For most eaters, scrutinizing food means checking to make sure the lettuce in their salad's clean and their steak's not overly fatty. Scientists, of course, take a more rigorous approach, using microscopes, MRI scans and sophisticated chemical testing to determine exactly what people are eating -- and why it matters.
Here, a list of the five most intriguing conclusions reached by food researchers this year.
1. Cavemen ate children's brains There were plenty of deer and bison romping across the Spanish plains 800,000 years ago, but early humans there supplemented their diets with children's brains and bone marrow. Researchers say the practice was a nutritious way of intimidating rival cave dwellers. "The brain is good for food," study co-author José Maria Bermúdez de Castro told National Geographic News.
2. Big Macs make you crazy McDonald's may be partially responsible for the nation's obesity epidemic, but scientists say the mere sight of the restaurant chain's logo can inspire people to walk faster. According to researchers, experiment subjects subliminally exposed to the McDonald's logo were more likely to become impatient and indicate an unwillingness to save money. "We're finding that the mere exposure to fast food is promoting a general sense of haste and impatience regardless of the context," Chen-Bo Zhong, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Toronto University, told The Times of London.
3. Jesus' appetite is getting healthier One thousand years ago, the last supper was presented as a relatively austere affair, with Jesus and his disciples dining on modest portions of bread and wine. But the plates and loaves have steadily grown, according to a survey of 52 paintings published in the International Journal of Obesity. By measuring the size of the food relative to the supper guests' heads, Brian and Craig Wansink established the amount of food depicted increased by 69 percent over the past millennium.
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4. Bacon makes you smarter Well, maybe not you, but there's hope yet for the unborn, who can benefit from their mothers eating pork and eggs. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina - a state that's no stranger to pig products -- the traditionally unhealthy foods are a good source of choline, a micronutrient that helps build the memory and recall sections of a fetal brain.
5. Stadium food is filthy The crack team of scientists at ESPN (along with their number-crunching buddies from the University of Maryland's Center for Food Safety and Security Systems) this year checked out health department inspection reports from 107 professional sports venues and discovered concession-goers in many arenas stand a good chance of getting sick or dying. At 28 percent of the facilities, more than half of the vendors had been cited for "major" or "critical" violations. "Consumers should be very concerned about some of the food that they are eating in a lot of these stadiums," the director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America told ESPN.