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Switching to Mediterranean Fat Sources May Help Inflammation

Palmitic acid (found in palm oil, shortening, butter, and red meat) is a type of saturated fat prevalent in the Western diet, while oleic acid (found in olive oil) is a type of monounsaturated fat prevalent in the Mediterranean diet. In a small study, researchers at the University of Vermont fed 16 adults either a diet high in palmitic acid or a diet high in oleic acid and low in palmitic acid to see how food choices affect the inflammatory response of various cells. All adults spent 3 weeks in each diet group, serving as their own control.  Although insulin sensitivity was not affected in this experiment, the scientists found that changing the diet to include more oleic acid and less palmitic acid was able to lower activation of certain cell signaling proteins (including TLR4 and NLRP3) that are associated with inflammation, oxidation and poor insulin signaling. These results suggest that shifting from a Western diet to a Mediterranean style diet (with greater proportions of oleic acid) may help fight inflammation.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2015 Aug 1. pii: S0955-2863(15)00178-3. (Kien CL et al.)

Mediterranean Meals with Olive Oil Can Improve Blood Sugar Control, Cholesterol

In a small Italian study, researchers assigned 25 healthy adults to a Mediterranean meal (pasta, chicken breast, salad, bread, and an apple) prepared either with or without olive oil, then measured their cholesterol and blood sugar. After 30 days, the participants switched groups and ate the other meal, serving as their own control. The scientists found that 2 hours after eating, the meal without olive oil was associated with higher glucose and insulin levels, as well as higher “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C). In the second part of the experiment, the participants were assigned to a Mediterranean meal prepared with either olive oil or corn oil, switching groups after a 30 day washout period. Their blood sugar and cholesterol was tested after the meals as well. Two hours after eating, the meals with olive oil were associated with a lower increase in blood sugar and improved markers of blood sugar control (such as lower DPP, and higher GLP1 & GIP), as well as a smaller increase in “bad cholesterol” (LDL-C and oxidized LDL). These experiments indicate that meals with olive oil can help regulate blood sugar, and may help improve cholesterol.
Nutrition & Diabetes. 2015 July 20;5:e172. [Epub ahead of print.] (Violi F et al.)

Med Diet Can Preserve Brain Structure, Delay Cognitive Aging

The link between healthy aging and the Mediterranean diet is well established, but emerging research sheds new light onto this mechanism. Scientists analyzed the eating patterns and brain scans of 146 French adults (average age 73). They found that the brain structure (white matter) of those most closely following the Mediterranean diet was significantly more preserved 9 years later than those who didn’t follow a Mediterranean diet. To put this in perspective, the researchers concluded that “higher adherence to the [Mediterranean Diet] appeared to delay cognitive aging by up to 10 years.”
Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015 July 16. (Pelletier A et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Med Diet Cuts Risk of Womb Cancer by Half

Endometrial cancer, also known as womb cancer, is largely determined by hormone levels in the body. However, new research shows that diet can play an important role in prevention. Combining the results of three large studies, Italian researchers analyzed the eating patterns of over 5,000 women in Europe (1411 with endometrial cancer, and 3668 controls) for their adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Those most closely following the Mediterranean diet were over 50% less likely to develop endometrial cancer than those with the lowest adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Additionally, researchers found that “the Mediterranean diet as a whole is a stronger determinant of endometrial cancer risk than the single dietary components,” emphasizing the importance of overall diet.
British Journal of Cancer. 2015 May 26;112(11):1816-21. (Filomeno et al.) 

Peanut and Nut Intake May Lower Death from Heart Disease

Nuts have long been associated with longevity, and new research in diverse populations further supports this relationship. Researchers tracked peanut and nut intake of about 206,000 people in the US (low income blacks and whites) and China for over 5 years. High nut intake was associated with a 21% lower risk of death from all causes among the US participants, and a 17% lower risk in the Chinese participants. High nut and peanut intake was also associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, especially in ischemic heart disease (the type of heart disease caused by narrowed arteries).
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May;175(5):755-66. (Luu HN, et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Improve Cognitive Function

The Mediterranean diet has long been studied for its role in heart health and aging, but emerging research suggests that it may also be protective for brain health. In a follow up to the PREDIMED study (where Spanish adults at risk for heart disease were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with four tablespoons of olive oil daily, a Mediterranean diet with one ounce of nuts daily, or a low fat controlled diet) researchers analyzed the relationship between diet and cognitive function. Of the 334 participants in this study with data on cognitive function, the scientists found that overall brain function significantly improved for both Mediterranean groups over the 4-year experiment, compared with the control group. Specifically, the nuts group significantly improved on tests of memory, while the olive oil group significantly improved on tests of reasoning, planning, and problem solving. This adds to the growing body of research that the Mediterranean diet is an important factor in healthy aging.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May 11. [Epub ahead of print] (Valls-Pedret C et al.) 

