Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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Oh-My-Gawd... GLUED Meat!

butcherIf you’re a fitness and nutrition nerd, you’re long past the grade school days of willingly eating glue, paste, and other pseudo-edible adhesives, but there’s a decent chance you’re still eating an entirely different kind of glue unknowingly. Maybe even on a regular basis. 
I’m talking about meat glue, also known as transglutaminase, which restaurants and food producers use to create “steaks” out of “glued-together” stew meat, add body to dairy products, make imitation crab, improve processed meat mouth feel, to name a few. A video exposing the “secret” of meat glue has been making the rounds of the various health circles, and more than a few readers have asked me about it. The video in question, taken from a recent Australian expose was yanked from YouTube but you can see it here.
With that out of the way, what exactly is transglutaminase, and should you be worried about it?

Transglutaminase is an enzyme, produced either by bacterial cultivation (via fermentation of plant extracts) or from the coagulation factor in porcine and bovine blood, that bonds proteins together. Once it’s been cultivated or extracted, transglutaminase is dried into a powder that can be easily applied to a number of products, including

Reconstituted steaks, fillets, roasts, or cutlets - Meat glue is added to disparate chunks of meat (like cheap stew meat, chunks of chicken – any meat, really) and rubbed in. The chunks are compressed together and left to cool; after several hours, the meat pieces have formed insoluble bonds made of protein polymers. You can usually pull apart the “steak” to reveal the composite pieces, but take a quick glance and you’d never know it was cheap stew meat glued together. To most consumers, the resultant reconstituted “steak” is indistinguishable from a real slab of meat once it’s cooked, but a skilled meat glue artist can create “steaks” that fool experts – even when they’re raw.

Sausages, hot dogs, and other processed meats – Transglutaminase is added to provide uniform texture to processed meats. The “bits” become smooth and seamless. Imagine Oscar Mayer balogna and you’ll get the picture.

Imitation crab - Similar to hot dogs and sausages, only made with fish, usually pollock.
Fish balls, chicken nuggets, and other examples of deliciousness - Makes all that chicken viscera go down smooth.

Novel culinary creations - Some chefs are getting pretty creative with meat glue. One guy in NYC, for example, uses meat glue to make flourless noodles out of shrimp! I’d eat that.

On its face, meat glue sounds awful. I don’t think I have to explain why. It’s just repulsive on a visceral level. Furthermore, it’s generally used to make some pretty awful foods. We can’t really blame the transglutaminase for that, though. It’s not the meat glue that makes chicken nuggets a bad idea; it’s the hydrogenated vegetable oil in which they’re fried and the refined wheat breading in which the “chicken” is encased. I suppose you could call meat glue an enabler, but it’s not the offending party. But is it itself bad for you?

The FDA has deemed it “generally safe” (what confidence!) and there’s got to be something in PubMed that justifies their conclusion… right? Well, I searched far and wide and while there is a ton of research on culinary and industrial applications of transglutaminase, there was nothing about the safety thereof. Nothing good, nothing bad. It simply wasn’t there in any direction.

Most of it was stuff like the paper showing that microbial transglutaminase increases the sensory appeal of chicken sausages made from various chicken parts across several parameters, including texture, water retention, and appearance. Note that researchers failed to mention taste. I take this to mean meat glue made the texture of the sausages uniform (so the average consumer doesn’t know what they’re eating) and improved their plumpness (added water weight). In other words, meat glue allows consumers to eat meat paste without inconvenient thoughts of dead baby animals obstructing their carefree chewing and swallowing. So, it may be used in a misleading way, but there’s nothing here about negative health effects, either from eating the glue itself or caused by it.

As I see it, the real danger with glued meat is in the uneven heating of reconstituted steaks made up of random pieces of stew meat. See, most reasonable people eat their steak at or below medium doneness. I’m a rare-to-medium-rare man myself, and with a real slab of animal, going rare, medium rare, or medium usually isn’t a problem. The exterior – the part that’s potentially been exposed to dangerous bacteria – is cooked or seared. The inside may be undercooked or even bloody, but the inside of a piece of real meat doesn’t get significant bacterial exposure, so there’s little to no danger. 

But glued “steaks” aren’t one piece of meat. They are made of multiple pieces of meat, each with its own history, its own exterior, and its own collection of bacteria. If you treat a glued together “steak” like a regular steak and eat it below medium, you’ll be eating some undercooked meat exteriors. Unless you braise that fake steak or burn it to a crisp, there’s no way you’ll know if all the component pieces have been sufficiently cooked. And if you’re ordering steak at a standard restaurant, you have no control over how it’s handled – or even what you’re really eating. Bonded meat isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but cooking it well requires a little more attention to detail, and in a restaurant, especially your garden variety chain restaurant, the cooking is entirely out of your hands.

Beyond that, it’s the deception that really bugs me. I think a lot of the outcry against transglutaminase can be explained by that: people don’t like being deceived, especially when there’s money on the line. If I buy a filet, it had better be an actual filet (singular), not a random assortment of trim and stew cobbled together and sprinkled with a bonding enzyme. Luckily, I know the meat I buy is real and whole, as does anyone who buys direct from farmers or from trusted butchers and meat counters, but not everyone has the inclination or ability to source meat from the source.

