Category Archives: Foods that fight disease

Research finds being overweight makes brain ‘10 years older’ than if you are slim

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Diet & Aging

Diet & Aging: Being overweight in middle-age makes the brain age by 10 years, research by the University of Cambridge has found. The study, which scanned 473 brains, found changes in the brain structure of overweight people which are normally seen in those far older. The volume of white matter – the tissue that connects areas of the brain and allows information to be communicated between regions – shrunk far more in those with a Body Mass Index above 25.

Shrinkage of parts of the brain is associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. The Cambridge Study found no differences in cognitive skills when participants underwent IQ tests.  But the men and women will be scanned as they get older, to check for changes which indicate mental decline. Human brains naturally shrink with age, but scientists are increasingly recognizing that obesity – already linked to conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease – may also affect the onset and progression of brain ageing.

In the study of people aged between 20 and 87, researchers looked at the impact of obesity on brain structure across the adult lifespan. Researchers divided the groups into two categories: lean and overweight, depending on whether their BMI was above or below 25. They found striking differences in the volume of white matter. Overweight individuals had a widespread reduction in white matter compared with lean people.

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The team then calculated how white matter volume related to age across the two groups. They discovered that an overweight person at 50 had a comparable white matter volume to a lean person aged 60. Researchers only observed these differences from middle-age onwards, suggesting that brains may be particularly vulnerable during this period of ageing. Candidates were recruited by the Cambridge Center for Ageing and Neuroscience and the results are published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Lead researcher, Dr Lisa Ronan from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: “We found that those who were overweight had significantly smaller volume of white matter compared with their lean counterparts – amounting to a difference of 10 years.” Scientists expected to see differences in cognitive abilities, but these were not shown in the tests, which will be repeated as participants get older.

“As our brains age, they naturally shrink in size, but it isn’t clear why people who are overweight have a greater reduction in the amount of white matter. We can only speculate on whether obesity might in some way cause these changes or whether obesity is a consequence of brain changes.” Professor Paul Fletcher, from the Department of Psychiatry, said: “We’re living in an ageing population, with increasing levels of obesity, so it’s essential that we establish how these two factors might interact, since the consequences for health are potentially serious.”  –Telegraph

Turin mayor wants entire Italian city to go vegetarian

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Turin

Italian city wants to turn vegetarian: The mayor of Turin, the northern Italian city of 870,000 that hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006, has made a controversial new pitch: local citizens should give up their bollito and carne cruda in favor of a vegan or vegetarian diet. Chiara Appendino, who was sworn in as mayor last month, unveiled her plan for the city yesterday, and one major platform was promoting a plant-based diet for Turin’s residents.

“The promotion of vegan and vegetarian diets is a fundamental act in safeguarding our environment, the health of our citizens and the welfare of our animals,” Appendino wrote in the proposal. She detailed a plan for the next five years—the length of a mayoral term—to work toward this veggie-friendly utopia. “Leading medical, nutritional, and political experts will help promote a culture of respect in our schools, teaching children how to eat well while protecting the earth and animal rights,” the plan continued.

While the mayor’s plan could be seen as grandstanding, it appears that Italy’s food culture is shifting. Younger Italians are more open to trying new foods, and immigrants have brought different cuisines with them from around the world. (Roughly 30 vegetarian or vegan restaurants have opened in Turin, Italy’s fourth-biggest city by population, within the past few years.) Appendino herself belongs to the relatively young Five Star movement, which was founded by the Italian comedian-turned-political activist Beppe Grillo, an outspoken vegetarian who is one of the major names leading the conversation about food culture in the country. Italian parliament member Luigi Di Maio, who also belongs to the Five Star party, even had a vegan cake at his birthday this year.

Yet food as social activism isn’t new in this part of Italy: the “slow food” movement, which encourages people to use locally-grown food over chain restaurants and fast food, began in the nearby town of Bra. Still, despite some shifts in the area’s food scene, many people are opposed to Appendino’s plan. Turin resident Elena Coda complained to The Local that losing meat from the area’s cuisine was a metaphor for losing local Piedemontese culture. “Great foods like wild boar ragu and Chianina steak are already disappearing from the menu once famed for its meats, wines, and cheeses,” she said. The good news? Wine is (almost always) vegan.  – Condé  Nast Traveler, by Lilat Marcus

Mediterranean diet with olive oil, nuts linked to weight loss

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Med Diet

Diet & HealthExtra “good fats” from nuts and olive oil in a Mediterranean diet may help older adults lose weight, or at least avoid gaining it, a Spanish study suggests. “Our hypothesis is that not all fats are the same; we have to differentiate fats from vegetables and fats from animal sources,” said lead study author Dr. Ramon Estruch of the University of Barcelona. “Vegetable fat such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts help to reduce body weight when these foods are consumed in a healthy diet such as a Mediterranean diet,” Estruch added by email.

A Mediterranean diet typically includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil. This diet also tends to favor lean sources of protein like chicken or fish over red meat, which contains more saturated fat. While some previous research has linked a Mediterranean diet to weight loss and a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, scientists haven’t conclusively proven that the diet itself is responsible, rather than other lifestyle choices made by people who eat this way.

For the current study, Estruch and colleagues randomly assigned 7,447 older adults at risk for cardiovascular disease to follow one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with one liter (about 34 fluid ounces)of extra virgin olive oil a week, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 30 grams (1 oz) of nuts a day, or a low-fat diet. At the start of the study, the men were 55 to 80 years old and the women were 60 to 80. All of them had either diabetes or three or more other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as a smoking habit, elevated blood pressure or high cholesterol.

