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Chili Pepper Linked with Longevity in Italian Adults

Chili pepper is an underappreciated aspect of a Mediterranean diet. To see how it relates to longevity in a Mediterranean population, researchers analyzed the diets of 22,811 Italian adults and monitored their health outcomes for 8 years. Those eating chili pepper at least 4 times per week were 23% less likely to die from all causes and 34% less likely to die from heart disease over the study period, even after controlling for the benefits of a Mediterranean diet. The relationship seems to be strongest in people without high blood pressure.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2019 Dec 24;74(25):3139-3149. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2019.09.068. (Bonaccio M et al.)

Improving Diet Could Save $301 per Person per Year in Healthcare Costs

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is known to help prevent numerous chronic diseases, so it’s no surprise that eating healthier can reduce healthcare costs, too. In this study, researchers analyzed U.S. eating habits against dietary recommendations, and then calculated the cardiometabolic disease burden (heart diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes) attributable to not meeting specific dietary guidelines. From there, they were able to calculate the costs associated with not meeting specific dietary recommendations. They found that diet-related healthcare costs were $301 per person annually (or $50.4 billion total) for cardiometabolic diseases alone. Specifically, the per-person annual cardiometabolic cost of not eating enough nuts & seeds was $81, seafood omega-3 fats was $76, vegetables and legumes was $60, fruits was $57, and whole grains was $45.
PLoS Medicine. 2019 Dec 17;16(12):e1002981. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002981. eCollection 2019 Dec. (Jardim TV et al.)

Ultra-Processed Foods Linked with Higher Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

When in doubt, choosing foods that are less processed and closer to nature is a good step towards eating a healthier diet. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 104,707 adults. Eating 10% more ultra-processed foods (classified using the NOVA system) was linked with a 15% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2019 Dec 16. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.5942. [Epub ahead of print] (Srour B et al.)

Focus on Culture, Flavor, & Affordability May Help Drive Interest in Plant-Based Diets in Black Communities

There is overwhelming research supporting the health benefits of healthy plant-based diets, yet researchers wonder how this evidence translates to Black communities. In this review, the authors note that “the diets of Blacks were historically predominantly plant-based in Africa, and elements of that are still seen in some of today’s cultural cuisine.” Some recommendations from this review include gradually increasing intake of healthy plant-based foods, gradually decreasing intake of animal-based foods, providing culturally-appropriate interventions, providing flavorful, low-cost plant-based options, and focusing on healthy foods that are already regularly enjoyed in Black cuisine (such as leafy greens, tubers, and okra).
Nutrients. 2019 Dec 2;11(12). pii: E2915. doi: 10.3390/nu11122915. (Sterling SR et al.)

Whole Grain Breads with Larger Particle Size / Less Processing Linked with Healthier Blood Sugar Control

In a small study, researchers assigned 15 people to four different types of 100% whole grain bread and measured their blood sugar responses (using iAUC, post-meal glucose, and 3-hour glucose). One bread was made with 100% stone ground flour, one was made with 100% roller milled flour, one was made with 50% roller milled flour and 50% cracked whole wheat, and one was made with 40% roller milled flour, 30% intact whole wheat, and 30% cracked whole wheat — although all breads were 100% whole grain. Among the roller milled breads, they found that the larger the particle sizes in the bread (intact whole wheat > cracked whole wheat > roller milled wheat), the gentler the impact on blood sugar. Interestingly, the blood sugar response of the stoneground bread (as measured by iAUC) was better than the 50% cracked wheat / 50% roller milled bread, but not quite as good as the 40% roller milled / 30% intact whole wheat / cracked whole wheat bread.
Diabetes Care. 2019 Nov 19. pii: dc191466. doi: 10.2337/dc19-1466. (Reynolds AN et al.)

Eating a Plant-Based Diet for 5 Weeks Can Lower 10-Year Heart Disease Risk

Lifestyle changes can have a measurable impact on health, even after a short period of time. In this study, 36 African American participants in Chicago ate a completely plant-based diet for 5 weeks and had their heart disease (specifically, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) 10-year risk scores calculated both before and after the study. After eating the plant-based diet, the 10-year heart disease risk was reduced by 19.4%, “bad” LDL cholesterol was lowered by 14%, and their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) was lowered by 10 mm Hg.
Circulation. 2019 Nov 11;140:A16318 (Fugar S et al.)

