Category Archives: vegetables

Nutrition to Battle the January Blues

Monday 21st January – the Monday of the last full week in January – has been labelled ‘Blue Monday’, to signify the most depressing day of the year. Bad weather, empty pockets and that ‘back to work’ feeling can combine to make the best of us pretty miserable at this time of year.

The good news is that our mental and emotional health has been shown to be linked to our diet, suggesting that we can choose to eat our way to happiness. A new study of more than 8000 adults in the UK has found links between our food choices and mental health (1). The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick and looked at the fruit and vegetable intake of each individual, comparing it to measures of life satisfaction, mental wellbeing and self-reports of happiness, nervousness and low mood.

The researchers also took into account other variables such as meat consumption, alcohol intake and  social and economic factors, so that these factors would not influence the results of the study.

They found that both happiness and mental health appear to rise in a ‘dose-response way’ along with the number of daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Wellbeing appeared to peak at seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Study co-author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, said “the statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise. Diet has traditionally been ignored by wellbeing researchers”.

fruits
Fruit and vegetables contain folic acid, potassiam and flavnoids.

There are a number of reasons why fruit and vegetable consumption might give our mental wellbeing a boost. For example, these foods provide an abundance of minerals such as potassium (2) and vitamins such as folic acid (3) which have an impact on adrenaline and serotonin receptors. Fruits and vegetables also provide a whole host of flavonoids, some of which can enter the brain and might very well have a positive influence on mood. Vitamin C, found in abundance in fruit and veg, is essential for the synthesis of noepinephrine, a chemical message in the brain that affects mood.

Of course this type of research is not able to prove causality. Do seven portions of fruit and vegetables create happiness, or do happy and well-adjusted individuals tend to eat more fruit and vegetables? The researchers admit that further controlled trials would be needed to prove such a link, but they maintain that the study’s results are compelling.

In the meantime, there is no harm in boosting your daily fruit and vegetable intake. It will certainly boost your physical health and it might just stave off those January blues. Just five small changes can help you to increase your daily fruit and vegetable intake:

  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your snacks by keeping raw carrots and other crunchy vegetables to hand.
  • Add chopped fruit or berries to your morning cereal.
  • Try a daily fruit or vegetable smoothie.
  • Replace your lunchtime sandwich with vegetable soup.
  • Replace your usual dessert with a fruit salad.

References

1. David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Sarah Stewart-Brown (2012), Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables? Warwick Economic Research Paper no. 996.

2. Torres S J, C A Nowson and A Worsley (2009), “Dietary electrolytes are related to mood”, British Journal of Nutrition, 100(5),1038-45.

3. Gilbody S, T Lightfoot and T Sheldon (2007), “Is low folate a risk factor for depression? A meta‐analysis and exploration of heterogeneity”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61(7), 631–637. 

4. Image courtesy of ctr’s.

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Food Revolution Day

May 19th marked the first ever Food Revolution Day. The aim of this global event, headed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, is to promote healthy eating and nutrition education, to inspire change in people’s eating habits and to curb the rise in obesity that is sweeping the western world.

The event has been spreading awareness through local activities at schools, restaurants, businesses, dinner parties, street parties and farmers’ markets. Anybody can get involved where we saw people create & attend local food events or hosting dinner parties.

Food Revolution Day
Food Revolution Day is to promote healthy eating and nutrition education, to inspire change in people’s eating habits and to curb the rise in obesity that is sweeping the western world.

The heart of Food Revolution Day is encouraging people to cook from scratch at home. Eating fresh, healthy meals helps protect from diet-related diseases. Cooking together at home brings the family together. It helps to learn about healthy eating, and teaches them valuable cooking skills which they can then to pass down to their own family later on.

To support families in making these healthful changes, the Jamie Oliver Foundation has created a Family Toolkit, filled with ideas to get started. Follow these ideas to create your own Food Revolution at home:

Make a grocery list and stick to it
Plan ahead and prepare a list of what you would like to cook for the week. You’re less likely to resort to ready meals or tempting junk food in the supermarket isles.

Get children involved in the shopping
Bringing your children along on the weekly food shop gets them involved, so they are more likely to eat the foods you prepare. It’s also a great opportunity for them to learn about different fresh foods, and to teach them how to read food labels.

Grown Your Own
You don’t need a huge garden to grow your own food. Reconnect with real food by keeping some pots of herbs on the kitchen window sill, or growing a tomato plant. It helps children to understand where food comes from and teaches them the basics about natural ingredients and flavours.

