Exercise is unrelated to risk of early menopause

The amount of physical activity that women undertake is not linked to their risk of early menopause, according to the largest study ever to investigate this question.

Until now, there have been conflicting findings about the relation between physical activity and menopause, with some studies suggesting that women who are very physically active may be at lower risk of a menopause before the age of 45, while others have found evidence of the opposite effect.

However, the study that is published Wednesday in Human Reproduction, one of the world’s leading reproductive medicine journals, has analysed data from 107,275 women, who were followed prospectively from the time they joined the Nurses’ Health Study II in 1989 until 2011, and found no association between physical activity at any age and early natural menopause.

Dr Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts, USA, who directed the research, said: “Our study provides considerable information in helping us understand the relationship between activity and timing of menopause; this is because of its size, its focus on early menopause specifically, and because of its prospective design, which limited the likelihood of bias and allowed us to look at physical activity at different time periods.

“Several previous well-designed studies have found suggestions that more physical activity is associated with older age at menopause, but even in those studies the size of the effect was very small. Our results, in conjunction with other studies, provides substantial evidence that physical activity is not importantly associated with early menopause.”

Female US registered nurses aged 25-42 were enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II in 1989 and they completed questionnaires about lifestyles and medical conditions every two years thereafter. They were asked about the time they spent in recreational physical activities such as walking, running, cycling, racquet sports, swimming laps, aerobic activities, yoga, weight training and high intensity activities such as lawn mowing. The researchers also collected information on factors such as race, ethnicity, age, education, height, the age when the women had their first periods, whether or not they had been pregnant and how often, use of oral contraceptives and hormone therapy, whether or not they smoked, weight and body mass index (BMI), diet and use of dietary supplements.

In order to assess the frequency, duration and intensity of the activities, the researchers multiplied the hours per week of each activity by its metabolic equivalent (MET) score to create total MET hours per week. One MET equals one kilogram calorie per kilogram per hour (kcal/kg/h), which is the amount of energy expended by sitting quietly for an hour.

During the 20 years of follow-up, 2786 women experienced natural menopause before the age of 45. The researchers found no significant difference in the risk of early menopause between, for instance, women reporting less than three MET hours a week of physical activity and women reporting 42 or more hours a week (the equivalent to four or more hours of running or eight or more hours of brisk walking per week). The amount of physical activity that the women reported in their teenage years was also unrelated to the risk of early menopause.

The first author of the paper, Mingfei Zhao, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, said: “While our results do not suggest that more physical activity is associated with lower risk of early menopause, we would encourage premenopausal women to be physically active, as exercise is associated with a range of health benefits, such as a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and other conditions. Our results in no way suggest that premenopausal women should not be physically active.”

Researchers are still investigating other factors that might play a role in women experiencing an early menopause. Dr Bertone-Johnson said: “Our work has suggested that environmental factors are associated with early menopause. We found higher intake of calcium and vitamin D from dairy foods to be associated with lower risk. Higher intake of vegetable protein was associated with lower risk as well, though animal protein was not. Cigarette smoking is associated with higher risk, as is being underweight. We are currently investigating other factors as well.”

Limitations of the study include the fact that women self-reported their physical activity and menopausal status, and the majority of the participants were white. However, the researchers say that the repeated assessment (every two years) of physical activity and menopausal status would have reduced the likelihood of any bias from self-reporting. They also think it unlikely that the physiological relation between activity and menopause varies by ethnicity.

We Asked a Doctor How Much You Need to Care About Your Circadian Rhythm

You’ve probably heard the phrase “circadian rhythm” before. At some point in your life, you’ve also probably blamed a random health issue on your body clock being “off.” And you may have been right: Your circadian rhythm is actually pretty important when it comes to many aspects of your well-being, ranging from your metabolism, to your sleep, to your immune system function.

To be honest, though, we were a little fuzzy on the details of how a person’s circadian rhythm system actually operates. So, we chatted with Brandon R. Peters, M.D., all about what controls these internal clock processes and what messes with them, as well as why they are such powerful influences when it comes to your overall health. Dr. Peters is a double board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine physician who practices at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle. He is also a clinical affiliate at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine and the author of Insomnia Solved.

SELF: How would you define circadian rhythm in layman’s terms?

