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.)

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.)

Sourdough Fermentation Methods Improve Quality of Partially Whole Wheat Pasta

Swapping out some of the white flour for whole wheat flour in pasta is a simple way for manufacturers to bump up the nutritional quality of their products. But researchers wonder if different whole wheat pasta formulations might be better than others. In this study, researchers compared the nutritional and sensory (taste, acceptability, etc.) characteristics on two types of partially (28.5%) whole wheat fresh pasta: in one, the whole wheat flour was fermented (essentially a sourdough starter) and in the other, the whole wheat flour was not fermented. The fermented pasta showed a higher content of free essential amino acids and phenolic compounds, lower phytic acid content, and higher antioxidant activity. In consumer testing in a group of 54 people, the fermented pasta was rated higher for overall acceptability (taste, texture, and flavor). Interestingly, when people were told about the use of sourdough fermentation in the pasta, the acceptability ratings were even higher, reflective of the growing appetite for functional foods.
Foods. 2019 Sep 18;8(9). pii: E422. doi: 10.3390/foods8090422. (Fois S et al.)

Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet Linked with Weight Loss, Healthier Gut Microbiome

Researchers randomly assigned 148 overweight and obese adults to a low-fat vegan diet, or to continue their usual diet for 16 weeks. Those in the vegan group lost about a pound per week, and also lost a significant amount of body fat. Additionally, the vegan group (who ate lots of legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts) also had higher levels of beneficial bacteriodetes in their gut. This may partially explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets, because people with diabetes, insulin resistance, and inflammation tend to have low levels of bacteriodetes. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at European Association for the Study of Diabetes 2019 Annual Meeting. Barcelona, Spain. September 17, 2019.

Going Gluten-Free Does Not Improve Digestive Symptoms in Healthy Volunteers

If you don’t have a medically-diagnosed problem with gluten, is there any benefit to going gluten-free? New research suggests not. In this study, scientists randomly assigned 28 people without medical problems with gluten to a gluten-free diet or a gluten-containing diet for 2 weeks. The gluten-containing diet did not generate any symptoms (diarrhea, reflux, constipation, fatigue, etc.) in these healthy volunteers. They concluded that because a gluten-free diet is often less healthy than a typical diet, “there is possibly clinical justification in actively discouraging people from starting it if they have no diagnosable sensitivity.”
Gastroenterology. 2019 September;157:881-883. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.05.015. (Croall ID et al.)

Millet-based Lunches Improve Health in Indian Children

Millet is a whole grain that has a rich history throughout India. However, in recent times, millet has been displaced by refined grains like white rice. In this study, researchers introduced millet-based lunches at 2 schools in Karnataka, India, and then compared the health outcomes of those 136 students to 102 students at 2 schools who ate their regular fortified rice-based lunches for 3 months. Those in the millet group significantly improved stunting (an important measure of growth and development) and BMI, while the rice group did not. Additionally, all of the millet meals had high acceptability, with the most popular ones being finger millet ildi (a steam cooked fermented savory cake), little and pearl millet bisi belle bath (a millet-lentil hot meal), and upma (a pearl and little millet-vegetable meal).
Nutrients. 2019 Sep 3;11(9). pii: E2077. doi: 10.3390/nu11092077.(Anitha S et al.)


In this study, researchers asked 169 low-income adults to look at 11 foods in their original packaging and determine if each was a whole grain or a refined grain. The majority of participants (7 out of 10) correctly identified 4 out of 5 of the whole grain products as whole grain, and nearly as many (6 out of 10) participants correctly identified 5 out of the 6 refined grain products. Specifically, 9/10 people correctly identified whole grain bread, 8/10 correctly identified whole grain crackers & whole grain cereal, and 7/10 correctly identified oatmeal as a whole grain, while popcorn tripped most people up (with only 3/10 people correctly identifying it as a whole grain food). Similarly, 8/10 correctly identified refined crackers, 7/10 correctly identified refined macaroni and tortillas, and 6/10 correctly identified refined bread and cereal, while white rice was tricky for people (with only 4/10 correctly identifying it as a refined grain). Based on interviews with a subset of 60 of the participants, the researchers found that helping people more clearly identify whole grains on the package, and reducing the cost (or perceived cost) of whole grain foods may help increase whole grain consumption in low-income adults.
Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019 May 16;3(7):nzz064. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzz064. (Chea M et al.)

