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Synthetic Folate (Found in Enriched Grains) Linked with Food Allergies in Kids

In the US, most refined grains are enriched with high levels of folic acid, to help prevent neural tube defects in children, such as spina bifida. However, new research raises questions about the benefits of high levels of synthetic folate in children. In a study of 1,394 children, the kids who developed food allergies were found to have higher levels of UMFA, which is a derivative of synthetic folate. The authors conclude that “more research is needed to conclude whether mothers should consider consuming different sources of folate, like leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans or lentils instead of synthetic forms of folate.” (Note that findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presented at American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Annual Meeting. Orlando, Florida. March 2-5, 2018.

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Healthy Aging

When it comes to aging healthfully, no eating pattern quite stacks up to the Mediterranean diet. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating patterns of more than 3,000 middle-aged French adults who were free of chronic disease and monitored their health over the next 15 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet in middle age were significantly more likely to age healthfully, meaning that they were free of chronic disease, depression and pain, were able to live independently.
The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.  2018 Mar 2;73(3):347-354. (Assmann KE et al.)

More Research Needed on Mediterranean Diet & Cognition

To get a better understanding of how the Mediterranean diet relates to brain health, researchers analyzed existing randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” of nutrition research, where participants are randomly assigned to one diet or another, so that researchers can look for causal relationships). Thus far only 5 randomized controlled trials on the Mediterranean diet and cognition have been published, with mostly insignificant results. However, the researchers did note that the most well-designed studies (using PREDIMED data) are the studies that found a protective effect on dementia risk and cognition, indicating that the Mediterranean diet might hold promise in these areas. More research is needed.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018 Mar 1;107(3):389-404. (Radd-Vagenas S et al.)

Both Mediterranean and Vegetarian Diets Effective for Weight Loss

From Mediterranean to vegetarian, many of the world’s healthiest diets actually have more similarities than differences, so it’s not surprising to find that both these diets can be an effective path to weight loss. In this study, researchers randomly assigned 118 overweight adults who normally eat meat to either a lower calorie Mediterranean diet or a lower calorie vegetarian diet for 3 months. After a two-week assessment, the participants then switched to the other diet for 3 months. Participants lost about 4 pounds during each diet, and both diets were also effective at decreasing body fat. The only significant difference between the diets was that the vegetarian was slightly more effective in lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, while the Mediterranean diet was slightly more effective in lowering triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
Circulation. 2018 Feb 26. (Sofi F et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Substituting Whole Grains for Refined Linked with Lower Risk of Death, Cancer Reoccurrence

The link between whole grains and colorectal cancer prevention is well established, but researchers wonder how this relationship plays out in patients who have already been diagnosed with colon cancer. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health status of 1,024 patients with stage III colon cancer. After 7 years, patients eating 3 or more servings of refined grains per day had a significantly higher risk of cancer reoccurrence or death from any cause. Replacing 1 serving of refined grains with 1 serving of whole grains daily was linked with a 23% lower risk of cancer reoccurrence or death from any cause. Eating 3 or more servings of whole grains daily trended towards lower risk as well, but the relationship was not statistically significant.
JNCI Cancer Spectrum. 2018 Feb;2(2):pky017. (Brown JC et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Lifestyle habits, like diet, are an important part of a cancer-protective strategy. To see if diet relates to prostate cancer risk, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 754 men with prostate cancer, and 1,277 controls without prostate cancer. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 34% less likely to have an aggressive form of prostate cancer than those not following a Mediterranean diet. A Western diet (filled with fast food, sweets, and red meat) and a prudent diet (filled with low fat dairy, juice, produce, and whole grains) were not found to be linked to prostate cancer risk.
Journal of Urology. 2018 Feb;199(2):430-437. (Castello A et al.)

