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Diets Low in Whole Grains Are Largest Risk Factor for Heart Disease in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Heart disease impacts people across all corners of the globe. In this study, researchers used data from 2000-2019 to quantify risk factors for heart disease in low- and middle-income countries. The researchers found that in low- and middle-income countries, the largest behavioral risk factor for ischemic heart disease was a diet low in whole grains. Additionally, high systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol were linked with causing the highest disability-adjusted life years (a measure of overall disease burden).
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2021 Oct 5;10(19):e021024. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.021024. (Wang C et al.)

Full Fat Dairy Doesn’t Appear to Impact Cholesterol in People with Metabolic Syndrome

U.S. dietary guidelines tend to recommend low- and no-fat dairy options, yet research suggests that the saturated fat in dairy may not pose as many health risks as originally thought. In this study, 66 people with metabolic syndrome (a risky combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and/or excess fat around the waist) were assigned to either 3.3 servings of low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) per day, 3.3 servings of full-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) per day, or a limited dairy diet of 3 or fewer servings of nonfat milk. After 12 weeks of eating full-fat dairy, there was no effect on cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure. However, the 3.3 servings of low-fat dairy group did trend towards a slight improvement in systolic blood pressure.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2021 Sep 1;114(3):882-892. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab131. (Schmidt KA et al.)

Peanuts and Peanut Butter Linked with Improved Anxiety and Memory in Young Adults

Nuts like peanuts are part of a brain healthy diet and researchers are starting to understand why. In a randomized controlled trial of 63 healthy young adults in the Mediterranean, people were randomly assigned to a diet with about 3 tablespoons (25g) of peanuts, 2 tablespoons (32g) of peanut butter, or 32 grams of a control spread made from peanut oil (but without the fiber or phenolic compounds). Those eating the peanuts and peanut butter daily over the six-month study were significantly more likely to have improved anxiety and improved immediate memory than those in the control group. The researchers suspect that these improvements may be linked with the peanut polyphenols or the increase in short chain fatty acids (an indicator of a healthy gut microbiome).
Clinical Nutrition. 2021 Sept 20. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2021.09.020. (Parilli-Moser I et al.)

Eating Traditional Mexican Foods Linked with More Sleep, Less Snoring

As people abandon traditional diets for sugary, fatty Western diets, health can suffer, so researchers wonder if traditional eating might be related to sleep health as well. In a study of 100 Mexican American adults in Arizona, those who reported eating traditional Mexican foods more often were more likely to get 1.41 more hours of sleep per night and were less likely to report snoring than those who don’t eat traditional Mexican foods as often. However, eating traditional Mexican foods was not related to sleep quality, insomnia, or sleepiness.
BMC Nutrition. 2021 Aug 23;7(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s40795-021-00452-0. Ghani SB et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Can Slow Progression of Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, the build up of fatty plaque in arteries, can be a risk factor for heart disease down the road. In a randomized controlled trial of more than 900 people with heart disease, those assigned to a Mediterranean diet improved their atherosclerosis (as measured by reduced thickness of both carotid arteries) over 5 years and maintained their baseline artery thickness at 7 years. Those assigned to a low-fat diet did not have any significant improvements in atherosclerosis.
Stroke. 2021 Aug 10;STROKEAHA120033214. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.120.033214. (Jimenez-Torres J et al.)

High Fiber and Fermented Foods May Benefit Microbiome

The foods we eat can impact our gut microbiome, which in turn can impact a number of health functions, including immune response and inflammation. In a small study of people randomized to either a high-fiber diet or a high-fermented-foods diet, fermented foods were found to improve the diversity of the microbiome and decrease inflammation, while high-fiber foods were found to impact the microbiome and trigger a personalized immune response.
Cell. 2021 Aug 5;184(16):4137-4153.e14. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.019. Epub 2021 Jul 12. (Wastyk HC et al.)

