Is sugar really bad for you? It depends  

Sugar is yummy. But we keep hearing that too much is bad for you.

From The New York Times:

So what’s the issue with added sugars?

It mainly comes down to the way they’re packaged.

Naturally occurring sugar is almost always found in foods that contain fiber, which slows the rate at which the sugar is digested and absorbed. (One exception to that rule is honey, which has no fiber.) Fiber also limits the amount of sugar you can consume in one sitting.

A medium apple contains about 19 grams of sugar and four grams of fiber, or roughly 20 percent of a day’s worth of fiber. Not many people would eat three apples at one time. But plenty of children and adults can drink a 16-ounce bottle of Pepsi, which has 55 grams of added sugar – roughly the amount in three medium apples – and no fiber. Fiber not only limits how much you can eat, but how quickly sugar leaves the intestine and reaches the liver, Dr. Stanhope said.

“You can’t easily eat that much sugar from fruit,” she said. “But nobody has any problem consuming a very high level of sugar from a beverage or from brownies and cookies.”

Why is it a problem to have too much sugar?

Many nutrition experts say that sugar in moderation is fine for most people. But in excess it can lead to metabolic problems beyond its effects on weight gain. The reason, studies suggest, is fructose. Any fructose you eat is sent straight to your liver, which specializes in turning it into droplets of fat called triglycerides.

“When you ingest fructose, almost all of it is metabolized by the liver, and the liver is very good at taking that fructose and converting it to fat,” said Dr. Mark Herman, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard. Studies show a predictable response when people are asked to drink a sugary beverage: A rapid spike in the amount of triglycerides circulating in their bloodstreams. This also leads to a reduction in HDL cholesterol, the so-called good kind.

Over time, this combination – higher triglycerides and lower HDL – is one major reason sugar promotes heart disease, said Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and adviser to the United Kingdom’s national obesity forum. This sequence of events may even overshadow the effects of LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad kind.

“What many people don’t realize is that it’s triglycerides and HDL that are more predictive of cardiovascular disease than LDL cholesterol,” Dr. Malhotra said. “I’m not saying LDL isn’t important. But if there is a hierarchy, triglycerides and HDL are more important than LDL.”

Dr. Malhotra said that when people reduce their sugar intake, “their overall cholesterol profile improves.”

“I see this in so many of my patients,” he added. “The effects are rapid.”

How much sugar is too much?

One of the largest studies of added sugar consumption, which was led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that adults who got more than 15 percent of their daily calories from added sugar had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. For the average adult, that translates to about 300 calories, or 18 teaspoons of added sugar, daily. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually quite easy to take in that much, or even more, without realizing it. A single 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, for example, has almost 10 teaspoons of sugar; it can add up quickly.

The study found that most adults got more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar, and that for 10 percent of people, more than 25 percent of their calories came from added sugar. The biggest sources for adults were soft drinks, fruit juices, desserts and candy.

While those might seem like obvious junk foods, Dr. Malhotra said, about half of the sugar Americans consume is “hidden” in less obvious places like salad dressings, bread, low-fat yogurt and ketchup. In fact, of the 600,000 food items for sale in America, about 80 percent contain added sugar.

Everyone’s tolerance for sugar is different. Studies show, for example, that people who are already obese may be more susceptible to metabolic harm from sugar than others. But Dr. Malhotra said that he generally advises people to follow the World Health Organization’s guidelines, which recommend that adults and children consume no more than about six teaspoons daily of added sugar.

“Could I tell you the exact limit where sugar starts to definitely impact cardiovascular health?” he said. “That’s difficult. But I think if people stick within the W.H.O. limits, then their risk is reduced.”

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Spiders can fly hundreds of miles using electricity  

“Scientists are finally starting to understand the centuries-old mystery of ‘ballooning.'”

From The Atlantic:

Spiders have no wings, but they can take to the air nonetheless. They’ll climb to an exposed point, raise their abdomens to the sky, extrude strands of silk, and float away. This behavior is called ballooning. It might carry spiders away from predators and competitors, or toward new lands with abundant resources. But whatever the reason for it, it’s clearly an effective means of travel. Spiders have been found two-and-a-half miles up in the air, and 1,000 miles out to sea.

