THE EFFECT OF YO-YO DIETS ON RISK OF HEART DISEASE IN WOMEN

A study from Columbia University in New York reveals that crash diets and sudden weight gain compromise women’s cardiovascular health. The preliminary results of the research were presented to the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention – Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions (March 2019). Yo-yo diets are blamed for making it difficult to control major risk factors for heart disease.

INCREASE IN HEART DISEASES ASSOCIATED WITH WEIGHT SHIFTS

It is mainly the do-it-yourself diets that cause what is called the “yo-yo” effect. According to the results of the survey conducted by the group of researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, it would be precisely the weight loss associated with a quick weight gain, within a year, that increases the risk of heart disease in women. Achieving a healthy weight is one of the main recommendations made to overweight women for heart health. However, maintaining the weight loss and weight fluctuations themselves can affect cardio-vascular health.

The study involved a group of nearly 500 adult American women, with an average age of 37, of different ethnicities, who were overweight (with a body mass index of 26). The participants were followed for 5 years, in which they reported how many times (excluding any pregnancies) they had lost 4.5 to 10 kilos (10 to 22 lbs.) after a diet, and then regained all the weight lost within a year. To calculate the score related to the risk of developing heart disease, the researchers used 7 risk factors (Life’s Simple 7) defined by the American Heart Association’s (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body mass index, nutrition, physical activity and smoking status).

DRASTIC DIETS ARE NOT SUSTAINABLE

Many (73%) of the women participating in the study stated that they had been subjected to at least one episode of the “yo-yo” effect diet. Among these, the probability of having an optimal score was 65% lower, compared to women who, despite being overweight, had no weight changes. Likewise, women subjected to drastic and rapid weight changes were 51% less likely to have a moderate score. In addition, the “yo-yo” effect was correlated with an 82% less chance of being normal weight (i.e. with a body mass index between 18.5 and 25, indicating a healthy weight-form situation).

The risk of heart disease, then, increases with the increase in “yo-yo” episodes. Furthermore, the researchers noted that the negative impact of this type of diet was higher for those women who had not had pregnancy, presumably younger. This additional data indicates that age also plays an important role: that is, the earlier the “yo-yo” episodes begin, the worse their impact will be. To confirm these results in relation to age, it would be advisable to continue the study bringing it up to ten years of follow-up. In any case, further investigations are needed, both to investigate the cause-effect relationship between weight changes and heart disease, and to study the effect on the male population.

WORLD REFUGEE DAY 2020: FOOD, CULTURE AND INTEGRATION

On June 20th, World Refugee Day, The Valter Longo Onlus Foundation would like to commemorate all those who have fled from war, violence, persecution, and discrimination, in search of peace, inclusion, and respect.

FOOD IS CULTURE AND IDENTITY

We would like to highlight that food can become an important element when promoting integration and encounters between cultures. The approach toward food, cuisine, and traditions of the “other” is an important first step in understanding a culture that is often unknown or to which one has only been superficially exposed. Openness and curiosity often guide these encounters and both are certainly qualities to pursue. This same spirit led Venetian merchants back in the 1600s to taste a dark, suspicious, and pitch-like drink, coffee, and introduce it from Constantinople to Venice, the first city in Europe to open cafes, and have solid commercial ties with the Ottoman dynasty.

Food not only represents who we are, our culture, our identity, and our personal history, but also our roots and traditions, as described by the food historian Massimo Montanari in his book Food is culture. The plate in front of us tells many stories and helps us understand some dynamics in today’s reality. For example, recent versions of pizza with kebab found in some pizzerias in Italy tell the story of pizza, an ancient Mediterranean dish that dates back hundreds of centuries, it tells the story of tomatoes, introduced from the Americas to Europe in the 1500s and came to be a part of Italian cuisine over a century later, and lastly it tells the story of recent migration waves that took place in Italy towards the end of the 20th century and of the gradual acceptance, with some resistance, of other nationalities in the Italian peninsula.

Food and cuisine reveal important messages; they carry memories from travel, migration, war, and famine, but also from abundance, gatherings, festivities, and other joyful encounters. They have a profound emotional, cultural, social, and often political meaning.

REFUGEES, MIGRANTS, FOOD FROM HOME AND FOOD FROM “THE OTHER “                     On the one hand, we find refugees and migrants, and on the other, we have local communities and dynamics between the two can still be difficult to balance. For the newcomers “home food” represents the world that they were forced to leave behind and are emotionally attached to. It has a deep emotional and cultural importance with a tinge of nostalgia and sense of loss. Traditional dishes represent home, family, friends, roots, traditions, and identity, that all too often become fragile memories in a new country. Clinging to what you ate in your previous life is an attempt to remember who you are and where you come from, and finding support in a new and unknown place that can cause worry and fear. The Italians that migrated to the United States over the last century remember such feelings well, since they were referred to as “macaroni eaters”. Comfort food is well known to all of us and can make us recall memories and emotions from the past. “Proustian memory” then comes into play and allows us to travel in time and space using our senses of taste and smell. The French writer, Marcel Proust, mentioned that Madeleines magically brought him back to Sunday mornings spent with his aunt Léonie during his childhood, where he would dip the madeleines in tea. On the other hand however, getting closer to the food and culture of a new country is an attempt to fully integrate and feel as though we belong. Over the years, some people begin to reject their past and their food and desperately throw themselves into a new life looking for acceptance and inclusion and strive to be part of a community.