Dr. Peters: So the term “circadian” was coined by Franz Halberg in 1959. It comes from Latin words meaning “about a day.” Circadian rhythm is an umbrella term that describes numerous processes in the body that follow a 24-hour schedule. There are a number of things that follow this daily schedule, and the body has a system in place that’s really meant to measure time.

SELF: So what does your circadian rhythm do, exactly?

Dr. Peters: Several physiological processes are timed to patterns of light and darkness. This includes metabolism, hormone levels, and body temperature. The circadian rhythm matches what happens within our body to what occurs in the environment. For example, our body temperature naturally takes a dip around 4 A.M., and this roughly corresponds to the coldest part of the night, which may help to reduce heat loss. Sleep and wakefulness are also ideally synchronized to the patterns of light and darkness. How our body uses energy is also timed to our access to food.

SELF: And what controls your circadian rhythm? Is it something that’s set at birth?

Dr. Peters: There are two main things that control your circadian rhythm: the internal biological clock system and external synchronizing cues. Our internal sense of time, called tau, is genetically determined. In other words, our internal rhythms persist even if we are placed in a cave where light and temperature variations are nonexistent; we would still follow a nearly 24-hour schedule. We would sleep about eight hours and be awake about 16 hours, even if we didn’t experience night and day.

In reference to the external time cues, light is the main controller of the circadian rhythm and really dictates the timing of the body clock, especially in regards to sleep and wakefulness. It enforces a more direct connection to the natural environment. The key thing for most folks is getting morning sunlight. You closely align wakefulness with when you are exposed to natural light, and sleep is more likely to occur overnight when you aren’t.

SELF: Does your circadian rhythm stay the same throughout your life?

Dr. Peters: There is seasonal variation, and variation through the lifespan as well. Some of this is to do with changes in natural sunlight exposure. For example, in the wintertime, you may not be able to get sun right when you are waking up. You may have to use an artificial source of light if you want to maintain a consistent circadian rhythm year round. There is also evidence that teenagers are more likely to be night owls, and that older people may develop some gradual advancement in the timing of their sleep period.

SELF: What external factors can affect or throw off your circadian rhythm?

Dr. Peters: The primary one in sighted individuals is light. In totally blind people who cannot see light, melatonin is a big one. Environmental temperature, exercise, social activities, and meal timing are also all things that can affect the circadian rhythm. When they are consistently timed, they may be useful as external cues (called zeitgebers, which is German for “time-givers”).

The part of the brain that controls circadian timing is the suprachiasmatic nucleus within the hypothalamus. It’s located in the front of the brain, and light travels through the optic nerves from the eyes to the front of the brain. Moreover, every cell in the body has a way to track circadian patterns. So if you isolated skin cells or heart cells or even fat cells, for example, they will still follow circadian schedules. The brain and hormones work together to synchronize all of your body’s separate systems.

Another thing worth mentioning is that our bodies really like routine and regularity. We eat and go to the bathroom at generally the same times during a day. And our bodies adopt certain cues from our routine. Especially for blind subjects who lack light perception, seemingly small elements in a routine can actually become very strong signals.

SELF: Is there any way to change your circadian rhythm? For instance, I consider myself a night owl. Waking up at 6 A.M. is painful for me, but I’d love to be more of a morning person. Is that even possible for me long term?

Dr. Peters: About 10 percent of the population would be considered a night owl, which we also refer to as delayed sleep phase syndrome. But that can also be changed. The key to setting your circadian rhythm is waking up at the same time every day and getting direct sunlight exposure within 15 minutes of waking. It is always brighter outside than indoors, so natural light works better.

Blue light is the part of the light spectrum that shifts our circadian timing. So, we also need to limit our exposure to artificial light before bed. That might mean reducing the use of small screens an hour or two before bedtime, especially for a night owl who wants to become a morning person.

SELF: But if you try and fight your natural rhythm, will your body want to push back? I’ve tried this circadian shift before, and I eventually just fall back into my old patterns.

Dr. Peters: It depends on how much you’re attempting to shift your patterns. If you’re changing from waking up at 10 A.M. to 6 A.M., that might take you a while. If you’re moving your schedule 15 to 30 minutes perhaps a week at a time, it may take a month or more. But it’s better to do it gradually. And it’s easier to adhere to it that way.

