The Bad Seeds: Are Wildfire Recovery Efforts Hurting Biodiversity?
By Tara Lohan
In 2017 the Thomas fire raged through 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, California, leaving in its wake a blackened expanse of land, burned vegetation, and more than 1,000 destroyed buildings.
More tragedy soon followed. When rains finally arrived in January 2018, the waters hit hills where grasses, trees and shrubs had all been burned away. The resulting mudslides, exacerbated by the fire-hardened soil, killed more than 20 people.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons some local residents wanted to take action right away, in the weeks after the fire, to bring life and color back to the charred hillsides by scattering the ground with seeds of the state's iconic California poppy.
Such efforts wouldn't have prevented the mudslides, but the impulse to do something after a wildfire is natural, especially following a deadly catastrophe. But is reseeding a burned landscape the right way to go?
It turns out reseeding isn't always ecologically beneficial or effective. Most of it is undertaken with the intent of curbing erosion or limiting the spread of invasive plants. But according to a growing field of research, in some ecosystems reseeding doesn't have those desired effects — and can even inhibit the ability of native plant communities to recover. That, in turn, can harm other native wildlife and even the climate.
Sometimes, experts say, the best thing to do is actually nothing. But that can be hard for the public to understand when wildfires hit so close to home.
"The general public still sometimes expects to see the helicopters flying over the chaparral after fires, throwing that grass seed out there," said Jan Beyers, an emeritus scientist with the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station.
"Well-meaning community groups and even private citizens think they're actually helping by reseeding and don't know that they may be causing more harm," said Liv O'Keeffe, senior director of communications and engagement at California Native Plant Society.
It's not just a few eager residents who feel the call to reseed. Reseeding's been a common tactic of state and federal agencies across many parts of the western U.S. for decades, and still is in some areas. In the Great Basin alone, millions of acres of public lands have been reseeded after wildfires — a lot of them with non-native grasses.
So with evidence mounting against large-scale reseeding, why is it still done?
That answer varies across the West, as each ecosystem presents unique challenges. And things get even more complicated in places where we've caused the biggest disruptions to the environment — land that been has heavily developed, overrun by invasive species, or trampled by hordes of hungry cattle.
The Hard Truth: Doing Nothing Works
"Most of the time, reseeding after wildfire is not a good idea," said Andrea Williams, the director of plant science at the California Native Plant Society.
The appropriate action to take post-fire, according to the organization's newly published fire-recovery guide, depends on where the fire happened, how intensely it burned, and the type of habitat affected. And sometimes the worst damage comes not the fire itself, but from firefighting with bulldozers and other heavy machinery that take a big toll on the environment. In those cases, more advanced restoration, including reseeding, could be needed.
In much of California, though, reseeding isn't necessary, she says. Wildfire is a natural occurrence in the state, and most native plants are adapted to it. Some species will only germinate after a fire, while others benefit from the light and space that's created in burned areas. In the weeks and months following a wildfire, nature can put on a show.
"If you get the appropriate timing and intensity, you'll get native wildflowers that you don't see except after a burn, like the fire poppy," said Williams. "And that's because the char and ash produce chemicals that signal them to come up and bloom and take advantage of that space in the shrubland that's there after a fire."
Within about five months, native shrubs and oaks will also start sprouting, she said.
"So seeding in those instances, particularly with non-native species and even with native species, is generally a bad idea."
Unfortunately, that's exactly what landowners and land managers have done for decades.
"We'd load up an airplane with grass seeds and fly the entire fire area and just drop seed," said Eric Huff, staff chief of the Forest Practice Program for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). "Everyone felt good — like they'd done something to arrest erosion — but grass-seeding over large scales like that was not effective."
Forest growth in Yellowstone National Park, May 2009.
Kent Kanouse / CC BY-NC 2.0
In fact, the majority of studies conducted in forests across the West showed that seeded areas were no better at preventing erosion than non-seeded areas, according to a 2011 survey of the scientific literature by researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and Northern Arizona University. Even when seeded sites did produce more plant cover on the ground, it was rarely enough in the first two years to help hold soils in place.
Seeding is also done to help prevent invasive species — plants that originate in another area and, once introduced, pose a threat to their new habitat's biological diversity — from taking over before other species can recover. But on that front, researchers have found it's mostly a toss-up — it only works about half the time. That's because most of the treatments meant to limit invasive species actually used non-native seeds, which, though they may not be aggressively harmful, can still crowd out native plants.