It is commonly believed that ballooning works because the silk catches on the wind, dragging the spider with it. But that doesn’t entirely make sense, especially since spiders only balloon during light winds. Spiders don’t shoot silk from their abdomens, and it seems unlikely that such gentle breezes could be strong enough to yank the threads out — let alone to carry the largest species aloft, or to generate the high accelerations of arachnid takeoff. Darwin himself found the rapidity of the spiders’ flight to be “quite unaccountable” and its cause to be “inexplicable.”

But Erica Morley and Daniel Robert have an explanation. The duo, who work at the University of Bristol, has shown that spiders can sense the Earth’s electric field, and use it to launch themselves into the air.

Every day, around 40,000 thunderstorms crackle around the world, collectively turning Earth’s atmosphere into a giant electrical circuit. The upper reaches of the atmosphere have a positive charge, and the planet’s surface has a negative one. Even on sunny days with cloudless skies, the air carries a voltage of around 100 volts for every meter above the ground. In foggy or stormy conditions, that gradient might increase to tens of thousands of volts per meter.

Ballooning spiders operate within this planetary electric field. When their silk leaves their bodies, it typically picks up a negative charge. This repels the similar negative charges on the surfaces on which the spiders sit, creating enough force to lift them into the air. And spiders can increase those forces by climbing onto twigs, leaves, or blades of grass. Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electric fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches — and the spiders ballooning from those tips.

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Poachers eaten by lions after sneaking onto South African game reserve to hunt rhino  

Nick Fox: “I think we had a stroke of luck here that the lions got to them before they got to the rhinos.”

From CBS News:

In a stunning instance of the animal kingdom taking karma into its own hands — or rather, paws — at least three poachers were mauled to death and then eaten by lions earlier this week after they illegally entered the Sibuya Game Reserve in South Africa to hunt rhinos.

“They strayed into a pride of lions — it’s a big pride so they didn’t have too much time,” Sibuya Game Reserve’s owner, Nick Fox, told AFP Thursday. “We’re not sure how many there were — there’s not much left of them.

He added, however, that the clothing strewn around the scene points to there being at least three. Authorities believe the men entered the game reserve in the early hours of Monday; they were found dismembered the following day, the news agency reports.

In Africa, there are fewer than 25,000 rhinoceros left in the wild due to a boom in demand for their horns, which are sold on the black market in Asia for their supposed medicinal qualities. In fact, in South African parks and game reserves, these majestic, tank-like creatures are under daily assault. A May 2018 “60 Minutes” report revealed that they are being slaughtered at the shocking rate of three a day at the hands of poachers like the group killed in Sibuya.

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The strange brain of the world’s greatest solo climber  

“Alex Honnold doesn’t experience fear like the rest of us.”

From Nautilus:

Honnold is history’s greatest ever climber in the free solo style, meaning he ascends without a rope or protective equipment of any kind. Above about 50 feet, any fall would likely be lethal, which means that, on epic days of soloing, he might spend 12 or more hours in the Death Zone. On the hardest parts of some climbing routes, his fingers will have no more contact with the rock than most people have with the touchscreens of their phones, while his toes press down on edges as thin as sticks of gum. Just watching a video of Honnold climbing will trigger some degree of vertigo, heart palpitations, or nausea in most people, and that’s if they can watch them at all. Even Honnold has said that his palms sweat when he watches himself on film.

All of this has made Honnold the most famous climber in the world. He has appeared on the cover of National Geographic, on 60 Minutes, in commercials for Citibank and BMW, and in a trove of viral videos. He might insist that he feels fear (he describes standing on Thank God Ledge as “surprisingly scary”), but he has become a paramount symbol of fearlessness.

He also inspires no shortage of peanut-gallery commentary that something is wrong with his wiring. In 2014, he gave a presentation at Explorers Hall, at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. The audience was there to hear from climbing photographer Jimmy Chin and veteran explorer Mark Synnott, but above all they had gathered to gasp at tales about Honnold.

