Posts Tagged “healthy diet”

Study: Most People Think They Eat Healthier Than They Do

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According to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, people are usually wrong when ranking how well they eat, particularly when they think their diet is healthy.

USDA and University of Central Arkansas researchers looked at data from 9,757 American adults who were asked to complete a food survey and rate their diet on a scale from “poor” to “excellent.”

The researchers wanted to find out whether a single, simple question could be used as a screening tool for nutrition studies — to replace or complement the detailed dietary questionnaires commonly used in nutrition research, the American Society for Nutrition reports. Previous studies have found that self-rated health is a strong predictor of morbidity and mortality, but there is scant research on whether self-rated diet quality is predictive of the actual quality of one’s diet.

Researchers then evaluated participants’ eating habits and graded them (from A to F) based on the Healthy Eating Index which assigns points for eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein. It also gives points for avoiding processed foods, refined grains and sugar and saturated fat.

Results showed that 85% of participants inaccurately rated their own diet, almost all of them by ranking it as healthier than it really was, the American Society for Nutrition reports.

Lead author of the study Jessica Thomson, a research epidemiologist with USDA, said most adults overrate the quality of their diet, sometimes to a substantial degree.

Meanwhile, 71% of participants ranked their diet as good, very good or excellent. However, only 12% of the participants’ diets ranked that highly in terms of “healthy eating.” The study showed 70% of the participants’ diets were given an F, but only 6% of people self-assessed their diet as such.

What’s Missing?

Researchers said the difference between the ideal healthy diet and what people were actually eating was typically a lack of whole grains, greens, legumes, seafood and plant-based protein, and too much sodium and saturated fat. 

But what they were getting right was the importance of protein.

Further research could shed light into what factors people consider when asked to assess their diet quality, Thomson said. 

“It’s difficult for us to say whether U.S. adults lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthful versus unhealthful diet or whether adults perceive the healthfulness of their diet as they wish it to be—that is, higher in quality than it actually is,” Thomson said in a release. “Until we have a better understanding of what individuals consider when assessing the healthfulness of their diet, it will be difficult to determine what knowledge and skills are necessary to improve self-assessment or perception of one’s diet quality.”

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New Dietary Guidelines Highlight Fresh Produce

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DSCN7016Dietary Guidelines for Americans that include fruits and vegetables at the top of the list for a healthy diet have been released for 2015  to 2020.

Issued every five years, the guidelines not only provide the latest scientifically supported dietary advice, they often shape government policies on a range of food issues. The USDA department of Health & Human Services released the recommendations along with an updated MyPlate MyWins program.

The document recommends a diet based on a variety of nutritious foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and other protein foods and oils, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium.

Americans are urged to eat a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, legumes and starchy vegetables. The recommended amount of vegetables in the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern at the 2,000-calorie level is two-and-a-half cup-equivalents per day. For fruits, it’s two cup-equivalents per day, with at least half coming from whole fruits.

“The Dietary Guidelines provide science-based recommendations on food and nutrition so people can make decisions that may help keep their weight under control, and prevent chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

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Pistachios May Contribute To Heart Health In Adults With Type 2 Diabetes

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DSCN2934By American Pistachio Growers

FRESNO, Calif. — The benefits of including pistachios in a healthy diet extend to adults with type 2 diabetes, according to a Pennsylvania State University study published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Adults with well-controlled type 2 diabetes, who were otherwise healthy, participated in a randomized, controlled clinical study and showed a more positive response to stress following a diet containing pistachios than when following a standard low-fat control diet. The healthy diet, which included two servings daily of pistachios, significantly reduced peripheral vascular resistance, increased cardiac output, improved some measure of heart rate variability and importantly reduced systolic ambulatory blood pressure.

Dr. Sheila G. West, principal investigator and professor of biobehavioral health and nutritional sciences at Penn State, and her colleagues reported similar beneficial results in a study of adults with elevated LDL cholesterol and stress, published two years ago. Increasingly it has been found that pistachios, both salted and unsalted, contribute to a heart-healthy diet in high-risk groups. Pistachios contain good fats and fiber, potassium and magnesium.

In this Penn State study, test diets included a low-fat control diet with high carbohydrate snacks (27 percent fat and 7 percent saturated fat) compared to a moderate-fat diet (33 percent fat and 7 percent saturated fat) that included 3 ounces, or 20 percent of the calories, from pistachios. The servings consisted

of equal amounts of salted and unsalted nuts. All meals were provided to the 30 participants, an equal number of men and women, ages 40-74. The calorie levels for the subjects were based on the Harris-Benedict equation so that calories and body weight did not change throughout the study.