Traditional Japanese Diets as a Cultural Model of Healthy Eating

Japan is famous for the long lifespan of its people, and the traditional diet is thought to play a role. In this review, researchers outline the healthful elements of traditional Japanese diets, including the variety of seasonal vegetables and seafood, umami flavors, cooking methods that incorporate water, modest portion sizes, and social and familial connections. They conclude that “Japanese traditional diet practices (Washoku), which prominently include the flavoring of foods with umami taste, can be characterized as a healthy diet in the same way that the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet is so classified.”
Nutrients. 2018 Feb 3;10(2). pii: E173. (Gabriel AS et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Help Improve Odds of a Successful Pregnancy in IVF

IVF, or in vitro fertilization (manually combining eggs and sperm in a lab, before transferring into the woman’s uterus) is a common treatment for couples struggling to have children, but researchers wonder whether diet might also play a role. In a study of 244 (non-obese) women in Greece who had their first in-vitro fertilization treatment, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly more likely to become pregnant and have a live birth than those not following a Mediterranean diet, but these results were only significant in women younger than 35. In fact, in women younger than 35, every 5-point increase in the Mediterranean Diet Score (0-55 scale) was linked with a nearly 3 times greater likelihood of getting pregnant and having a baby with IVF.
Human Reproduction. 2018 Jan 30. (Karayiannis D et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Shifting the Wheat Breeding Process to Support Whole Grains

The infrastructure for wheat breeding & milling is largely set up to favor refined flour, rather than whole grain flour. In this article, researchers from Washington State University define new quality targets for wheat breeders that take into account fermentation, the bran and germ of the grain, protein strength, and flavor. They also note that different wheats are recommended for different products (pastry, breads, or noodles), and make recommendations for testing breeding lines on the farm to ensure that the new variety will work for farmers, millers, bakers, and consumers alike.
Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. 2018 January 29. (Jones SS et al.) [Epub]

Mediterranean-Inspired Diet May Slow Cognitive Decline in Stroke Survivors

Stroke survivors are twice as likely to develop dementia compared to the general population. To see how diet relates to brain health in stroke survivors, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and brain function of 106 stroke survivors for more than 4 years. Those most closely following a “MIND diet” had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who don’t follow a MIND diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet that emphasizes foods associated with brain health, including whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. The Mediterranean diet is well-known for its brain benefits, so it’s not surprising that this new diet inspired by the Mediterranean diet is also showing promise for brain health. 
Presentation at the American Heart Association Meeting. Los Angeles, California. January 25, 2018. 

Whole Grains Linked with Healthier Arteries

Aortic stiffness, a thickening or hardening of the body’s main artery, naturally occurs due to aging but is accelerated by conditions like obesity and diabetes. Because aortic stiffness is a significant predictor of heart disease, heart failure and stroke, scientists wonder if lifestyle choices can help delay this progression. Researchers recruited 22 obese men to look at the stiffness of the aorta and ask questions about their dietary intake (e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, dairy, milk, etc.). Of all food choices, whole grains were the only factor significantly associated with less aortic stiffness.
Nutrition. 2018 Jan;45:32-36. (Campbell M et al.)

Cultural Identity Shapes Food Enjoyment

Emphasizing cultural models of healthy eating can be a useful approach to encourage good nutrition in diverse populations. In this study, researchers devised 3 similar experiments to see how cultural identity relates to food enjoyment. In the first two experiments, nearly 200 Southern people were shown images of Southern foods (like black-eyed peas, and fried catfish) and non-Southern foods (like pizza and tuna sandwiches) and asked how tasty, how healthy, and how filling they thought the foods would be. The researchers found that for people who identified as Southern and were primed with exercises related to Southern heritage (such as listing things done often or well by Southerners), the Southern foods were perceived to be more tasty, regardless of how healthy they were perceived to be. In the final experiment of 71 Canadians, those who were primed with exercises related to Canadian culture and identity found maple syrup to taste more pleasant compared with honey. The researchers conclude that “social identity may trigger positive evaluations of foods, which may lead people to consume more social identity-relevant foods regardless of the perceived health content,” and that “forging a connection between a meaningful and chronically salient social identity and a healthy food may enhance positive evaluations of that food.”
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2018 January;74:270-280. (Hackel LM et al.)

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