A Woman’s Diet Might Help Her Avoid Breast Cancer

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Women whose diets tend to feed inflammation may have a heightened risk of breast cancer, a preliminary study suggests.

The study, of more than 350,000 women, found that the more “pro-inflammatory” foods women consumed, the higher their breast cancer risk.

The term refers to foods thought to contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body — a state implicated in various disease processes.

The findings do not prove cause and effect, the researchers said. But they do add to evidence that diet can affect the likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Unsurprisingly, a pro-inflammatory diet is full of the usual suspects.

It’s high in red and processed meats, sugar and saturated fats, said Carlota Castro-Espin, the lead researcher on the study.

That type of diet, she said, might contribute to breast cancer because it promotes inflammation, and also because it’s lacking in foods that fight inflammation.

Those foods are no surprise, either. They include vegetables, fruits, beans, fiber-rich grains and “good” unsaturated fats.

So the findings square with the general advice on healthy eating, according to Castro-Espin, a PhD student at the Catalan Institute of Oncology, in Barcelona, Spain.

She is scheduled to present the results this week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. Studies released at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Diet habits have been linked to the risk of numerous cancers, breast cancer among them.

Marjorie McCullough is senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society. She said, “There is some evidence that dietary patterns rich in plant foods and lower in animal products and refined carbohydrates are associated with a lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.”

McCullough added that one clinical trial — the type of study considered to give the strongest evidence — found benefits with the traditional Mediterranean diet. Women assigned to the diet (and supplied with olive oil) had a lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who were told to cut fat from their diets.

The Mediterranean diet bears many of the features of an anti-inflammatory one — being rich in fish, vegetables, whole grains and good fats, and low in red meat and processed foods.

The cancer society does not endorse any specific diet for curbing cancer risk. Instead, it advises following a “healthy eating pattern” that includes plenty of plant foods and limits on sugar, refined grains and red meat.

McCullough, who was not involved in the new study, said it reinforces that advice.

Diet, of course, affects body weight, and obesity is believed to boost the risk of various cancers. But, McCullough said, studies suggest that eating habits affect cancer risk above and beyond their impact on weight.

Inflammation may be one avenue, Castro-Espin said.

For the study, she and her colleagues used data from a long-running research project on diet and cancer risk among European adults. They focused on more than 318,000 women who were free of breast cancer at the outset.

The researchers assigned each woman a score rating the “inflammatory potential” of her diet, based on the nutrients and other compounds in the foods she reported eating.

Over about 15 years, more than 13,200 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. That risk was 12% higher among the one-fifth of women with the most inflammatory diets, versus the one-fifth eating the fewest pro-inflammatory foods.

The link was stronger among women who developed the cancer before menopause, rather than after, Castro-Espin said.

Other factors were taken into account, she noted, including body weight, drinking habits and exercise. And the connection between inflammatory diets and breast cancer risk still held.

Castro-Espin agreed that it all supports the existing diet advice.

Along with its guidance on food choices, McCullough said, the cancer society advises limiting alcohol. Drinking is linked to several cancers, including breast tumors.

The group also encourages people to maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise — at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, each week.

Source: HealthDay

Will High-Protein Diets Help the Middle-Aged Build Muscle?

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Middle-aged adults looking to boost their muscle mass do not need to bulk up on protein, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that 10 weeks of strength training plus a moderate amount of protein were enough to build muscle in previously sedentary middle-aged people. And extra protein brought no added gains.

The findings run counter to a common belief among exercisers, said researcher Colleen McKenna, a registered dietitian and graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Protein is essential for muscle maintenance and growth. But the typical American diet contains plenty of it, McKenna said.

“If you’re getting enough high-quality protein in your diet,” she said, “then ‘enough’ is probably enough.”

The “quality” part, said McKenna, is important: Think lean meat rather than fast-food burgers.

Animal protein, she noted, is generally better than plant protein because it contains all of the necessary amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and is more “efficient” in supporting muscle growth.

Timing can make a difference, too.

In general, McKenna explained, there are “key windows” for eating protein to enhance muscle-protein synthesis: Right after strength training and an hour or two before bed at night.

So exercisers might want to have their most protein-dense meal after a workout, McKenna said.

The findings were published online recently in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism. They’re based on 50 adults enrolled in a clinical trial. They ranged in age from 40 to 64, and were overweight but healthy.

All took part in the same 10-week strength-training program, working out with weight machines and free weights three days a week.

