Category: Nutrition

Eating More Avocados Edges Out Unhealthy Foods

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In a novel study, researchers conducted a randomised controlled trial comparing the potential health effects between families of Mexican descent that consumed a low allotment of avocados (three per week) and families that consumed a high allotment (14 per week).

They found that the high avocado allotment families self-reported lower caloric consumption, reducing their intake of other foods, including dairy, meats and refined grains and their associated negative nutrients, such as saturated fat and sodium.

The findings, published in Nutrients, may offer insights into how to better address the burgeoning public health issues of obesity and related diseases, particularly in high-risk communities, said the authors.

“Data regarding the effects of avocado intake on family nutritional status has been non-existent,” said senior author Matthew Allison, MD, professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“Recent trials have focused on individuals, primarily adults, and limited to changes in cardiometabolic disease blood markers. Our trial’s results provide evidence that a nutrition education and high avocado allotment reduces total caloric energy in Mexican heritage families.”

The soft and buttery insides of the avocado are rich in vitamins C, E, K and B6, plus riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, potassium, lutein, beta carotene and omega-3 fatty acids.

Half of a medium-sized fruit provides up to 20% of the recommended daily fibre, 10% potassium, 5% magnesium, 15% folate and 7.5 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids.

For the study, researchers enrolled 72 families (231 individuals) consisting of at least three members each over the age of five, residing in the same home, free of severe chronic disease, not on specific diets, and of Mexican heritage. The families were randomised into two groups for six months, during which time both groups also received bi-weekly nutrition education sessions.

Researchers wanted to assess if increased but moderated consumption of a single, nutrient-dense food might measurably improve overall health and decrease diet-related disparities.

While no change in BMI or waist circumference was seen between the two groups during the trial, researchers noted that consuming more avocados appeared to speed satiety. Fats and some dietary fibres, such as those found in avocados, can impact total energy intake by influencing gastrointestinal functions, such as introducing bulk that slows gastric emptying, regulating glucose and insulin reactions, prolonging nutrient absorption and modifying key peptide hormones that signal fullness.

Interestingly, the study found that families consuming more avocados correspondingly reduced their consumption of animal protein, specifically chicken, eggs and processed meats, the latter of which are typically higher in fat and sodium. Current nutrition guidelines recommend reduced consumption of both fat and sodium.

But surprisingly, high avocado consumers also recorded decreased intake of calcium, iron, sodium, vitamin D, potassium and magnesium, which researchers said might be associated with eating less.

“Our results show that the nutrition education and high avocado intake intervention group significantly reduced their family total energy intake, as well as carbohydrate, protein, fat (including saturated), calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, potassium and vitamin D,” said first author Lorena Pacheco.

“In secondary energy-adjusted analyses, the nutrition education and high avocado allotment group significantly increased their intake of dietary fibre, monounsaturated fatty acids, potassium, vitamin E and folate.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Leafy Vegetable-rich Diet Could Curb Migraine Symptoms

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It may be worth adopting a plant based diet, rich in dark green leafy vegetables, to ease the symptoms of chronic migraine, suggest doctors reporting on a case study.

Writing in BMJ Case Reports, the doctors’ recommendation comes after treating a man who suffered from migraines for 12 years and had tried medication, yoga and avoiding potential ‘trigger foods’ to no avail.

Over 1 billion people worldwide have migraines, characterised as one-sided, pulsating headaches lasting 4–72 hours, and often accompanied by sensitivity to noise and light and sometimes prodromal auras. While the condition may be treated and prevented with drugs, a growing body of evidence suggests that diet can be an effective treatment.

Six months before his clinic referral, the man’s migraines had become chronic, occurring on 18–24 days of every month. The pain was described as starting suddenly and intensely in the forehead and left temple. The pain was throbbing in nature, usually lasting 72 hours. His headaches were accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea and vomiting. On a scale of 0–10, he scored the pain severity as 10–12 out of 10.

Blood tests showed little systemic inflammation and a normal level of beta-carotene (53 µg/dL). This is likely due to his daily sweet potato consumption, which, although high in beta-carotene, are relatively low in the nutrients responsible for the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of carotenoids, the authors pointed out. These are instead found in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. Systemic inflammation and oxidative stress are implicated in migraine.

The authors recommended that he follow the Low Inflammatory Foods Everyday (LIFE) diet, which is a nutrient dense, whole food, plant-based diet.

