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Plant Based Diets Linked with Lower Cholesterol

Research continues to support the benefits of plant based diets, which feature wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. To get a better picture of the long-term effects, researchers analyzed 49 studies (19 clinical trials, 30 observational). Consistent with other reviews, they found that following a vegetarian diet is linked with lower cholesterol (29.2 mg/dL lower total cholesterol, 22.9 mg/dL lower LDL “bad” cholesterol, and 3.6 mg/dL lower HDL “good” cholesterol) compared with meat containing diets, but the lower levels of fat in the blood (triglycerides) were not statistically significant.
Nutrition Reviews. 2017 August 21. (Yoko Yokoyama et al.) [Epub]

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.)

Healthy Plant-Based Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

Wholesome plant foods are the foundation of a healthy diet, but not all “vegetarian” foods are equally nutritious. To see how different variations of plant-based diets relate to the risk of developing coronary heart disease (when plaque builds and hardens in the heart’s major blood vessels and decreases blood flow), researchers analyzed data detailing what more than 200,000 people ate over 20 years and separated people into three versions of plant based diets: overall plant-based diet (includes all plant foods and some animal foods), healthful plant-based diet (includes healthy plant foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), and unhealthful plant-based diet (includes sugar-sweetened drinks and refined grains). Not surprisingly, they found that the second choice – eating fewer animal foods and more healthy plant foods – was linked with a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, while eating more animal foods and more unhealthy plant foods was linked with an increased chance of developing coronary heart disease.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017 July; 70(4):411-422. (Satija 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.)

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.)

Low-Carb Diet Not Well Suited for Those Without Diabetes, Pre-Diabetes

While there is no one-size-fits-all weight loss plan that works for everyone, it seems that a low Glycemic Load or low carbohydrate diet makes little difference for most people who don’t have diabetes (or pre-diabetes). Researchers analyzed data from 3 different experiments (high Glycemic load vs low Glycemic Load, lots of whole grains vs few whole grains, and low fat vs. low carbohydrate) and noted whether the weight change differed between people with insulin sensitivity issues (such as diabetes or pre-diabetes). Eating a high Glycemic Load diet resulted in significantly more weight gain in people whose bodies don’t respond well to insulin (the hormone that helps control blood sugar), compared to those without insulin sensitivity issues. Similarly, people with insulin sensitivity problems lost more weight on a New Nordic Diet (high in whole grains) or a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. However, people without diabetes or pre-diabetes lost more weight on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.  
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017 July 5. [Epub ahead of print.] (Hjorth MF 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.)