Traditional Sardinian Diet Linked with Longevity

Sardinia, Italy has gained international recognition as one of the world’s longevity Blue Zones, as it has a large concentration of people who live exceptionally long lives. To determine how the traditional Sardinian diet might play a role in longevity, European researchers analyzed the traditional eating habits of Sardinia based on works published over a century. Researchers characterize the traditional Sardinian diet as “remarkably frugal.” Foods native to the Sardinian diet include grains (wheat and barley), potatoes, pulses, sheep milk and goat milk and their fresh cheeses, wild fruits, and fresh vegetables, with fermented whole grain breads and minestrone soup making up a substantial portion of the diet prior to the 1950’s. After the mid-1950’s, Sardinians were able to eat more meat and pasta, along with more fresh vegetables, olive oil, and fish, but with fewer potatoes, pulses, and less lard. The researchers conclude that this unique combination of diets may attribute to the exceptionally long lifespan of Sardinians born at the end of the 19th century, and are eager to monitor the lifespan of future generations of Sardinians.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015 Apr;69(4):411-8. (Pes GM et al.)

Cheese Linked with Positive Microbiome Changes & Markers of Disease Prevention

Dairy foods are most often prized for their calcium content, but new research reveals that changes to the gut microbiome, especially from eating fermented dairy products, like cheese, might help explain the “French Paradox,” the phenomenon in which traditional cheeses are linked with low rates of heart disease. In a small study to investigate the protective effect of dairy foods, Danish scientists randomly assigned 15 healthy men to one of three diets for two weeks: a diet with lots of partly skim (1.5%) milk, a diet with lots of semi-hard cow’s cheese, or a control diet with butter, but no other dairy products. Both the milk and cheese diets had the same amount of calcium per day (1.7g). The men rotated through each diet, with a two-week washout period in between each new diet group. Compared to the control diet, both the cheese and milk diets were associated with significantly lower production of TMAO, a compound that is thought to be a marker of heart disease risk. The researchers also found that “dairy consumption, especially cheese, can beneficially modify the gut microbiota to increase SFCA levels.” SFCAs (short chain fatty acids) are compounds produced by gut bacteria that are linked with many health promoting effects, such as lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory diseases.  
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2015 Mar 18;63(10):2830-9 (Zheng H et al).

Doctors May Not Be Equipped for Diet Counseling

One of the great ironies of the healthcare system is that doctors are often untrained in the most basic of wellness practices: nutrition. In a survey of 236 physicians at a large US medical center (including cardiologists and internal medicine doctors and trainees), fewer than 14% felt adequately trained to discuss nutrition with their patients. Nearly all doctors (90%) recognized the Mediterranean Diet as protective against heart disease, but fewer than half (46%) realized that low-fat diets have not been proven to reduce heart disease risk. Additionally, many doctors had trouble identifying foods high in various nutrients, such as which fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These data highlight the importance of making reliable nutrition resources (specifically those relating to well researched eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet) available to the medical community. (Note: If you’re a healthcare professional who would like to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet, see here.)
Presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session. San Diego CA. March 15, 2015. 

Med Diet Cuts Heart Disease Risk by Nearly Half

Researchers have given us yet another reason to fill our plates with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and nuts! A European study followed more than 2,500 Greek adults for over a decade, tracking their medical records, lifestyle habits, and eating patterns. Those who most closely followed the Mediterranean Diet were 47% less likely to get heart disease, regardless of their smoking habits, age, family history, or other lifestyle factors. The scientists estimate that every one-point increase on the Mediterranean Diet score (a measure of how closely participants followed the Mediterranean Diet, on a scale of 1 to 55) is associated with a 3 percent drop in heart disease risk, so every little bit counts. In fact, the researchers found that the Mediterranean Diet was even more protective against heart disease than physical activity!
Presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session. San Diego CA. March 15, 2015.

Plant-Based Diets May Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risk

Colorectal cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality, so learning more about dietary prevention is an important area of research. Scientists at Loma Linda University in California analyzed food patterns and health data from over 77,000 adults for an average of 7 years. After controlling for demographic and lifestyle factors (including age, smoking, physical activity, and family history), the researchers found that those who ate vegetarian diets had an approximately 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared with nonvegetarians. Researchers also found that pesco-vegetarians in particular (vegetarians who eat fish) had a much lower risk of colorectal cancer. These results support other studies linking the Mediterranean diet (a plant-based diet that features fish) with a decreased risk for colorectal cancer.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 March 9. [Epub ahead of print] (Orlich MJ et al.)

Cardioprotective Effect of Mediterranean Diet

Ventricular hypertrophy, or the thickening and enlargement of heart ventricles due to the accumulation of scar tissue, is thought to be a root cause of many heart ailments. To investigate how diet relates to this condition, researchers analyzed eating patterns and left ventricular mass (the size of the left ventricle of the heart, where enlargement is most common) of over 1,700 adults without history of heart attack or stroke. The scientists found that those most closely adhering to a Mediterranean Diet had a left ventricular mass that was 4% less than the rest of the study population, a reduction greater than that observed in people with moderate-to-heavy physical activity (another factor that supports heart health). In fact, for each point increase on the Mediterranean Diet Score (0-9), left ventricular mass was 1.98g lower (average left ventricular mass was 189g).
American Journal of Cardiology. 2015 Feb 15;115(4):510-4. (Gardener H et al.)

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