Spotlight on: The Varsity Blues Wrestling Team

Wrestling is a very intense, physically demanding sport, requiring superior agility and strength.

The Varsity Blues Wrestling Team is comprised of only four men and three women who are actively competing. The teammates practice together and with non-Blues wrestlers.

“We have some international wrestlers,” says Blues wrestler Dene Ringuette. “Quite a few who are the best in Canada, who are almost uncontested.”

There is a maximum of six practices per week. Some practices are devoted to technique, while others are solely devoted to matches. The intensity of the practice differs depending on whether or not a tournament is approaching.

“You have volume training, and then you have high-intensity low volume training before major events. This basically mimics what you do at competitions,” says Ringuette.

Team members have the chance to improve their technique with members of other clubs who drop by to practice with the Blues. Teammates are supportive of each other, often acting like coaches for other wrestlers.

“At practice everyone works together,” adds wrestler Alyssa James.
alt text

Although upon first glance wrestling may not seem safe, Riguette insists that, “Despite the fact that there are a lot of injuries, it is a very safe sport. I can’t think of one that is that safe for how intense it is.”

There are a few distinct styles of wrestling. Folkstyle wrestling is found in the United States and Cuba, while Greco Roman is most popular in Europe. The Varsity Blues wrestlers primarily compete in Olympic freestyle.

Folkstyle involves technique similar to freestyle, but with slightly different rules, while Greco Roman is entirely different. For Greco Roman, feet are not allowed to be used in any way — whether to take your opponent down or to escape a hold. Greco Roman wrestling involves more high-amplitude throws. Riguette won the Greco Roman Ontario Provincials last year, but his training is not focused on this style.

”It’s certainly done as an afterthought here in Ontario. I guarantee that all my opponents see it as an afterthought,” says Ringuette.

The team participates in up to eight tournaments per year within the university circuit, and in tournaments outside the circuit, including provincials and nationals. At every tournament, each match is best two out of three, two-minute rounds. Matches last between four and six minutes.

An exception occurs if an athlete executes a five-point takedown: this occurs rarely and only if the opponent’s heels go over their head during the course of the throw.

“The criteria for a five-point take down is that during the course of a throw or a leg takedown, their feet have made an arc, meaning their feet have gone head over heels,” says Riguette.

This takedown ends the match.
alt text

Another possibility is the one-point takedown which is when you take the opponent down by grabbing their feet and putting them into a non-dangerous position, like on their back.

There’s also the two-point takedown.

“For two-points you’d have to expose their back to the mat while par terre (on the ground)” says James.

A three-point takedown is from “feet to back” — when you take the opponent by their feet, they must end up on their back.

If the score is zero-zero when time is up, the tie-breaks are decided by flipping a coin.

“One person gets to grab the other’s leg — if they score, they win. If they don’t score, the other person wins,” says Ringuette.

If the final score is a tie but not zero-zero then the last athlete who scored wins the match.

At both competitions and practices the Varsity athletes get to compete against and practice with players from all around the world, always learning new techniques and styles.

“Often I find that Russians are the best wrestlers. Their style is more balanced, more like a chess match,” says Ringuette. “They never seem to beat up an opponent. That’s more the American style. The Russians are focused on deception, and I find that it works better. It’s not about trying to sneak in there quick. Instead, they’ll set you up at the beginning.”

Both James and Ringuette say they enjoy wrestling because there are always new techniques to be learned, it is physically intense, and it is an individual sport. Although the team boasts some elite wrestlers, it also welcomes those who are new to the sport.

“If you want to join, just come to practice, and if you work hard enough, you’ll get to compete,” says James.

Elementary, my dear Watson

On February 14, 2011, Alex Trebek will play host to a battle of man versus machine.

In a special edition of Jeopardy, IBM’s deep analytics question-answer computer “Watson,” named after IBM president Thomas J. Watson, will play against top Jeopardy winners Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. IBM researchers hope to answer the question of how a computer will fare in a competition of knowledge retrieval and natural language processing when it’s up against human players.

The rest of us are hoping for an answer to the question of whether a computer can ever be smarter than a human. Although it is tempting to pit this as a fight between artificial intelligence and human intelligence, it is much more important to consider it as an event with profound implications for understanding the nature of intelligence and what it means to be an intelligent being.

