Food For Thoughtful Research
Autumn is a traditional time of abundance, with crops being harvested and commercial and home preservation kicking into high gear. It’s also a good time to consider the wisdom of the old saying; we are what we eat. It’s pretty common knowledge that food provides the vitamins and minerals our bodies need, but research is showing that what you eat, how much you eat and what’s in what you eat can have a bigger impact on your health than expected.
Washing down a high-fat meal with coffee, for instance, has been found to be bad for your health.
Typically after we eat, the pancreas produces insulin to redistribute sugar from the bloodstream into the muscles—but fat-filled meals interfere with that process. The result is high blood sugar, which damages blood vessels that supply vital organs, over time increasing risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision and nerve problems.
A study from the University of Guelph found blood sugar levels of test subjects given a sugar drink were 32 per cent higher after eating a high-fat meal six hours earlier. “This shows that the effects of a high-fat meal can last for hours,” said researcher Marie-Soleil Beaudoin. And when the high-fat meal was followed with a cup of joe, the levels increased by 65 per cent, the result of “fat and caffeinated coffee…impairing the communication between the gut and the pancreas,” she said.
Continuing on with research showing flavonoids in grapefruit are helpful in preventing obesity, (Health File, March/April 2010), University of Western Ontario researcher Murray Huff has discovered a similar, but apparently more potent, substance in tangerines. The substance, dubbed nobiletin, was tested on mice fed a diet high in fats and sugars. Those treated with nobiletin gained weight normally, but untreated mice went on to develop metabolic syndrome, a combination of factors—including high blood pressure, excess belly fat, high triglycerides, high blood sugar and low amounts of the “good” cholesterol—known to raise the risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. Nobiletin also prevented the buildup of fat in the liver and protected against atherosclerosis, Huff reports.
Other research into food substances that promote or hinder health include:
- An animal study out of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Mass., that suggests increasing dietary amino acid leucine may help those with metabolic syndrome. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which make up about 75 per cent of our bodies and are essential to nearly every bodily function. “Even though (leucine) didn’t change how fat they got… (the animals’) bodies were able to handle glucose better,” said Dr. C. Ronald Kahn. Human trials will show whether extra leucine has the same effect on humans. Soybeans and lentils are the richest food sources of leucine.
- A seven-year study from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, shows vitamin B12 may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. B12 lowers levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, high levels of which negatively affect the brain. B12 deficiency is common in the elderly, causing such problems as depression and anemia. Good food sources are fish, poultry and meat.
- A study from Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center has found that eating strawberries reduces precancerous lesions that lead to cancer of the esophagus, which will kill 1,800 Canadians this year. Incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma has doubled in the last 20 years, reflecting rising rates of obesity and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), which affects about one in five adults. Most people with precancerous lesions in the esophagus eventually develop cancer, but “our study…shows strawberries may slow [that] progression,” said chief researcher Dr. Tong Chen. Cell proliferation, inflammation and gene transcription were reduced in people fed 60 grams of freeze-dried strawberries over six months. This research began on rats and progressed to a small group of people with precancerous lesions. Now large placebo-controlled clinical trials are planned.
Studies in many countries are showing maintaining good body weight is important to health. “Controlling body weight or losing weight in middle age could reduce your risk of dementia,” says Dr. Weili Xu, of the Karolinska Institutet, whose study grouped 8,534 twins aged 65 and older according to body mass index and correlated their height and weight from 30 years earlier with development of dementia. The study found that people overweight or obese at midlife had an 80 per cent higher risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
A French study of 7,087 people older than 65 showed those with three or more risk factors for metabolic syndrome are at higher risk of memory loss. “Our results suggest that management of metabolic syndrome may slow down age-related memory loss, or delay the onset of dementia,” said Dr. Christelle Raffaitin of the French National Institute of Health Research in Bordeaux, France.
A Statistics Canada report, Cognitive Performance of Canadian Seniors, found chubbiness and skinniness, as well as diabetes and heart disease, affected seniors’ cognitive function.
Canada’s Food Guide, available in hard copy or to download at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php has suggestions on how to plan, shop and prepare meals as well as tips for healthy dining out.
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