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Ancient Egyptians were Vegetarian

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(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.

 

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High fibre diet helps you live longer

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Eating a diet rich in fibre has long been known to help keep your digestive tract working properly. It’s also thought to lower the risk of heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. Now, a new study suggests it could reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases. People who ate a high-fibre diet decreased their risk of dying over a nine year period compared to those who ate less fibre, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The findings are based on a diet study from the National Institutes of Health and AARP, which included 219,123 men and 168,999 women ages 50 to 71 when the study began. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined food surveys completed by the participants in 1995 or 1996. After nine years about 11,000 people died and researchers used national records to determine the cause.

People who ate at least 26 grams per day were 22 percent less likely to die than those who consumed the least amount of fibre — about 13 grams per day or less. Men and women who consumed diets higher in fibre also had a reduced risk of cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases, the study found. Getting fibre from grains seemed to have the biggest impact, the authors write.

The study has some limitations — mainly, people who ate high-fibre diets might also have been more likely to eat healthier diets overall, attributing to their longevity. Still, the study offers more evidence that fibre is certainly good for you. Federal dietary guidelines recommend people consume at least 14 grams of fibre per 1,000 calories, so about 28 grams for an average 2,000 calorie-per-day diet. But many experts say many people don’t get enough.

 

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Healthy foods ensure a longer life

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A new study has found that the leading causes of death are no more infectious diseases but chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer – which may be affected by food habits. Researchers investigated eating patterns of over 2500 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 over a ten-year period and found that certain diets were associated with reduced mortality.

By determining the consumption frequency of 108 different food items, researchers were able to group the participants into six different groups as per their food choices:

  • Healthy foods- 374 participants
  • High-fat dairy products- 332
  • Meat, fried foods, and alcohol- 693
  • Breakfast cereal-386
  • Refined grains-458
  • Sweets and desserts-339

‘Healthy foods’ group ate more low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat. ‘High-fat dairy products’ group had higher intake of foods such as ice cream, cheese, and 2 per cent and whole milk and yoghurt, and lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.

End results indicated that ‘High-fat dairy products’ group had a 40 per cent higher risk of mortality than the Healthy foods cluster and the ‘Sweets and desserts’ group had a 37 per cent higher risk. No significant differences in risk of mortality were seen between the ‘Healthy foods’ cluster and the ‘Breakfast cereal’ or ‘Refined grains’ clusters.

The “results of this study suggest that older adults who follow a dietary pattern consistent with current guidelines to consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have a lower risk of mortality,” said Amy L. Anderson at Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland.

“Because a substantial percentage of older adults in this study followed the ”Healthy foods” dietary pattern, adherence to such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population.” The study will be published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association .

 

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Chia seeds – packed with nutrition

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According to a 2007 University of Toronto study published in the journal Diabetes Care, a quarter-cup of chia seeds supplies as much omega-3 fatty acid as a salmon fillet, 25 percent more dietary fiber than flaxseed, 30 percent more antioxidants than blueberries and as much calcium as three cups of milk.

The study, so far the only peer- reviewed one concerning the health claims of chia seeds, showed that diabetes patients reduced cardiovascular risks by ingesting chia seeds along with standard diabetes therapy.

Dr. Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr of the UC Davis nutrition department says chia seeds have a “nice nutritional profile” but hastens to add they are not the dietary cure-all some are trumpeting. “The redeeming qualities of it is omega-3s, specifically the lenlinic (acid) that's in there,” Zidenberg-Cherr says. “Because of that tie-in with heart disease and diabetes, I see potential for it as something that could be added to someone's diet if they're already following a healthy eating plan with the proper recommendations.”

At the very least, she adds, chia seeds can't hurt.

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Wholegrains help lower blood pressure

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Starting the morning with a bowl of porridge and eating a whole-grain sandwich at lunchtime can help cut the risk of high blood pressure, according to new research. A study carried out by scientists from Aberdeen University which involved more than 200 volunteers revealed that eating three portions of whole-grain foods every day lowers the risk of high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. A good deal of research has suggested that a whole-grain diet is good for your health, but this study is one of the first to test the theory in a well-designed clinical trial.

Volunteers in the study ate three servings a day of whole-grain foods, which were either wheat, or a mixture of both wheat and oats. The whole-grain diets were compared with one that contained the same amounts of refined cereals and white bread. The study used foods widely available in supermarkets to make the diet easy to follow, without having to make any changes to their usual lifestyle. Apart from the whole-grain and the equivalent refined cereal foods, the volunteers were encouraged to continue with their normal food choices.

Dr Frank Thies, senior lecturer at The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, who led the study, said: “We observed a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 5-6 mm Hg in the volunteers who ate the whole-grain foods, and this effect is similar to that you might expect to get from using blood pressure-lowering drugs. “This drop in systolic blood pressure could potentially decrease the incidence of heart attack and stroke disease by at least 15 and 25 per cent respectively. The scientists also added that wholegrain wheat and oat-based recipes should be on everyone's festive menu this Christmas.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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Rice may reduce health risks

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The researchers also looked at the overall health profiles of rice eaters, and learned that the 19- to 50-year-olds who ate rice were less likely to be overweight or obese, had a 34% reduced risk for high blood pressure, 27% reduced likelihood of having abdominal obesity and increased waist circumference and 21% reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. No associations could be drawn for children ages two to 13; however, in children ages 14-18, body weight, waist circumference, triglycerides and diastolic blood pressure were lower (P G .05) among those who ate rice.

