The Science of a good night’s sleep

Oh hello! Missed me? I do hope so.

I decided to take a breather to focus on other quests. However, despite the absence, my mind has never left this blog. It’s good to be back!

And speaking of pause, how do you fell when you wake up in the morning? Is your sleep restorative?

I am trying to force myself not only to sleep more but to sleep better. There’s a difference, you know?

There are myriads of online advice, lists and apps to help you have a restful night. Unfortunately, the solution is not simple.

If you are curious, here’s what I am attempting to improve my sleep quality:

Continue reading “The Science of a good night’s sleep”


Driving home for Christmas… and some monkfish

I’ll be going home for Christmas in a week. I cannot wait!

I aim, in the short 12 days of my Holiday break, to soak up as much as I can. It’s a big task: I have a long list of things to do… and eat.

Portugal has many Christmas gastronomic traditions and I will partake in many, but the one I am craving the most involves the ugliest yet tastiest fish ever – the monkfish.

Continue reading “Driving home for Christmas… and some monkfish”

The Chemistry of Baking

Those that follow my ramblings already know about my passion for baking.

I love everything about bread: the flavour of a sourdough, the smell of a fresh baked cinnamon loaf, the sound of a cracking baguette crust…

What I also love about baking is the science behind it. Baking is based on carefully balanced formulas: the right amount of flour and yeast for an even rise, the exact proportion of water and flour for the perfect moisture, the correct order of ingredients for a smooth batter.

A slice of multigrain​ sourdough
Multigrain sourdough from Cliffside Heart Bakery for breakfast.

Continue reading “The Chemistry of Baking”

In gut we trust – we are what we eat

Bacteria have been around for a while (at least two and a half billion years) and will outlive us, humans. For many years, they have been accused of all evils and antibiotics were viewed as the holy grail for saving lives… Not anymore – bacteria are our allies!

Scientists are now realizing that there are 100 trillion bacteria that live in cooperation with and in our gut (making up what they call the gut microbiome). A big chunk of these microorganisms has such an important role in our wellbeing that scientists and health agencies are willing to spend millions of dollars studying them.

Previously, we talked about the role of such microorganisms in our guts, the importance of a balanced gut ecosystem and how our western way of life is killing our shielding gut bacteria. The good news is that the solution is in everyone’s mouth: we are what we eat.


Probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics – everyone has heard of them, maybe gave them a try but do we really understand their potential? 

What are they?

PROBIOTICS are live microorganisms which, when taken in adequate amounts, give us a health benefit. These microorganisms have to resist (at least, partially) the digestion process to reach the intestine and are naturally abundant in some food or may be ingested in the form of dietary supplements.

Their main function is to populate (or repopulate) the ecosystem with beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus and Streptococcus, among others.

Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics
Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics – what are they?

But seeding bacteria in our guts may not be enough. For a healthy gut, we need to feed these microorganisms with the proper food to promote their growth and activity – the PREBIOTICS. Examples include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods.

Another emergent term is SYNBIOTICS. Basically, this encompasses all foods and nutritional supplements that combine pro- and prebiotic benefits.

What are the benefits of taking probiotics?

People take probiotics mostly to improve their digestive functions, but some studies state their positive effect on the immune status and in the prevention of certain diseases.

A healthy gut is a combination of multiple factors.
A healthy gut is a combination of multiple factors.


The list of benefits is ever growing; some medical claims are more evident than others. To keep abreast of all the information here are some helpful sources

  • for practical advice on probiotics
  • for a complete list of clinical claims check the Word Gastroenterology Organization’s website
  • For help on how to make Smart Choices on Probiotics and Prebiotics

How do probiotics work?

The normal interaction between gut microorganisms and their host is a win-win (symbiotic) relationship.

As you know, the intestine’s main function is to absorb nutrients and water essential for our survival. Bacteria help in the absorption of some vitamins, but they also stimulate our immune defense. Approximately 60% of the body’s immune cells are in the intestinal wall to protect us from allergies (from the foods we eat) and infections (from the pathogens that may occur there).

Probiotics (the live microorganisms) compete for food and a favourable environment with pathogens preventing colonization of opportunistic and pathogenic microorganisms and, at the same time, stimulate the intestinal cells’ immune response.

All that in exchange for some food and shelter. Great tenants we have, eh?

Cheers, Gisela

What job would you have if you did not have to work for a living?

This is a question I ask my friends and acquaintances quite often.

If you could change your career path and not worry about anything, what would you be?

Sometimes their answers surprise me, other not so much. I get to know people on a different level and, it is interesting to see my friends’ dreams change over time.

I will be honest with you: my friends have pretty boring jobs but, when they are allowed to dream, they are spies, professional video gamers, documentary directors, lighthouse keepers, painters…

Me? I would be a baker.

