(Inside Science) — Did the ancient Egyptians eat like us? If you’re a vegetarian, tucking in along the Nile thousands of years ago would have felt just like home.
In fact, eating lots of meat is a recent phenomenon. In ancient cultures vegetarianism was much more common, except in nomadic populations. Most sedentary populations ate fruit and vegetables.
Although previous sources found the ancient Egyptians to be pretty much vegetarians, until this new research it wasn’t possible to find out the relative amounts of the different foods they ate. Was their daily bread really daily? Did they binge on eggplants and garlic? Why didn’t someone spear a fish?
A French research team figured out that by looking at the carbon atoms in mummies that had lived in Egypt between 3500 B.C. and 600 A.D. you could find out what they ate.
In a new study, researchers found that those who eat tomatoes two to six times a week were 46 per cent less likely to suffer the blues than those eating them less than once a week.
Eating them every day slashed the risk by 52 per cent, according to the study.
But other fruits and vegetables do not have the same benefits. Eating healthy foods like cabbage, carrots, onions and pumpkins appeared to have little or no effect on psychological well-being, the study found.
Tomatoes are good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that gives them their deep red colour and has been linked with reducing the risk of prostate cancer and heart attacks.
The team of researchers from China and Japan, led by Dr Kaijun Niu from China’s Tianjin Medical University, wanted to investigate preliminary reports that lycopene might also promote psychological and well as physical health by reducing oxidative stress, or damage to healthy brain cells.
They analysed the mental health records and dietary habits of just under 1,000 elderly Japanese men and women aged 70 or over.
The researchers said they cannot be sure if lycopene in tomatoes directly affects the mind, or whether it simply protects against the depression caused when people develop potentially fatal diseases like cancer.
“These results suggest that a tomato-rich diet may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of depressive symptoms. In contrast, no relationship was observed with intake of other kinds of vegetables,” the Daily Mail quoted the researchers as writing in a report on the findings published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
If you want to wage battle against cholesterol and other lipids (fat) that can contribute to vascular disease, then make tomatoes a big part of your diet. Scientists say this popular fruit contains a nutrient that can fight vascular disease such as stroke and arteriosclerosis.
Tomatoes fight more than cholesterol and fat
Excessive levels of lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream, a condition known as dyslipidemia, can lead to potentially deadly diseases such as arteriosclerosis, cirrhosis, and stroke. Scientists from Kyoto University and New Bio-industry Initiatives, Japan, report that a compound called 9-oxo-octadecadienoic extracted from tomatoes can boost oxidation of fatty acids and contribute to the regulation of lipid metabolism by the liver. These qualities indicate that 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid can fight cholesterol and other lipids and therefore help prevent vascular diseases.
Vascular disease is a general term used to describe diseases that affect the blood vessels. The Vascular Disease Foundation offers information on nearly two dozen different conditions that fit this category, including abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid artery disease, deep vein thrombosis, lymphedema, peripheral artery disease, and stroke.
Tomatoes are also valued for other health benefits. Much research has been dedicated to a potent antioxidant in tomatoes, lycopene, and its potential in the fight against various types of cancer, and especially prostate cancer. Tomatoes also contain excellent levels of other nutrients, including niacin, which helps lower cholesterol; and potassium, which reduces blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Dr. Teruo Kawada, who is from Kyoto University and who led the study, noted that “Finding a compound which helps the prevention of obesity-related chronic diseases in foodstuffs is a great advantage to tackling these diseases. It means that the tomato allows people to easily manage the onset of dyslipidemia through their daily diet.” To help the fight against cholesterol and other fats that contribute to vascular disease, enjoy more tomatoes.
Kim YI et al. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research doi:10.1002/mnfr.201000264
Eating purple fruits such as blueberries and drinking green tea can help ward off diseases including Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s, a University of Manchester report claims. New research from Professor Douglas Kell, published in the journal Archives of Toxicology, has found that the majority of debilitating illnesses are in part caused by poorly-bound iron which causes the production of dangerous toxins that can react with the components of living systems. These toxins, called hydroxyl radicals, cause degenerative diseases of many kinds in different parts of the body. In order to protect the body from these dangerous varieties of poorly-bound iron, it is vital to take on nutrients, known as iron chelators, which can bind the iron tightly.
Brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of chelators, as is green tea, with purple fruits considered to have the best chance of binding the iron effectively. However, despite conflicting reports, the widely-publicised benefits of red wine seem to work in a different way, and have no similar benefits, Professor Kell’s paper noted.
This new paper is the first time the link has been made between so many different diseases and the presence of the wrong form of iron, and gives a crucial clue as to how to prevent them or at least slow them down. Professor Kell argues that the means by which poorly-liganded iron accelerates the onset of debilitating diseases shows up areas in which current, traditional thinking is flawed and can be dangerous. For instance, Vitamin C is thought to be of great benefit to the body’s ability to defend itself against toxins and diseases. However Professor Kell, who is Professor of Bioanalytical Science at the University, indicates that excess vitamin C can in fact have the opposite effect to that intended if unliganded iron is present.
Only when iron is suitably and safely bound (“chelated”) will vitamin C work effectively. Professor Kell said: “Much of modern biology has been concerned with the role of different genes in human disease. “The importance of iron may have been missed because there is no gene for iron as such. What I have highlighted in this work is therefore a crucial area for further investigation, as many simple predictions follow from my analysis.
“If true they might change greatly the means by which we seek to prevent and even cure such diseases.”
Recent studies show that grapefruit and diabetes may share a close link. Researchers concluded that naringenin found in grapefruit may increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. This research was conducted only in the laboratory, and further studies are still needed. Grapefruit and diabetes may share a close link given some recent studies suggesting that eating of the fruit can help in controlling the disease. One recent report suggests that grapefruit may become an effective part of the treatment for type 2 diabetes as it contains the antioxidant Naringenin that can break down fats and increase a person's sensitivity to insulin.
The study also concluded that grapefruit is also capable of treating abnormal levels of cholesterol, warding off metabolic syndrome and improving a person's tolerance to glucose, factors that are all associated with diabetes. The study was conducted by scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Engineering in Medicine and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although more research needs to be completed, grapefruit is a safe source of vitamins for diabetics. One-half of a grapefruit contains 52 calories and 13g of carbohydrates, and the fruit has a low rating on the glycemic index, indicating a lower propensity to drive up blood sugar levels.
The antioxidant Naringenin is found in grapefruit and has been largely credited for its ability in heping to treat type 2 diabetes. Naringenin is specifically noted for being able to break down fatty acids in the liver, similar to what happens when a person undergoes fasting. Yaakov Nahmias, PhD of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reports that the results of their study indicate that Naringenin antioxidant was found to be capable of breaking down fatty acids similar to those induced by significant amounts of fasting. It does so by activating nuclear receptors, a family of proteins that can cause the liver to break down fatty acids instead of storing them.
Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Western Ontario showed that Naringenin can correct increases in triglyceride and cholesterol levels, while resisting insulin resistance and normalizing glucose metabolism. The said study showed that Naringenin genetically reprograms the liver to burn up more excess fat, instead of storing it. The said study also showed that Naringenin is able to suppress appetite and decrease food intake, which are common strategies in controlling diabetes.
The study of MGH and Hebrew University scientists also noted that Naringenin can lower bad cholesterol called vLDL while able to cure several symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Research on grapefruit and diabetes, however, has not yet been conducted on humans, and were only done in the laboratory on the liver cells of humans and rats. Until further studies are done to confirm the effects of grapefruit in the treatment of diabetes type 2 in humans, it is still not safe to conclude that the naringenin in grapefruits can indeed cure diabetes. Further studies are still needed to establish its efficacy as well as its overall effects in the body, including the negative effects it might have.
Thus, many health experts do not encourage patients with diabetes to increase their consumption of grapefruits or increase grape juice intake, especially if they are also taking medications. There are patients prescribed with some type of drugs to lower their cholesterol level who are advised not to drink grapefruit juice as it can increase risk of side effects.
Scientists have upgraded their opinion of Neanderthal cuisine after spotting traces of cooked food on the fossilised teeth of our long-extinct cousins. The researchers found remnants of date palms, seeds and legumes – which include peas and beans – on the teeth of three Neanderthals uncovered in caves in Iraq and Belgium. Among the scraps of food embedded in the plaque on the Neanderthals' teeth were particles of starch from barley and water lilies that showed tell-tale signs of having been cooked. The Ice Age leftovers are believed to be the first direct evidence that the Neanderthal diet included cooked plants as well as meat obtained by hunting wild animals.
