I’m slightly obsessed with what I put in my body. For me, humans, life, and basically everything just boils down to a bunch of chemistry (yup, philosophy and all that stuff is just electrochem and … more reactions! in our brain / nervous system / somewhere in our body. I saw a paper today that was talking about discovering these proteins with strong absorbance at 450 nm (yups, that’s my protein - read on) and it just goes to reinforce that just because we don’t understand something or even possibly know it exists, there is some explination for it in the chemical world). Humans are just particularily interesting and super-well partitioned chemical systems, but in the end, that’s really all I think we are. So, I care about what I’m putting into my reaction - ME! - a lot. Small impurities (like rattle snake venom, or just some icky chemicals in our food) might not make a lot of difference, or they might make all the difference in the world, so I try to keep them out. [Of course, it all depends on what you are trying to do - tiny amounts of oxygen aren’t so great in my flash-quench experiments where it acts as a quencher I don’t know the concentration of, but the protein I use in these flash-quench experiments needs molecular oxygen in our body to catalyze the great C-H bond activation rxn. It’s a really cool protein!] But since I’d like to keep all my proteins functioning until I get really old (indeed, my particular protein, cytochrome P450, is associated with aging) I try not to put in anything in my beaker that is going to do facinating chemistry - and then make it really hard for me to spend a good old life think about it:) [as to P450 - I prefer not bombarding my mitochondrial DNA with ROS, reactive oxygen species. And as a matter of fact, though I don’t know of a connection between food and ROS, P450 IS very sensitive to what we eat - it catalyzes three fourths of the reactions in our liver!!! It can get induced and inhibited by certain chemicals (from our food, obviously, or pills or anything else that makes it down there). FYI, “my protein” isn’t just encoded in 57 genes in my body (and yours!), but it is in all superkingdoms of life and has been studied a ton, in part because it is a superfamily of many different proteins that do similar things and have a heme active site and absorb strongly at 460 nm.]
ect. ect. ect. So, what this blabber means for you? Really just that I’ve been reading a lot of etiquettes. I’ve been reading etiquettes for a while, but lately, as people overal are finally starting to worry about what they’re eating, there’s some advertisments coming up on them that are really scary. Really, really scary.
Try this one: from farm to store in twenty-four.
Great, Fresh and Easy (one of the local grocery stores I go to sometimes). I’m glad you manage that with these grapes that are supposedly grown in CA. BUT WHAT?!!?! THAT’S AN ADVERTISMENT? How long does it usually take stuff to get to the store??? The scary thing is - I’m sure 24 hours is actually pretty good, especially if you’re from NH like me and all the fruit gets shipped from somewhere far away (sadly, orange trees really don’t like granite or blizzards). Is this just me, or do other people have to swallow too when they realize what that ad is saying? It’s saying most food doesn’t. That scares me. What’s happening to it in those greater than 24 hours? You can drive pretty far in 24 hours. How is it being preserved? In gases that I don’t want near me? With preservatives I also don’t want near me? (In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson has a short section where she talks about these things.) I googled it, and this article https://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/08/fresh_and_easys_farm_to_store_in_24_program.php has a quote from a freezy (oh no, the nickname caught on!) saying that this is incredibly hard. The next chance where I have a lot of free time I’m going to do some more research on those food delivery logistics. Being able to store food is awesome and a large reason for our culture evolving as it did (could you imagine if everything went bad in one or two days?) but I’d like to know more about it.
Here’s another one:
These are the power bars that we get after hard sports practices here at Caltech. We’re the beavers - nature’s engineer! So engineering food for the human race… well, it sounds great. It sounds awesome. Lot’s of us are engineers, and I think we are just partial to anything that has the word “engineering” in it - I am at least. It sounds methodical, thought out, and like it has a reason for being better than the alternative. And there’s words like micro and peptides and absorption and perfect protein (but wait, starting to get suspicious - the only imperfect protein really is misfolded, or denatured, or indigestible, or … what does that have to do with their food?) and TRIPLE CHOCOLATE (and yes, it tastes better than most sports bars that you get!) and …. Eat away! This page even talks about quantum leaps!!! (I’m sorry, but Dear Power Crunch, that’s something else.)