Watson represents a big step in IBM’s long journey toward creating innovative intelligent machines. IBM’s previous landmark was a computer named “Blue Gene,” which scientists used to map the three billion base-pairs of the human genome. For Watson, the issue is instead to tackle a different but equally complex task: natural language.

“Language was an area that, even at the beginning of the computer era, people believed computers would be good at,” says Dr. Bill Murdock, a Watson algorithms researcher. “So far, computers have failed.”

From the beginning, the problem has always been “open question answering.” This problem is very different from a simple search task that everyday computers are built for. It also more closely resembles how humans actually communicate.

“People can understand language because we relate it to our own thinking and our cognition,” says Murdock. “Language is grounded in our experiences — not in a formal mathematical language that computers can only understand. Computers understand unambiguous things, not like human language.”

Indeed, one of the most curious and impressive challenges will be testing Watson’s ability to discern the many nuances, regionalisms, slang words, and short hand terms that run rampant in Jeopardy questions.

“Jeopardy is a playing field by which we can do some science,“ says Dr. Chris Welty. He explains that Jeopardy producers were at first hesitant about the idea, since they did not want the event to be a mere stunt or gimmick for their show. They reconsidered, however, when they realized the idea was not something to be passed off — a lucky break for IBM researchers, since Jeopardy provides the perfect conditions for testing a natural language processing machine.

“Jeopardy as the broad domain aspect asks all kinds of questions — something we really wanted to take on,” says Welty. “And you have to work quickly. Technology must be responsive. We needed to make a system that can extract unique information from a large amount of general information, and faster than a human can.”
alt text

Early tests showed that Watson’s processing speed would be a major problem to overcome. Researchers used a process of putting as many algorithms as possible into the system, and then seeing which ones they could trust to provide a correct answer. The system works on parallel processing. Once Watson is fed a question, it activates all relevant algorithms, and cross-references them with the question. If there is a high degree of overlap or similarity between certain algorithms, this increases Watson’s confidence that it has found the correct answer.

Watson can also input answers into its own system to see if the Jeopardy question appears. This further reinforces its confidence in its answer, highlighting the statistical basis of Watson’s processing.

As one might guess, to be a competitive player at Jeopardy, Watson would need as many algorithms as possible, representing all available knowledge. Luckily, this obstacle was overcome thanks to the Internet, where vast amounts of information are now available digitally.

Watson represents IBM’s most ambitious foray into deep analytics and natural language processing. However, Watson’s early test matches were difficult for IBM researchers to watch:

Watson: “I Love Lucy for 800.”

Question: “It is Ricky’s signature tune and later the name of his club.”

Watson: “What is song.”

According to Dr. David Gondek, “Watson didn’t have a good notion of what the answer type was, or what it was even being asked.”

It would take two years for Watson to play at a competitive level. This was accomplished by building a computer the size of a classroom.

Dr. Eduard Hovy of the University of Southern California says the implications for such a machine will become more apparent and astounding once we can imagine a Watson the size of a PDA.

A more practical-sized Watson could be used in the healthcare industry. IBM researchers hope to build a Watson that can store all the medical information in the world — from illnesses to tried treatments — in order to provide information to doctors when treating patients. Doctors would be able to ask Watson to name all the treatments that have been performed for a particular ailment in the past, and choose one accordingly.

Lawyers could also benefit from Watson when searching for precedent cases, by asking it to name all of the cases similar to the one at hand. Watson would essentially make information retrieval more efficient using its ability to understand human language.

“Can you imagine computers communicating more fluently in natural language?” asks Welty. On February 14, we won’t need to.

The Varsity Interview: Lieutenant Governor David Onley

The Varsity: I just wanted to start off by congratulating you on almost four years in this office.

David Onley: Four years, yes. Well, three and a bit now. I don’t like to use the “four years” just yet.

TV: Why’s that?

DO: Well it’s just hard to believe that so much time has gone by. It really has — even to say three years is amazing to me.

TV: It must be all sort of a blur now, but what was it initially like to get that phone call from the Prime Minister?

DO: It was an amazing moment. There is a process that you have to go through when you realize that you’re on the short list and you’re actually interviewed for the job. So the last Thursday of June of 2007, just prior to the Canada Day weekend, I was called by the Prime Minister’s office, [and they said] that they wanted to interview me. […] The interview was scheduled to go on for 45 minutes, but the way [the interviewer] was sitting, every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of his watch, and [the interview] was 10 minutes shy of 90 minutes. […] [On] Wednesday, it was 20 minutes to 5 and this gentleman called. And the first thing he said was the Prime Minister needs to talk to you. […] I was driving, at the top of the Don Valley Parkway. And I thought to myself, Lord don’t let me hit anybody, just keep it straight in this lane.

