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Plant-Based Korean Diet with Brown Rice Can Improve Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar in Hospitalized Patients

Many people are surprised at how effective lifestyle changes can be when it comes to managing chronic disease. In this study, 160 hospital patients in South Korea with high blood pressure changed their diet to eat a plant-based (vegan) diet based on brown rice at each meal, with lots of kimchi and pickled vegetables, fermented soy foods, and lots of other vegetables (both raw and cooked). They averaged about 1,700 calories per day and did not eat any refined grains or any noodles or breads, relying on brown rice as the staple. Their sodium intake was quite high, at 7,382mg per day. However, after about 2 weeks, 86% of the patients were able to stop taking their blood pressure and diabetes medications, and their reduced blood pressure levels remained stable even after stopping the medications. Similarly, HBA1C reduced from 7.6 to 7.2, indicating better blood sugar management. More research is needed to see if similar approaches might be effective in other populations.
Journal of Ethnic Foods. 2018 Nov 1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jef.2018.09.002 (Jung SJ et al.)

Whole Grain Recommendations Vary Throughout Southeast Asia

Whole grains are an important food group to help reduce the risk of diet-related disease, but many people fall short of recommendations. In this review, researchers analyzed studies on whole grain foods in Southeast Asia, as well as whole grain food labeling regulations and whole grain dietary guidelines. Most whole grain studies were related to food technology, rather than whole grain eating habits, though the authors did find research indicating that whole grain intake remains low across Southeast Asia. In the 10 member states of Southeast Asia, only 4 countries had suggestions for whole grain intake in their dietary guidelines: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. When it comes to food labeling, Indonesia and Singapore both require the percentage of whole grains to be listed in products labeled as “whole grain.” Indonesia also has a minimum requirement of 25% whole grain in “whole grain” labeled products, while Malaysia is currently drafting regulations regarding whole grain labeling. The authors conclude that “better understanding of the consumer base in the region is also likely to benefit public healthy messaging around increasing intake of whole grains at a population level and should also help in the development of innovative whole grain food products.”  
Nutrients. 2018 Jun 11;10(6). pii: E752. (Brownlee IA et al.)

Traditional Mediterranean and Japanese Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Death from Heart Disease

At first glance, Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines might seem worlds apart. However, the overall eating patterns share more similarities than one might think. Researchers analyzed the diets and long-term (50-year) data on death from heart disease in 12,763 men in the Seven Countries Study from the 1960s. The researchers noted a very similar eating pattern between the Mediterranean group and the Japanese group, with lots of seafood and vegetables, and low amounts of animal foods and animal fat. They also found that eating more vegetables and starch, and more closely following a “Mediterranean” diet (as the Mediterranean and Japanese groups did) were linked with significantly lower risks of death from heart disease. Sweets, animal foods, and hard fats (like butter or lard) were linked with increased risk.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018 May 17. (Kromhout D et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Oat Noodles (Instead of Refined Noodles) Can Help Reduce Cholesterol, Blood Pressure

Refined wheat and rice noodles are common staple foods throughout Asia today, so replacing some of these foods with whole grain versions could go a long way in improving health. To test the impact, researchers randomly assigned 84 healthy adults (some with mildly high cholesterol) in Taiwan to an oat noodle group or a refined wheat noodle group, providing them with 100 grams (about 1 ½ cups cooked) of their respective noodles across 1 or 2 meals each day for 10 weeks. After the 10-week study, the oat group reduced their total cholesterol by 17% and LDL-c (“bad”) cholesterol by 19% compared with the wheat noodle group. The oat noodle group also significantly lowered their blood pressure by 7-11%, but the wheat noodle group did not. The benefits tended to be stronger in people who started the study with slightly high cholesterol, but the results were still statistically significant for the group as a whole.
Journal of Food and Drug Analysis. 2018 April. [Epub ahead of print.] (Liao MY et al.)

Common Healthy Eating Pattern Across Different Asian Ethnic Groups Linked with Better Cholesterol, BMI, Waist Size

Researchers analyzed the eating habits of 8,433 adults in Singapore who were of Chinese, Malay, and Indian ethnicity. Despite the wide variety in food preferences among these different ethnic groups, researchers were able to identify a common healthy eating pattern based on fruits, vegetables, dairy, wholegrain breads, breakfast cereals, unsaturated cooking oils; and low in fast food, sweetened beverages, meat, and flavored rice. Those most closely following the healthy eating pattern were more likely to have a lower BMI, smaller waist size, and lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood).
Journal of Nutrition. 2018 Apr 1;148(4):616-623. (Whitton C. et al.)

