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Shea Butter Was First Made 1000 Years Earlier Than Previously Thought

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Today, shea butter can be found in beauty products ranging from foot creams to body wash, but the ingredient is far from a modern fad. In fact, people first started producing and using shea butter 1000 years earlier than previously believed.

The findings, as reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Ethnobiology, were made by anthropologists at the University of Oregon. Excavations at an archaeological site called Kirikongo in the West African country of Burkina Faso turned up fragments of nut shells salvaged from the remains of multiple layers of households. When analyzed, the carbonized shells were found to date back as far as 100 CE. Previous papers had pegged the first usage of shea butter as appearing around 1100 CE, an entire millennium later. According to Daphne E. Gallagher, a researcher from the university's department of anthropology, the new discovery shows that we still have a lot left to learn about the history of the region.

Shea butter is a thick, shortening-like paste that's made by processing a shea nut's oily interior. To get to the seed inside, the nuts have to be pounded open and separated from the shell fragments by hand. Today the antioxidant-rich product is primarily exported for use in soaps and lotions, but the first communities who made it would have used it as a source of fat for cooking.

Excavation of the Kirikongo site began a little over a decade ago. In addition to being the site of the earliest known production of shea butter, it was also once home to the first chickens in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Toddlers Are Now Eating as Much Added Sugar as Adults
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We know excessive amounts of added sugar can lurk in foods ranging from ketchup to juices to “health foods” like protein bars. We also know Americans get too much of it, often consuming up to 19 teaspoons daily, exceeding the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 6 to 9 teaspoons a day. That adds up to 66 ill-advised pounds of the stuff per year.

A new study that came out of the American Society for Nutrition’s conference last week demonstrates an even more alarming trend: Toddlers are eating nearly as much sugar every day as is recommended for adults.

The study, which was organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examined survey data collected between 2011 and 2014 for 800 kids aged 6 to 23 months. Based on parental reporting of their food intake, the tiny subjects between 12 and 18 months old took in an average 5.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Older kids, aged 19 to 23 months, consumed 7.1 teaspoons. That’s at or near the recommended intake for a fully grown adult.

In addition to health risks including weight gain and reduced immune system function, sugar-slurping babies stand a greater chance of carrying that craving with them into adulthood, where complications like diabetes and heart problems can be waiting. The AHA recommends that parents avoid giving their kids sweetened drinks and snacks and look out for creative nutritional labels that disguise sugar with words like “sucrose” or “corn sweetener.”

[[h/t Quartz]

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Science Has a Good Explanation For Why You Can't Resist That Doughnut
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Unless you’re one of those rare people who doesn’t like sweets, the lure of a glazed or powdered doughnut is often too powerful to resist. The next time you succumb to that second or third Boston cream, don’t blame it on weak willpower—blame it on your brain.

As the New Scientist reports, a Yale University study published in the journal Cell Metabolism provides new evidence that foods rich in both carbohydrates and fats fire up the brain’s reward center more than most foods. For the study, volunteers were shown pictures of carb-heavy foods (like candy), fatty foods (like cheese), and foods high in both (like doughnuts). They were then asked to bid money on the food they wanted to eat most, all while researchers measured their brain activity.

Not only were volunteers willing to pay more for doughnuts and similar foods, but foods high in carbs and fat also sparked far more activity in the striatum, the area of the brain where dopamine is released. (Chocolate is one of the foods most commonly associated with increases in dopamine, working in the same way as drugs like cocaine and amphetamines.)

Presented with these findings, researcher Dana Small theorized that the brain may have separate systems to assess fats and carbs. Modern junk foods that activate both systems at once may trigger a larger release of dopamine as a result.

This study doesn’t entirely explain why different people crave different foods, though. Much of it has to do with our habits and the foods we repeatedly gravitate towards when we want to feel happy or alleviate stress. Another study from 2015 found that certain treats associated with high levels of reward in the brain—like pizza, chocolate, chips, and cookies—were considered to be the most addictive foods (doughnuts didn’t make the top 20, though).

It's still possible to turn down foods that are bad for you, though. While many people try to improve their self-control, one of the most effective ways to avoid an undesired outcome is to remove the temptation completely. Free doughnuts in the break room? Stay far away.

[h/t New Scientist]

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