The Mediterranean Diet and Aging: or, Oh my gosh, guys, this is super cool!

(Photo: Vegetables by Mark Hooper/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Vegetables by Mark Hooper/Flickr Creative Commons)

Eating healthy literally makes you age slower, according to this new study. And I am so pumped to tell you about it. But first, I have to take you back…to high school biology. It’s okay, I promise this will be painless.

Basic Biology

Remember the cell cycle and cell division? In high school we spent a lot of time learning about the ins and outs of chromosomes lining up, pulling apart, and dividing up into two daughter cells and a lot less time on the preparation for these steps. But as in cooking, the prep work is pretty important.

Before a cell can even divide, it has to get the go-ahead from neighboring cells (and essentially get through a checklist of requirements–are there enough resources? Check. Is the DNA in good shape? Check.). Then it has to replicate its DNA properly before the final approval to split into two cells. This DNA replication is very interesting, and I have several lectures worth of notes on the topic, but the important take away (for this article) is that every time a cell replicates that all-important double-helix, the strand of DNA gets  little bit shorter form both ends.

At the ends of each of our chromosomes, there are long chains of repeating units called telomeres. We can lose bits of telomeres because they are non-coding DNA, literally a buffer meant to protect our genome from incomplete replication. You can think of telomeres as the aglets at the end of our long shoelaces of DNA. Every time a cell divides, these aglets wear away just a little bit, until there is none left and the shoelace itself starts to fray. In terms of our DNA, when there is no more telomere left to lose, we start messing with coding DNA and then the cell isn’t producing proper proteins. Proteins are pretty all-important, and without the right ones that cell is down for the count.

This is where the use of telomeres as tools to measure aging comes in: due to the shortening of telomeres with cell division (and thus, with age), we can’t live forever. But longer telomeres lead to a longer possible lifespan. So, yeah, telomeres are super important. But what do they have to do with the Mediterranean diet?

(Photo: Vegetables by Mark Hooper/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Vegetables by Mark Hooper/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Study

A group of researchers studied adherence to the Mediterranean diet and telomere length. Knowing that telomere shortening can be modified by exposure to oxidization and that the Mediterranean diet is particularly protective against oxidization, the researchers designed a study to see if there is a positive relationship between the two. The one caveat: this is not a randomized experiment, so we can’t draw a cause and effect relationship between telomere length and eating like a Greek.

However, according the the results, there is definitely a correlation between the two. And a statistically significant one, too! While the title of this article alone was enough to get me excited, the fact that individual components of the diet didn’t have a statistically significant effect on telomere length really piqued my interest.

The Mediterranean diet had nine measured attributes in this study:  getting lots of (1) vegetables (excluding potatoes), (2) fruits, (3) nuts, (4) whole grains, (5) legumes,  and (6) fish; (7) a high monounsaturated:saturated fatty acid ratio; (8) low consumption of red and processed meats; and (9) moderate alcohol intake. So, basically, eating lots of fruits and vegetables wasn’t enough to really effect telomere length. The whole diet together (having six or more of these attributes) has a synergistic effect on your health.

In a world of Recommended Daily Values and focusing on individual food items, this look at the importance of diet as a whole is refreshing. We spend so much time looking at individual compounds–vitamin C, linoleic acid, tryptophan–that we miss the forest for the trees (or the meal for the micronutrients!). It’s time to get back to basics: enjoying real food, with real people, in a traditional context.

Isn’t this awesome? Interested in the effects of other traditional diets? Tell us in the comments!


Sweets and Smiles: Perfume


This week, I meant to look at black dresses, but things came up.

Like perfume. Last week, I found a tutorial, and this week, I’m hooked. The idea of making my own perfume has totally captured my imagination. It might have something to do with the horrifying smell of the Zoology class I am currently taking–hello, dissecting kit–but I prefer to dwell on other reasons. Being able to DIY perfume is great since it means that I can get exactly what I want, and I get to be creative while making it. Double-win!