High Fiber Diet Promotes Select Gut Bacteria to Better Manage Diabetes

In line with many other countries, the usual care for patients with diabetes in China is education about balanced diets and blood sugar management strategies. In a small study, 43 patients with diabetes were randomly assigned to either these standard recommendations, or a high-fiber diet with whole grains and traditional Chinese medicinal foods. Both groups significantly improved their blood sugar (as measured by HbA1c) over the 12-week study, but significantly more people in the whole grain group (89% vs 50%) got their blood sugar to a well-managed level (HbA1c < 7%). To see how gut microbes might play a role, researchers also analyzed the gut bacteria of the participants. They found that the fiber from whole grains stimulated select bacteria to produce short chain fatty acids, which in turn, helped the body better manage blood sugar.
Science. 2018 March 9;6380(359):1151-1156. (Zhao L et al.)

Traditional Japanese Diets as a Cultural Model of Healthy Eating

Japan is famous for the long lifespan of its people, and the traditional diet is thought to play a role. In this review, researchers outline the healthful elements of traditional Japanese diets, including the variety of seasonal vegetables and seafood, umami flavors, cooking methods that incorporate water, modest portion sizes, and social and familial connections. They conclude that “Japanese traditional diet practices (Washoku), which prominently include the flavoring of foods with umami taste, can be characterized as a healthy diet in the same way that the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet is so classified.”
Nutrients. 2018 Feb 3;10(2). pii: E173. (Gabriel AS et al.)

Eating Fish Linked with Less Diabetic Eye Damage

Damage to the blood vessels in the eye (diabetic retinopathy) is a serious complication of diabetes that can lead to blurriness and blindness if untreated. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and eye health of 357 patients in Singapore with type 2 diabetes. Eating just one additional serving of fish per week is linked with a 9% lower likelihood of severe diabetic retinopathy. In patients without retinopathy, those eating more fish were more likely to have wider vascular caliber, an eye vessel measurement that can indicate a lower risk of chronic disease.
Scientific Reports. 2018 Jan 15;8(1):730. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-18930-6. (Chua J et al.)

Eating Fish Daily Linked with Lower Risk of Depression

Seafood has long been linked with better brain health, but researchers wonder if these associations stand up even in high fish-eating populations, such as Japan. In a study of 1,181 older Japanese adults (ages 63-82), people eating the most fish (4 ounces per day) were significantly less likely to develop depression 25 years later than those eating less fish. Researchers also found that eating the most DPA (docosapentaenoic acid, a type of fatty acid found in fish) was also linked with a significantly lower risk of depression.
Translational Psychiatry. 2017 September 26. 7:e1242. [Epub ahead of print.] (Matsuoka YJ et al.)

Eating More Soy Linked with Less Breast Cancer Death

Soy foods (like tofu, edamame, or soy milk) have a complicated relationship with breast cancer, since soy has estrogen-like properties. To see if eating isoflavones (the major estrogen-like compound in soy) relates to breast cancer outcomes, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of more than 6,000 newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients (all women) in the US, Canada, and Australia. Scientists found that women eating the most isoflavones (the amount in at least ¼ cup soymilk per day) were less likely to die over the 9-year study period, but the results were only statistically significant in women with hormone-receptor-negative breast cancers (the breast cancers unlikely to respond to hormonal therapy).
Cancer. 2017 Mar 6. [Epub ahead of print] (Zhang FF et al.)

Tea Consumption May Decrease Risk of Osteoporosis

Tea is known for its disease-fighting antioxidants, but research has been unclear about the connection between tea and osteoporosis. Researchers analyzed 16 studies to find out more about this potential connection. They found that tea consumption could increase bone mineral density (how many minerals are in the bones), which decreases likelihood of developing osteoporosis. However, researchers found no association between tea consumption and fractures caused by osteoporosis, and indicated a need for more studies on the topic.
Nutrition Research. 2017 Feb 28;42:1-10. (Guo M et al.)

Traditional Ogimi Diet Filled with Potentially Neuroprotective Foods

Ogimi is a village in Okinawa, Japan famous for a remarkably high number of people who live healthfully into their 80s, 90s, and 100s. In this study researchers interviewed elderly Ogimi residents to learn about the most commonly eaten foods. Soy foods (like tofu) and seaweed make up a substantial portion of the diet. In fact, 13 of the 25 most frequently consumed foods are species of seaweed. The researchers suspect that the L-serine amino acids in the Ogimi diet (found in foods like tofu and seaweed) may partially explain the link with longevity, as some animal studies suggest that L-serine amino acids may be neuroprotective.
Current Nutrition Reports. 2017;6(1):24-31. (Cox PA et al.)

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