"This review," the authors wrote in their study, "suggests that post-fire seeding does little to protect soil in the short term, has equivocal effect on invasion of non-native species, and can have negative effects on native vegetation recovery with possible long-term ecological consequences."
Beyers, who was one of the contributing scientists, says the mounting research helped change practices among agency staff in California. But it's been harder to get the message out to the general public, and other states have continued the practice — for example, Arizona, where a recent burn was sprayed with barley seeds.
When non-native grasses are reseeded they can do real harm.
One of the places where this has been apparent is in chaparral, the shrub-dominated ecosystem that thrives in California's Mediterranean climate and is home to many of the state's native plant species. Introducing non-native grasses there often ends up providing fuel for fires, said Richard Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute. Most of the grasses are annuals that die out by summer and provide dry tinder, often referred to as "flash fuels," that ignite more quickly than studier shrubs during summer and fall fire season.
Chaparral is better left alone after a wildfire. Reseeding that was previously carried out by state and federal agencies "only destroyed ecosystem integrity and ended up causing a more flammable environment," he said. "Unless the landscape's been overrun by weeds already, people just ought to go home and leave the place alone and not introduce anything else into the system."
Reseeding efforts, to him, are just "litigation mitigation" — a way for municipalities to say they've at least done something after a fire, even if it's not effective. "The city or the county could say, 'We did what we could, we're sorry the hillside came through your living room when it rained,'" he said.
Huff says Cal Fire generally advises against reseeding with grasses, excepted in limited circumstances and for small areas, like a 100-square-foot space around a creek or another municipal water source. The agency does work with local landowners to replant trees after wildfires, though. The program uses mostly seedlings that are 1-2 years old. "We follow a specific seed-zone map that matches native species with the proper elevation," said Huff.
Land managers have mostly adapted. A more common practice than seeding these days is mulching, which can yield some better erosion-prevention results, she says, but she cautions that the mulch needs to be free of weed seeds, a common problem in straw and wood-chip mulches, to avoid creating the same problems that happen with intentional reseeding.
Cheatgrass and Cows
Out in the Great Basin — the sweeping expanse dominated by sagebrush steppe that stretches across the intermountain West — we find a different situation.
Reseeding after wildfires here is still a common practice, said Francis Kilkenny, a research biologist with the Forest Service and the technical lead of the Great Basin Native Plant Project, a joint effort with the Service and Bureau of Land Management.
That's because these lower, drier elevations can be prone to "recovery failures," he said, as opposed to forested ecosystems which tend to have more moisture and a better chance of natural recovery.
A bedeviling invasive species unintentionally introduced in the United States in the late 1800s makes recovery in the steppes even harder. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is often the first plant to establish itself after a wildfire. An annual, dense-growing grass that dies and dries out by summer, it's also a notorious "flash fuel" that can drive more wildfires, creating a vicious cycle. It also dies earlier than native vegetation, extending the fire season.
To break that pattern, land managers will often seed an area after a wildfire with other quick-growing grasses. Crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), a fire-tolerant, non-native perennial, is a favorite. It comes with its own problems, but it's good at outcompeting cheatgrass, and cattle enjoy it.
And that's another objective of managers on public lands — providing forage for grazing.
Cattle on the landscape, however, create another kind of vicious cycle. They trample the biological soil crust that provides cover between native bunchgrasses. Intact, the crust can prevent cheatgrass seeds from taking hold, but once it's been broken, the seeds have an easier time.
Cheatgrass invades after soils have been degraded by grazing, road building and other development, or off-road vehicles. So more grazing can mean more cheatgrass, which means more fire, which means more wheatgrass seeding, which results in more forage for cattle.
Across Nevada this kind of reseeding of non-native grasses has turned the sagebrush steppe into "basically a cow range with monocultures of crested wheatgrass," said Laura Cunningham, the California director of the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project. "And that's not a good habitat for other native species like sage grouse and mule deer."
Reseeding with non-native grasses like crested wheatgrass to beat out cheatgrass achieves the goals of suppressing invasive species and providing forage, but it comes at the expense of biological diversity, as crested wheatgrass also outcompetes almost every other native species it's been measured against, says Kilkenny.
