Health Studies

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.)

Switching to Mediterranean Fat Sources May Help Inflammation

Palmitic acid (found in palm oil, shortening, butter, and red meat) is a type of saturated fat prevalent in the Western diet, while oleic acid (found in olive oil) is a type of monounsaturated fat prevalent in the Mediterranean diet. In a small study, researchers at the University of Vermont fed 16 adults either a diet high in palmitic acid or a diet high in oleic acid and low in palmitic acid to see how food choices affect the inflammatory response of various cells. All adults spent 3 weeks in each diet group, serving as their own control.  Although insulin sensitivity was not affected in this experiment, the scientists found that changing the diet to include more oleic acid and less palmitic acid was able to lower activation of certain cell signaling proteins (including TLR4 and NLRP3) that are associated with inflammation, oxidation and poor insulin signaling. These results suggest that shifting from a Western diet to a Mediterranean style diet (with greater proportions of oleic acid) may help fight inflammation.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2015 Aug 1. pii: S0955-2863(15)00178-3. (Kien CL et al.)

Mediterranean Meals with Olive Oil Can Improve Blood Sugar Control, Cholesterol

In a small Italian study, researchers assigned 25 healthy adults to a Mediterranean meal (pasta, chicken breast, salad, bread, and an apple) prepared either with or without olive oil, then measured their cholesterol and blood sugar. After 30 days, the participants switched groups and ate the other meal, serving as their own control. The scientists found that 2 hours after eating, the meal without olive oil was associated with higher glucose and insulin levels, as well as higher “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C). In the second part of the experiment, the participants were assigned to a Mediterranean meal prepared with either olive oil or corn oil, switching groups after a 30 day washout period. Their blood sugar and cholesterol was tested after the meals as well. Two hours after eating, the meals with olive oil were associated with a lower increase in blood sugar and improved markers of blood sugar control (such as lower DPP, and higher GLP1 & GIP), as well as a smaller increase in “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C and oxidized LDL). These experiments indicate that meals with olive oil can help regulate blood sugar, and may help improve cholesterol.
Nutrition & Diabetes. 2015 July 20;5:e172. [Epub ahead of print.] (Violi F et al.)

Whole Plant Foods, Not Specific Nutrient Profiles, Best for Heart Disease Risk

Evidence is mounting that the healthiest diets are built around a variety of minimally processed, whole foods, and can’t be reduced to specific nutrients. To determine saturated fat’s role in heart disease risk, researchers from California reviewed the existing literature about saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, carbohydrates, and heart disease. The scientists found that when saturated fat (found mostly in red meat and milk fat) is replaced with polyunsaturated fat (found mostly in nuts, seeds, and fish), heart disease risk decreases. However, when saturated fat is replaced with sugary refined carbohydrates, heart disease risk remains the same, if not worsens. The researchers also note a small, yet growing body of research that dairy fat (especially in fermented dairy, like yogurt), may be neutral (or even decrease risk) for heart disease. The researchers concluded that “overall dietary patterns emphasizing vegetables, fish, nuts, and whole versus processed grains form the basis of heart-healthy eating, and should supersede a focus on macronutrient composition.”
Annual Review of Nutrition. 2015 July 17;35:517-43. (Siri-Tarino PW et al.) [Epub]

Med Diet Can Preserve Brain Structure, Delay Cognitive Aging

The link between healthy aging and the Mediterranean diet is well established, but emerging research sheds new light onto this mechanism. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and brain scans of 146 French adults (average age 73). They found that the brain structure (white matter) of those most closely following the Mediterranean diet was significantly more preserved 9 years later than those who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet. To put this in perspective, the researchers concluded that “higher adherence to the [Mediterranean Diet] appeared to delay cognitive aging by up to 10 years.”
Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015 July 16. (Pelletier A et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Eating Together Can Improve Employee Performance

Group activities (such as team building exercises) among co-workers can help improve employee performance, but new research suggests that even the simple act of breaking bread together can also have positive effects. To study how shared workplace meals affect job performance and cooperation, Cornell researchers surveyed 244 fire department officers, and visited 13 firehouses for in-person interviews. They found that cooking together and eating together were both significantly linked with better measures of work-group performance, and in some instances, better unit-level performance. There was no significant relationship between eating and cooking together and cooperative behavior, although better cooperative behavior was related to better work-group performance.
Human Performance. 2015 July 10;28(4):281-306. (Kniffin KM et al.)

Spicy Foods Linked with Lower Mortality

Spicy foods are prominent in many traditional cultures throughout the world. To see if spicy food consumption is related to death risk, scientists asked over 487,000 Chinese adults about their spicy food intake, and then monitored their death rates over the next 7 years. Compared to those eating spicy foods (mostly chilli peppers) less than once per week, those eating spicy foods once or twice a week had a 10% lower risk of death from all causes, while those eating spicy foods 3-7 times per week had a 14% lower risk of death from all causes. Spicy foods were also linked with a lower risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease, specifically. This association might possibly be related to capsaicin, a beneficial compound in chilli peppers that has antioxidant properties.
British Medical Journal. 2015 August 4;351:h3942. (Lv J et al.) 

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