Every week seems to bring another study on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet–on heart health, longevity, cancer risk, you name it. But this study caught my eye due to a surprising connection between diet and academic performance.
The study involved a couple hundred high-school aged kids from Spain. The researchers found that those who more closely followed a Mediterranean diet pattern did better in school, getting higher grades in math, language and having higher grade point averages.
That’s not all that surprising. Previous research has found a link between Mediterranean diet and cognitive function in adults. All those healthy fats and antioxidants–and a minimum of added sugars and processed foods–appear to be good for the brain.
But the Spanish researchers found another potential explanation: The kids whose diets were most aligned with the Mediterreanean diet pattern also slept longer and better–and that this appeared to mediate the effect on academic performance. Previous studies have found that older adults who follow this dietary pattern also tend to sleep better.
But why would the Mediterranean diet lead to better sleep? Researchers have proposed a couple of possibilities.
We know that the Mediterranean diet tends to be anti-inflammatory and there appears to be a relationship between inflammation and sleep. When people get less sleep, their inflammation markers tend to go up. But may also be true that higher inflammation has a negative impact on sleep quality. So it could be that the anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean Diet help you sleep better.
Some of the foods that are prominent in the Mediterranean diet, including olives, olive oil, grapes, and wine, are good dietary sources of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the circadian sleep-wake cycle. Perhaps the higher melatonin content of the Mediterranean diet has a beneficial effect on sleep rhythms.
More and more consumers are convinced that avoiding gluten will improve their health. And if avoiding gluten meant cutting out breads, pasta, crackers, baked goods and other traditionally wheat-based foods, there might be health and nutritional benefits.
Replacing sandwiches with salads, pasta with zoodles, pizza crust with cauliflower crusts, baked goods with fruit–all solid upgrades in terms of nutrients (not to mention calories).
But as the selection of gluten-free breads, pastas, crackers, and baked goods grows, giving up gluten may not necessarily improve your nutrition. In fact, a recent survey found that gluten-free foods tend to be significantly LESS nutritious than the foods they are designed to replace.
According to researchers who evaluated over 1000 commercially available foods, GF breads tended to be higher in both fat and sugar. GF items were also higher in salt, and lower in both fiber and protein than their wheat-based counterparts. They also cost, on average, two and half times as much.
There is a healthier (and cheaper) way to go gluten-free. Instead of loading up your cart with highly-processed gluten-free products made with various alternative starches, seek out whole foods and minimally processed foods that are naturally gluten-free. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, are a better way to fill the gaps where wheat used to be.
Pride goeth before a fail.
When I saw this headline earlier this morning, I clicked through (Mission accomplished, headline writers) and skimmed the article, which seemed to contradict the basic facts that we all learn in nutritional biochemistry. Having not yet had my coffee (yes, I’m making lame excuses), I impulsively posted it on Facebook with a “Shame on you, CNN” comment.
Fortunately, my followers are smarter than I am…and are not afraid to tell me so. So, let me try this again, appropriately humbled.
Let’s Play Biochemistry Gotcha!
Had I been one of those-who-should-know-better surveyed by the authors, I too would have fallen into the trap and said that fat is converted into energy (with water and CO2 as byproducts). But this is not quite accurate. Continue reading “Where does fat go when you lose it?”
Can it really be this simple?
Researchers at the University of Surrey fed two groups of study subjects an identical pasta dish. Although the amount of food was the same, it was presented to one group as a “snack” and to the other as a “meal.” The snackers ate standing up, using plastic utensils. The meal-eaters sat down at a table set with ceramic dishes and silverware.
A little bit later, both groups were given some additional foods to sample. Those who had merely “snacked” on the pasta dish consumed far more calories than those who felt that they’d just eaten a meal.
Doesn’t that ring true?
When we call something a snack, we tend to discount it. It doesn’t register in quite the same way in our mental tally of how much we’ve eaten. We may not even feel as full afterward. (Which just goes to show how much of our sensation of ‘hunger’ is actually in our heads!)
Try this: Instead of just grabbing a snack, consciously make it a meal. Even if it’s just a few bites or you don’t have much time, be sure to signal to your brain and senses that you’re satisfying your need for food. Sit down. Put it on a plate. Mentally re-label those snacks as mini-meals and see if they don’t feel a little more satisfying.
Over a million Americans developed high blood pressure overnight–and, no, it wasn’t the latest headlines.
The American Heart Association just lowered the bar on what is considered to a healthy blood pressure reading. Instead of anything under 140/90, you now need to shimmy under 130/80 to get the all clear. That means that a whole bunch of people who had normal blood pressure yesterday are hypertensive today.
Diet and lifestyle change is the standard prescription in this situation. The time-tested DASH diet, in particular, has a great track record for lowering blood pressure. But if the thought of giving up red meat and cheese leaves you feeling a bit bereft, I have good news.
Recent studies have found that modified versions of the DASH diet that include red meat and full-fat dairy products are just as effective as the more austere original. The details are outlined in this episode of the Nutrition Diva podcast: The DASH Diet Gets an Upgrade.
Whenever I talk about cancer and diet, I try to debunk the myth that eating sugar makes cancer grow faster. I explain that all cells, including cancer cells, use glucose (sugar) to fuel their metabolism. Cancer cells often have an accelerated metabolism and utilize blood glucose at a faster rate than other cells. But it’s a gross over-simplification to say that consuming sugar will make cancer grow faster or that eliminating sugar will slow the growth of a tumor.
So imagine my surprise to see a recent headline in Newsweek about a new study published in the prestigious science journal Nature.
Despite the provocative headline, however, this study has absolutely nothing to do with how sugar from foods affects cancer cells. The research explores how some cancer cells differ from healthy cells in the way that they metabolize glucose. This is undoubtedly important to cancer researchers. But it does not add to, subtract from, or change in any way what we know about the interaction of diet and cancer.
The link between sugar consumption and cancer risk is more indirect. Excessive sugar consumption often leads to obesity, which increases cancer risk. But it’s the excess body fat that is the problem, not the source of the calories that caused it.
There are a lot of good reasons to limit our consumption of added sugars. Limiting these empty calories can make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. A diet that’s lower in added sugars is also likely to be higher in nutrients. Both can help to reduce your risk of cancer and/or improve your chances of beating it.
But the last thing a cancer patient (or survivor) needs is to stress about whether eating too much sugar may have caused their cancer or made it more aggressive. Neither is true.
Can the Right Diet Prevent Cancer?
Diet Recommendations for Cancer Survivors