HOSTING COUNTRIES AND FOOD: NEOPHOBIA, GASTRONATIONALISM AND CALIFORNIA CUISINE

There are then natives in the host country to be considered, who are also often lost in the face of rapid and sudden changes in their living environment. Neophobia, the fear of what is new, is triggered and also applies to food. It is a normal defense reaction to what is unknown or what can potentially threaten survival. Once “recognition memory” is activated, defenses loosen up, and the once foreign stimuli are recognized as “safe” and “familiar.” Ultimately, this leads individuals to overcome their fear of consuming new foods, seeing and experiencing new objects, or meeting new people. This process can be lengthy and difficult and often last multiple generations. Hence the attitude taken toward “foreign foods” can suggest a resistance to transformations in our native countries or a willingness to embrace change, without forgetting the obstacles faced during the process.

On the one hand, we have what sociologist Michaela De Soucey describes as “gastronationalism”: food or culinary practices with a profound cultural and political significance, that strengthen the sense of belonging to a nation and identifying with a community and often openly criticize others. This is what happened in Italy when political slogans compared the autochthonous polenta with couscous, forgetting that: 1) corn comes from the Americas and is not a European product; and 2) couscous, or cuscusu in Sicilian dialect, is also an ancient Sicilian dish dating back to the Arab domination of Sicily in the ninth century or to later influences and that was already mentioned in 1785 in Michele Pasqualinos Sicilian Etymological, Italian, and Latin Vocabulary.

On the other hand however, we have more fluid and flexible situations and, as recent events show, there are attempts to create inclusion, curiosity, and steps to start exploring new territories. These are represented in our postmodern time by Fusion Food and Fusion Cuisines, which aim to be more inclusive of a variety of foods and venture into new areas. A great example is that of sunny, multicultural, fast-moving, and energetic California. Since the seventies, “California Cuisine”, a real food movement, has incorporated the experiences of the communities in its area (Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, etc.), and has adapted them to create a culinary environment in which fresh, seasonal, local and organic products are used, such as avocadoes, and health is a main value. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley and Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main in Santa Monica started this food trend that has brought dishes such as California-style Pizza to restaurants all over the world, with fresh and local ingredients such as artichokes, goat cheese and avocadoes, among others.

THE REFUGEE FOOD FESTIVAL AND THE ROAD TO HUMAN SOLIDARITY

In conclusion, food, a primary and fundamental necessity, has an enormous power and reveals emotional, cultural, social, and even political dynamics. For this reason, paying attention to what you eat and sharing meals with others, as is commonly practiced in many religious traditions, is an important factor in creating strong relationships. For the same reasons, the initiative of the Refugee Food Festival, which began in 2016 in Paris and received support IN 2018 from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), is both interesting and admirable. With a deep desire to overcome discrimination, stereotypes, and conflicts, the restaurants of many European cities have made their kitchens available to migrant chefs on the World Refugee Day and have opened their doors to members of the public interested in learning about “the food of the other”. Unfortunately, the current health crisis has not allowed the festival to take place this year. Nevertheless, now and in the future, it is important to take action by opening up to the unknown, by paying attention to food cultures, and by sharing food with those around us, especially with refugees who have overcome great hardship and suffer from injuries and tears that are difficult to heal and forget. As sociologist Zygmut Bauman once described it, “I don’t think there is a quick and easy solution to the current refugee problem. Humanity is facing a crisis and there is no other way out than through human solidarity.”

SOURCES

Bauman, Zygmut and Evans Brian. “The Refugee Crisis Is Humanity’s Crisis”. The New York Times, May 2nd 2016.

DeSoucey, Michaela. “Gastronationalism: Food Traditions and Authenticity Politics in the European Union”. American Sociological Review. Volume: 75 issue: 3, page (s): 432-455. June 1, 2010.

La Cecla Franco, Pasta and Pizza. Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007.

Montanari, Massimo. Food is Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2003.

Ukers, William. All About Coffee. Heritage Illustrated Publishing, 2014.

WHAT IS METABOLIC SYNDROME

The term metabolic syndrome refers to a series of associated metabolic alterations: hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. They are all risk factors for cardio-vascular diseases, and when combined they cause an increase in the probability of incurring vascular disorders, heart problems, and even the risk of having a stroke. High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are related and increasingly widespread diseases, as a result of unhealthy eating habits and unregulated lifestyle. Metabolic syndrome is also referred to as insulin resistance syndrome, since it is believed to be caused by cells’ resistance to insulin, which is the hormone synthesized by the pancreas that allows glucose found in blood to enter cells and be used as a source of energy. In the case of insulin resistance, cells do not respond to the stimulus provided by insulin and, therefore, the glucose remains in the bloodstream and its levels increase, despite the body trying to keep it under control by producing more and more insulin.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW IS METABOLIC SYNDROME DIAGNOSED

Medicine has identified several contributing factors that cause metabolic syndrome. First of all, genetic factors, which vary from individual to individual on an ethnic basis, in relation to their predisposition to insulin resistance. Then there are molecular factors, namely the presence of nuclear receptors, inflammatory substances, proteins, and hormones that regulate the blood’s amount of glucose. Last but not least, environmental factors, related to unhealthy eating habits, being overweight and a sedentary lifestyle. Ultimately, those who have a genetic predisposition to develop insulin resistance and, at the same time, are scarcely physically active and accumulate excess weight, run a greater risk of suffering from metabolic syndrome.

