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11 Nov 20:39

Agree, Disagree? “Completion Is Powerful.”

by (Gretchen Rubin)

Happiness interview: Lewis Howes.

I got to know Lewis Howes when mutual friends put us in touch, and I got to be a guest on his terrific and very popular podcast, The School of Greatness, which is all about what makes great people great. You can listen to our conversation here.

His new book, The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy, has just hit the shelves. The subtitle says it all! Fun facts: Lewis is a former professional football player and two-sport All-American and a current USA Men’s National Handball Team athlete. Yowza.

Lewis interviewed me, and I was eager to interview him, to hear his thoughts on habits, happiness, and related subjects.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Lewis: I feel so good when I meditate every morning and evening. I only meditate for about 13 minutes, and use the same guided meditation every day, but it makes a big difference for me. I’m not perfect at it, but it helps me stay on top of my emotions and manage overwhelm when I do it consistently.  I think some type of focused breathing and visualizing what you want your life to be on a daily basis is extremely healthy.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Sports were my life growing up and through college, so at 18 I knew the value of a schedule and commitment to it to see results. What I didn’t realize then was that the most powerful habits are the ones that you choose to form and stick to when no one else is holding you accountable. It took me a while to figure this out after I was done playing professional sports, but I was able to eventually pull on my previous experiences and re-create some solid habits from sports into my adult life.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Yes. When I get into something new and exciting (like a new sport or hobby), I get INTO IT. It’s all I want to do. So I won’t let myself get a puppy (even though I REALLY want a French bulldog) because I know I would get nothing done. I would just play with my dog all day.

Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Working out daily is a must. In fact, just taking a break and getting outside at least once a day is a must. That is my foundation and lets me sort out my thoughts and get my emotions in balance.  Lately I’ve been playing a lot of frisbee in the afternoon for a break. Getting my inbox empty at the end of the day is something I believe in because completion is powerful and having things pile on you becomes overwhelming. I’m not perfect at it, but it’s so worth it to keep emails manageable. I also love going to the movies once or twice a week just to give myself a break and think about something besides everything on my plate.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

When I was first getting successful in business (creating great financial results), I was working at my laptop for 16+ hour days and eating like I was still playing football. So I packed on the pounds. My family started calling me “Flewis” for Fat Lewis. I realized it was time to corral my sugar addiction (because I LOVE sweets, especially ice cream). I cut out sugar and gluten for 28 days and lost 28 pounds. Ever since then I’ve been able to keep my sugar addiction under control – thanks to a green juice every morning.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

I’m a Questioner. If someone tells me to do something, or there’s a rule I’m supposed to follow, and it doesn’t make sense, I’m not going to do it. I’ll find a better way.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Being on planes and away from home a lot (especially this year with my launching my book and touring for it) it’s hard to keep a solid sleep and workout schedule, but I still make a big effort. I have to be in my best shape to pull competing with the USA national team, running my business, and having fun.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Yes, when I moved to NYC and realized my face was a fat as a marshmallow, I gave myself the 28 day challenge for no sugar and green juice, and it changed the game for me!  It was so challenging, but so worth it!

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I love them once they’re made, but it’s super hard for me to make new ones. And if I have bad habits, it’s a big deal to change them. That’s why I surround myself with people who are good at what I’m not great at.

12 Jun 14:51

Microsoft acquires BlueStripe Software to help IT workers monitor and manage applications

by John Callaham

Microsoft continues to purchase small technology companies to help fill out its various services. Today, Microsoft revealed that it has acquired BlueStripe Software, a major provider of products designed to help IT workers monitor and manage applications

02 Jun 15:16

Find out which version of Windows 10 you will get when you upgrade for free

by John Callaham

If you own a Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC, you likely know that your machine is eligible to get a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it launches July 29. That free upgrade offer will last for a year after that date, but which Windows 10 SKU will you get for that free upgrade? Microsoft has revealed that information on their Windows 10 specification page.

19 May 13:45

25 years of Microsoft Solitaire is being celebrated with a big tournament starting June 5

by John Callaham

Almost 25 years ago, Microsoft added a free game, Microsoft Solitaire, as part of Windows 3.0 and productivity of PC workers has dipped ever since thanks to the game's addictive nature. Today, the company announced plans to hold a big public tournament using the Microsoft Solitaire Collection that can be downloaded for free on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone.

18 May 21:10

Microsoft offers an olive branch for users of 'Non-Genuine' Windows PCs to get a Windows 10 upgrade

by John Callaham

Earlier this year, Microsoft said that owners of PCs with licensed versions of Windows 7 and/or Windows 8.1 would be able to update to Windows 10 for free for a year after the OS is launched sometime later this summer. Today, the company's head of the Operating System division, Terry Myerson, offered an olive branch to those PC owners who are running a "Non-Genuine" version of Windows to get upgraded to Windows 10 as well.

13 May 14:04

The Asus ZenBook UX305 Crystal White Limited Edition really is limited

by John Callaham

We are already big fans of the Asus ZenBook UX305 Windows 8.1 notebook. The 13.3-inch laptop offers a lot of solid hardware for a relatively cheap price. Today, Asus announced it is selling two new editions of the ZenBook UX305. One of the is the Crystal White Limited Edition, and only 200 units of it will be sold on the company's website.

10 May 17:43

Tom Rath and Gretchen Rubin Talk about Habits That Create Well-Being.

by (Gretchen Rubin)

tomrathFrom Gretchen Rubin I got to know Tom Rath because we’re both members of the Silicon Guild, though of course, I’d known Tom’s work for years. He has written five bestsellers, including his blockbuster StrengthsFinder 2.0. I read his fascinating book, Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Change, with particular interest when I was working on my habit-change book, Better Than Before, because it has a lot of relevance for habits.

Tom has a terrific new book that just hit the shelves: Are You Fully Charged? The Three Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life. (Spoiler alert: the three keys are meaning, interactions, and energy.)

GretchenRubinHeadshotBlueTiedThis really caught my attention, because I’ve been thinking a lot about energy lately. My father has always emphasized the idea of “Energy!” and I remember about that often.

I couldn’t wait to ask Tom about his views and experiences with habits. It turned out that he had some questions for me, so here, we interview each other.

Habits that Create Well-being

A conversation with Tom Rath and Gretchen Rubin —  the first in a series of brief conversations between best-selling authors and thought leaders, brought to you by Silicon Guild.

Tom Rath: As I read Better Than Before, what struck me were all the strategies about building better default choices into your daily routine, so we are less dependent on our limited supply of willpower. What are the best willpower-conserving strategies you have uncovered?

Gretchen Rubin: You’re absolutely correct: one of the easiest ways to conserve willpower is to make a behavior into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t have to use -control or make decisions; we’re on automatic pilot. I don’t use willpower to get up at 6:00 or to skip dessert or to post to my blog or to wear my seat-belt. Those are habits, so they happen without any conscious effort on my part.

Some people say to me, “I want to learn to go through my day making healthy choices.” And I answer, “No, you don’t!” Every choice is an opportunity to make the wrong choice. Every choice is a struggle that requires willpower. Choose once, then stop choosing. Make important behaviors into habits, and save your willpower for complex, urgent, or novel situations.

Then the question becomes: Okay, how do we make or break a habit?

The (annoying, I know!) answer is: It depends. Working on Better Than Before taught me one thing: there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habit change; we all have to think about what works for us.

I’ve identified 21 Strategies that we can use to make and break our habits. Some Strategies work well for some people, but don’t work at all for others (e.g., Strategies of Scheduling, Accountability, and Abstaining). Some Strategies are available to us only at certain times (e.g., Strategy of the Clean Slate and the Lightning Bolt).

We’re all different, so different habits will suit us. For instance, we often hear, “Do that important habit first thing in the morning.” That’s a great idea—if you’re a morning person. But a night person, who feels most creative and energetic later in the day, might be better off scheduling that habit for a different time. It will take less willpower to form and maintain the habit, if it suits that particular person’s nature.

Start small. Give yourself a cheat day. Do it for 30 days. These are all strategies that work for some people, some of the time. But they don’t work for everyone, or all the time, and there are many more strategies that also work. What works depends on us.