None of them were told to restrict calories or exercise during the study. After almost five years, people in all three groups had slightly reduced body weight but the change was bigger with the two groups assigned a Mediterranean diet, researchers report in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. People assigned to follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts lost 0.08 kilograms (less than half a pound) more weight than the group on the low-fat diet after five years, the study found.

Those on the Mediterranean diet with added olive oil, lost 0.43 kilograms (almost one pound) more weight than participants on the low-fat diet. Researchers also looked at waist circumference over the five years and found little difference between the people on the Mediterranean diet with extra nuts and the participants assigned to a low-fat diet. The group assigned to a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil had a slightly smaller increase in waist size than the low-fat diet group.  –Fox News

Precocious kids becoming vegan over growing awareness of animal cruelty

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Vegan Kids

DIET & HEALTHWhen her parents left her with Grandpa and Grandma for a weekend last October, Morgan Greenfield was an adorable 7-year-old who happily devoured ice cream and pizza. They came home to an avowed chicken-finger-shunning vegan. “Morgan just decided, ‘I’m not eating anything that has to do with animals anymore,’ ” says a gobsmacked Felicia of her vigilant second-grader. “It wasn’t gradual. She was, ‘No, I’m done.’”

In 2009, just 1 percent of the US population classified themselves as vegans and vegetarians. Now 5 percent do, and the trend is trickling down to the sandbox set. Long before they hit puberty, precocious local kids are going vegan of their own volition, influenced by social media and a growing awareness of animal cruelty.

“Young people are tuned in to this issue more than ever,” says longtime vegan Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, a livestock protection organization in upstate New York. “We’re connected to animals and we’re eating these animals.”

To hear Morgan tell it, her come-to-Jesus moment was one of profound clarity, though she can’t recall if there was something — a TV show, a book or a Facebook post — that inspired it. “Something popped up in my mind that said, ‘Don’t hurt the animals, no dairy or eggs,’ ” says the youngster, who admits she misses M&Ms. Morgan’s parents are struggling to keep up with her new diet, and that of her sister, Danielle, 10, who went vegan a few months after Morgan.

Their mother, Felicia, worked with a vegan coach for six weeks to learn to cook plant-based meals. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, I have to teach her to eat her veggies, and I don’t even know that much about it,’” says the Upper East Side mom, who wasn’t much of a cook and had previously served her kids lunch meats and hot dogs.  –NY Post

Fit For Life

5 Super-foods you’re probably not eating, but should be

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Superfoods

Diet & HealthThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that in 2000, partially because of a surge in meat consumption, the average American ate almost 20 percent more calories than he did in 1983. The problem isn’t only that we’re eating too much, but that we’re eating a lot of bad stuff: According to the CDC, more than 11 percent of the American diet comes from fast food. Could the gloomy 2050 predictions be averted? A hopeful sign is the growing interest in healthy diets and in particular, super-foods.

New research by Mintel, a market research firm, has found that between 2011 and 2015, the number of new food and drink products to hit the marketplace containing the terms “super-food,” “super-fruit” or “super-grain” increased more than 200 percent worldwide. Just a cursory glance at your local Whole Foods will give you a sense of how ubiquitous the word has become to sell various foods and drinks. And while the term super-food has been used aggressively as a marketing tactic, it’s a real concept. The Oxford Dictionary defines a super-food as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.”

But that doesn’t mean super-foods should be treated as panaceas. While Cancer Research UK points out that super-foods are often marketed as having the power to prevent or even cure various diseases and ailments, it warns that consumers “shouldn’t rely on so-called ‘super-foods’ to reduce the risk of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet.” But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Interested in making the most of what you eat? Try including these five “super-foods” in your diet. (And as with any change in diet, check with your doctor before trying anything new).

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Moringa: What has more protein than yogurt, more calcium than milk, more B vitamins than peanuts, more potassium than bananas and more vitamin A than carrots? Moringa. Packed with protein and phytochemicals (compounds that may reduce the risk of chronic disease), moringa also has all eight essential amino acids. And while there’s also compelling evidence that moringa can help diabetes and function as an anti-carcinogen, Singh points out that the current research is preliminary.

Turmeric: A member of the ginger family whose root is widely used as an ingredient in medicines, turmeric is a superfood that has many health properties. Since ancient times, turmeric has been used to fight inflammation, a power given to it by the compound curcumin, which has been found to inhibit several molecules that play a role in inflammation in human clinical trials. It has also been used to treat a wide number of ailments, including arthritis, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, high cholesterol, headaches, bronchitis, fibromyalgia and depression. Curcumin may also help fight cancer, as its antioxidants may help prevent free radicals from damaging cellular DNA.

Aronia: Native to the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S., aronia (aka chokeberry) have been used in many food products, from jam, salsa and syrup to ice cream, beer and wine. But this dark, sour berry that has long been prized by Native Americans as a miracle fruit has emerged as a potent super-food. “Based upon many cell-line studies, animal models and human clinical trials, it has been suggested that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control and diabetes alleviation properties, all of which are more or less associated with their potent antioxidant property,” according to a 2010 Ohio State University study.

Mung Beans: A popular food in India, China and Southeast Asia, the mung bean has a nutty, sweet flavor that complements sweet and savory dishes. While they are packed with potassium, iron, magnesium and fiber, it’s the protein content that is amazing: 24 percent. It’s no surprise that they are popular, even for breakfast, in India, where 40 percent of the population is vegetarian.

While most other legumes lose their vitamin C content after cooking, mung beans retain most of it. Also, studies have shown that fermented mung bean extracts can help lower bad cholesterol levels and also blood sugar levels, which is good news for diabetics.

Maple Syrup: New finding from a University of Rhode Island study puts maple syrup alongside such known super-foods as berries, red wine (in moderation), tea and flaxseed. “We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Seeram. “We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar. In fact, in preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries.” –Eco Watch