When one thinks of vampire bats, friendship and cooperation may not be among the qualities that come to mind for these blood-feasting creatures of the night. But maybe they should.
Scientists have provided a deeper understanding of social relationships among vampire bats, showing how those that have forged bonds akin to “friendships” with others will rendezvous with these buddies while foraging for a meal.
Researchers attached small devices to 50 vampire bats to track nighttime foraging in Panama, when these flying mammals drink blood from wounds they inflict upon cattle in pastures. The study involved female bats, known to have stronger social relationships than males.
Among the bats were 23 wild-born individuals that had been kept in captivity for about two years during related research into bat social behavior. Social bonds already had been observed among some of them. After being released back into the wild, the bats were found to often join a “friend” during foraging, possibly coordinating the hunt.
“Each bat maintains its own network of close cooperative social bonds,” said behavioral ecologist Gerald Carter of the Ohio State University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who led the research published in the journal PLoS Biology.
Social bonds among vampire bats as they roost in trees include grooming one another and regurgitating blood meals for hungry pals. The study showed that the social bonds formed in roosts extended into the hunt.
“This study opens up an exciting new window into the social lives of these animals,” Carter said.
The researchers suspect that the bats, while almost never departing on foraging forays with their “friends,” link up with them during the hunt – perhaps even recognizing one another’s vocalizations – for mutual benefit. They hypothesize the bats might exchange information about prey location or access to an open wound for feeding.
Vampire bats, which inhabit warmer regions of Latin America and boast wingspans of about 7 inches (18 cm), are the only mammals with a blood-only diet. They reside in colonies ranging from tens to thousands of individuals.
“People’s first reaction to vampire bats is usually, ‘Uh, scary.’ But once you tell them about their complex social lives, they are quite surprised that we can find such behavior that is somewhat similar to what humans do – and which one would maybe expect in primates – in bats,” said study co-author Simon Ripperger, a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute post-doctoral researcher.
Ripperger called them “amazing creatures” for several reasons.
“Even besides their social lives, vampire bats are quite special: specializing in a diet of 100% blood is already quite rare among vertebrates,” Ripperger said. “They are amazing runners, which you wouldn’t expect in a bat. They have heat sensors in their snouts that help them find a spot to make a bite. They have a protein in their saliva that prevents blood from coagulation, which is actually being used in medical trials to help prevent blood clots in patients who suffered a stroke.”
The bats attack prey from the ground, using their sharp teeth to open a wound, lapping up blood with their tongues.
Carter said there is reason to fear vampire bats because they can transmit rabies to livestock and people.
“But I do think they are beautiful and interesting animals in their own right,” Carter added. “In this way they are a bit like grizzly bears, sharks, rats and venomous snakes: animals that might not help people in any way and might even endanger them, but should still be appreciated for their own sake.”
TOKYO, Sept 27 (Reuters) – A group of junior lawmakers has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Japan’s ruling party leadership contest, facing off with party barons in the wide-open race for votes on Wednesday, which will also determine the premiership.
Many of the 90-strong members of the grouping, who rode into power on the coat-tails of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, fear losses in a general election within months of the leadership race, and chafe at party customs, including the weakening but still present grip of old guard factions.
“There’s no transparency in how they operate, no explanation,” lawmaker Keitaro Ohno, 53, one of the founders of the Group for Renewing Party Spirit, told Reuters, referring to the established factions.
“Even if we can operate pretty freely, when it comes time for leadership races and big party events, we’re told from the top ‘hey you guys, look right’. If you ask ‘why right?’, they’ll say ‘Just listen to me. If I say it’s right, it’s right.’ This isn’t good.”
Though similar groups have formed throughout the history of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), this one appears to be having an impact.
Due to its pressure, party barons have ruled that members of the formal factions can vote as they wish on Wednesday.
All four candidates for party leader – who will almost certainly become prime minister as leader of the biggest party in parliament – also joined a debate with the group’s top members, apparently looking to win backing.
Though analysts believe many members of the group will choose vaccine minister Taro Kono, it isn’t endorsing any candidate.
Ohno supports former foreign minister Fumio Kishida – who has talked about party reform, including term limits.
The old party factions have lost influence since reforms in the 1990s when they were banned from funding candidates, leaving that solely to party headquarters. Now they mostly jostle for cabinet and party posts.
Though Ohno said party elders can have useful experience, and factions can be helpful, voters tell him and others they’re increasingly distrustful of old-style politics, characterised by backroom deals, like the way Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was chosen last year.
Members of the group say they have to take the initiative to win over voters.
“I hear talk that our ability to communicate is weak, that we have to do what the elders want,” said Arata Takebe, a 51-year-old Hokkaido lawmaker, in a video on his website.
“If the younger members aren’t energetic the LDP isn’t appealing. That’s why we have this group.”
Rebels they’re not. Many, including Ohno and Takebe, are second- or third-generation politicians. Group leader Tatsuo Fukuda, 54, is the son and grandson of prime ministers.
Many have corporate experience like Ohno, an ex-researcher at electronics firm Fujitsu who held a fellowship at a U.S. university. They also matured after Japan’s economic bubble burst, which Ohno said means they don’t take things for granted.
