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Everything You Know About Breakfast Is Wrong

You’re wrong about breakfast. And so is everyone else. Despite years of hype, two new studies point to a startling conclusion: skipping breakfast doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain. Nor does eating breakfast boost your metabolism, suppress appetite, or reduce overeating later in the day. But it still might be one of the most important meals of the day (more on that later).

“Our findings are a bit of a reality check,” said nutritionist Emily Dhurandhar, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), lead author of one of the studies. “It’s a broader question we’re trying to answer. As a message interpreted by the general public, just recommending people eat breakfast is not sufficient.”

While years of observational research have shown associations between eating breakfast and being leaner, none of the studies reach the gold-standard level of evidence of showing causation—randomized controlled trials—to show that breakfast was indeed responsible for weight loss, says James O. Hill, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver, and co-author on Dhurandhar’s study.

At last, gold-standard research on breakfast has arrived. And the findings subvert years of nutritional advice while highlighting one often underestimated and under-hyped benefit of the morning meal. Dhurandhar’s trial randomized 309 overweight or obese adults who were given healthy eating advice to two groups. One group ate breakfast and the other skipped. Both groups lost a little weight, but there was no greater weight loss in the breakfast eaters as compared to the skippers. The researchers are careful to note that the study was not a controlled feeding trial and the subjects were not told what to eat at breakfast.

Another smaller study, led by James Betts, a senior lecturer in nutrition from the University of Bath, randomized 33 lean adults to either eat or skip breakfast for six weeks. The study found no appreciable difference in metabolic or cardiovascular health markers. “It is commonly stated that breakfast kick-starts metabolism and/or reduces snacking, etc. We saw little or no evidence of these things,” Betts said.

Insofar as testing has gone, the evidence hasn’t boded well for breakfast. But it wasn’t all bad news, Betts said. His study was also one of the first to measure how a feeding pattern influenced physical activity levels throughout the day using combined heart rate and accelerometry (think: sophisticated wearable tech, not just pedometers).

Betts sums up the results: “Specifically, the breakfast group was much more physically active than the fasting group, with significant differences particularly noted during light-intensity activities during the morning.”

In this case, this was causal evidence (not just correlation) that breakfast gets people moving—good reason to keep enjoying the most important meal of the day.

Our near-sacred regard for “don’t skip breakfast” is one of the most fundamental but oversold nutritional guidelines, and as we’re now discovering, there are plenty of other flawed recommendations in the nutrition world. So the problem isn’t with breakfast. It’s with a failure of skepticism, says the study’s senior investigator whose previous work began the attack on the conventional thinking, David Allison, director of UAB’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center.

“This goes back to the idea that we need to be more skeptical—we as scientists, as journalists, we as public health officials,” Allison said. “These platitudes sound good. You tend to believe them, but some might not be true.”

The perpetuation of pro-breakfast bias could be said to come in part by lobbying and funding of research by food companies keen on selling breakfast cereals and packaged breakfast foods. But diet myths are also often spread through shoddy reporting and writing. And they frequently come from public figures at the intersection of health and pop-culture. Take this line from the polarizing celebrity surgeon Dr. Oz. His site reads, “The fact is, when you’re trying to lose body fat, you can’t skip breakfast…” and “Boost your metabolic rate by 25%.”

Don’t trust Dr. Oz? How about this line from the Mayo Clinic’s site, “In fact, skipping breakfast actually increases your risk of obesity” or this quote from a researcher on Yahoo! Health, “Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time.”

Not only is the Internet rife with this kind of language, but so too is the scientific literature, Allison points out. And it’s not always in research that has received food industry funding, he says. There’s what he calls “white hat bias” largely found in observational or short-term trials that also suggest breakfast produces beneficial effects on metabolism and satiety. But, once again, these types of studies cannot demonstrate causation. These limitations are rarely addressed in the research or in the media hype. Plus, not all breakfasts should be considered equal; the timing and nutritional content (think: sugary cereal versus eggs) are both key.

“It’s tempting to assume that if something shows promise in a short-term study, or if it has some aspect on insulin or fat metabolism, that we can extrapolate from these. But I think that it’s important that we test these things,” Dhurandhar said.

If there’s one underlying message these researchers are giving, it’s just this: beware oft-repeated diet advice not rooted in evidence. Additional vague platitudes that perhaps deserve equal attention are “eat everything in moderation” and “eat only when you’re hungry.”

As made clear with the rigorously designed tests on breakfast, our presumptions don’t always hold true. But breakfast now has one new thing going for it: increasing physical activity.

