Whole Plant Foods, Not Fads, Best for Heart Health

Magazines and news articles often jump from one “superfood” or fad diet to the next, but not all nutrition advice is backed up by substantial evidence. In this review, researchers analyzed the scientific support for various trending “heart healthy” foods and diets. Eating berries, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, leafy green vegetables, and plant-based diets are all strongly linked with better heart-health based on numerous studies. On the other hand, coconut oil, palm oil, eggs, juicing, and southern diets are linked with potential harm. Additionally, the researchers found no support that gluten-free diets are beneficial for people without gluten related disorders. The authors conclude that “Evidence-based healthy dietary patterns are high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts in moderation, although some may include limited quantities of lean meats (including poultry and seafood), low-fat dairy products, and liquid vegetable oils.”
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017 March 7;69(9):1172-87.

Healthier Diet May Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Cut Healthcare Costs

Healthy diets nourish both people and the planet, and the savings can be quite impressive. Scientists in California created models to analyze how greenhouse gas emissions and healthcare costs might change if we decrease red & processed meat and refined grains in our standard US diet, and shift to eat more beans and peas, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The researchers found that opting for the healthier diets can reduce risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes by 20-40%, saving the US $77-93 billion per year in healthcare. These shifts can also lower greenhouse gas emissions by 222-826 kg CO2, which is equivalent to 6-23% of the US Climate Action Plan’s target. Climatic Change. 2017 Mar 6. [Epub] (Hallstrom E et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with up to 40% Lower Risk of Breast Cancer

About ⅓ of breast cancer cases are hormone-receptor-negative, meaning that they are unlikely to respond to hormonal therapy. To see if diet relates to breast cancer risk, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of more than 62,500 post-menopausal Dutch women for about 20 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 40% less likely to develop estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, although overall breast cancer risk and the risk for other types of breast cancer were not significantly lower. Nut intake was the only food significantly associated with a lower risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer. For total and estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, whole grain intake contributed the most to the lower risk, although not significantly.
International Journal of Cancer. 2017 Mar 5. [Epub ahead of print] (van den Brandt PA).

Eating Gluten at an Early Age Not Related to Celiac Disease in Most High Risk Children

Celiac disease, which effects an estimated 1% of the population, is an autoimmune disease that requires strict, lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. Eating gluten early in life for certain at-risk populations has been suggested to increase celiac disease risk, but there has been little evidence to support this notion. To better understand this relationship, scientists analyzed data from 715 children at high risk of developing celiac disease. The children, from 5 European countries, were randomly assigned how much gluten to eat from 4 or 6 months through 10 months of age. Findings show that gluten intake showed no relationship with celiac disease development risk over the next 6 years, except in children with a specific genotype (HLA-DQ2.2/-DQ7).
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017 February 22;105(4):890-896. (Crespo-Escobar P et al.) 

Grain-Free Diets Linked with Overweight & Obesity & Less Fiber, Fruits & Vegetables

Grains have been at the core of traditional diets for millennia, but some misguided celebrities and fad diets have moved away from this tradition. Using national health survey data from 9,341 adults in Australia, researchers found that those avoiding core grain foods were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than those who eat grains, despite consuming fewer calories, fruits, vegetables and less fiber than grain eaters. After adjusting for age, sex, and calorie intake, avoiding grains was also linked with a higher BMI and waist size.
Nutrients. 2017 Feb 18;9(2). pii: E157. (Fayet-Moore F et al.)

Whole Grains May Help Your Body Burn More Calories

Whole grains are often associated with lower body weights, and new research is uncovering why. In a randomized trial, scientists assigned 81 healthy adults in Boston to diets with either whole grains or refined grains for 6 weeks, keeping all other foods and nutrients consistent between the groups. Although the diets were designed to be isocaloric (meaning that people were supposed to maintain their same body weight), the resting metabolic rate (how many calories your body burns at rest) became significantly higher (by 43 calories) in the whole grain group. In fact, the whole grain group significantly improved their metabolism over the 6-week study compared with the refined grains group, burning 92 more calories per day. The researchers suspect that this is partly due to the fact that the whole grain group excreted more energy in the stool, and had more frequent bowel movements.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017 Feb 8. pii: ajcn139683. [Epub ahead of print.] (Karl JP et al.)