“Younger Diet members feel like they have nothing to do, they’re cut out, they haven’t earned their service time so they have to be quiet and just do what they’re told, and who likes that?” said Tobias Harris, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The pressure of an imminent general election – one has to be held by Nov. 28 – has given the younger politicians leverage for change, Harris said.
“The circumstances of this election gave them an opening which they’ve used to weaken factional control over the outcome.”
Ohno, who has not identified himself with any of the party’s old factions, hopes his group can fulfil what he says are widespread voter hopes for a more contemporary political system.
“That means breaking away from the Showa-era style of political management,” he said, referring to the period from 1926-1989, corresponding with the reign of Emperor Hirohito. “And, modernisation.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies
Editing by Robert Birsel
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
This week’s recipe was created by my thrifty mother-in-law. She likes to text us delicious food ideas and updates from her home in South Africa, and she first made these gluten-free pancakes with leftover quinoa, which puffs up splendidly and works with sweet and savoury toppings alike. I’ve also made them with leftover rice and millet, and while the millet was equally puffy, the rice made more of a fritter; both were delicious, though.
Most grains are refined and bleached to make them pearly-white and as long-lasting as possible, but the process creates waste out of the most nutritional parts: the bran and germ. Whole grains such as these are super-economical, even when they’re organic, and are the foundation of a well-balanced diet.
Leftover grain pancakes
This recipe works best with pseudo-cereals such as quinoa, millet, amaranth and buckwheat groats. Pseudo-cereals are any non grass-based seeds that are used like cereals, and can be ground into flour or boiled in much the same way. They seem also to be more cohesive and puff up slightly when cooked into pancakes, so removing the need for a raising agent. However, if you make these with other grains such as rice, be sure to add the optional tablespoon of buckwheat flour as a binder.
If the pancake sticks at first, don’t touch it – just be patient and, once a crust forms, carefully flip over. For the best results, make the batter a couple of hours before you plan to cook the pancakes, or even the day before.
Makes 6 small pancakes
150g leftover cooked quinoa or millet
1 tbsp buckwheat flour (optional)
1 pinch salt
Neutral oil, for greasing
In a medium bowl, beat the cooked grains with the egg, an optional tablespoon of buckwheat flour and salt, then chill and store in the fridge until needed. Like most batters, this one works best when it’s mixed a couple of hours in advance.
Warm a nonstick or well seasoned frying pan over a medium heat, and brush all over with a touch of oil. Beat the mixture one last time, then spoon dessertspoonfuls into the hot pan, leaving space between them to allow them to spread out. After a minute or two, when the underside turns golden brown, flip and cook on the other side for another minute or two, until golden brown. Serve hot with your favourite toppings.
To fulfil our culture’s relentless drive for wrinkle-free skin and an eternal youthful glow, collagen supplements have been gaining more attention, fuelling a booming industry. How well do they work? The short answer: there is evidence that eating collagen may be effective, but experts say we can get what we need through a healthy diet.
There’s no doubt this protein – the most abundant in the body – is important. Collagen is derived from the Greek word kólla, meaning glue, and makes up around three quarters of the skin. More than skin-deep, collagen provides structure for bodily organs, blood vessels, teeth, bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments (its properties have even been exploited for an assorted array of innovations including glue, musical instrument strings, fabrics and rope baskets).
As with many other biological assets that youth take for granted, collagen starts waning with age as bodies slow down and produce less of it. This manifests in wrinkles as skin becomes less supple and able to retain its tightness, potentially lowering its other vital functions such as hydration, antioxidant support and immune defence. Lower collagen production can also slow wound healing, which explains why increasing dietary protein can double the recovery rate.
Here’s the kicker: collagen is a complex protein made up of 19 different amino acids. If you eat it, the digestive tract’s job is to break down the amino acids before releasing them into the blood stream – and there’s no guarantee they will reform in the same way.
“Collagen doesn’t stay collagen,” explains Pia Winberg, a scientist exploring the benefits of seaweed for wound healing, “and [your body] only makes it if [that’s] what you need first in terms of protein and you have the right set of amino acid building blocks to make it”.
“The marketing of collagen supplements is taking people for a ride, a bit, unless they are deficient in certain dietary amino acids, in which case of course it will benefit. But they could equally get that from just increasing amounts and/or diversity of protein intake.”
Associate professor Stephen Shumack, a clinical dermatologist, agrees that while there’s little harm in taking collagen supplements, getting the building blocks of the protein from a good, rounded diet is a logical and cheaper way to go.
“Collagen supplements are a current fad based on little scientific evidence,” he says. “Fortunately, there is little downside to taking them.”
Some evidence supports supplements
However, various animal studies suggest the whole protein might be directly absorbed, so the story could be a bit more complex. Whether it’s from the whole protein or its constituents, the small body of research that has been conducted in humans does offer some support for collagen supplementation (usually derived from cows, pigs and fish, although Winberg is exploring seaweed as a vegetarian source of the key amino acids).
A 12-week placebo-controlled trial reported that a collagen supplement with nutritional cofactors including vitamins C and E, and zinc improved skin quality in women over 35 years old. Overall, a review found 11 studies that provide supporting evidence for improved skin elasticity and hydration, and wound healing.
There may also be some benefit for osteoarthritis, supported by a controlled trial with athletes that found reduced subjective joint pain in those who took the collagen supplement. Another study reports superior muscle mass and strength following supplementation combined with strength training in male volunteers.