Whole Wheat Promotes Resilience in Liver, Protects Against Higher Inflammation

Health not only implies being free of disease; health also takes into account how well we adapt to the stresses of everyday life, and the inevitable wear-and-tear on our bodies – in other words, resilience. To see how whole wheat might impact inflammation and resilience, 50 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned to either 98 grams of whole wheat per day (from bread and cereal) or 98 grams of refined wheat per day for 12 weeks. Scientists then measured markers of inflammation and liver health and used modeling (the “health space” approach) to determine how resilient their bodies were to external stressors based on these findings. In this experiment, whole wheat was shown to protect against higher inflammation, and was also shown to promote resilience in the liver. 
Journal of Nutrition. 2019 Aug 27. pii: nxz177. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz177. (Hoevenaars FPM et al.)

Avoiding Wheat Linked with Low Fiber, High Saturated Fat Intakes

Although wheat has been a staple crop for centuries, in recent years it has (unjustly) become a scapegoat by fad-dieters seeking a wheat-free or low-carb diet. In this study, researchers analyzed the diets of 30 people who reported avoiding wheat to see if this wheat-free diet impacted their nutrient intake. The wheat avoiders (many of whom happened to be avoiding dairy as well) consumed too little fiber and calcium, and too much saturated fat and total fat according to dietary recommendations. Interestingly, although 85% of the participants reported avoiding ALL wheat products, ⅓ of the participants reported eating a wheat-based food in their food record (mostly in the form of discretionary snacks/desserts).
Nutrition & Dietetics: The Journal of the Dietitians Association of Australia. 2019 Jul;76(3):305-312. doi: 10.1111/1747-0080.12521. (Golly S et al.)

Low-Carb Paleo Diet Linked with Unhealthy Changes to Gut Microbiome

Paleo diets tend to be high in meat and vegetables, while restricting all grains and dairy products. In this study, researchers analyzed the microbiome of 44 people who had been following a Paleo diet for at least 1 year, and 47 people who eat a healthy diet reflective of dietary guidelines. Those strictly following a Paleo Diet and those eating a standard healthy diet ate significantly more fiber than those only loosely following a Paleo diet. However, those who strictly followed the Paleo diet (eating the lowest levels of whole grains and total grains) were significantly more likely to have higher levels of TMAO (a compound generated by the gut microbiome that is associated with plaque buildup in the arteries). The authors also added that “the rationale to exclude whole grains is not supported by data presented here; being inversely associated with body weight and TMAO concentrations.”
European Journal of Nutrition. 2019 Jul 5. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-02036-y. [Epub ahead of print] (Genoni A et al.)

Whole Grains, Moderate Alcohol Intake Linked with Lower Diabetes Risk

Numerous studies have been published on diet and diabetes risk, but the quality of these studies varies widely, making it hard to compare the risks and benefits of different food choices. In this analysis, researchers reviewed 53 studies on diet and type 2 diabetes risk, and evaluated their strength and validity. There was high evidence that 30g per day of whole grains was linked with a 13% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and that 10g per day of fiber from grains was linked with a 25% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There was also moderate evidence that 0.5-1 ounce of alcohol per day was linked with a 25% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than not drinking at all. On the other hand, eating 3.5 ounces of red meat daily, 2 ounces of processed meat daily, 2 slices of bacon daily, or one serving of sugar sweetened beverages were all strongly linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
BMJ. 2019 Jul 3;366:l2368. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l2368. (Neuenschwander M et al.)

Gluten-Free Diet Not Appropriate without Medical Diagnosis

Gluten is a compound found naturally in wheat, barley, and rye that helps dough stretch and bread rise. Many misguided dieters today choose to go gluten-free, even though only about 1% of the population has celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder where gluten must be avoided). In this review, researchers analyzed studies on the nutritional adequacy of gluten-free diets. They found that gluten-free diets tend to have less fiber, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin D, and tend to have more saturated fat and exposure to arsenic. The researchers note that “the majority of persons adopting a [gluten-free diet] have no medical basis for doing so,” and that “only persons with [celiac disease], [wheat allergy], or [non celiac gluten-sensitivity] should follow a [gluten-free diet], and they should do so under medical supervision.”
Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2019 Jul 1;2019:2438934. doi: 10.1155/2019/2438934. [Diez-Sampedro A et al.]