Tom Rath: I have been on a bit of a crusade over the last few years to get people moving around more throughout the day, instead of sitting in chairs for 5-10 hours. In your latest book, you talk about how much measurement helps, given how easy it is to quantify how many steps we take each day. But what would you recommend for people who are resistant to tracking their daily activity?

Gretchen Rubin: It’s true; some people resist tracking. Here are some other movement-promoting habits I follow:

I run down the stairs, instead of walking – it gives a big energy boost, just to get my feet off the ground.

I make a point of getting up every 45 minutes or so, to walk around.

I stand up and pace whenever I’m on the phone. This is highly effective.

I wish I could have a treadmill desk, but as a New-York-City-dweller, my office is too small. So I did the next best thing: I gave my sister Elizabeth Craft a treadmill desk! She’s a TV writer in L.A., and she walks between 5-7 miles each day, while working. (I have a new podcast with my sister, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and you can listen to her describe her treadmill desk here; see a photo here.)

Getting a dog is a great way to get more exercise. A big commitment, however — obviously.

As my “Four Tendencies” framework explains, “Obligers” have trouble keeping an inner expectation (such as exercising) without external accountability, so for them, the key is to create external accountability. That might mean working with a trainer, exercising with a friend, taking a class, or joining an accountability group. (If you want to know your “Tendency,” whether you’re an “Upholder,” “Questioner,” “Obliger,” or “Rebel,” take this quiz.)

Obviously, all these solutions won’t work for everyone. The key is to think about what could work for you.

Tom Rath: Of all the tweaks you have made to your own daily routine over the years, which one has created the most net well-being for you?

Gretchen Rubin: Tough question. I have lots of habits that I love. But if I had to pick a single one, I think it’s the change I made to my eating habits.

More than three years ago, while on vacation, I read Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat. I was utterly convinced by Taubes’s arguments about nutrition, and overnight, I changed almost everything about the way I eat. (This is an example of the habit-change “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.”)

Now I’ve become one of those low-carb people. I don’t eat sugar, flour, rice, grains, starchy vegetables. I almost never eat fruit. And I love it.

In the past, I struggled with my tremendous sweet tooth, and my love of snacking, I felt hungry all the time, and I fussed a lot about what I ate. Now that I eat low carb, all that noise is gone. I’m much less hungry, I find food very satisfying but not distracting, and I’ve seen great health benefits.

Not everyone would want to give up carbs the way I have. But I’ve found that for many people, it’s easier to resist a strong temptation (whether that’s chocolate, wine, or by giving it up altogether rather than trying to indulge in moderation. Abstaining sounds harder, but for some people – who are “Abstainers,” like me – it’s easier. That’s the “Strategy of Abstaining.” By contrast, “Moderators” do better when they indulge a little bit, or sometimes.

There’s no right way or wrong way, just what works for a particular person. I’ve discovered that I’m such a hard-core Abstainer that abstaining from most carbs works for me.

Another very recent habit change: I started a podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, with my sister Elizabeth Craft. We talk about how to live happier, healthier, more productive lives. We draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, pop culture—and our own experiences! We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

Having a weekly podcast meant a big change in my habits. I need to come up with ideas, brainstorm with my sister, record the episodes, post information on my site, and spread the word about the podcast. I’ve been using many of my 21 Strategies of habit change, to help me keep up with this new activity.


Gretchen Rubin: As you were writing the new book — Are You Fully Charged? — and considering the question of what aspects of life are most important to allow us to feel “fully charged,” what surprised you most?

Tom Rath: The realization that there are much more important (and practical) questions about well-being than what I had focused on in the past. Most of the research I have conducted and written about on well-being was based on asking people broad questions, usually about their satisfaction over a lifetime. But in the last few years, new research has upended my thinking on this topic. I am now convinced that daily well-being (what researchers call “daily experience”) is far more important than how we evaluate our lives when reflecting on years and decades.

The findings from this work suggest you do not need to live in a wealthy country or be rich to experience high daily well-being. In fact, four of the top five countries in the world on these measures of daily experience are in the bottom half of the list of the world’s richest countries. What was even more interesting to me is that, when you look at the central elements of daily well-being, these are far more practical changes people can make on a daily basis.

Gretchen Rubin: I imagine that many readers will find themselves nodding vigorously in agreement with your persuasive arguments in Are You Fully Charged?– but nevertheless will find it hard to change their behavior. They know you’re right, but somehow can’t follow through. What are your suggestions for people like that?

Tom Rath: This is a great question and gets at the heart of what I’m always trying to do, which is narrow down from all of the amazing research at our disposal today to basic shortcuts we can keep in mind. The title of this most recent book, Are You Fully Charged?– was an attempt to give people a very simple way to think about whether their daily actions are making a positive contribution or not. If someone reads a book of mine, remembers one thing, or changes a single behavior, that makes it worth the effort for me.

My first suggestion is to simply think about your actions throughout the day and ask whether they are adding a positive charge for yourself or others. The three specific elements I found that lead to engagement at work and daily well-being: meaning, interactions, and energy. It starts with doing a little meaningful work that makes a difference for another person in the moment). Then having far more positive than negative interactions (at least 80% positive) throughout the day. The third element is having the physical energy you need to be your best tomorrow, which starts with eating right, moving more, and sleeping better. When we ask people questions about this, for example, just 11% of people say they had a lot of physical energy yesterday. We can do much better.

Gretchen Rubin: As you’ve talked to people about the ideas in Are You Fully Charged?, what seem to be the ideas that are most exciting and helpful to readers? Is it what you expected – or not?

Tom Rath: The part that most readers are unaware of is all of the great research on how we can use money to create well-being. I mentioned before that you don’t need to be rich in order to have consistently great days. But you do need enough money to cover basic needs like food, shelter, and safety in order to avoid worrying and having stress on a daily basis. However, once you can meet your basic needs and have some discretionary financial resources, the way you spend money matters a lot.

On average, those of us who live in the United States do a poor job of estimating how our spending can improve well-being. We spend far too much on material things like clothing, cars, and housing. In contrast, we don’t take enough vacation time or spend on experiences with other people. A lot of the research that I talk about in this new book explains why we get so much more out of experiences, from going out to dinner to athletic events to more elaborate vacations, compared with spending on material goods where the effect wears off almost immediately.

The other piece that resonates with readers are the sections about how practical it can be to create meaning. Many people have a concept of meaning, mission, or purpose as some grand thing that descends from the heavens. As a result of this thinking, meaning often seems too overwhelming to pursue today.

But if you go back to some of the earliest thinking on this topic or look at the latest research, meaningful work is something that occurs on a moment-by-moment basis. The big challenge for a lot of us is to be more conscious of that fact, so we can see how small actions eventually improve the lives of another human being. If you do something today that improves another person’s well-being, this creates an upward spiral and continues to grow when you are gone.

06 May 14:58

Secret of Adulthood: Sometimes, You Have to Work Hard to Be Lazy.

by (Gretchen Rubin)

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

I feel this way often. I need to schedule time to be unscheduled, I need to force myself to wander, I have to reassure myself that staring into space is as useful as staring into my laptop.

I guess the idea isn’t so much “laziness” as  “leisureliness.”

I love the quotation from Gertrude Stein, from Everybody’s Autobiography: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

It’s easy to assume that goofing off, play, and relaxation  should be spontaneous. But I’ve learned that if something is important to me, I should find a way to put it on my calendar. That way it happens!

That’s why I have some odd habits — such as to kiss my husband every morning and every night. I use the Strategy of Scheduling to make sure I make a habit of the things I want to do.

On the weekends, I schedule time to read for fun. There’s never enough time to read!

06 May 03:06

How Does a Rebel Change Habits? One Rebel’s Clever Solutions.

by (Gretchen Rubin)

In my (bestselling) book Better Than Before, I set forth my “Four Tendencies” framework, which divides people into one of four categories, depending on how they respond to expectations. To take the quiz to find out your Tendency, go here. To read generally about the Four Tendencies, go here.

Since Better Than Before came out last month, I’ve talked a lot about the Four Tendencies. It’s definitely one of the things that readers are finding most interesting.