I’ve always loved the idea of a signature scent–but then, I believe that having a signature look or uniform would be lovely and I think love letters should smell nice, so maybe it’s just me. There is just something dreamy about having a scent, a bit of your beauty ritual, that is always associated with you.

This daydream is kind of strange, for me at least, since most perfumes and colognes give me a headache. Go figure. But, ever since middle school (back when 20 was unimaginably old–oh, my), I’ve been trying my hand at this fragrance business. Rubbing orange peels on the inside of my wrists. Or rosemary. Or mint.

But now, I know how to make the real deal.

First, a huge revelation for me: eau de something (whether cologne or parfum) isn’t the only option. There is such a thing as perfume oil! Perfect for me, with my sensitive nose that is not so crazy about the scent of evaporating alcohol. All you need is some carrier oil, bottles, and essential oil. They sell that stuff at Whole Foods–except for the little, bitty bottles.

This coming week, after lots of research and awkward sniffing of tester bottles at various health foods stores, I am going to take the plunge and invest in some essential oils–just the little 5 mL bottles. On my list are sweet orange, clove bud, and vanilla (if I can afford it). I am super excited 🙂

I thought I’d leave you with some of the tutorials I’ve looked at.

1. A tutorial from Design*Sponge, with some perfume recipes included in the deal.

2. A tutorial by the lady behind Sweet Anthem Perfumes.

3. Another tutorial from Sweet Tea Apothecary for making solid perfume.

Have a lovely week!

What captured your imagination this week? Tell us in the comments!

Sweets and Smiles: Feeling Pretty

Hello, lovelies! I have found some cute beauty ideas! But first, this week the blog has finally reached 1000 page views total and I am so happy. I have to thank all of you for your interest 🙂 Everyone who writes into the vast reaches of the interwebz is hoping that someone will find her ideas captivating and her stories interesting–or that it will at least reach someone.  So, thank you all for reading here in my corner of the internet.

hair milkmaid braids

Aren’t milkmaid braids just adorable? And they are great for wearing under a hairnet if you work in food service.

On to feeling pretty! This week, I have done some crazy stuff. But only with my hair. Long and curly, I don’t often break my routine for my crowning glory. But this week, I finally tried french (and Dutch) braiding my own hair, followed this tutorial, and tried the milkmaid braids look. I like it all!

hair messy updo tutorial

A super easy tutorial to follow from Seams for a Desire

And, I have been looking into perfume. We did a clove oil extraction in organic chemistry and, I am not gonna lie, it smelled amazing. In the midst of my research about essential oils and perfumer’s alcohol, I found this lovely tutorial on perfume oils (as opposed to the standard, alcohol-based eau de parfum). I can’t wait to make a signature perfume!

What cool stuff did you find this week? Tell us in the comments!

The Truth About: Phytic Acid

(Photo: by Unsplash)

(Photo: by Unsplash)

A plant compound with interesting properties, phytic acid is forsworn by those on Paleo diets–it’s in those evil grains and legumes. It’s been called an anti-nutrient. Wait, hold up. I mean, even the Big Mac and the Whopper haven’t been called anti-nutritious. so this phytic acid must be awful, right?

I first came across phytic acid when I was looking into how to make muesli the first time about two years ago. There was a blog post I found (that cited absolutely no research) that claimed that you could only eat oats after soaking them at least overnight. Otherwise, you’d unleash phytic acid upon your body–your digestion, your skin, your whole body would suffer from this. There was something about how it was traditional to soak grains the same way you’d soak beans, but now we had stopped and it was all for the worst.

Of course, with nothing to back up the claims, I went on my merry way. I mean, humans have been eating oats and other grains for thousands of years–so how bad can they be for us?

When I came back from Europe this summer, after eating tons of bread and muesli for three weeks, I had quite a few pimples. Was it the jet lag? The stress of school starting back up? Or–gasp–that stuff from that blog post that I disregarded a couple year ago? Nothing prompts me to look at what I am eating like feeling icky in my own skin. And maybe there was something to this phytic acid stuff.