A two-week run-in period on a typical western diet preceded the first test diet. Participants discontinued all dietary supplements at least two weeks prior to the beginning of the study. These adults were then administered each test diet for four weeks, separated by two-week compliance breaks, randomized and in a counterbalanced order. At the end of each diet period, including the run-in weeks, participants underwent comprehensive testing.

Researchers measured blood pressure and total peripheral vascular resistance, both at rest and during stress tests, which consisted of holding a hand in ice water for more than two minutes and a difficult math challenge. “After the pistachio diet, blood vessels remained more relaxed and open during the stress tests,” confirmed Dr. West. She continued, “The pistachio diet reduced their bodies’ responses to stress.”

Twenty-four hour systolic blood pressure was significantly lower following the pistachio diet compared to the control diet, with the largest reduction observed during sleep. According to Dr. Kathryn Sauder, a co-investigator who conducted the measurements, “This finding was important because individuals who do not display a dip in blood pressure during sleep may be more likely to experience a cardiovascular event.”

Dr. West concluded, “A moderate-fat diet containing pistachios may be an effective intervention to reduce cardiovascular risk in persons with type 2 diabetes.” In spite of being obese and having a diabetes diagnosis, participants had normal blood pressure and only moderate dyslipidemia. However, even in relatively healthy diabetics, there is room for improvement. The results of this study suggest that a healthy diet containing pistachios can add to the protective effects of drugs for persons with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers suggested future studies should enroll larger samples, include ambulatory blood pressure as a primary outcome and test the effectiveness of pistachio consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in a free-living setting.

The study was supported by the American Pistachio Growers, Fresno, Calif., with partial support   from the National Institutes of Health-supported Clinical Research Center at Pennsylvania State University.

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Produce Consumption Falls Despite Government Efforts

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IMG_6827By Rabobank
Despite efforts by governments to promote the benefits of a healthy diet, consumption of fruit & vegetables in Western Europe and the US has declined over the past decade. A report by Rabobank cites lower incomes and perceived price increases, alongside strong competition from processed and convenience foods, as the major factors driving this trend. Producers, processors and retailers must all explore ways to inspire greater consumption of fruit & vegetables if the industry is to flourish.

Cindy van Rijswick, Rabobank analyst commented: “The challenge for the fruits & vegetables industry is to close the gap between what consumers say they want and what they actually do. Surveys have shown that, in principle, consumers are positive-minded about healthy eating, but in practice they are easily swayed by creative marketing of processed food and beverages and exhibit a strong bias for convenience products”.

On a household level there is a clear relationship between income and fruit & vegetable intake, meaning that in a tough economic climate, consumers become more susceptible to fluctuations in price. This impact can be exacerbated by the common misperception among consumers that unhealthy food is cheaper to eat than healthy food. Between 2006 and 2011, in both the EU and US, average consumer prices for fruits & vegetables in fact increased less than prices of the total food category, but consumption levels fell.

Processed foods have become a strong competitor for fruits & vegetables for different reasons: availability, taste, marketing, product range and convenience. Even when consumers do opt for a healthy choice, they will likely select processed foods in the ‘health and wellness category’ over a fresh option (despite the fact that research has found that two-thirds of US and half of all European products referencing fruit on their packaging contained no or only a trace amounts of fruit). It is extremely difficult for the fresh produce industry to match the sophisticated marketing efforts of processed health foods as most fresh products are sold unpackaged and unbranded.

There are three ways in which the industry must invest/evolve in order to boost consumption levels:

  1.     Reducing inconvenience: Convenience is often cited as a barrier to consumption of fruits & vegetables, a claim that is supported by the increasing popularity of prepared (i.e. washed, cut, diced, sliced and packaged) products. The industry must continue to find innovative ways to boost convenience e.g. offering chopped vegetables that can be heated directly in the microwave without removing packaging
  2.     Marketing based on more than health benefits: Most consumers are already aware that fruit & vegetables are good for them and governments are the best vehicle for promoting the benefits of a healthy diet. Therefore, the industry should focus on informing consumers about the convenience, taste, enjoyment and versatility of fruits & vegetables
  3.     Better cooperation along the supply chain: keeping inferior quality products off the market is crucial to securing consumer buy-in. Short dedicated supply chains in which the brand owner is in control can enable partners to work together more closely to improve basic features, such as quality and freshness (e.g. by reducing the time to market or choosing the tastiest varieties)

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