One limiting factor to studies is inconsistent dosages, which makes it hard to determine optimal levels of supplementation.
Dominique Condo, a sports dietitian and researcher with Deakin University in Melbourne, says we are still learning about collagen, but she uses the supplements regularly with elite athletes to strengthen their joints and muscles, particularly important for injury prevention and rehab. She notes that dose is important, especially given that it could be used anywhere in the body.
“I can’t speak to the beauty products as I don’t know enough about them,” she says, “but from a muscle and joint perspective we know there is a certain dose you need to see increases in collagen production (around 15 grams per serve). This is a decent amount of collagen and so it may be that some of the products marketed for the benefits don’t actually have the amount needed.”
Supplements aside, there are several ways to protect and boost collagen levels, where healthy habits come up trumps. First, avoid collagen damaging activities like smoking, eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, lack of sleep and exercise, stress and ultraviolet rays from excessive sun exposure.
A healthy diet rich in diverse plant foods can deliver a suite of antioxidants that help counter skin damage. We can also derive the necessary amino acids and nutritional cofactors that help the body make collagen from dietary sources.
Amino acids come from protein-rich foods like eggs, legumes, dairy, fish, poultry and meat. Vitamin C, a critical cofactor, is found in many plant foods including red capsicum, broccoli, citrus and berries. Zinc is also important, high quantities are found in shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds. Others include proline, found in egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus and mushrooms, and glycine, delivered by gelatin and protein-rich foods. Copper might also help, which can be ingested through sesame seeds, organ meats, cashews, lentils – and for chocolate lovers, it’s also found in cocoa powder.
So if you’re starting to see unwanted wrinkles or have deeper needs like wound healing and muscle repair, there’s no harm in taking a collagen supplement. However, you’re likely to get the same benefits from living and eating well and including plenty of good quality protein.
Over the past 70 years the public health establishment in Anglophone countries has issued a number of diet rules, their common thread being that the natural ingredients populations all around the world have eaten for millennia – meat, dairy, eggs and more – and certain components of these foods, notably saturated fat, are dangerous for human health.
The consequences of these diet ordinances are all around us: 60% of Britons are now overweight or obese, and the country’s metabolic health has never been worse.
Government-led lack of trust in the healthfulness of whole foods in their natural forms encouraged us to buy foods that have been physically and chemically modified, such as salt-reduced cheese and skimmed milk, supposedly to make them healthier for us.
No wonder that more than 50% of the food we eat in the UK is now ultra-processed.
The grave effects of this relatively recent departure from time-honoured eating habits comes as no surprise to those of us who never swallowed government “healthy eating” advice in the first place, largely on evolutionary grounds.
Is mother nature a psychopath? Why would she design foods to shorten the lifespan of the human race?
And time is vindicating. This bankrupt postwar nutrition paradigm is being knocked for six, time and again, by up-to-date, high quality research evidence that reasserts how healthy traditional ingredients and eating habits are.
Pass the cheese … dairy fats can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease
The NHS Eatwell Guide, fondly known to its critics as the Eat badly guide, still tells us to choose lower-fat products, such as 1% fat milk, reduced-fat cheese, or low-fat yoghurt. This is based on the inadequately evidenced postwar belief that saturated fat is bad for your heart.
How embarrassing, then, for government dietetic gurus, that a major study of 4,150 Swedes, followed over 16 years, has last week reported that a diet rich in dairy fat may lower, not raise your risk of cardiovascular disease.
This Swedish study echoes the findings of a 2018 meta-analysis of 29 previous studies, which also found that consumption of dairy products protects against heart disease and stroke.
A body of research also suggests that consumption of dairy fat is protective against type 2 diabetes.
Five a day
A slogan invented to shift more fruit and veg, but not one to live your life by
This catchy slogan, now a central plank of government eating advice, came out of a 1991 meeting of fruit and veg companies in California.
Five a day logos now appear on many ultra-processed foods, from baked beans to ready meals, imbuing them with a questionable aura of health.
But other than as a marketing tool, any justification for this slogan is thin.
A major study in 2010 involving 500,000 people across 23 European locations for eight years could not establish a clear association, let alone causation, for this recommendation.
While fruit and vegetables do bring valuable micronutrients to the table, overall they compare poorly in nutrient-density terms with foods such as dairy, meat, fish and eggs.
Very few people in the UK manage to meet the five a day target, and those who do generally attain it by eating more fruit than vegetables.
Fruit contains lots of sugar. A small banana has the equivalent of 5.7 teaspoons of sugar, whereas an egg contains none.
Has the five a day mantra persuaded us to eat more healthy greens? Two of the most fashionable vegetables at the moment are sweet potatoes and squash, both of which are as sugary as sweet fruit.
Perhaps we should face the possibility that the five a day dogma has actually prompted us to eat more sugar.
Don’t cut out salt completely – a moderate amount is better for you
We are told to minimise our salt (sodium) intake, even to the extent of not salting water to boil pasta.
However, research published recently concludes that the extremely low levels of sodium intake currently advised are associated with increased heart disease risk, whereas moderate amounts are ideal for most people.