So, into the research I delved.

I couldn’t find anything directly linking phytic acid to zits–ironically, I did find that phytic acid applied topically is supposed to be a good beauty ingredient. On Beautypedia, it’s got a “good” rating. It turns out that phytic acid chelates–meaning it binds to certain metals (note that when phytic acid is bound to a mineral, it is called phytate. Also, you can find phytic acid as a supplement called inositol hexaphosphate or IP6).

Phytic acid binds to iron, calcium, zinc*, and magnesium, rendering the molecules it attached un-absorbable. Binding to errant iron molecules in makeup means that phytic acid prevents that ugly, oxidized orange color your foundation may sometimes turn. However, this same property can have a negative effect on mineral absorption–but it doesn’t have to. If you eat a balanced diet, the effect on nutrient absorption (at least according to my research) should be minimal.

For those of us looking to reduce phytic acid, remember the soaking thing I mentioned earlier? It works. As does sprouting and fermenting beans, seeds, nuts, and grains. Cooking them also contributes to breaking down the acid.  There are even more possible solutions, from vitamin C to eating more meat, according to Precise Nutrition.

So, in some ways, the “anti-nutrient” label makes sense–phytic acid can literally physically stop your body from absorbing what it needs. But that isn’t always a bad thing. Having too much iron can be a problem, too.  Phytic acid also binds to heavy metals, preventing them from causing health issues. Similarly, it can bind to reactive oxygen species (those pesky oxidizers), so it acts as an antioxidant, too. Phytic acid is also connected to inhibiting cancer–which for many people may outweigh issues with mineral absorbance.

Ultimately, though the possibility of a mineral deficiency is very real for some of us, for many of us this can be mitigated by reducing the phytic acid and we can even benefit from its effects on health. If you are reading this and thinking, Gosh, Mariana, how wishy-washy can you get? Let me lay down what is purely my opinion: phytic acid doesn’t constitute a reason to completely cull an entire food group from your life. I vote for grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds–in moderation and properly prepared, of course.

* Zinc levels may be linked to acne, so perhaps phytic acid is indirectly linked to acne.

Are there any Paleo People in the audience? Feel free to bring your views and research to the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Your Skin, Sugar, and Keeping That Glow


(Photo: 70/365 How sweet it is by Mykl Roventine/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: 70/365 How sweet it is by Mykl Roventine/Flickr Creative Commons

If you want your skin to keep looking lovely, step away from the cookie jar. And that honey you use in your tea. And, really, a plethora of other things. Sugar is bad news for that radiant glow of yours.

Sugars are capable of forming advanced glycation end-products (AGEs–it’s a punny name, I can get behind it), which are sugars that have attached to proteins or fats. These molecules make you look older faster–over time, they build up and change your skin’s composition. AGEs attach to collagen and elastin fibers–the two most important proteins in your skin–changing the color, making the proteins stiffer, and ultimately contributing to wrinkles and dull skin [1, 2].

Sugars also indirectly affect your glow. As you know, vegetables make your skin glow, but eating sugar can counter-act this in part because your skin uses the antioxidants to fight off the AGEs, sucking the color right out of you.

Sugar is by no means good for us–there is a whole laundry list of nasty side effects. And our skin’s health is important to our overall health–after all, it is our largest organ and it does keep us safe from environmental attacks. But if that doesn’t motivate you to start cutting out sugar, let your self-love (ahem, vanity) get behind this.

Dull skin is a bummer–I am pretty sure that radiant skin is something every girl hopes for. Wrinkles are also a bummer, but as a college student, I can hardly fathom that and I think that many of you are on the same page me. And that means we need to stop this before it becomes a problem. The simple solution is to start cutting out unnecessary sugar (and ultimately go as sugar-free as you can).

So, then what is sugar good for? Your skin! But, gosh, not when you eat it. Sugar is a great exfoliator, which means that (when you apply it directly to your skin rather than eat it) it can reveal that glow of yours. What a twist, right?