The researchers randomly assigned the participants to either a moderate-protein or high-protein group. Both groups were given a protein supplement — in the form of lean beef — right after their workouts. The moderate-intake group ate 3 ounces of beef, while the high-protein group had 6 ounces.

All participants also drank protein drinks each night, with the moderate group again consuming half as much protein as the high-intake group.

Even with those protein shots, people in the moderate-intake group were counseled to keep their overall dietary protein to the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (about 0.36 grams of protein per pound).

The reality was a bit different: The study participants kept diet records, and the moderate group ended up eating more than the RDA for protein, around 1.1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram.

That amount, according to McKenna, is actually consistent with the typical American diet. In contrast, people in the high-protein group typically downed 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram each day, or twice the RDA.

In theory, that should have meant the high-protein group would gain more muscle. But after 10 weeks, both study groups showed similar gains in muscle mass and strength, and no differences in overall body composition.

It’s a common misperception that strength training should involve protein loading, said Isabel Maples, a Washington, D.C.-based registered dietitian who was not involved in the trial.

“The thinking is, if some protein is good, a lot must be better,” said Maples, who is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

If the body is not getting sufficient calories, she noted, then it will use protein for fuel instead of muscle building. But most Americans get more than enough calories, as well as protein, Maples said.

So instead of adding protein, exercisers could tweak the timing, Maples said. Have protein throughout the day, including right after a workout.

And for the sake of overall health, Maples suggested getting a variety of protein sources, for example, not only meat, but fish, dairy, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

“If you’re strength-training to improve your health,” she said, “nutrition should be part of that.”

The trial, which was funded by Beef Checkoff, a program of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, had an additional goal: To see whether the beef supplements had any ill effects, including spikes in cholesterol or blood pressure, or problems with kidney function.

There were no red flags.

That, McKenna said, might reflect a simple fact: People were regularly exercising and eating lean, minimally processed beef, which is different from a sedentary lifestyle full of processed meats.

Source: HealthDay

Weight Watchers Isn’t Fooling Anyone

Jess Miller wrote . . . . . . . . .

The company rebranded as WW in 2018, but it’s still selling the same unhealthy diet culture.

In 2018, Weight Watchers changed its name to WW, two letters attached to the tagline “wellness that works.” It was moving away from the thing that it seemed like the company was all about—dieting. But Erika Nicole Kendall, a nutritionist, personal trainer, and writer, wasn’t convinced.

“When I saw the ad and I saw the logo and it just kind of completely eliminates the word weight altogether, it’s like, did you think that that was going to mean that we weren’t going to realize that the WW still stands for Weight Watchers?” she says. “You thought that removing the word weight was just going to be this mind-blowing thing for all of us, and we were just going to feel differently about this brand? No. No, it’s still the same thing. But my second thought was, finally, the body acceptance movement got a win.”

Today, the whole idea of dieting and losing weight is increasingly seen as unhealthy and sometimes misogynistic and really just uncool. The cult of thinness hasn’t disappeared, but the body positivity movement has begun to chip away at it. And so WW, a company built to monetize the desire to shrink your physical self by restricting your caloric intake, has had to make a few adjustments. “The climate is changing,” Kendall says. “The culture for women is changing. The space for women to be comfortable with themselves is changing. And if you want to continue to pick up consumers, you have to change.”

For nearly six decades, Weight Watchers has convinced millions of people it can help them lose weight. Unlike other diets that tell you exactly what you can and can’t eat, Weight Watchers tells you you can eat whatever you like, as long as you stay within the boundaries of their point system. It looks at your height, weight, gender, and weight loss goal, and it says this number—that’s how many points you should eat in a day.

You can even drink as many zero-point items as you like. That means pretty much unlimited apples and celery and cups of black coffee, but you have to budget for everything else. If you want a packet of sugar in that coffee, add a point. If you want the sugar and a splash of milk, add 2 points. If you want to eat a Big Mac alongside it, at 17 points, well, that’s most of your allotment for the day. And if you want to talk about why you keep ordering Big Macs and blowing through your allowance of points, there are Weight Watchers franchises in cities around the world where you can weigh in, commiserate, and share recipes and tips with other dieters—or at least you could before the pandemic. Now they’ve gone online.

The science behind all the points and numbers has changed a lot over the years—the point system didn’t even exist when Weight Watchers was founded—but the company sold its signature combination of flexibility, promised success, and built-in community really well. Until it didn’t.

By the mid-2000s, a lot of people were getting tired of diet culture. They were realizing that skipping meals might help make you thin, but it certainly wouldn’t make you healthy. Virginia Sole-Smith, now a contributor to the New York Times’ parenting section, used to write a lot of dieting stories for teen and women’s magazines. But she was “increasingly feeling like this does not add up to a message that feels helpful to people, mostly because our readers were never finding magical unicorn thinness. They were still struggling.”