The researchers say that most countries in the world, apart from China and a few others, already have average sodium intakes within the lowest risk range. “There is little evidence that lowering sodium [below this average level] will reduce cardiovascular events or death” it finds.
Ditch processed products such as hotdogs, but a steak won’t kill you
Although meat has been a central component of ancestral diets for millions of years, some nutrition authorities, often with close connections to animal rights activists or other forms of ideological vegetarianism, promote the view that it is an unhealthy food.
The health case against meat is predicated on cherry-picked evidence from low-quality, unreliable, observational studies that fail to draw a distinction between meat in its unprocessed form and multi-ingredient, chemically altered, ultra-processed meat products, such as hotdogs.
Association doesn’t mean causation. Confounding factors exist; someone who eats bacon butties daily might also be eating too much sugar, be consuming lots of additive-laden bread, be under stress, or smoke – the list goes on.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s 2015 claim that red meat is “probably carcinogenic” has never been substantiated.
In fact, a subsequent risk assessment concluded that this is not the case.
Epidemiological data has been unable to demonstrate a consistent causal link between red meat intake and disease.
Official advice to base your diet on carbs is contradicted by science
“Base your meals around starchy carbohydrate foods” – another nugget of government “healthy eating” advice that is contradicted by robust science and well overdue for a rethink.
In February the Pure study, which followed 148,858 participants in 21 countries over nine years was published. It concluded that: “High intake of refined grains was associated with higher risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease events.”
The researchers found that those who had the highest category of intake of refined grains (at least 350g a day) had a 27% higher risk of death and a 33% higher risk of serious cardiovascular events compared with those whose consumption was in the lowest category.
“Globally, lower consumption of refined grains should be considered,” it concluded. Yet our government stubbornly recommends the opposite.
Years of conflicting advice have been unfair to eggs – eat as many as you like
Remember when public health advice was to eat no more than two eggs weekly? That pearl of wisdom was based on the mistaken idea that foods containing cholesterol are bad for you.
When it became clear that eating cholesterol had no effect on the cholesterol profile of your blood, government advice was belatedly changed. Now it tells us: “There is no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat.” Unfortunately, decades of top-down public health misinformation is hard to shift.
Many people are still unsure whether eggs are healthy or not, despite the fact that eggs are one of the most nutrient-rich foods you can eat.
At the Protein Pick and Mix store in Tunbridge Wells, you can have any snack you like, as long as it comes with extra protein. Protein pancakes, protein burger buns, protein muffins, protein nachos, protein croissants. Protein bars, of course, in every conceivable flavour: caramel millionaire’s shortbread, New York cheesecake, mint chocolate chip, double chocolate fudge, lemon drizzle, cinnamon swirl. White chocolate chip cookies that incorporate something called a “high protein lean matrix”.
I am being shown around the store and warehouse by the founder, Anthony Rodgers, 36, who has the well-defined musculature of a man who regularly eats three protein bars a day. He started the business, originally as an online shop, in 2013, after observing the trend for exotically flavoured protein bars in the US. “At the time I was an avid gym-goer,” he says, “and protein bars were just starting to be a little more creative, a little more exciting. People were putting actual effort into the flavours, and it started to transcend the boring, functional: ‘we’re just going to ram some protein in you.’”
Rodgers is a man ahead of his time. In scarcely a decade, protein has ballooned from a niche supplement favoured by bodybuilders to mainstream macronutrient. According to the market research firm Mintel, 6.1% of food and drink product launches in 2020 claimed to be high-protein or contain added protein, up from 3.3% in 2016. The major multinationals are all muscling in: you can buy Mars, Snickers and Bounty bars with added protein at most newsagents. Mondelēz International, which owns Cadbury and Toblerone, acquired the British protein bar brand Grenade earlier this year in a rumoured £200m deal; Kellogg’s acquired RXBar, another protein bar, for $600m in 2017.
The upmarket grocery chain Whole Foods Market has stocked 50 new protein-enriched products in the past year alone, including chickpea tofu and red lentil pasta. “Our 2022 trend report predicts that sunflower seeds will be a hot protein ingredient next year, being included in butters, milk and even ice-cream,” says the UK director of purchasing and operations, Jade Hoai.
The UK is at the centre of the protein craze: according to Mintel, we have the third-highest percentage of products with a high-protein or added-protein claim in the world, after Finland and Australia. During the first lockdown, demand for Protein Pick and Mix’s products tripled: Rodgers and his staff had to work six days a week, just to keep up with orders.
“It’s amazing how much this stuff has become mainstream,” says Rodgers. “When M&S starts doing protein bars, that’s a serious cultural shift … now even my grandmother loves them. She’s buying boxes.”
This multimillion-dollar industry all started, says Rodgers, with one bar: the Quest Cookies and Cream. Incorporating 21g of protein – slightly less than a can of tuna – it was the first protein bar to cross over into the confectionery aisle. I try one: it has the appearance and mouthfeel of a door stop, and tastes like an in-flight dessert. I would eat it if I was very hungry, or drunk.
The technology behind protein bars has evolved to the point where they almost approximate to ordinary chocolate bars. I sample Rodgers’ personal favourite, the Grenade Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel, which contains 20g of protein. “It’s more like a candy bar,” he promises. “It’s genuinely delicious.” The bar is truly tasty, although afterwards I feel as if I have swallowed a remote control, and have no appetite for dinner. “It is very satiating,” Rodgers explains.
