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Eating Fish Linked with 40% Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Fish is well recognized for its role in a heart-healthy diet. To learn more about how fish eating relates to heart disease risk in a Mediterranean population, scientists analyzed the eating patterns and health outcomes of nearly 21,000 Italian adults. Those eating fish at least 4 times per week were 40% less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those eating fish fewer than 2 times per week. This relationship is primarily driven by fatty fish, like salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, and canned fish. Strokes were also studied, but the trend toward lower stroke risk in frequent fish eaters was not statistically significant.
Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2017 Aug 23. pii: S0939-4753(17)30198-9. (Bonaccio M et al.)

Healthy Eating in Mid-Adulthood Linked with Healthier Body Composition Down the Road

It is never too late to begin the journey to healthy eating. In fact, adopting healthier habits in mid-adulthood may be especially important. To see the effect diet has on body fat distribution, researchers analyzed the eating patterns of approximately 2,000 adults (average age = 48 years), and then assessed their body composition 20 years later. Those with higher-quality diets in mid-adulthood (most closely following a Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet, or scoring higher on the Healthy Eating Index – all of which prioritize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, and limit sweets and processed or red meats) had lower total body fat and a lower BMI, which are critical in chronic disease prevention. Following a high-quality diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, over a period of time is important to maintain a healthy level of body fat and to prevent fat tissue from accumulating in the liver.
Obesity. 2017 Aug;25(8):1442-1450. (Maskarinec G et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer

The Mediterranean diet is well known to be protective against prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in the world among men. In this paper, experts at the University of Foggia in Italy analyzed the existing research on diet and prostate cancer. They found that the Mediterranean Diet as a whole is related to a lower risk of prostate cancer and a lower risk of death from cancer and heart disease. The researchers also note that, “If the [Mediterranean Diet] is dismantled into its components, it seems that there is no single ingredient or food category mediating any favorable effects. Protective effect is instead due to the whole food pattern.”
Frontiers in Nutrition. 2017 August 24;4:38. (Capurso C et al).

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Less Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome

The Mediterranean Diet is linked with better health, even if you live thousands of miles away from the Mediterranean region. In this study researchers conducted a nationwide online survey of 24,882 Chilean adults, asking about their eating habits, weight, and other health indicators. A sub-sample of the adults (4,348) also had information on Metabolic Syndrome, a cluster of conditions (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess fat around the waist) that can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes if they occur together.  Those most closely following a Mediterranean Diet (using the Chilean Mediterranean Diet Index) were less likely to have metabolic syndrome, and were less likely to be overweight or obese.
Nutrients. 2017 August 11;9(8). Pii: E862. (Echeverria G et al.) 

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Improved Cognitive Performance in Elderly

As global life expectancy grows, dementia is an increasing concern. Healthy eating patterns like the Mediterranean Diet are thought to help decrease the risk of such diseases. Researchers recently analyzed the diets of 1,865 Greek adults over the age of 64 as part of The Hellenic Longitudinal Investigation of Ageing and Diet (HELIAD) study. The researchers concluded that closer adherence to the Mediterranean Diet may be associated with improved cognitive performance—particularly memory—and lower dementia rates. Fish and whole grains in particular were singled out for their association with cognitive benefits.
PLOS One. 2017 August 1. 12(8): e0182048. (Anastasiou CA et al.)

Drinking Alcohol 3-4 Days/Week Linked with Lower Risk of Diabetes

“Everything in moderation” is a favorite mantra of nutrition professionals around the world, and research helps explain why. Scientists from the University of Southern Denmark analyzed data from more than 70,000 Danish adults who were surveyed about their health and drinking habits throughout a 5-year period. The lowest type 2 diabetes risk (43% lower risk) was observed in men who drink 14 drinks per week, and in women (58% lower risk) who drink 9 drinks per week, compared with people who avoid alcohol. The frequency of drinks mattered too. Researchers found that drinking alcohol is linked with lower risk of diabetes for those drinking 3-4 days per week, even after adjusting for weekly alcohol consumption.
Diabetologia, 2017 July 27. (Holst C et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Gallbladder Removal

Cholecystectomy, or the removal of the gallbladder, is a common treatment for gallstones, which affect 10-15% of the adult population. Some studies suggest that foods typical of the Western diet (high in calories, cholesterol, etc.) may increase the risk of gallstone disease. Researchers analyzed whether a healthful diet, like the Mediterranean diet, could potentially prevent cholecystectomy in a group of 64,052 French women. They found that those more closely following the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of cholecystectomy. Specifically, a higher intake of legumes, fruit, vegetable oil, and whole grain bread was associated with a lower cholecystectomy risk, and a higher intake of ham was associated with a higher risk.
American Journal of Gastroenterology. 25 July 2017. [Epub ahead of print.] (Barré A et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Lowers Blood Pressure