So, how do you take advantage of sugar’s one and only skin benefit? I typically just use brown sugar with enough olive oil to make a paste but check out Almost Exactly’s body scrub recipe or this chai inspired option which sounds really decadent.

Study: Eating Vegetables Makes You More Attractive

unsplash green beans

The study was called You Are What You Eat, and researchers made eating your vegetables look pretty good. According to the study, other research has shown that humans associate the yellow color carotenoids bestow with improved health. Many species equate the carotene-based coloring with attractiveness–and we know from our basic bio classes that humans are genetically hard-wired to choose healthy (read: attractive) mates. As you increase your vegetable intake, your skin gets more yellow (or more red), and this is associated with being more attractive.

So eat your vegetables.

I’d love to leave it there, but I can’t. Based on my understanding of this study, it is observational. While the researchers did a nice job eliminating sources of error–people who sun bathed or tanned or even used foundation were thrown out of the study–the study  can only be used to show that there is a correlation between vegetable consumption and glowing skin.

The  study also tested young people to find out if this yellow tint is attractive by taking photos of the same people, manipulating them to change the amount of yellow coloring in the skin and asking subjects to rate which face is more attractive between one with more yellow and one with less. They found that, yes, this coloring makes you look more healthy and more attractive.

The subjects for the first part of the experiment, the diet part, were mostly Caucasian, so that is an additional issue with the study. Researchers thought perhaps the change in skin pigment could be linked to how naturally dark skin already was, so further research is needed.

I think this study is really cool–if a larger study is carried out, I can’t wait till it is published. This is the sort of thing most of us are interested in, to be honest. Researchers saw changed in skin tone in 3 to 6 weeks, so this is something that most of us could get onboard with at some point. I would be lying if I said that I was never interested in tanning to feel prettier. Or that if three weeks of 2 or 3 more vegetables and fruits a day was all that was in the way of more attractive skin, I would have jumped on it.

Besides making you more attractive, carotenoids act as antioxidants and protect skin from UV exposure, so if for no other reasons: for better, healthier, happier skin, eat your carrots.

The Kitchen Cupboard Facials

kitchen cupboard facial

(Photo Credits: Raspberries, Honey, and Coffee Beans by Unsplash. The smiling girl is called Blur of a Smile by Porsche Brosseau/Flickr Commons. The photo of vegetables is called Veg Bunches by Nick Saltmarsh/Flickr Commons)


When I was in the first grade, I did my first ever home facial–it was one of those goopy gels that peels off if you let it dry (not that I ever could wait). A passionate DIYer (read: I couldn’t drive, so if I could make it at home, I would), I developed several “whole foods” facials in middle school. From yogurt to oats to tomatoes, I’ve used it all (at least that is how it feels).

Being a grown-up now–or at least passing myself off as one–I have some slightly improved recipes. But let’s start with the key players.



Anti-inflammatory ingredients are important for those of us experiencing redness. Oats–yes, the entire grain–are commonly prescribed to combat redness. Other household items include olive oil, honey, tea  (white, green, or black–whatever type of Camellia sinensis you stock) and most fruits. Vitamin C, other vitamins, and antioxidants tend to be effective anti-inflammatory agents.


Those of us with dry or normal skin, a really rich, moisturizing facial can make our skin glow. But moisturizers are good across standard skin types–for instance, most of us could benefit from moisturized lips. Moisturizers tend to involve lipids of some sort that protect the intercellular matrix in skin. Common moisturizing ingredients include olive oil, avocado, raw egg yolk (worry not, we aren’t eating them), and, increasingly, coconut oil. Believe it or not, honey is a moisturizer–it attracts water to the surface of the skin as a humectant.


I recommend using exfoliators with an anti-inflammatory ingredient simply because exfoliators strip you of dead skin and that can irritate the healthy skin underneath. Exfoliators are usually gritty–think coffee grounds, oats, salt, or sugar. However, weak acids also act in an exfoliating capacity–yogurt is commonly used as a base in home facials because of the lactic acid. Another option is to use an aspirin–its active ingredient is a form of salicylic acid, which is effective against blemishes.