“Whether or not you have breakfast can dictate how much activity you engage in, which directly impacts energy balance but also holds implications for health via the independent benefits of living a more active lifestyle,” Betts said.

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Sunscreen On a Plate

Summer may seem like the best season for your skin. But under that well-tanned surface, the sun is actually wreaking havoc on your cells.

“When you leave lettuce in the sun too long, it wilts and turns brown because the light is causing oxidative damage. This is similar to your skin exposed to sunlight,” says Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., who researches antioxidants at Tufts University. On your skin, the damage manifests in the short term as a red-hot sunburn, but long-term, it can cause cancer.

And while sunscreen helps prevent the light from penetrating, what comes to the rescue once free radicals have taken over? The hero has to come from your plate in the form of antioxidants—like vitamin C, E and beta-carotene—which block free radicals from causing more damage. “Antioxidants float through your blood and amass in tissues, including the skin,” she says. This means when the sun damages your cells, antioxidants are already on the front line to battle damage.

Plus phytochemicals—a nutrient group that includes antioxidants—may ramp up your body’s natural protection systems against cancer-causing damage, adds Karen Collins, registered dietitian, Nutrition Advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. In fact, a 2010 study from Tel Aviv University found that participants who follow diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, like that in the Mediterranean region where melanoma rates are extremely low, have lower incidences of skin cancer.

One of the best foods for protection? Tomatoes. A new British study found that people who ate ¼ cup of tomato paste—which offers high levels of the nutrient lycopene—for two weeks saw less oxidative damage. And a 2012 UK study found women who eat a tomato-heavy diet have 33 percent more protection against UV exposure than those who skip the fruit.

But since nutrients all have different functions and interactions, it’s important to eat all colors of the rainbow. “Many phytochemicals manifest as pigments, so eating fruits and vegetables of all colors guarantees that you’re diversifying your nutrient intake and better fortifying your skin,” says Johnson.

The best skin protectors include dark leafy greens, beta-carotene-rich carrots and cantaloupe, and polyphenol-packed berries and citrus fruit. And skip supplements in favor of whole foods. Most phytochemicals are bioactive, meaning they’re most effective coming from whole foods, and the high doses of most supplements can be harmful to your health.

Protection doesn’t occur overnight, Collins adds. In fact, most studies supporting nutrition’s benefit on sunburns or cancer prevention don’t see results until participants have been eating the food for at least 8 weeks, she adds.

Most importantly, there is no better protection against developing skin cancer than limiting your exposure to UV light, Collins adds. And, while a nutrient-rich diet can help fortify your cells, slathering on sunscreen as well will give your skin the best chances to stay healthy.

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Single POV Action Cameras Are Dead

Single point-of-view shots are so old school. The future of adventure filmmaking lies in full-on 360-degree video, or at least that’s what Bill Banta believes. The pilot and avid skier is the CEO of CENTR Camera, one of a handful of 360-degree cameras due out in the next nine months that promise to revolutionize how we capture video.

“Over time, people have gotten to a point where they want to go back to living in the moment and experience things first-person,” says Banta, who was previously a part of Apple’s iPhone camera team. Because 360-degree cameras capture everything, “you’ll have the ability to relive those memories and share different pieces of them with different people.”

Perhaps even more important for adventure junkies is the camera’s versatility. “It allows you to much more easily capture the perfect shot,” Banta says. With some 360-degree cameras capturing up to 240-degrees of vertical as well, botched shots will be a thing of the past, and stories won’t be limited to what the people holding the camera see in front of them. “I can go flying and give you a video of what’s going on out the front of the plane, a picture of myself flying, and a picture of the passenger sitting next to me,” Banta says. “I can do all of that with one single shot.

The new crop of 360-degree cameras all work similarly, stitching together video from several small cameras. The CENTR, in particular, is a palm-sized disc that houses four high-definition cameras. The device patches all of the shots together in real time, so the video will be ready to share on a smart phone or computer immediately. No special viewing or video editing software required. And should you decide you want a single POV, CENTR lets you enable just one camera, so you don’t have to shoot in 360 all of the time.

The only drawback we've heard of so far? Battery life on some 360-degree cameras may be limited. Yahoo Tech reports that Giroptic’s 360cam battery lasts only an hour, though some may argue that’s more than long enough to capture what you want. (On the highest-power consumption setting, average battery life on GoPro’s HERO3 Black Edition is just an hour, too.) 

