Health Studies

Traditional Fermentation May Help Improve Bread Shelf Life

Fermented foods are gaining popularity throughout the food industry, and research is showing the benefits extend well beyond their unique flavors. To see how fermentation and probiotics might benefit common food products, scientists in Spain fermented breads with yeast and various strains of lactic acid bacteria (a popular probiotic) then exposed them to A. Parasiticus (a mold that can produce dangerous aflatoxins) and monitored their freshness for 15 days. In the breads treated with lactic acid bacteria, the mold produced 84.1-99.9% fewer dangerous aflotoxins, and some of the breads’ shelf life was improved by 3-4 days compared to breads without the lactic acid bacteria, demonstrating how traditional culinary techniques (such as long sourdough fermentation) might be applied to modern food problems and products.
Food Control. 2016 Sept;67:273-277. (Saladino et al.)

Fiber is Key for a Healthy Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome is a fascinating new area of research, with implications in the prevention of many chronic diseases. To see how diet might play a role, researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada analyzed data on microbiome depletion. They found that dietary fiber is “the only factor that has been empirically shown to be important” to a healthy, diverse microbiome, but that unfortunately, most people do not eat enough fiber to meet the daily recommendation (which is 25-38g per day for most adults in the US). Fiber rich foods include many whole grains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts, and seeds.
Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2016 May;27(5):239-42. (Deehan EC et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Heart Disease

Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 15,000 adults at risk of heart disease from 39 countries to see if their eating habits were more representative of the Mediterranean diet or the Western diet. In those most closely following a Mediterranean diet, each 1 point increase on the Mediterranean Diet Score was linked with a 7% lower risk of a major heart problem (heart attack, stroke, or death) over the 4 year follow up. Similarly, researchers also calculated a simplified Mediterranean Diet Score for the participants (based only on daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, and weekly consumption of fish and alcohol), and found that each 1 point increase in the simplified Mediterranean Diet Score was linked with a 10% lower risk of major heart problems. Fish and tofu/soybeans were the only individual food groups that were significantly associated with a lower risk of heart problems after adjusting for education, health, and lifestyle factors. Consumption of specific foods common to the Western diet was not significantly linked with heart disease risk in this analysis, leading the scientists to conclude that “Greater consumption of healthy foods may be more important for secondary prevention of coronary artery disease than avoidance of less healthy foods.”
European Heart Journal. 2016 April 24. [Epub ahead of print.] (Stewart RAH et al.)

Plant Based Diets Can Better Feed a Growing Population, without Deforestation

Forests are an important harbor of biodiversity and carbon storage, so cutting into forests to create more cropland could be very harmful to the ecosystem. To see how we can feed a growing world without cutting into forests, Austrian researchers analyzed 500 different scenarios with varying levels of cropland expansion, dietary patterns, and crop yields.  They found that “a large range of options exist to feed a no-deforestation world,” by 2050, but greatly varied based on what types of foods we’d choose to eat. For example, their models found that if the current North American diet (lots of meat and highly processed foods) continues to expand globally, only 15% of the scenarios involving this eating pattern are feasible. However, “all vegan scenarios and 94% of the vegetarian scenarios are feasible,” indicating the overall sustainability of plant based diets.
Nature Communication. 2016 Apr 19;7:11382. (Erb KH et al.)

Med Diet & Diets with Whole Grains May Lower Risk of High Blood Pressure After Gestational Diabetes

Women who have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. To see how diet might relate to this trend, researchers monitored the eating patterns and health records of more than 3,800 women who had previously been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. After adjusting for BMI, age, and other demographic factors, the women most closely following a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower risk of developing high blood pressure over the 18-year study. Similarly, women following other healthy eating patterns (such as the DASH diet) that emphasized fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and were low in red and processed meats, had a 24-28% lower risk of developing high blood pressure.
Hypertension. 2016 April 18. [Epub ahead of print.] (Li S et al.)

Pulses May Help Aid Weight Loss

Dietary changes are a key target in obesity prevention programs, so many foods are being studied for their affect on body weight. To see if eating more pulses (the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) might help reduce obesity, researchers analyzed 21 randomized control trials looking at pulses’ role in weight, body fat, and waist circumference in overweight and obese adults. Diets that included dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference. There was a trend in reduction of body fat (-0.34%), but it was not significant as well. Overall, the researchers found that those eating about 1 serving of pulses per day lost, on average, about 0.75 pounds over six weeks. Not surprisingly, results were stronger in weight loss diets (3.8 pounds over 6 weeks) than weight maintenance diets (0.6 pounds over 6 weeks). Although the weight loss was small, this study indicates that a modest serving of pulses may help produce weight loss, even without cutting calories.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar 30. [Epub Ahead of Print] (Kim SJ et al.)

Med Diet Linked With A Lower Risk for Hip Fractures

While Mediterranean cuisine regularly includes low to moderate amounts of dairy (often from traditional cheeses and yogurts), milk is not as prominent as it is in other eating patterns. Therefore, scientists are very interested in learning more about the bone health of those who follow a Mediterranean diet. To study this relationship, researchers analyzed the diets of 90,000 older women (ages 50-79) from the Women's Health Initiative cohort for 15 years. They found that those most closely following a Mediterranean diet had a 20% lowered risk for hip fractures than those who did not eat a Mediterranean diet.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016 Mar 28. [Epub ahead of print] (Haring B, et al.)

Culturally Tailored Lifestyle Program Improves Health of Hispanic Americans with Diabetes

Heritage is a powerful motivator for change, as healthy habits are most sustainable when they are culturally relevant, with the support  of friends and family. In this study, researchers recruited 36 adults with diabetes and their families to an 8-week culturally tailored diabetes education program (which integrated cultural foods, beliefs, and values) taught in Spanish. One month after the program ended, the participants showed significant improvements in systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading), fruit and vegetable intake, diabetes knowledge, and dietary management. Their family members also benefited from the program, with significant improvements in BMI and diabetes knowledge.
The Diabetes Educator. 2016 Mar 8. [Epub ahead of print.] (Hu J et al.)

5 Years of Healthy Lifestyle Advice Can Have Lifelong Benefits

Even a few years of healthy lifestyle advice can leave a lasting impression on long-term health. European researchers randomly assigned a large group of middle-aged Norwegian men (who were healthy, but at high risk of heart disease) to either a 5-year program with healthy lifestyle advice (specifically, advice to stop smoking, eat less saturated fat, and eat more fish and vegetables), or a control group without the advice. The researchers then followed over 1,200 of these men for 40 years, to monitor any lasting effects on mortality. The scientists conclude that “Receiving advice about a healthy lifestyle led to a long-term reduced risk of coronary mortality during the following 40 years,” and they suggest that “systematically providing effective counselling for a healthy lifestyle for 5 years can lead to lifelong benefits.”
Journal of Internal Medicine. 2016 Feb 29. [Epub ahead of print] (Holme I et al.)

Lifestyle Advice in Kids Linked with Better Nutrition & More Physical Activity

To study the effects of healthy lifestyle counseling, researchers randomly assigned over 400 Danish children (ages 6-8) and their parents to either 6 individualized diet counseling sessions and 6 individualized exercise counseling sessions over 2 years, or a control group with no individualized lifestyle advice. At the end of the study, children who received the counseling advice averaged 9 minutes per day more physical activity and 10 minutes per day less computer and video games than the control group, and also ate significantly more vegetables, fiber, low fat milk, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Preventive Medicine. 2016 Feb 23;87:81-88. (Viitasalo A et al.)


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