If you’re worried that the meat you buy contains transglutaminase, you can do a few things to avoid any potential complications:

Do what the guy in the video did and gently tug on your meat. If your steak comes apart, it’s probably “steak.” It’s probably best to perform the tug test before you pay for the meat, and most meat counters/butchers will allow you to inspect what they sell.
Just cook it thoroughly. I would advise against cooking your “steak” like a steak until well done, because, well, that just ruins meat, but a nice braise, crockpot stew, or soup would all work. Remember: it is meat and it is edible.
Ask. Ask your butcher, your meat supplier, or your waiter if the meat contains glue. They should know, and if they don’t (or if they’re unwilling to say), order something else or go elsewhere.

Honestly, though, I don’t think transglutaminase in and of itself represents a big problem. It might come in otherwise unhealthy or suboptimal foods (processed meat, chicken nuggets, etc.) and it might expose you to bacteria if undercooked, but I don’t think it’s anything to lose sleep over.

2012: Beginning of the End 
or Why the World Won't End?

Scenes from the upcoming film 2012. Courtesy Columbia Pictures.Scenes from the motion picture "2012." Courtesy Columbia Pictures.
Remember the Y2K scare? It came and went without much of a whimper because of adequate planning and analysis of the situation. Impressive movie special effects aside, December 21, 2012, won't be the end of the world as we know. It will, however, be another winter solstice. 

Much like Y2K, 2012 has been analyzed and the science of the end of the Earth thoroughly studied. Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the science behind the end of the world quickly unravels when pinned down to the 2012 timeline. Below, NASA Scientists answer several questions that we're frequently asked regarding 2012.

Question (Q): Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.
Answer (A): Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012. 

Q: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?
A: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012. Then these two fables were linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 -- hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Q: Does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012?
A: Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

Q: Could phenomena occur where planets align in a way that impacts Earth?
A: There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence. 

"There apparently is a great deal of interest in celestial bodies, and their locations and trajectories at the end of the calendar year 2012. Now, I for one love a good book or movie as much as the next guy. But the stuff flying around through cyberspace, TV and the movies is not based on science. There is even a fake NASA news release out there..."               - Don Yeomans, NASA senior research scientist

Q: Is there a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?

A: Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles. 

Q: What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the earth’s crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours? 
A: A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-shift to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway. 
The Blue Marble: Next Generation
Earth, as seen in the Blue Marble: Next Generation collection of images, showing the color of the planet's surface in high resolution. This image shows South America from September 2004.

Q: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?

A: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA NEO Program Office website, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.

Q: How do NASA scientists feel about claims of pending doomsday?
A: For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012. 

Q: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?
A: Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.

Article via NASA

Is The Planet Nibiru For Real?

By John P. Millis, Ph.D, About.com Guide

 Will The Earth End in 2012?
Artists rendering of a large coronal mass ejection (solar storm) from our Sun. The Earth's magnetic field can be seen shielding us from the solar wind.
Image Credit: NASA/Steele Hill

There has been a lot of interest lately in the theory that the world is going to end in the year 2012. The Hollywood version of 2012 events has a lot of people talking. So, is this something that we need to be taking seriously? Is Earth in danger of being annihilated? Is the government hiding the facts from us?
Though there are many variations of the doomsday theory, the threat most often quoted is a collision with a planet (or possibly a brown dwarf) known as Nibiru in 2012. The result would be the virtual destruction of Earth and mankind.

According to the theory, the planet Nibiru orbits our Sun once every 3600 years, making it difficult to observe. Some claim its existence is supported by ancient Sumerian writings, some more than 2500 years old. The Sumerians wrote a great deal about astronomy and had a 
relatively advanced understanding of the heavens. However, scholars have revealed that 
no such references to this mysterious object exist.

Then, in the early 1980s the theory was given new life when an infrared experiment 
cataloged over 350,000 objects in the nights sky, many of which were “unidentified”. 
A rash of conspiracy theories evolved to claim that one of these unidentified objects 
was Nibiru and that the government is tracking it. However, subsequent studies carried 
out by other telescopes around the world quickly identified these objects, and none of 
them were planets at all. But could the government be lying to us about their results? 
Not a chance, considering they would need to conspire with tens of thousands of 
astronomers, both professional and amateur, around the globe to keep the secret.
Other 2012 Conspiracies
There are other events that are supposedly going to happen in 2012 that could spell 
disaster for planet Earth.
Planetary Alignment: Some theories contend that a coming planetary alignment in 2012 will start a chain reaction that will cause strange weather and events on the Earth. The first problem with this is that there is not going to be any major alignments of planets, or other objects, in our solar system in the next several decades -- never mind in 2012. Secondly, even if there were a major alignment, there is no scientific reason to believe that this would have any impact on Earth.