Protein contains the amino acids necessary for muscle growth, which is why added-protein products were initially designed for avid gym-goers seeking to pack on muscle. They were stocked by specialist shops, such as Holland & Barrett. These “functional foods”, which included protein powders and shakes, were branded as sports nutrition and primarily targeted at men. The Protein Pick and Mix marketing manager, Milli Levett, 28, used to work for Grenade, a protein-bar manufacturer. At pop-up events, she struggled to persuade women to eat more protein.
Now, 85% of the Protein Pick and Mix’s customers are women. “Everybody’s jumping on the bandwagon,” says Levett. “Lots of the Instagram girlies love it. They’re all MyProtein [a protein supplement brand] ambassadors.” The Protein Pick and Mix Instagram account has 38,300 followers, many young women who post selfies with the new protein bar du jour. “There’s one who buys a single bar every time we list anything new – just to put it on Instagram,” adds Levett.
These women’s protein appetite tracks out of an endlessly evolving diet culture. In the 2000s, carbohydrates were demonised by fans of the Atkins diet; in the 1990s, fashionable (and flatulent) women subsisted on a cabbage soup crash diet for a week at a time. Today’s mania for protein aligns with the vogue for “wellness”, and the ultra-shredded physiques flaunted on television shows such as Love Island and by athleisure-wearing influencers on Instagram. “Protein is diet culture masquerading as something that fuels exercise,” says Eve Simmons of the blog Not Plant Based, and co-author of Eat It Anyway: Fight the Food Fads, Beat Anxiety and Eat in Peace. “In reality, most of us aren’t doing the exercise that is necessary to [require] that much protein.”
The NHS recommends a daily protein intake of 50g, about the same as two small chicken breasts. “A protein deficit is very unusual in a developed country,” says Clare Thornton-Wood, a dietitian and member of the British Dietetic Association. “People think about protein as meat and fish, but there is protein in many different foods, from cereals to vegetables.” The body can only really break down about 20g-30g of protein at a time. “If you eat more than that in one sitting,” Thornton-Wood says, “you are basically wee-ing it out. It’s going down the toilet.” With many protein bars costing upwards of £2.50 apiece, that is an expensive toilet trip. She also warns that excessive protein can be damaging for people with kidney disease as it puts extra pressure on these organs.
Not all protein bars contain animal products, although some use gelatine as a binder or are made from whey protein, a byproduct of cheese making. Soy is another common source of cheap protein. But the origins of western consumers’ love affair with protein can be traced back to lobbying by the meat industry. “There’s a paranoia about protein,” says Jennie Macdiarmid, professor in sustainable nutrition and health at the University of Aberdeen, “and the market is creating and fuelling this demand.”
Our overconsumption of protein is, says Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera of Action Against Hunger, “mostly because of the myth that has been spread about the requirements about animal protein, in particular at conferences financed by the animal-based food industry.” Research published in the journal Climatic Change in 2021 found that US meat and dairy producers have collectively spent $200m on lobbying since 2000. In 2015, the US government declined to include sustainability as a factor in its official dietary guidelines, in a move widely interpreted as a concession to meat and dairy manufacturers. Had sustainability been factored into the guidance, it is likely that Americans would have been encouraged to reduce their meat intake, the meat industry being a huge driver of emissions.
The average American adult eats 100g of protein a day, twice the recommended amount, while in Madagascar, 50% of children have stunted growth due to protein deficiency. “The consequences of protein deficiency can be not developing properly, not being able to do well in school due to reduced cognitive abilities,” says Rutishauser-Perera.
And, of course, the elephant in the exercise studio is the climate emergency. While hulking gym bros strip chicken carcasses daily, and teenagers scoff burgers on the school bus, Madagascar is experiencing its worst drought in four decades, caused directly by climate change. Protein-rich western diets are partly to blame. “Meat contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions compared to other foods,” says Macdiarmid, “both in terms of ruminant meats, which produce methane, but also in terms of the amount of land taken up to produce feed for animals.” In 2020, the Climate Change Committee advised the UK public to reduce consumption of meat and dairy by 20% for climate reasons.
If we don’t need to eat all this protein, why are we devouring so much? For many, it’s the pursuit of the body beautiful. The word protein semaphores virtuous self-restraint, visibly striated musculature and pert buttocks. Protein is eating clean and boutique gym memberships. Protein is nut bars nibbled elegantly between MacBook-led meetings. When we reach for protein-rich snacks, what we are really reaching for is a thinner version of ourselves, even if we substitute the word thin for other, more socially acceptable adjectives: lean, defined, fit.
Protein and diet culture go together like supermodels and garden salads, for the simple reason that a protein-rich diet can aid fat loss and build lean muscle (provided you exercise too). “Protein keeps you fuller for longer,” says Thornton-Wood. “That’s why people on diets often try to eat more protein.” When Simmons, of Not Plant Based, had the eating disorder anorexia in her early 20s, she often bought a takeaway boiled egg pot, in lieu of a meal. “It’s a snack,” Simmons says. “It’s not designed to be a lunch.”