I googled the micropeptide technology they advertise so much. Hum. Not so happy anymore. They really do have an interesting idea but I don’t like the rest of the stuff in the package - it isn’t the proteins giving the bars the chocolate flavors! Here’s the ingredients:
Triple Chocolate: Proto Whey Protein Blend [Proto Whey (Micro Peptides from Extreme HydrolyzedWhey Protein Fraction (55% di and tri peptides), Maltodextrin, L‐Glutamine, SoftPsil (MicronizedPsyllium Fiber), MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides), Sucralose), Milk Protein Isolate], PartiallyHydrogenated Soybean Oil, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate,Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Palm Oils, Cocoa Processed withAlkali, Dextrose, Nonfat Milk Powder, Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Sucralose, Salt, Baking Soda, Citric Acid, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 3, Blue 1
So, first for the ones I’ve heard of before:
L-Glutamine: I’m pretty sure I heard of that in lab. It’s also not bad for you, and has been shown to be good for muscle recovery after intense workouts - that’s fine. It also has a pretty structure:
Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil. Not so good. See here. The summary this page gives it is “Consuming partially hydrogenated oils is like inhaling cigarette smoke. They will kill you – slowly, over time, but as surely as you breathe. And in the meantime, they will make you fat!” This CS-major and consumer advocate also writes about the replacement of bad fats and partially hydrogenated oils with mono and di-glycerides, which are also hydrogenated oil products! However, these get to be listed as emulsifiers on the label (via food industry advocacy - grrrr! don’t mess with my health, big companies!) instead of fats. (You should always do your own research on anything I write because, again, I just googled this!) I also figured out why I’ve never really looked at percentages on food labels after deciding that they didn’t really tell me as much as the ingredients a very long time ago - they aren’t percentages in the food, but the percentage of the food standard serving size in a 2,000 calorie diet, which frankly is stupid, industry-driven, and needs to change (just cut the standard serving size in half and down goes that icky high salt intake - even though people are still going to eat several of the standard serving size!!!!) (maybe we can get rid of the percentages as a whole? they just don’t seem to help much… and even if you do percentages in the food - what do you go by? Mass? Calories? Nutritional value percentage?).
*Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate,Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Palm Oils, Cocoa Processed withAlkali, Dextrose, Nonfat Milk Powder, Lecithin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Sucralose, Salt,** Baking Soda, Citric Acid, Yellow 5 & 6, Red 3, Blue 1: *basically this is all stuff I don’t really want to be eating (the salt is fine, especially for an athlete it is important because it keeps us hydrating, but the rest… not so fine). It comes at the end of the list, so people tend to ignore it. So, going back to the chemistry - my lab mentor was doing work with a quencher, and got really wierd results. We think it might be an impurity that just has an extinction coefficient in the 70 thousands (that’s really high). Some stuff is fine in small quanitites, but some stuff just isn’t. And most of this, I’d rather not have - even if it is at the end of the list. Q: What is sucralose anyway (beyond a failure to use IUPAC nomenclature)? (A: splenda. Except with a different name, so people like me, who think splenda is unhealthy and try to avoid it, don’t know that’s exactly what they are getting. Fun fact: the company is also advertising a new “crunchy” bar that doesn’t have sucralose.)
And then comes the interesting part:
*Proto Whey Protein Blend [Proto Whey (Micro Peptides from Extreme Hydrolyzed**Whey Protein Fraction (55% di and tri peptides), Maltodextrin, Sucralose]: *First, notice that sucralose is in here again, and later as another ingredient. So really, sucralose should be a pretty top ingredient, but it’s hidden in all the parts that make up the final bar (and yes, this is a problem in all food lables). Maltodextrin? Fun fact, it’s so highly processed that any protein it once had is gone, so gluten-alergic people should really be fine eating it. Ewwww. The hydrolyzed stuff? Well, the company (BNRG) even has a YouTube channel called NutritionTV about it. First they tell you life needs proteins. Well, duh. That doesn’t make their processed proteins healthy. So, then they tell you hydrolyzed proteins deliver higher absorption. I love their explination, so here you go:
“How can we absorb more of the protein we consume? Let’s use a simple analogy to illustrate the answer. Imagine a basketball (whole protein molecule) and a chain link fence (barrier to absorption). There is no way to fit the basketball through the holes in the fence – it is simply too large and bulky to pass through. Now imagine that instead of a basketball, we had a handful of marbles (highly hydrolyzed protein molecules). The marbles are able to fit through the holes in the fence and pass to the other side without any further significant reduction in size. This simple analogy demonstrates the digestion that must be done to break down (hydrolyze) whole proteins into a significantly smaller size so that absorption can occur.
