.95 for the kit, which includes the whitening accelerator, three gel syringes, and a medical-grade silicone mouth tray. 

The whitening gel in Shyn’s whitening kit is gluten-free, cruelty-free, non-GMO, and vegan, and when paired with the 32 LED accelerator lights in blue or red, you can get brilliant whitening treatment in only 10 minutes. Use the code SHYN10 at checkout and grab this whitening system for only $112.50 (regularly $145).

Dont lose heart if your first date post-lockdown was damp squib

We had high hopes for our post-lockdown dating season. Like, hundreds-of-metres-above-sea-level high. 

Stay-at-home orders eased and businesses reopened, and in my dating fantasy, I thought I’d be basking in the evening sunshine, my hair blowing in the breeze, and my confidence positively over-brimming. 

The reality of my first post-lockdown date had me shivering at a rain-drenched table, and listening intently as my date tried to regale me anecdotes as his teeth visibly chattered. I suppose my hair was blowing, but not so much in the breeze, but more of a howling gale. 

Before you ask if it was like that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral when Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell are standing in the rain and someone says, “Oh is it still raining, I hadn’t noticed?”, rest assured I would be writing a very different article right now if it had borne any resemblance. 

As for my confidence levels, I can faithfully say I’ve hit my nadir. With the deeply damaging, diet culture-derived pressure to suddenly be “hot girl summer” ready and to get your “pre-pandemic body back”, I can feel my body image issues (which were already Not Great before the pandemic) worsening. The newfound freedom that came with the relaxing of lockdown restrictions in the UK didn’t make me want to run into the streets and snog the nearest available singleton, it made me want to hide away. Which, 14 months into a global pandemic, isn’t exactly the post-vaccine vibe I’d been hoping for. 

Even if your date is going well, then there’s the faff of scrambling to find somewhere else to go when your two-hour table booking runs out and you’re forced to beg the waitstaff to let you stay a little longer, or wander the streets in the hope of a walk-in while your date traipses behind you.

Our expectations for post-lockdown dating were high. Understandably so! We’ve been pacing the floors of our homes, legally not allowed to have sex with people outside our households, salivating over the erotic fantasy of our future romantic and sexual freedom. I had pictured myself strutting towards the dating scene in a cute dress, bursting with self-assurance. But life is not a Beyoncé music video. And I don’t feel confident enough to strut right now. At a time when I should be thanking my body for carrying me through a pandemic, for surviving and giving me the energy I needed, instead, I want to hide it out of sight. Uncomfortable as it is to admit, I showed up early to the date so I could make sure I was sitting down when my date arrived. I’m working on my self-esteem with a therapist, but this moment really crystallised just how bad it’s got this past year. 

In our rose-tinted vision of the future of dating, we might have conveniently forgotten just how rocky the road to love actually is. Dating again means going on bad dates, meh dates, and not-quite-sure-yet dates. The quest for love comes with vulnerability, rejection, confidence knocks, and bruised hearts. Every once in a while, you’ll get a date that will make you feel drenched in a golden glow so intense that you’ll commit it to memory. But before you get there, you might have sit at a few tables with people who are perfectly nice, but just…not the one for you.

As Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, tells me, it’s pretty understandable that getting back to dating is riddled with a number of mindset issues, like “what do we talk about?” “what am I looking for?” and the feeling that you’ve got to make up for “lost time.” Getting back in the game is daunting, but there’s also a lot to be hopeful for. “We all got a year older, and while age can be a factor in prompting us to think more broadly on our long term wants, so too can a year in which many of us recognised what was valuable to us,” says Tang. 

Mashable’s Anna Iovine recently reported that Tinder is predicting the future of dating will be a lot more honest. Tang echoes this, stating that if your focus is on finding something long-term, or some short-term, no-strings fun, honesty with your dating partner(s) is the best policy. “This lack of a ‘game’ may even help you make the connections you want where everyone knows where they stand,” Tang adds. 