To weight-conscious people, the word protein has a halo effect. “People associate protein with being healthy because it’s not carbs, and carbs have been vilified over the years,” says Simmons. It is telling that one of Rodgers’ bestselling bars, the Carb Killa, sounds as if it promises to expel carbohydrates from our bodies, as though they were cancerous cells, rather than macronutrients that fuel our brains, kidneys and hearts. “Protein is such a buzzword and there are so many diets based around high protein and low carbs,” says Levett. “Everyone knows protein … and if you can link the word protein to their favourite sweet treats, all of a sudden it becomes justifiable.”
The irony is that added-protein snacks are often far from healthy. Many bars contain ingredients such as palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, and corn syrup, which has been linked to insulin resistance. The NHS warns against replacing meals with protein snacks. They are highly processed; those white chocolate chip cookies contain 31 ingredients. “People used to be like, the fewer ingredients the better. I don’t want to put all those chemicals in my body,” says Levett. “Now, nobody cares.”
That is not to say that processed foods can’t form part of a balanced diet, in moderation. “It is always better to eat food that isn’t processed,” says Thornton-Wood. “But I’m realistic. I eat processed foods sometimes.” And some of Rodgers’ chocolate-covered protein bars are arguably healthier than a regular chocolate bar, as they are lower in sugar and will fill you up for longer. “You could have a couple of biscuits that are empty calories, that aren’t doing anything for you,” Rodgers points out reasonably. “Or you could have something that’s quite nice, and is hitting your protein [intake].” Plus, many protein bars are vegan – making them an option for people looking to reduce their meat intake for environmental reasons. (Providing they aren’t full of unsustainably produced palm oil.)
As someone who grew up in the fetid, diet-culture swamp of the mid-00s, and had to rewire her brain over two decades not to liken a bread basket to a bowl of heroin, a warehouse full of low-carbohydrate snacks recalls the disturbed messages of my youth. “It’s almost that guilt-free thing,” says Levett, explaining the appeal of a high-protein Snickers. She’s not wrong – I would probably reach for a high-protein version over a regular chocolate bar myself.
But I wonder if we will ever live in a world where women can eat a Snickers bar without feeling like they have run over a small animal. Until that day comes, there’s always a chocolate-covered Carb Killa, for our sins.
Coca-Cola’s British and continental bottling operation has become the latest business to come under pressure from the supply chain crisis, with a “shortage of aluminium cans” hitting supplies.
Consumers have taken to social media to discuss a lack of availability of Diet Coke and Coke Zero in various locations in recent weeks.
Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), which is responsible for making, transporting and selling products including Fanta and Sprite across 29 countries in Europe and Asia, said it had been experiencing “a number of logistics challenges”.
Nik Jhangiani, CCEP’s chief financial officer, said the company had experienced issues with the availability of HGV drivers, but had been concentrating on supply chain management during the pandemic to ensure that it could maintain deliveries to customers.
“We are very happy with how we have performed in the circumstances, with service levels higher than a lot of our market competitors,” Jhangiani said. “There are still logistical challenges and issues, though, as with every sector, and the shortage of aluminium cans is a key one for us now, but we are working with customers to successfully manage this.”
A shortage of HGV drivers, exacerbated by both Covid and Brexit, has left wholesalers struggling to get goods into shops. Late last month, the fast food chain McDonald’s said that bottled soft drinks and milkshakes were temporarily unavailable in some of its restaurants in England, Scotland and Wales as a result of supply chain disruption.
The pub chain Wetherspoon’s said on Wednesday it was experiencing shortages of some beers, including Carling, Coors and Heineken, because of a post-Brexit shortage of delivery drivers combined with industrial action.
The comments from CCEP came as the company reported that pre-tax profits almost doubled to €520m (£467m) for the six months to 2 July. In the half-year results, it highlighted to investors the impact of the pandemic “on the global supply chain”, saying there had been “increased pressure on CCEP’s ability to source key goods and services at advantageous prices and on a timely basis”.
The increased interest in gluten-free recipes garners strong opinions. On the one hand, coeliacs can find the confusion between them and those who have chosen a gluten-free diet frustrating (and possibly dangerous). Those who elect to go gluten-free, meanwhile – often on the grounds that they just feel much better without it – are equally baffled by the frustration (and even antipathy) that their choice inspires in others. For my part, while my diet will never be gluten-free simply for the sake of it, mealtimes are all the more interesting and varied for occasionally omitting it.
Rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil (pictured top)
The crab chilli oil is the real star here, coating the noodles with a wonderful, spicy, seafood flavour. This makes more of the oil than you need for this dish, but it keeps in the fridge for up to a month and the flavours will intensify over time: it’s great spooned over all sorts, from egg fried rice and prawn stir-fries to roast vegetables. To avoid spoiling, just make sure the solids are always covered in oil.
Prep 10 min
Cook 40 min
Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a snack
230ml rapeseed oil, or other neutral oil
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped (80g)
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced into fine rounds, white and green parts kept separate
20g coriander, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
20g piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp hot chilli flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp white miso paste
100g brown crab meat
Flaked sea salt
¼ tsp sugar
100g rice vermicelli noodles
2 limes, 1 juiced, to get 1 tbsp, the other cut into 4 wedges
1 tsp sesame oil
100g white crab meat
Put the oil in a medium saucepand on a medium-high heat, then, once hot, fry the shallots, spring onion whites and coriander stalks for 10 minutes, until lightly coloured. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli, fry, stirring, for another minute, until fragrant, then stir in the tomato paste and miso. Turn the heat to low, stir in the brown crab meat, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and the sugar, and cook, stirring regularly and skimming off any foam that rises to the surface, for 30-35 minutes. The oil is ready when the solids are deep brown and the mix splits with the oil rising to the top.