I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible for you to change your circadian schedule, but if you’re falling into old patterns where you feel more awake at night and are still having trouble getting up in the morning after a while, it’s possible you are not really committing to changing all of the factors we’ve discussed. Are you powering off your electronics with adequate time before bed, and are you exposing yourself to light as soon as you wake up? Are you also shifting, for example, your dinner schedule accordingly? Or when you have morning coffee? Just changing your sleep and wake time may not be enough without adjusting these other cues. I do think that with some effort it is possible to keep to a new schedule, even if it’s not what you would consider your naturally preferred schedule. It requires consistency. But as I said, a consistently fixed wake time and morning sunlight exposure immediately upon awakening are key.

Any time there is something off with a person’s routine, their genetic predisposition will come out again. So if you do not maintain consistency, your genetic predisposition, possibly of being a night owl as you describe, will return. But if the person keeps to the routine, they can sleep the same hours as everyone else. Most people with delayed sleep phase disorder have a family history of the disorder. So in that case, a new routine may be harder to achieve without addressing the social influences. If everyone else stays awake late and sleeps in, you would be less likely to adhere to the new routine.

SELF: Can you circadian rhythm affect your health at all?

Dr. Peters: The most common symptoms associated with a circadian rhythm issue are insomnia and sleepiness at improper times. A night owl may have sleepiness that persists into the start of the day, like at work, and wanting to go back to bed or not wanting to get up. Sleep deprivation, which many people with circadian rhythm-related issues experience, opens up a whole Pandora’s box because so many things are then affected, from your metabolism to immunity.

Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with many health issues. Sleep deprivation may also have the power to worsen certain chronic medical issues. The reality is we are just now learning a lot about the powerful effects of sleep deprivation. Circadian rhythm has been described for about 60 years, and the genetics have been understood since 1994. But we’re still learning a lot about the relationship between how circadian rhythm affects overall health. There is a lot more that we just don’t fully understand. There are probably a lot of implications of this science in many different aspects of health that we have yet to uncover.

For instance, there is interesting research going on in regards to how surgeries might be more successful at certain times pegged to someone’s circadian rhythm. Or, it may be better to take medication at certain times depending on the person and their circadian system. These are all specific scenarios that we are looking into and expanding the science on, and it’s really only the beginning.

SELF: We’re always told that you should go to bed and wake up as close to the same time every day as possible. But that can feel unrealistic when you really want to sleep in on the weekends. In your professional opinion, how important is this really?

Dr. Peters: I have to be honest, I really do think it’s important. Sleep is something we are increasingly recognizing as a pillar of health. It should be prioritized. We should respect it. People can sleep normally if they can allow themselves to abide by their circadian rhythm and sleep during their preferred time.

If it’s dark and you’re feeling tired, you should take that as a signal that it’s time to go to bed and not fight it by staying up and watching Netflix. Think about it as a night owl, when you have to get up certain days for an early appointment: You don’t feel alert. You don’t feel your best. When other life demands throw you off your schedule, or you allow for interruptions and changes to your routine, then you start to experience the effects of sleep deprivation.

SELF: So you’re saying people should really try to make an effort not to sleep in until 11 A.M. on Saturday if they typically get up at 6 A.M. for work, even if our bodies might seem like they’re craving that?

Dr. Peters: It would be best to keep a regular schedule through the week. What happens is people wake up at 6 A.M. during the week for work, and they don’t get to bed as early as they need to, so they become sleep deprived. So, they sleep in on weekends. Sleeping in an extra hour probably isn’t too detrimental, and two hours, sure it’s OK, but it’s still not ideal. More than that and you can interrupt your circadian rhythm. If you think about it, sleeping in for a few hours extra on the weekend is like taking a trip across the country for a few days. It causes a variant of jet lag. Try to stay within an hour of your normal sleep and wake times on weekends too.

And it’s interesting that you say, “even if your body craves that.” If it really feels so painful to get up close to your normal work alarm time on weekends too, that’s a possible sign that you are experiencing some level of sleep deprivation, and it’s worth looking at your workweek sleep habits. If you are observing good sleep habits, waking up at your normal time or within an hour of it probably won’t be as difficult as you think. If it is, you may not be getting an adequate amount of sleep during the week to meet your sleep needs.

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5 Things to Know About the 106-Mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) Race

This past Labor Day weekend, more than 2,000 elite and recreational runners in eastern France brought new meaning to the term “labor.”