Learn to cook and get the whole family in the kitchen
There are hundreds of books to help you to learn to cook from scratch. And there are plenty of easy and fun ways to get your kids involved too. Kids love making their own fruit smoothies. You could also make your own probiotic fruit yoghurt for the whole family. It’s also cheap and easy to sprout your own seeds, and children love watching them grow.

and finally….Persevere!

Changing our eating habits isn’t always easy. Habits can be hard to break and familiar food is comforting. Research shows that it might take as many as 8-10 attempts before a child will like a new food. Start with small changes, and begin with small portions and tasters. The Food Revolution starts with small steps. Celebrate small victories and don’t give up!
For more information on the Food Revolution, visit their website.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

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Eating more vegetables and fruits has been linked to a lower risk of dying from heart disease

Eating healthily and including a high intake of vegetables and fruits in the daily diet has been linked in many research studies to a reduced risk of developing heart disease.  Now a recently published (1) paper has found that a higher intake of vegetables and fruits is associated with a reduced risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, the most common form of the condition.  The study is only an association study, it does not prove that eating vegetables and fruits prevents death from heart disease, nor does it give indications as to the biological mechanisms by which these foods may lower heart disease risks.  However, the study is yet another piece of research which shows the importance of healthy eating.

 

The research (1) involved over 310,000 men and women who had not previously had a heart attack or stroke.  They were followed for just over 8 years.  In that time there were 1636 deaths from heart disease. The results showed that individuals consuming at least eight portions (a portion was 80 g) of fruits and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from heart disease compared with those consuming fewer than three portions a day.  It was found that a one portion (80 g) increase in fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a 4% lower risk of dying from heart disease.  An 80g portion is the equivalent of a small banana, a medium apple, or a small carrot.

One of the study authors,  Dr Francesca Crowe of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, UK, said (2): “This study involved over 300,000 people in eight different European countries, with 1,636 deaths from IHD [ischaemic heart disease]. It shows a 4% reduced risk of dying from IHD for each additional portion of fruit and vegetables consumed above the lowest intake of two portions. In other words, the risk of a fatal IHD for someone eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day would be 4% lower compared to someone consuming four portions a day, and so on up to eight portions or more.”

Ischaemic heart disease is the most common form of heart disease and one of the leading causes of death in Europe.  The condition is characterised by reduced blood supply to the heart; people suffering from it can develop angina, chest pains, and have a heart attack.  The authors of the research study point out that a higher fruit and vegetable intake often occurs among people with other healthy eating habits and healthy, active lifestyles, these factors could also be associated with the lower risk of dying from IHD.  Dr Crowe said (2): “The main message from this analysis is that, in this study, people who consume more fruits and vegetables have lower risk of dying from IHD. However, we need to be cautious in our interpretation of the results because we are unsure whether the association between fruit and vegetable intake and risk of IHD is due to some other component of diet or lifestyle”.  “If we could understand, by means of well-designed intervention studies, the biological mechanisms that could underlie the association between fruits and vegetables and IHD, this might help to determine whether or not the relation between fruit and vegetables with IHD risk is causal.”

Eight portions of fruit and vegetable is about 640g daily.  In the study this was only found in 18% of the men and women.  In the UK many people often struggle to reach the five daily portions of vegetables and fruits recommended.  It is certainly worth trying to achieve good daily intakes, of at least five portions, of vegetables and fruits daily.  Such a shift in diet could really impact health.  Adding a portion of fruit to breakfast and extra salad and vegetables into your lunch and evening meals need not be difficult, it can be done gradually over time.  Any fruit, and vegetables such as carrots and celery, also make great snacks.

 

1.Crowe FL et al.  2011.  Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study.  European Heart Journal.  E-pub ahead of print DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehq465

2.European Society of Cardiology (2011, January 19). Eating more fruit and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/01/110118200815.htm

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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Eating food rich in vitamins and minerals may impact perceived hunger levels

In September I wrote about the importance of eating a high-quality, healthy, nutrient dense diet when attempting to lose weight or restrict calorie intakes.  Now a new study (1) has indicated that eating such a nutrient dense diet, rich in vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) may influence hunger and satiety.

The study (1) was set up in order to analyse the changes in experience and perception of hunger before and after individuals changed from their usual diet to a high nutrient density diet.

