Recognition of links between diet and mental health has snowballed in recent years. This includes the impact of nutrition on risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some individual nutrients have been singled out, such as vitamin B6 and omega-3. While these are important, by themselves they are no replacement for healthy dietary patterns.
In particular, the Mediterranean diet has been showered with accolades for its physical and mental health benefits.
Most people won’t argue with the fact that a healthy diet can ward off heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic lifestyle ailments.
Not so many connect diet with mental health. But the brain is an organ, just like the heart, the liver and the pancreas.
It’s not just any organ. Although the brain accounts for only 2-2.7% of the body’s weight, it uses up 25% of the body’s glucose supply at rest – and this increases to 50% when it’s active.
As such, the brain is highly dependent on a regular supply of energy and nutrients from food. This fuels its structure and function, keeping us sharp and happy.
Not only does the brain need nutrients to work properly and create the neurotransmitters that keep it ticking over, it is directly influenced by signals from the gut through pathways known as the ‘gut-brain axis’.
These pathways are hormonal, neuronal and immunological. And there are trillions of little workers that help or hinder gut-brain messages: microscopic bacteria that dwell in the intestines.
These microbial communities are impacted by several factors including antibiotics, stress and excessive hygiene. They are also influenced by the food we eat.
Specifically, a diet high in sugar and processed food breeds less healthy bacteria while the beneficial microbes munch and proliferate on a whole food, high fibre diet.
There isn’t just one Mediterranean diet. Likewise, populations that live long healthy lives – with miniscule risk of dementia – have variations in their diets.
But there is no need for confusion; some basic underlying dietary principles are simple to follow.
The driving tenet is eating plenty of plant foods: fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains. These are teeming with nutrients, antioxidants and fibre that promote a healthy gut and brain.
Fats are also important. In particular, extra virgin olive oil – a healthy monounsaturated fat – has numerous benefits attributed to its antioxidant properties. This oil has a high smoke point so can be used liberally for cooking as well as salads.
The diet typically includes moderate intakes of fish, which is associated with reduced risk of dementia, fermented dairy and red wine with meals. Importantly, it is low in sugar, processed foods and meat.
Nurturing a healthy lifestyle not only includes following these dietary principles; engaging in regular physical activity is also robustly linked to better physical and cognitive outcomes with aging.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Apr 23, 2019 in Protein
A powerful protein that protects women from the biological onslaught of pregnancy could be harnessed to prevent and treat a range of geriatric diseases, a recent study suggests.
Biological stresses created by pregnancy can induce protein damage – misfolding – in the pregnant mother’s body.
This misfolding can lead to preeclampsia – a pregnancy complication characterised by high maternal blood pressure and signs of kidney or liver damage that can endanger mum and baby.
Researchers led by Dr Amy Wyatt from Flinders University investigated how pregnant women’s bodies cope with protein misfolding.
They discovered that during pregnancy, women create an abundance of ‘pregnancy zone protein’ (PZP). The PZP stabilises the misfolded proteins, preventing them from forming plaques which lead to preeclampsia.
The researchers suggest the production of PZP during pregnancy represents a major maternal adaptation that helps to maintain protein homeostasis.
Protein homeostasis breaks down with aging and disease, causing protein aggregation, or plaques.
These plaques are not only associated with preeclampsia, but also with common ailments later in life including Alzheimer’s, arthritis and heart disease.
Amyloid beta peptide, for instance, which forms plaques in the placenta in preeclampsia, also forms plaques in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
Non-pregnant people can also produce PZP in response to certain diseases. Wyatt speculates this might be the body’s way to try and stop damaged proteins accumulating in response to stresses such as inflammation.
Exploring this is the next focus of their research. In the meantime, healthy lifestyle factors like diet and exercise can also reduce the risk of diseases with aging.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Apr 1, 2019 in Protein
Fancy some termites with your vegies for dinner? They taste rather minty, apparently. Or how about some grasshoppers – the Mexicans enjoy them roasted in chilli and garlic. In China you could try some fishy-tasting scorpions, or Cambodians might try and tempt you with fried tarantulas.
Many cultures have been eating bugs for centuries – including Indigenous Australians with delicacies like witchety grubs. Now, insects’ appeal as a cheap, nutritious and environmentally friendly food source is capturing attention as a potential solution for food security and sustainable agriculture.
By the year 2050 it’s estimated the world’s population will reach 9 billion people. To feed this growing population, current food production will need to nearly double.
But about one billion people around the world are hungry now. And food production is already unsustainable in the face of its ecological impact, climate change, land scarcity, overfished oceans and water shortages.
For this reason, leading organisations including the World Bank, United Nations and EAT Lancet Consortium are calling for radical overhauls of current agricultural and dietary practices.
They say multilevel solutions are needed that embrace and support small scale farmers, biodiversity and local knowledge. This includes widespread agreement that we need to eat more plant food and substantially less livestock for planetary and human health.
Insects rival conventional meat sources for their protein content, while putting significantly less strain on the environment.
Gram for gram, farming insect protein compared to beef needs 8 to 14 times less land, 5 times less water, and produces 6 to 13 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Packed with amino acids, crawly critters are a high-quality protein source. They also deliver other nutrients including healthy fats, minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium and selenium, and vitamins including the B group.
Unlike animal food sources, insects contain fibre – mostly from the chitin in their exoskeleton, making them a good source of prebiotics.
In support, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people who ate cricket powder in their breakfast every day for two weeks showed increased abundance of the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium animalis in their gut compared to controls who consumed the same breakfast without crickets.
But there are issues with foraging insects from nature for food; for instance, Australian honey ants and wood grubs are now threatened due to overexploitation by indigenous people for restaurants and ecotourism.
For this reason, insect farms are growing in popularity for animal feed or additives to human food. But they still need to overcome the “yuck factor” and pass regulatory tests for food safety.
That hasn’t stopped companies from producing insect-based products, for instance foods enriched from cricket protein seem to be growing in popularity – including cricket protein powder, organic roasted crickets and cricket energy bars.
Don’t fear. For vegans and vegetarians – and people who just can’t stomach the thought of eating insects – there are plenty of other nutritious, plant sources of protein including nuts, legumes, lentils, seeds, quinoa, and even hemp.