Take off the heat, leave to cool slightly, then pour into a sterilised jar, leave to cool completely, then seal and store.
Cook the rice noodles according to the packet instructions, then drain, transfer to a bowl and toss in the lime juice, sesame oil and a half-teaspoon of flaked salt.
To serve, divide the noodles between two (or four) bowls, and arrange the white crab meat and coriander leaves to one side. Spoon over a tablespoon of the chilli oil, sprinkle some spring onion greens on top and serve with more chilli oil, the lime wedges and the rest of the spring onion greens in bowls on the side.
Spiced lentil pancakes with mango salsa and coconut chutney
These are the perfect vehicle to stuff and serve as a savoury breakfast or lunch. Make extra, if you like, and freeze them between sheets of greaseproof paper to save for a quick meal or snack at a later date.
Prep 25 min
Soak 1 hr
Cook 30 min
Makes 8 pancakes, to serve 4
For the pancake batter
225g yellow mung dal
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
5g piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
4 tsp coconut oil
For the coconut chutney
2 tbsp virgin coconut oil, unmelted
1 tbsp tomato paste
50g desiccated coconut, well toasted
2-3 red chillies (40g), roughly chopped, pith and seeds removed if you prefer less heat
½ tsp lime juice
For the mango salsa
1 large green or unripe mango, halved, stoned, peeled and flesh cut into thin matchsticks (375g net weight)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (ie, from 2 limes)
1 large mild green chilli (10g), thinly sliced, seeds and all
6½-7 tbsp (10g) roughly chopped mint leaves
2½-2¾ tbsp (10g) coriander leaves
Put the lentils in a colander and wash under cold running water until it runs clear. Tip into a medium bowl, add enough just-boiled water to cover by about 5cm, then set aside for 30 minutes to an hour (alternatively, soak the lentils overnight in cold water).
Now make the chutney. Put the oil in a small frying pan on a medium-high heat and, once hot, add the tomato paste and stir-fry for about three minutes, until lightly caramelised. Stir in the coconut to combine, then scrape into the small bowl of a food processor. Add all the other chutney ingredients and a half-teaspoon of salt, blitz until almost smooth, then transfer to a small bowl and put to one side.
Mix all the salsa ingredients and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a small bowl and set aside.
Drain the lentils, run them under cold water again, then put in a blender with 320ml cold water and the garlic, ginger, turmeric and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Blitz completely smooth, then taste and adjust the seasoning. You should end up with roughly 640g batter; if you have significantly less, top up with more cold water.
Put half a teaspoon of coconut oil in a small, nonstick frying pan on a medium-high heat and, once hot, ladle in about 80g of the batter mix and use the back of the ladle (or a spoon, if that’s easier) to spread it out to cover the base of the pan. Leave to cook for two to three minutes, until the bottom is crisp and golden and the top is almost dry, then use a spatula to lift up the edges gently and loosen the pancake from the base of the pan. Flip over, cook for a minute or two more on the other side, until golden, then transfer to a tray lined with kitchen towel. Fold the paper over to cover and keep the pancake warm while you repeat with the remaining batter and coconut oil.
To serve, distribute the pancakes between four plates, spoon over some of the chutney followed by some salsa, and eat warm or at room temperature with the remaining chutney and salsa alongside.
Baked polenta with bechamel, feta and za’atar tomatoes
This is a happy-looking pie, with its yellows and reds and wonderfully golden edges. Serve with a big green salad.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 20 min
Serves 6 as a main
80g unsalted butter
50g gluten-free plain flour
750ml whole milk
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
200g quick-cook polenta
65g pecorino, roughly grated
180g feta, roughly crumbled
5g oregano sprigs, ideally soft ones
For the za’atar tomatoes
400g small sweet ripe tomatoes, such as datterini
120ml olive oil
1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp za’atar
½ tsp caster sugar
1⅓ tbsp (5g) parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp (5g) oregano leaves, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3. Put the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper in a roughly 27cm x 18cm baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake, stirring once halfway, for 40-45 minutes, until the tomatoes have just burst but haven’t completely fallen apart. Remove the foil, gently stir in the za’atar and sugar, so as not to break up the tomatoes, and leave to cool completely. Once cool, carefully stir in the herbs, again so as not to break up the tomatoes.
Turn up the oven to its highest setting – 240C (220C)/475F/gas 9 – and line a large 40cm x 30cm baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Melt 40g butter in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat, then add the flour and whisk for 30 seconds, until it smells a bit like popcorn. Slowly pour in 350ml of the milk, whisking continuously to get rid of any lumps, then stir in the garlic, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Turn down the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes, until the mix is quite thick and no longer floury-tasting. Take off the heat, cover the surface of the bechamel with a piece of greaseproof paper, to prevent a skin forming, and set aside.