I love it when people tell me about their ingenious ways of working with their Tendency, in order to change their habits. For instance, I was impressed with an Obliger who figured out how to build a system of external accountability for getting up at 6:00 a.m. How would you do that? I wondered. Her solution was brilliant: on HootSuite, she’s teed up an embarrassing Facebook post that will go live at 6:15 a.m., unless she gets up in time to disable it. Problem solved!

I got an email from a Rebel, Lucia, who came up with some terrific ways to work with her Rebel Tendency to shape her habits.

Mastering habits is a particular challenge for Rebels, because of their general opposition to anything that feels like a chain or a pre-commitment. In fact, I’ve been struck by how many Rebels have contacted me, to ask about how to shape their habits — and so I asked Lucia if I could post her solutions, because other Rebels might benefit.

Lucia writes:

I had such a lightning bolt moment when I read Better than Before and identified my tendency. I’m a Rebel, and while I take distinct pride in this tendency, it is quite a difficult one to work with when trying to form habits!

The areas where I’ve struggled most have been, like a lot of people, food and exercise. I managed to adopt an exercise routine last year when I began weight lifting and boxing with my male friends. After reading your book, I realized why I have been able to maintain this strategy for so long — women typically don’t lift weights like men (bench presses, etc) and women typically don’t box. Subconsciously, the act of exercising in a way atypical of my gender has been satisfying my inner Rebel, and so I have able to stick to it. I take pride in saying, “I can leg press around 300 lbs.” Most people say, “Wow, that’s a lot for a girl,” and I think to myself, Yes, that’s right, ‘for a girl!’ I am unique and my exercise is unique!  [Here, she’s using the Strategy of Other People — Rebels delight in doing something in their own way, with an approach that’s different from others.]

Additionally, I realized why I have not been able to conquer my food habits in the same way. I read (and loved) Gary Taubes [who wrote the book Why We Get Fat, which I write about in Better Than Before] around the same time I started lifting and boxing. Since then, I have gone through cycles of climbing onto and falling off of the low carb bandwagon. Now, thanks to Better than Before, I know why! I was trying to force myself with science, and rebels listen to no one. Not even Gary Taubes (Step 1: Identify the problem). I had to think of ways to make eating healthy feel like a freedom and a choice, rather than an obligation. [This is using the Strategies of Identity and Clarity: the Rebel decides, “This is what I want, this is who I am.”] This was quite difficult, because eating healthy is such a highly encouraged habit in society. Whenever I hear people talk about “feeding their temples” and “nurturing their bodies” I grow resentful and annoyed.  So I came up with the following strategies to make eating right feel like my own special, contrarian decision:

1) Restrict quality, not quantity. Allowing myself to eat as much as I want takes the edge off of the restrictions that come with the low carb lifestyle. Whenever I get the urge to snack mindlessly, I tell myself to eat as much as I want of the low carb food in my fridge. And suddenly, the burning desire goes away.

2) Relish in cooking, and cooking things that are unique. Not many people cook all their meals, and I take pride in the fact that I do (how many people, especially 23-year-olds, make beef bourguignon?). [This is another way of using the Strategy of Other People.]

3) Relish in using foods that are demonized by misinformed nutritional science. Bacon. Steak. Butter. [This is yet another smart use of the Strategy of Other People.]

I have countless more little tricks (I’m an Abstainer) and strategies (Convenience — I prep all my meals on Sundays so they’re easy to grab). In summary, I cracked it! I have been able to keep the habit for several weeks now and am noticing the difference!

I never would have identified my Rebel tendency and been able to tackle my food habits in this way without you.

My father would like me to add that he has known this about me since I was a four, when I would wrench books out of his hands and insist hotly, “I can read it myself!

This is a great example of the fact that we can master our habits, if we do it in the way that’s right for us. When we take into account our own nature, we can set ourselves up for success.

But when we search for one-size-fits-all solutions, they often just don’t work.

How about you? Have you come up with some ways to work with your Tendency to shape your habits? As I’ve been on my book tour, I’ve loved hearing all the stories.

06 May 01:48

Why It’s a Bad Idea to “Interview for Pain.”

by (Gretchen Rubin)

One of my favorite parenting books is Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill’s Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understand the Social Lives of Children.

Like most good parenting books, the advice turns out to be just as useful when dealing with adults as it is when dealing with children. (I think about Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s brilliant How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk more often in the context of adult than of child interactions.)

As I was reading Best Friends, Worst Enemies, I was particularly struck by Thompson’s warning against “interviewing for pain.”

He describes a situation where your child complains about another child’s behavior, and then every day, when your child returns from school, you ask, “So, honey, was Pat mean to you today?”

Thompson points out that children are quick to realize that bad stories about Pat will be a good way to get your attention, and that they may seek to satisfy you, and present the facts in the most attention-grabbing way. Also, Thompson writes,

“I believe that we live the story we tell ourselves–and others–about the life we’re leading…If you constantly interview your child for pain, your child may begin to hear a story of social suffering emerge from her own mouth. Soon she will begin to believe it and will see herself as a victim….

“Please understand that I am not advising you to disbelieve our children, nor am I saying that you should not be empathic…But…don’t interview for pain, don’t nurture resentments, and don’t hold on to ancient history. Kids don’t.”

And although Thompson doesn’t make this point, it also seems to me that by asking this question, we focus a child’s attention on that part of the day. Instead of thinking about the happy interactions that took place, the child tries to remember painful interactions.

Not “interviewing for pain” seems to me to be excellent advice for dealing with children–and also adults.

For instance, I can imagine a well-meaning friend or spouse or family member asking at every meeting, “So is your ex-wife still as awful as ever?” or “Is your boss still so difficult to work with?”

Now I remind myself not to interview for pain. Yes, stay open to a discussion, if someone close to me wants to talk about something painful. Not to be dismissive, not to be eager to avoid the subject — but also not to shine such a spotlight on a difficult situation that everything good fades out.

Have you ever interviewed for pain — or perceived that someone was interviewing you for pain?

27 Apr 17:38

Bing Rewards members can get 2,000 points if they pre-order a Surface 3 this week

by John Callaham

Microsoft has launched a new promotion that will allow members of the Bing Rewards program in the US to get 2,000 points if they pre-order a new Surface 3 between now and May 4.

27 Apr 17:38

Video Upload to Instagram grabs quick fix for Lumia 830, some new features too

by Daniel Rubino

Last week, Venetasoft released a new app descriptively called Video Upload to Instagram. The app is the first standalone tool to let users grab videos from their library, crop, and upload to Instagram (the official app does not allow this, nor does 6tag).

Today, version is out and with comes a big fix for the using a Lumia 830. Additionally, there are a few new features for editing. Let's take a look.

27 Apr 17:38

The free Windows 10 upgrade is really a 'promotional activity' for Microsoft's accountants

by John Callaham

Microsoft may be offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 for consumers who own a Windows 7 or 8.1 PC. However, for accounting purposes, the company is labeling this generous deal as a "marketing and promotional activity" in order to avoid a situation that would have normally forced Microsoft to defer revenues from the Windows division in their quarterly financial results.

27 Apr 15:17

Check out Acer's new jaw-dropping 34-inch curved QHD gaming monitor

by Daniel Rubino

Looking for a new high-end computer display? Acer may have you covered. Starting in September (yes, that is awhile away) and for a wallet-punching $1,299 you can have this mega monitor for all your gaming needs.

What makes it so special? Let's take a look at the specs.

24 Apr 21:50

What’s So Bad About Gluten?

Jessica Kendrick

this is that same article I referenced at the end of andrew's post.