If your date really was an anti-climax, don’t be downhearted. Instead, look at your disappointment as a gift. “If the date goes wrong, don’t worry — better you know now than later when you are already invested,” says Tang. “Plus, if you reflect on it when you feel less emotional (whether that be upset, anger, embarrassment and so on) that experience has simply become an opportunity to level up your game.”

If you’re grappling with a sense of urgency and pressure to put yourself out there, you’re not alone. I recently wrote about the pandemic making our personal lives feel like an insurmountable, daunting to-do list. Tang urges caution in allowing that pressure to inform the choices you make. “That sense of anxiety and urgency can affect our judgment and decision making,” she says. “An extra moment to pause (even after the year) and ask ‘Is this what I really want?’ can save much longer in fretting or regret.”

Putting yourself out there after a few months — or maybe even a year — of a dating hiatus takes real courage and immense vulnerability. So, if you’re anything like me and you feel your return-to-dating didn’t go off with a bang, but instead a rather feeble, soggy flop, take heart. You’ve taken the first step, and there’s a lot to be said for that. 

Are Plant Milks Good for You?

Gone are the days when the most complicated choice you had to make in the milk section of the dairy aisle was reduced fat or whole. Now, you’ll find carton after carton of dairy-like beverages made from foods you never thought could be “milked” — almonds, oats, rice, peas.

While cow’s milk is still the most popular according to retail sales, nondairy alternatives hit an estimated $2.95 billion last year, up 54 percent from five years earlier, according to the market research firm Mintel.

These plant-based alternatives are typically made by soaking the legume, nut, grain or other main ingredient and then pressing and straining the liquid, or “milk.” Many people prefer them because they want or need to avoid dairy, but some choose them because they believe they are healthier than cow’s milk. Some experts urge consumers to look beyond the hype and to examine the nutrition label, however, because some may not be as healthful as they seem.

This will depend on which type of plant milk you drink, whether it’s fortified, how many added sugars it contains and how it fits in to your overall diet. You shouldn’t assume, for instance, that plant milks contain the same nutrients as cow’s milk, even if the drink is white and has the same creamy texture. And some of the sweetened versions can contain more added sugar than a doughnut.

“In general, these nondairy milks have been promoted as healthier and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Melissa Majumdar, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Cow’s milk is naturally rich in protein, calcium, potassium and B vitamins, and is often fortified with vitamin A (which is naturally present in whole milk) and vitamin D. While many plant-based milks are enriched with many of the nutrients found in cow’s milk, not all are.

And many don’t provide enough of certain key nutrients like protein, potassium and vitamin D, Jackie Haven, deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, wrote in an email: “Usually, these beverages do not include all of the necessary nutrients needed to replace dairy foods.”

That being said, nondairy beverages can be important alternatives for those who are allergic or intolerant to milk or who are otherwise avoiding dairy. And they can be a part of a healthy diet as long as you pay attention to the nutrition facts label and make sure you’re getting the same essential nutrients you’d normally get from real milk.

“You can still meet your nutrition goals without drinking cow’s milk,” said Megan Lott, a nutritionist and deputy director for the Healthy Eating Research program at Duke University. “It just takes really educating yourself.”

According to SPINS, a market research company, the six most popular plant-based milks based on sales data from the past year are almond, oat, soy, coconut, pea and rice (excluding blended versions, like coconut almond).

Here’s how the original or unsweetened versions of each stack up to one another and to whole milk in terms of taste, protein, calories, fats and other attributes. (We used whole milk for comparison because it has become more popular in recent years, but keep in mind that the U.S.D.A. dietary guidelines recommend drinking low fat and skim versions rather than whole. All versions below contain calcium and vitamin D.)

Almond milk: This nutty-flavored beverage is the most popular plant milk, according to SPINS. One cup of the unsweetened version has just 37 calories — about a quarter the amount in whole milk — and about 96 percent less saturated fat. But it is no match for cow’s milk (or raw almonds themselves) in terms of protein — it has just about 1 gram, compared with the 8 grams present in whole milk. If you have a nut allergy, experts recommend avoiding it as it may trigger an allergic reaction.