Synnott got the biggest response from a story set in Oman, where the team had traveled by sailboat to visit the remote mountains of the Musandam Peninsula, which reaches like a skeletal hand into the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Coming upon an isolated village, they went ashore to mix with the locals. “At a certain point,” Synnott said, “these guys start yelling and they’re pointing up at the cliff. And we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And of course I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure I know.’ ”

Up came the photograph for the gasp from the crowd. There was Honnold, the same casual dude who was sitting on stage in a grey hoodie and khakis, now looking like a toy as he scaled a huge, bone-colored wall behind the town. (“The rock quality wasn’t the best,” Honnold said later.) He was alone and without a rope. Synnott summed up the villagers’ reaction: “Basically, they think Alex is a witch.”

When the Explorers Hall presentation concluded, the adventurers sat down to autograph posters. Three lines formed. In one of them, a neurobiologist waited to share a few words with Synnott about the part of the brain that triggers fear. The concerned scientist leaned in close, shot a glance toward Honnold, and said, “That kid’s amygdala isn’t firing.”

Once upon a time, Honnold tells me, he would have been afraid—his word, not mine—to have psychologists and scientists looking at his brain, probing his behavior, surveying his personality. “I’ve always preferred not to look inside the sausage,” he says. “Like, if it works, it works. Why ask questions about it? But now I feel like I’ve sort of stepped past that.”

And so, on this morning in March, 2016, he is laid out, sausage-roll style, inside a large, white tube at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston. The tube is a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scanner, essentially a huge magnet, which detects activity in the brain’s different regions by tracing blood flows.

Months earlier, I had approached Honnold about taking a look at his much admired, much maligned brain. “I feel totally normal, whatever that means,” he said. “It’d be interesting to see what the science says.”

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Belgian boy Laurent Simons heads off to university aged 8

From the BBC:

A Belgian boy has graduated secondary school aged eight after completing six years’ study in just a year and a half.

Laurent Simons, whose father is Belgian and mother Dutch, and has an IQ of 145 according to his parents, collected a diploma with a class of 18-year-olds.

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Raccoon released into wild after successful skyscraper climb  

A heartwarming story that would have been heartbreaking, but for the good ending.

From the Guardian:

A daredevil raccoon that became an online sensation when it spent almost 20 nail-biting hours scaling a 25-storey office tower in Minnesota has been safely rescued and released back into the wild after making it to the top of the building unscathed.

The animal’s ascent on the outside of the UBS building in downtown St Paul city was watched across the world on social media on Tuesday, with updates on its progress posted regularly by the Minnesota Public Radio under the hashtag #MPRraccoon. Crowds also gathered at the scene to watch.

Despite widespread concern for its safety – as well as Spider-Man and Mission Impossible jokes – it reportedly reached the roof at 3am local time yesterday, where cat food was waiting inside a humane trap.

Read the whole thing and watch the video …

French President Emmanuel Macron rewards migrant hero who saved dangling child  

From USA Today:

PARIS – President Emmanuel Macron on Monday lauded as a hero a migrant from Mali who scaled an apartment building to save a young child dangling from a balcony, and rewarded him with French nationality and a job as a firefighter.

“Bravo,” Macron said to 22-year-old Mamoudou Gassama during a one-on-one meeting in a gilded room of the presidential Elysee Palace that ended with Gassama receiving a gold medal from the French state for “courage and devotion.”

Gassama’s feat went viral on social media, where he was dubbed “Spiderman” for climbing up five floors, from balcony to balcony, and whisking a four-year-old boy to safety Saturday night as a crowd screamed at the foot of the building in Paris’ northern 18th district.

The young man said he has papers to legally stay in Italy, where he arrived in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean, ending a long, rough stay in Libya. But he came to France last September to join his older brother, who has lived in France for decades.

Gassama, dressed in tattered blue jeans and white shirt, recounted his experience which took place at around 8 p.m. Saturday when he and friends saw a young child hanging from a fifth-floor balcony.

“I ran. I crossed the street to save him,” he told Macron. He said he didn’t think twice. “When I started to climb, it gave me courage to keep climbing.”

God “helped me,” too, he said. “Thank God I saved him.”

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