Whole Grains Can Improve Gut Microbiota

Researchers randomly assigned 81 healthy adults in Boston to diets with either whole grains or refined grains for 6 weeks, keeping all other foods and nutrients consistent between the groups. The researchers found that making all of your grains whole is linked with “modest, positive effects on gut micriobiota,” (due to higher concentrations of “good” gut microbes and short chain fatty acids – an indicator of colon health and dietary fiber breakdown) as well as increased stool weight and stool frequency.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017 Feb 8. pii: ajcn146928. [Epub ahead of print.] (Vanegas SM et al.)

Whole Grains & Fiber Linked with Less Colorectal Cancer

Because colorectal cancer forms in the large intestine, diet is thought to be a potential risk factor. To see how food fits into the puzzle, scientists at Harvard analyzed the eating patterns and health markers of 137,217 adults for more than two decades. Those eating a healthy diet rich in fiber and whole grains were significantly less likely to develop a certain type of colorectal cancer (Fusobacterium nucleatum–positive, but not Fusobacterium nucleatum-negative) than those eating a “Western diet” rich in red meat, refined grains, and dessert. Fusobacterium nucleatum is a type of gut bacteria thought to contribute to colorectal cancer, as it’s often elevated in colorectal cancer patients. Based on their findings, the scientists suspect that the cancer-protective effect of fiber and whole grains may have to do with their role in improving the gut microbiome.
JAMA Oncology.  2017 Jan 26. [Epub ahead of print.] (Mehta RS)

Infants Accept Partially Whole Grain Cereal

Early exposure to whole grain foods can shape food preferences later in life, so researchers wonder if it may be worthwhile to start with infants. Infant cereals are one of the first solid foods given to babies to compliment breast milk or formula and are often made from refined grains like white rice or pearled barley. In this study, researchers in Spain worked with parents of 81 infants (4-24 months old) to test the acceptability of 30% whole grain infant cereals (made with whole wheat), compared with a popular refined infant cereal. (Whole wheat was chosen to comply with European infant legislation, to make sure that the amount of fiber was appropriate.) After trying each of the cereals for 3 days in a row, infants were just as likely to accept and finish the whole grain cereal as they were the refined cereal. The researchers concluded that infant cereals are an opportunity to expose young people to whole grains earlier in life, to build a taste for them.
Nutrients. 2017 Jan 13;9(1). pii: E65. (Haro-Vicente JF et al.)

Plant Foods Important to Original Paleo Diet

Archeologists analyzed the preserved plant remains at an Acheulian site in Israel to determine the role of plant foods (if any) in ancient diets. Contrary to the popular, meat-centric interpretation of a paleo diet, the researchers argue that “a wide spectrum of food plants was a permanent aspect of the pre-agricultural hominin economy,” and that the abundance of fruit, nut, seed, and grain plants “is a result of deliberate hominid behavior.” The researchers also found “ample evidence for the important role of fire at GBY [Gesher Benot Ya’aqov], with its control and repeated uses shown by burned lithics and charred wood, bark, grains, and fruits. The plant remains, dating back about 780,000 years, led researchers to conclude that “our results change previous notions of paleo diet.”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2016 Dec 20;113(51):14674-14679. (Melamed Y et al.)

Low Whole Grain Intake & Low Fiber Intake Linked with Gum Disease

Good dental hygiene is essential for healthy gums, but the foods we eat might help protect us against gum disease as well. To see how eating patterns relate to gum health. researchers analyzed national survey data from 6052 US adults. They found that people eating at least 1.5 servings of whole grains per day were significantly less likely to have severe gum disease than those not eating whole grains. Similarly, those eating fewer than 12 grams fiber per day were 27% more likely to have increasing severity of gum disease. However, fruit and vegetable intake was not significantly related to gum health.
The Journal of Nutrition. 2016 Dec;146(12):2530-2536. (Nielsen SJ et al.)   

High-Fiber Diet Associated with Fewer Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

Food may be known to influence our mood, but little is known about the relationship between food choices and mental health. In an Australian study, scientists evaluated the Glycemic Index (a measure of how quickly carbohydrates spike blood sugar) and carbohydrate choices of 1,918 adults’ diets. Participants whose eating habits were highest on the Glycemic Index had a 55% higher likelihood of having depressive symptoms, compared to those with the lowest Glycemic Index intakes. When analyzed by the source of fiber, diets higher in total fiber (more than 27 grams per day), and fiber from vegetables and breads/cereals (mostly whole grain) were associated with a 42%, 46%, and 41% reduced likelihood of having depressive symptoms, respectively. Vegetable consumption was also linked with a significantly lower risk of depressive symptoms.
British Journal of Nutrition. 2016 Dec;116(12):2109-2114. (Gopinath B et al.)