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Meatless Meals Linked with Lower "Bad" Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, and it can be easily impacted by food choices. In this study, researchers randomly assigned more than 100 adults to a high saturated fat diet (with lots of butter and fatty dairy) that was meatless, chicken-based, or red meat-based, or a low saturated fat diet (with lowfat dairy) that was meatless, chicken-based, or red meat-based. In both groups, people followed each variation (meatless, chicken-based, or red meat-based) for 4 weeks each, in a random order. Regardless of the protein source, those in the higher saturated fat diet groups had significantly higher levels of total cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Additionally, those in the meatless group (who got their protein from soy, eggs, legumes, nuts, and dairy) had significantly lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol than those in the chicken or red meat groups, with no significant differences observed between chicken and red meat on cholesterol.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019 Jun 4. pii: nqz035. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz035. [Epub ahead of print] (Bergeron N et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Healthy Aging

Longevity is fascinating to study, but what is perhaps more important than the years in your life is the life in your years – the ability to age successfully from a medical, social, and lifestyle point of view. In this study, researchers evaluated whole grain intake and measured “successful aging” (using social, lifestyle, and medical indicators) in a group of 3,349 adults ages 50+. Those eating the most whole grains (about 7 servings per day) were significantly more likely to score higher on the “successful aging index” than those eating the least whole grains (about 1.5 servings per day). Those eating the most whole grains were also less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Nutrients. 2019 May 29;11(6). pii: E1221. doi: 10.3390/nu11061221. (Foscolou A et al.)

More Exposure to Nutritious, Bitter Staples of Med Diet May Improve Consumer Acceptability

Many bitter foods, such as green vegetables, contain a wealth of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. In this review, scientists analyzed existing research on consumer opinions of two bitter-tasting, healthful essentials of the Mediterranean diet: extra virgin olive oil and brassicaceae vegetables (the family of vegetables that includes broccoli and arugula). They found the most important factor in influencing someone’s perception of these bitter foods is exposure, meaning the more often someone tries these foods, the more likely they’ll be to like them. They also note that music and certain food pairings can make these bitter foods appear to taste less bitter to consumers. In certain demographics (women and elderly consumers), promoting the healthfulness of these bitter foods can also improve acceptability.
Nutrients. 2019 May 24;11(5). pii: E1164. doi: 10.3390/nu11051164. (Cavallo C et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Better Cognitive Function in Adults with Well-Controlled Type 2 Diabetes

Healthy diets are known to support brain health in a general population, so researchers wonder if this benefit also extends to patients with diabetes. Scientists analyzed the eating habits, blood sugar control, and brain function in 913 adults, nearly half of whom had type 2 diabetes. In patients who had good blood sugar control, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet significantly improved their cognitive function over the 2-year study. However, the results were not statistically significant in patients without diabetes or patients with poor blood sugar control.
Diabetes Care. 2019 May 23. pii: dc190130. doi: 10.2337/dc19-0130. [Epub ahead of print] (Mattei J et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Diagnosed Depression

Good food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and emerging research suggests that certain food choices might ward off depression as well. Researchers analyzed the diets and mental health of 154 older adults in Greece, to see how a Mediterranean diet might relate to depression. Eating a Mediterranean diet was not linked with a change in risk of depressive symptoms. However, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with depression. When looking at individual foods, eating more vegetables, more poultry, and less alcohol was also linked with a lower risk of depression. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting. San Francisco, CA. May 19, 2019

Minimally Processed & Unprocessed Foods Linked with Weight Loss

Many ultra-processed convenience foods are designed to keep us coming back for more. In this study, researchers randomly assigned 20 adults to a diet of ultra-processed foods (packaged pastries, chicken nuggets, American cheese, deli meats, flavored fruit drinks, etc.) or unprocessed foods (spinach, nuts, fruit, chicken breast, plain Greek yogurt, avocado, sweet potato, bulgur, farro, etc.) for 2 weeks, immediately followed by the other diet for the next 2 weeks. The meals on both diets had the same number of calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein, sugar, sodium, and fiber, but participants could choose to eat as much or as little of the food that they wanted. People tended to eat 500 more calories on the ultra-processed diet, and gained about 2 pounds, while people tended to lose 2 pounds on the unprocessed diet. The categorization of ultra-processed vs unprocessed/minimally-processed is based on the NOVA system of food classification. While there are some concerns about the classifications used in the NOVA system (such as white rice and white flour being included in the “minimally processed” category alongside intact whole grains), helping direct consumers towards more wholesome, minimally-processed foods may be one strategy to address overeating and associated weight gain.
Cell Metabolism. 2019 May 16. pii: S1550-4131(19)30248-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008. (Hall KD et al.)