TV: The Governor General, in his installation speech, mentioned three pillars he wanted to address during his time in office: families and children, learning and innovation, and philanthropy and volunteerism. At the onset of this journey, what were the goals that you personally set for yourself?

alt text
DO: The primary one is the whole concept of accessibility within our society. And it’s an issue that I’ve been promoting through my whole term in office. It is something that is more than just for people with disabilities, who [constitute] 15.5 per cent of our population. When you take into account the immediate family members, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children of those disabled people, it is now comfortably over 50 per cent of the population who are affected. And with the aging boomer population, who just by virtue of aging will be encountering more issues, accessibility is no longer an option, it’s mandatory. […] I’ve made a series of good allegiances and alliances and contacts with a range of communities, whether it’s the Black History association or the Monarchist League or children’s hospitals. [It’s important to] reach out to many different ethnic communities who have come to Canada and to whom the monarchy is a new experience.

TV: You mentioned your father’s faith. What’s been the role of spirituality at this stage in your life?

DO: Well for me, as a Christian, it’s been a fundamental part of my life. There are issues and there are problems in life that you just simply can’t answer with traditional mathematics, chemistry, physics, languages. The issues of suffering, the randomness of bad events — as the title of that famous book many years ago said — bad things do happen to good people. And why is that? When I got polio at three and a half, I wasn’t a bad person, but it happened. And why was the police officer killed a week and a half ago? And why was the congresswoman shot in the US? And ultimately the questions we all wrestle with are where do we come from, why are we here, and where are we going. And I think it’s important in life to not ignore those questions.
alt text

TV: Obviously being visibly disabled comes with its own burdens and pain, but I was wondering what advice you’d offer those who feel emotionally trapped or inadequate or discouraged?

DO: I think somehow, within ourselves we have to realize that there’s no one that’s perfect. Society can airbrush all they want and present images of perfection. But even if you don’t have any immediate imperfections, it doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer or be struck down by MS or get hit by a car. I saw a picture in the newspaper today and there was a gentleman in an electric wheelchair speaking at the TTC hearing about the changes to bus routes. When I saw the picture I thought, “well, good for him.” He’s out there, doing more than so many people. He’s making his voice known and his opinions heard. I think that, regardless of your religion, we are made in the image of God, and some of us have issues or difficulties. If you’re judging a person’s value or worth based on what disease they’ve encountered or on a birth defect, these are not descriptions of character.

If there’s any overall criticism of the way our society markets things, it’s that we put a ridiculous overemphasis on the peripheral and on imagery. Far too little on the core values of what it is that makes a society unique, why we have the quality of life that we have, despite its imperfections, and its heartache, and its miscarriages of justice. In comparison to just about any other country in the world, we’re doing very well. I like to tell the students in elementary school that these things didn’t come about by accident, that slavery had to be done away with. We had slavery in the province of Ontario in 1791 until the first lieutenant governor took the steps to get rid of it and create the court system that we have. Such a fundamental concept of freedom happened in 1791; it didn’t happen in the States until a war was fought over it. There’s a quality of life and values that didn’t happen by accident and those values are far more important than any transient image.

I know I’m combining two elements together in terms of motivation, and I don’t expect that someone struggling will be motivated because of the experiences of John Grave Simcoe in 1792. But at the same time, it is possible. There are more opportunities here than anywhere else.
alt text

TV: What’s been a particularly poignant moment from the past three
and a half years?

DO: I have an enormous sensitivity to basically any time I’ve presented a memorial cross to the families of soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. That’s been just really powerful. […] [Furthermore] the three police funerals I’ve been to. One for the OPP officer in Ottawa, Officer Czapnik; Officer Hack, who died in a car crash in pursuit of a suspect; and most recently, Sergeant Ryan Russell. I was the only person not affiliated with the police who spoke. Those were deeply moving moments that I’ll never forget. […] On the positive side of things, [there have been] just amazing moments: meeting the Emperor and Empress of Japan and having them here in the suite [of the Lieutenant Governor]; having Queen Elizabeth visit there, the first monarch to visit since before the war; meeting Hu Jintao; meeting Prince Charles when he came; and people in the world of entertainment like Dolly Parton and Don Cherry. Probably the mot significant memory I have that I’ll always take away with me would be at the Prime Minister’s dinner for the Queen, held at the Royal York. […] She made eye contact with me, came over and started to talk about what a wonderful evening she had, and how she’d be seeing me tomorrow and how she rather looked forward to it.

