The Weird Thing That Makes Food Taste Better

Ever wonder why your morning coffee tastes best in your favorite mug? Or why pizza’s flavor changes when you eat it with a knife and fork instead of your hands? You’re not imagining things. The weight, color, size, and shape of your cutlery can influence the way your food tastes, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Oxford University conducted three experiments to find out how cutlery affects flavor. In two, participants sampled yogurt with spoons of varying sizes, weights, styles, and colors. In the third experiment, researchers tested to see whether eating cheese with a fork, knife, spoon, or toothpick would make a difference, taste-wise.

Even though each participant tried the same food repeatedly with different utensils, they said that the yogurt or cheese tasted different every time. When eaten with a lighter spoon, yogurt tasted denser and seemed more expensive, for example. Smaller spoons, meanwhile, tended to make the yogurt taste sweeter. And cheese was perceived as sharpest and saltiest when eaten off of a knife.

So, why does cutlery matter if the food stays the same? “We have expectations of what something will taste like before the food reaches our mouths,” says Harrar. “When cutlery is unexpected, we can’t use this automatic system.” So depending on the utensil, you’re more likely to pay attention to different aspects of the flavor or texture that might normally go unnoticed.

Pretty interesting stuff. Not that it’s any reason to go splurge on new cutlery, but it does help explain why you always reach for the same spoon over and over again.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
Mindful Eating: Clean (Up) Your Plate
5 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Less
How Greek Is Your “Greek” Yogurt?

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The Habit That Makes You Eat More

It might be hard to cut your nightly Dexter marathon short, but watch out—staying up late may do more than make you sluggish the next day. Cutting back on sleep increases the likelihood of indulging in fatty, high-cal fare at night, which leads to weight gain, finds new research.

For the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine followed a control group of 27 participants who went to bed at 10 p.m. and another group of 198 who went to bed at 4 a.m. They found that the sleep-restricted subjects consumed about 550 calories—a good portion of which came from fat—after their well-rested counterparts had gone to sleep. After five consecutive nights of limited rest, participants in the second group had gained an average of more than two pounds.

Night-time munching happens for a few reasons, says lead study author Andrea M. Spaeth, MA, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. For starters, the longer you stay awake, the more time you have to eat. But losing sleep also appears to increase the desire for high-fat and high-calorie foods. Although it’s unclear why you get these cravings, calorie-dense foods are almost always available these days—so it’s easy for people to overindulge, says Spaeth. It’s also possible that willpower diminishes in the wee hours of the night, making it difficult to say no to pleasurable, fatty food, she says.

Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, owner of Manhattan-based practice Your New York Dietician, who was not involved with the study, agrees. “People often associate being home at night with feelings of comfort, causing them to care less about the consequences of their not-so-healthy food choices,” she says. While it’s best to get a good night’s sleep, that may not always be possible. When you can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour, Moskovitz suggests these four simple ways to ward off late-night cravings:

Eat breakfast
If you know you have a long night ahead of you, make sure to eat a healthy breakfast. Studies show that skipping meals during the day—especially breakfast—increases cravings for high-calorie, carb-rich foods at night. Moskovitz suggests pairing proteins with carbs—think eggs with whole-wheat toast or Greek yogurt with fruit—to keep cravings under control all day long.

Don’t mindlessly munch while watching the Kardashians
If you do get hungry, it’s OK to have a healthy midnight snack—just don’t eat it in front of the TV. Stuffing your face in front of the tube can lead to mindless snacking and decreases food satisfaction, which leads to overeating, says Moskovitz.

Keep treats out of the house
Skip the junk food and stock the kitchen with healthy fare like low-fat microwave popcorn, low-fat frozen yogurt, fresh fruit, and veggies. If your roommate, family, or S.O. keeps not-so-healthy snacks around, store them in hard-to-reach places. Research shows that we’re more likely to eat whatever food is easily accessible, so this will help keep junk food out of sight and out of mind.

Get busy
If sitting around makes your stomach grumble, recruit your man for a late-night workout. Sex stimulates feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can block urges to snack or overeat, says Moskovitz. Is your partner out of town? Any exercise that gets your heart pumping (in or out of the bedroom) will help ward off the temptation for unneeded calories, so even just doing some jumping jacks or jogging in place can help.

More from Women’s Health:
The Time You’re Most Likely to Binge
The Night You’re Most Likely to Have Sleep Trouble
Go Ahead—Work Out at Night

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The Surprising Thing That Makes You Eat More

Most restaurant portions are getting laughably huge, so it’s always exciting when multiple sizes are offered. But watch out: You may eat more than you want to just because of how your portion is labeled. When an order of food is called “regular,” people consume more calories than when the same portion is called “double-sized,” according to a new study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.