No matter what it sold, Weight Watchers was still saddled to the word weight.
Meanwhile, a new way of thinking about food was becoming mainstream, one that focused on eating unprocessed foods and buying from local farmers. “Organic food was getting really trendy, farmers markets,” Sole-Smith says. “There was this whole culture solidifying around wellness.” To people who had spent their lives dieting, so-called clean eating looked a lot better than what they’d been putting their bodies through. “That was a very seductive idea because people were sick of the math of counting points and counting calories. So you had what started as an environmental justice movement now become a public health movement, but really about making ourselves thin.”

Weight Watchers really suffered in these years as wellness culture started to take shape. By the fall of 2015, the company had reported 10 straight quarters of declining sales. They knew they had to pivot. If only there were something that could change the messaging, someone who could convey that putting yourself on a diet was at its core about looking and feeling your best; it was really about loving yourself …

Enter Oprah. Toward the end of 2015, Oprah Winfrey bought a 10 percent stake in Weight Watchers for $43 million. She also became its spokesperson, proudly declaring, “I love bread.” “She uses body positivity rhetoric all the time when she justifies her involvement with Weight Watchers and her involvement in the diet industry in general,” Sole-Smith says. “She always filters it through the language of self-love and being your best self, and she is saying to you, I’m amazing, but I could be more amazing if I was thinner.”

Oprah was Weight Watchers’ savior. After years of declining sales and share prices, membership finally grew. Around that time, the company unveiled a program called “Beyond the Scale,” with more holistic messaging and methods rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy that seemed more on trend. But no matter what it sold, no matter what hoops it jumped through to convince people that it wasn’t still hyperfocused on body size, Weight Watchers was still saddled to the word weight.

So in 2018, Weight Watchers’ new CEO, Mindy Grossman, went on the Today show and announced that her company was henceforth to be known as WW. The company said those two letters honored the legacy of Weight Watchers but didn’t really stand for anything in particular.

Virginia Sole-Smith didn’t buy it. “I think I laughed out loud because it felt like such an obvious move, but also such a desperate move,” she says. “I mean, it was both very smart of Weight Watchers to say, ‘Oh, let’s brand as a wellness plan, because that’s what people really want, and it gets us away from this whole weight loss thing that’s gotten so controversial,’ but it was also impossible. You can’t drop weight from Weight Watchers. It’s WW. Everybody who writes about it, whenever I report on it, would say, ‘WW, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers,’ because they’re never going to lose that from the brand.”

By the way, this was also around the time Dunkin Donuts became just Dunkin. It didn’t stop selling the doughnuts; it just didn’t want them so front and center. And that’s what WW, formerly Weight Watchers, was doing here too. It was still a diet, but with some extra wellness bells and whistles.

“Weight Watchers isn’t promising to prevent my child from developing diabetes. It’s promising to not have my child be overweight.”
— Erika Nicole Kendall

Despite skepticism, the rebranding was initially a success. 2018 brought a rally in stock prices and substantial subscriber growth. But by the following year, everything plummeted back to earth. And in 2020, there was more bad luck exacerbated by the pandemic. There were many canceled memberships, and the company announced it had to cut costs. By late spring, there were reports of mass firings over Zoom. And in terms of its wellness offerings, WW has thrown almost everything at the wall. It’s partnered with Headspace, the mindfulness meditation app. Some versions of its current plan have significantly expanded the list of zero-point foods to include things like lean proteins and even whole grains. Its app offers on-demand fitness classes. It recently launched what it calls its most holistic program ever, the new “myWW+,” which promises to help users, yes, with their weight, but also with their physical activity, mental health, and sleep. And it’s tried to speak directly to the pandemic by offering an online community of coaches and fellow members online.

But it’s also done some things that contradict this holistic, caring image. For instance, it still requires periodic weigh-ins, and if you don’t own a scale, it’ll sell you one. There was also the matter of the controversial Kurbo by WW, a color-coded weight loss app designed for dieters ages 8 to 17 in the style of a traffic light system—green light for always OK, yellow light for proceed with caution, and red light for foods that should be eaten by your child sparingly. “It blew up big,” Sole-Smith says. “There was a very immediate and powerful backlash online from dietitians, from doctors, from parents, from eating disorder advocates, all saying that we do not need to be selling a diet to kids.”