The LIFE diet includes eating at least five ounces (142g) of dark green leafy vegetables every day, drinking one 32-ounce (905g) daily green LIFE smoothie, and cutting back on whole grains, starchy vegetables, oils, and animal protein, particularly dairy and red meat.

After two months on the LIFE diet, the frequency of his migraine attacks had fallen to just 1 day a month; the length and severity of the attacks had also lessened. Blood tests showed a substantial rise in beta-carotene levels, from 53 µg/dL to 92 µg/dL.

He stopped his migraine meds and even when he tried certain ‘challenge’ foods which triggered headaches, they were less intense. At three months his migraines completely stopped, and they haven’t returned in 7.5 years.
The 60-year-old patient, whose identity was not disclosed, said: “Before I changed my diet, I was suffering six to eight debilitating migraines a month, each lasting up to 72 hours. Most days, I was either having a migraine or recovering from one.”

The man was allergic, which studies suggest contributes to migraines, and his allergies had disappeared. He was also HIV positive, also linked to migraine risk, so it is certainly possible that the man’s HIV status and antiretroviral drugs had contributed to his symptoms, the reports acknowledge, which they could not exclude.
Nevertheless they concluded: “This report suggests that a whole food plant-based diet may offer a safe, effective and permanent treatment for reversing chronic migraine.

“While this report describes one very adherent patient who had a remarkable response, the LIFE diet has reduced migraine frequency within three months in several additional patients (personal communication).”

Source: EurekAlert!

The True Value of Plant Burger Protein

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Plant-based burgers often promise an amount of protein comparable to their animal-based counterparts, but not all sources of proteins are equal. Rather the body depends on essential amino acids, the concentration and digestibility of which differ among protein sources.

To account for these differences, a new standard for protein quality, the digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS), was developed by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which specifically focusses on the digestibility of essential amino acids.

A new study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, used the DIAAS system to compare protein quality in meat-based and plant-based burgers.

The researchers fed the pigs (the recommended test animal) with patties alone for pork burgers, 80% and 93% lean beef burgers, the soy-based Impossible Burger, and pea-based Beyond Burger. They then measured digestibility of individual essential amino acids, computing DIAAS values  from those scores.

Both beef and pork burgers scored as “excellent” sources of protein (DIAAS scores 100+, for people of all ages). The Impossible Burger also scored as an excellent protein source for ages 3 and up, but not under 3. Beyond Burger scored 83, a “good” source of protein for ages 3 and up.

“We have previously observed that animal proteins have greater DIAAS values than plant-based proteins and that is also what we observed in this experiment,” says Hans H. Stein, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Illinois and co-author on the European Journal of Nutrition study.

Since burger patties are usually eaten with a bun, the researchers looked at the impact of adding the low-protein bun and as expected, it reduced DIAAS values.

Consuming the Impossible Burger together with a bun reduced the DIAAS value to “good” for ages 3 and up. But when pork or 80% lean beef patties were consumed together with buns, DIAAS values were still at or above 100 for the over-3 age group, demonstrating that the needs for all essential amino acids were met by these combinations.

“There was a greater DIAAS value of mixing either the pork or beef burger with the bun – values of 107 and 105 respectively, for the over-3 age group—than there was for the Impossible Burger, which had a DIAAS value of 86 if consumed with the bun. That means you need to eat 15% more of the Impossible Burger-bun combination to get the same amount of digestible amino acids as if you eat the pork-based or the beef-based burgers. And if you have to eat more, that means you also get more calories,” said co-author Mahesh Narayanan Nair, professor at Colorado State University.

Stein said, “It’s particularly children, teenagers, lactating women, and older people who are at risk of not getting enough amino acids. Results of this experiment, along with previous data, demonstrate the importance of getting animal-based proteins into diets to provide sufficient quantities of digestible essential amino acids to these populations.”

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Intermittent Fasting Triggers an Anti-inflammatory Response

Credit: Intermountain Healthcare

Intermittent fasting may not only be a hot dieting trend, but it also has broader health benefits, including helping to fight inflammation, according to a new study. The new research shows that intermittent fasting raises the levels of galectin-3, a protein tied to inflammatory response.

Intermittent fasting has previously been shown to possibly improve health markers not related to weight. 