And, while I would wait for the dough to rise, I would be a microscopist. And I would have a blog like this –

Bravo Sally Warring (follow her on Instagram)!

Note to self: prepare a post on the chemistry behind a savoury sourdough or a baguette’s crispy crust.

Cheers, Gisela

Five insane (but true) things about gossip (and a guilty pleasure)

The other day I went to Starbucks. Alone. As I didn’t want it to seem that I cannot be comfortable by myself, instead of reaching for my cell phone and browsing the internet’s emptiness, I played my favourite pastime: Listen to other people’s conversations.
Yes, I admit it. I’m that kind of person.

I love to peek at their mannerisms, notice accents. I tell myself that it’s all part of a social experiment or, since I moved to Canada, to improve my English skills but the truth is… I am a snooper! Oops, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong… The habit started a few years ago, after reading an article that said that about two-thirds of our conversations are about social topics, more specifically gossip (Dunbar, 2004). To test this theory, since then, whenever I go to cafeterias, restaurants, waiting rooms, I listen to my neighbours’ conversations.
Most of the time, what I hear is informal, trivial chatter about peoples’ lives. The majority of this so called gossip is not negative at all.

Given the fact that conversation is a human trait and that we spend a lot of time and energy in these social exchanges, gossiping must have an important social function, says Evolutionary Biologist, Robin Dunbar. In his article, he hypothesised that Gossip is the glue for social group bonding and one of the motors for language development.
He demystifies the current negative definition of gossip. In fact, gossip may be a form of social grooming equivalent to the grooming behaviour we see in chimps and other social primates.

grooming in chimpanzees
Grooming in chimpanzees: The purpose of this behaviour is to remove old hair, soil parasites but also to relax and bond with the group. All primates (including humans) show this behaviour. Credits: WWF / Michel Gunther

Because of the hominids’ (that’s us) increasing social networks, grooming was too time consuming and gossip came to be the best substitute.
Gossip is an effective way of:
1. bringing people together
2. building networks and alliances
3. defining who is a friend and who is not
4. reinforcing social values
5. clarifying hierarchies

The idea that gossip and human language evolved together and that the primary function of gossip is to build and maintain social relationships is mind blowing and has stayed with me ever since. It changed my perspective on how humans interact and became my guilty pleasure.

Gossiping networking



How about you, dear readers, do you gossip?
My fellow snoopers, I want to hear from you!


Cheers, Gisela

Le Petit Prince – The book that made me what I am

The Little Prince is known to be a book for children written for grown-ups. It is the book of my life.

I can never get tired of the story. Despite the number of times I have read it, it is always a fascinating story, with multiple layers that morph as you grow up.

If you do not know the story, stop immediately, run to your nearest library and get the book.


You are missing a wonderful, unpretentious tale that never gets old. Besides, it has the most beautiful watercolour illustrations made by the writer\narrator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry/The Little Prince

In a nutshell, this is a story of an aviator that crashes his aeroplane in the Sahara Desert and meets a little boy who asks him to draw a sheep. To his surprise and bewilderment, the aviator learns that the boy comes from asteroid B-612 and before reaching Earth, he visited other planets and met some very odd people.

A king of a planet who claims to rule the entire universe, the vain man, alone on another planet who seeks attention and believes he is the most beautiful and richest man, a drunk who drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking, a lamplighter very diligent in his work turning lamps on and off even when he knows that his duties are pointless. Everyone he meets before arriving to earth is isolated and consumed by their own lives, something that The Little Prince doesn’t understand. They are, in fact, caricatures of adults that we easily identify.

Why this book review in a blog about Science and Nature?

The Little Prince is a pure and innocent soul that sets to explore the world to feed his curiosity and fight his loneliness, leaving behind three volcanoes and a rose for which he worries a lot. On earth he encounters a fox that teaches him the importance of making bonds, rituals in friendship and also a secret:

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes… It’s the time that you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important… People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said, “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose…”

The book taught me the importance of not taking yourself very seriously and of living your life with enthrallment for the ordinary.

At the start of the book, the narrator tells the story of a drawing he did at the age of six, of a snake that had eaten an elephant. The adults he showed the picture to thought is was a hat. Because it was “tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”, he had to draw a transparent snake with the elephant inside so that they would understand.

 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry/The Little Prince

As an adult, he would use these drawings to test peoples’ imagination and creativity. If they failed, then he would never talk to that person about “boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars”. He would have himself down to their level, talking “about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man”.

I am always trying my best to see the elephant inside the snake and this blog is my journey towards it.

Through my passion for Science and the firm knowledge that we are just another species in the web of life, I accept my own nature and my place in the world.

How about you? Do you see the hat or the snake?

For more information:

Cheers, Gisela