The study is important since hunger can cause people to overeat and consume more calories than their bodies require, hence leading to overweight and obesity over time. 

 

The research involved over 700 participants who had changed their dietary habits from a low micronutrient diet i.e. one that was low in vitamins and minerals, to a high micronutrient diet.  Participants completed a survey rating various dimensions of hunger (physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and location) when on their previous usual diet versus the high micronutrient density diet.   Highly significant differences were found between the two diets in relation to all physical and emotional symptoms as well as the location of hunger (1). Hunger was not an unpleasant experience while on the high nutrient density diet, was well tolerated and occurred with less frequency even when meals were skipped. Nearly 80% of respondents reported that their experience of hunger had changed since starting the high nutrient density diet, with 51% reporting a dramatic or complete change in their experience of hunger.

 

The authors of the study conclude that

A high micronutrient density diet mitigates the unpleasant aspects of the experience of hunger even though it is lower in calories. Hunger is one of the major impediments to successful weight loss. Our findings suggest that it is not simply the caloric content, but more importantly, the micronutrient density of a diet that influences the experience of hunger. It appears that a high nutrient density diet, after an initial phase of adjustment during which a person experiences “toxic hunger” due to withdrawal from pro-inflammatory foods, can result in a sustainable eating pattern that leads to weight loss and improved health. A high nutrient density diet provides benefits for long-term health as well as weight loss. Because our findings have important implications in the global effort to control rates of obesity and related chronic diseases, further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results”.

Satiety and hunger are influenced by many different factors.  In terms of nutrition and satiety I have previously written about the effect of fibre, prebiotics, probiotics, cinnamon, omega 3 fatty acids and low GI foods and their impact on satiety.

The nutrient quality of the food we eat is very important since a high quality diet will provide the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (bioactive plant nutrients) that are essential for our health and wellbeing.   Vitamins and minerals are essential for the efficient functioning of the body, including the brain.  Eating enough vegetables, fruits, beans/pulses, wholegrains, unprocessed meats/fish, nuts and seeds is a good way to ensure adequate intakes of vitamins and minerals.  These kinds of foods are nutrient dense. 

Supplements should never be considered as an alternative to a healthy diet, however if you are not regularly consuming vegetables, fruits and other nutrient dense foods you might want to check with your doctor about the suitability of a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, together with an omega 3 fatty acid supplement, to provide for any shortfalls. 

(1)Joel Fuhrman  J et al.  2010.  Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet.  Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:51doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-51.  Published 7th November 2010.

Written by Ani Kowal

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Study finds that a dietary supplement may help reduce the symptom severity of the common cold

Many people are experiencing the symptoms of the common cold this winter, sniffles, runny nose, sore throat, stuffy ears.  I have previously written about diet and dietary supplements for the prevention of the common cold however, investigations with supplements are, as yet, inconclusive and results inconsistent.  Having a healthy diet which provides the body with abundant nutrients may be helpful in the prevention of the cold since a good diet helps keep the immune system functioning effectively.

The common cold is the most frequent acute illness in industrialised societies (1).  It is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract, caused by a variety of viruses.  The leading symptoms include sneezing, runny or congested nose, sore throat, headache and coughing, typically lasting for about 5–10 d.  On average, adults experience two to four colds per year.  Frequency of common cold infections increases in the UK in the autumn and winter (1).

Since there is no causal treatment for the common cold, therapy focuses on symptom relief. In addition, preventive strategies for the common cold include lifestyle measures such as avoiding infected people and regular hand washing during the winter. As mentioned above dietary supplements including herbs and vitamins have been suggested in the prevention of the common cold, but previous investigations have proven inconclusive.

A recently published study(1) was designed to determine the preventative effect of a dietary supplement made from a concentration of fruits and vegetables on common cold symptoms.  The study was well designed, a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.  It involved over 500 healthcare professionals, mainly nursing staff aged 18–65 years, from a university hospital in Berlin, Germany.  The individuals involved in the trial received the supplement or a matching placebo daily for 8 months.  The number of days with moderate or severe common cold symptoms within 6 months was assessed by diary self-reports.

Results (1) found that the average number of days with moderate or severe common cold symptoms was reduced in the supplement group compared to the placebo group, intake of the dietary supplement was associated with a 20 % reduction of moderate or severe common cold symptom days.  This is significant since the individuals involved in the study were healthcare professionals who were particularly exposed colds through patient contact.  It is important to note, however that the average number of total days with any common cold symptoms was similar in both groups. 