The cost of that tradeoff hasn't gone unnoticed.
"Negative long-term effects of these species [of non-native grasses] on ecosystem functioning, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat have been documented," wrote Kilkenny and other scientists in a 2019 study.
And that has led to a change in practice.
A prescribed burn treatment is done to reduce hazardous fuels from non-native plants and to prepare the area for native plant seeding for restoration.
Austin Catlin / USFWS / CC BY-NC 2.0
From 1940 to 1980 virtually all reseeding was done with a mix of non-native forage grass, dominated by crested wheatgrass. In the following two decades, land managers began using some native seeds. By the turn of the century, there were more native seeds than non-native being used in reseeding and the mixes often contained a combination of grasses, forbs and shrubs. The most commonly used native species are Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), Lewis flax (Linum lewisii) and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)."Part of the reason for that is that there's been more development of native species, so there are more options on the market," said Kilkenny. Short supply and high costs for native seeds have previously been cited as limiting factors.
But not every kind of native seed is cheap or easy to get. Some seeds, like sagebrush, must be harvested from wild plants, and growing seedlings often requires planting them by hand rather than having a machine toss them in bulk. That's why land managers tend to favor seeds for perennial grasses that grow in a row-crop type environment.
"The technology that's used to grow wheat has been transferred to growing these native bunchgrasses," said Kilkenny.
It's still rare to find native-only seed mixes being used. But research has shown that when it does happen, they can do nearly as well as crested wheatgrass in competing with the dreaded cheatgrass.
Still, progress continues. A 2017 study led by USGS ecologist David S. Pilliod analyzed treatments of public lands and found that the upward trend in reseeding with native species is likely to continue because, "research suggests that locally adapted native seeds can perform better than seeds from distant locations or elevations."
The Need for Natives
Protecting native plants and working to restore areas where they've been displaced can be slow going — but a number of other native residents depend on the outcome. One of those is the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), which has become a species of conservation concern.
The bird, which ranges across the Great Basin, slipped in numbers to fewer than 200,000 as sagebrush-steppe habitat was lost to fire, development and invasive species. Sage grouse chicks depend on the cover of sagebrush and other shrubs to hide from predators and they need the native forbs and insects that grow in these intact habits for food.
A female greater sage-grouse with one of her eight chicks on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming.
Tom Koerner / USFWS / CC BY 2.0
"Chick rearing is dependent on having a highly biodiverse plant community," said Kilkenny. "So if your goal is to increase sage grouse habitat, you would want to try to use natives as much as possible." Post-fire habitats reseeded with crested wheatgrass lack ecological diversity and have been shown to be much lower in insect diversity, including pollinators, he says.
Helping to restore native plant communities in the sagebrush steppe provides both biological diversity and structural diversity — which will be key to boosting numbers for the greater sage-grouse.
Maintaining biodiverse plant communities is important not just in the Great Basin, of course, but everywhere we want healthy ecosystems.
Native plants have coevolved with native pollinators like bees. "The whole system of life depends on the plants and the complexity of the native species that are locally adapted to that area," said Williams, of the California Native Plant Society.
Biodiversity and healthy native plant communities will also be even more important as a warming climate changes the world around us.
"What people are pushing these days is to have resilient systems," she said. "And the basis of a resilient system is a diverse system."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brian J. Love and Julie Rieland
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry. Waste sources, quantities and destinations are all in flux, and shutdowns have devastated an industry that was already struggling.