Now imagine if there were a product that contained the molecular-sized marbles that were ready to be absorbed into the blood. Enter Proto Whey! Proto Whey is a unique form of protein designed for quick and complete absorption. In fact, it is so nutritionally superior that it is commonly given to individuals with chronic debilitating diseases, and others with increased protein needs such as professional athletes, weekend warriors, dieters and any person looking to fortify their daily protein needs. It is the only 100% pure and highly hydrolyzed whey protein in the market, guaranteed to provide your body with superior nutritional value over other protein supplements."
Here is my analogy:
Imagine throwing basketballs, plastic bags, and wildflower seeds through a chain link fence. The wildflowers pass through and a natural garden grows. The plastic bags and basketballs are prevented from going through by the fence, and the owners of that property who just threw them there have to go clean them up. Now imagine cutting the plastic bags and basketballs into small pieces.The plastic bags float effortlessly through the fence and little pieces of plastic spread like the seeds in the wind. The basketball pieces are heavy, so most of them just fall and get washed through the fence the next time it rains.
Okay, so I don’t think it’s that bad. I just think that our liver metabolizes things in certain ways as determined by evolution. (The proteins in the liver are pretty awesome... it's mostly P450s!) It metabolizes drugs ect. to make them more water soluable (adding an O into a CH bond makes it more polar = more water soluable ect.) and the peptides are totally missing this safety-check in which our body excretes what is bad for it or makes food into compounds it needs more. Taking digestion away takes away the protection we evolved for (not that humans are perfect, but if the enzymes the company uses to digest the proteins are so much more efficient than our bodies, why not just infect our gut with these better enzymes and speed up natural selection?).
They have three reasons why their stuff is better:
*1.It has been broken down for greater absorption*
*2.It provides better nutrition than other whole proteins (hummm.... how? what's wrong with whole proteins? are these different peptides than digested whole proteins or something?)*
*3.It provides greater value because less is wasted (okay - do love that. so, I'll keep a stock of these and if there's a natural disaster and I can't get to any other food for a few days, these will pull me through. but in terms of wasting less - does the process they use to make this or our body waste more in digesting a fixed amount?)*
Granted, after a really hard workout, your muscles are really hungry, and that is definitely the time to eat junk food (if you are going to eat it at all) or micro-peptides simply because it can “repair” your muscles super-fast. I don’t think shock-waving our body with digested proteins (assuming we are normally functioning, relatively healthy adults) on a regular basis makes that much sense though. If you build a powerplant or something, you know where the dangers lie; we don't understand ourselves well enough to know where problems may lie if we add this to our diet; this micro stuff is already past the being choppped up state where our bodies generally have more control.
So, I think it is a cool engineering idea and makes sense in some situations, but with this and the other ingredients, I don't think I'll be having these bars unless we had a really, really strenuous workout (and I forgot my own snack L). Go bananas!
*SoftPsil (Micronized* *Psyllium Fiber) and MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides): *What person standing in a grocery store has any idea what that is? In the science section of their site, the company writes "The proprietary SoftPsil® fiber and generous portion of MCTs in Proto Whey further insures its best in class absorption and its role in enhancing gut health and efficiency." Hmmm, I'm still not sure what the first is...
And if you made it this far.... conclusion time!
I feel like I'm constantly being manipulated when I eat food. I especially hate the end of the ingredients list. If sugar is right in place number one, and high fructose corn syrup number two, then at least it is obviously bad for you. When sugar (or better, something like sucralose which is a sugar your body cannot digest = 0 calories - in a food advertised to help your digestion so much) is a minor ingredient way at the end, and there's just these three wierd things and you have no idea what they are and they are all less than 2 percent anyway, it's much harder to know. It would be nice if all those compounds were given in IUPAC nomenclature or something, so I didn't need google (which I don't have in the store) to figure out what it is, but even then, it's hard to know if it's something that will, over time, be bad for you. Often I don't even know if it is natural or synthetic or from Mars (okay, I'm probably not eating anything from Mars - that's a bit out of my budget range!). I'm super glad we have those labels, and that people are starting to be more concious about what they buy, but this conciousness is also brining to light some facts I would not have expected - and nutrition labels need to be reformated so that they are less manipulatable by companies.
Wow, I just had a lot of fun figuring out what they're doing (even though I wish their website had more process details). I am impressed if you managed to get through my rumblings to here!!!
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.