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Originally published Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 7:22 PM

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Research morsels: Swallow with care

Research reinforces an old idea: Whether you’re served food or ideas, it pays to be careful about what you ingest.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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What a mess? This piece is like a giant run-on. Focus Jerry, is it pro pot? Eat healthy... MORE

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Before I had my first white hair, I took good health for granted, but I’ve since developed a taste for health tips extracted from the latest scientific research.

It seems that recreational marijuana use, newly legal in Washington, might also be medically beneficial in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Researchers from several institutions collaborated on a discovery published in the current issue of The American Journal of Medicine that finds regular users have more good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein), and lower fasting insulin levels than people who don’t use pot.

That’s potentially good news for people who are at risk of developing diabetes and those who have it already.

And, despite indulging in the munchies, people who smoke marijuana seem to have smaller waists than those who don’t. Here I must add the usual caveats. I have tried to make the complex clearer and the uncertain useful. More research is necessary, but if you were looking for an excuse anyway, now you have another.

What you don’t have is an excuse to drink soda. Remember when pop was an innocent counterpart to pot’s evil danger? I saw yet another study on the harm soft drinks do. Drinking one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soda a day can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 22 percent.

Americans apparently need lots of reminders of the impact what we stuff in our bodies has on us. We’re going to get help with that as restaurants (large chains with multiple locations) post calorie-content information for consumers.

Some researchers say that is not going far enough. Researchers from Tufts University tested meals from smaller restaurant groups and independent restaurants and found 73 percent of the meals contained on average more than half the 2,000 calories a day recommended for most people.

That’s a bummer if you like to eat out, and people in the Seattle area do. But don’t get anxious about this stuff. Anxiety disorders are already a major public-health problem in the U.S. I read that in another study last week, which also included some hope.

It said don’t try to suppress your emotions. That will only make things worse. Instead, change your thinking a bit and consider how you might turn whatever is making you anxious into something good. Like, you could read the menus, then invest in anti-cholesterol drugs. No, they didn’t say that.

The anxiety study didn’t say anything about food, but another study explored what works to keep consumers from consuming too much. Last week, a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested having restaurants post not just calorie counts on menus, but data on how much physical activity it would take to burn off that delicious burger. Researchers found that is easier for customers to relate to than a calorie number.

You could divert your own anxieties into lobbying state and local governments to take the research advice and require nutrition signs at restaurants that aren’t already governed by the federal guidelines for large chains.

The article on relating calories to activity was written by Sara N. Bleich and Lainie Rutkow, two professors at Johns Hopkins University. But maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. Sometimes people discount work done by women scientists, and there is a study about that.

Researchers at Ohio State University showed scientific abstracts to 243 graduate students in communications and asked them to evaluate the work. The papers were the same, but sometimes two male authors were credited and sometimes two women were. Male and female students rated the quality more highly when men were credited.

Apparently we still think of science as a male preserve. I was checking out the highlights of the Seattle Science Festival, which starts June 6 and is worth a visit for anyone. But I did notice the opening-night headliners were three guys, and the closing-day headliners were three guys, though the mistresses of ceremony for those events are both women science journalists.

The subjects in that Ohio State study were given a test to measure their support for gender equality. How well students rated women tracked with the level of their commitment to gender equality.

It seems most of us have been fed a load of unhealthful stuff, which has come to rest not just in our stomachs but in our heads, too. Be careful what you swallow.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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