They took part in Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), a 171-kilometer (that’s a little more than 106 miles) trail running race around the highest mountain in the Alps, battling shifting weather conditions, brutal hill climbs, and high elevation in what is widely considered as one of the most competitive—and challenging—ultramarathons in the world.

Here, a roundup of five interesting facts about the race, its participants, and exactly what makes it so legendary.

1. UTMB is one of the most prestigious ultra races in the world.

Founded in 2003 and considered by many to be the “crown jewel of ultrarunning,” per ESPN, this elite event is held annually with both men’s and women’s divisions. The course circles the entire circumference of Mont Blanc, the tallest peak in the Alps and Western Europe, according to National Geographic. The trail begins in the French resort area of Chamonix and follows the route usually taken by hikers, according to Reuters.

To register for the race, you must earn a certain amount of points in qualifying trail races. Then, you’re entered into a lottery for a spot in the UTMB. Some spots are also reserved for elite athletes according to specific criteria. (Visit the UTMB site for more info on registration guidelines.)

2. It’s also one of the largest.

Per the official race website, around 2,500 runners from around the world participated in the 2018 race, which began on Friday evening and continued through Sunday, making it one of the largest ultra-races of its kind.

3. The course, which traverses through Italy, Switzerland, and France, is both breathtaking and brutal.

Participants tackle 171-kilometers (106-ish miles) with 10,000 meters (more than 32,800 feet) of elevation gain, per the official race website. To put things in perspective, the total vertical gain is greater than the vertical gain climbing Mount Everest, according to the Associated Press. (Though the altitude of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level, versus Mont Blanc’s 15,781 feet.)

What’s more, unlike many other ultra-races of its length, which are often broken into several stages that allow runners to sleep or otherwise rest mid-race, Ultra Trail Mont du Blanc is completed in one single push—making it a “single-stage” race—from night to day to night to day (and sometimes to night again). The fastest runners take around 20 hours to finish, while others may take up to 46 hours, according to the race website. That’s compared to the 10 days it typically takes hikers to complete the circuit, according to National Geographic.

On the route, runners will see “mountain passes, verdant meadows, lush forests, and glacial valleys,” writes National Geographic.

Here’s a look at the stunning daytime vistas, via the official race Instagram page, @utmbmontblanc:

And a peek at the nighttime portion:

4. Race conditions are so challenging that every year, a large portion of the field doesn’t finish—including some of the most elite, experienced competitors.

During the 2017 race, runners faced a barrage of shifting weather conditions, including snow, rain, and hail. These unpredictable elements are why, per Outside, race directors require every runner to tote an emergency blanket, a hat, gloves, and a rain shell.

But bringing the right equipment isn’t always enough. Every year, a significant number of competitors drop out before crossing the finish line.

During this year’s race, conditions were so cold and windy that runners had to deal with temperatures that felt like 14 degrees F, per the AP. By Saturday, a day before the course even officially closed, 582 runners had already dropped from the race, according to Runner’s World, including American elite runners Jim Walmsley, Tim Tollefson, and Zach Miller, and Spanish frontrunner Kilian Jornet Burgada, who placed second in last year’s UTMB. According to UTMB’s official website, 782 racers ended up not finishing.

5. This year’s winners hailed from France and Italy.

France’s Xavier Thevenard won the men’s event, crossing the finish line in 20 hours, 44 minutes, 16 seconds. This marks his third UTMB victory. On the women’s side, Italy’s Francesca Canepa nabbed first place, finishing in 26 hours, 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

No Americans have ever stood atop the podium in the race’s 15-year history. The highest placing Americans this year included two women: Cat Bradley, who finished eighth in the women’s division, and Kaci Lickteig, who nabbed 10th.

The FDA Just Recalled Montelukast Pills for a Dangerous Labeling Mistake

One form of montelukast, a medication commonly prescribed to treat asthma symptoms, has been voluntarily recalled for a potentially dangerous labeling mix-up, according to a statement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Specifically, the recall affects 30-pill bottles of 10 milligram montelukast tablets (a generic version of Singulair) manufactured by Camber Pharmaceuticals, the statement says. Instead of montelukast, these were found to contain losartan, a medication prescribed to treat high blood pressure. The affected montelukast bottles are from lot number MON17384 and have an expiration date of December 31, 2019.

Montelukast pills are beige and a rounded square shape, with an “I” on one side and “114” on the other. Losartan tablets are white and oval shaped, with an “I” on one side and a “5” on the other.