The assessment is based on the combination of 5 risk factors including: obesity and waist circumference; hypertension; HDL cholesterol; blood glucose triglycerides (or insulin resistance) These parameters have been identified by international organizations such as WHO (World Health Organization), IDF (International Diabetes Federation), AHA / NHLBI (American Heart Association / National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute), and ATIII-NCEP (Adult Treatment Panel III – National Cholesterol Education Program). In order for it to be considered a case of metabolic syndrome, at least 3 of the 5 parameters must coexist in an altered state. According to the most widespread international guidelines, the limit values are:

  • waist circumference ≥ 102 cm /40 inches in males and ≥ 88 cm/ 34.5 inches in females
  • blood pressure ≥130 / 85
  • HDL cholesterol <40 mg / dL in males and <50 mg / dL in females
  • triglycerides ≥ 150 mg / dl
  • (fasting) blood glucose ≥ 110

Being aware of the parameters that need to be kept under control is fundamental, as they are also cardio-vascular risk factors. In addition, often those suffering from metabolic syndrome also face problems such as blood clotting and chronic inflammation, as well as other pathological conditions including fatty liver, gallstones, polycystic ovary, and sleep apnea. This goes to show the importance of systemic intervention when dealing with metabolic syndrome. This also goes hand in hand with the essential role of prevention.

HOW TO PREVENT AND TREAT METABOLIC SYNDROME

There is only one way to prevent metabolic syndrome. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, focused on maintaining a healthy weight, with the help of a correct and balanced diet, alongside the practice of regular daily physical activity. These are all concrete actions that allow you to keep blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose values in the blood in check. Furthermore, it is a good idea to moderate the consumption of alcohol and completely avoid smoking.

How is metabolic syndrome treated? First of all, a change in your habits is required, by steering them towards a healthier lifestyle, based on a balanced diet and an increase in moderate physical exercises, which promotes weight loss and a reduction in body fat, especially abdominal fat. Furthermore, in cases of overweight, it is advisable to reduce the daily number of calories introduced. This can be achieved by decreasing the intake of sugar, sweets, sugary drinks, table salt, and animal fats and choosing to regularly consume fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Limit the consumption of animal proteins, including red meats, sausages, milk, and cheeses. When seasoning your food, use only extra virgin olive oil as a final touch. Here are some simple daily ways to reduce body weight: taking the stairs, walking or cycling, walking at a fast pace for about 10 minutes 3 times a week, up to 30-60 minutes 4-6 times a week. In case of overt illness, based on the presence of altered parameters, the doctor may prescribe drug therapy to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglycerides or reduce blood sugar.

Follow us on social media for further scientific insights regarding balanced lifestyles and healthy eating habits.

SOURCES:

SNACKS FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

A mid-morning and afternoon snack should represent about 5-10% of the required daily calorie intake. They provide the necessary energy to stay attentive, which is especially important during the school term, and they allow children and teenagers to face the next meal with a healthy appetite.

The following chart provides indications on how a snack should be made up: on the left there are the most common snack foods, and other healthier options to choose from

FOODS QUANTITIES (grams/oz) MAXIMUN WEEKLY FREQUENCY SUGGESTED FREQUENCY
7-10 years old 11-14 years old 15-17 years old
Slice of cake or packaged snacks 30/ 1 35/ 1.2 40/ 1.4 2/7 0-1/7
How can they be substituted? Seasonal fruit 150/ 5.2 150/ 5.2 150/ 5.2 7/7 3-4/7
Fruit bars 50/ 1.7 50/ 1.7 50/ 1.7 2/7 0-1/7
Nuts 15/ 0.5 20/ 0.7 30/ 1 7/7 3-4/7
Dark chocolate 20/ 0.7 20/ 0.7 40/ 1.4 1/7 1/7
Whole-wheat focaccia bread 40/ 1.4 40/ 1.4 80/ 2.8 1/7 0-1/7
Bread and jam 30/ 1 + 10/ 0.3 50/ 1.7 + 10/ 0.3 70/ 2.4 + 20/ 0.7 1/7 0-1/7
Bruschetta with tomatoes and olive oil 30/ 1 + 50/ 1.7 + 3 (3/4 tsp) 50/ 1.7 + 50 /1.7 + 3 (3/4 tsp) 70/ 2.4 + 50 /1.7 + 3 (3/4 tsp) 2/7 2/7
Freshly squeezed orange juice 200/ 7 200/ 7 200/ 7 2/7 instead of fruit 2/7
How can it be substituted? Fruit and vegetable extracts 100/ 3.5 150/ 5.2 150/ 5.3 4/7 2/7

Instead of fruit

2-3/7
Tea or herbal tea 250/ 8.8 250/ 8.8 250/ 8.8 7/7 2-3/7
Plant milk 200/ 7 200/ 7 200/ 7 2-3/7 2/7

 

By following this chart, you can create different types of snacks. The quantities should be adjusted according to your child’s age and body evaluation. Hot beverages, such as barley-based drinks and tea, can be added, restricting the sweetness provided by sugar, honey, and other sweeteners, in order to accustom our palates to real flavors, even when they are bitter! Lemon juice, cinnamon or bitter cocoa can be added to improve the drink’s tastes. 