Nearly twenty million Americans now say that they regularly experience stomach problems after eating products that contain gluten.
Nearly twenty million Americans now say that they regularly experience stomach problems after eating products that contain gluten. Credit Illustration by Paul Rogers

Just after Labor Day, the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo stopped for a weekend at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. Each year, the event wends its way across the country like a travelling medicine show, billing itself as the largest display of gluten-free products in the United States. Banners hung from the rafters, with welcoming messages like “Plantain Flour Is the New Kale.” Plantain flour contains no gluten, and neither did anything else at the exposition (including kale). There were gluten-free chips, gluten-free dips, gluten-free soups, and gluten-free stews; there were gluten-free breads, croutons, pretzels, and beer. There was gluten-free artisanal fusilli and penne from Italy, and gluten-free artisanal fusilli and penne from the United States. Dozens of companies had set up tables, offering samples of gluten-free cheese sticks, fish sticks, bread sticks, and soy sticks. One man passed out packets of bread crumbs, made by “master bakers,” that were certified as gluten-free, G.M.O.-free, and kosher. There was even gluten-free dog food.

Gluten, one of the most heavily consumed proteins on earth, is created when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin, come into contact and form a bond. When bakers knead dough, that bond creates an elastic membrane, which is what gives bread its chewy texture and permits pizza chefs to toss and twirl the dough into the air. Gluten also traps carbon dioxide, which, as it ferments, adds volume to the loaf. Humans have been eating wheat, and the gluten in it, for at least ten thousand years. For people with celiac disease—about one per cent of the population—the briefest exposure to gluten can trigger an immune reaction powerful enough to severely damage the brushlike surfaces of the small intestine. People with celiac have to be alert around food at all times, learning to spot hidden hazards in common products, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein and malt vinegar. Eating in restaurants requires particular vigilance. Even reusing water in which wheat pasta has been cooked can be dangerous.

Until about a decade ago, the other ninety-nine per cent of Americans rarely seemed to give gluten much thought. But, led by people like William Davis, a cardiologist whose book “Wheat Belly” created an empire founded on the conviction that gluten is a poison, the protein has become a culinary villain. Davis believes that even “healthy” whole grains are destructive, and he has blamed gluten for everything from arthritis and asthma to multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and the author of another of the gluten-free movement’s foundational texts, “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers,” goes further still. Gluten sensitivity, he writes, “represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.’’

Nearly twenty million people contend that they regularly experience distress after eating products that contain gluten, and a third of American adults say that they are trying to eliminate it from their diets. One study that tracks American restaurant trends found that customers ordered more than two hundred million dishes last year that were gluten- or wheat-free. (Gluten is also found in rye and barley; a gluten-free diet contains neither these grains nor wheat.) The syndrome has even acquired a name: non-celiac gluten sensitivity. “I’ve been gluten-free these last four years, and it has changed my life,’’ Marie Papp, a photographer, told me at the expo. “I would have headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping. I know that I’m intolerant because I gave it up and I felt better. That explanation is probably not scientific enough for you. But I know how I felt, how I feel, and what I did to make it change.” She went on, “I’m a foodie. It’s been five years since I had biscotti. And I just had one here, gluten-free. And it rocks.”

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Sales of gluten-free products will exceed fifteen billion dollars by 2016, twice the amount of five years earlier. The growing list of gluten-free options has been a gift for many children, who no longer have to go through life knowing that they will never eat pizza, cookies, or cake. As with organic food, which was at first sold almost exclusively by outlets with a local clientele, the market is controlled increasingly by corporations. Goya and ShopRite both had booths at the expo; so did Glutino, which was founded in 1983 and has grown into a gluten-free conglomerate. “There were a lot of smaller gluten-free companies that were mom-and-pop-type shops,” Steven Singer, the co-founder of Glutino, said in an interview last month with the Globe and Mail. “So they had, like, a baking mix or a cookie mix, and they were all great people, but there was no business. And that is what drove us, the idea of being that one-stop shop in gluten-free, the category leader, the category captain.”

For many people, avoiding gluten has become a cultural as well as a dietary choice, and the exposition offered an entry ramp to a new kind of life. There was a travel agent who specialized in gluten-free vacations, and a woman who helps plan gluten-free wedding receptions. One vender passed out placards: “I am nut free,” “I am shellfish free,” “I am egg free,” “I am wheat free.” I also saw an advertisement for gluten-free communion wafers.

The fear of gluten has become so pronounced that, a few weeks ago, the television show “South Park” devoted an episode to the issue. South Park became the first entirely gluten-free town in the nation. Federal agents placed anyone suspected of having been “contaminated” in quarantine at a Papa John’s surrounded by razor wire. Citizens were forced to strip their cupboards of offending foods, and an angry mob took a flamethrower to the wheat fields.

“No matter what kind of sickness has taken hold of you, let’s blame gluten,’’ April Peveteaux writes in her highly entertaining book “Gluten Is My Bitch.” (Peveteaux maintains a blog with the same name.) “If you want or need to get gluten out of your diet, bravo! Kick that nasty gluten to the curb. . . . Not sure if gluten-free is for you? Perhaps gluten simply causes you some discomfort, but you’ve never been diagnosed. Then eff that gluten!’’

Wheat provides about twenty per cent of the world’s calories and more nourishment than any other source of food. Last year’s harvest, of seven hundred and eighteen million tons, amounted to roughly two hundred pounds for every person on earth. In the United States, wheat consumption appears to fluctuate according to nutritional trends. It rose steadily from the nineteen-seventies to about 2000, a reflection of the growing concern over the relationships between meat and saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease. Since then, the number of people who say that wheat, barley, and rye make them sick has soared, though wheat consumption has fallen.

Wheat is easy to grow, to store, and to ship. The chemical properties of flour and dough also make wheat versatile. Most people know that it is integral to bread, pasta, noodles, and cereal. But wheat has become a hidden ingredient in thousands of other products, including soups, sauces, gravies, dressings, spreads, and snack foods, and even processed meats and frozen vegetables. Nearly a third of the foods found in American supermarkets contain some component of wheat—usually gluten or starch, or both.

The most obvious question is also the most difficult to answer: How could gluten, present in a staple food that has sustained humanity for thousands of years, have suddenly become so threatening? There are many theories but no clear, scientifically satisfying answers. Some researchers argue that wheat genes have become toxic. Davis has said that bread today is nothing like the bread found on tables just fifty years ago: “What’s changed is that wheat’s adverse effects on human health have been amplified many-fold. . . .The version of ‘wheat’ we consume today is a product of genetic research. . . . You and I cannot, to any degree, obtain the forms of wheat that were grown fifty years ago, let alone one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand years ago. . . . We have to restrict other carbohydrates beyond wheat, but wheat still stands apart as the worst of the worst.’’ Perlmutter is less restrained: “As many as forty percent of us can’t properly process gluten, and the remaining sixty percent could be in harm’s way.”

Although dietary patterns have changed dramatically in the past century, our genes have not. The human body has not evolved to consume a modern Western diet, with meals full of sugary substances and refined, high-calorie carbohydrates. Moreover, most of the wheat we eat today has been milled into white flour, which has plenty of gluten but few vitamins or nutrients, and can cause the sharp increases in blood sugar that often lead to diabetes and other chronic diseases.

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Donald Kasarda, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has studied wheat genetics for decades. In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, he found no evidence that a change in wheat-breeding practices might have led to an increase in the incidence of celiac disease. “My survey of protein content in wheat in the U.S. over approximately the past one hundred years did not support such an increase on the basis of historical data in comparison with recent data,’’ he subsequently told an interviewer.

Joseph A. Murray, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and the president of the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease, has also studied wheat genetics. He agrees with Kasarda. “The wheat grain is not a lot different than it was fifty years ago,’’ Murray told me. “Chemically, the contents just have not changed much. And there is something more important to note. Wheat consumption is going down, not up. I don’t think this is a problem that can be linked to the genetics of wheat.”

But something strange is clearly going on. For reasons that remain largely unexplained, the incidence of celiac disease has increased more than fourfold in the past sixty years. Researchers initially attributed the growing number of cases to greater public awareness and better diagnoses. But neither can fully account for the leap since 1950. Murray and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic discovered the increase almost by accident. Murray wanted to examine the long-term effects of undiagnosed celiac disease. To do that, he analyzed blood samples that had been taken from nine thousand Air Force recruits between 1948 and 1954. The researchers looked for antibodies to an enzyme called transglutaminase; they are a reliable marker for celiac disease. Murray assumed that one per cent of the soldiers would test positive, matching the current celiac rate. Instead, the team found the antibodies in the blood of just two-tenths of one per cent of the soldiers. Then they compared the results with samples taken recently from demographically similar groups of twenty- and seventy-year-old men. In both groups, the biochemical markers were present in about one per cent of the samples.