Dolores Piperno, who led the study at the archaeobiology laboratory at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, said the work showed Neanderthals were more sophisticated diners than many academics gave them credit for. Piperno said the discoveries even raised the possibility that male and female Neanderthals had different roles in acquiring and preparing food. “The plants we found are all foods associated with early modern human diets, but we now know Neanderthals were exploiting those plants and cooking them, too. When you cook grains it increases their digestibility and nutritional value,” she added.
The findings bring fresh evidence to the long debate over why Neanderthals and not our direct ancestors, the early modern humans, went extinct. The last of the Neanderthals are thought to have died out around 28,000 years ago, but it is unclear what role – if any – modern humans played in their demise. “The whole question of why Neanderthals went extinct has been controversial for a long time and dietary issues play a significant part in that,” Piperno said. “Some scholars claim the Neanderthals were specialised carnivores hunting large game and weren't able to exploit a diversity of plant foods. “As far as we know, there has been until now no direct evidence that Neanderthals cooked their foods and very little evidence they were consuming plants routinely.”
Piperno's team was given permission to study the remains of three Neanderthal skeletons. One was unearthed at the Shanidar cave in Iraq and lived 46,000 years ago. The other two were recovered from the Cave of Spy in Belgium, and date to around 36,000 years ago. The scientists examined three teeth from the Iraqi Neanderthal and two from each of the Belgium specimens. To look for traces of food on them, they scraped fossilised plaque from each tooth and looked at it under a microscope. Grains from plants are tiny, but have distinct shapes that the scientists identified by comparing them with a collection at the Smithsonian's herbarium. The researchers also cooked a range of plants to see how their appearance changed.
They collected 73 starch grains from the Iraqi Neanderthal's teeth. Some of these belonged to barley or a close relative, and appeared to have been boiled in water. “The evidence for cooking is strong. The starch grains are gelatinised, and that can only come from heat associated with cooking,” Piperno said. Similar tests on the Belgian Neanderthals' teeth revealed traces of cooked starch that probably came from parts of water lilies that store carbohydrates. Other cooked starch grains were traced back to sorghum, a kind of grass.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
In Piperno's opinion, the research undermines one theory that suggests early modern humans drove the Neanderthals to extinction by having a more sophisticated and robust diet. The work also raises questions about whether Neanderthals organised themselves in a similar way to early hunter-gatherer groups, she said. “When you start routinely to exploit plants in your diet, you can arrange your settlements according to the season. In two months' time you want to be where the cereals are maturing, and later where the date palms are ready to pick. It sounds simplistic, but this is important in terms of your overall cognitive abilities. “In early human groups, women typically collected plants and turned them into food while men hunted. To us, and it is just a suggestion, this brings up the possibility that there was some sexual division of labour in the Neanderthals and that is something most people did not think existed.”
New research into the health benefits of beetroot juice suggests it's not only athletes who can benefit from its performance enhancing properties – its physiological effects could help the elderly or people with heart or lung-conditions enjoy more active lives.
Beetroot juice has been one of the biggest stories in sports science over the past year after researchers at the University of Exeter found it enables people to exercise for up to 16% longer. The startling results have led to a host of athletes – from Premiership footballers to professional cyclists – looking into its potential uses. A new piece of research by the university in conjunction with the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry has revealed the physiological effects of drinking beetroot juice could help a much wider range of people.
In the latest study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the researchers looked at low intensity exercise and found that test subjects used less oxygen while walking – effectively reducing the effort it took to walk by 12%. Katie Lansley, a PhD student from the university's Sport and Health Sciences department and lead author of the study, said: “As you get older, or if you have conditions which affect your cardiovascular system, the amount of oxygen you can take in to use during exercise drops considerably. This means that, for some people, even simple tasks like walking may not be manageable. “What we've seen in this study is that beetroot juice can actually reduce the amount of oxygen you need to perform even low-intensity exercise. In principle, this effect could help people do things they wouldn't otherwise be able to do.”
