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3 Foods With a Religious Connection

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This short piece originally appeared as a sidebar in the mental_floss book 'In the Beginning: A Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything.'

Pretzel Logic

One widely accepted account says pretzels were developed in 610 C.E. by an Italian monk. He baked the confections for children as an incentive to memorize scripture. In fact, the shape of the treats reflects this, since the criss-crossed bits are supposed to depict the folded arms of pious children in prayer.

Turning Water Into Welch's

In 1869, Christian dentist and prude extraordinaire Dr. Thomas Welch invented "unfermented wine." As the good Doc saw it, drinking in alcohol in church was a bit of a contradiction, so he brewed up a batch of the unfermented stuff to wash down Eucharist. Local pastors weren't interested, though, and a dejected Thomas was sent back to his teeth pulling. Six years later, his son began marketing the beverage—this time as Welch's Grape Juice.

Cod is Good, Cod is Great: The Filet-O-Fish Story

In the early 1960s, a McDonald's in Cincinnati was beginning to notice a pattern: Friday sales were always low. The reason? The city's large Catholic population couldn't eat meat on Fridays. Taking a little initiative, franchise owner Lou Groen asked chairman Ray Kroc if he could expand his menu. He eventually gave in, though, and sponsored some research. The McDonald's team came back with a cod sandwich. But because Kroc hated the word "cod" (probably from drinking spoonfuls of cod-liver oil as a kid), it was marketed as Filet-O-Fish, and became a permanent addition to the menu in 1963.

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

Vranich is the author of 2016’s Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Watch, learn, and—of course—inhale and exhale along with her until you feel zen enough to salvage the remainder of your workday.

[h/t Business Insider]

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