Health Studies

Mediterranean and Vegetarian Diets May Benefit Gut Microbiome

Eating a variety of healthy plant foods is one of the best ways to nurture our friendly gut bacteria, and new research suggests that Mediterranean and vegetarian diets may be useful models. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and gut bacteria of 153 Italian adults. They found that those most closely following a Mediterranean diet or vegetarian/vegan diet had higher levels of short chain fecal acids, a compound associated with many health benefits. On the other hand, those not following a Mediterranean diet had higher levels of urinary trimethylamine oxide, a potential risk factor for heart disease. The researchers also noted that both vegetarian/vegans and those on a Mediterranean diet scored highly on the Healthy Food Diversity Index, meaning that these eating styles could be a useful blueprint for people wanting to incorporate a variety of nutritious foods into their diet.
Gut. 2015 Sept 28. [Epub ahead of print] (De Filippis F et al.)

Plant Based Diets with Olive Oil Cost Less than USDA MyPlate Diet

Traditional plant-centered diets (such as the Mediterranean diet) are based on affordable local specialties and garden vegetables. To see if traditional ways of getting healthy meals on the table stand up to modern food economics, researchers calculated the cost of a 7-day meal plan for an economical version of the USDA MyPlate guidelines, and compared it to that of a plant-based diet with olive oil. They found that choosing a plant-based diet, instead of the budget MyPlate diet, could save $746.46 per person per year, and provide vastly more servings of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2015 Sept 23. [Epub ahead of print] (MM Flynna et al.)

Eating More Fruits and Vegetables Can Help You Lose Weight

Science and common sense tell us that eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is one of the best defenses against obesity and weight gain. To quantify this relationship, Harvard researchers analyzed the eating patterns and weight changes in over 130,000 adults for over 20 years. Eating vegetables of all kinds was linked to a 0.25 pound weight loss per daily serving over four years, while eating fruit of any kind was linked to a 0.53 pound weight loss per daily serving over four years. Upon closer inspection, they found that this relationship was strongest for berries, apples, pears, tofu, soy, cauliflower, and cruciferous and green leafy vegetables. On the other hand, starchy vegetables like peas, corn, and potatoes were associated with weight gain. The researchers concluded that these “findings support benefits of increased fruit and vegetable consumption for preventing long-term weight gain.”
PLOS Medicine. 2015 Sept 22. [Epub] (Bertoia ML et al.)

Med Diet Plus Exercise May Prevent Eye Disease

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, mostly occurring in those over 60 years old. To see if eating patterns play a role in this disease, researchers analyzed the diet of nearly 900 Portuguese adults (ages 55+), half with AMD, and half without. Those without AMD ate foods more closely aligned with the Mediterranean diet (grains, green leafy vegetables, fruit, and olive oil) than those who did have AMD. The group without AMD also exercised more, and ate less fast food, meat, dairy, and ready-made meals. This study suggests that a Mediterranean style diet, along with exercise, may be protective against AMD.
Presentation at the European Society of Retina Specialists 15th EURETINA Congress. Nice, France. September 17, 2015. (Farina C et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Lower Breast Cancer Risk by Over Half

With incidence of breast cancer increasing in recent years, lifestyle and prevention measures are more important than ever. Using data from the PREDIMED study (where adults at risk for heart disease were assigned to either a low fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet with nuts), scientists analyzed the eating patterns and health outcomes of over 4,200 women (ages 60-80). During the 5-year follow up period, 35 women developed breast cancer.  Those in the Mediterranean diet groups were 51% less likely to get breast cancer than those on a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet with olive oil group was 62% less likely to get breast cancer, while the Mediterranean diet group with nuts had a non-significant lower risk of breast cancer.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 Sep 14:1-9. [Epub ahead of print.] (Toledo E et al.)

Beans Just as Filling as Meat

Pulses, the food group that includes beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils, are central to traditional cuisines around the world, and are an especially important source of nutrients in plant-based diets. In a small study, researchers at the University of Minnesota fed 28 adults either a bean-based “meatloaf” (17g protein, 12g fiber) or a beef-based meatloaf (26g protein, 3g fiber) to compare how beans and meat affect fullness. The two meals had equal calories, fat, and weight. One week later, the adults changed groups and were given the other meatloaf, serving as their own control. The scientists found no significant differences in appetite or food intake at the next meal between the two different meatloaves, suggesting that beans are just as satiating as beef, possibly due to their fiber and protein content. However, the bean group did experience moderate gas and bloating.
Journal of Food Science. 2015 Sep;80(9):2088-93. (Bonnema AL et al.)

Med Diet with Olive Oil May Prevent Diabetic Eye Damage

Complications from diabetes can lead to serious health problems, including vision impairment, blindness, and kidney damage. Using data from the PREDIMED study (where adults at risk for heart disease were assigned to either a low fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, or a Mediterranean diet with nuts), researchers analyzed data from over 3,600 Spanish adults with type 2 diabetes, to see how diet affects the risk of diabetic nephropathy (kidney damage from diabetes) or diabetic retinopathy (eye damage from diabetes). Those following a Mediterranean diet with olive oil had a 43% lower risk of diabetic retinopathy compared to the low fat control group, and those following a Mediterranean diet with nuts had a non-significant 38% lower risk of diabetic retinopathy. There were no significant changes in the risk for diabetic nephropathy.
Diabetes Care. 2015 Sept 13. [Epub ahead of print] (Diaz-Lopez A et al.)

Eating Fish May Prevent Depression

Fish is well known for its place in many of the healthiest diets around the world. To determine the link between eating fish and depression risk, Chinese scientists reviewed 26 studies of over 150,000 people. The researchers concluded that “high fish consumption can reduce the risk of depression.”  
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2015 Sep 10. pii: jech-2015-206278. [Epub ahead of print.] (Li Fu et al.)

Lower Birth Defects Linked with Moms Who Eat Healthy Med Diets

Congenital heart defects (heart problems that occur before birth) affect nearly 1% of newborns in America. In a study of over 19,000 American women, researchers compared mothers of babies with congenital heart defects to mothers of babies without this condition. Scientists analyzed the mothers’ diets in the year before pregnancy using both the Mediterranean Diet Score and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy. Babies whose moms’ diets ranked healthy on both scores were significantly less likely to suffer from certain specific subgroups of congenital heart defects, such as tetralogy of Fallot (a defect in heart structure which causes oxygen poor blood to flow throughout the body), but not all heart defects. The relationship between diet and congenital heart defects was stronger with the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy than with the Mediterranean Diet.
Archives of Disease in Childhood. Fetal and Neonatal Edition. 2015 August 24. pii: fetalneonatal-2014-308013. [Epub ahead of print.] (Botto LD et al.) 

High Phytate Foods (Beans, Nuts, Whole Grains, etc.) May Help Young Women Better Absorb Iron over Time

Phytates are compounds found in many plant foods, especially in beans and whole grains. Although phytates are linked with health benefits, they can also block the absorption of non-heme iron (the type of iron found in beans and other plant sources). To see how eating these phytate-rich foods affects nutrition status, scientists in Iowa assigned 28 non-anemic young women to either a high phytate (lots of whole grains, beans, nuts, and tofu) or low phytate (refined grains, eggs, and cheese, avoiding high phytate foods) diet for eight weeks, then tested their iron levels. After consuming a high phytate diet for 8 weeks, there was a 41% increase in serum iron response (measured by area under the curve). This indicates that “habitual consumption of [a high phytate] diet can reduce the negative effect of phytate on non-heme iron absorption among young women with sub-optimal iron stores.”
Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Aug;145(8):1735-9. (Armah SM et al.)

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