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Including Whole Grains in Nutri-Score Could Improve Diet Quality

Whole grains are a food group, not an individual nutrient, which can create a challenge for nutrient-based front-of-pack scoring systems. Incorporating whole foods, like whole grains, into these scoring systems can help account for the complex benefits that whole grains bring to the table and may also prevent food manufacturers from “gaming the system” with fortified junk foods. In this study, researchers restructured the Nutri-Score algorithm (a traffic-light-colored, front-of-pack labeling program used in many European countries) to include whole grain content as part of the scoring algorithm. With this change, the researchers found that diet quality scores slightly improved, “suggesting that the modified score better aligns with national dietary guidelines.”
European Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Nov 24. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02718-6. Online ahead of print. (Kissock KR et al.)

Healthy Plant-Based Foods Associated with Lower Risk and Severity of COVID-19

While vaccines, masks, and social distancing are still the most effective strategies to prevent COVID-19, researchers wonder if diet might also be related to susceptibility of contracting the disease. In this study, researchers analyzed the diets of 592,571 people and followed them to see whether or not they contracted COVID-19. Those whose diets scored best on the healthful Plant-Based Diet Score (a measure of how many healthy plant-based foods people eat, such as fruits and vegetables) were 9% less likely to develop COVID-19 and were 41% less likely to develop severe COVID-19. Additionally, the relationship was strongest in people living in poorer areas.
Gut. 2021 Nov;70(11):2096-2104. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2021-325353. Epub 2021 Sep 6. (Merino J et al.)

Whole Grains Are an Underutilized Source of Plant Protein

Although grains are a large source of plant protein in many African, Central American, Asian, and European nations, grains are not considered an important source of protein in any dietary guidelines around the world. In this review, scientists analyze the unused potential of whole grains as animal protein alternatives. Although research suggests that consuming grains as the sole source of protein could result in deficiency, and although grains have a lower protein content than beans and other pulses, shifting grains away from animal feed and toward direct human consumption could be an important strategy to improve both human and environmental health. The review notes that both high whole grain intake and high plant-protein intake have been associated with lower risks of chronic diseases, while high animal protein intake has been associated with higher risks of disease. The authors also highlight processing strategies, such as mixed culture fermentation, that can help improve consumer acceptance of whole grain meat and dairy replacement products.
Nutrition Reviews. 2021 Nov 6;nuab084. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuab084. (Poutanen KS et al.)

Eating More Whole Grains Could Save Millions in Diabetes Related Healthcare Costs

Eating more whole grains could lead to substantial savings in healthcare costs, even in countries where whole grains are already a regular part of the diet. In this study, researchers created models to analyze how eating more whole grains relates to type 2 diabetes for people in Finland, and then quantified the resulting healthcare costs as well as costs related to work absences. They found that increasing the number of Finnish people who eat whole grains daily and/or increasing the number of servings of whole grains eaten by habitual whole grain consumers in Finland could lead to a savings of 286-989 million Euros over a 10-year period. Additionally, the researchers estimate that these modest increases in whole grain consumption could substantially reduce disease burden (as measured by saving 1,323-154,094 quality adjusted life years). 
Nutrients. 2021 Oct 13;13(10):3583. doi: 10.3390/nu13103583. (Martikainen J et al.)

Diets Low in Whole Grains Are Largest Contributor of Diet-Related Cancer Costs

A healthy diet can reduce the risk of many types of cancers. In this study, researchers estimated the 5-year medical costs associated with different diet-related cancers. Diets low in whole grains accounted for the highest medical costs, at $2.76 billion over 5 years. Diets low in dairy and high in processed meats also significantly contributed to the economic burden of cancer. In terms of different diet-related cancer types, colorectal cancer was linked with the highest medical costs.
Cancer Causes & Control. 2021 Oct 15. doi: 10.1007/s10552-021-01503-4. (Khushalani J S et al.)