“Inflammation is associated with higher risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. We’re encouraged to see evidence that intermittent fasting is prompting the body to fight inflammation and lowering those risks,” said Benjamin Horne, PhD, principal investigator of the study and director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.

The findings of the study were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2021.

These results form part of Intermountain’s WONDERFUL Trial which is studying intermittent fasting. It found that intermittent fasting causes drops in metabolic syndrome score (MSS) and insulin resistance.  

This particular study followed 67 patients aged 21 to 70 who all had at least one metabolic syndrome feature or type 2 diabetes, and were also not taking anti-diabetic or statin medication, and had raised LDL cholesterol levels.

Of the 67 patients studied, 36 were prescribed an intermittent fasting schedule: twice a week water-only 24-hour fasting for four weeks, then once a week water-only 24 hour-fasting for 22 weeks. Fasts could not be done on consecutive days. The remaining 31 participants continued their routines.

After 26 weeks, participants’ galectin-3 was measured, and found to be higher in the intermittent fasting group. Lower rates of HOMA-IR (insulin resistance) and MSS (metabolic syndrome) were found, which researchers believe may be similar to the reported effects of SGLT-2 inhibitors.

“In finding higher levels of galectin-3 in patients who fasted, these results provide an interesting mechanism potentially involved in helping reduce the risk of heart failure and diabetes,” said Dr Horne, who added that a few members of the trial team completed the same regime before the study started to make sure that it was doable and not overly onerous for participants.

“Unlike some IF diet plans that are incredibly restrictive and promise magic weight loss, this isn’t a drastic form of fasting. The best routine is one that patients can stick to over the long term, and this study shows that even occasional fasting can have positive health effects,” he added.

Source: EurekAlert!

Moderate Caffeine Intake May Reduce Gestational Diabetes Risk

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Pregnant coffee lovers can breathe a sigh of relief, as consuming a low amount of caffeine during pregnancy could help to reduce gestational diabetes risk, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

“While we were not able to study the association of consumption above the recommended limit, we now know that low-to-moderate caffeine is not associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or hypertension for expecting mothers,” said the study’s lead author Stefanie Hinkle, PhD, an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The current recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is that pregnant women limit their caffeine consumption to less than 200 mg (about two cups) per day. The recommendations are based on studies that suggest potential associations with pregnancy loss and foetal growth at higher caffeine levels. However, there remains limited data on the link between caffeine and maternal health outcomes.

To better understand this association, researchers studied prospective data from 2529 pregnant participants from 2009 to 2013.

At enrollment and at each visit thereafter, women reported their weekly intake of caffeinated coffee, caffeinated tea, fizzy drinks, and energy drinks. Concentrations of caffeine were also measured in the participants’ plasma at 10 to 13 weeks into their pregnancies. The researchers then matched their caffeine consumption with primary outcomes: clinical diagnoses of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia.

The research team found that caffeine at 10 to 13 weeks gestation was not related to gestational diabetes risk. During the second trimester, drinking up to 100 mg of caffeine per day was associated with 47% less diabetes risk. No statistically significant differences in blood pressure, preeclampsia, or hypertension between those who did and did not consume caffeine during pregnancy.

The findings are in line with research that found an association between and improved energy balance and decreased fat mass, the researchers noted. However, other constituents of coffee and tea such as phytochemicals could be the cause.

The group’s previous work has however shown that caffeine consumption during pregnancy, even in amounts less than the recommended 200 mg per day, was associated with smaller neonatal anthropometric measurements, according to Prof Hinkle.

“It would not be advised for women who are non-drinkers to initiate caffeinated beverage consumption for the purpose of lowering gestational diabetes risk,” she said. One meta-analysis found that any amount of caffeine was a risk to the foetus. “But our findings may provide some reassurance to women who already are consuming low to moderate levels of caffeine that such consumption likely will not increase their maternal health risks.”

Source: Penn Medicine

A Sweet Protein Makes A Novel Sugar Substitute

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The European Union’s EIT Food organisation’s “Innovation Impact Award” was won by a project that developed a novel sugar substitute based on the smart enhancement of sweet proteins found in tropical fruits.

One of the project collaborators, Amai Protein, produces designer proteins using computational protein design and production through precise fermentation. Since these proteins are 4000 to 11 000 times sweeter than sugar, they can be used in tiny amounts, thereby being cheaper than sugar per sweetness unit. Furthermore, they have glycaemic value of 0 and do not adversely affect the population of intestinal bacteria (the microbiome).