The results are interesting since the supplement helped to reduce the severity of the cold symptoms, even though the total number of days with symptoms was not reduced.  Reducing the severity of symptoms is important since it may mean that individuals don’t take time off work and can carry on with their days as normal.  Although colds are not really serious conditions, they are a leading cause of absence from work and doctor visits (1).   In the current study the group taking the dietary supplement had fewer days with intake of common cold medication and a trend towards fewer days absent from work due to the common cold.

The authors of the study write “ To our knowledge, it is the first randomised investigation focusing on the benefits of juice powder concentrate in subjects particularly exposed to patient contact. The confirmation of the present findings in other populations could contribute to the growing scientific basis of assessing the clinical importance of dietary supplements from fruits and vegetables. In conclusion, intake of Juice Plus þ w was associated with fewer number of days with at least moderate common cold symptoms. Whether long-term intake of Juice Plus þ w could further reduce severity or even the frequency of common cold symptoms and the possible underlying mechanisms should be assessed in future studies

Many supplements made from concentrated fruit and vegetables are now available.   Such supplements may be considered as a short term measure especially if your diet is consistently falling short of fruits and vegetables.  Supplements, however, can never be seen as an alternative to a healthy diet and it is always best to check with your medical doctor prior to starting a new supplement regimen.   Eating a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains will help to provide vitamins, minerals and flavonoids that may help to keep the immune system functioning optimally.

(1) Stephanie Roll S et al.  2011.   Reduction of common cold symptoms by encapsulated juice powder concentrate of fruits and vegetables: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.  British Journal of Nutrition (2011), 105: 118-122

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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High intakes of vegetables and fruits before pregnancy shown to reduce the risk of babies being born undernourished

A new study (1) has found that eating a healthy diet, rich in vegetables and fruits, before and during pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk for babies being born “small for gestational age” or undernourished.  The time before pregnancy, and during pregnancy, is a time where eating healthily is crucial.  Making healthful food choices can impact both mother and baby.

The study (1) included women involved in the SCOPE “Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints” study.  This study comprises a large database of women from New Zealand, Australia, Manchester, London  and Cork and aims to develop screening tests for pre-eclampsia, ‘small for gestational age’ infants and spontaneous preterm births.

In this particular part of the research study (1) the scientists looked at mothers who had infants that were small for gestational age.  They divided the women into those  who had normal blood pressure and those who had high blood pressure in late pregnancy.  3513 women were involved, various measurements were taken of the foetus and information was collected about the mother including her own birthweight, her gynaecological history, socio-economic status, smoking history, alcohol consumption and diet.

Scientists discovered that a woman’s diet prior to becoming pregnant had a strong impact on the risk of babies being born ‘small for gestational age’ in women with normal blood pressure.  Specifically it was found that women who consumed a high intake of green leafy vegetables (defined as three or more portions of vegetables a day) were found to have a 50% reduction in ‘small for gestational age’ babies.  Women consuming low amounts of fruit (defined as less than one portion a week) had a 50% increase in ‘small for gestational age’ babies (1,2).  It was also found that women who had a high intake of oily fish  (at least 3 servings per week) had a 60% reduction in ‘small for gestational age’ babies.

Cigarette smoking at 15 weeks which was associated with a 30-60% increase in risk of small for gestational age babies for every five cigarettes smoked per day.

Professor Lesley McCowan, one of the study authors, said in a press release (2)These findings emphasise the influence of pre-pregnancy diet on the baby’s growth and are important as a number of the identified risk factors are amenable to public health interventions.”   It is thought that the nutrients found in vegetables and fruits, and the omega 3 fats found in oily fish, could be protective to the pregnant mother and her developing foetus.  However, this study is only an association study so it could be that women who consume a healthy diet also leady generally healthier lifestyles.

Professor McCowan also stated (2)SGA [small for gestational age] infants are more likely to be stillborn, to have complications in the newborn period and in later life. Less than one third of these at-risk babies are identified before birth in current antenatal practice. Improved identification of these vulnerable infants, by screening early in pregnancy, therefore has the potential to reduce stillbirths and complications in the newborn period”.   “In the SCOPE study, our findings show that the risk factors for the majority group of SGA infants with mothers with normal blood pressure included: low fruit intake (less than weekly) in the three months before pregnancy, cigarette smoking, increasing maternal age, daily vigorous (high intensity) exercise, being a tertiary student, and the pregnant woman being born with a low birthweight herself. Eating green leafy vegetables three or more times daily in the three months before pregnancy reduced the risk by 50% as did having a Rhesus negative blood group. Risk factors for SGA infants in mothers with high blood pressure included conception by in vitro fertilisation and previous early pregnancy loss”.

