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Rural Ghanaians Eat More Roots, Tubers, Plantains than Ghanaians Living in Europe

West African immigrants living in Europe are more affected by obesity and diet-related disease than the European population or their counterparts in West Africa, as they replace traditional foods with a more highly processed, Western Diet. To better understand this nutrition transition, researchers analyzed the diets of 4,543 Ghanaians living in urban Ghana, rural Ghana, and Europe (Amsterdam, Berlin, and London). Ghanaians living in Europe had higher BMIs than those living in Ghana and got more of their calories from fat and protein, whereas Ghanaians living in Ghana got more of their calories from carbohydrates and ate more fiber (especially in rural Ghana). Though there were many differences in eating habits among the participants, those living in rural Ghana tended to eat more roots, tubers, plantains, and fermented corn products; those living in urban Ghana tended to eat more rice, pasta, meat, and fish; and those living in Europe tended to eat more sweets, dairy, potatoes, chicken, whole grains, oils and margarine.
Food and Nutrition Research. 2017 Jul 6;61(1):1341809. (Galbete C et al.)

Pulses May Help Aid Weight Loss

Dietary changes are a key target in obesity prevention programs, so many foods are being studied for their affect on body weight. To see if eating more pulses (the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) might help reduce obesity, researchers analyzed 21 randomized control trials looking at pulses’ role in weight, body fat, and waist circumference in overweight and obese adults. Diets that included dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference. There was a trend in reduction of body fat (-0.34%), but it was not significant as well. Overall, the researchers found that those eating about 1 serving of pulses per day lost, on average, about 0.75 pounds over six weeks. Not surprisingly, results were stronger in weight loss diets (3.8 pounds over 6 weeks) than weight maintenance diets (0.6 pounds over 6 weeks). Although the weight loss was small, this study indicates that a modest serving of pulses may help produce weight loss, even without cutting calories.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar 30. [Epub Ahead of Print] (Kim SJ 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.)

Traditional African Diet May Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

Colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the US, affects a greater proportion of African Americans than rural Africans, indicating that diet plays an important role in disease prevention. To see how traditional diets affect risk factors for colon cancer, researchers assigned 20 middle aged African Americans to a traditional, African heritage diet (averaging 55g fiber daily and 16% calories from fat, with foods like mangos, bean soup, and fish) and 20 middle aged rural South Africans to a typical American diet (averaging 12g fiber daily and 52% calories from fat, with foods like pancakes, burgers, fries, and meatloaf). In just 2 short weeks, the African Americans reduced the inflammation of their colons, improved their markers for cancer (including increased levels of butyrate, an anti-cancer chemical), and increased the diversity of their healthy gut bacteria. On the other hand, the rural Africans eating an American diet fared worse, producing more bile acid (a risk factor for colon cancer), while decreasing the diversity of healthy gut bacteria. These results indicate that an African heritage diet can help promote a healthy digestive tract (potentially reducing colon cancer risk), and that rapid improvements can come with a change to healthier foods.
Nature Communications. 2015 Apr 28;6:6342. (O’Keefe SJ et al.)

Peanuts Linked to Lower Mortality Across Different Ethnicities

Nuts and peanuts (technically legumes) are largely recognized as health promoting foods, but experts wondered if these benefits extend across all ethnic groups and income levels. In this study, researchers at Vanderbilt University analyzed nut intake in over 200,000 people, including a large group of Asian men and women in China, and a large group of low-income black and white men and women in the southeastern United States. For those with the highest nut consumption (mostly peanuts), mortality from all causes significantly decreased 17-21%, depending on ethnicity. Death from heart disease specifically (including ischemic heart disease) also significantly decreased across all ethnic groups for those eating the most nuts. The researchers identified this study as “strong evidence that the association of nut/peanut consumption with mortality does not vary by ethnicity “ or income level. Additionally, they conclude that “consumption of nuts, particularly peanuts given their general affordability, may be considered a cost-effective measure to improve cardiovascular health.”
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 Mar 2. [Epub ahead of print] (Luu HN et al.)

Wild Ferns are an Important Part of Sub-Saharan African Diet

Pteridophytes, also known as ferns or fern allies, may sound exotic to people in the USA, but in Africa they are a crucial source of food. Many rural communities in sub–Saharan Africa depend on these wild edible plants not only during times of food shortage, but also as a pivotal component of their normal diets. There are at least 24 different species of pteridophytes eaten, with Pteridium aquilinum being the most widely consumed. These ferns also pack a punch when it comes to nutrition, with higher levels of minerals, carbohydrate, and protein than other common vegetables. There remains much to learn regarding the role of ferns in the sub–Saharan African diet and culture.
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 2014 Dec; 10: doi: 10.1186/1746–4269–10–78. (Maroyi A.)

