Health Studies

Replace Butter with Fish, Nuts, Seeds, and Lower Risk of Heart Disease by 25%

Harvard researchers followed over 120,000 adults for 24-30 years, tracking their diet and health records. The scientists found that replacing 5% of daily calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and safflower oil), monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil and canola oil), or whole grains is linked with a 25%, 15%, and 9% lower risk of heart disease, respectively. Additionally, they found that replacing 5% of daily calories from refined grains and added sugars with whole grains or polyunsaturated fats can also significantly reduce heart disease risk, and that replacing saturated fat with refined grains or added sugars does not lower heart disease risk. The researchers concluded, “Our findings provide epidemiological evidence of the current dietary guidelines, which recommend both “replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids” and “replacing refined grains with whole grains.”” The Mediterranean diet, which spotlights whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, is the perfect eating plan to put these lessons into practice.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2015 Oct;66(14):1538-48. (Li Y et al.)

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.)

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.)

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.) 

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.)

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