Healthy Diets Linked with Healthy Gut Microbiome in Patients with Intestinal Issues

The species of bacteria that live in our gut are thought to impact our health, so researchers wonder if diet might impact the gut microbiome of people burdened by intestinal disorders. In this study, researchers analyzed the gut microbiome of 4 different groups of people (including a general population, patients with Crohn’s disease, patients with ulcerative colitis, and patients with irritable bowel syndrome). They found that diets rich in bread, legumes, fish, and nuts were linked with lower levels of inflammatory markers and lower levels of potentially harmful aerobic bacteria. On the other hand, diets rich in meat, fast food, and sugar were linked with higher inflammatory markers. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at UEG Week Meeting. Barcelona. October 21, 2019. (Bolts L et al.)

Healthy Diets Like Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Hearing Loss

Conversations, TVs at normal volume, and most social activities occur at mid-range frequency of sound. Therefore, mid-range hearing loss can make it difficult to communicate in day-to-day life. In this study, researchers followed 3,135 women who were an average of 59 years old and followed them for 3 years assessing their eating habits and hearing capability. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet, a general healthy diet (as measured by the Alternate Healthy Eating Index), or a DASH Diet (a diet for healthy blood pressure that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy) were 23-28%, 23-28%, and 25-29% less likely, respectively, to develop mid-range hearing loss than those not following those diets. The relationship with low-frequency and high-frequency hearing loss was not statistically significant. 
American Journal of Epidemiology. 2019 Oct 14. pii: kwz223. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwz223. (Curtain SG et al.)

Seafood During Pregnancy Linked with Improved Brain Development in Children

Seafood is well-recognized for its brain health benefits, but researchers wonder if these benefits outweigh the risks of mercury exposure. In this study, scientists analyzed 44 papers on 102,944 mother-child pairs and 25,031 children. They found consistent evidence of brain health benefits for children when mothers ate seafood while pregnant, and that benefits began even at the lowest amounts of seafood (about 4 oz /week). No negative impacts on neurocognitive development were noted even at the highest levels of seafood consumption (more than 12 ounces per week).
Prostaglandins Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. 2019 Oct 11;151:14-36. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2019.10.002. (Hibbeln CJR et al.)

Healthy Diet Linked with Improvement in Depression in Young Adults

A balanced diet can go a long way towards nourishing our bodies, our brains, and our feelings. In this study, 76 young adults (ages 17-35) with symptoms of depression were randomly assigned to either continue their typical diet or eat a healthier diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean protein, and fish for 3 weeks. After the study period, those eating the healthier diet had significantly lower self-reported depression symptoms than the control group, and some of the beneficial results were maintained 3 months after the study as well.
PLoS One. 2019 Oct 9;14(10):e0222768. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222768. (Francis HM et al.)

Healthy Diet in Midlife Linked with Lower Risk of Cognitive Impairment Later in Life

Eating a healthy diet in mid-life can pay dividends in later decades. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 16,948 middle-aged adults in China, then assessed their brain function 20 years later. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet or a Plant-Based Diet were 33% and 18% less likely to have cognitive impairment than those not following those diets. Other healthy diets, including the DASH diet and the alternative Healthy Eating Index, were also linked with significantly lower risks of cognitive impairment.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019 Oct 1;110(4):912-920. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz150. (Wu J et al.)

American Diet Slowly Gets a Tiny Bit Better, Still Needs Improvement

The standard American diet is infamous for its high levels of refined carbs, sugar, and saturated fats. To see if nutrition initiatives are taking hold, researchers analyzed the diets of 43,996 U.S. adults in 1999 and then again in 2016. Over this time period, people got 1.23% more calories from high quality carbs (whole grains), 0.38% more calories from plant protein, 0.65% more calories from polyunsaturated fats, and 3.25% fewer calories from low quality carbohydrates (sugar and refined grains). Unfortunately, calories from saturated fat increased by 0.36%, and the general diet is still far from ideal, with 42% of calories still coming from low quality carbs, and saturated fat remaining above 10% of energy intake.
JAMA. 2019 Sep 24;322(12):1178-1187. doi: 10.1001/jama.2019.13771.(Shan Z et al.)

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