“This study shows that eating rice can improve overall diet and reduce risk for the major conditions that afflict more than half of all Americans — heart disease and Type II diabetes,” states Upton. “Rice is a practical solution to help consumers meet dietary guidance to eat more plant-based foods.”

U.S. national nutrition surveillance records show that rice eaters have healthier diets and less risk for chronic diseases compared to non-rice eaters. The researchers reported that rice eaters are:

  • 1/3 less likely to have high blood pressure;
  • 1/4 less likely to have a high waist circumference (often linked to obesity and diabetes risk);
  • 1/5 less likely to have metabolic syndrome.

Research shows U.S. rice consumption has increased steadily over the past 20 years, with current per capita consumption at 26 pounds per person. Surveys show that rice is most frequently served as a side dish or one pot meal.

The research was supported by a grant from the USA Rice Federation.

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Benefits of Grains

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The benefit of grains has been well established in the scientific literature as well as with consumers — 72 per cent of consumers now associate whole grains with cardiovascular benefits, and 86 per cent with intestinal health, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Studies show that whole-grain consumption lowers heart-risk failure, and can significantly decrease abdominal fat in those consuming whole rather than refined grains.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a grain indigenous to Mexico that has been cultivated since Aztec times. Its resurgence is due in part to the commercialisation of exotic foods — amaranth and other so-called ancient grains fit this trend. A protein content of 16 per cent and a selection of unique phytochemicals make amaranth a compelling functional food. It has been linked with a positive effect on hypertension, coronary heart disease and immune response. A three-week, controlled clinical trial assessed the effect of amaranth oil in 125 patients with cardiovascular disease. The patients were randomised to a low-salt diet plus 3-18mg/day amaranth oil or only a low-salt diet. The amaranth oil group had reduced cholesterol levels in blood serum, and also reduced blood pressure. Other effects included reduced markers of oxidative stress and enhanced immunity.

Chia

Chia (Salvia hispanica) is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, protein and antioxidants. Like amaranth, chia is an ancient grain and marketed as such, though clinical-trial evidence is relatively new.

In January 2009, researchers from Argentina investigated the benefits of chia seed on dyslipidaemia and insulin resistance (IR). In a three-month feeding study, a sucrose-rich diet was used to bring about IR in rats. Once IR and dyslipidaemia were present at the end of three months, chia was given to half the group in place of fat, while the control group had sucrose replaced with maize starch. Chia prevented the onset of dyslipidaemia and IR. Additionally, chia reduced the visceral adiposity present in the sucrose-supplemented rats.

In a human trial, researchers found chia added to conventional diabetes treatment improved major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Twenty well-controlled subjects with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to receive either 37g/day chia or wheat bran (control) for 12 weeks while maintaining their conventional diabetes therapies. The chia group had reduced systolic blood pressure (SBP) and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Chia also significantly decreased A1C (glycated haemoglobin) and fibrinogen compared to baseline.

Tef

Tef (Eragrostis tef) is one of the principal sources of nutrition for two-thirds of the population in Ethiopia, where it is used to make flatbread. Unlike the peppery taste from amaranth, tef is a sweet-tasting grain, molasseslike in flavour. This taste provides its favour with Western consumers. In a recent clinical trial, researchers investigated whether the naturally gluten-free cereal is safe when used by celiac disease (CD) patients.

In March 2006, all 7,990 members of the Dutch Celiac Disease Society were invited to complete a questionnaire on celiac-symptom development after tef consumption. Thirty-six percent responded to the first questionnaire, of whom 53 per cent consumed tef and 15 per cent reported complaints. For the second questionnaire, out of the 1,828 participants willing to complete it, 1,545 had biopsy-proven CD. Of these, 66 per cent used tef and 17 per cent reported symptoms after consumption. The percentage for symptoms was significantly lower than that in patients without tef consumption. The take-home was that CD patients using tef reported a significant reduction in symptoms, possibly related to a reduction in gluten intake or to an increase in fibre intake.

Wheat

Wheat is the perennial whole-grain favourite for breads. Wheat is a generic term for a class of whole-grain varieties based around endosperm hardness, colour and season of growth.

A 2008 study from the United Kingdom investigated one of the most interesting fields of human health — the modulation of the intestinal flora (gut health). Epidemiological studies have shown an inverse association between whole-grain intake and chronic-disease risk. According to authors of the following trial, the relationship of whole grains and disease may be mediated by the prebiotic modulation of gut microbiota.

A double-blind, randomised, crossover study was carried out in 31 volunteers who consumed 48g/day breakfast cereals composed of either wheat germ or wheat bran in two three-week study periods, separated by a two-week washout period. The results demonstrated a significant increase in the numbers of faecal bifidobacteria and lactobacilli following wheat-germ ingestion compared with wheat bran. Additionally, both cereals led to a significant reduction in total cholesterol. No adverse intestinal symptoms were reported, and wheat-bran ingestion increased stool frequency.

 

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Wholegrains translate to multiple benefits : CSIRO

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Dr. Topping urges the government and legislative bodies to encourage people to incorporate these in their diets. “All of this adds up to a very impressive body of evidence which helps to support our push as nutritionists but also as members of other bodies to encourage the government and health authorities to get them to encourage the population to eat more [grains],” he said.

Head of Go Grains Dr Michele Allan also says that this is an easy way of disease prevention. “You're looking at less medication, less visits to the doctor and also if you've got a calorie-controlled diet and an increase to four-plus serves of grains and legumes a day, you actually reduce weight over a period of time,” she said.

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