“That suggested that whatever has happened with celiac disease has happened since 1950,’’ Murray said. “The increase affected young and old people equally.” These results imply that the cause is environmental.

Nobody can say for sure why the rise in celiac disease has been so rapid. The modern diet may be to blame. And there is also growing evidence, in animal studies and in humans, that our microbiome—the many bacterial species inhabiting our gut—can have a significant impact on a range of diseases. None of that, however, explains why so many people who don’t have celiac disease feel the need to give up gluten.

Gluten anxiety has been building for years, but it didn’t become acute until 2011, when a group led by Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and the director of the G.I. unit at the Alfred Hospital, in Melbourne, seemed to provide evidence that gluten was capable of causing illness even in people who did not have celiac disease. Gibson and his colleagues recruited thirty-four people with irritable-bowel syndrome, all of whom had complained of stomach ailments that largely disappeared when they stopped eating gluten. He put them all on a strictly monitored gluten-free diet, but, unbeknownst to the subjects, about half got muffins and bread with gluten. It was a double-blind study, so neither the doctors nor the patients knew which muffins and bread contained gluten. But most of those who ate the gluten reported that the pain returned; for most of the others it did not. The study was small but meticulous, and the results were compelling. Several similar studies are now under way, but dietary research is notoriously time-consuming and difficult.

Gibson published his findings in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, but, along with other experts, he urged restraint in interpreting data from such a small study. Nevertheless, millions of people with vague symptoms of gastric distress suddenly found something concrete for which to blame their troubles. The market boomed, but the essential mystery remained unsolved: Why was gluten suddenly so hazardous? Perhaps, researchers thought, farmers had increased the protein (and gluten) content of wheat so drastically that people could no longer digest it properly.

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But there is more to wheat than gluten. Wheat also contains a combination of complex carbohydrates, and the Australian team wondered if these could be responsible for the problems. Gibson and his colleagues devised a different study: they recruited a group of thirty-seven volunteers who seemed unable to digest gluten properly. This time, the researchers attempted to rule out the carbohydrates and confirm gluten as the culprit. Gibson put all the volunteers on a diet that was gluten-free and also free of a group of carbohydrates that he and his colleagues called FODMAPs, an acronym for a series of words that few people will ever remember: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Not all carbohydrates are considered FODMAPs, but many types of foods contain them, including foods that are high in fructose, like honey, apples, mangoes, and watermelon; dairy products, like milk and ice cream; and fructans, such as garlic and onions.

Most people have no trouble digesting FODMAPs, but these carbohydrates are osmotic, which means that they pull water into the intestinal tract. That can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. When the carbohydrates enter the small intestine undigested, they move on to the colon, where bacteria begin to break them down. That process causes fermentation, and one product of fermentation is gas. In Gibson’s new study, when the subjects were placed on a diet free of both gluten and FODMAPs, their gastrointestinal symptoms abated. After two weeks, all of the participants reported that they felt better. Some subjects were then secretly given food that contained gluten; the symptoms did not recur. The study provided evidence that the 2011 study was wrong—or, at least, incomplete. The cause of the symptoms seemed to be FODMAPs, not gluten; no biological markers were found in the blood, feces, or urine to suggest that gluten caused any unusual metabolic response.

In fact, FODMAPs seem more likely than gluten to cause widespread intestinal distress, since bacteria regularly ferment carbohydrates but ferment protein less frequently. Although a FODMAP-free diet is complicated, it permits people to eliminate individual foods temporarily and then reintroduce them systematically to determine which, if any, are responsible for their stomach problems. FODMAPs are not as trendy as gluten and not as easy to understand. But, biologically, their role makes more sense, Murray says.

“That first paper, in 2011, blew our minds,” Murray told me. “Essentially, it said that people are intolerant of gluten, and it was based on a well-designed, double-blind study. When people were challenged with gluten, by eating the muffins, they got sick. We just couldn’t figure it out. But then came the second study. By then, it was almost too late to put the genie back in the bottle. You have millions of people out there completely convinced that they feel better when they don’t eat gluten—and they don’t want to hear anything different.”

The FODMAP research, while influential and highly regarded, involved fewer than a hundred people, not enough to account definitively for the number of people who have abandoned foods that contain gluten. Several groups are trying to repeat those results. But studies like that take time. At present, there are no blood tests, biopsies, genetic markers, or antibodies that can confirm a diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There have been a few studies suggesting that people without celiac disease have a reason to eliminate gluten from their diet. But most of the data are unclear or preliminary. Doctors rarely diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and many don’t believe that it exists. Few people seem to have been deterred by the lack of evidence. “Everyone is trying to figure out what is going on, but nobody in medicine, at least not in my field, thinks this adds up to anything like the number of people who say they feel better when they take gluten out of their diet,” Murray said. “It’s hard to put a number on these things, but I would have to say that at least seventy per cent of it is hype and desire. There is just nothing obviously related to gluten that is wrong with most of these people.’’

About a month ago, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the role that gluten plays in our diet, I flew to Seattle, then drove north for an hour, to Mount Vernon, where Washington State University’s Bread Lab is situated. The lab is part of the university’s wheat-breeding program; by studying the diversity of the grains grown in the Pacific Northwest, researchers there hope to determine which are most suitable for baking, brewing, and making pasta. Dan Barber, a chef and the co-owner of the Blue Hill restaurants, in Manhattan and in Pocantico Hills, had suggested that I visit Stephen Jones, a molecular cytogeneticist and the lab’s director. Barber, in his recent book “The Third Plate,” describes Jones as a savior of traditional wheat in a world that has transformed most crops into bland industrial commodities. I was more eager to hear what he had to say about the implications of adding extra gluten to bread dough, which has become routine in industrial bakeries.

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Jones, a strapping man with an aw-shucks manner, has spent the past twenty-five years trying to figure out the best way to make a loaf of bread. The amount of gluten added to industrially made bread keeps increasing, and Jones has become acutely interested in whether that extra gluten may be at least partly responsible for the gastrointestinal distress reported by so many people. “My Ph.D. was on the genetics of loaf volume—looking at chromosomes and relating them to the strength of the dough in bread,’’ Jones said, as he greeted me at the entrance to the research center. The inviting, if somewhat incongruous, aroma of freshly baked bread filled the building. Jones’s lab is unique; few bakeries have Brabender farinographs, which Jones and his team use in their search for the ideal ratio of gluten to water in dough, and to measure the strength of flour. Nor can there be many labs with a Matador deck baking oven, which can accommodate more than a dozen loaves at a time, and which circulates heat uniformly, at hot enough temperatures, to insure a voluminous loaf and the strongest possible crust.

For all the high-tech gadgets on display in the Bread Lab, the operation is decidedly old-fashioned, relying on stone mills of a type that have not been used for more than a century and on a philosophy that all it takes to make genuine and delicious whole-wheat bread is time, talent, flour, a little salt, and lots of water. There are essentially two ways to turn flour into bread. The first is the way it was done for most of human history: let the flour absorb as much water as possible and give it time to ferment, a process that allows yeast and bacteria to activate the dough. Kneading then binds the two proteins that come together to form gluten. Most of the bread consumed in the United States is made the other way: in place of hydration, fermentation, and kneading, manufacturers save time by relying on artificial additives and huge industrial mixers to ram together the essential proteins that form gluten.

Until the late nineteenth century, when steel rollers and industrial mills came into use, wheat was ground on stones, a slow and imprecise process. Steel was fast, efficient, and easy to maintain, and it permitted millers to discard the germ and the bran in the wheat kernel and then rapidly process the starchy endosperm. This made white flour. Almost nobody seemed to notice, or care, that by tossing out the rest of the kernel industrial bakers were stripping bread of its vitamins, its fibre, and most of its healthy fats. White bread was seen as an affordable luxury. Like many Jews arriving from Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, my great-grandfather had never seen white bread before, but when he did he immediately made what was referred to, at least in my family, as an “American sandwich”: he took two pieces of the black bread that he had always eaten, and carefully placed a piece of industrially made white bread between them. He is said to have been delighted.