EXAMPLES OF MID-MORNING SNACKS:

  1. Barley coffee or tea and fruit and nut bar.
  2. Barley coffee or tea and whole-wheat rusks with low sugar jam.
  3. Fresh seasonal fruit.
  4. Nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and almonds).
  5. Fruit and vegetable extract with a tomato bruschetta (only when and where fresh tomatoes are available).

EXAMPLES OF MID-AFTERNOON SNACKS:  

  1. Barley coffee or tea and dark chocolate.
  2. Fruit and vegetable smoothie and whole-wheat focaccia bread (only where focaccia bread is available)
  3. Fruit and vegetable smoothie and whole-wheat bread with tomatoes.
  4. Fresh seasonal fruit.
  5. Barley coffee or tea and vegan apple cake.

SOURCES

(In: Prof Valter Longo, “La longevità inizia da bambini” – “Longevity Starts As Children”. Milano: Vallardi, 2019)

NUTRITION TO SLOW DOWN AGING AND PREVENT DISEASES

Since ancient times, philosophers and scientists have attributed an important role to nutrition for personal care and health. This is because the quality and frequency of the foods we consume influence our state of health or sickness. Today this is proven by abundant scientific evidence.

Acquiring awareness about our food choices, understanding how much, when and what to eat, is one of the most powerful, sure-fire, and effective ways of extending the body’s functional capabilities and slowing down aging.

Professor Valter Longo’s latest article, published in the prestigious “Cell” 1 journal, describes the Longevity Diet as the result of years of studies that consider various dietary aspects, from the composition of foods and calories consumed to the duration and frequency of the fasting periods, all analyzed in different living species starting from bacteria and working up to humans.

What emerged from these studies is that the increased activity of some hormones, factors, and genetic pathways caused by the intake of proteins or sugars are associated with accelerated aging and/or age-related diseases. However, continuous, intermittent, or periodic dietary intervention can regulate these pathways by generating effective coordinated responses against them both in the short and long term.

The analysis focused on evaluating popular diets such as total calorie restriction, the high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, vegetarian and vegan diets, and the Mediterranean diet.

A slight caloric restriction, which generally coincides with a reduction in sugar, starch, saturated fat, and protein intake, is effective in promoting longevity as it encourages regeneration and protection processes in the body. These mechanisms, which appear to be the same as those associated with fasting, allow for reduced inflammation at a systemic level and help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and tumors2.

The ketogenic diet and other low-carbohydrate diets have also been studied for a long time in humans: compared to a balanced diet, they do not appear to be more effective in regulating the body mass index (BMI), cholesterol and fat levels in the blood, as confirmed in a recent meta-analysis that examined low-calorie, low-fat or high-carbohydrate diets3.

Vegan diets are found to be beneficial in the fight against aging and disease, as they reduce growth factors and lower insulin levels, along with increasing sensitivity to it. However, they are not on a par with the vegetarian or pescetarian diet, since the latter also manage to prevent the risk of bone fractures resulting from increased fragility, common in vegan subjects who disregard integration4.

Furthermore, a relatively high carbohydrate diet, in the absence of obesity and insulin resistance, is ideal because moderately high consumption of complex carbohydrates can help reduce frailty, particularly in the elderly, providing energy without increasing insulin and activating the glucose signaling pathways.

The analysis then moved on to different forms of fasting, including intermittent fasting (frequent and short-term) and periodic fasting (two or more days of fasting or diets that simulate fasting).

Whilst intermittent fasting appears to have beneficial effects, it is no better than mild calorie restriction for reducing weight and body fat or risk factors associated with disease. A 11-12 hour daily fast seems to be the perfect compromise, as it has the same efficacy, adherence, and risk of side effects5.

Periodic fasting is also emerging as an alternative to intermittent fasting, as it can be applied at regular intervals and combined with drug therapies for the treatment of certain diseases such as cancer6.

The fasting-mimicking diet, on the other hand, was developed to increase adherence, applicability, and safety of periodic fasting, but also to seek out the nutrients capable of intensifying the benefits associated with fasting for 3 days or more.

Disease risk markers such as insulin levels, C-reactive protein (inflammation marker), insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and cholesterol, are influenced by diet composition, as well as by fasting. For these reasons, the final part of the study was focused on specific dietary factors and components, involved in different genetic pathways for regulating longevity.

The Longevity Diet is characterized by a slight caloric restriction and the diet includes a selection of specific components, based on age, sex and health condition. It therefore represents a valid additional tool to standard treatments and a preventive measure with regards to the development of diseases and maintenance of health in old age.

