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.)

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.)

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.)

Soy is Just as Filling As Beef

Soy foods, such as tofu, have anchored traditional Asian diets for centuries. In a small study, researchers at the University of Missouri fed 21 adults either a beef based lunch or a soy based lunch for two different days in a week to compare how different protein sources affect fullness. The two meals were matched for calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and fiber, and were the same serving size. One to two weeks later, the adults changed groups and were given the other meals, serving as their own control. The scientists found no significant differences in appetite, satiety or food intake at the next meal between the beef based meal or the soy based meal. As communities begin to embrace sustainable food systems and shift red meat to a smaller portion of the plate, soy proteins, like tofu, may offer an attractive alternative.
Journal of Nutrition. 2015 May;145(5):1010-6. (Douglas SM et al.)

Leafy Greens Can Keep Your Brain Young

It is no secret that green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods for our bodies, but new research shows that they are also good for our brains. Researchers in Chicago and Boston analyzed the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of over 950 older adults for an average of five years. The scientists found a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline for people who ate more green leafy vegetables (like spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens). In fact, people who ate just one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who ate none.

Presentation at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology. Boston MA. March 30, 2015.

Plant-Based Diets May Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risk

Colorectal cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality, so learning more about dietary prevention is an important area of research. Scientists at Loma Linda University in California analyzed food patterns and health data from over 77,000 adults for an average of 7 years. After controlling for demographic and lifestyle factors (including age, smoking, physical activity, and family history), the researchers found that those who ate vegetarian diets had an approximately 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared with nonvegetarians. Researchers also found that pesco-vegetarians in particular (vegetarians who eat fish) had a much lower risk of colorectal cancer. These results support other studies linking the Mediterranean diet (a plant-based diet that features fish) with a decreased risk for colorectal cancer.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 March 9. [Epub ahead of print] (Orlich MJ et al.)

Plant-based Diets Improve Heart Disease Markers in Overweight Kids

Plant-based diets have proven effective at reducing heart disease markers in adults, but with a large proportion of overweight and obese children, experts wonder if dietary interventions are effective on kids as well. In a small study in the Midwestern US, twenty-eight overweight and obese children (average age = 15) and their parents were assigned to either a plant-based vegan (no animal products at all), no-added fat diet (with only moderate avocado and nuts) or an American Heart Association diet (high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but also includes low fat dairy, some plant oils, lean meat and fish, and permits some refined grains) for four weeks. The plant-based group significantly improved nine different risk factors of heart disease (including improved blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight), while the American Heart Association Diet significantly improved four risk factors.
The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015 Feb 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Macknin M et al.)

Avocados Help Lower Cholesterol

Avocados are the perfect example of how delicious healthy eating can be! Researchers assigned 45 overweight and obese adults to one of three cholesterol lowering diets: a lower fat (24% calories from fat) diet, a moderate fat (34% calories from fat) diet with one avocado per day, and a moderate fat (34% calories from fat) diet with sunflower and canola oils. Those on the avocado diet lowered their “bad cholesterol” significantly more than those on the other diets. Additionally, the avocado group was the only group to significantly decrease LDL particle number (a risk factor for heart disease) and improve the ratio of LDL to HDL (the gap between “bad” and “good” cholesterol). 
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2015 Jan 7 (Wang L et al.).

Short Term Benefits of Plant-Based Diets on Nutrient Intake and Inflammation

In a study of 63 overweight and obese adults instructed on various diets, South Carolina researchers examined the differences in nutrient intake and Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII). After two months, those assigned to vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets had significantly lower DII scores and greater improvements in fiber, carbohydrate, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, after six months, no differences were seen among the diets. Due to these short-term benefits, the researchers concluded that greater consideration should be given to “finding ways to provide support for adoption and maintenance of plant-based dietary approaches.”
Nutrition Research. 2014 Dec 3. Pii:S0271-5317(14)00267-X. (Turner-McGrievy GM et al.)

Vegetarian Diet Helps Diabetics Control Blood Sugar

Think a meat-centric diet is the best way to keep your blood sugar in check? Think again! Researchers in the United States and Japan reviewed studies that investigated the relationship between vegetarian diets and blood sugar control in people with type two diabetes. Analyzing data from the 255 adults included in the studies, scientists reported that a plant-based vegetarian diet helps adults with type 2 diabetes improve glycemic control, lower cholesterol intake by 173mg, and trim about 140 calories from their diets each day.  
Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy. 2014 Oct;4(5):373-382. (Yokoyama et al.)

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