When consumed, beetroot juice has two marked physiological effects. Firstly, it widens blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and allowing more blood flow. Secondly, it affects muscle tissue, reducing the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during activity. The combined effects have a significant impact on performing physical tasks, whether it involves low-intensity or high-intensity effort. So far the research on the impacts of beetroot juice has only been carried out on younger people who are in good health, but the researchers believe there is no reason why the effects of beetroot juice wouldn't help others. “While we haven't yet measured the effects on the elderly or those with heart or lung conditions, there is the potential for a positive impact in these populations which we intend to go on and investigate further,” Katie Lansley added.
Beetroot juice contains high levels of nitrate. The latest study has proved that this is the key ingredient which causes the increase in performance, rather than any other component of the beetroot juice. Professor Andy Jones, the senior scientist on the study and a pioneer of research into beetroot juice, said: “In this study, we were able to use – for the first time – both normal beetroot juice and beetroot juice with the nitrate filtered out. Test subjects didn't know which one they were getting. The drinks both looked and tasted exactly the same. Each time the normal, nitrate-rich juice was used, we saw a marked improvement in performance which wasn't there with the filtered juice – so we know the nitrate is the active ingredient.”
What did the research involve?
The researchers needed to obtain several sets of data to fill their model. Data for UK deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer were obtained from the Office for National Statistics, the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Information on the population's intake of foods and nutrients was obtained from two sources: the average intake of fatty acids, fibre, and fruit and vegetables for 2005–7 was derived from the Expenditure and Food Survey, while estimates of salt intake came from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, 2006.
The modelling also incorporated several meta-analyses of individual studies looking at diet and disease risk factors. The researchers looked at reviews that had pooled data from randomised trials, cohort studies or case-control studies, giving priority to meta-analyses of randomised trials. These different studies were combined in the model to calculate the change in risk of disease for an individual who changes his or her diet. To estimate the change in health outcomes with a change in diet at a population level, the model used the difference between current average consumption levels and recommended levels of different foods in the UK.
What were the basic results?
In a general summary of the main findings, the researchers calculated that:
About 33,000 deaths a year would be avoided if UK dietary recommendations were met. There would be a reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease of 20,800 (95% credible interval 17,845 to 24,069), a reduction of 5,876 for deaths from stroke (3,856 to 7,364) and a reduction of 6,481 for deaths from cancer (4,487 to 8,353). About 12,500 of these avoided deaths would be in people aged 75 or under. About 18,000 of the avoided deaths would be men and 15,000 would be women. More than 15,000 of the avoided deaths (nearly half the total figure) would be due to increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. Reducing average salt intake to 6g a day would avoid 7,500 deaths annually. The greatest number of deaths avoided would be in Northern Ireland and Scotland, whose populations are furthest from achieving dietary recommendations.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers say their study suggests that increasing average consumption of fruits and vegetables to five portions a day is the target likely to offer most benefit in terms of deaths avoided. They also say that reducing recommended salt levels to 3g daily and saturated fat to 3% of total energy would achieve a similar reduction in mortality.
They conclude that their calculations based on the Dietron model are robust, pointing out that their estimate of deaths avoided is lower than a previous government survey which calculated that 70,000 deaths a year could be avoided if government dietary recommendations were met. The estimates could be used in calculating the allocation of resources for interventions aimed at reducing chronic disease.
This well-conducted modelling study used various data sources to link consumption of different dietary components with disease risk factors (for example blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity) and subsequent mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. The study supports previous research showing that diet plays a crucial role in health and that a diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, fibre and low fat and salt levels can reduce the risk of chronic disease, in particular coronary heart disease. However, its predictions are made at the population level. A model such as this cannot predict individual risk, which will depend on many factors, including family history, smoking and other lifestyle habits.
It is important to note that the figures are based on the estimates and assumptions made when using a mathematical model, and not on reality. As the authors themselves note, the modelling technique they used may have led to “some degree of double counting” and that, therefore, their estimate of reduced mortalities if dietary recommendations were met is likely to be an overestimate. Also, the accuracy of the model depends to some extent on the quality of the meta-analyses that were included, and the quality of the individual studies that were pooled within these reviews in order to establish associations between diet and particular disease risk factors.
Overall, this study supports current dietary recommendations and even though it cannot predict how diet influences risk for individuals, it does indicate that keeping to dietary recommendations reduces the risk of disease.