Meanwhile, for the polenta, put the remaining 400ml milk in a medium saute pan and add 300ml water, 20g butter, a teaspoon and a quarter of salt and a good grind of pepper. Set the pan over a medium-high heat and, once the mix starts to bubble gently, turn down the heat to medium-low and slowly pour in the polenta in a thin, steady stream, whisking continuously to incorporate. Cook, still stirring, for two minutes, until the mix thickens, then stir in the pecorino and the last 20g butter. Pour into the lined baking tray and spread out into a large rectangle about 38cm long x 1cm thick.
Spoon the cooled bechamel on top of the polenta, and spread it out with the back of the spoon so it covers most of the polenta but leaving a 1½cm rim exposed all around the edge. Top evenly with the feta and the oregano sprigs, then bake for about 25 minutes, until golden and bubbling on top and starting to brown around the edges.
Remove and leave to cool for five to 10 minutes, then spoon half the za’atar tomatoes over the top. Serve warm, cut into slabs (I use a pizza cutter), with the rest of the tomatoes in a bowl on the side.
Dinosaurs, like us, got sick and injured. By detecting these medical conditions in fossils, paleopathologists, experts in ancient disease and injuries, are gaining tantalizing insights into dinosaur behavior and evolution — how a dinosaur moved through its world, the relationship between predator and prey, and how dinosaurs of the same species interacted.
Until relatively recently, however, diagnosing multi-million-year-old diseases from fossilized bones was decidedly hit-and-miss.
First off, the fossil record only reveals a small fraction of the creatures that lived in the past, and those that reach us have withstood multiple obstacles over millions of years. What’s more, with soft tissue largely missing from fossils, scientists rely on bones for information. And it’s often very hard to determine whether deformations in a dinosaur’s bone structure were caused by disease or the crush of sediment over time.
Paleontologists can identify strange structures, bone overgrowths, rough surfaces, and holes or porous surfaces in areas where they should not be without the help of special tools. But the application of medical advances like computerized tomography to paleontology have allowed researchers to peer through rock to see what’s happening inside fossilized bones.
“It’s imperative to have an inner view of the bone,” said Filippo Bertozzo, a post-doctoral researcher at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. “If you have doubts whether a bone is deformed by pathology or geological processes, you need to see inside.”
“If it’s geology at play, you wouldn’t see any change in the structure of the cells.”
Often it takes a raft of experts in different fields to confirm a diagnosis. Think of an episode of the television series “House” for dinosaurs.
“The study of paleopathologies is more than simply identifying a disease, it is opening a window to learn about interactions with the environment and social behavior,” said Penélope Cruzado-Caballero, a paleontologist at the Research Institute of Palaeobiology and Geology of CONICET, Argentina’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, and the National University of Río Negro (Argentina).
Not just big, but tough
The most commonly detected pathology in the dinosaur fossil record is bone fractures — with some dinosaurs apparently surviving very severe trauma that must have left them living in great pain.
For years, paleontologists had thought a V-shape indentation in the dinosaur’s spine was part of its natural posture — perhaps to accommodate its long, dramatic headgear.
A new analysis published in 2020 found that the dent was due to a broken back. The creature also had broken ribs, a deformed pelvis and a dental lesion. Bertozzo believes the broken back was possibly caused by a falling rock or tree, but the dinosaur didn’t die of its injuries — at least not immediately. Bertozzo said it would have lived at least four months, and their analysis suggested the injuries had begun to heal before the creature’s death.
Bertozzo believes that some dinosaurs must have been able to overcome and survive massive injuries. He said one hypothesis is that a strong immune system was a survival mechanism for some herbivores, like Hadrosaurs, which didn’t have defensive features like armored plates, spiked tails or sharp horns common in other plant-eating species, such as Triceratops.
Researchers concluded it was an advanced stage of cancer that may have spread throughout the dinosaur’s body. But what might have been a death sentence for one dinosaur, another could endure.
Starving T. rex
T. rex was the ultimate dinosaur predator, weighing as much as two African elephants, but it could fall victim to the tiniest of foes: parasites.
The lower jaw of SUE the T. rex, the most complete T. rex skeleton ever found, was pitted with smooth-edged holes. Initially experts thought they were bite marks or a bone infection, but researchers ultimately concluded the holes were a result of a parasitic infection called trichomonosis. The condition can also effect the lower jaw of modern birds like pigeons, doves and chickens.
“Once the animal was infected, feeding would have been difficult, and it is highly likely that, as seen in living birds, the mighty tyranosaurs lost considerable weight before eventually starving to death.”
Could dinosaurs have been attacked by coronaviruses?
“Birds, especially pet birds, do suffer from pulmonary infection. Birds are dinosaurs, and dinosaurs presented, most likely, a birdlike lung system,” Bertozzo said. “I would expect dinosaurs to suffer from similar pulmonary infections as in birds. Of course, Covid is a novel disease, we cannot know if something similar happened in the past, so we can’t say if dinosaurs suffered from Covid-like diseases.”
Bertozzo is building a database to record incidences of trauma and disease across different species of ornithopods — a family of plant-eating dinosaurs that includes iguanadons, hadrosaurs and duck-billed dinosaurs — and across different time periods. He hopes it will help answer questions like which group of these dinosaurs was most likely to suffer disease and whether these conditions affected dinosaur behavior.
“It’s a growing field that is going to give us a lot information about the lives of these fascinating creatures,” he said.