The pillars on which it is based now constitute a common determining factor for longevity and a stimulus to change our habits, as they suggest that we:

  • prefer a medium-high intake of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, and a limited but sufficient quantity of proteins, mainly vegetable origin (to be modified in qualitative and quantitative terms in the case of subjects over 65 or in children).
  • adopt a daily night fast of 11-12 hours interspersed with annual 5-day cycles of the fasting-mimicking diet.
  • maintain a BMI below 25 and the recommended body fat and abdominal circumference according to gender and age.

In summary, we propose that the Longevity Diet is a valuable addition to standard health care and that, when adopted as a preventative measure, it could help avoid morbidity, by supporting health all the way into old age.

SOURCES

  1. Longo V.D. et al.; Nutrition, longevity and disease: From molecular mechanisms to interventions; Cell. 2022 Apr 28;185(9):1455-1470.
  2. CW CHeng et al.; Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to promote hematopoietic-stem-cell-based regeneration and reverse immunosuppression; Cell Stem Cell, 2014
  3. Lopez-Espinoza et al.; Effect of a Ketogenic diet on the nutritional parameters of obese patients: a systematic review and metanalysis. Nutrients 2021; 13, 2946.
  4. Tong, T.Y.N. et al.; Vegetarian and vegan diets and risks of total and site-specific fractures: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMC Med. 2020; 18, 353
  5. Deying Liu, M.D., et al.; Calorie Restriction with or without Time-Restricted Eating in Weight Loss; N Engl J Med 2022; 386:1495-1504
  6. Longo, V.D. et al.; Intermittent and periodic fasting, longevity and disease. Nat. Aging 2020; 1, 47–59

 

WORLD REFUGEE DAY 2020: FOOD, CULTURE AND INTEGRATION

On June 20th, World Refugee Day, The Valter Longo Onlus Foundation would like to commemorate all those who have fled from war, violence, persecution, and discrimination, in search of peace, inclusion, and respect.

FOOD IS CULTURE AND IDENTITY

We would like to highlight that food can become an important element when promoting integration and encounters between cultures. The approach toward food, cuisine, and traditions of the “other” is an important first step in understanding a culture that is often unknown or to which one has only been superficially exposed. Openness and curiosity often guide these encounters and both are certainly qualities to pursue. This same spirit led Venetian merchants back in the 1600s to taste a dark, suspicious, and pitch-like drink, coffee, and introduce it from Constantinople to Venice, the first city in Europe to open cafes, and have solid commercial ties with the Ottoman dynasty.

Food not only represents who we are, our culture, our identity, and our personal history, but also our roots and traditions, as described by the food historian Massimo Montanari in his book Food is culture. The plate in front of us tells many stories and helps us understand some dynamics in today’s reality. For example, recent versions of pizza with kebab found in some pizzerias in Italy tell the story of pizza, an ancient Mediterranean dish that dates back hundreds of centuries, it tells the story of tomatoes, introduced from the Americas to Europe in the 1500s and came to be a part of Italian cuisine over a century later, and lastly it tells the story of recent migration waves that took place in Italy towards the end of the 20th century and of the gradual acceptance, with some resistance, of other nationalities in the Italian peninsula.

Food and cuisine reveal important messages; they carry memories from travel, migration, war, and famine, but also from abundance, gatherings, festivities, and other joyful encounters. They have a profound emotional, cultural, social, and often political meaning.

REFUGEES, MIGRANTS, FOOD FROM HOME AND FOOD FROM “THE OTHER “                     On the one hand, we find refugees and migrants, and on the other, we have local communities and dynamics between the two can still be difficult to balance. For the newcomers “home food” represents the world that they were forced to leave behind and are emotionally attached to. It has a deep emotional and cultural importance with a tinge of nostalgia and sense of loss. Traditional dishes represent home, family, friends, roots, traditions, and identity, that all too often become fragile memories in a new country. Clinging to what you ate in your previous life is an attempt to remember who you are and where you come from, and finding support in a new and unknown place that can cause worry and fear. The Italians that migrated to the United States over the last century remember such feelings well, since they were referred to as “macaroni eaters”. Comfort food is well known to all of us and can make us recall memories and emotions from the past. “Proustian memory” then comes into play and allows us to travel in time and space using our senses of taste and smell. The French writer, Marcel Proust, mentioned that Madeleines magically brought him back to Sunday mornings spent with his aunt Léonie during his childhood, where he would dip the madeleines in tea. On the other hand however, getting closer to the food and culture of a new country is an attempt to fully integrate and feel as though we belong. Over the years, some people begin to reject their past and their food and desperately throw themselves into a new life looking for acceptance and inclusion and strive to be part of a community.