Many 360 cameras promise to be as easy to use as a GoPro, and might even change the way we watch video, making entertainment a more immersive experience. The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, for example, could allow viewers to look around as if they were actually in the video itself.

For now, we’ll take the expanded field of view on our normal screens—and the promise that every shot will be epic. “We’ve had beta tester videos of BASE jumping, wingsuit flying in Africa, paragliding, fighter jets, race cars,” Banta says. “The flexibility and ability to retell stories in creative ways is going to make 360-degree cameras a really powerful tool going forward.”

Excited for 360? Check out the cameras coming soon:

CENTR Camera 

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With its sleek design, the camera slides easily into a pocket. CENTR recently raised $607,628 on Kickstarter, falling short of its $900,000 goal. But Banta says he got valuable user feedback from the campaign that will influence the final design. CENTR’s currently working on widening the device’s vertical field of view from 56 degrees. As for battery life, the CENTR lasts "two hours with all four cameras recording at 720p HD resolution" on one charge, according to Banta. Expect to see the final product debut in early 2015 for $399.

360Fly 

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The 360Fly looks like a geodesic dome that can capture 240-degrees of vertical, making it “the widest viewing camera in the world.” Poised to debut this fall for about $400.

Geonaute 

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Marketed as “the first 360-degree action camera,” the Geonaute is about the size of a baseball and at 255 grams, it’s more than twice the weight of the 360Fly. But tech pundits declare it’s the most market ready considering it was supposed to hit shelves this spring. It’s currently on sale for $499 as part of a “pre-launch offer,” with no official sale date listed.

Giroptic 

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The designers of this egg-shaped camera are currently raising funds through Kickstarter. (They’ve already blasted through their $150,000 goal, with backers pledging $776,568 with 31 days still to go.) The current starting price for the French camera is $329, with an estimated delivery of November.

Bubl Cam 

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A tetrahedral design, this camera boasts 190-degrees of vertical view with shipping set to start in August. It carries the heftiest price tag at $579.

 

Eager to see what these 360-degree cameras can do? Check out this CENTR Cam video of heliskiing in Alaska:

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How to Win the World Espresso Brew-Off

With the World Barista Championships going down June 9-12 in Rimini, Italy, a UK scientist and a Bath barista champion believe they have concocted the formula for the perfect brew—and, potentially, victory.

In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, PhD student Chris Hendon and friend Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood discovered that different mineral compositions of water can make a huge difference in coffee's taste. Different characteristics of water, like bicarbonates or magnesium levels, are more or less suited to bring out the flavors and aromas of different types of coffee beans.

“We've found that the water composition is key to the proportions of sugars, starches, bases and acids extracted from a particular roast," Hendon said.

Sorting out the right water-bean combination can be tricky, however. For example, water softeners, which leave water high in sodium, weren’t particularly good for coffee taste. They also found that hard water, generally regarded as bad for coffee, is optimal for certain types of roasts. The challenge is to know what kind of water you’re working with, and to pair it with the appropriate bean.

Of course, for everyday caffeine addicts, it’s a little hard to fathom running serious water quality tests on your tap just to bring out the flavor of a pound of Sumatra Mandheling. Even for a lot of coffee businesses, it would be difficult to pinpoint an exact flavor profile that works well with the available water—in part because minerals in water change regularly. Not to mention, would your average customer even be able to tell the difference?

“This is not for the casual person who walks into a café and drinks one cup of coffee,” says Spencer Turer, vice president of Coffee Analysts, one of the largest coffee consulting businesses in the U.S. “It’s okay for competitions, but I fail to see the practical applications of this.”

Competition is exactly where the co-authors of the paper are headed. In addition to a forthcoming book, Hendon and Colonna-Dashwood, who owns Colonna and Small’s Specialty Coffee in Bath, will demonstrate their handiwork at the barista championships. They plan to analyze the local water at the competition, and match it with the ideal roast. But winning at the barista won’t be that easy.

The competition pits 50 of the world’s top baristas from 50 different countries against each other in a no-holds-barred brew off. Each barista has to make four espresso drinks, four cappuccinos, and four signature drinks in a 15-minute “performance” set to music.

Baristas are scored on their cleanliness and technical ability, while drinks are evaluated on aspects like consistency of the crema (the light, foamy crown), taste balance, and visual presentation. Colonna-Dashwood won the UK Barista Championship in April.

The World Barista Championship is one of a series of coffee competitions produced by World Coffee Events. Others include the World Cup Tasters Championship, the World Coffee Roasting Championship, and, of course, the World Latte Art Championship.

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