Oat milk: Sales of this thick, creamy drink increased by 182 percent since last year, according to SPINS, making it one of the fastest growing plant milks. One cup of the popular Oatly! brand’s original version has little saturated fat (0.5 grams) and slightly fewer calories than whole milk (120 versus 146), but has 7 grams of added sugars (plain milk has none) and only 3 grams of protein.

One cup does have some fiber — 2 grams — but Dr. Edwin McDonald IV, an associate director of adult clinical nutrition at the University of Chicago Medicine, said that’s not very much. “If you are looking for health benefits from oat milk, you’re better off eating oatmeal,” he said. One cup of oatmeal, for instance, has twice as much fiber as one cup of oat milk. Fiber is important for gut health, cholesterol and blood sugar control, and for maintaining your weight.

Soy milk: When fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D, soy milk is the only nondairy milk that is comparable to cow’s milk in terms of nutrient balance, according to the dietary guidelines. One cup has 6 grams of protein, 105 calories and about 89 percent less saturated fat than whole milk. Made from soybeans, it has a similar consistency to cow’s milk and is a natural source of potassium. “If you are looking for more of a nutritionally balanced milk substitute, then pea and soy are going to be the best,” said Dr. David Ludwig, an endocrinologist and obesity researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital.

While there’s been some concern about the estrogen-mimicking compounds called isoflavones in soy, there isn’t enough data to prove any harm or benefit. If you’re allergic to soybeans, though, experts say to avoid it.

Coconut milk: Made from the grated meat of coconuts, it’s naturally sweet and has about half as many calories as whole milk, but has little protein (0.5 grams per cup), and has 5 grams of saturated fats — about the same amount as whole milk — with no healthy unsaturated fat. As with dairy fat, there’s the concern that coconut fat can raise the levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, said Alice H. Lichtenstein, a Gershoff professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.

Pea milk: Sometimes called “plant protein milk,” this beverage is made from yellow split peas. As with other plant milks that are made from legumes, like soy milk, pea milk is high in protein (8 grams per cup) and unsweetened versions contain about half the calories of whole milk, and just half a gram of saturated fat. “My favorite nondairy milk is pea milk,” said Dr. McDonald, who is lactose intolerant and a trained chef. That’s because of its protein, and a texture he likens to cow’s milk — somewhat creamy with a mild taste.

Rice milk: Made from brown rice, the milk has a naturally sweet taste. It has slightly fewer calories than whole milk (115 versus 146 per cup), and no saturated fat; however it’s very low in protein (0.7 grams per cup). When compared with other plant-based milks, “there doesn’t seem to be any benefit from rice milk,” Dr. Lichtenstein said.

The beverage also has fast-digesting carbohydrates, Dr. Ludwig said, which can quickly convert into glucose, spiking insulin and blood sugar levels — a potential concern for people with diabetes or with severe insulin resistance.

How to Become a Vegetarian (or Eat Less Meat)

I have some personal news: I went vegan about three or four months ago. Considering that I’ve written thousands of words about how much I love tofu and black bean burgers, this “news” is hardly shocking, but with meat discourse reaching furious new heights (or depths?) every day, it seemed too relevant not to share.

To be honest, this has been a long time coming. I’ve never been morally or ethically opposed to eating animals—I’m still not—but capitalism is another story, and at this point there’s no separating the two. You don’t need me to tell you that industrial meat production is an enormous contributor to global warming (and climate denialism) or that meat processing corporations are almost cartoonishly evil in their exploitation of an underpaid, often undocumented workforce. The facts are out there for the whole world to see, which is probably why more people are choosing to eat less meat.

But making the choice is easy; figuring out how to eat less meat is less so. What do you eat instead, especially when you’ve eaten meat your whole life? Whether you’re going fully vegan or just cutting back, these tips will help you find some answers.