Sororities and fraternities targeted by Vaughan

Members of U of T’s fraternity and sorority houses are crying foul after receiving a financial hit.

As of late January, the houses are subject to a zoning bylaw that classifies most as “rooming houses,” requiring them to obtain a licence and close if too many noise complaints are issued.

Adam Vaughan, Councillor of Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, spearheaded the changes last June, citing noise complaints about frat houses lining Prince Arthur Avenue, a street otherwise filled with private condos and townhouses.

alt text
Vaughan is also moving to prohibit the houses from renting out their property for lucrative movie shoots. He alleges the profits, which can amount to $7,000 per day, are used to fund parties that prompt noise complaints. Options for the ban will be discussed this month.

“The idea isn’t to chase them out of the neighbourhood, the idea isn’t to close them, the idea isn’t to stop them from providing cheap, affordable housing,” Vaughan told the National Post. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at four o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?”

Fraternities and sororities at U of T aren’t affiliated with the university, and most are located off-campus.

“I can’t speak to the relative legitimacy of complaints that Councillor Vaughan may or may not have received,” said Adam Carson, speaking to the Toronto Sun on behalf of local frat houses.

“I can say though that we don’t feel that licensing and regulation is a necessary step that’s required by the city Any of the issues that the councillor has brought up […] are addressed and covered by the existing municipal code.”

Councillor Karen Stintz has moved to re-evaluate the zoning changes, and study if sufficient consultation took place beforehand.

With files from the Globe and Mail.

War, what is it good for? (Good filmmaking?)

There is a new director in Canada. He is quiet, unassuming, and young. He graduated from York University and his name is Ryan Redford. (No, he is not related to Robert.) He just made his first film, Oliver Sherman, starring Canadian thespians Garrett Dillahunt and Molly Parker, along with Donal Logue, who I am told is semi-American, but he “had been born in Ottawa and lived there for a couple weeks, but that counts,” says Redford, referring to the requirement of a Canadian film to have Canadian cast in order to get Canadian money.

The film itself is a meditative look at the life of a couple of war veterans seven years after their service is finished. Why would a young, unassuming Canadian director want to make a movie about the experience of North American war veterans? “I don’t see it as a political movie. I can’t help if people are going to see that within it,” says Redford. “Throughout the making of it there was some call from various people to make it a definitive Canadian Coming Home movie, because I guess there hasn’t really been one, but that didn’t really interest me.” (Redford is referring to the classic Hal Ashby movie, starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, about returning Vietnam veterans). “I think it would be really arrogant and irresponsible of me, who doesn’t have any experience with that, to attempt to make some definitive statement about it.”

In Oliver Sherman, the title character (Dillahunt), suffering from PSTD, makes an unexpected visit to the house of a fellow former soldier, Franklin (Logan). Where Sherman is obsessed with war and cannot seem to get over it, Franklin has gotten married, raised children, and lives a functional life. In keeping with Redford’s goal of not making a political film, it keeps many things vague or unsaid. We never learn when or where it’s set; specific signifiers like license plates were altered give the film universal generalized feeling. “In order to keep it universal and in order for it to have this weird lyrical quality to it, I felt we had to strip that away.” Redford adapted the screenplay from the short story “Veterans” by Rachel Ingalls, which displays a similar quality. “The short story is actually set after the Korean War, but otherwise, her stuff, and even that story, aside from the Korean element… in a good way there’s this generic timeless quality to it.”

alt text
This style is a hallmark of Redford’s days as a student filmmaker at York and a director of short films in the years that followed. When talking about these films, he claims “they all had a very rural and other worldly lyrical quality to them. Between those five or six movies, they had maybe fifteen lines of dialogue,” but his first feature film isn’t quite so sparse: “I guess the leap was dialogue; it has more dialogue. That said, the dialogue is pretty stylized; it’s not realistic dialogue, it’s pretty austere literary dialogue.” This austerity extends to the manner in which the themes of the film unfold. Redford wanted to question the “validity of violence as a way of life.” The film deals with men who are capable of great violence and the potential for violence within the characters seems always to be lurking behind the performances, but Redford made a conscious decision not to depict any violence on screen. “There are two ways you can go about creating tension. You can be very graphic about something and you can underline it. You can have a score that’s telegraphing it and telling you to feel intensely… or you can do the opposite, which is what I did, which is to constantly withhold and to exercise restraint and to take away. It was a decision from the get-go to never show anything happening on screen.”