The Bread Lab team, which includes the patient, inventive baker Jonathan Bethony, uses whole grains, water, salt, and yeast. Nothing else. Whole-wheat bread, even when it’s good, is usually dense and chewy, and rarely moist; Bethony’s bread was remarkably airy and light. It contains only the natural gluten formed by kneading the flour. Most bakers, even those who would never go near an industrial mixing machine, include an additive called vital wheat gluten to strengthen the dough and to help the loaf rise. (In general, the higher the protein content of wheat, the more gluten it contains.)

Vital wheat gluten is a powdered, concentrated form of the gluten that is found naturally in all bread. It is made by washing wheat flour with water until the starches dissolve. Bakers add extra gluten to their dough to provide the strength and elasticity necessary for it to endure the often brutal process of commercial mixing. Vital wheat gluten increases shelf life and acts as a binder; because it’s so versatile, food companies have added it not only to bread but to pastas, snacks, cereals, and crackers, and as a thickener in hundreds of foods and even in some cosmetics. Chemically, vital wheat gluten is identical to regular gluten, and no more likely to cause harm. But the fact that it is added to the protein already in the flour worries Jones. “Vital wheat gluten is a crutch,’’ he said. “It’s all storage and functionality. No flavor. People act as if it were magic. But there is no magic to food.”

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Jones is a careful scientist, and he said more than once that he had no evidence that a growing reliance on any single additive could explain why celiac disease has become more common, or why so many people say that they have trouble digesting gluten. But he and his colleagues are certain that vital wheat gluten makes bread taste like mush. “Flour that is sliced and packed into plastic wrapping in less than three hours—that’s not bread,’’ Jones said. He and Bethany Econopouly, one of his doctoral students, recently published an essay in the Huffington Post in which they argue that the legal definition of the word “bread” has become meaningless and ought to be changed: “FDA regulations state that for bread to be labeled as ‘bread,’ it must be made of flour, yeast, and a moistening ingredient, usually water. When bleached flour is used, chemicals like acetone peroxide, chlorine, and benzoyl peroxide (yes, the one used to treat acne) can be included in the recipe and are masked under the term ‘bleached.’ Optional ingredients are also permissible in products called bread: shortening, sweeteners, ground dehulled soybeans, coloring, potassium bromate . . . and other dough strengtheners (such as bleaching agents and vital gluten).”

Could millions of people simply be eating too much vital wheat gluten? There are no real data to answer that question, but Jones is not alone in seeking to gain a better understanding of the potential physiological impact. Joseph Murray, at the Mayo Clinic, has begun studying its effect on the immune system. Murray says, “This is a major component of the bread we eat, and we don’t know much about it. It’s very important that we figure out what effect, if any, there is when we add all that extra gluten to bread.’’

Paradoxically, the increased consumption of vital wheat gluten can be attributed, at least in part, to a demand for healthier baked goods. It is not possible to manufacture, package, and ship large amounts of industrially made whole-grain bread without adding something to help strengthen the dough. Jones refers to these products generically as “Bob’s groovy breads.’’ Look closely at labels of “healthy” whole-wheat breads, and it’s easy to understand what he means. (After my trip to Seattle, the first bread I saw that advertised itself as having been milled from hundred-per-cent whole grains contained many ingredients. The first four, listed in descending order of weight or volume, were whole-wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, and wheat fibre. In other words: gluten, water, more gluten, and fibrous gluten.) In the promotional videos for Dave’s Killer Bread, a popular brand, the founder, Dave, speaks glowingly about the properties of gluten. Pictures of the factory show pallets stacked with fifty-pound bags of vital wheat gluten. “I just wonder how much of this additional gluten our bodies can digest,’’ Jones told me when I was at the Bread Lab. “There has to be some limit.”

I was having trouble visualizing vital wheat gluten as a discrete substance. When I said that, Jones nodded at Econopouly, and she left the room. Two minutes later, she returned and handed me a shard of vital wheat gluten. It looked like a prehistoric weapon, or the hardened bone marrow of a small mammal. “We put a plug of gluten in Coke and it foamed for a while, then became a glob that sat there for weeks,’’ Jones said. “It didn’t disintegrate into slime and mush. It just stayed there.’’ He took the plug out of my hands and slapped it on the lab counter. Nothing happened. “The stuff is simply indestructible,’’ he said.

The next morning, before leaving Seattle, I stopped by the offices of Intellectual Ventures, the patent and invention factory run by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft. Myhrvold has long been a serious amateur chef and has also served as a gastronomic adviser to the Zagat Survey. Three years ago, he published “Modernist Cuisine: the Art and Science of Cooking,’’ a six-volume, twenty-four-hundred-page set of books that quickly became an essential guide for chefs around the world. Since then, Myhrvold and his team have been working on an equally ambitious follow-up project, tentatively called “The Art and Science of Bread.’’ The book won’t be ready for at least another year, but Myhrvold has said that it will be both a comprehensive history of bread and an exhaustive guide to baking it.

The project’s chef, Francisco Migoya, asked me if I had ever eaten gluten by itself. I shook my head. He placed a small ball of raw gluten in a microwave and pressed start. After about twenty seconds, the gluten puffed up like a balloon, at which point it was removed, set carefully on a plate, and served. It had the texture of pork rind. Gluten has a long culinary history, and has become a common substitute for meat and tofu. In Asia, where it is particularly popular, gluten is called seitan, and it is often steamed, fried, or baked.

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Myhrvold wasn’t in town that day, but I caught up with him later. He is highly opinionated, and delights in controversy; saying the words “gluten-free” to him was like waving a red flag at a bull. “When I was a kid, I would watch National Geographic specials all the time,’’ he told me. “Often, they would travel to remote places and talk to shamans about evil spirits. It was an era of true condescension; the idea was that we know better and these poor people are noble, but they think that spirits are everywhere. That is exactly what this gluten-free thing is all about.” He stressed that he was not referring to people with celiac disease or questioning the possibility that some others might also have trouble eating gluten. “For most people, this is in no way different from saying, ‘Oh, my God, we are cursed.’ We have undergone what amounts to an attack of evil spirits: gluten will destroy your brain, it will give you cancer, it will kill you. We are the same people who talk to shamans.

“To find out the effect something like gluten has on people’s diets is complicated,’’ he said. “We’ll need long-term studies, and there won’t be a useful answer for years. So, instead of telling everyone you are going on a gluten-free diet, what if you said, ‘Hey, I am going on an experimental regimen, and it will be years before we know what effect it might have.’ I don’t know about you, but instead of saying ‘Eat this because it will be good for you,’ I would say, ‘Good luck.’ ’’

Fad dieting is nothing new in America; it’s what we do instead of eating balanced, nutritiously wholesome meals. Scarsdale, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, flexitarian, pescatarian, and paleo have all been awarded their fifteen minutes of fame and then shoved aside for the next great diet. They are rarely effective for long. Some nutrition specialists say that the current preoccupation with gluten-free products reminds them of the national obsession with removing fats from foods in the late nineteen-eighties. “Low-fat” foods are often packed with sugar and calories to make up for the lack of fat. The same is true of many products that are advertised as “gluten-free.”

While there are no scientific data to demonstrate that millions of people have become allergic or intolerant to gluten (or to other wheat proteins), there is convincing and repeated evidence that dietary self-diagnoses are almost always wrong, particularly when the diagnosis extends to most of society. We still feel more comfortable relying on anecdotes and intuition than on statistics or data. Since the nineteen-sixties, for example, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been vilified. Even now, it is common to see Chinese restaurants advertise their food as “MSG-free.” The symptoms that MSG is purported to cause—headaches and palpitations are among the most frequently cited—were initially described as “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” in a letter published, in 1968, in The New England Journal of Medicine. The Internet is filled with sites that name the “hidden” sources of MSG. Yet, after decades of study, there is no evidence that MSG causes those symptoms or any others. This should surprise no one, since there are no chemical differences between the naturally occurring glutamate ions in our bodies and those present in the MSG we eat. Nor is MSG simply an additive: there is MSG in tomatoes, Parmesan, potatoes, mushrooms, and many other foods.

