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Increasing Whole Grains, Limiting Beef in School Lunches Can Reduce Environmental Impact

Meals served in the National School Lunch Program are developed with nutrition, cost, and youth preferences in mind, with little room or direction to consider environmental impact. Using data from over 2.2 million real-world lunches, researchers at Tufts quantified the environmental footprint of each lunch served to see if they could determine patterns and form recommendations for more sustainable lunches. They found that low impact school lunches had “20% more whole grains, nearly 20 times more nuts and seeds, and four times less animal protein than high impact lunches.” As a result, the authors concluded that “increasing whole grain requirements and providing serving size or frequency limits for beef” are the two most effective recommendations for reducing the environmental impacts of the National School Lunch program. 
Nature. 2022 June 23;3(138). doi: 10.1038/s43247-022-00452-3. (Stern AL et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Randomized controlled trials, in which people are randomly assigned to a particular treatment and then monitored over time, are considered by many to be the “gold standard” of nutrition research. In this randomized controlled trial, 1,002 Spanish adults (average age 59) with heart disease were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet or a control diet (which differed by emphasizing lean meats and fish and low-fat dairy, and restricting fatty fish, nuts and olive oil) and followed for 7 years. Those eating a Mediterranean diet were 25-29% less likely to have a major cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack or stroke) than those eating the control diet, with the relationship being especially strong in men. These findings are consistent with previous research noting the cardioprotective benefits of a Mediterranean diet. 
Lancet. 2022 May 4;S0140-6736(22)00122-2. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00122-2. (Delgado-Lista J et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure. In this study, researchers surveyed a diverse cohort of Black, Hispanic, and white low-income mothers in Boston about their diet and searched their health records for diagnoses of preeclampsia. Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was linked with a 22% lower risk of preeclampsia overall, with significant risk reduction for each of the racial groups.
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2022 May 3;11(9):e022589. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.022589. (Minhas AS et al.)

Eating More Whole Grains is Linked with Substantial Healthcare Cost Savings

Health economics, the practice of quantifying how much money could be saved by taking certain health promotion measures (such as eating more whole grains) is a growing area of research. In this study, researchers analyzed 4 different models for measuring the health savings of eating more whole grains to identify best practices and inform future research. They found that while results varied from one study to the next, each method identified substantial health savings if people were to make more of their grains whole. The authors recommend that future studies consider realistic behavior changes, which may vary from one country to the next.
Journal of Cereal Science. 2022 May. doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2022.103455 (Miller KB et al.)​

Whole Grain Public-Private Partnerships Can Increase Whole Grain Intake

Public-private partnerships include collaborations between governments, industry, and/or nonprofits to work towards a common objective, and can be a great strategy to make progress on population-wide goals, such as improving whole grain intake. In this study, researchers examined 3 of the most well-known whole grain public-private partnerships (the Oldways Whole Grains Council in the US, the Danish Whole Grain Partnership, and the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council in Australia) to identify best practices for increasing whole grain intake globally. The study concludes that to successfully improve whole grain intakes in the long-term, public-private partnerships should address environmental sustainability, be incorporated into front-of-pack labeling schemes, and reach out those who eat the least amount of whole grain.
Journal of Cereal Science. 2022 May. doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2022.103456 (Sluyter C et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases

The Mediterranean diet is thought to be neurologically protective, so researchers wanted to learn more about the diet’s relationship with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In this study, researchers analyzed 64 articles about the Mediterranean diet, microbiome health, and Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. They found that following a Mediterranean diet is linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease (with the link for Alzheimer’s being particularly strong). However, it is unclear if the Mediterranean diet promotes gut microbiome health and brain health via two separate mechanisms or if one factor causes another.
Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2022 Mar 15;434:120166. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2022.120166. (Solch RJ et al.)

Whole Grain Fiber Linked with Lower Inflammation

Not all fiber is created equal; the fiber from whole grains may offer specific health benefits that can’t be replicated with fruits or vegetables alone. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 4,125 older adults (age 65+) with a special focus on their fiber intake, and also monitored the participants for signs of inflammation and heart disease. The study found that “higher intakes of cereal fiber, but not vegetable or fruit fiber, were associated with lower levels of inflammation in older adults.” Further, the results suggested that whole grain fiber may play other roles in its relationship with lower cardiovascular disease risk in addition to its link with lower inflammation.
JAMA Network Open. 2022 Mar 1;5(3):e225012. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.5012. (Shivakoti R et al.)