Researchers gave two groups of participants two different portion sizes of spaghetti: 1-cup and 2-cup servings. In one group, they labeled the sizes “half-size” (1 cup) and “regular” (2 cups), while the other group saw “regular” (1 cup) and “double-sized” (2 cups) labels. When participants thought they were eating a “double-sized” portion, they consumed an average of 140 fewer calories than the people who thought their 2-cup portion was the norm.

While it’s comforting to know that labels like “double” usually deter people from clearing their plates, the fact is that many restaurants’ “regular” sizes are actually pretty excessive. And if you assume that’s the norm, you may be taking in way more calories than you need. “Without some sort of cue about how big the portions you’re eating are, you just assume this is a normal size and you eat it,” says study coauthor David Just, PhD, associate professor at Cornell University. “And alternatively, if it’s labeled the mega-portion, you have some cue that you shouldn’t be eating all this.”

Unfortunately, not all restaurants list various sizes of the same item on a menu. So Just suggests thinking about portion control before the enormous plate of pasta hits the table. “You can request a half portion,” he says. “Often they don’t have it on the menu but are willing to do it if you ask.” And if they don’t offer that option, you can always ask them to put half of the entrée directly into a to-go box for you to take home. “The real trick is to have some forethought,” says Just. Because you know once that laptop-sized “personal” pizza is in front of you, you may not be able to resist eating the whole thing.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
Lose More Weight
The Low-Calorie Way to Satisfy Cravings
The Easy Way to Eat Less 

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The Surprising Thing That Makes You a Better Driver

You know that talking on a Bluetooth headset, texting, and touching up your mascara mid-commute are all off-limits, but there is one thing you don’t have to fret about doing behind the wheel: cranking up the radio. Listening to music while driving doesn’t pose a dangerous distraction, according to a new study. On the contrary, participants in the study often drove even better and focused more intently on the road when the radio was playing in the background.

Researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands actually suspected that listening to the radio would make driving more hazardous, so they tested the effects of music on experienced drivers by conducting two studies: The first placed fifteen participants into driving simulators while they watched a video of someone else driving and listened to the radio (but didn’t actually “drive” themselves). At the end of a 40-minute session, researchers asked participants to recall what they had heard on the radio. They found that, overall, participants remembered little of what they’d heard, indicating that they focused much more on the road than they did on the music and often tuned it out.

The second study tested the same people while they actually drove in the simulators. Participants got to choose the type of music they listened to and drove through both low- and high-risk traffic situations. As a control, researchers also had these participants drive through the exact same traffic simulations without background music.

By comparing the drivers’ ability to focus on the road in both situations, researchers found that participants who listened to music while driving in high-risk situations effectively tuned it out to focus more carefully on driving safely. And interestingly, participants who listened to music while driving in low-risk situations actually focused even more intently on the road and drove better than they did when they didn’t have the radio on.

Study author Linda Steg, PhD, professor of environmental psychology at the University of Groningen, says that because low-complexity driving situations—think long, winding roads—can be very boring, music helps improve your performance by sharpening your focus and keeping you alert.

So should you be blasting Beyoncé every time you turn on your engine? While researchers found nothing to suggest that high-tempo music would cause problems, cranking up the volume might not be the smartest strategy in stressful driving situations, says Steg.

“People almost automatically turn it off when the situation becomes too complex,” she says, based on anecdotal observations. Participants in the study didn’t have this option, but they were able to mentally block out the music anyway.

Not all noise is created equal, though. Steg cautions against listening to talk radio while driving—and of course “listening” to a cell phone call isn’t the same as listening to music. Since these require more attention than music does, you’re less likely to devote your full attention to the road—and more likely to get into an accident. Ditto changing the station or CD while on the move.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from Women’s Health:
“Should I Worry About Driving When I’m Tired?”
Should I Worry About Driving with a Hands-Free Cell Phone?
Should I Worry About… Driving After a Drink?

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EWG Makes Sunscreen Recommendations

Have you made your first drugstore run of the season to stock up on sunscreen? If not, you’re in for a surprise: All products claiming to shield your skin from the sun—lotions, sprays, makeup, even lip balms—must now follow new labeling rules mandated by the FDA. Banned are fuzzy buzzwords such as “sunblock” and “sweatproof” in favor of more accurate, research-backed terms that give consumers a clear sense of how well the product protects against UV-induced skin damage and skin cancer.