Alignment with the Galactic Center: There is also some worry about an alignment that will happen with the Sun and the center of our Galaxy. First, let me point out that this is very different than saying that our solar system will somehow be moved to the violent center of the Milky Way. That is impossible. We are nearly 30,000 light-years from the center of the Galaxy, making it impossible for us to somehow be “taken” there as some believe. However, it is possible for the Earth, Sun and Galactic Center to be temporarily aligned (where essentially the Sun would be blocking our “view” of the Galactic Center). Which brings me to the second point; this is nothing to fear. It actually happens everyDecember with no consequence.

Solar Magnetic Shift: Are the magnetic poles of the Sun going to flip in the next few years? Yes, actually, but there is nothing to fear. It is a natural process known as the solar cycle. Roughly every 11 years the magnetic poles of the Sun flip. This coincides with what is referred to as the solar maximum, the time when there is the greatest appearance of Sun spots, solar flares, prominences and other solar activity. The next solar maximum, was roughly predicted for 2012, but may not happen until 2013 or later. 
On a related note, some believe that the next solar maximum will bring the largest "solar storm" in history, and that it will knock out our telecommunication systems, cause blackouts and other problems on Earth. This theory is fueled by a report released by the National Research Council on Heliophysics, which was predicting what would happen in the case of another such storm (a massive solar storm was recorded in 1859). It is true that communications and power could be disrupted, but certainly not like the doomsday events portrayed in fiction. Furthermore, there is no reason to even believe that such a storm will happen during the next solar maximum or any other time in the future.

Earth’s Polar Shift: Just as the Sun undergoes regular magnetic pole shifts, so does the Earth, but on a longer time scale. The Earth’s magnetic cycle is roughly 400,000 years, though it has actually been longer since the Earth’s last flip. In spite of this, there is no evidence that one is coming in the next several thousand years, much less by 2012. Even if a shift did occur, it certainly would not cause the Earth to start spinning in the opposite direction or flip the whole Earth upside down -- which are both outcomes believed by some conspiracy theorists.

An Asteroid Will Collide With Earth: This is a fear popularized by several disaster movies in the last couple decades. The fact is that, yes, a large asteroid or comet could someday collide with Earth. In truth, meteorites fall to Earth everyday, they are just too small to do any damage. The good news is that an object large enough to do any real damage would be easy to see. And NASA does a great job of cataloging and monitoring the large objects in our solar system. The likelihood that one of these objects would sneak up on us is slim to none. We would likely know it was coming years before it actually arrived, so we would have time to hopefully prevent the collision.
Via About.Com 

Is this an alien skull? 

Mystery of giant-headed mummy found in Peru. Skull has soft spot, found in infants, yet also two large molars, found in older humans.

Three anthropologists agree: 

'It is not a human being.'

Last updated at 10:24 AM on 19th November 2011
A mummified elongated skull found in Peru could finally prove the existence of aliens.
The strangely shaped head - almost as big as its 50cm (20in) body - has baffled anthropologists. It was one of two sets of remains found in the city of Andahuaylillas in the southern province of Quispicanchi.
Spanish and Russian scientists who have examined the remains claim they are actually those of an alien.
Spanish and Russian scientists who have examined the remains claim they are actually those of an alien. The skeletal sets were discovered by Renato Davila Riquelme, who works for the Privado Ritos Andinos museum in Cusco in south-eastern Peru. He said that that the eye cavities are far larger than normally seen in humans.
There is a soft spot in the skull - called an open fontanelle - which is a characteristic of children in their first year of life, yet the skull also has two large molars, only found in much older humans.
The unidentified creature has a strangely shaped skull nearly as large as its 20-inch-tall body
The unidentified creature has a strangely shaped skull nearly as large as its 20-inch-tall body
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull featured a conical alien skull similar to the one found in Peru
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull featured a conical alien skull similar to the one found in Peru
Davila Riquelme said three anthropologists, from Spain and Russia, arrived at the museum last week to investigate the findings and agreed it was ‘not a human being’ and would conduct further studies.
He added: ‘Although the assessment was superficial, it is obvious that its features do not correspond to any ethnic group in the world.’ 
The remains of an eyeball in the right socket will help determine its genetic DNA - and clear up the controversy if it is human or not.

The second mummy is incomplete and is only 30cm (12in).
It lacks a face and seems to be wrapped in a layer as a placenta, fetal position.

The remains bear a striking resemblance to the triangular crystal skull in the 2008 Indiana Jones film Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - which turned out to be of alien origin and have supernatural powers.
Where the skull was found


Painting by Paul Kane, showing a North American Chinook child in the process of having its head flattened, and an adult after the process
Painting by Paul Kane, showing a North American Chinook child in the process of having its head flattened, and an adult after the process
The alternative explanation for the bizarre discovery is that the skull was artificially deformed as part of a tribal ritual.

The practice of skull elongation - to signify group affiliation or social status - dates back 9,000 years.

Common in various tribal cultures around the world (such as Mayans, North American natives and Australian Aborigines), the head moulding styles fell into three groups: flat, round or conical.

To achieve the desired shape, the head was wrapped in tight cloth.
In the case of cranial flattening, the head was placed between two pieces of wood.

The technique would usually be carried out on an infant, when the skull is at its most pliable.
The cloth would be applied from a month after birth and be held in place for about six months.

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