Goodwill's Canton, Mich. site looks overwhelmed on June 16, with an oversupply of donations and little immediate chance for resale. Brian Love / CC BY-ND
Recyclers Under Pressure<p>Since March 2020, when most shelter-in-place orders began, sanitation workers have noted massive increases in municipal garbage and recyclables. For example, in cities like Chicago, workers have seen up to <a href="https://chicago.suntimes.com/coronavirus/2020/4/7/21212543/coronavirus-chicago-garbage-pickup-streets-sanitation-masks" target="_blank">50% more waste</a>.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://swana.org/" target="_blank">Solid Waste Association of North America</a>, U.S. cities saw a <a href="https://swana.org/news/swana-news/article/2020/06/17/swana-submits-statement-on-recycling-challenges-for-u.s.-senate-hearing" target="_blank">20% average increase</a> in municipal solid waste and recycling collection from March into April 2020. Increased trash can be attributed partly to spring cleaning, but most of it is due to people spending greater time at home. Restaurants struggling to survive under COVID-19 restrictions are contributing to the rise in plastic and paper waste with <a href="https://theconversation.com/using-lots-of-plastic-packaging-during-the-coronavirus-crisis-youre-not-alone-135553" target="_blank">takeout packaging</a>.</p><p>Although higher volumes of recyclables are being set on the curb, budget deficits are squeezing recycling programs. Many municipalities are struggling with <a href="https://www.ketv.com/article/omaha-mayor-health-officials-to-provide-covid-19-update-friday-afternoon/32498068#" target="_blank">multimillion-dollar shortfalls</a>. Some communities, such as Rock Springs, Wyoming, and East Peoria, Illinois, <a href="https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2020/05/27/budget-shortfalls-threaten-local-recycling-programs/" target="_blank">have cut recycling programs</a>.</p><p>And these stresses are testing a business already faced uncertainty.</p>
While bottle deposit stations remain closed, recyclables pile up in basements and garages. David Rieland / CC BY-ND
Turmoil in Scrap Markets<p>The global recycling economy has suffered since 2018 as first China and then other Asian nations <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-more-developing-countries-reject-plastic-waste-exports-wealthy-nations-seek-solutions-at-home-117163" target="_blank">banned imports of low-quality scrap</a> — often meaning improperly cleaned food packaging and poorly sorted recyclable materials. As in any business, the value of raw recyclables is linked to supply and demand. Without demand from nations like China, which formerly took up to 700,000 tons of U.S. scrap annually, recyclers have scrambled to stay in business.</p><p>The pandemic has boosted prices for some materials. One industry leader told us that between February and May 2020, prices doubled for recycled paper and tripled for recycled cardboard. These shifts reflect higher demand for tissue products and shipping packaging under shelter-in-place orders.</p><p>However, he also reported that prices for the most-recycled categories of reclaimed plastics — PET (#1) and PE (#2 and #4) – were at 10-year lows. An influx of cheap oil has driven the raw material cost of oil-derived virgin plastics to their lowest levels in decades, <a href="https://millerrecycling.com/oil-prices-recycling#:%7E:text=Higher%20oil%20prices%20can%20also,robust%20market%20for%20recycled%20plastic." target="_blank">outcompeting recycled feedstocks</a>.</p>
Difficult Economics<p>Ideally, revenues from recycling offset municipalities' costs for collecting and disposing of solid wastes. However, given worker safety concerns, low market prices for scrap materials, a slowed economy and cheaper alternatives for disposal, many communities and businesses across the U.S. have <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/recycling-mrfs-prison-labor-suspensions-coronavirus-covid-19/574301/" target="_blank">temporarily suspended</a> collection of recyclables and bottle deposits.</p><p>Meanwhile, as the commercial sector slowed, the distribution of waste generation changed. As people have spent more time producing waste at home, waste collectors implemented <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/" target="_blank">new procedures</a> to protect their employees from infection.</p><p>Recycling is a very hands-on process that requires workers to manually sort out items from the collection stream that are unsuitable for mechanical processing. Workers and waste collection companies have <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/" target="_blank">raised many safety questions</a> about recycling during the pandemic.</p><p>Precautions like social distancing and use of personal protective equipment have become commonplace among waste collectors and sorters, though concerns remain. Sorters are increasingly relying on automation, but implementation can be costly and takes time.</p>
Collections on Pause<p>Based on monitoring since 2017 by the trade publication <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/curbside-recycling-cancellation-tracker/569250/" target="_blank">Waste Dive</a>, nearly 90 curbside recycling programs had experienced or continue to experience a prolonged suspension over the past several years. About 30 of these suspensions have occurred since January 2020.</p>