As you can imagine, not taking montelukast if you are prescribed it can put your health at risk—and taking lostartan in its place may also cause serious side effects.

Montelukast is used to ease some symptoms of asthma, which can be serious and even life-threatening if left untreated. Those symptoms include wheezing, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and coughing. In some cases, it can also be used to treat similar symptoms of allergies. The drug is often used alongside quick-relief medications as part of an asthma action plan.

Losartan may be prescribed to treat high blood pressure or to help prevent strokes in people who are vulnerable to them. As a result of the mix-up, the potential side effects of losartan include kidney dysfunction, high potassium levels, and low blood pressure. Losartan may be particularly dangerous for people who are pregnant because it may cause harm to the fetus.

To date, Camber hasn’t received any reports of adverse reactions. But if you think you may have received the recalled products, it’s important to check with your pharmacist or doctor and possibly get a proper replacement if necessary.

“We want to ensure that patients who take montelukast are aware of this recall due to the serious risks associated with taking losartan in its place,” Donald D. Ashley, director of the office of compliance in the FDA’s center for drug evaluation and research, said in the statement. “Patients who take prescription drugs expect and deserve to have the medication their doctor prescribed.”

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Kristen Bell Says She’s ‘in Awe’ of Dax Shepard After He Hits 14 Years of Sobriety

Getting and staying sober is hard work. And for someone with a substance use disorder, progress made in recovery is something worth celebrating. This weekend, Kristen Bell took the opportunity to help commemorate her husband Dax Shepard‘s 14th year in recovery in a sweet Instagram. She wrote a note praising Shepard’s dedication as a husband, father, and friend, which she coupled with a series of couple and family photos.

Bell got refreshingly real and acknowledged how difficult it was for the actor to give up using.

“I know how much you loved using. I know how much it got in your way. And I know, because I saw, how hard you worked to live without it,” she wrote in the caption. “I will forever be in awe of your dedication, and the level of fierce moral inventory you perform on yourself, like an emotional surgery, every single night.” She also commended Shepard’s willingness to make amends and say sorry when he’s in the wrong, as well as his emotional availability as a partner and friend, offering open ears and tough love to everyone around him.

Bell, who herself has been candid about her experiences with depression and anxiety, also pointed out that her husband’s decision to be honest about his struggles might help inspire someone else dealing with a substance use disorder. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report from 2014, approximately 21 million Americans ages 12 and up dealt with a substance use disorder within the year.

“I’m so proud that you have never been ashamed of your story, but instead shared it widely, with the hope it might inspire someone else to become the best version of themselves. You have certainly inspired me to do so,” she wrote. “I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone, and I want you to know, I see you. I see how hard you work. You set an excellent example of being human. Happy 14th year sobriety birthday.”

Shepard’s journey to sobriety has not been an easy one.

In a 2012 interview with Playboy, the actor revealed he was a heavy smoker, drinker, and drug user from ages 18 to 29. “I just loved to get fucked-up—drinking, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, diet pills, pain pills, everything,” he said.

His frequent weekend benders put him in dangerous situations more than once, including fights resulting in a missing knuckle and misshapen nose, as well as a car accident in Hawaii while seeking out cocaine. “Of course, come Monday I would be tallying up all the different situations, and each one was progressively more dangerous. I got lucky in that I didn’t go to jail,” he said. The actor also described how he would get sober to film new movies but would return to using immediately after the films wrapped in several cases. He has been in recovery since 2004.

Every individual’s recovery process looks very different, but for most people, having a strong support system can be a tremendous help in getting and staying sober.

SAMHSA lists “community” (in the form of loving relationships and supportive social networks) as one of the four pillars of life in recovery.

“This often involves family members who become the champions of their loved one’s recovery,” according to SAMHSA. “They provide essential support to their family member’s journey of recovery and similarly experience the moments of positive healing as well as the difficult challenges.” Bell is clearly that champion for her husband’s recovery, and marking 14 years sober is definitely a hard-earned moment of positive healing for the couple to share.

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No evidence that moral reminders reduce cheating behavior, replication effort concludes

Scientists report they were unable to reproduce the results of a well-known study showing that people are less likely to cheat on a task after making a list of the Ten Commandments. Their findings are published in a Registered Replication Report (RRR) in Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The RRR, led by Bruno Verschuere from the University of Amsterdam and Ewout Meijer from the University of Maastricht, presented primary analyses of data from a total of 4,674 participants collected by 19 participating labs. The RRR aimed to replicate a 2008 study in which researchers Nina Mazar, On Amir, and Dan Ariely asked participants to recall either the Ten Commandments or 10 books they had read before completing a separate problem-solving task.