HOSTING COUNTRIES AND FOOD: NEOPHOBIA, GASTRONATIONALISM AND CALIFORNIA CUISINE

There are then natives in the host country to be considered, who are also often lost in the face of rapid and sudden changes in their living environment. Neophobia, the fear of what is new, is triggered and also applies to food. It is a normal defense reaction to what is unknown or what can potentially threaten survival. Once “recognition memory” is activated, defenses loosen up, and the once foreign stimuli are recognized as “safe” and “familiar.” Ultimately, this leads individuals to overcome their fear of consuming new foods, seeing and experiencing new objects, or meeting new people. This process can be lengthy and difficult and often last multiple generations. Hence the attitude taken toward “foreign foods” can suggest a resistance to transformations in our native countries or a willingness to embrace change, without forgetting the obstacles faced during the process.

On the one hand, we have what sociologist Michaela De Soucey describes as “gastronationalism”: food or culinary practices with a profound cultural and political significance, that strengthen the sense of belonging to a nation and identifying with a community and often openly criticize others. This is what happened in Italy when political slogans compared the autochthonous polenta with couscous, forgetting that: 1) corn comes from the Americas and is not a European product; and 2) couscous, or cuscusu in Sicilian dialect, is also an ancient Sicilian dish dating back to the Arab domination of Sicily in the ninth century or to later influences and that was already mentioned in 1785 in Michele Pasqualinos Sicilian Etymological, Italian, and Latin Vocabulary.

On the other hand however, we have more fluid and flexible situations and, as recent events show, there are attempts to create inclusion, curiosity, and steps to start exploring new territories. These are represented in our postmodern time by Fusion Food and Fusion Cuisines, which aim to be more inclusive of a variety of foods and venture into new areas. A great example is that of sunny, multicultural, fast-moving, and energetic California. Since the seventies, “California Cuisine”, a real food movement, has incorporated the experiences of the communities in its area (Mexican, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, etc.), and has adapted them to create a culinary environment in which fresh, seasonal, local and organic products are used, such as avocadoes, and health is a main value. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley and Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main in Santa Monica started this food trend that has brought dishes such as California-style Pizza to restaurants all over the world, with fresh and local ingredients such as artichokes, goat cheese and avocadoes, among others.

THE REFUGEE FOOD FESTIVAL AND THE ROAD TO HUMAN SOLIDARITY

In conclusion, food, a primary and fundamental necessity, has an enormous power and reveals emotional, cultural, social, and even political dynamics. For this reason, paying attention to what you eat and sharing meals with others, as is commonly practiced in many religious traditions, is an important factor in creating strong relationships. For the same reasons, the initiative of the Refugee Food Festival, which began in 2016 in Paris and received support IN 2018 from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), is both interesting and admirable. With a deep desire to overcome discrimination, stereotypes, and conflicts, the restaurants of many European cities have made their kitchens available to migrant chefs on the World Refugee Day and have opened their doors to members of the public interested in learning about “the food of the other”. Unfortunately, the current health crisis has not allowed the festival to take place this year. Nevertheless, now and in the future, it is important to take action by opening up to the unknown, by paying attention to food cultures, and by sharing food with those around us, especially with refugees who have overcome great hardship and suffer from injuries and tears that are difficult to heal and forget. As sociologist Zygmut Bauman once described it, “I don’t think there is a quick and easy solution to the current refugee problem. Humanity is facing a crisis and there is no other way out than through human solidarity.”

SOURCES

Bauman, Zygmut and Evans Brian. “The Refugee Crisis Is Humanity’s Crisis”. The New York Times, May 2nd 2016.

DeSoucey, Michaela. “Gastronationalism: Food Traditions and Authenticity Politics in the European Union”. American Sociological Review. Volume: 75 issue: 3, page (s): 432-455. June 1, 2010.

La Cecla Franco, Pasta and Pizza. Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007.

Montanari, Massimo. Food is Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2003.

Ukers, William. All About Coffee. Heritage Illustrated Publishing, 2014.

How can the fasting mimicking diet help decrease your cardiometabolic disease risk?

There are numerous factors that can raise your chances of developing heart disease. Although some of these factors can’t be changed such as age, ethnicity and genetics, the good news is that you can control a lot of other modifiable risk factors.

Despite the well-established association between poor dietary habits and an increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, researchers are searching for less invasive nutrition-based interventions for the molecular pathways that produce the negative health impacts.

A new study published in Nutrients aimed to investigate if the 5-day fasting mimicking diet (fmd) affects the plasma level of a metabolite, whose high levels are associated with an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases in healthy individuals. This metabolite is called Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) and is a gut microbiota-derived metabolite synthesized in host organisms from specific food constituents such as animal derived products. In addition, changes in cholesterol and bile acid metabolism and activation of inflammatory pathways are all linked to TMAO’s promotion of fatty deposits in the arteries.

In the study, two groups where compared: one with a 5-day fmd and the other with a regular diet with increased vegetable intake diet for 5 days. The aim was to investigate whether a regular diet with an increase in vegetable intake or the fmd have similar effects on TMAO levels as well as metabolic markers such as fasting glucose levels and triglycerides. The results showed that the 5-day fmd group showed a more evident decrease in TMAO, fasting glucose levels and C-peptide levels than the high vegetable intake diet group. These results in the fmd group in return contributed to a better insulin sensitivity.

What is new about this study?