Professor Philip Steer editor of the journal in which the study is being published said (2)”The importance of taking up and maintaining a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy has repeatedly been shown, however we live in an era of fast and convenience foods which are attractive but bad for our health if eaten too often and to the exclusion of healthier options. This study emphasises the importance of good diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to resist the temptations of ‘junk’ food”.  He added “If more women can be persuaded to have a better diet during pregnancy, using the motivation of optimising their baby’s health, then as they are commonly in charge of the family diet, we could improve the health of the whole population. The take-home message is: Fewer take-aways, more fresh fruit and vegetables.

The important message is that women can make a difference to the outcome of their pregnancies.  Being motivated enough to change diet and lifestyle habits can really impact the health of mother and child.  Changes need not be drastic, working to include more vegetables and fruits into the daily diet and aiming to perhaps walk an extra 20minutes a day can have a positive influence on health.  These foundations can gradually be built upon.  Maintaining these healthful lifestyles long-term is important so realistic goals need to be set.

(1)McCowan L et al.  2010. Risk factors for small-for-gestational-age infants by customised birthweight centiles: data from an international prospective cohort study. BJOG.   Article first published online: 6 OCT 2010 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2010.02737.x

(2)Press release.  06/10/10.  Fresh Fruits And Vegetables Consumed For Three Months Before Pregnancy Reduce Chances Of Baby Being Born Undernourished. http://www.bjog.org/details/news/858729/Fresh_fruits_and_vegetables_consumed_in_the_three_months_before_pregnancy_reduce.html

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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Could green leafy vegetables reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes?

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is increasing across the world.  Fruit and vegetable consumption has already been linked to prevention of heart disease and cancer and now a new study has found that increasing green leafy vegetables is significantly associated with a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes (1).  The authors of the review study wanted to look at the evidence for fruit and vegetable intakes and the prevention of type 2 diabetes.  They found that summary estimates from studies showed that a greater intake of green leafy vegetables was associated with around a 14% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes and they conclude that “Increasing daily intake of green leafy vegetables could significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and should be investigated further”.

The study was published in the British Journal of Medicine.  Green leafy vegetables include, for example, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, herbs such as parsley and broccoli.  Eating just over one extra serving a day was associated with the 14% reduced risk of getting type two diabetes.  The findings do not prove that green leafy vegetables prevent diabetes but the research does point to the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle in disease prevention.  The research may indicate that people who eat more green leafy vegetables may also eat an overall healthier diet and may exercise more – factors that could affect the likelihood of getting diabetes.  Further investigation is certainly warranted.

The authors conclude that “Results from our meta-analysis support recommendations to promote the consumption of green leafy vegetables in the diet for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The results support the growing body of evidence that lifestyle modification is an important factor in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.  The potential for tailored advice on increasing intake of green leafy vegetables to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes should be investigated further”.

Green leafy vegetables are high in antioxidants, minerals such as magnesium and short chain (alpha linolenic acid) omega 3 fatty acids as well as polyphenols (bioactive plant chemicals that act as antioxidants in the body).  This could account for their possible diabetes preventative effects. 

According to the authors of the study (1) low consumption of fruit and vegetables is common throughout the world. They cite a 2005 study published by the World Health Organization estimating that inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables could have accounted for 2.6 million deaths worldwide in the year 2000.  Separate research found that in 2002, 86% of adults in Britain ate fewer than the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with 62% consuming fewer than three portions (2)

The study is important because dietary factors represent potentially modifiable risk factors for many diseases.  Encouraging individuals to eat healthily, especially including a variety of vegetables and fruits in their diet, and to exercise regularly is a good way of improving health parameters.  Individuals need not be discouraged or overwhelmed by attempting to dramatically change their lifestyles overnight.  Small steps toward healthier living need to be viewed as important and worthwhile since they all count and add up over time. 

(1) Carter P et al.  2010.  Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: systematic review and meta-analysis.  BMJ.  341:c4229, doi:10.1136/bmj.c4229

(2)BMJ-British Medical Journal (2010, August 19). Green leafy vegetables reduce diabetes risk, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/08/100819214607.htm

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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