Vegetarian Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Cancer

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, yet there is still much to learn about cancer prevention strategies. In an 11-year study of nearly half a million adults in the U.K., researchers found that people who ate pescatarian diets (fish but no meat), vegetarian diets (no meat or fish), and smaller than usual amounts of meat (5 or fewer servings per week) had a significantly lower risk of all cancers compared with regular meat eaters. There was also a lower risk of colorectal cancer for reduced meat eaters, and postmenopausal women who consumed less meat or fish also had a reduced risk of breast cancer. More research is needed to better understand the relationship between diet, lifestyle, and cancer risk.
BMC Medicine. 2022 Feb 24;20(1):73. doi: 10.1186/s12916-022-02256-w. (Watling CZ et al.)

African Heritage Cooking Program Linked with Better Health

A Taste of African Heritage is a 6-week cooking and nutrition curriculum from Oldways based on healthy plant-based foods from across the African Diaspora. In a study examining the impact of the program on 586 people across 21 states, researchers found that participants experienced improvements in weight, systolic blood pressure, and waist size, as well as higher intake of fruit, vegetables, greens, and higher frequency of exercise. The researchers concluded that “integrating cultural heritage and behaviors are positive components to connect participants to healthy old ways or traditions.”
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2022 Feb 10. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2021.11.008 (Reicks M et al.)

Whole Grain Products Grow in US and Latin America

The Whole Grain Stamp is a third-party packaging symbol that displays the gram amount of whole grains in a  product. In this study, researchers analyzed products that carry the Whole Grain Stamp over several years. Whole Grain Stamp usage increased from 250 products in 2005 to more than 13,000 products in 2020. The average amount of whole grain per product increased from 19 grams to 25.8 grams in the US and from 18.1 grams to 31.9 grams in Latin America. The researchers concluded that “manufacturers are increasing the percentage of the grain that is whole in their products and developing more whole-grain products for consumers, thus providing an opportunity for consumers to meet national-level whole-grain recommendations.”
Nutrients. 2022 Feb 8;14(3). doi: 10.3390/nu14030713 (Sluyter C et al.)

Transitioning High-Income Nations to Climate-Friendly Diet Could Substantially Benefit Environmental Health

High income nations tend to have diverse food options that are disproportionally based on high-carbon footprint foods like meat and could be a great starting point when considering where to introduce climate-friendly diets. In this study, researchers used models to determine that if 54 high-income nations shifted to the EAT-Lancet diet (a primarily plant-based, healthy diet) and restored the resulting spared land to natural vegetation, they would have the potential to reduce their carbon emissions by 61%, which is equivalent to 14 years’ worth of current global agricultural emissions.
Nature Food. 2022 Jan 10;3:29-27. doi: 10.1038/s43016-021-00431-5. (Sun Z et al.)

Plant-Based Diets Tend to Be More Affordable and Sustainable

As stress on our food system increases, certain dietary patterns may increase harmful environmental impacts. Diets that are nutritious and sustainable, such as those low in animal products and higher in plant-based foods, have been proposed as a solution to this issue which still meets dietary needs. In this study, researchers analyzed 150 different dietary patterns from varying countries and regions by pairing an estimate of food demand with an estimate of commodity prices in different years, with consideration of any food-system and socioeconomic changes. Across the dietary patterns sampled, the most affordable and sustainable were vegan/vegetarian diets that replaced meat with legumes or whole grains. The least affordable were pescetarian diets that centered around fish, fruits, and vegetables. Staple crops, such as cassava, maize, plantains, potatoes, rice, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and wheat, tend to be the most affordable aspect of these dietary patterns. Household food waste accounted for 29% of all food costs, so helping people to reduce food waste could improve both affordability and environmental sustainability.
Lancet Planetary Health. 2021 Dec;5(12):e861. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00316-8. Epub 2021 Nov 24. (Springmann M et al.)