This Month’s Food as Medicine Roundup: September 27, 2019

Sahra Pak September 30, 2019
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Sahra Pak
As a registered dietitian, Sahra brings her extensive experience in health care and public health to Lighter to improve the health of the population through effective communication, sustainable behavior modification approaches and upstream intervention strategies. Through her work with Los Angeles and Solano County Departments of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and partnering with health advocacy organizations such as CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Sahra has helped create sustainable food systems, adapted public policy, implemented environmental change, and health education programs.


Thank you for checking out this week’s edition of our Food as Medicine News Roundup! Once a month, I’ll share a collection of important and trending articles in the Food as Medicine space.


Welcome to this week’s edition of our Food as Medicine News Roundup (#FoodIsMedicine)! Everyone is back to school and fall is definitely in the air. 

This week you’ll see how those with type 2 diabetes should not be encouraged to take omega-3 fish supplements but instead consume more plant foods and incorporate lifestyle changes to stay healthy; how our fast-paced and ultra-processed diet is increasing the chances of teenagers to become depressed (and for some, eating too much processed foods may even lead to blindness!); and how eating chicken may increase cancer risk but a low-fat diet may reduce the risk of certain cancer for women. 


Omega-3 supplements - harmful or helpful for people with type 2 diabetes?  

This year, the U.S. nutritional supplement sector is projected to make approximately 33 billion dollars and supplementation has become a routine part of the American lifestyle. At the same time, consumers and patients are becoming more and more interested in the possible health benefits that certain nutrients may have on their overall health. Among the many supplements on the market today, omega-3 is perhaps one of the most controversial. 

Some studies have suggested that polyunsaturated fatty acids from both fish and plant sources (commonly shortened as ‘PUFAs’ and omega-3 fatty acids are a part of the PUFA family), may have beneficial health effects that protect against type 2 diabetes. However, the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on type 2 diabetes have been inconclusive. Now a new review of over 80 studies published in the BMJ finds that omega-3s have little or no effect on diabetes diagnosis or on glucose metabolism. 


"What we did find is that there is no demonstrable value in ordinary people taking omega 3 oil supplements for the prevention or treatment of [type 2] diabetes.” 

Julii Brainard, study author


The overall recommendation remains the same: rather than supplementing, opt for nutrient intake through real food. And yes, omega-3s are in oily fish but climate change and overfishing are increasing the levels of methylmercury (a toxic compound that can cause severe damage to the brain and nervous system) in some types of fish and warming waters from climate change is seriously affecting the amount of seafood that we can sustainably harvest. But there are win-win solutions. For example, consuming a diet rich in healthful whole foods that consist mostly of plants (think fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds), is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, this recent study found that: 


“...those who applied lifestyle changes such as physical activity and stress reduction strategies rather than taking insulin medication increased the odds of achieving a lower A1c measure by eight times than those who did not apply any lifestyle changes.”

Food (and lifestyle changes) are true Rx for patients and clients with type 2 diabetes! 

The link between teens’ diet and depression ⏤ is fast food partly to blame? 

Teenagers are dealing with many stress-inducing events from managing their own physical, mental, and emotional changes to living in an era where an avalanche of information (and misinformation) is delivered to them on a 24/7 basis. A recent PEW survey found that 70% of teens today feel that anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. Furthermore, depression can take an economic toll on families, individuals, and society as a whole and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In fact, the total economic burden of depression is estimated to be $210 billion annually, and up to 47% of the costs are due to medical expenses such as outpatient and inpatient treatment and medication costs. 

Now a new multiyear study finds that teens' diet that consists of fast food and a low amount of whole, nourishing plant-based foods may contribute to mood changes and depression. The study found that higher levels of sodium and lower levels of potassium in the participant’s urine at baseline predicted more severe depression at follow up (1.5 years later). What’s more, diets that are extremely limited in nutrients lacking in vitamins and minerals may even lead to blindness (optic neuropathy).  

“Given the substantial brain development that occurs during adolescence, individuals in this developmental period may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of diet on the neural mechanisms underlying emotion regulation and depression.” 

Mrug, S., Orihuela, C., Mrug, M., Sanders, P. W., (study researchers)

However, the great news is that more and more studies are finding that foods with nourishing properties, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains that are full of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber along with various antioxidants seem to be associated with lower rates of depression. This may potentially be due to whole, plant-foods’ anti-inflammatory, prebiotic, and neuroprotective properties. This is why we must protect the health of our youth and our communities by sharing the powerful nourishing and healing properties of food.     

Chicken: America’s favorite protein but is it good for your patient/client?   

9 billion. That’s the number of chickens that the U.S. produces in a year.  Americans consume the most chicken in the world clocking in at more than 94 pounds per capita. In recent years, red meat and mortality news has been hitting the media cycle time and time again and many consumers are opting for ‘lean’ meats like chicken and pork. Marketing touts the health benefits of chicken and pretty outrageous menu items such as the fried chicken and donuts and the battle between various chicken sandwiches dominates consumers’ news feeds. But is chicken as healthy as we think they are? Should your patient switch to this ‘lean’ protein source or consume them daily? 

The new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health is the first of its kind to find a positive association between chicken consumption and increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The study tracked 475,000 people between 2014 and 2016 and also found a positive association between poultry intake and an increase in the risk for malignant melanoma (HR per 30 g/d 1.20; 95% CI: 1.00-1.44) and prostate cancer (1.11, 1.02– 1.22).

“Poultry intake was positively associated with risk for malignant melanoma, prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” 

 Study researchers

On the flip side, new research published in The Journal of Nutrition following close to 50,000 women over 2 decades found that women who had experienced breast cancer who followed a low-fat diet with a corresponding increase in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains were 15-35% less likely to die from any cause. 

"The latest results support the role of nutrition in overall health and indicate that low-fat diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains have health benefits without any observed adverse effects."

Ross Pretince, Ph.D., Study author

What can be better than a plate full of vibrant and health-giving fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes? Not much is our answer here at Lighter! Health is wealth. We are excited to support you in your mission to improve the lives of your patients and clients through food as medicine, one visit at a time. 

Have a great weekend and make your plate count. Until next time!

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