Considering the grimness of the story, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like on set. I remembered seeing a set photo of Mel Gibson filming The Passion of the Christ with a red clown nose on. “If it’s grim on set, it’s not grim because of the subject matter,” he assures me, “it’s the money that’s going out the window, the weather’s horrible and you need to get your scenes… Because of the subject matter was it grim on set? No.” Well, that’s good news, I suppose.

Science in brief

Scientists identify new genetic variants linked with human height

While the genetic contributions to height have always been recognized, only recently have scientists begun to identify specific genetic variants dictating an individual’s height.

Height is thought to be the product of variations at multiple genes, each producing a minor contribution. Researchers from The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia embarked on a genetic study of over 100,000 individuals in an attempt to identify variants contributing to adult height. Their method involved genotyping each individual, leading them to uncover 64 height-associated variants.

The scientists analysed the genomes by studying single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which are a change in only one nucleotide of the genetic code. By genotyping uncommon SNP arrays — with a frequency of less than 5 per cent — new disease variants can be discovered, which could have been previously missed using common SNP arrays. However, these variants occur at a low frequency, which is why a large sample size is critical to detect them. Interestingly enough, these low-frequency variants actually have a greater independent effect than some of the more common variants.

This large collaborative study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.— Nardin Samuel

Source: Cell Press

Brain activity linked to likelihood of quitting smoking

Want to quit smoking, but think you can’t? A new study from the University of Michigan suggests that what you think may not necessarily correspond with your actual likelihood of quitting smoking.

Researchers took 28 heavy smokers and had them watch pro-health TV advertisements aimed at helping people quit smoking. They used fMRI, a scanning technology that measures brain activity, to see how the study participants responded to the ads. After seeing each ad, they also had the subjects rate how it affected their intention and confidence regarding quitting.

To follow up, the researchers contacted the participants one month after the scan to see how much they were smoking, and validated these reports by measuring the levels of carbon monoxide in their blood. Compared to smoking an average of 21 cigarettes a day before the study, participants reported smoking five cigarettes afterwards, which was consistent with measured carbon monoxide levels.

The researchers found a positive relationship between brain activity and quitting smoking, even in those participants who negatively predicted their likelihood of quitting. The principal investigator of the study, Emily Falk, commented, “It seems that our brain activity may provide information that introspection does not.”— Mina Park

Source: National Science Foundation

Philosophy chair joins UC as principal

Donald Ainslie has filled all and sundry roles in his 15-odd years at U of T. He jokes that he started out teaching and researching, and then all of a sudden, had to administer. As he was getting the hang of that, it was “okay, now decorate—‘which carpet do you want? Which accent colours?’”

Ainslie will be embarking on a new role this summer, as Principal of University College.

“This will be a new set of challenges,” said Ainslie, who has been chair of the Department of Philosophy for the past eight years. “UC has about 4,000 students, about 800 residence students, there are four academic programs—Health Studies, Canadian Studies, Sexual Diversity Studies, and Drama Studies, there is the University of Toronto art collection at UC, there is the library, so the principal’s role is to manage all of that, to set a strategic direction, and work on ensuring we have the resources necessary to fulfill that direction.”

Ainslie brings a very diverse range of experiences to the position. He grew up in Toronto and attended the University of Toronto Schools for high school and Queens for undergrad. “I went to Queens and I was amazed how uninterested in learning the vast majority of the students were—they wanted to dye themselves purple and have a good time, and I’m not against having a good time but I liked ideas, so Queens wasn’t really my kind of scene.”

Ainslie initially studied mathematics, which he still loves: “the way you get to use your mind in such a highly focused way […] in mathematics, you think about a very narrowly constrained domain with incredible intensity, and it’s amazing, it really is amazing. But I’m interested in lots of thing and in philosophy you get to think about lots of things in a highly disciplined way.”

Ainslie went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he “just got interested in lots of stuff,” ultimately writing his dissertation on David Hume.