Lower Incidence of Diabetes in Vegetarians

A 2011 study examined the relationship of diet to incidence of diabetes among Black and non-Black participants in the Adventist Health Study-2.  The study participants included 15,200 men and 26,187 women (17.3% black) living in the US and Canada who were free of diabetes. Participants provided demographic, anthropometric, lifestyle and dietary data, while a follow-up questionnaire two years later elicited information on the development of diabetes.  Participants were grouped as vegan, lacto ovo vegetarian, pesco vegetarian, semi-vegetarian or non-vegetarian (reference group). The questionnaire results showed that vegetarian diets (vegan, lacto ovo and semi) were all associated with a substantial and independent reduction in diabetes incidence.  Blacks have long been associated with having an increased risk for diabetes.  The results of this study showed that the protection provided against diabetes from the consumption of vegetarian diets was as great as the excess risk associated with Black ethnicity.
Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 2011 Oct 7. (Tonstad et al.)

Patterns of Meat Intake and Risk of Prostate Cancer Among African-Americans

Given the higher risk of prostate cancer in African Americans, scientists at the National Cancer Institute investigated the impact of diet on prostate disease, looking specifically at the relationship between type of meat intake and prostate cancer risk among African-American men. Researchers analyzed data from 1,089 African-American prostate cancer patients, aged 50-71 years.  While white meats were not associated with prostate cancer, red meats cooked at high temperatures (examples: steaks, hamburgers, bacon) were positively associated with prostate cancer risk among African-American men. 

Cancer Causes & Control. 2011 Oct 5. (Major et al.)

Urbanization and Low Bone Mass in Women

A study conducted by the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at the Massey University in New Zealand hypothesized that vitamin D levels would be lower, bone turnover higher and nutrition inadequate in urban postmenopoausal black women living in South Africa, increasing their risk for low bone mass.  The study tested for prevalence of low bone mass risk ractors in 1261 black women from rural and urban South Africa.  Dietary risk factors identified were low calcium and high animal protein, phosphorus and sodium intakes.  Vitamin D levels and C-terminal telopeptide (a biomarker of normal bone metabolism) were significantly higher in rural vs. urban women older than 50 years.
Nutrition Research Oct 2011; 31(10):748-58. (Kruger et al.)

Income Levels and Urban Life Increase Weight

A study conducted by the University of Botswana explored associations among food consumption patterns, overweight/obesity, and socioeconomic status and urbanization. Scientists surveyed a nationwide cross-sectional sample of 746 adolescent schoolchildren in secondary schools of cities, towns and villages in Botswana.  The study found that overweight and obesity are associated with greater socio-economic status (SES), city residence and a snack-food diet pattern.  Students belonging to a higher SES reported significantly more daily servings of snack foods and fewer servings of traditional diet foods than those in a lower SES.  In general, students in cities ate significantly more servings of snacks and fewer servings of traditional foods compared with those in urban and rural villages.  The findings suggest that as nutritional transition progresses through urbanization and SES levels in Botswana, it will be important to increase the availability of fruits and consumption of traditional foods, while decreasing snack portion sizes.
Public Health Nutr. 2011 Aug 2:1-8. (Maruapula et al.)

Body Image Among Latinas and African-American Women

University of Houston researchers surveyed 262 African American women and 148 Latinas to determine their actual weight and their perceived weight. In this group of middle-aged (mean 45.2 yrs), educated (44% college graduates) and obese (mean BMI 34.6) women, most women did not perceive normal weight as desirable. In fact, of those who were normal weight, 73.9% of African-Americans and 42.9% of Latinas desired to be obese.
Ethnicity and Disease. Summer 2011; 21(3):281-7. (Mama et. al.)

Patterns of High Blood Pressure and High Sodium Intake in the African Diaspora

High sodium intake is associated with higher blood pressure. This study, from Loyola University in Chicago, examined 2,704 individuals from Nigeria, Jamaica, and the United States, with evaluated blood pressure and sodium levels. The individuals’ ages ranged from 31-48 and 55% were women. Sodium levels decreased from West to East: highest in the U.S., mid-range in Jamaica, and lowest in Nigeria where we find little added sodium in the foods. High blood pressure follows the same pattern: highest in the U.S., mid-range in Jamaica, and lowest in Nigeria. The standard American diet, containing foods higher in sodium, is associated with a higher risk of abnormal blood pressure than traditional diets. 

Journal of Human Hypertension, 2011 May 19. (Tayo et al.)