Sorghum Linked with Many Health Benefits

Sorghum is a nutritious ancient grain with a low environmental footprint. In this review, researchers analyzed 16 intervention studies about sorghum and health, and found that eating sorghum may benefit blood sugar, weight management, satiety, and oxidative stress. Sorghum’s nutritional benefits and culinary versatility suggest that this grain may be an important part of future food innovations.
Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2021 Jul 30;1-19. doi:10.1080/10408398.2021.1944976. Online ahead of print. (Ducksbury C et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Better Maintenance of Waist Size, Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar

Larger waist sizes (as measured by waist circumference), high blood pressure, and high triglycerides are all signs of potential heart disease down the road, so researchers wonder how whole grains might play a role in these risk factors. In a study of 3,121 adults (average age 55), researchers analyzed the types of grain foods they ate and their health markers to see how different types of grains might relate to cardiometabolic risk. While all study participants got larger around the waist over the 18-year study period, eating the most whole grains (at least 48 grams whole grain per day, or at least 3 full servings) was linked with significantly smaller increases in waist size compared with eating the least whole grains (less than 8 grams whole grain per day, or less than a half serving). Additionally, eating more whole grains was also linked with significantly smaller increases in fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure, while eating more refined grains (4+ servings per day) was linked with greater increases in waist size and a smaller decline in triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Jul 13;nxab177. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab177. (Sawicki CM et al.)

Whole Grain Intake in Latin America Falls Short of Recommendations

Dietary guidelines around the world recommend making more of our grains whole, and researchers wonder if people in different countries are meeting these goals. In a study of 9,128 people across eight Latin American countries, the average person was eating less than one full serving (only 14.7 grams) of whole grain foods per day. Women and older adults were more likely to eat more whole grains, while people with lower incomes were less likely to eat more whole grains. The most commonly eaten whole grains in the survey were oatmeal, masa harina, whole wheat bread, corn chips, and wheat crackers.
European Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Jul 7. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02635-8.

Following a Mediterranean Diet May Have “Halo Effect” on Other Family Members

Can healthy eating habits rub off on family members who aren’t actively trying to eat better? New research seems to suggest so. In this study, scientists analyzed the diet, weight, and exercise habits of 148 untreated family members of people participating in the PREDIMED-Plus study, a Mediterranean diet weight loss intervention. After two years, the untreated family members lost nearly 9 pounds and scored significantly better on the Mediterranean diet score, indicating a “halo effect” of their family members’ participation in the study. There were no significant changes to the exercise habits of the untreated family members.
International Journal of Obesity. 2021 Jun;45(6):1240-1248. doi: 10.1038/s41366-021-00763-z. Epub 2021 Mar 3. (Zomeño MD et al.)

Plant-Based Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Severe Symptoms in COVID-19

While mask wearing, social distancing, and approved vaccines are thus far the only proven strategies to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, research suggests that people with diet-related chronic diseases tend to be at higher risk of having more serious complications if and when they do get COVID-19. In this study of healthcare workers from 7 countries on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic (conducted in the summer of 2020, before vaccines became available), those who contracted COVID-19 and reported following a “plant-based diet” or a “plant-based or pescatarian diet” had a 73% and 59% lower risk of moderate-to-severe COVID-19 versus people who did not follow these diets. However, there was no relationship between diet and likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
BMJ Nutrition, Prevention, & Health. 2021 Jun 7;4(1):257-266. doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2021-000272. eCollection 2021. (Kim H et al.)

Meeting Australian Whole Grain Recommendations in Australia Could Save Over 1.4 billion AUD

Currently, Australian adults are only eating about 21 grams of whole grain per day. In this study, researchers quantified the savings in healthcare and reduction of lost productivity costs associated with a reduction in type 2 diabetes and heart disease through meeting the 48 grams per day whole grain recommendation. If 100% of the Australian adult population were to meet this whole grain goal, researchers estimate a savings of up to 750.7 million Australian dollars (AUD) in healthcare and lost productivity costs for type 2 diabetes, and an additional 717.4 million AUD in healthcare and lost productivity costs for heart disease, totaling more than a 1.4 billion AUD savings. On the low end, even if only 5% or 15% of Australian adults meet the 48 grams per day whole grain goal, there would still be an estimated savings total of 73.4 million AUD to 220.2 million AUD, respectively in healthcare and lost productivity costs related to both conditions.
Nutrients. 2021 May 29;13(6):1855. doi: 10.3390/nu13061855. (Abdullah MMH et al.)

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