The study showed that the fmd could potentially be a viable strategy to reduce plasma levels of TMAO, which is a diet-derived cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk biomarker. In addition, the authors of the study suggested that this reduction in TMAO along with the improvement of fasting glucose levels and the general metabolic status in healthy individuals are achieved by limiting the caloric intake and animal-derived protein consumption that is represented by the fmd, rather than increased vegetable intake. Similarly In 2017, Wei et al., have suggested that patients that underwent fmd in comparison with those with an unrestricted diet, showed a potential benefit in lowering metabolic markers such as fasting glucose, triglycerides, and low-density lipoproteins. Therefore, lowering their risk of developing related diseases.

This shows that there could be an additional benefit to the fmd for people who are at high risk of developing heart disease.

Sources:

Videja M, Sevostjanovs E, Upmale-Engela S, Liepinsh E, Konrade I, Dambrova M. Fasting-Mimicking Diet Reduces Trimethylamine N-Oxide Levels and Improves Serum Biochemical Parameters in Healthy Volunteers. Nutrients. 2022;14(5):1093. Published 2022 Mar 5. doi:10.3390/nu14051093

INDUSTRIAL FOOD AND THE RISK OF PREMATURE DEATH

Industrial food not only makes us gain weight, but it increases the risk of premature death from various causes, as analyzed by some recent studies published in scientific journals. Industrial, packaged products, sweets, snacks, sodas, and ready-to-eat meals are not good for our health and compromise it to the point of making us sick. Ultra-processed foods, in fact, are rich in sugars, salt, saturated fats, additives, preservatives, and dyes, but are deficient in vitamins, minerals, and fibers.

RECENT STUDIES

Recent studies confirm the above-mentioned observations, like the results of a French research conducted at the Université Paris 13 and published in Jama Internal Medicine (February 2019). The investigation is part of a larger study called NutriNet-Santé. 44 thousand individuals over the age of 45 were involved and monitored for about 7 years (from 2009 to 2017). Every 6 months, the participants had to fill online surveys. Their questions focused on how much of their diet came from ultra-processed foods. The results showed that a 10% increase in processed food consumption is associated with a 10% increase in the likelihood of premature death (especially from cancer and cardiovascular disease).

Confirmation comes from a further investigation in France, again as part of the NutriNet-Santé study. The results were published in the British Medical Journal (May 2019), and they highlighted the connection between extremely processed food consumption and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death. The data of 105 thousand French people (79% women and 21% men), with an average age of 43 years, were analyzed. Participants completed 6 questionnaires regarding their eating habits, while the percentages of disease incidence (cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular diseases) were measured over 10 years (from 2009 to 2018). Again, a 10% increase in extremely processed food consumption resulted in higher rates in the considered diseases: 12% cardiovascular disease, 13% coronary heart disease and 11% cerebrovascular disease.

The results of the Seguimento study of the Universidad de Navarra, Spain, published in the British Medical Journal (May 2019) also show that the consumption of extremely processed food increases the risk of death from all causes. In this survey, the data of 19,000 Spanish adults, with an average age of 38 years, were analyzed, divided into two groups: the first consumed 4 portions a day of industrial food, the second group consumed less than two portions a day. In that case, the risk of mortality increases by 62%.

WHAT TO DO?

These studies wanted to bring attention to the importance of following a healthy diet with fresh foods, and of avoiding industrial products as much as possible. A political action would be essential in order to create guidelines regarding industrial products. We also need more studies to investigate the cause-effect relationship between the consumption of extremely processed foods and the risk of disease and mortality, as well as the physiological effects of industrial foods. The hypothesis is that the physicochemical characteristics of these foods alter the intestinal microbiome, causing an imbalance in energy metabolism

SOURCES

  1. Laure Schnabel, MD, Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, Benjamin Allès et Al. – Association Between Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Mortality Among Middle-aged Adults in France – JAMA International Medicine – (February 2019)

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2723626 (Last viewed 02/08/2022)

  1. Bernard Srour et Al. – Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé) – British Medical Journal (May 2019)

https://www.bmj.com/content/365/bmj.l1451 (Last viewed 02/08/2022)

  1. Rico-Campà A. et Al. – Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study – British Medical Journal (May 2019)

https://www.bmj.com/content/365/bmj.l1949.long (Last viewed 02/08/2022)

  1. Étude NutriNet-Santé – L’étude NutriNet-Santé

https://etude-nutrinet-sante.fr/link/zone/23-L’étude%20NutriNet-Santé (Last viewed 02/08/2022)

THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTIONS

There are more and more people affected by Type 2 Diabetes in the world, due to unbalanced diets, inactive lifestyle, and obesity. Scientific research examined how following “Western” food patterns, rich in red meats, refined cereals, sweets, and processed foods, leads to an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes. While following healthy diets, rich in vegetables, but low in red meats and dairy products, on the other hand, reduces the risk of developing diabetes. A recent study analyzed the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive functions in people with type 2 diabetes. The results of this Boston Puerto Rican Health Study were published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care (May 2019).

MEDITERRANEAN DIET, DIABETES, AND COGNITIVE CAPACITY

Several scientific studies examine the connection between the Mediterranean diet and heart and brain health, as well as the lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. Recently, a group of US researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health of Boston focused their investigations on the cognitive benefits that the Mediterranean diet can generate, in different ways, in diabetic and non-diabetic patients.

