While a lot still remains to be known about the impact of our diet on minute biological mechanisms, there is no doubt that the foods we choose to eat and our dietary habits play an important role in shaping our health and well-being.
Food is essential to life and eating well helps us feel well, have more energy, and become more productive. But what does it mean to eat well? Here we look at some of the most important findings from recent nutrition research.
Existing studies suggest that intermittent fasting — in which a person fasts for a set number of hours each day but eats freely in the remaining hours — can help with losing weight and may provide other health benefits, including prolonging a person’s lifespan and reducing harmful inflammation.
Essentially, fasting triggers changes in the body — such as stimulating weight loss — by acting on metabolic processes. Usually, our bodies rely on carbohydrates to produce energy, but when a person fasts and carbohydrates are no longer readily available, the body starts looking for and utilizing other resources.
Some of the metabolic changes triggered by fasting that researchers recently found are that fasting boosts levels of purine and pyrimidine, two organic compounds that act on gene expression and protein synthesis at a cellular level, and are important for the maintenance of muscle and antioxidant activity. This means that by increasing levels of purine and pyrimidine, fasting can stimulate rejuvenating processes, potentially keeping the body younger for longer.
Other research on dietary best practices have debunked a long-standing myth that eating breakfast is important when it comes to achieving weight loss. The thinking was that eating breakfast helps stimulate the metabolism so that more calories burn faster.
However, a new study shows that the total daily energy (calorie) intake tends to be higher in people who regularly eat breakfast. Moreover, researchers found that, on average, individuals who tend to go without breakfast on a daily basis actually had less body weight than breakfast-eaters.
At the same time, researchers have been identifying additional benefits of common natural foods. For example, flaxseed, which many of us use to enrich our smoothies or add some extra crunch to crackers and granola bars, has fiber that that reportedly helps balance cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, among other benefits.
A new study also suggests that flaxseed fiber can also lower obesity markers. Flaxseed starts breaking down once it reaches the gut where the fiber starts producing changes in the gut microbiota that lead to more healthy bacterial population. These changes affect metabolic processes, accelerating the consumption of energy, and thus lowering markers associated with obesity.
In addition to this, they help boost glucose (sugar) tolerance, which may mean that they have a protective effect against features that define other metabolic conditions, such as diabetes, which is characterized by impaired glucose tolerance.
Other research shows that onions and garlic are also important allies when it comes to safeguarding our health. Garlic is a natural antibiotic, as it has antibacterial properties, and many people traditionally use it to fight the flu or treat insect bites. Researchers now say that these two vegetables have an anti-cancer effect. Researchers found that participants who ate the largest quantities of garlic and onions had a 79 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, compared with people who consumed low quantities of allium vegetables.
Another well-loved food item, blueberries, often hailed as a superfood because they are packed with antioxidants that help protect cellular health and fend off disease, has now been shown to lower a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems. The anthocyanins — pigments with antioxidant properties — in these berries were identified as being responsible for a significant decrease in blood pressure among participants in the study.
Recent research also warn that some dietary choices may be putting our health at risk. For instance, eating ultra-processed foods could be extremely harmful to our health and well-being. Researchers say that such foods — which include ready-made meals and processed meats — have high contents of fat, sugar, and sodium (salt) while being low in natural fiber.
This means that, while tasty, ultra-processed foods are not nutritious and will cheat our stomachs into feeling satisfied, while failing to offer the real sustenance that we need. Moreover, ultra-processed foods often contain artificial additives, which could increase our exposure to a range of diseases and increased mortality risk. As little as a 10 percent increase in the amount of ultra-processed food that we eat could lead to a 14 percent higher mortality risk.
Researchers also drew some bleak conclusions about the consumption of artificially sweetened diet drinks. Low-calorie soft drinks with artificial sweeteners can contribute to the risk of stroke. Studies indicate that people consuming two or more diet drinks per day had a 23 percent higher risk of stroke and a 29 percent higher risk of a heart attack or a similar event.