On the heels of the new rules comes an annual report from the Environmental Working Group that lists the top sunscreens of 2013. Released this week by the advocacy organization, the report recommends more than 100 products out of thousands currently available on store shelves. To get the EWG’s seal of approval, sunscreens had to offer solid sun protection not exceeding SPF values above “50+”(which the FDA warns can give a false sense of security and offer poor UVA protection relative to the high SPF). They also had to contain the fewest possible ingredients with toxicity concerns, such as retinyl palmitate (an ingredient that become more toxic or harmful when exposed to sunlight) and oxybenzone (a hormone disruptor).

The EWG also chose not to endorse sprays or powders since some sunscreen ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens as possibly carcinogenic if inhaled (the risk of inhaling sunscreen goes up, of course, if you’re using a sunscreen spray or powder). EWG representatives say the organization also chose to exclude powders and sprays because the FDA has expressed concerns about how well these filter UV rays.

For the record, any sunscreen product that doesn’t meet the EWG’s criteria (including sprays and powders) has not been deemed unsafe by the FDA, says Andrea Fischer, an FDA spokesperson. She confirmed that all sunscreens marketed in the U.S. must meet FDA guidelines.

A few examples of sunscreens recommended by the EWG:

  • Absolutely Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30
  • Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30
  • Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Face Stick, SPF 50
  • Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30
  • Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
  • Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen with Hydresia, SPF 40

Check out the full list from the EWG, then read up on which terms you should look for on the next bottle you buy:


Broad spectrum
Manufacturers used to be able to put these two words—which mean a product protects against both UVA and UVB rays—on any bottle they wanted, without having to prove it. Now, it can only show up on sunscreens that pass a test.

No sunscreen is truly waterproof or sweatproof—so manufacturers can no longer use these words on the bottle. In its place is “water resistant,” meaning that the product starts to wash away after either 40 minutes or 80 minutes. The time limit will be noted on the label, so consumers know when they need to apply more (although you should reapply every two hours even if you’re not in the water, says Albert M. Lefkovits, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine).

Sun protection factor
Surprise: An SPF of 60 barely blocks any more UV rays than an SPF of 30 (they protect against 95 and 98 percent, respectively). Since the difference is so small, the FDA has now banned SPFs above 50+ to avoid misleading the public. Another change: Now sunscreens with SPF 15 and under come with a warning since they protect you from sunburn, but not premature skin aging or skin cancer.

Drug facts
You’re used to seeing this on the back of any container of over-the-counter meds. Now, it’s on your sunscreen too. It contains a list of the product’s active ingredients, warnings about potential dangers or interactions, and basic directions.

Sun protection measures
To remind consumers that sunscreen isn’t foolproof, all broad-spectrum products with an SPF of at least 15 will now advise that wearing long sleeves, a hat, sunglasses, and staying out of the midday sun, when UV rays are strongest, will also cut back on your skin damage odds.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More From Women’s Health:
The Cost of Skipping Sun Safety
6 Scary Sunscreen Ingredients and 6 Safe Products
6 Smart, Sexy SPF Tips

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The Food That Makes You Eat MORE

After plowing through a sleeve of cookies, do you find yourself ripping in for seconds? Fructose may be to blame. It turns out, eating fructose doesn’t activate the region of the brain that tells you you’re full, according to a new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Yale University researchers used MRI scans to monitor brain activity in 20 young, normal-weight people before and after they consumed drinks containing glucose or fructose. Researchers found that the drink containing glucose reduced cerebral blood flow and activity in regions that regulate appetite, causing participants to feel full. However, the fructose-filled beverage didn’t change brain flow or activity, and participants didn’t report feeling fuller after drinking it.

“By not causing feelings of fullness, fructose can continue one’s desire to eat,” says senior study author Robert S. Sherwin, MD, endocrinologist at Yale University. Previous research has shown that consuming fructose producers smaller increases in satiety hormones compared to glucose, and promoted further eating in rodents.

Table sugar, or sucrose, is half fructose and half glucose. And while both fructose and glucose contain 16 calories, glucose is the body’s primary source of fuel, Sherwin says. Fructose is naturally found in fruits and some vegetables alongside healthy fiber and good-for-you nutrients. However, since it’s sweeter that glucose, it’s an inexpensive staple in commercial sweeteners. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), for example, the most common source of fructose in the American diet, typically contains about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, and study researchers believe the high fructose-to-glucose ratio can prevent fullness and keep you eating long after you hit your sugar limit.