Ask yourself the hard questions

OK, I lied a little—there are a few more questions before the answers. Big lifestyle changes should be cause for reflection, but if the idea of eating less meat still makes you uncomfortable, you owe it to yourself to ask why.

What are the downsides? Well, you’ll eat less meat. That’s pretty much it. Meat will still exist, of course, but most of the time you’ll just eat other stuff. Is that really a dealbreaker for you? If so, why? You can get protein and fat from a zillion other foods—do you have to have meat? Once you’ve thought about it a little, you’ll find your personal reasons, or you might realize that you don’t need meat at all, or at least not all the time.

Do a little brainstorming

The easiest way to eat less meat is to eat more of everything else. A good first step is to sit down and make a list of non-meat foods you already love. Don’t be afraid to take this assignment extremely literally: Even a list of 10 vegetables you like is valuable, and it’ll make meal planning easier.

Your list should not include foods that could be meatless with the right substitutes. Known quantities are fair game—like your favorite frozen vegetable dumplings or a great vegan burger from a local pub—but don’t count on fake meat to save the day, especially if you’ve never had it.

Get an air fryer

Oh my God, I can’t believe I waited until the year 2021 to buy an air fryer. It makes short work of every roasted vegetable you can think of, plus a wide variety of goodies like crispy tofu, extra-crispy potatoes, fried bread, frozen gnocchi, leftover fries, crispy shallots, and of course, frozen tater tots—and that’s just off the top of my head. Please don’t be a dummy like me: Get an air fryer before you give up meat.

Get really into beans

You probably saw this coming, but beans are a cornerstone of a meatless diet. This will be great news to some and a real downer to others—but if you’re not a big bean guy, try to keep an open mind. The world of beans is wider and more delicious than you might think.

Beans don’t have to come from a bag or a can, and you don’t even have to eat them whole. Tofu and tempeh are wonderful examples of the humble soybean’s versatility; falafel is just chickpeas and herbs in a convenient, deep-fried package. You can even make pancakes and fritters entirely out of beans: In Indian cuisine, chilla (or cheela) are pancakes made from either besan (chickpea flour) or soaked legumes that have been puréed into a batter. (If you soak the legumes with some rice and let it ferment, you’ve got dosa batter.) Korean cuisine has nokdujeong (or bindaetteok), a mung bean-based fritter stuffed with kimchi, bean sprouts, and scallions.

Broaden your horizons

Beans are just the beginning. For the majority of our time on earth, human beings have eaten anything but meat—which means we’ve figured out about a billion ways to make plants taste good.

Every cuisine on the planet has a rich tradition of meatless dishes, and you don’t have to dig very deep to find them. Whether you get them from YouTube or cookbooks (my two preferred sources), homestyle recipes from pretty much any culinary tradition will never steer you wrong.

My go-to dinner is usually either some form of homestyle Mexican food—beans, tortillas, salsa, potatoes, the occasional soyrizo—or literally any recipe from Priya and Ritu Krishna’s Indian-ish, the best cookbook of the decade. As always, seek out recipes created by people who are actually part of the culture they’re representing. The recipes will be better and you’ll learn more.

Buy more food

My final tip for eating less meat is super obvious but rarely mentioned: If you’re used to a meat-heavy diet, you’ll need to eat way more other stuff to make up for it. I’m not talking about nutrient macros—I’m talking sheer volume. A big steak is still a big steak after it’s cooked, but an enormous head of cauliflower can shrink down to a single serving in a hot oven. When you go grocery shopping, err on the side of buying larger portions than you’re used to, at least until you get a feel for your new normal. Something tells me that won’t take long.


This Worm Has 100 Butts

In Greek mythology, the hydra is a creature with many heads. In Norse mythology, Odin rides Sleipnir—a horse with many legs. And in the warm, coastal waters of Australia lives Ramisyllis multicaudata, the worm with many butts.