Data from the original study indicated that participants who had thought about the Ten Commandments, a moral reminder, were less likely to exaggerate when self-reporting how many problems they had solved compared with those who had been prompted to think about books. The findings provided support for self-concept maintenance theory, which holds that people seek personal gain so long as they can maintain a positive self-image while doing so.

Verschuere and Meijer developed the RRR protocol in consultation with Mazar, Amir, and Ariely, who provided the materials used in the original study and feedback on the study design. The protocol was preregistered and made publicly available online — data from participating research teams were included in RRR analyses as long as the teams followed the protocol and met the preregistered criteria for inclusion.

The RRR data showed that the moral reminder had no observable effect on cheating behavior for participants who self-reported their problem-solving performance. Among the participants who had the opportunity to cheat, those who were asked to list the Ten Commandments reported solving about 0.11 more problems than their peers who listed books they had read. This stands in contrast with findings from the original study, which showed that participants who had thought about the Ten Commandments reported solving 1.45 fewer problems than their peers.

Although the participating research teams were located in various countries (including the US), there was little variation in their findings. This suggests that the features of the individual replication attempts and participants are unlikely to explain the overall RRR finding.

However, there may be other factors that could explain the divergent results.

“There are always differences between an original study and replication research. You cannot step in the same river twice,” says Verschuere. “For instance, the original study was conducted more than a decade ago at an elite university. The perceived rewards, the perceived probability of getting caught and the perceived consequences of getting caught may have been different for participants in our replication study. But we also need to consider the possibility that the effect does not exist, and that the original result was a chance finding.”

In a commentary accompanying the RRR, Amir, Mazar, and Ariely write that they are “grateful for the continued investigation and inquiry into a topic that we believe is not only important but also highly relevant in today’s world.”

They note that there are several possible reasons why the results detailed in the RRR might diverge from those of the original study, including the smaller testing group sizes. Also, participants may simply be more aware of research on dishonesty compared with those who participated in the original study a decade ago, they said.

According to Verschuere, the results show the importance of replication research.

“The psychological theory of cheating is very appealing, but we need more replication research to establish the reliability of its empirical basis,” he concludes.

10 People Share Their Most Expensive Makeup and Skin-Care Must-Haves

Most people have at least one thing they’re willing to throw any disposable income at. For some people it’s handbags. For audiophiles, maybe a new pair of headphones. Travelers save all their money for vacation. For beauty lovers like me, splurges usually come in the form of some skin-care product, lipstick, or hair styler we just can’t live without.

I totally get that when you see a super expensive cream, or a whirring gadget promising next-level results, you might think, “Is this possibly worth the money?” Well, I decided to do a little digging to see what beauty products actually are worth the money, according to the people who use them every day.

From skin-care tools you can buy on Amazon to classic lipsticks that will never go out of style, these are the beauty products and tools 10 people say are worth splurging on.

Related: 9 Cult French Pharmacy Products Available on Amazon

I Made Carrot ‘Bacon’ and It Was Pretty Convincing

Growing up, we ate a lot of meat in my family. Italian rice balls filled with ground beef, slow-cooked pulled pork, Polish sausage in everything—you name the meat, we probably ate it. That’s why it is so surprising that my entire family, save for my mom, is either a vegetarian or a vegan now. Obviously, this transition didn’t happen right away, but in the years since I left for college, both of my brothers, my sister, and my dad have all come to embrace the meat-free lifestyle.

That means most of what my mom cooks these days is veg-focused, even though she still not-so-secretly craves the bacon of her former life. She’s been trying to find ways to cook within my family’s dietary restrictions, yet still somehow satisfy her desire for meat, and since I’m the go-to guinea pig when it comes to food things, she practically demanded that I try a recipe for meatless carrot “bacon” and report back if it was legit.

Even though I was skeptical, I decided to give the carrot bacon a shot. I also took the liberty of testing out two other meat substitutes—eggplant “meat”balls and cauliflower “wings”—to find out which vegetarian alternatives my meat-loving mama would most enjoy. Despite my skepticism, they were all pretty damn convincing. Here’s what you need to know.