But high-fructose corn syrup is in more than soda and sweet treats, says Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., author of The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program. Here, she reveals 5 so-called “healthy” foods that are actually filled with the syrupy stuff:

While a great natural source of protein, calcium, probiotics, and vitamins B and D, many yogurts—especially those that pack processed fruit—contain HFCS, DesMaisons says. For example, three of the five main ingredients in a popular Fruit on the Bottom yogurt are sugar, fructose syrup, and high fructose corn syrup.
Non-HFCS Swap: Try a fruit-free organic variety like Stonyfield Farm Plain Organic Low Fat Yogurt and mix in fresh fruit still sporting its skin, she says. You’ll both avoid refined sugars and up your fiber intake to stabilize blood sugar levels. (blood sugar:

The bread bag might read “whole gain” on the front, but “high-fructose corn syrup” could still be on the ingredients label, according to DesMaisons. Wonder Bread Stoneground 100% Whole Wheat Bread, for instance, counts high-fructose corn syrup as its fourth ingredients.
Non-HFCS Swap: Always read ingredient labels, or just look on the front of Pepperidge Farm whole wheat labels for the line “No high-fructose corn syrup.” You can’t miss it.

Sure, they have protein. But that burst of energy you get right after eating them is often from HFCS, which Power Bars, Balance Bars, and Zone Perfect Bars all contain.
Non-HFCS Swap: Odwalla and CLIF Bar products are free of HFCS. Remember, however, that they aren’t low in all sugars, notes DesMaisons.

If a juice drink is not made with 100 percent juice, it generally contains a large amount of HFCS, she says. Some examples include: Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, Capri-Sun Juices, and Tropicana Orangeade.
Non-HFCS Swap: Opt for buying drinks that are 100 percent pure juice, such as Simply Orange, Limeade, and Lemonade. Even better, eat the fruit whole for fiber benefits, she suggests.

It’s not just sodium you have to worry about in your canned goods. Del Monte Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic and Oregano, for example, lists high-fructose corn syrup as its third ingredient, right after tomatoes and tomato juice.
Non-HFCS Swap: When it comes to produce, fresh is always the way to go, says DesMaisons. If your fave fruits and veggies aren’t available this time of year, go the frozen route to avoid added ingredients.

photo: Thinkstock

More from WH:
Fight Sugar Cravings
Addictive Sugar Habits
Energized in 60 Seconds or Less

Send your Metabolism Sky-High and Drop 15 Pounds in Six Weeks!

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4 Ways the Weather Makes You Crazy

The full moon is famed for everything from spookiness to magic to downright insanity. (Ever wonder where the term “lunatic” came from?) But new French research suggests it may not be all folklore: Fewer E.R. visits for anxiety disorders occur in the last lunar quarter—when only the left side of the moon is visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

Unsurprisingly, researchers don’t have a concrete answer for the connection (besides the fact that a million other factors could be at play). But they’re not the only ones who have made crazy connections between the weather and the world around us. Here are three other strange astrological or meteorological findings that we couldn’t help but share. Just believe them at your own risk.

Score Big During the New Moon
Need to make a quick buck? Forget a financial advisor—just invest your money toward the end of the month during the new moon! According to research in the Harvard Business Review, your annualized daily returns—how much you made each day extrapolated out to a year—are up to eight times greater when you invest on a new moon instead of a full one. Even freakier: The results have held across stock markets in all but one of the world’s 25 most industrialized countries (Norway)—in some cases up to 100 years. Study authors speculate people become more pessimistic and risk averse around the full moon, leading to a weaker stock market. The better plan: Invest when you’re happy. Harvard research has shown that feeling down can result in raking in 60 percent less than when you’re happy.

Watch Your Back in the Summer
Do criminals enjoy an ice cream cone during the hot summer months? According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, both a city’s crime rates and ice cream consumption peak during warmer periods. But the ice cream shops aren’t harboring thieves—it’s the weather that’s to blame. Assaults more than triple between 0-degree and 80-degree temperatures, researchers say. Summer breeds crime more so than a frigid winter: more people are outside, people often leave their homes unattended, and you’re more likely to bring easily stolen items like bikes outdoors.

Blame Stormy Weather for Your Mood
Russian scientists report that solar storms may be behind your mood swings. The researchers looked at solar activity records dating between 1948 and 1997 and found stormy periods matched up with the number of suicides in a Northern Russian town throughout that period. And researchers in the field will tell you Russians aren’t the only ones suffering: A South African study showed a 34 percent increase in the number of hospital admissions for depression in the second week after large solar storms. So if you’re sick of blaming your bad mood on work, friends, or your husband’s complaining, you could always side with the researchers and blame your pineal gland, which releases melatonin and acts as your body’s internal clock. It’s sensitive to magnetic fields and thrown off by solar storms!

Image: Stockbyte/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Why Being Neurotic Might Be a Good Thing
How Your Mood Affects Your Wallet
Are Monthly Mood Swings from Your Period a Myth?

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