Livin' on the MDedge

Low-calorie tastes sweeter with a little salt


Low-calorie tastes sweeter with a little salt

Diet and sugar-free foods and drinks seem like a good idea, but it’s hard to get past that strange aftertaste, right? It’s the calling card for the noncaloric aspartame- and stevia-containing sweeteners that we consume to make us feel like we can have the best of both worlds.

That weird lingering taste can be a total turn-off for some (raises hand), but researchers have found an almost facepalm solution to the not-so-sweet problem, and it’s salt.

wooden spoon holding salt Jason Tuinstra/Unsplash

Now, the concept of sweet and salty is not a far-fetched partnership when it comes to snack consumption (try M&Ms in your popcorn). The researchers at Almendra, a manufacturer of stevia sweeteners, put that iconic flavor pair to the test by adding mineral salts that have some nutritional value to lessen the effect of a stevia compound, rebaudioside A, found in noncaloric sweeteners.

The researchers added in magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, and potassium chloride separately to lessen rebaudioside A’s intensity, but they needed so much salt that it killed the sweet taste completely. A blend of the three mineral salts, however, reduced the lingering taste by 79% and improved the real sugar-like taste. The researchers tried this blend in reduced-calorie orange juice and a citrus-flavored soft drink, improving the taste in both.

The salty and sweet match comes in for the win once again. This time helping against the fight of obesity instead of making it worse.

Pseudomonas’ Achilles’ heel is more of an Achilles’ genetic switch

Today, on the long-awaited return of “Bacteria vs. the World,” we meet one of the rock stars of infectious disease.

LOTME: Through the use of imaginary technology, we’re talking to Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Thanks for joining us on such short notice, after Neisseria gonorrhoeae canceled at the last minute.

P. aeruginosa: No problem. I think we can all guess what that little devil is up to.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa colonizes lung mucosa (blue) by forming two subpopulations – sessile (red) and motile (green) Benoit-Joseph Laventie, Biozentrum, University of Basel

LOTME: Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a huge problem for our species. What makes you so hard to fight?

P. aeruginosa: We’ve been trying to keep that a secret, actually, but now that researchers in Switzerland and Denmark seem to have figured it out, I guess it’s okay for me to spill the beans.

LOTME: Beans? What do beans have to do with it?

P. aeruginosa: Nothing, it’s just a colloquial expression that means I’m sharing previously private information.

LOTME: Sure, we knew that. Please, continue your spilling.

P. aeruginosa: The secret is … Well, let’s just say we were a little worried when the Clash released “Should I Stay or Should I Go” back in the 1980s.

LOTME: The Clash? Now we’re really confused.

P. aeruginosa: The answer to their question, “Should I stay or should I go? is yes. Successful invasion of a human is all about division of labor. “While one fraction of the bacterial population adheres to the mucosal surface and forms a biofilm, the other subpopulation spreads to distant tissue sites,” is how the investigators described it. We can increase surface colonization by using a “job-sharing” process, they said, and even resist antibiotics because most of us remain in the protective biofilm.

LOTME: And they say you guys don’t have brains.

P. aeruginosa: But wait, there’s more. We don’t just divide the labor randomly. After the initial colonization we form two functionally distinct subpopulations. One has high levels of the bacterial signaling molecule c-di-GMP and stays put to work on the biofilm. The other group, with low levels of c-di-GMP, heads out to the surrounding tissue to continue the colonization. As project leader Urs Jenal put it, “By identifying the genetic switch, we have tracked down the Achilles heel of the pathogen.”

LOTME: Pretty clever stuff, for humans, anyway.

P. aeruginosa: We agree, but now that you know our secret, we can’t let you share it.

LOTME: Wait! The journal article’s already been published. Your secret is out. You can’t stop that by infecting me.

P. aeruginosa: True enough, but are you familiar with the fable of the scorpion and the frog? It’s our nature.

LOTME: Nooooo! N. gonorrhoeae wouldn’t have done this!

What a pain in the Butt

Businesses rise and businesses fall. We all know that one cursed location, that spot in town where we see businesses move in and close up in a matter of months. At the same time, though, there are also businesses that have been around as long as anyone can remember, pillars of the community.

Corydon, IN., likely has a few such long-lived shops, but it is officially down one 70-year-old family business as of late April, with the unfortunate passing of beloved local pharmacy Butt Drugs. Prescription pick-up in rear.

Store front of Butt Drugs in Corydon, Indiana Bildflut/Wikimedia Commons

The business dates back to 1952, when it was founded as William H. Butt Drugs. We’re sure William Butt was never teased about his last name. Nope. No one would ever do that. After he passed the store to his children, it underwent a stint as Butt Rexall Drugs. When the shop was passed down to its third-generation and ultimately final owner, Katie Butt Beckort, she decided to simplify the name. Get right down to the bottom of things, as it were.

Butt Drugs was a popular spot, featuring an old-school soda fountain and themed souvenirs. According to Ms. Butt Beckort, people would come from miles away to buy “I love Butt Drugs” T-shirts, magnets, and so on. Yes, they knew perfectly well what they were sitting on.

So, if was such a hit, why did it close? Butt Drugs may have a hilarious name and merchandise to match, but the pharmacy portion of the pharmacy had been losing money for years. You know, the actual point of the business. As with so many things, we can blame it on the insurance companies. More than half the drugs that passed through Butt Drugs’ doors were sold at a loss, because the insurance companies refused to reimburse the store more than the wholesale price of the drug. Not even a good butt drug could clear up that financial diarrhea.

And so, we’ve lost Butt Drugs forever. Spicy food enthusiasts, coffee drinkers, and all patrons of Taco Bell, take a moment to reflect and mourn on what you’ve lost. No more Butt Drugs to relieve your suffering. A true kick in the butt indeed.

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