The winning technology is based on adding natural food ingredient agents – termed MicroPatching agents – or other food ingredients to produce a protein flavour as close to sugar’s as possible. This should result in significantly reduced sugar consumption, and in turn its health and environmental impacts.

The researchers tackled several challenges including improving the taste and eliminating an aftertaste; protein stability; competitive pricing and adverse health effects. According to the research leader, Professor Yoav D. Livney at the Israel Institute of Technology, “winning the Impact Award will help us advance towards commercialization of the technology and consequently reduce sugar consumption in Israel and around the world.”

Source: Technion Israel Institute of Technology

Fermented Soy Products Found to Reduce Asthma Inflammation

A bowl of tofu, a fermented soy food. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Fermented soy products are common in the Japanese diet, and one brand known as ImmuBalance has been found to suppress airway inflammation in animal models of asthma.

Bronchial asthma causes symptoms such as wheezing and cough due to chronic airway inflammation, but there is no fundamental treatment for it, leaving a desire for new prevention and treatment methods. Osaka University researchers found that in a ImmuBalance-treated group of asthma model mice, eosinophils associated with asthma were significantly reduced in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF). As well as a decrease in inflammation and mucus around the bronchi, the team observed a suppression of proteins that induce eosinophilic inflammation.

“The relationship between soy intake and allergic diseases has been epidemiologically reported in the past,” explained first author Hideaki Kadotani, “suggesting that the components of soy may have some anti-allergic effects”

“It was reported that imbalances in the gut microbiota may be involved in immune system and allergic diseases, and fermented dietary fiber, like that found in soy, might have beneficial effects in allergic asthma models.” continues Associate Professor Kazuhisa Asai, supporting author of the study.

In the study, which appears in the journal Nutrients, such a gut imbalance’s effect on asthma were examined by giving ImmuBalance-enriched feed to asthma model mice. In the ImmuBalance-treated group, there was a significant drop in the number of eosinophils in BALF, and inflammation around the bronchi and mucus production in the bronchial epithelium was suppressed. Additionally, the expression of Th2 cytokines and the immunoglobulin serum IgE that induce eosinophilic inflammation in BALF were found to be significantly suppressed.

“In clinical practice, steroid inhalants are the basis of asthma treatments, yet they are known to have adverse side effects“, stated lead advisor to the study, Professor Tomoya Kawaguchi. “Our results suggest that the intake of fermented soybean products should be recommended as a complementary coping strategy to asthma with fewer side effects”

Source: Osaka University

Moderate Carbohydrate Intake Helps CVD Health in Women

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In a surprise finding, Monash University researchers have reported that proportional carbohydrate intake and not saturated fat was significantly associated with cardiovascular disease benefit in Australian women.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in women. Poor diet is recognised as both an independent CVD risk factor and a contributor to other CVD risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes mellitus (DM), hypertension, and dyslipidaemia.

In middle-aged Australian women, it was found that increasing the percentage of carbohydrate intake was linked to reduced risks of CVD, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and obesity.

Furthermore, a moderate carbohydrate intake between 41.0–44.3% of total energy intake was associated with the lowest risk of CVD, compared to women who consumed less than 37% energy as carbohydrates. However, no significant relationship was demonstrated between proportional carbohydrate intake and all-cause mortality.

Furthermore, increasing proportional saturated fat intake was not associated with cardiovascular disease or mortality in women; rather, increasing saturated fat intake correlated with lower odds of developing diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and obesity.

The findings are now published in the British Medical Journal.

The results contradict much of the historical epidemiological research that supported a link between saturated fat and CVD. Instead, the results mirror contemporary meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies where saturated fat was found to have no significant relationship with total mortality or CVD.

Historical studies neglected to adjust for fibre, which is known to help prevent plaque from forming in the arteries, which may explain this discrepancy with older literature.

“Controversy still exists surrounding the best diet to prevent CVD,” said Sarah Zaman, an associate professor at the University of Sydney.

“A low-fat diet has historically been the mainstay of primary prevention guidelines, but the major issue within our dietary guidelines is that many dietary trials have predominately involved male participants or lacked sex-specific analyses.”

She added: “Further research is needed to tailor our dietary guidelines according to sex.”