He sees significant overlap between the two disciplines: “in both of them, you sit at your desk and you think really hard about how things have to be,” he said.
alt text

His graduate experience, however, was different than most. In the midst of graduate school, Ainslie took a year off and returned to Toronto, where he worked at a housing program for people with HIV/AIDS and special needs.

He describes the experience as eye-opening: “Being with these people as they were struggling with life-and-death issues, it was tragic, and it was a huge learning experience for me. One guy who died as I was there, he was coping with his death and trying to make sense of his death with his community. He was a First Nations person and he was very connected with the First Nations community, and learning from them about how they approach the kind of spirituality involved in living and dying…I don’t want it to sound voyeuristic; I benefited from being with these people, and I hope I offered them something.”

Doing this work, Ainslie became “interested in what philosophers were saying about the AIDS epidemic,” which led to an interest in bioethics, “philosophical and theoretical reflection on the moral problems posed by healthcare, and our susceptibility to disease and illness.” He ultimately did a second master’s degree in the field, and now teaches a course on it.

His work calls attention to what he calls “the bioethics of everyday life…the questions that we face, as human beings subject to disease and illness,” arguing that much of bioethics focuses on questions of what the health professional or the state should do in certain situations, as opposed to “taking seriously what I believe to be the complimentary questions of what each of us should do.”

This area of scholarship ties Ainslie doubly to UC, both to its Health Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies programs.

In his work as chair, one of Ainslie’s goals was to maximize opportunity for smaller group discussion. “So much of philosophy involves actually interacting with one another, challenging one another’s ideas … You want someone to moderate the conversation who’s a bit more informed, so it’s productive but it really is a central part of philosophical learning and we just hadn’t been doing enough of that when I started as chair.”

Given finite resources, Ainslie shifted class sizes and tutorial components across years such that there were smaller third-year classes, so that students could get to know their professors, and adding tutorials in the larger first and second year courses.

The Socrates Project was vital to this plan. The thing that Ainslie is “most proud of,” the program hires senior undergrads as T.A.s for Introductory Philosophy, allowing the department to expand its tutorial offerings in second year and maintaining a discussion element while increasing class size, which in turn made possible smaller third-year courses.

Ainslie will continue to champion small group discussions in his work at UC. He will be picking up on the current UC principal Sylvia Bashevkin’s work on the UC One program, which begins next year. As UC was historically the non-denominational college within the increasingly diverse Toronto, Ainslie says the program will “focus on justice, and being the college at U of T that was for the whole city.”

What’s that in my food? — Acacia and guar gum!

Did you know that there are beans in ice cream and tree sap in candy? These days, there seems to be an increasing number of “gums,” derived from all kinds of odd sources, appearing on food ingredient lists. From locust bean gum and cellulose gum to acacia and guar gum, these ingredients play many varied roles in the foods we eat.

Acacia gum, also known as gum Arabic, has been harvested from Acacia trees in North Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia since ancient times. It is produced from hardened sap. Chemically, it is composed of polysaccharides, which are essentially carbohydrates, and glycoproteins. Acacia gum can be found in beverages, gumdrops, marshmallows, and edible glitter.

On the other hand, guar gum can be found in baked goods, cheese spreads, dressings, meat products, and beverages. It is derived from guar beans primarily harvested in India and Pakistan, and functions as a thickener and binder. In the 1980s, guar gum was used as an over-the-counter weight loss drug, but has since been banned.

Gums are also noted for certain health benefits. In particular, guar gum is associated with relieving constipation, along with symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. It may even decrease cholesterol; however, more research is needed to confirm these benefits. Nevertheless, the concentrations of these ingredients, when they function as food additives, are not particularly high, and thus unlikely to exert these benefits.

Gums play a particularly important role in hydrocolloids — a term you might remember from your high school chemistry classes. A hydrocolloid is a system where particles are dispersed within water. Gums function as emulsifiers in hydrocolloid beverages. Therefore, their role is to keep the particles in beverages evenly dispersed, hence preventing sediment from collecting at the bottom of your glass.

Interestingly, gums aren’t the only unique ingredients that serve this function. Another example of an additive that performs similar functions is carrageenan, which is seaweed extract. You may have noticed carrageenan listed as an ingredient in chocolate milk, where it functions to prevent the chocolate from settling at bottom of the carton.

Overall, gums are food ingredients that may sound suspicious, but in reality they’re completely natural ingredients with few known side effects. Who knew the glitter on cupcakes was actually harmless?