The creature is shaped somewhat like a tree, with a single head and a body that branches over and over again, each bifurcation gifted with its very own anus. Now, new research on the innards of this mysterious, multi-bottomed beast reveals that it’s even stranger on the inside.

Ramisyllis and one other related branching worm—Syllis—are found exclusively within the pores and canals inside marine sponges. They place their head somewhere near the sponge’s base and run their branched body through tunnels, extending to the outside of the sponge. M. Teresa Aguado, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, and her colleagues think the worm’s forked figure is perfectly adapted for life in this Swiss cheese labyrinth. The branched body wouldn’t be suitable for swimming around in the outside ocean waters.

“However, living inside the sponge, the animal is protected, and explores the canals and easily moves inside,” said Aguado.

While scientists had gathered some understanding of Ramisyllis’ external anatomy since its discovery in 2006, little was known about how the worm’s insides were put together. So, Aguado and a team of researchers from Australia, Spain, and Germany found wild sponges containing the one-worm tangles and brought them into the lab.

There, the researchers used a combination of different imaging strategies to examine the worms and their porous abodes. They used a 3D X-ray method to see how Ramisyllis is arranged within its sponge host. The team also dissected the worms out of the sponges and used different types of microscopes to peer into Ramisyllis’ insides.

Their results—published recently in the Journal of Morphology—revealed that the worms’ rear ends are legion.

“We were able to count more than 500 [branches] in one specimen, but we think that they can easily reach 1,000,” said Aguado.

The team also found that the worms’ branching is well beyond skin deep. Incredibly, every time Ramisyllis forks itself, all the internal organs divide, too: The gut, the nerves, everything splits and runs the length of the branch. This also creates a unique, muscular band or “bridge” that threads between the organs every time the critter splits. These bridges can visually demarcate Ramisyllis’ main trunk, which is pretty useful when you’re observing an animal shaped like a tumbleweed.

The farther you get away from the head, the weirder the worm gets. Aguado and her colleagues were able to closely examine the tips of the branches, which are crucial for the species’ reproduction.

When Ramisyllis decides it’s time to procreate, its abundance of wandering derrières go through a transformation. The branch ends basically convert into genitals, filling with eggs or sperm. These reproductive units (or “stolons”) grow eyes and their own brains. When mature, the stolons detach and swim away, their freshly acquired “head” and eyes steering them to mate with stolons of the opposite sex. What started as a wriggling snarl of buttholes becomes a swarm of autonomous, sex-seeking torpedoes.

Non-branching worms in same family as Ramisyllis also use stolons in a similar manner, Aguado points out. But Ramisyllis is unique in the sheer volume of its carnal armada, thanks to its many hundreds of body branches.

Alexander Tzetlin, an invertebrate zoologist at Moscow State University in Russia who was not involved with this study, lauds the research, noting the obstacles in studying animals like Ramisyllis.

“In many cases, marine annelid [worms] are a very difficult object for research and observation, because they lead a secretive lifestyle,” said Tzetlin. “They live in shelters in pipes, burrows, or they simply dig in the thickness of the sediment, almost never appearing on the surface.”

Tzetlin also points out one big remaining mystery with Ramisyllis: its diet. No food has ever been found inside the worms’ intestines, just empty visceral real estate. It’s particularly baffling in an animal so ludicrously rich in anuses. There’s an awful lot of digestive infrastructure here to be building intestines to nowhere.

“We don’t know how this animal keeps its huge body having only one minute mouth,” says Aguado. “It may use the organic material in water that goes inside the [sponge] canals due to the currents generated by the sponge.”

Previous research showed that Ramisyllis has lots of long, microscopic extensions from its outer covering. These may absorb nutrients straight from the water.

Aguado says she and her colleagues are designing experiments to address this feeding question. The team is also investigating how genes are expressed in different parts of the worm’s branching body and in its relatives, gaining insight into how a creature with but one rear gave rise to Ramisyllis’ majestic bramble of butts.