First author Sarah Gribbin, a Doctor of Medicine and BMedSc (Hons) student, said: “As an observational study, our findings only show association and not causation. Our research is purely hypothesis-generating. We are hoping that our findings will spark future research into sex-specific dietary research.”

Source: Monash University

Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Directly Increases Happiness

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Fruit and vegetable consumption and exercise can directly increase levels of self-reported happiness, according to findings from a new study.

Public health campaigns encourage healthier diets and exercise by virtue of the well-studied link between lifestyle and wellbeing, and will benefit from new findings published by the Journal of Happiness Studies showing that there is also a positive causation from lifestyle to life satisfaction.

This research is the first to identify the causation of happiness, the consumption of fruit and vegetables and exercising are related, rather than generalising a correlation. The researchers, Dr Adelina Gschwandtner (Kent’s School of Economics), Dr Sarah Jewell and Professor Uma Kambhampati (both from the University of Reading’s School of Economics), used an instrumental variable approach to filter out any effect from happiness to lifestyle. This approach revealed that it is the effect of fruit and vegetables and exercising that makes people happy and not the other way round.

The findings show individuals’ ability to delay gratification and apply self-control plays a major role in influencing lifestyle decisions, which in turn has a positive impact on wellbeing. The research also shows that men appear to exercise more, and women eat more fruit and vegetables.

Dr Gschwandtner said: ‘Behavioural nudges that help the planning self to reinforce long-term objectives are likely to be especially helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If a better lifestyle not only makes us healthier but also happier, then it is a clear win-win situation.’

Professor Kambhampati said: ‘There has been a bigger shift in recent years for healthier lifestyle choices. To establish that eating more fruit and vegetables and exercising can increase happiness as well as offer health benefits is a major development. This may also prove useful for policy campaigns around environment and sustainability.’

Source: University of Kent

Healthy Diets Reduce COVID Risk

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A study based on self-reported app data showed that people who eat a high quality, gut friendly diet are less likely to develop COVID-19 or become severely ill. Those eating poorer quality diets are more at risk, especially if they live in a more socioeconomically deprived area.

The study, presented in GUT, analysed data from almost 600 000 ZOE COVID Study app contributors. Participants completed a survey about the food they ate before the pandemic, in February 2020, making it the largest study in this space. 19% of these contributors contracted COVID-19.

People with the highest quality diet were around 10% less likely to develop COVID than those with the lowest quality diet, and 40% less likely to fall severely ill.

This is the first longitudinal study of diet and COVID and the first to show that a healthy diet cuts the chances of developing the disease in the first place.

Instead of looking at specific foods, the survey aimed to broadly capture people’s diets. A ‘diet quality score’ reflected the overall merit of each person’s diet. Diets with high quality scores were found to contain plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as oily fish, less processed foods and refined carbohydrates. A low diet quality score is associated with diets high in ultra processed foods and low amounts of plant based foods.

The researchers found that people who ate the highest quality diet were around 10% less likely to develop COVID-19 than those with the least nutritious diet and 40% less likely to become severely ill if they developed COVID.

The link between diet quality and COVID risk persisted after accounting for all potential confounding factors such as age and BMI. Mask-wearing habits and population density were also considered.

The effect of diet was amplified by individual life situations, with people living in low-income neighbourhoods with the lowest quality diet being around 25% more at risk from COVID than people in more affluent communities eating the same kind of diet.

Based on these results, the researchers estimate that nearly a quarter of COVID cases could have been prevented if these differences in diet quality and socioeconomic status had not existed. The study also showed that improved access to better food is an important public health consideration.

Dr Sarah Berry, study co-lead and Reader in nutritional sciences at the School of Life Course Sciences said: “For the first time we’ve been able to show that a healthier diet can cut the chances of developing COVID, especially for people living in the more deprived areas. Access to healthier food is important to everyone in society, but our findings tell us that helping those living in more deprived areas to eat more healthily could have the biggest public health benefits.”

Professor Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at the School of Life Course Sciences, said: “These findings chime with recent results from our landmark PREDICT study, showing that people who eat higher quality diets (with low levels of ultra-processed foods) have a healthier collection of microbes in their guts, which is linked to better health. You don’t have to go vegan, but getting more diverse plants on your plate is a great way to boost the health of your gut microbiome, improve your immunity and overall health, and potentially reduce your risk from COVID.”

Source: Kings College London