Following Mediterranean Diet During Pregnancy Linked with Healthy Outcomes for Mothers and Children

Pregnant mothers have a special opportunity to impact not only their own health, but the health of their babies as well, and researchers wonder what some of the short-term and long-term impacts of maternal diet might be. In this article, researchers analyzed 22 studies of pregnant mothers following a Mediterranean diet. They found that, compared with children of mothers who aren’t following a Mediterranean diet, children of mothers who follow a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy are significantly less likely to have depressive behaviors or aggression, and are significantly less likely to have birth defects (such as dangerous heart defects). Allergic disorders (including eczema and asthma) are less likely in children when mothers follow a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy, and an even stronger association is found when children continue with a Mediterranean diet. The researchers also found benefits for the mothers themselves, as those following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy were less likely to develop diabetes during pregnancy.
Nutrients. 2019 May 17;11(5). pii: E1098. doi: 10.3390/nu11051098. (Amati F et al.)

Acculturation from South Asian Lifestyle to Western Lifestyle Linked with Heart Disease Risk

Around the world, transitioning from a traditional diet with daily movement to a sedentary Western diet is linked with rising rates of chronic disease. In this study, researchers investigated the lifestyle factors that are associated with heart disease risk in South Asian adults. They found that moving from a traditional diet and lifestyle to one low in fruits and vegetables, low in physical activity, and high in alcohol and smoking is linked with a 2 to 3-fold higher risk of incident heart disease. “There’s a high recidivism in subjects who are placed on an eating plan different from their usual dietary patterns,” said Dr. Sikand, emphasizing the importance of culturally tailored diets. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at National Lipid Association Scientific Sessions. Miami, FL. May 16, 2019. (Sikand G)

High Fat Mediterranean Diet Good for Weight Loss and Waistline

Although it is still widely feared that high fat diets could lead to weight gain, high fat Mediterranean style diets are actually a helpful tool for weight loss. Using data from the republished PREDIMED study (where adults at risk of heart disease were randomly assigned to a low fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with nuts, or a Mediterranean diet with olive oil for nearly 5 years), scientists analyzed the waist circumference and weight of the participants at baseline and again at the end of the study. While all 3,985 participants with follow up data increased their waist size slightly with aging – even as they lost weight – the Mediterranean diet groups had significantly smaller increases in their waistline compared to the low fat control group. Similarly, the Mediterranean diet with olive oil group lost significantly more weight than the low fat group, at nearly 1 pound more, but the greater weight loss seen in the nut group was not statistically significant. The scientists conclude that “the fear of weight gain from high-fat foods need no longer be an obstacle to adherence to a dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet,” and that these results “lend support to not restricting intake of healthy fats in advice for bodyweight maintenance and overall cardiometabolic health.”
The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. 2019 May. [Epub ahead of print] (Estruch R et al.)

Nuts Linked with Brain Health in Older Adults

Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In this longitudinal study conducted over a 10-year period, researches evaluated the overall diet, nut intake, and brain function of over 4,000 Chinese people aged 55+. The participants with the highest intake of nuts had a significantly higher cognitive function than those who ate a moderate amount of nuts, or no nuts at all. Lifestyle, socioeconomic status, and overall health status did not change this association. This study indicates that a long-term diet rich in nuts may have a protective effect against age-related cognitive decline.
Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging.  2019;23(2):211-216. doi: 10.1007/s12603-018-1122-5. (Li, M. and Shi, Z.)

Faith-Based Nutrition Program Linked with Improved Diet Among African American Church Members

African Americans are disproportionately affected by heart disease and other health conditions. In this 9-month long pilot study, researchers teamed up with pastors and church leaders of several predominantly Black churches in the Chicago area to design an intervention to improve the diets of the congregations. The interventions included Bible study, small group sessions led by church leaders, and church-wide activities, all of which focused on increasing the vegetable intake of the participants. These interventions were designed to motivate healthier eating by linking healthy eating patterns to the congregant’s spiritual beliefs. At the end of the 9-month intervention, participants had increased their vegetable intake by an average of one serving per day and their overall diet quality increased. Researchers also found significant decreases in participants’ weight and blood pressure. This study highlights the importance of community and social support in promoting healthy eating patterns. The promising results of this pilot study indicate that faith-based nutrition interventions may be an effective method to improve the diets and health of underserved populations.
Progress in Community Health Partnerships.  2019;13(1):19-30. doi: 10.1353/cpr.2019.0005 (Lynch, E. et al)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Improved Quality of Life in Crohn's Disease

Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes stomach pain and severe diarrhea. Diet is a major factor in the management of Crohn’s disease, however there are no international guidelines on diet for the management of this disease. In this study, researchers evaluated the diet, quality of life, disease severity, and inflammation of 86 patients with Chron’s disease. They found that the patients whose Crohn’s disease was in remission had the highest quality of life, and that those patients had a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet. This may be due in part to the high concentration of antioxidants and other nutrients in the Mediterranean diet, which may reduce inflammation and improve the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. This study shows that the Mediterranean diet may play an important role in managing the symptoms and improving the quality of life of patients with Crohn’s disease.
European Journal of Nutrition.  2019 Apr 20. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-01972-z. (Papada E, et al)

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