Personalized nutrition startup Zoe closes out Series B at $53M

Personalized nutrition startup Zoe — named not for a person but after the Greek word for ‘life’ — has topped up its Series B round with $20M, bringing the total raised to $53M.

The latest close of the B round was led by Ahren Innovation Capital, which the startup notes counts two Nobel laureates as science partners. Also participating are two former American football players, Eli Manning and Ositadimma “Osi” Umenyiora; Boston, US-based seed fund Accomplice; healthcare-focused VC firm THVC and early stage European VC, Daphni.

The U.K.- and U.S.-based startup was founded back in 2017 but operated in stealth mode for three years, while it was conducting research into the microbiome — working with scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital, Stanford Medicine, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and King’s College London.

One of the founders, professor Tim Spector of King’s College — who is also the author of a number of popular science books focused on food — became interested in the role of food (generally) and the microbiome (in particular) on overall health after spending decades researching twins to try to understand the role of genetics (nature) vs nurture (environmental and lifestyle factors) on human health.

Zoe used data from two large-scale microbiome studies to build its first algorithm which it began commercializing last September — launching its first product into the U.S. market: A home testing kit that enables program participants to learn how their body responds to different foods and get personalized nutrition advice.

The program costs around $360 (which Zoe takes in six instalments) and requires participants to (self) administer a number of tests so that it can analyze their biology, gleaning information about their metabolic and gut health by looking at changes in blood lipids, blood sugar levels and the types of bacteria in their gut.

Zoe uses big data and machine learning to come up with predictive insights on how people will respond to different foods so that it can offer individuals guided advice on what and how to eat, with the goal of improving gut health and reducing inflammatory responses caused by diet.

The combination of biological responses it analyzes sets it apart from other personalized nutrition startups with products focused on measuring one element (such as blood sugar) — is the claim.

But, to be clear, Zoe’s first product is not a regulated medical device — and its FAQ clearly states that it does not offer medical diagnosis or treatment for specific conditions. Instead it says only that it’s “a tool that is meant for general wellness purposes only”. So — for now — users have to take it on trust that the nutrition advice it dishes up is actually helpful for them.

The field of scientific research into the microbiome is undoubtedly early — Zoe’s co-founder states that very clearly when we talk — so there’s a strong component here, as is often the case when startups seek to use data and AI to generate valuable personalized predictions, whereby early adopters are helping to further Zoe’s research by contributing their data. Potentially ahead of the sought for individual efficacy, given so much is still unknown around how what we eat affects our health.

For those willing to take a punt (and pay up), they get an individual report detailing their biological responses to specific foods that compares them to thousands of others. The startup also provides them with individualized ‘Zoe’ scores for specific foods in order to support meal planning that’s touted as healthier for them.

“Reduce your dietary inflammation and improve gut health with a 4 week plan tailored to your unique biology and life,” runs the blurb on Zoe’s website. “Built around your food scores, our app will teach you how to make smart swaps, week by week.”

The marketing also claims no food is “off limits” — implying there’s a difference between Zoe’s custom food scores and (weight-loss focused) diets that perhaps require people to cut out a food group (or groups) entirely.

“Our aim is to empower you with the information and tools you need to make the best decisions for your body,” is Zoe’s smooth claim.

The underlying premise is that each person’s biology responds differently to different foods. Or, to put it another way, while we all most likely know at least one person who stays rake-thin and (seemingly) healthy regardless of what (or even how much) they eat, if we ate the same diet we’d probably expect much less pleasing results.

“What we’re able to start scientifically putting some evidence behind is something that people have talked about for a long time,” says co-founder George Hadjigeorgiou. “It’s early [for scientific research into the microbiome] but we have shown now to the world that even twins have different gut microbiomes, we can change our gut microbiomes through diet, lifestyle and how we live — and also that there are associations around particular [gut] bacteria and foods and a way to improve them which people can actually do through our product.”

Users of Zoe’s first product need to be willing (and able) to get pretty involved with their own biology — collecting stool samples, performing finger prick tests and wearing a blood glucose monitor to feed in data so it can analyze how their body responds to different foods and offer up personalized nutrition advice.