It is assumed that a Mediterranean diet (consisting of a high amount of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, fish, and oils rich in healthy fats) represents a beneficial diet for everyone, regardless of whether or not they have diabetes. The typical foods of the Mediterranean diet, in fact, are rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants that reduce inflammation and oxidation of neuronal cells and, therefore, essential for supporting brain function. Furthermore, in diabetics, a Mediterranean diet can keep blood sugar levels under control and improve cognitive functions.

ANALYSIS OF EATING HABITS IN RELATION TO BRAIN HEALTH

The researchers monitored 913 individuals for 2 years. 46% of them had type 2 diabetes. They examined eating habits as well as memory, cognitive function, and executive function through specific aptitude tests. Regarding the dietary evaluations, these scholars attributed scores to the type of diet followed by the participants, in relation to the consumption of typical foods of the Mediterranean diet and two other food programs for heart health, including the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), recommended by the American Heart Association, also rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains. and low-fat dairy products, with moderate amounts of legumes, nuts, oilseeds, fish, and white meats, limiting red meat, foods fried and sweets.

Data analysis showed that in healthy subjects (without diabetes) strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet was connected to memory improvement, but not to cognitive function changes. In diabetic subjects, however, adherence to the Mediterranean diet has positive implications for a wide range of functions in brain health at a general level. In particular, those who strictly followed the Mediterranean diet showed cognitive function improvements and benefits, specifically regarding word recognition and skills in the clock-drawing test (used to identify signs of neurological problems, such as forms of dementia and Alzheimer).

GLUCOSE CONTROL IS ALSO IMPORTANT FOR THE BRAIN

Furthermore, among the participants with diabetes, the benefits on the brain, thanks to the Mediterranean diet, were observed in subjects who had stable blood glucose levels from the beginning of the study or who showed improvements in this blood parameter over the course of 2-year survey. While no neuronal benefits were found in diabetic individuals who did not have glucose levels under control. The experts examined how both adherence to the Mediterranean diet and glycemic control lead to improvements in cognitive function in diabetic subjects.

SOURCES

Mattei J. et Al. – The Mediterranean Diet and 2-Year Change in Cognitive Function by Status of Type 2 Diabetes and Glycemic Control – Diabetes Care (May 2019)

https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2019/05/30/dc19-0130 (Last viewed 03-31-2022)

FRUIT AND VEGETABLES: PROTECTIVE SHIELD AGAINST HEART ATTACK AND STROKES

“An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” so quotes the popular saying. To be exact, two apples and three servings of carrots is the amount of fruit and vegetables to eat every day to protect us from heart attack and stroke, as well as save our lives. This was revealed by a study presented at Nutrition 2019, the congress of the American Society of Nutrition, which takes place every year in Baltimore (USA). The survey, carried out by a group of researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, is part of a larger project: the “Global Dietary Database” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

HOW TO AVOID ALMOST 3 MILLION DEATHS A YEAR

The starting point, referring to 2010, is that a low consumption of fruit and vegetables causes more than 2.8 million deaths worldwide each year from cardiovascular diseases. On the one hand, a low fruit intake led to over 1.8 million deaths, respectively from stroke (1.3 million) and coronary heart disease (more than 520 thousand). On the other hand, a low consumption of vegetables has caused 1 million deaths, including strokes (200 thousand) and coronary heart diseases (800 thousand). Specifically, eating little fruit has a more negative impact, almost double, compared to low consumption of vegetables. Furthermore, the risk increases in men (who most likely eat fewer fruits and vegetables than women) and in young adults (who should be free from acute vascular episodes).

To arrive at these results, the researchers quantified the national average consumption of fruit and vegetables in 113 countries (which represent approximately 82% of the world population), based on surveys related to diet in the various states participating in the study. The collected information collected was cross-referenced with clinical data on cardiovascular risk linked to low consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as on the causes of death in each country. In this way, it has been estimated that eating little fruit causes one death in 7, while a low consumption of vegetables leads to one death in 12.

 

TWO APPLES A DAY AND 12 RAW CARROTS EXTEND LIFE

Based on clinical studies related to cardiovascular risk and Dietary Guidelines, the researchers defined the optimal intake of 1) 1 fruit, 300 g (10.5 oz) per day, which is equivalent to about 2 small apples, and of 2) 2 vegetables (including legumes) of 400 g (14 oz) per day, which corresponds to about 12 raw carrots. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are sources of substances (potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, phenols, and fiber) that help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control. In addition, they help improve the quality and well-being of the intestinal microbiota (trillions of cells, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the gut). In addition, in general, those who follow a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables are less likely to be overweight or obese, conditions also linked to increased cardiovascular risk. In any case, experts recommend consuming the right amount of fruit and legumes every day, with a view to improving the health of individuals globally.

 

SOURCES

  1. Nutrition 2019 – American Society of Nutrition

https://meeting.nutrition.org/2019/ (last viewed 02/09/2022)

  1. Global Dietary Database

https://www.globaldietarydatabase.org/ (last viewed 02/09/2022)