Dietary recommendations include eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (about 440g) and 18g of fibre (provided by wholegrain foods and some fruit and vegetables). It is recommended that salt intake is limited to a maximum of 6g a day and that a third of total energy is provided by fats, with saturated fat comprising 10%. The researchers point out that in 2007, according to the estimated average intakes in the sources they used, none of the UK countries met these recommendations.
It's the same advice that mothers everywhere have been giving for years, but now there's science to back it up: Eating veggies is good for the eyes. A new study from the University of Wisconsin confirmed that women who have a healthy diet, exercised regularly and didn't smoke were less likely to suffer macular degeneration as they got older. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision problems in older people in the United States, researchers said.
The study of 1,313 women from Oregon, Iowa and Wisconsin is the first to look at several lifestyle factors that influenced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a release from the university. These findings show a healthy lifestyle can improve the chances of good eyesight for those who inherit the condition, according to Dr. Julie Mares of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
According to the study, 18 percent of women deemed to have unhealthy lifestyles developed early AMD while just 6 percent of women in the healthy-lifestyle group developed the condition. Researchers found that the association of healthy eyes and healthy overall diets was stronger than what they observed for any single nutrient. Women whose diet score was the in top 20 percent had a 50 percent lower prevalence of early stages of macular degeneration than woman with the lowest percent for healthy diet scores. Higher scores were given to those with more leafy green and orange vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains and legumes, according to the release.
Mares said this was the first study where researchers found higher levels of physical activity lowered the likelihood of early macular degeneration. However, this study didn't show obesity was related to AMD, but obese women were more likely to have more macular degeneration. That trend was explained by a poor diet and low physical activity, according to the university. The study also confirmed other studies that smoking played a role in eye disease.
The university said the study is being published online in the Archives of Ophthalmology, a journal of the American Medical Association. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Eye Institute. It was also supported by the Research to Prevent Blindness and the Retina Research Foundation.
The Unesco world heritage list is normally associated with towering religious monuments and ancient Greek temples, crumbling castles and areas of outstanding natural beauty. It recognises the cultural value of the Hindu complex at Angkor Wat and the Acropolis in Athens, alongside the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Banaue rice terraces in the Philippines.
Now Italian officials are certain the UN will add a salad of tomato and mozzarella, topped off by a splash of olive oil to its list of global patrimony worth protecting.
The Mediterranean diet, with its mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, grilled fish and olive oil faces a final vote in November for ranking on Unesco's list of “intangible” cultural heritage, launched in 2003 to complement the collection of monuments and natural wonders, and covers oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festivals.
A plate of pasta washed down with a glass of wine could join the list of 178 cultural experiences including the tango, the polyphonic singing of the Aka Pygmies of central Africa and Croatian lacemaking.
“This is a big success for our country, our dietary traditions and our culture,” said the Italian agriculture minister, Giancarlo Galan.
Rolando Manfredini of the Italian farmers' lobby group, Coldiretti, said: “It is a bit strange putting a diet on the list, and the first time they would do it, but it makes perfect sense. Not only is this culture, but it also makes you live longer and better.”
While trying not to dampen Italy's enthusiasm, a spokeswoman for Unesco warned that no decision would be made before a meeting in November. “The committee is free to make up its mind and there is no indication on what it will approve,” said Sue Williams.
Galan said the proposal was first made by Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco four years ago, and was turned down. The countries resubmitted it, stressing the cultural content of the diet, and this time he was convinced it would get the nod.
“A positive recommendation made by Unesco will now be ratified,” he said. The diet would join Sicilian puppet theatres and Sardinian pastoral songs, which already represent Italy on the list.
The diet took off in the rest of the world in the late 20th century, with postwar cookery writer Elizabeth David helping to promote it among English speakers. Today, said Williams, protecting a plate of tortellini was no different to stopping people scratching their initials in the Great Wall of China: “Being on the intangible list means the host country must promote and protect it exactly as it would a monument like Stonehenge,” she said.
Recent activities sponsored by Unesco include the revival of the intergenerational transmission of Georgian traditional polyphony and the “safeguarding” of Somali board games.
While the Mediterranean diet has found favour with chefs around the world, Coldiretti said it was in desperate need of protection in its native countries.
“In Italy today parents are still in good shape, but their children are increasingly suffering from obesity,” said Manfredini. “There has been a complete break in eating habits from one generation to another.”