Another component of its study of biological responses to food has involved thousands of people eating “special scientific muffins”, which it makes to standardized recipes, so it can benchmark and compare nutritional responses to a particular blend of calories, carbohydrate, fat, and protein.

While eating muffins for science sounds pretty fine, the level of intervention required to make use of Zoe’s first at-home test kit product is unlikely to appeal to those with only a casual interest in improving their nutrition.

Hadjigeorgiou readily agrees the program, as it is now, is for those with a particular problem to solve that can be linked to diet/nutrition (whether obesity, high cholesterol or a disease like type 2 diabetes, and so on). But he says Zoe’s goal is to be able to open up access to personalized nutrition advice much more widely as it keeps gathering more data and insights.

“The idea is, as always, we start with a focused set of people with problems to solve who we believe will have a life-changing experience,” he tells TechCrunch. “At this point we are not trying to create a product for everyone — and we understand that that has limitations in terms of how much we scale in the beginning. Although even still within this focused group of people I can assure you there’s tonnes of people!

“But absolutely the whole idea is that after we get a first [set of users]… then with more data and with more experience we can simplify and start making this simpler and more accessible — both in terms of its simplicity and also it’s price. So more and more people. Because at the end of the day everyone has this right to be able to optimize and understand and be in control — and we want to make that available to everyone.

“Regardless of background and regardless of socio-economic status. And, in fact, many of the people who have the biggest problems around health etc are the ones who have maybe less means and ability to do that.”

Zoe isn’t disclosing how many early users it’s onboarded so far but Hadjigeorgiou says demand is high (it’s currently operating a wait-list for new sign ups).

He also touts promising early results from interim trial with its first users — saying participants experienced more energy (90%), felt less hunger (80%) and lost an average of 11 pounds after three months of following their AI-aided, personalized nutrition plan. Albeit, without data on how many people are involved in the trials it’s not possible to quantify the value of those metrics.

The extra Series B funding will be used to accelerate the rollout of availability of the program, with a U.K. launch planned for this year — and other geographies on the cards for 2022. Spending will also go on continued recruitment in engineering and science, it says.

Zoe already grabbed some eyeballs last year, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the West, when it launched a COVID-19 symptom self-reporting app. It has used that data to help scientists and policy makers understand how the virus affects people.

The Zoe COVID-19 app has had some 5M users over the last year, per Hadjigeorgiou — who points to that (not-for-profit) effort as an example of the kind of transformative intervention the company hopes to drive in the nutrition space down the line.

“Overnight we got millions and millions of people contributing to help uncover new insights around science around COVID-19,” he says, highlighting that it’s been able to publish a number of research papers based on data contributed by app users. “For example the lack of smell and taste… was something that we first [were able to prove] scientifically, and then it became — because of that — an official symptom in the list of the government in the U.K.

“So that was a great example how through the participation of people — in a very, very fast way, which we couldn’t predict when we launched it — we managed to have a big impact.”

Returning to diet, aren’t there some pretty simple ‘rules of thumb’ that anyone can apply to eat more healthily — i.e. without the need to shell out for a bespoke nutrition plan? Basic stuff like eat your greens, avoid processed foods and cut down (or out) sugar?

“There are definitely rules of thumb,” Hadjigeorgiou agrees. “We’ll be crazy to say they’re not. I think it all comes back to the point that although there are rules of thumb and over time — and also through our research, for example — they can become better, the fact of the matter is that most people are becoming less and less healthy. And the fact of the matter is that life is messy and people do not eat even according to these rules of thumb so I think part of the challenge is… [to] educate and empower people for their messy lives and their lifestyle to actually make better choices and apply them in a way that’s sustainable and motivating so they can be healthier.

