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Improving Diet Could Save US Billions in Healthcare Costs

When it comes to good nutrition, every little bite adds up. To see how much eating healthier could impact healthcare costs, researchers analyzed the relationship between diet, health problems, and healthcare spending. They found that if Americans were to make their diets even 20% more Mediterranean, the US would save $25.7 billion dollars per year. Similarly, if Americans were to make their diets align 20% more with the Healthy Eating Index 2015 (which emphasizes healthy foods like whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy), the US could save $38.1 billion per year. If Americans’ diets were to align an impressive 80% with the Mediterranean diet or Healthy Eating Index 2015, the US could save $135 billion or $66.9 billion per year, respectively. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting. Boston, MA. June 11, 2018. (Scrafford, C et al.)

Whole Grain Recommendations Vary Throughout Southeast Asia

Whole grains are an important food group to help reduce the risk of diet-related disease, but many people fall short of recommendations. In this review, researchers analyzed studies on whole grain foods in Southeast Asia, as well as whole grain food labeling regulations and whole grain dietary guidelines. Most whole grain studies were related to food technology, rather than whole grain eating habits, though the authors did find research indicating that whole grain intake remains low across Southeast Asia. In the 10 member states of Southeast Asia, only 4 countries had suggestions for whole grain intake in their dietary guidelines: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. When it comes to food labeling, Indonesia and Singapore both require the percentage of whole grains to be listed in products labeled as “whole grain.” Indonesia also has a minimum requirement of 25% whole grain in “whole grain” labeled products, while Malaysia is currently drafting regulations regarding whole grain labeling. The authors conclude that “better understanding of the consumer base in the region is also likely to benefit public healthy messaging around increasing intake of whole grains at a population level and should also help in the development of innovative whole grain food products.”  
Nutrients. 2018 Jun 11;10(6). pii: E752. (Brownlee IA et al.)

Seafood Intake in Mothers and Fathers Linked with Shorter Time to Pregnancy

For couples trying to grow their family, a healthy diet with seafood may help tilt the odds in their favor. Researchers followed 501 couples planning to get pregnant for up to a year, tracking their eating habits and pregnancies. Couples in which both male and female partners ate at least 8 servings of seafood per month had a significantly shorter time to pregnancy than those consuming less. Even if just one partner ate seafood at least 8 times per month, there was still a significantly shorter time to pregnancy than if they ate it fewer than 2 times per month (with the relationship being slightly stronger in women than in men). Couples eating the most seafood (at least 8 times per month) also tended to have sexual intercourse 22% more frequently than those eating less.
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2018 May 23. (Gaskins AJ et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Mediterranean Diet May Be Linked with Fewer Deaths Related to Air Pollution

Air pollution is a concern in many countries around the world, so researchers wonder whether a healthy diet may offset some of these risks. To test this theory, researchers followed more than half a million people across 6 states in the US, estimating their exposure to air pollutants and assessing their eating patterns. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to die from all causes and heart disease specifically over the 17-year study period than those not following a Mediterranean diet, even at the same level of air pollution exposure. The researchers suspect that the antioxidants in the healthy foods of the Mediterranean diet may play a role in this relationship. (Note that findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference. San Diego, California. May 21, 2018

Traditional Mediterranean and Japanese Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Death from Heart Disease

At first glance, Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines might seem worlds apart. However, the overall eating patterns share more similarities than one might think. Researchers analyzed the diets and long-term (50-year) data on death from heart disease in 12,763 men in the Seven Countries Study from the 1960s. The researchers noted a very similar eating pattern between the Mediterranean group and the Japanese group, with lots of seafood and vegetables, and low amounts of animal foods and animal fat. They also found that eating more vegetables and starch, and more closely following a “Mediterranean” diet (as the Mediterranean and Japanese groups did) were linked with significantly lower risks of death from heart disease. Sweets, animal foods, and hard fats (like butter or lard) were linked with increased risk.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018 May 17. (Kromhout D et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Healthier Diet with Whole Grains, Fruits, Veg Linked with Bigger Brains

Brains tend to shrink in people who are suffering from dementia and other cognitive diseases, so researchers wonder if lifestyle factors may relate to brain structure. Scientists analyzed the eating habits and brain volume (using MRIs) of more than 4,000 adults without dementia. Eating lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, dairy, and fish, and drinking fewer sugary drinks was linked with larger brain volumes. Healthier diets were also linked with more gray matter, white matter, and hippocampal volume in the brain.
Neurology. 2018 May 16. (Croll PH) [Epub ahead of print.]