For Soft Lips

Mix equal parts olive oil, honey, and brown sugar (1/4 teaspoon each for one or two treatments). Rub the paste on your lips for about a minute, or until your lips are baby-soft. Wash the paste off and immediately moisturize.

Soft Skin Facial

This one is my go-to. Lightly exfoliating, full of antioxidants, and moisturizing, it works for my normal skin.

Mix 3 Tbsp plain yogurt (really, it simply must be plain, otherwise the added sugars in the yogurt can cause blemishes), 2 small mashed strawberries (or one large one. Note that any berry can be substituted: 3 or 4 blackberries/raspberries, 5 or 6 blueberries), and 1.5 tsp of honey. Starting in the middle of your face, start applying the facial working toward the edges of your face. Avoid your eyes (we have plans for those). Take 2 slices of cucumber (or 2 chilled tea bags), place over eyes. Relax for the next 20 minutes. Then gently remove the mask with a warm, damp towel. Rinse with warm water and finish with a final splash of cold water.

Have Yourself a Spa Day!

Make yourself a cup of tea (or pour over coffee–so you can use the grounds in a body scrub), make up a facial, and take 30 minutes to calm down and pamper yourself. Enjoy yourself!

Feeling creative? Make your own facial recipe and share it in the comments!

The Pretty Manifesto

Pretty is quite literally health. And being pretty healthy has a wealth of meaning. Here is a manifesto that I have worked on for a while, which you can see on this page. Over time, I am going to work on adding artwork, but for now, I am letting the text speak for itself.

The Pretty Manifesto

Health is pretty. Treating your body well by moving and eating well are integral parts of any beauty routine or fashion statement.

Pretty  is a state of mind–joyful and positive. It’s the positivity that turns bread and water into toast and tea.

Pretty is intelligent–a well-exercised mind is a thing of beauty

Pretty is a spot of blush, a swipe of mascara. It’s a full-on red lip. It’s going barefaced. It’s whatever beauty regimen you like (as long as it includes at least SPF 30).

Pretty is wearing things you like, that you feel good in. Maybe it’s a dress, maybe it’s a t-shirt, and maybe it’s just knowing you are wearing nice panties. To each her own.

Ultimately, being pretty healthy is an 80/20 affair–you won’t always eat in moderation or go for your morning run. Remember spontaneity and celebration and doing things simply because they feel nice.

Remember you are always worth the effort–to make a healthy lunch, to finish that run, to wear something you like.

This manifesto is central to Pretty Healthy–it’s a declaration of values. It’s what I want this blog to be about and how I want it to make people feel. So, I want to hear about your opinions in the comments: what do you like, what could be better, and what would you add?

Study: Chocolate Makes For Healthy Skin

(photo credit: Chocolat de Bonnat tasting by Everjean/Flickr Creative Commons)

(photo credit: Chocolat de Bonnat tasting by Everjean/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Journal of Nutrition published a study called Long-Term Ingestion of High Flavanol Cocoa Provides Photoprotection against UV-Induced Erythema and Improves Skin Condition in Women. Though by no means new–it was published in 2006–this is an important point of information in the world of (dark) chocolate lovers.

This study followed 24 women divided into two groups: low-flavanol cocoa and high-flavanol cocoa. Before anyone looses her head, there was  control group: this was a paired means study (stats FTW) where various biological indicators were studied before and after consuming the cocoa beverages for 12 weeks. This means there was a nice baseline to study things against. If you read the study, you will find a controlled trial–one which actual conclusions can be drawn from (unlike observational studies).

After 12 weeks of consuming beverages with either 329 mg or 27 mg cocoa flavanols each morning, reseachers found that the group with high-flavanols was all-around better off and the other group nearly unaffected. After three months of the 329 mg flavanol cocoa drink, subjects were 25% more resistant to UV damage, had improved circulation (both under the skin and within it), suffered less water loss while having better moisturized skin, and saw skin become less scaly and rough.