Our abject fear of eating fat has long been among the more egregious examples of the lack of connection between nutritional facts and the powerful myths that govern our eating habits. For decades, low-fat diets have been recommended for weight loss and to prevent heart disease. Food companies have altered thousands of products so that they can be labelled as low in fat, but replacing those fats with sugars, salt, and refined carbohydrates makes the food even less healthy. “Almost all of this has proved to be nonsense,’’ Myhrvold said. “Research shows that the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t really linked to weight or disease. What matters is the type of fat and the total calories you consume.” Bad fats increase the risk of death from heart disease and good fats lower it.

Margarine is a bad fat. Yet for decades doctors encouraged consumers to eat it, instead of butter, because butter is laden with saturated fat, which was considered even more dangerous than the fat in margarine. The assumption was not tested until the early nineteen-nineties, when researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health began to analyze data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which had followed the health of ninety thousand nurses for more than a decade. The study showed that women who ate four teaspoons of margarine a day had a fifty per cent greater risk of heart disease than those who rarely or never ate margarine. Yet again, the intuitive advice followed by so many people had been wrong.

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Peter H. R. Green, the director of the celiac-disease center at the Columbia University medical school and one of the nation’s most prominent celiac doctors, says that the opposition to gluten has followed a similar pattern, and that it is harming at least as many people as it is helping. “This is a largely self-diagnosed disease,’’ Green said, when I visited his office, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “In the absence of celiac disease, physicians don’t usually tell people they are sensitive to gluten. This is becoming one of the most difficult problems that I face in my daily practice.”

He went on, “I recently saw a retired executive of an international company. He got a life coach to help him, and one of the pieces of advice the coach gave him was to get on a gluten-free diet. A life coach is prescribing a gluten-free diet. So do podiatrists, chiropractors, even psychiatrists.’’ He stopped, stood up, shook his head as if he were about to say something he shouldn’t, then shrugged and sat down again. “A friend of mine told me his wife was seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression. And one of the first things the psychiatrist did was to put her on a gluten-free diet. This is getting out of hand. We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa”—people who progressively withdraw different foods in what they perceive as an attempt to improve their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it. Worse is what parents are doing to their children. It’s cruel and unusual treatment to put a child on a gluten-free diet without its being indicated medically. Parental perception of a child’s feeling better on a gluten-free diet is even weaker than self-perception.”

The initial appeal, and potential success, of a gluten-free diet is not hard to understand, particularly for people with genuine stomach ailments. Cutting back on foods that contain gluten often helps people reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates, bread, beer, and other highly caloric foods. When followed carefully, those restrictions help people lose weight, particularly if they substitute foods like quinoa and lentils for the starches they had been eating. But eliminating gluten is complicated, inconvenient, and costly, and data suggest that most people don’t do it for long.

The diet can also be unhealthy. “Often, gluten-free versions of traditional wheat-based foods are actually junk food,’’ Green said. That becomes clear after a cursory glance at the labels of many gluten-free products. Ingredients like rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch are often used as replacements for white flour. But they are highly refined carbohydrates, and release at least as much sugar into the bloodstream as the foods that people have forsaken. “Our patients have jumped on this bandwagon and largely left the medical community wondering what the hell is going on,’’ Green said.

“You know, people are always dropping off samples of gluten-free products at our office. And when I eat them I regret it. I get heartburn. I feel nauseous. Because what are the things that sell food? Salt, sugar, fat, and gluten. If the makers take one away, then they add more of another to keep it attractive to people. If you don’t have celiac disease, then these diets are not going to help you.” People seem to forget that a gluten-free cake is still a cake.

I have been baking bread for more than thirty years, and there are few things I find more satisfying than turning a pound of wheat into something that I can feed to my friends. But it’s not always easy to believe in gluten these days. A couple of years ago, having learned that the nutrients and vitamins in wheat berries begin to degrade soon after they are processed, I bought a home mill and began to make my own flour. I started ordering wheat, in fifty-pound buckets, from places in Montana and South Dakota. I bought books that explained the differences between hard red winter wheat, which is good for whole-grain bread, and soft white wheat, which has a lower protein content and is used mostly for cookies, cakes, and pastries. I acquired sourdough starter from a friend, and treat it like a pet.

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I have run into a couple of problems, however. The first was technical: I couldn’t make the wheat rise. I decided early on to bake only whole-wheat bread, but there just wasn’t enough protein in any combination of the grains I used. The bread often looked like brown matzoh, so I began to root around the Internet, and soon stumbled on the solution: vital wheat gluten. (“If you want to keep your bread 100% whole wheat, vital wheat gluten is your new best friend,’’ a message on one bread forum said. “This stuff is super-concentrated gluten flour, and it really helps to give low-gluten doughs better structure.”) That turned out to be true. It was like pumping air into a flat tire. A few tablespoons mixed into my flour, and the bread became elastic and chewy, and it looked like a normal loaf of bread; vital wheat gluten became my magic wand. Gradually, another problem arose, as more and more of my friends began to say, “Thanks, but I am staying away from gluten these days.”

I told Jonathan Bethony, the baker at the Bread Lab, about my gluten issue. Then he told me about his. “I went into baking because I thought it was a wholesome form of expression,’’ he said while kneading a loaf he would bake the next day. “I kept hearing about this gluten thing all the time. How gluten was so dangerous, and it was really getting me down in my heart. I started to ask myself, Am I making people sick? Have I become this spear of death?’’ He began to think about a different profession.

“It came to a head one day while I was working at a groovy natural health-food store in the Bay Area,” he went on. “My wife came home from work and said, ‘Sweetie, there is something I have to tell you. The doctor said that I am gluten intolerant. I can’t eat bread anymore.’ ” Bethony looked up from his dough. “I held it in as long as I could, but I just lost it. I had brought a loaf home with me, and I went charging up the stairs as fast as I could and launched that loaf from the balcony like a football.’’ Now Bethony wondered whether he ought to quit. But a famous baker lived nearby, and encouraged him to stick with it. He taught him to bake with nothing but whole grains and lots of water, and to leave plenty of time for the bread to ferment. The results have been sublime.

Later that week, I flew back to New York, went home, and dumped my vital wheat gluten in the trash. I have returned to baking whole-wheat bread the way it is supposed to be made: water, yeast, flour, and salt. I will try to live without the magic wand. But I am certainly not going to live without gluten. That just seems silly. ♦

24 Apr 21:42

Microsoft will pay you if you identify a security issue in Project Spartan for Window 10

by John Callaham

If you are a security researcher, you may be able to get some extra money from Microsoft if you identify a previously unknown security issue in "Project Spartan", the web browser that will be included in Windows 10.

23 Apr 21:14

The CyberPower Trinity, and its three-blade case, is one strange looking Windows 8.1 PC

by John Callaham

Gaming PC maker CyberPower may have created one of the oddest-looking cases we have ever seen from a well-known OEM. The CyberPower Trinity is a Windows 8.1 machine with three blades connected to a central spoke, with each blade containing parts of the hardware.

23 Apr 21:14

Microsoft to sell unique 32GB version of Surface 3 just for schools

by John Callaham

Microsoft will sell a unique version of its upcoming 10.6-inch Surface 3 tablet just for schools. This version will only have 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, which should make it more affordable for educational institutions. In addition, Microsoft is extending its 10% school discount to include the Surface 3, along with its Type Cover and the Surface Pen.

23 Apr 21:12

VLC for Windows Phone picks up a responsive layout, several new features in latest update

by Harish Jonnalagadda

VLC media player for Windows Phone picked up an update to version 1.3 that includes a more responsive layout along with features such as the ability to browse for content stored in a folder directly from the app, updated design for the video player and much more.

23 Apr 21:12

AutoCAD 360 for Windows 8.1 adds new tools with latest update

by John Callaham

Autodesk has released its latest update for the AutoCAD 360 app for Windows 8.1, adding some new tools for users of the 3D model creation and viewing app.