Cooking Skills in Young Adulthood Linked with Healthier Eating Habits Later in Life

Child and teen cooking programs are growing in popularity, and researchers wonder if equipping people with cooking skills earlier in life may have a lasting benefit into adulthood. In this study, researchers surveyed young adults (ages 18-23) about their cooking skills, then followed up with them over a decade later (ages 30-35) to ask about their eating habits. Those who reported having “very adequate” cooking skills in young adulthood had more nutritious habits later in life, including cooking vegetables more often, eating at least 3 servings of vegetables per day and eating fast food less often.
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2018 May;50(5):494-500. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2018.01.021. (Utter J et al.)

Olive Oil and Fruit Linked with Less Depression in Elderly

Study after study links a healthy body with a healthy mind, especially in aging populations. To see if diet relates to depressive symptoms, researchers evaluated the eating habits and mental health of nearly 400 Italian adults in their 90s. Those consuming more olive oil and fruit were significantly less likely to have depression than those not getting much olive oil or fruit, though the relationship between higher Mediterranean diet scores and lower risks of depression was not strong enough to be statistically significant.
Journal of Nutrition, Health, & Aging. 2018 May;22(5):569-574. (Pagliai et al.)

Following a Mediterranean-Inspired Diet Linked with 30% Lower Risk of Hearing Loss in Women

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the US, so scientists wonder if there might be a relationship between diet and hearing over time. To test this relationship, researchers followed more than 81,000 women for 2 decades, tracking their eating patterns and health outcomes. Those most closely following a Mediterranean-inspired diet were 30% less likely to develop hearing loss over the 20-year study than those not following a Mediterranean diet. Similarly, people whose diets closely adhered to a DASH diet or the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (both of which also prioritize vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and limit red meat and sweets), were also less likely to develop hearing loss over time.
Journal of Nutrition. 2018 May 11. (Curhan SG et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Coconut Oil Produce Lowest Level of Harmful Polar Compounds Upon Heating

Compared with other cooking oils, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, leading some to wonder how this might impact its healthfulness. In this study, researchers analyzed 10 common cooking oils by heating them up across different temperatures and for different periods of time and analyzing their stability and the production any potentially harmful compounds (such as polar compounds). Interestingly, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil produced significantly lower levels of harmful polar compounds than the other oils, while refined vegetable oils (canola, grapeseed, and rice bran oils) produced the most. Since these experiments were done on the oils themselves, without food, more research is needed to see how cooking different foods in different oils might impact the production of harmful compounds.
ACTA Scientific Nutritional Health. 2018 May 5;2(6):2-11. (Guillaume C et al.)

Not Getting Enough Whole Grains, Nuts, Seeds Linked with Billions of Dollars in Healthcare Costs

Many public health campaigns focus on fruit and vegetable intake, but perhaps a wiser approach would be to expand the focus to whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Researchers analyzed Canadian eating habits against dietary recommendations, and then calculated the disease burden attributable to not meeting specific dietary guidelines. From there, they were able to calculate the direct (hospital visits, medicine, etc.) and indirect (labor) costs associated with not meeting specific dietary recommendations. They found that $13.8 billion (in CAD) per year can be attributed to an unhealthy diet, which is more than the economic burden of not getting enough exercise (at $9.3 billion). Additionally, they found that not getting enough whole grains and not getting enough nuts and seeds were the two biggest contributors to this cost, at $3.3 billion each.
PLoS One. 2018 Apr 27;13(4):e0196333. (Lieffers JRL et al.)

Switching to Whole Grains Can Reduce Abdominal Fat

Visceral fat is a dangerous type of abdominal fat that can surround vital organs like the liver. To see if grain choices might play a role in this fat distribution, researchers randomly assigned 50 Japanese men with a BMI of 23 or greater (midway through the “healthy weight” range or heavier) to a diet with whole grain bread or white bread for 12 weeks, and had their visceral fat estimated using tomography scans. After the 12-week study, the whole grain group lost 4 cm of visceral fat around their middle, while the white bread group showed no significant changes.
Plant Foods and Human Nutrition. 2018 Apr 18. [Epub ahead of print.] (Kikuchi Y et al.)

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