Traditional Latin American Diet Linked with Lower Blood Pressure

As people abandon their traditional diets for a Western diet of fast food and sugary treats, nutrition is often compromised. In this study, researchers analyzed the diets and blood pressure readings of 4,626 people living in the Southern Cone of Latin America (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay). Two common dietary patterns emerged: a traditional diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, seafood, and nuts; and a Western diet based on red and processed meat, dressings, sweets, snacks, and refined grains. Those most closely following a traditional Latin American diet were significantly more likely to have lower blood pressure than those following a Western diet.
Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2021 Oct 7;S0939-4753(21)00437-3. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2021.08.048. (Defagó M D et al.)

Diets Low in Whole Grains Are Largest Risk Factor for Heart Disease in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Heart disease impacts people across all corners of the globe. In this study, researchers used data from 2000-2019 to quantify risk factors for heart disease in low- and middle-income countries. The researchers found that in low- and middle-income countries, the largest behavioral risk factor for ischemic heart disease was a diet low in whole grains. Additionally, high systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol were linked with causing the highest disability-adjusted life years (a measure of overall disease burden).
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2021 Oct 5;10(19):e021024. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.021024. (Wang C et al.)

Full Fat Dairy Doesn’t Appear to Impact Cholesterol in People with Metabolic Syndrome

U.S. dietary guidelines tend to recommend low- and no-fat dairy options, yet research suggests that the saturated fat in dairy may not pose as many health risks as originally thought. In this study, 66 people with metabolic syndrome (a risky combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and/or excess fat around the waist) were assigned to either 3.3 servings of low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) per day, 3.3 servings of full-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) per day, or a limited dairy diet of 3 or fewer servings of nonfat milk. After 12 weeks of eating full-fat dairy, there was no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure. However, the 3.3 servings of low-fat dairy group did trend towards a slight improvement in systolic blood pressure.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2021 Sep 1;114(3):882-892. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab131. (Schmidt KA et al.)

Peanuts and Peanut Butter Linked with Improved Anxiety and Memory in Young Adults

Nuts like peanuts are part of a brain healthy diet and researchers are starting to understand why. In a randomized controlled trial of 63 healthy young adults in the Mediterranean, people were randomly assigned to a diet with about 3 tablespoons (25g) of peanuts, 2 tablespoons (32g) of peanut butter, or 32 grams of a control spread made from peanut oil (but without the fiber or phenolic compounds). Those eating the peanuts and peanut butter daily over the six-month study were significantly more likely to have improved anxiety and improved immediate memory than those in the control group. The researchers suspect that these improvements may be linked with the peanut polyphenols or the increase in short chain fatty acids (an indicator of a healthy gut microbiome).
Clinical Nutrition. 2021 Sept 20. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2021.09.020. (Parilli-Moser I et al.)

Eating Traditional Mexican Foods Linked with More Sleep, Less Snoring

As people abandon traditional diets for sugary, fatty Western diets, health can suffer, so researchers wonder if traditional eating might be related to sleep health as well. In a study of 100 Mexican American adults in Arizona, those who reported eating traditional Mexican foods more often were more likely to get 1.41 more hours of sleep per night and were less likely to report snoring than those who don’t eat traditional Mexican foods as often. However, eating traditional Mexican foods was not related to sleep quality, insomnia, or sleepiness.
BMC Nutrition. 2021 Aug 23;7(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s40795-021-00452-0. Ghani SB et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Slow Progression of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, the build up of fatty plaque in arteries, can be a risk factor for heart disease down the road. In a randomized controlled trial of more than 900 people with heart disease, those assigned to a Mediterranean diet improved their atherosclerosis (as measured by reduced thickness of both carotid arteries) over 5 years and maintained their baseline artery thickness at 7 years. Those assigned to a low-fat diet did not have any significant improvements in atherosclerosis.
Stroke. 2021 Aug 10;STROKEAHA120033214. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.120.033214. (Jimenez-Torres J et al.)

High Fiber and Fermented Foods May Benefit Microbiome

The foods we eat can impact our gut microbiome, which in turn can impact a number of health functions, including immune response and inflammation. In a small study of people randomized to either a high-fiber diet or a high-fermented-foods diet, fermented foods were found to improve the diversity of the microbiome and decrease inflammation, while high-fiber foods were found to impact the microbiome and trigger a personalized immune response.
Cell. 2021 Aug 5;184(16):4137-4153.e14. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.019. Epub 2021 Jul 12. (Wastyk HC et al.)

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