Like many bottle deposit programs, Kroger's Ann Arbor, Mich. drop-off center shut down on March 23. Michigan bottle deposits across the state resumed on June 15, 2020 with new safety protocols. Brian Love / CC BY-ND<p>On a broader scale, it's not clear how much more waste Americans are currently producing during shutdowns. Commercial and residential waste aren't directly comparable. For example, a granola bar wrapper thrown away at the office is tallied differently than if discarded at home.</p><p>It is also challenging to quantify the effects of the pandemic while it is still unfolding. Historically, waste output from the commercial and industrial sectors has far outweighed the municipal stream. With many offices and business closed or operating at low levels, total U.S. waste production could actually be at a record low during this time. However, data on commercial and industrial wastes are not readily available.</p><p>At the California-based <a href="https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2020/04/28/city-data-shows-covid-19-impacts-on-recycling-tonnages/" target="_blank">Peninsula Sanitary Service</a>, which serves the Stanford University community, total tonnage was down 60% in March. The company attributes this drop to reduced commercial waste, particularly from construction. Similarly, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, noted a <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/metro-vancouver-garbage-decrease-covdi-19-1.5544942" target="_blank">10% decrease</a> year over year of waste collection levels for April.</p>
Expected sectors of plastic waste increase due to COVID-19, based on 2018 plastic usage distribution data from PlasticsEurope and Klemes et al., 2020. Brian Love and Julie Rieland / CC BY-ND
More Plastic Trash<p>As cities and industries reopen in the coming months, new data will show the pandemic's effects on consumer habits and waste generation. But regardless of total volume, the mix of materials in household wastes has shifted given the new ubiquity of single-use plastic containers, online shopping packaging and disposable gloves, wipes and face masks. Many of these new staples of pandemic life are made from plastics that are simply not worth recycling if there are any other disposal options.</p><p>Today Americans are trying to balance their physical well-being against ever-mounting piles of plastic waste. At a time when reducing and reusing could be dangerous, and recycling economics are unfavorable, we see a need for better options, such as more <a href="https://theconversation.com/bio-based-plastics-can-reduce-waste-but-only-if-we-invest-in-both-making-and-getting-rid-of-them-98282" target="_blank">compostable packaging</a> that is both safer and more sustainable.</p>
1. Processed ‘Low-Fat’ and ‘Fat-Free’ Foods<p>The "war" on <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/saturated-fat-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">saturated fat</a> could be considered one of the most misguided decisions in the history of nutrition.</p><p>It was based on weak evidence, which has now been completely <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/it-aint-the-fat-people/" target="_blank">debunked</a>.</p><p>When this discussion started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started removing the fat from foods.</p><p>But there's a huge problem. Food doesn't taste well when the fat has been removed. That's why they added a lot of sugar to compensate.</p><p>Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess.</p><p>The words "low fat" or "fat free" on packaging usually means that it's a highly processed product that's loaded with sugar.</p>
2. Most Commercial Salad Dressings<p>Vegetables are incredibly healthy.</p><p>The problem is that they often don't taste very good on their own.</p><p>That's why many people use dressings to add flavor to their salads, turning these bland meals into delicious treats.</p><p>But many salad dressings are actually loaded with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-trans-fats-are-bad/" target="_blank">trans fats</a>, along with various artificial chemicals.</p><p>Although vegetables are good for you, eating them with a dressing high in harmful ingredients negates any health benefit you get from the salad.</p><p>Check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing or make your own using healthy ingredients.</p>
3. Fruit Juices … Which Are Basically Just Liquid Sugar<p>A lot of people believe <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fruit-juice-is-just-as-bad-as-soda/" target="_blank">fruit juices</a> are healthy.</p><p>They must be because they come from fruit, right?</p><p>But most fruit juice you find in the grocery store isn't really fruit juice.</p><p>Sometimes they don't have any actual fruit in them, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you're drinking is basically fruit-flavored sugar water.</p><p>That being said, even if you're drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it's still not the best choice.</p><p>Fruit juice is like fruit, except with all the good stuff (like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fiber-good-for-you/" target="_blank">fiber</a>) taken out. The main thing left of the actual <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-fruit-good-or-bad-for-your-health/" target="_blank">fruit</a> is the sugar.</p><p>Fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage.</p>
4. ‘Heart-Healthy’ Whole Wheat<p>Most "whole wheat" products aren't really made from whole wheat.</p><p>The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour, which causes them to raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts.</p><p>In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread.</p><p>But even true whole wheat may be a bad idea because modern wheat is unhealthy compared to the wheat our grandparents ate.</p><p>Around 1960, scientists modified the genes in wheat to increase the yield. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/modern-wheat-health-nightmare/" target="_blank">Modern wheat</a> is less nutritious and has some properties that make it much worse for people who have a gluten intolerance.</p><p>There are also studies showing that modern wheat may cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, at least when compared to the older varieties.</p><p>Wheat may have been a relatively healthy grain back in the day, but the stuff most people are eating today should be consumed with caution.</p>
5. Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols<p>Phytosterols are nutrients that are basically like plant versions of cholesterol.</p><p>Some studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol in humans.</p><p>For this reason, they're often added to processed foods that are then marketed as "cholesterol lowering" and claimed to help prevent heart disease.</p><p>However, studies have shown that despite lowering cholesterol levels, phytosterols have negative effects on the cardiovascular system and may even increase the risk of heart disease and death.</p><p>People with phytosterolaemia (a genetic condition that raises plant sterol level in blood) are more susceptible to the negative effects of phytosterols.</p>
6. Margarine<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-reasons-why-butter-is-good-for-you/" target="_blank">Butter</a> was labeled a bad food choice in the past because of its high saturated fat content.</p><p>Various health experts started promoting margarine instead.</p><p>Back in the day, margarine used to be high in trans fats. These days, it has fewer trans fats than before, but it's still loaded with refined vegetable oils.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the Framingham Heart Study <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/butter-vs-margarine/" target="_blank">showed</a> that people who replace butter with margarine are actually more likely to die from heart disease.</p><p>If you want to improve your health, try to eat real butter (preferably <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grass-fed-butter-superfood-for-the-heart/" target="_blank">grass fed</a>), and avoid margarine with trans fat. Trans-fat-free margarine has become more available in recent years.</p><p>Always read nutrition facts carefully and limit products that contain trans fat.</p><p>Recommending trans fat-laden margarine instead of natural butter may be considered some of the worst nutrition advice in history.</p>
7. Sports Drinks<p>Sports drinks were designed with athletes in mind.</p><p>They contain electrolytes (salts) and sugar, which can be useful for athletes in many cases.</p><p>However, most people don't need additional salt or liquid sugar in their diet.</p><p>Although often considered "less bad" than sugary soft drinks, there's really no fundamental difference in the two, except the sugar content in sports drinks is sometimes <em>slightly</em> lower.</p><p>It's important to stay hydrated, especially when working out, but most people will be better off sticking to plain <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day/" target="_blank">water</a>.</p>
8. Low-Carb Junk Foods<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-carb-diet-meal-plan-and-menu/" target="_blank">Low carb diets</a> have been incredibly popular for many decades.</p><p>In the past 12 years, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/23-studies-on-low-carb-and-low-fat-diets/" target="_blank">studies</a> have confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health.<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x/abstract" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and brought various low carb "friendly" processed foods to the market.</p><p>This includes highly processed foods like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-atkins-low-carb-bars-healthy/" target="_blank">Atkins bars</a>. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see that there's no real food in them, just chemicals and highly refined ingredients.</p><p>These products can be consumed occasionally without compromising the metabolic adaptation that comes with low carb eating.</p><p>However, they don't really nourish your body. Even though they're technically low carb, they're still unhealthy.</p>
9. Agave Nectar<p>Given the known <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-disturbing-reasons-why-sugar-is-bad/" target="_blank">harmful effects</a> of sugar, people have been looking for alternatives.</p><p>One of the more popular "natural" sweeteners is agave nectar, which is also called agave syrup.</p><p>You'll find this sweetener in all sorts of "healthy foods," often with attractive claims on the packaging.</p><p>The problem with agave is that it's no better than regular sugar. In fact, it's much worse.</p><p>One of the main problems with sugar is that it has excessive amounts of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fructose-bad-for-you/" target="_blank">fructose</a>, which can cause severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess.</p><p>Sugar is about 50% fructose and 55% high fructose corn syrup, but agave contains even more — up to 70-90%.</p><p>Therefore, gram for gram, agave is even worse than regular sugar.</p><p>"Natural" doesn't always equal healthy. Whether agave should even be considered natural is debatable.</p>
10. Vegan Junk Foods<p>Vegan diets are very popular these days, often due to ethical and environmental reasons.</p><p>However, many people promote vegan diets for the purpose of improving health.</p><p>There are many processed vegan foods on the market, often sold as convenient replacements for non-vegan foods.</p><p>Vegan bacon is one example.</p><p>But it's important to keep in mind that these are usually highly processed, factory made products that are bad for almost anyone, including people who are vegan.</p>