These benefits are pretty impressive, given you can get the same dose of flavanols from about 100 g (3.5 oz) of deep, dark chocolate. So, smoother, better hydrated, less irritated skin–all with the sacrifice of eating 3.5 oz of chocolate per day! To those who say “Beauty is pain,” I say, “Chocolate!”

Review: e.l. f. Studio Foundation SPF 15

Let’s start with a story. Recently, I alluded to a quest to find the perfect morning routine for my face. Sunscreen, moisturizer, makeup, the whole shebang. I mean, it wasn’t like I was married to the process–I don’t always wear makeup, but I do try to cleanse, moisturize, and shield myself from the sun.

I found a skin care regimen, part of which I talked about here. In the spirit of honesty, I was less worried about my skin care routine than the “beauty” one. I know that taking care of your skin is one of the most important parts of the healthy aspect of beauty, but in an aisle surrounded by hundreds of bottles, tubes, and jars of big girl face paint, it is easy to forget.

In any case, I was trying to build a makeup wardrobe. I like the whole perfect skin, rosy cheeks, winged eye lashes, bright lip thing. A natural look, but with just enough polish to look done. That meant I needed lip color I liked, a good lengthening mascara, a blush, and of course, foundation and powder. Let me tell you: I found a perfect foundation–by which I mean a foundation that actually matched my skin tone. It was by Maybelline and it matched my skin perfectly (thank you Sephora Color IQ and online foundation matrix–together you found my perfect color at a much cheaper price). But, doing some research as the bottle was getting low, I found out that Maybelline does animal testing.

Cruelty free makeup came to the fore-front for me when a girl in my speech class did a talk on animal testing practices. This isn’t the post to go into it in detail, but let me tell you: animal testing is sad. And it is totally possible to do without it–and it is probably better that we do  when we think about toxicity tests and all that. And, believe it or not, some of the cheapest drugstore brands do without animal testing and they provide some high quality products (I swear that I’ve had good luck with this list–or one very much like it, that narrows down by skin type). Here is a list of those companies at all price points that don’t do animal testing from Beautypedia and from PETA.

e.l.f. Studio Flawless Finish Foundation

Let’s start with the negatives: this stuff is fragrant. It smells like makeup normally smells–nothing new there–but if other makeups whisper their scents, this foundation is yelling it. While I personally don’t mind, I don’t recommend it for those with sensitive noses. Note not sensitive skin, though–this stuff is actually fragrance free.

Another issue is the color range: I can’t recommend it for more than light to medium skin tones. You can find the whole range online (it’s pretty limited, but the colors are all good–none too pink or peachy), though I have only found the lightest three shades in stores. I got it in Sand and it is quite similar Maybelline’s Nude/Light 4.

The final disappointing aspect is the size. It comes in a 0.8 fluid ounce bottle with a nifty pump dispenser, while the standard size is typically 1.0 fluid ounce of foundation. However, ounce for ounce it is still cheaper than the Maybelline liquid foundation it is meant to replace. So, still a deal 🙂

The positives: it provides medium coverage. It doesn’t oxidize to an orange, Oompa-Loompa sort of color. It comes in sturdy packaging. It blends well and it doesn’t have much slip to it, so I recommend working with just a little at a time. It is oil-free and even in combination with my sunscreen, these 95 degree days, some outdoor excursions and chores (think biking and gardening), it lasts 4 to 6 hours. Not all day, but nothing to complain about in this weather. It does have some miniscule sun protection (SPF 15 when applied “liberally” and I don’t know that I apply it liberally enough), so if I felt like playing with fire (or cosmic radiation as it is), I could apply it without my sunscreen underneath and that would help  with the wear.

All in all, it is a foundation for dry to normal skin with good coverage, a good price, and even with a good conscience.

e.l.f. Studio Flawless Finish Foundation SPF 15, $6.00 for 0.8 fluid ounce