“And that’s what we’re finding with our customers. We are helping them to make these choices in an empowering way — they don’t need to count calories, they don’t need to restrict themselves through a Keto [diet] regime or something like that. We basically empower them to understand this is the impact food has on your body — real time, how your blood sugar levels change, how your bacteria change, how your blood fat levels changes. And through that empowerment through insight then we say hey, now we’ll give you this course, it’s very simple, it’s like a game — and we’ll given you all these tools to combine different foods, make foods work for you. No food is off limits — but try to eat most days a 75 score [based on the food points Zoe’s app assigns].

“In that very empowering way we see people get very excited, they see a fun game that is also impacting their gut and metabolism and they start feeling these amazing effects — in terms of less hunger, more energy, losing weight and over time as well evolving their health. That’s why they say it’s life changing as well.”

Gamifying research for the goal of a greater good? To the average person that surely sounds more appetitizing than ‘eat your greens’.

Though, as Hadjigeorgiou concedes, research in the field of microbiome — where Zoe’s commercial interests and research USP lie — is “early”. Which means that gathering more data to do more research will remain a key component of the business for the foreseeable future. And with so much still to be understood about the complex interactions between food, exercise and other lifestyle factors and human health, the mission is indeed massive.

In the meanwhile, Zoe will be taking it one suggestive nudge at a time.

“Sugar is bad, kale’s great but the whole kind of magic happens in the middle,” Hadjigeorgiou goes on. “Is oatmeal good for you? Is rice good for you? Is wholewheat pasta good for you? How do you combine wholewheat pasta and butter? How much do you have? This is where basically most of our life happens.

“Because people don’t eat ice-cream the whole day and people don’t eat kale the whole day. They eat all these other foods in the middle and that’s where the magic is — knowing how much to have, how to combine them to make it better, how to combine it with exercise to make it better? How to eat a food that doesn’t dip your sugar levels three hours after you eat it which causes hunger for you. Theses are all the things we’re able to predict and present in a simple and compelling way through a score system to people — and in turn help them [understand their] metabolic response to food.”

10 Ways to Better Tame Your Spring Allergies

Illustration for article titled 10 Ways to Better Tame Your Spring Allergies

Photo: Pheelings media (Shutterstock)

Most important: Know your allergies, especially the worst ones. If you haven’t yet, consider booking an appointment with an allergist, as they’ll be able to help you pinpoint the sources of your allergies and come up with a plan for addressing them. A food elimination diet can also help you narrow down what’s making you sick.

To look out for possible allergies when feeding a baby, use the 4-day wait rule (introduce only one new ingredient for four days), and keep a journal so you can pinpoint allergy triggers, whether it’s food or something in the environment.

And, again, get tested by an allergist if your symptoms are really bothering you. Medication might not be necessary (maybe they’ll just recommend a neti pot for seasonal allergies), but a doctor can help you live much, much better.

This story was originally published in February 2016 and was updated on May 3, 2021 as a slideshow with new photos and information.

Diet ID wins TechCrunch’s Detroit City Spotlight pitch-off — Watch the event here

TechCrunch just hosted its first pitch-off in Detroit and we’re pleased to announce Diet ID won the event. The company, based in Detroit and founded in 2016 by Dr. David Katz, gives users a clinically tested approach to dietary assessment and management.

Diet ID competed against other Detroit-area startups, including Rivet Work, Plain Sight and FixMyCar. Local investors acted as judges: Jim Tenzillo, VP at Invest Michigan; Dawn Batts, Capital Strategist at TechTown and co-founder of Commune Angels; and Ben Bernstein, principal at Invest Detroit Ventures.

The entire pitch-off is embedded above.

The event also featured talks from local VCs on fundraising in Detroit, where Jonathon Triest from Ludlow Ventures and Patti Glaza from Invest Detroit Ventures spoke extensively on the growing startup scene. Ryan Landau, founder of Purpose Jobs, also spoke on startup hiring practices and trends in the Midwest. That video is found below.

This event is part of TechCrunch’s City Spotlight series, where we dive into the culture of growing startup ecosystems found throughout the United States. We’re going to Pittsburgh next and hope you can join us.