11. Brown Rice Syrup<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-rice-syrup-good-or-bad/" target="_blank"><br>Brown rice syrup</a>, also known as rice malt syrup, is a sweetener that's mistakenly assumed to be healthy.</p><p>It's made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars.</p><p>Brown rice syrup contains no refined fructose, just glucose.</p><p>The absence of refined fructose is good, but rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which means that the glucose in it will spike blood sugar extremely fast.<a href="http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=2648&ak=detail" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Rice syrup is also highly refined and contains almost no essential nutrients. In other words, it's considered "empty" calories.</p><p>Some concerns have been raised about arsenic contamination in this syrup, which is another reason to be extra careful with this sweetener.</p><p>There are other sweeteners out there, including low calorie sweeteners like:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/stevia/" target="_blank">stevia</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/erythritol/" target="_blank">erythritol</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xylitol-101/" target="_blank">xylitol</a></li></ul><p>In general, try to use all sweeteners wisely and follow recommended serving sizes.</p>
12. Processed Organic Foods<p>Unfortunately, the word "organic" has become a typical marketing buzzword in many instances.</p><p>Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same products, except with ingredients that happen to be organic.</p><p>This includes ingredients like organic raw cane sugar, which is basically 100% identical to regular sugar. It's still just glucose and fructose with little to no nutrients.</p><p>In many cases, the difference between an ingredient and its organic counterpart is next to none.</p><p>Processed foods that happen to be labeled organic aren't necessarily healthy. Always check the label to see what's inside.</p>
13. Vegetable Oils<p>We're often advised to eat seed and vegetable oils, which includes soybean oil, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/canola-oil-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">canola oil</a>, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grape-seed-oil/" target="_blank">grapeseed oil</a>, and numerous others.</p><p>This recommendation is based on the fact that these oils have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, at least in the short term.<a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23731447/" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, it's important to keep in mind that blood cholesterol is a <em>risk factor</em>. It's not a disease in itself.</p><p>Even though vegetable oils can help improve a risk factor, there's no guarantee that they'll help prevent actual health outcomes like heart attacks or death, which is what really counts.</p><p>In fact, several controlled trials have shown that despite lowering cholesterol, these oils can increase the risk of developing heart disease and memory impairment.</p><p>It's important to eat healthy, natural fats like butter, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/" target="_blank">coconut oil</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/extra-virgin-olive-oil/" target="_blank">olive oil</a> in moderation.</p><p>Also, follow the recommended serving size, but limit processed <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-vegetable-and-seed-oils-bad/" target="_blank">vegetable oils</a> as if your health depended on it, which it does.</p>
14. Gluten-Free Junk Foods<p>According to a <a href="http://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/percentage-of-us-adults-trying-to-cut-down-or-avoid-gluten-in-their-diets-reaches-new-high-in-2013-reports-npd/" target="_blank">2013 survey</a>, about a third of people in the United States are actively trying to limit or avoid gluten.</p><p>Many experts believe this is unnecessary, but the truth is, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-shocking-reasons-why-gluten-is-bad/" target="_blank">gluten</a>, especially from modern wheat, can be problematic for a lot of people.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the food manufacturers have brought <em>all sorts</em> of gluten-free foods to the market.</p><p>The problem with these foods is that they usually have the same negative effects on your body as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse.</p><p>These are highly processed foods containing few nutrients and often made with refined starches that can lead to very rapid spikes in blood sugar.</p><p>Try to choose foods that are naturally gluten free, like plants and animals, not gluten-free processed foods.</p><p>Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.</p>
15. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals<p>The way some breakfast cereals are marketed can be deceiving.</p><p>Many of them, including those that are marketed toward children, have various health claims listed on the box.</p><p>This includes claims like "whole grain" or "low fat" that may be misleading.</p><p>This is especially true when you look at the ingredients list and see that these products mostly contain:</p><ul><li>refined grains</li><li>sugar</li><li>artificial chemicals</li></ul><p>It's important to always review product packaging to confirm what you're actually putting in your body and whether it's healthy for you.</p><p>Truly healthy foods are whole, single-ingredient foods. Their health benefits speak for them.</p><p>Real food doesn't even need an ingredients list, because real food is the ingredient.</p>
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
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By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
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"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
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