With the right spices and cooking method, carrot can basically become bacon.

Audrey Bruno

As much as I love carrots, I never thought they had much potential as a meat substitute. I was wrong, as I often am, because carrot can totally taste and even look like bacon, provided you know what you’re doing.

I roughly followed this recipe from One Green Planet. To start, you have to thinly slice the carrots lengthwise with a vegetable peeler. The recipe called for a mandoline—a horizontal slicing device that you can use to quickly slice vegetables for things like chips—but I found the vegetable peeler easier to use. After that, coat the strips in a mix of paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and oil. If you can find liquid smoke at the store, I imagine this would be a great addition, too.

Though the recipe directs you to bake the carrot strips, I found that doing this doesn’t give them that crispy, crunchy bacon texture you know and love. They looked authentic, but they were just too limp and soggy. Instead, I had better luck when I fried them in a saucepan with a tablespoon of oil. I let them cook over medium heat until they shriveled and browned, and then I let them rest on a paper towel-lined plate until they cooled and most of the oil had drained.

The results were astounding. At one point, I even said to myself, “That looks like freakin’ bacon!” It was so good, I’ll probably make it the next time I’m craving bacon and don’t feel like going to the grocery store. Ultimately, of course, I was still eating carrot. But even though they probably wouldn’t pass convincingly in every way as bacon, they scratched enough of the bacon itch that I consider them a success.

When cooked, eggplant’s texture is unmistakably meaty.

Audrey Bruno

There are a lot of vegetarian meatball alternatives out there, but eggplant is so naturally meaty when cooked, I figured they’d make the best faux meatballs. I used a recipe from Skinny Taste to make them and the results were fabulous. You start by sautéeing chopped eggplant until it’s super tender. This recipe said to keep the skin on, but since I usually prefer eggplant without the skin, I made two batches to see if it would have an effect on its overall meatiness. After you’ve finished sautéeing the eggplant, give it a spin in the food processor until it’s a thick, lumpy purée. Then, add all your other ingredients to it (eggs, breadcrumb, etc), mix it up, roll it into balls and bake until they’re ready.

The meatballs were tender and delicious—they had a mouthfeel almost identical to actual meatballs. There was a slight eggplant flavor, but you wouldn’t notice it at all if you served them in something like a red sauce. The batch I made with skin had a bit more texture than the batch without, but otherwise it didn’t make much of a difference. You could do it either way and both would be enjoyable—it’s up to your preference. While the carrot bacon was pretty legit, you could still kinda tell it was carrot. On the other hand, you could honestly fool someone with these eggplant meatballs.

Cauliflower buffalo wings aren’t technically chicken, but they scratch the same itch.

Audrey Bruno

When it comes to wings, you’re as in it for the sauce as you are for the meat. That’s why vegetarian substitutes like cauliflower wings work so well. You’re less likely to notice a difference in texture because of that fiery buffalo. Even if you can’t help but notice the texture, cauliflower is surprisingly flexible, and, when coated in breadcrumbs, it honestly tastes a lot like a boneless, skinless chicken wing.

Making these was incredibly simple. All I did was cut up cauliflower, coat them in an egg wash and breadcrumbs, let them bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees F, and then coat them in a spicy, buttery buffalo sauce (I loosely followed this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie). You could easily bake a batch of these to serve alongside real-deal wings at a party. And, if you’re lucky, you might even be able to fool your meat-eaters, too.

I may not have been a believer before, but these three meaty alternatives have made me a convert, and I’m sure my carnivore mom will love them just as much as my vegetarian family.

Why we stick to false beliefs: Feedback trumps hard evidence

Ever wonder why flat earthers, birthers, climate change and Holocaust deniers stick to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

New findings from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, suggest that feedback, rather than hard evidence, boosts people’s sense of certainty when learning new things or trying to tell right from wrong.

Developmental psychologists have found that people’s beliefs are more likely to be reinforced by the positive or negative reactions they receive in response to an opinion, task or interaction, than by logic, reasoning and scientific data.

Their findings, published today in the online issue of the journal Open Mind, shed new light on how people handle information that challenges their worldview, and how certain learning habits can limit one’s intellectual horizons.

“If you think you know a lot about something, even though you don’t, you’re less likely to be curious enough to explore the topic further, and will fail to learn how little you know,” said study lead author Louis Marti, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UC Berkeley.

