Health Studies

Consuming Fat from Plant Oils May Help Prevent Cardiac Death

In a large study, researchers from the Global Burden of Diseases Nutrition and Chronic Diseases Expert Group analyzed the fat consumption and coronary heart disease statistics of 186 nations across the world. They found that 10.3% of coronary heart disease deaths were attributable to not eating enough n-6 polyunsaturated fats (found in soy, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and some plant oils), while 7.7% were due to eating too much trans fat (found in margarine and highly processed foods), and 3.6% were due to eating too much saturated fat (found in red meat and butter). In 80% of nations studied, deaths from heart disease due to inadequate n-6 polyunsaturated fats was at least double the heart disease deaths due to too much saturated fat. This suggests that positive messages focused on adding in healthy foods (such as cooking vegetables in plant oils, and sprinkling nuts and seeds on meals) can have an important impact on public health.
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2016 Jan 20;5(1). Pii: e002891. (Wang Q et al.) 

Green Leafy Vegetables Linked with Lower Risk of Eye Disease

Primary open-angle glaucoma is an eye disease that can lead to irreversible vision loss. Because there is currently no cure for this disease, scientists are very interested in preventive measures, including diet. In a study analyzing over 100,000 health professionals, Harvard researchers found that those eating 1.45 servings of green leafy vegetables per day had an 18% lower risk of developing primary open-angle glaucoma than those only eating 0.31 servings of leafy greens per day. Dietary nitrate (a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables), was also significantly related to a lower risk of primary open-angle glaucoma.
JAMA Opthalmology. 2016 Jan 14:1-11. (Kang JH et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean Diet During Pregnancy Linked with Lower Abdominal Obesity in Young Children

To see how diet during pregnancy affects the risk of childhood obesity, researchers analyzed data from over 1,800 mother-child pairs. They found that children were less likely to have a high waist circumference (a measure of abdominal obesity) at age 4 if their mothers were most closely following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy. However, the researchers found no significant relationship between the expectant mothers’ diet and the subsequent BMI of their children in early childhood.
Pediatric Obesity. 2016 Jan 13. (Fernandez-Barres S) [Epub ahead of print]

Traditional Foods Improve Health and Happiness in Dementia Patients

While most nutrition studies focus on food and nutrients, traditions and culture can also be used to enrich wellness. To see how changing the menu at nursing homes to reflect more culturally tailored meals affects dementia patients, Norwegian researchers conducted in-depth interviews with family members and nurses of patients at six nursing homes, spanning three cultural groups: Sami (or Lapps), Norwegian, and Black South African. According to the researchers, “Familiar tastes and smells awoke pleasant memories in patients and boosted their sense of well-being, identity and belonging, even producing words in those who usually did not speak.” They concluded that “traditional food further improves patients’ appetite, nutritional intake and quality of life.”
Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2016 Jan 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Hanssen I et al.)

Loss of Traditional Mexican Diet Linked with Poor Nutrition

Obesity prevalence among U.S. immigrant children, particularly those from Mexico, is high, so researchers are trying to understand how diet plays a role. Pennsylvania researchers analyzed the diet quality of Mexican immigrant mothers and their children across multiple generations. They found that first generation American children were more likely to abandon their traditional Mexican diet for more American foods (like fast food and highly processed foods), significantly lowering the nutritional quality of their diet. This suggests that encouraging families to cook with traditional ingredients, and encouraging retailers and farms to offer these traditional ingredients, may be a good strategy to improve the health of immigrant populations.
Social Science & Medicine. 2015 Dec 21;150:212-220. (Dondero M et al.)

Traditional Mexican Diet Linked with Better Inflammation, Blood Sugar Control

Researchers in Seattle created a Mexican Diet Score to assess how traditional Mexican diets are related to insulin resistance and inflammation. Higher Mexican Diet Scores indicate eating more traditional Mexican foods, such as corn tortillas, beans, soup, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and Mexican cheese, and lower levels of added sugars, refined grains, and added fats. In a study of nearly 500 healthy, post-menopausal women of Mexican descent, the researchers found that those most closely following a traditional Mexican diet had 23% lower levels of hsCRP (a measure of inflammation), and 15% lower insulin levels (indicating healthy blood sugar regulation) than those not following a traditional Mexican diet. In the overweight and obese women, a low Mexican diet score was also linked with higher insulin resistance. The researchers concluded that “greater adherence to traditional Mexican diets… could be beneficial in reducing the risk of obesity-related systemic inflammation and insulin resistance for women of Mexican descent.”
The Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Dec;145(12):2732-40. (Santiago-Torres M et al.)

Cook Vegetables in Olive Oil for High Antioxidant Content

Cooking vegetables in olive oil is a hallmark of the much-praised Mediterranean diet. To see how different cooking methods affect the antioxidant capacity of vegetables, Mexican researchers compared the antioxidant capacity in potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and pumpkin that were raw, deep fried in olive oil, sautéed in olive oil, or boiled. They found that the veggies deep fried in olive oil had the greatest total phenols, followed by the sautéed veggies, then the boiled veggies. The researchers suggest that “deep frying and sautéing conserve and enrich the phenolic composition.” That said, there is no “bad” way to eat vegetables. Rather, this research shows that if it takes a bit of olive oil to make vegetables most delicious to you, all the better.
Food Chemistry. 2015 Dec 1;188-430-8. (Ramirez-Anaya Jdel P et al).

Mediterranean Diet May Prevent Eye Disease

Macular degeneration, an eye condition that can lead to blindness, has no cure or restorative treatment, so prevention is especially important. To study how diet is related to this condition, scientists analyzed the eating patterns of over 2,500 adults, then monitored their eye health for thirteen years. They found that those most closely following the Mediterranean diet (especially those people eating lots of fish and vegetables) were 26% less likely to progress to advanced age-related macular degeneration. Results varied by genetics, with certain gene carriers being more responsive to diet than others.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Nov;102(5):1196-206. (Merle BM et al.)

Med Diet Improves Blood Sugar Control & Heart Disease Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes

Chinese researchers analyzed data from nine different studies with 1178 type 2 diabetes patients being treated with the Mediterranean diet. Compared with those on a control diet (which ranged from their usual diet, to a low fat diet, to a high carb diet, to the American Diabetes Association Diet), those on a Mediterranean diet had improved blood sugar control (hemoglobin A1c, fasting glucose, and fasting insulin), improved BMI and weight loss, lower total cholesterol, triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), and blood pressure, and improved higher HDL (good) cholesterol.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Nov;69:1200-1208. (R Huo et al.) [published online 2014 Nov 4]

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Brain Structure in Elderly

The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with healthy aging, but emerging research is shedding new light onto why this might be. Researchers analyzed the eating patterns and brain size in 674 elderly (average age 80) adults without dementia in New York City. They found that those most closely following the Mediterranean diet had larger brains (total brain volume, grey matter, and white matter), with an effect similar to 5 years of aging. Of the specific foods studied, eating 3-5 oz fish weekly, and keeping meat intake under 3.5 oz per day, was also linked with larger brain volumes, equivalent to about 3-4 years of aging. These results suggest that a Mediterranean diet, especially one that encourages fish consumption over meat consumption, could promote brain health, as brain atrophy (brain shrinkage) has been linked with cognitive decline.
Neurology. 2015 Oct 21. (Gu Y et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

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