The Mediterranean Diet is widely praised for its role in supporting heart health. To see how following a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and fish, and low in processed foods and red meats, affects blood pressure, researchers randomly assigned 166 elderly Australian adults to either a Mediterranean Diet or their regular habitual diet. After six months, the Mediterranean Diet group had lowered systolic blood pressure (the number on top, representing the pressure your heart uses while beating) and improved functioning of endothelial cells (which line the inside of blood vessels) as compared to the habitual Australian diet group.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017 Jun;105(6):1305-1313. (Davis CR et al.)

Healthy Diets (Like Med Diet) Associated with Longer Lives

Can an apple a day keep the grim-reaper away – at least for a while? To find out how diet relates to mortality, researchers analyzed the diets of 47,994 women and 25,745 men. They used scores from the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to determine diet quality. They found that a 20-percentile increase in any of these three diet-quality scores was associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause. Specifically, a 20-percentile increase in diet-quality score was associated with a 25% reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease when assessed by the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, 7% when assessed by the Mediterranean Diet score, and 4% when assessed by the DASH score. Overall, a healthful diet full of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and fish is linked with a longer life.
New England Journal of Medicine. 3 July 2017;377(2):143-153. (Sotos-Prieto M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Fewer Signs of Pre-Cancerous Colorectal Polyps

The Mediterranean Diet is known to be protective against chronic diseases and certain cancers, but researchers wonder if certain elements of the Mediterranean diet are especially protective. In a study of 808 adults undergoing routine colonoscopies, researchers found that those who reported more closely following a Mediterranean diet were more likely to have clear (healthy) colonoscopies, noting a dose-response relationship (meaning the more elements of a Mediterranean diet that people followed, the lower the risk of having advanced colorectal polyps in their colonoscopies — a risk factor for colorectal cancer). When looking at individual food groups, the researchers noted that having more fruit and fish, and fewer sodas appeared to be the most important factors, as each of these factors was linked with more than a 30% lower risk of pre-cancerous polyps. Taken together, eating more fruit and fish, and drinking fewer sodas is linked with 86% reduced odds of pre-cancerous polyps. (Note that findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s 19th World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer. Barcelona, Spain. June 30, 2017. (Fliss Isakov N et al.)

Workplace Mediterranean Diet Program Improves Food Choices among Workers

Even in Italy, workers are starting to opt for unhealthy Western food choices, in place of traditional Mediterranean meals. To combat this trend, researchers in Italy piloted a health program within worksite cafeterias of a large industrial corporation. Handouts, posters, and other promotional material decorated the cafeteria to encourage consumption of healthy foods like vegetables and whole grains. Nutritionists also worked with the food service staff to modify recipes to make them healthier. At the end of the pilot, after analyzing food choices from 738 employees (half office workers, half plant workers) there was a higher purchase rate of dishes based on whole grains, legumes, fish, and poultry and a lower purchase rate of dishes based on refined grains, red meats, eggs and cheese. This trend persisted up to three years after the intervention. There was also better adherence to the national Italian recommendations for saturated fat, cholesterol, sugars and fiber after the study. The authors conclude that this could be a good model for other workplace nutrition programs, especially given that it cost the employer very little, and did not take up too much of the foodservice employees’ time.
International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2017 Jun;69(1):117-124. (Vitale M et al.)

Butter isn’t “back,” according to the American Heart Association

In order to clear up confusion about how different dietary fats relate to heart health, the American Heart Association published a Presidential Advisory on Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease. In this paper, the researchers reviewed randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of nutrition research) as well as prospective observational studies (following large groups of people over long periods of time and noting their health outcomes). After reviewing all of the evidence, they concluded that replacing saturated fat (the types of fats found in red meat, butter, and milk) with polyunsaturated fat (found in fish, nuts, and seeds) can lower the risk of heart disease by 30%, which is on par with what cholesterol lowering medications can achieve. Similarly, they found that eating more monounsaturated fat (found in avocados, olive oil, and canola oil), more polyunsaturated fat, and less saturated fat is linked with lower rates of heart disease. Saturated fat is also linked with higher rates of “bad cholesterol” (LDL), which is thought to build up in artery walls and pose a risk for heart disease. These findings are in line with healthy dietary patterns around the world, including the Mediterranean diet.
Circulation. 2017 Jun 15. [Epub ahead of print.] (Sacks FM et al.)

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