This cognitive dynamic can play out in all walks of actual and virtual life, including social media and cable-news echo chambers, and may explain why some people are easily duped by charlatans.

“If you use a crazy theory to make a correct prediction a couple of times, you can get stuck in that belief and may not be as interested in gathering more information,” said study senior author Celeste Kidd, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

Specifically, the study examined what influences people’s certainty while learning. It found that study participants’ confidence was based on their most recent performance rather than long-term cumulative results. The experiments were conducted at the University of Rochester.

For the study, more than 500 adults, recruited online through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform, looked at different combinations of colored shapes on their computer screens. They were asked to identify which colored shapes qualified as a “Daxxy,” a make-believe object invented by the researchers for the purpose of the experiment.

With no clues about the defining characteristics of a Daxxy, study participants had to guess blindly which items constituted a Daxxy as they viewed 24 different colored shapes and received feedback on whether they had guessed right or wrong. After each guess, they reported on whether or not they were certain of their answer.

The final results showed that participants consistently based their certainty on whether they had correctly identified a Daxxy during the last four or five guesses instead of all the information they had gathered throughout.

“What we found interesting is that they could get the first 19 guesses in a row wrong, but if they got the last five right, they felt very confident,” Marti said. “It’s not that they weren’t paying attention, they were learning what a Daxxy was, but they weren’t using most of what they learned to inform their certainty.”

An ideal learner’s certainty would be based on the observations amassed over time as well as the feedback, Marti said.

“If your goal is to arrive at the truth, the strategy of using your most recent feedback, rather than all of the data you’ve accumulated, is not a great tactic,” he said.

You act most like ‘you’ in a time crunch, study finds

When they must act quickly, selfish people are likely to act more selfishly than usual, while pro-social people behave even more pro-socially, a new study found.

The results suggest that when people don’t have much time to make a decision, they go with what they’ve done in similar situations, said Ian Krajbich, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology and economics at The Ohio State University.

“People start off with a bias of whether it is best to be selfish or pro-social. If they are rushed, they’ll tend to go with that bias,” Krajbich said.

But when people have more time to decide, they are more likely to go against their bias as they evaluate the options in front of them, he said.

Krajbich conducted the study with Fadong Chen of Zhejiang University in China. Their results were published Sept. 3 in the journal Nature Communications.

The study involved 102 college students from the United States and Germany who played 200 rounds of a game that is often used in psychology and economics experiments. In each round, played on a computer, the participants chose between two ways of splitting up a real sum of money. Both choices favored the person playing the game, but one choice shared more of the money with the unseen partner.

“The participants had to decide whether to give up some of their own money to increase the other person’s payoff and reduce the inequality between them,” Krajbich said.

The decision scenarios were very different. In some cases, the participants would have to give up only, say, $1 to increase their partner’s payoff by $10. In others, they might have to give up $1 to give their partner an extra $1. And in other cases, they would have to make a large sacrifice — for example, give up $10 to give their partner an extra $3.

The key to this study is that participants didn’t always have the same amount of time to decide, Krajbich said.

In some cases, participants had to decide within two seconds how they would share their money as opposed to other cases, when they were forced to wait at least 10 seconds before deciding. And in additional scenarios, they were free to choose at their own pace, which was usually more than two seconds but less than 10.

The researchers used a model of the “normal” decisions to predict how a participant’s decisions would change under time pressure and time delay.

“We found that time pressure tends to magnify the predisposition that people already have, whether it is to be selfish or pro-social,” Krajbich said.

“Under time pressure, when you have very little time to decide, you’re going to lean more heavily than usual on your predisposition or bias of how to act.”

The situation was different when participants were forced to wait 10 seconds before deciding.

“People may still approach decisions with the expectation that they will act selfishly or pro-socially, depending on their predisposition. But now they have time to consider the numbers and can think of reasons to go against their bias,” he said.

“Maybe you’re predisposed to be selfish, but see that you only have to give up $1 and the other person is going to get $20. That may be enough to get you to act more pro-socially.”

The results may help explain why some previous studies found that time pressure makes people more selfish, while others found that it makes people more pro-social.

“It really depends on where you’re starting, on how you’re predisposed to decide,” Krajbich said.

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Materials provided by Ohio State University. Original written by Jeff Grabmeier. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.