Has Tobacco Ever Been Cultivated as a Food Source?

iStock/DanBrandenburg
iStock/DanBrandenburg

One of the most profitable American crops is something you won’t find in the produce aisle. Though tobacco production has declined in recent years, the crop still abundant, with farmers in the U.S. growing more than 710 million pounds of the plant in 2017. Tobacco is surprisingly nutritious—but it's also toxic in its pure state, which is why throughout its history, humans have been more interested in the plant as something to smoke rather than something to eat.

Native Americans discovered the psychoactive effects of nicotine relatively early in human history. The oldest archaeological evidence of tobacco residue in a smoke pipe dates back 3000 years ago—around the same time people in modern Alabama, where the pipe was found, began cultivating foods like sunflower and squash. It's even possible that the desire to grow tobacco spurred agriculture in the area, even though it was never a food source.

We know why Native Americans cultivated the plant—smoking it played an important role in sacred rituals—but how they learned it was something that was enjoyable to smoke in the first place is less clear. It may be that South American herbalists stumbled upon its dopamine-boosting effects when studying plant life in their environment. In order to know which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal benefits, herbalists experimented with every plant they could find, and after sniffing ground-up tobacco leaves they may have realized it was something special. Another possibility is that someone came across a wild tobacco plant that had caught fire accidentally and discovered the pleasure of inhaling the smoke that way.

Tobacco gained new levels of popularity when the first European explorers arrived on American shores in the 15th and 16th centuries. Native tribes shared tobacco pipes with the visitors and gave them the dried leaves and seeds to take home with them. In 1612, John Rolfe planted the first commercial tobacco crop in Virginia, and with scientific evidence of the dire health risks still centuries away, recreational tobacco use spread across the world.

People have chewed, smoked, and snorted tobacco to reap the desired effects, but it's never been common to eat it. European colonists at Jamestown cultivated the plant before they started growing other crops, and following a winter when two-thirds of the residents starved to death, authorities mandated that farmers must grow food in addition to tobacco.

Though it isn't a produce item, tobacco does have some impressive nutritional qualities. The plant contains Fraction-1-protein (F-1-p): a type of protein that's odorless, colorless, and non-allergenic with a cholesterol-lowering amino acid composition. Tobacco F-1-p has proven more beneficial than the same protein extracted from soy, corn, and dairy, and it may be one of the healthiest proteins found in nature.

Unfortunately, tobacco also contains the toxic chemical nicotine (a natural pesticide) which negates any nutritional properties it has. Even if someone tried to eat the leaves in their raw state, they would get sick or possibly even die from nicotine poisoning. That's why when European colonists were starving to death, they didn't try turning their tobacco crops into salads.

Today the dangers of tobacco are indisputable, but the crop has the potential to save lives as a food source. When extracted from the plant, tobacco F-1-p is completely safe to consume, and it can be cheaply sourced from the many farms already growing tobacco around the world. Though the nutritional benefits of tobacco have been known for years, it's still an untapped resource—largely thanks to the stigma attached to the crop.

What's the Difference Between Cement and Concrete?

Vladimir Kokorin/iStock via Getty Images
Vladimir Kokorin/iStock via Getty Images

Picture yourself walking down a city block. The sidewalk you follow may be obscured by shuffling feet and discarded gum, but it’s clearly made from something hard, smooth, and gray. What may be less clear is the proper name for that material: Is it concrete or cement? Is there even a real difference between the two words?

Though they’re often used interchangeably, concrete and cement describe different yet related elements of the blocks, flooring, and walls that make up many everyday structures. In simple terms, concrete is the name of the gray, gritty building material used in construction, and cement is an ingredient used in concrete.

Cement is a dry powder mixture that looks much different from the wet stuff poured out of so-called cement trucks. It’s made from minerals that have been crushed up and mixed together. Exactly what kind of minerals it’s made from varies: Limestone and clay are commonly used today, but anything from seashells to volcanic ash is suitable. After the ingredients are mixed together the first time, they’re fired in a kiln at 2642°F to form strong new compounds, then cooled, crushed, and combined again.

Cement
Cement
lior2/iStock via Getty Images

This mixture is useless on its own. Before it’s ready to be used in construction projects, the cement must be mixed with water and an aggregate, such as sand, to form a moldable paste. This substance is known as concrete. It fills whatever mold it’s poured into and quickly hardens into a solid, rock-like form, which is partly why it’s become the most widely-used building material on Earth.

So whether you’re etching your initials into a wet sidewalk slab, power-hosing your back patio, or admiring some Brutalist architecture, you’re dealing with concrete. But if you ever happen to be handling a chalky gray powder that hasn’t been mixed with water, cement is the correct label to use.

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Why Do You Stop Feeling Tired As Soon As You Climb Into Bed?

tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images
tommaso79/iStock via Getty Images

There are few situations more frustrating: After a day spent nodding off at your desk, on the train, and on your couch, you suddenly can't sleep the moment you crawl into bed. It's not that you aren't tired or have insomnia, necessarily. Like a curse designed just to torture you, the sleeplessness only seems to occur when you're in your own bed at home, a.k.a. the place where you'd prefer to do your sleeping.

This maddening problem isn't in your head. According to TIME, many people have more trouble falling asleep in their own beds than they do elsewhere thanks to a phenomenon called learned or conditioned arousal. Conditioned arousal develops when you inadvertently train your body to associate your bed with being awake. In many cases, this results from doing stimulating activities in bed. For instance: If you like to slip under the covers and spend 40 minutes watching Netflix before closing your eyes, you're teaching your brain that your bed isn't for sleeping. That means the next time your head hits the pillow, your body will respond by preparing for the next episode of Friends instead of releasing the chemicals that help you fall asleep. The same goes for scrolling through apps, eating, and even reading in bed.

Doing things that aren't sleeping in bed isn't the only way to develop conditioned arousal. If there are other factors keeping you up at night—like thoughts about your day, or that cup of coffee you had at 8 p.m.—they can lead to the same result. Your brain starts to associate being in bed with tossing and turning all night, so even if those mental and physical stimulants go away, the muscle memory of being awake in bed remains.

Conditioned arousal is a vicious cycle that can't be broken in one night. The only way to manage it, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is to minimize behaviors that contribute to poor sleep habits and to reserve your bed for sleeping (though sex is OK, according to the APA).

If you're a nighttime scroller, browse apps in a different room before getting into bed, or skip checking your phone at the end of the day altogether. When you spend more than 20 minutes struggling to fall asleep in bed, get up and move to a different part of the house until you get sleepy again; this will stop your brain from strengthening the association between your bed and feeling restless. The results won't be instant, but by sticking to a new sleep routine, you should eventually train your body to follow healthier patterns.

Of course, combating conditioned arousal alone isn't always effective. In people with conditions like anxiety and insomnia, intrusive thoughts and genetic factors can prevent them from falling asleep even under ideal circumstances. In such cases, the help of a medical professional may be required to sleep more soundly.

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