23 Apr 21:11

Windows Phone users can now upload videos to Instagram with this new app (Update)

by Daniel Rubino

Free code for the first 200 posted below!

Although 6tag is the de facto Instagram app for those using Windows Phone due to its advanced and unique features, one thing it cannot do is upload pre-recorded video. Instead, users need to open the app and record directly. This limitation is problematic if you recorded a video earlier and wanted to add it to Instagram at a later date, or perhaps did not have free internet connectivity for the upload.

Today, we are excited to announce a new third-party app dedicated to this single task. It is appropriately called 'Video Upload to Instagram' and Venetasoft makes it. If that name sounds familiar, it is because they also publish the excellent Band Sensor Monitor, Find My Band, and the excellent Movie Maker 8.1.

16 Apr 01:32

Best Buy will give you at least $200 towards a Surface Pro 3 when you trade in your old tablet

by John Callaham
Jessica Kendrick

So is that a deal? this is the offical verbage on the best buy website:

Valid in store only 4/12/15-4/18/15. Coupon redemption valid until 4/25/15. When you trade in a working tablet, get a minimum $50 Best Buy gift card and a $150 coupon good toward purchase of a new Surface Pro 3. Excludes Outlet and Marketplace items, special order, clearance, demo and open-box items. E-readers and Boogie Boards ineligible for trade-in. Not available in all locations, and some stores may have additional limitations. Trade-in value may vary. Condition, documentation and accessories may affect value. Device must power on to be considered working. Water-damaged devices and devices with cracked screens are not considered working devices for purposes of this offer. Warranty seals must be intact for trade-in. Not compatible with other trade-in offers. You are responsible for removing any data from your product before providing the product for evaluation. You will be required to agree to the Terms & Conditions. Best Buy Trade-In is intended for private, non-commercial use. Limit of 2 trade-in tablets per person. Limit 1 coupon per transaction. Best Buy reserves the right to refuse any trade-in or limit quantities for any reason. See a Customer Specialist for details.

I wonder if we could trade in our very old (but still kinda working) tablets-- I have an original iPad and Arthur has a... arthur what is that thing you bought from Paul?

Best Buy is currently running a promotion in its retail stores that offers potential buyers of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 at least $200 towards the purchase of the 12-inch device if they trade in any old, but still working, tablet.

16 Apr 01:31

Take a look inside the Microsoft Garage, the home of 'Doers, not talkers'

by Richard Devine

The Microsoft Garage is an interesting place where some generally awesome ideas develop and grow into products we may or may not get to see. A large organization like Microsoft has many labs, like that totally secret development of HoloLens, and in a pretty detailed post, the doors to the Garage have been opened for us all to have a peek inside.

08 Apr 18:40

Goodbye, Lumia 1520 as AT&T and Microsoft Stores stop selling the aging phablet

by Daniel Rubino
Jessica Kendrick

boo hoo. it's a great phone, and I can only hope it's successor is just as awesome.

Of all the Lumia phones to get a SIM card installed, the Lumia 1520 goes down for me as the longest running device to date. This is saying a lot considering I own pretty much every Lumia made. So with that news, it is sad to note that AT&T and even the Microsoft Store have discontinued selling the esteemed large-screened Windows Phone.

Reports of the Lumia 1520 fading into the sunset have been circulating for months now. Third party retailers have been running low here and overseas, hinting that the Lumia 1520 was getting retired.

Heading to AT&T's and the Microsoft Store web reveal that only the Lumia 830, Lumia 635, and Lumia 640 XL (coming soon) are listed as available Lumia phones. The HTC One (M8) is also still listed as well.

08 Apr 04:56

Deal Alert: Amazon is selling one year of Office 365 Personal for just $26.77

by John Callaham

Amazon has cut the price down for a one year subscription to Office 365 Personal to just $26.77. That's a massive 62% reduction compared to Microsoft's normal price of $69.99 a year.

08 Apr 04:54

Own a piece of history: Lumia neon scooters up for sale!

by Daniel Rubino

Back in early 2013, Nokia and Verizon were teaming up to launch the new Lumia 928. This was the first PureView device for Verizon and with it came an exciting ad campaign highlighting the camera's low light capability.

In the video that aired on US television, you can see some electroluminescent scooters at the 18 second mark. They were certainly eye catching, but we thought nothing more of it.

Until now.

08 Apr 04:52

“I Formed a ‘Resolution Club’ with Three Friends. We Each Had Different Resolutions.”

by gretchenrubin

Interview: David Lat.

I got to know David Lat through our connection as being combination lawyer/writers. He founded and is the managing editor of Above the Law, a site which covers law firms and the legal profession (in an edgy way).

David recently published his dishy first novel, Supreme Ambitions. It’s the story of a woman who graduates from Yale Law School and wants to clerk on the Supreme Court. As a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, you can see why this intrigued me.

I was curious to hear how David manages his novel-writing habits, work habits, and health habits.

Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

David Lat: Procrastination. I postpone difficult, unpleasant, or challenging tasks until they can’t be postponed any longer. Running a widely read, commercial blog like Above the Law has been good for me because I can’t indulge my procrastination habit; I constantly need to be writing and editing. But procrastination was a major problem when I was trying to write my novel, Supreme Ambitions, which was a much more long-term project.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I managed to pick up a healthy habit (walk at least 15 miles a week) and break an unhealthy one (excessive consumption of desserts and sweets) by forming a “resolution club” with three friends. We each had different resolutions we brought to the group. Every Monday, we’d check in with each other: did we keep our resolutions over the prior week? Those who failed to honor their resolutions had to pay $20 to the other group members — and also had the shame of acknowledging failure. [If you’d like a “starter kit” for launching a group of people who work on their habits together, click here.]

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  [Readers, to learn more about this framework, or to find your own Tendency, look here.]

I’m definitely an “Obliger.” When I was in school, I would do assignments to meet the expectations of my professors. When I worked as a law clerk and then a lawyer, I would complete projects to meet the expectations of my bosses. Now that I basically work for myself, running Above the Law and doing outside writing, I struggle more with getting things done. When I was working on Supreme Ambitions, I would have a hard time sitting down and producing pages. I didn’t start making real progress until, acknowledging my “Obliger” personality, I told my editor Jon that I would send him some pages every Monday. He didn’t have to read them immediately, but I committed to sending them to him every Monday, which at least kept me writing so I could meet Jon’s expectations.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Travel interferes with my healthy habit of going to group fitness classes at my gym. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months on book tour. I try to exercise in other ways while on the road, but I do miss my classes. What’s great about classes is that they occur at fixed times, and I make an “appointment” with my friend and workout buddy Jen to go to certain classes, ensuring that I actually go. But when I’m traveling, that’s not possible.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Generally I resist habits. I enjoy spontaneity, novelty, and excitement; I like every day to be different. So I have relatively few habits, since I associate habits with routine, and routine with a lack of freedom. But maybe I’m overlooking the way that good or healthy habits “free us” to be our better selves.

31 Mar 17:56

Microsoft brings super-fast WiFi to Seattle Center using TV 'white space'

by Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Microsoft is using Seattle Center — home of the iconic Space Needle — as a testbed for a super-fast WiFi network.

Announced today, the technology Microsoft is testing takes advantage of "TV white space" — frequencies that have typically been reserved as television broadcast space.

31 Mar 17:54

Bing search logs show just how enthusiastic cricket fans are

by Harish Jonnalagadda
Jessica Kendrick

cool visualization. I was surprised they didn't even cover the US though-- there appeared to be WAY more cricket fans that I ever thought.

A program manager from the Bing team took anonymous search logs generated throughout the Cricket World Cup 2015, and then fed the data into Excel's Power Map feature. Interested in what he found? Check out the video above.

31 Mar 17:50

Gallery: Project Spartan in Windows 10 technical preview 10049

by Richard Devine

With the release of build 10049 of the Windows 10 technical preview, Microsoft finally lets us take a look at its all new, Project Spartan web browser.

To make it easy to find Spartan is automatically pinned to the task bar after the update. Inside you'll find Cortana (or not, as the case may be), the distraction free reading mode, the ability to draw and write over web pages and more.