Erika Nicole Kendall says that this marketing effort has less to do with healthy lifestyles for children and more to do with the anxieties of their moms and dads: “They’re not targeting children. They’re targeting the parents. They’re targeting us. We’re hearing, ‘Heart disease is directly linked to obesity, and diabetes is directly linked to obesity.’ And it’s like, Weight Watchers isn’t promising to prevent my child from developing diabetes. It’s promising to not have my child be overweight.”

You might say that WW dropping the word weight from its name is a sign of something changing for the better, a sign that we’re learning to tell the difference between being healthy and being thin. But are we really? Every person in the story, myself included, has experienced a lifetime of really complicated messaging about food and body image. We’ve inherited it from our families, from the diet ads we saw when we were kids, from the way we’ve been treated as our bodies have changed at different points in our lives. Some of us were put on diets when we were young, before we really understood any of this, and it can really screw you up. And as long as we still live in a society that prefers people to be thin, whether or not it always says so explicitly, there will still be business for WW. But if the company actually wants to make its customers healthier, it’s going to have to do more than change its name.

Source: Slate

Dementia and Diet – What You Need to Know

Veronika Charvátová wrote . . . . . . . . .

We used to think that old-age dementia just happens to some people but now we know there’s a lot we can do to reduce the risk.

What is dementia?

Dementia means permanent or recurring loss of memory, language skills, problem-solving and other cognitive abilities, and it makes the person unable to cope with daily life on their own. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form but there are several other types.

Over 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and the number is steadily rising. The disease is a progressive one so once it develops, it is expected to get worse over time.

Bad diet and dementia

Research shows that apart from genetic factors, the risk of dementia increases with rising blood lipids (cholesterol and other fats in the blood), blood pressure, body weight and diabetes.

Multiple studies revealed that being obese in mid-life can increase your risk of developing dementia and in one long-term study, being obese increased the risk by 74 per cent while being overweight increased it by 35 per cent.

Having higher cholesterol levels in mid-life ups the likelihood of developing dementia by a massive 50 per cent, according to science. Another study found that a blood pressure reading of 130 or more in systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading) at the age of 50 was associated with an increased risk of dementia.

All these health issues are tightly linked to diet – in particular to a Western-style diet high in meat, dairy, eggs, processed and sugary foods. This kind of diet also has an undeniably negative impact on gut bacteria. This is important because a lack of ‘good’ gut bacteria, and having more of the ‘bad’ ones, means your gut wall may be letting dangerous molecules and metabolic by-products through into the bloodstream. These molecules can then activate the immune system and this response may cause chronic inflammation. Modern science has increasingly been linking poor gut health and chronic inflammation to cognitive decline. Meaty, fatty, sugary diets are bad news for the nervous system!

Good diet and dementia

A vegan diet that’s naturally high in antioxidants, fibre and low in saturated fats helps to protect your cognitive health and can lower your risk of dementia. Of course, this may be because vegans are much less likely to be overweight or obese, have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels compared to meat-eaters but that’s not the end of it!

When examining the link between diet and cognitive function, one study found that people whose mid-life diets were characterised as healthy (high in plant-based foods, low in saturated fats) had a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life compared with people with unhealthy diets rich in meat and dairy foods. The difference was staggering – people who ate the healthiest had an 86-90 per cent decreased risk of dementia and a 90-92 per cent decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared with people whose diet was the least healthy.

A healthy vegan diet also has anti-inflammatory effects and supports the ‘good’ gut bacteria and by so doing, helps to protect the nervous system and supports the immune system.

Over time, researchers pinpointed several foods and nutrients that seem to have a particularly protective effect on our cognitive health:

  • Vitamin E – from foods, rather than supplements. Healthy food sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and wholegrains.
  • B-group vitamins – from wholegrains, pulses, green leafy vegetables and nutritional yeast. Add a reliable source of vitamin B12, such as a supplement providing 50 µg daily or a higher dose twice a week.
  • Omega-3 fats – from ground flaxseed, chia or hemp seeds (two tablespoons), walnuts, rapeseed oil or algae-derived supplements.
  • Green leafy vegetables – an excellent source of B-group vitamins, vitamin E, antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals. In one study, people who consumed one or two servings of these vegetables daily experienced a slower cognitive decline – equivalent to being 11 years younger compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables!
  • Berries – fruit with a very high flavonoid content. Flavonoids are a group of natural compounds found only in plants and research indicates they have a neuroprotective effect. Studies have discovered that people who regularly consume berries have a significantly lower risk of dementia.
  • Plant sources of protein – pulses (beans, peas and lentils), nuts, seeds and wholegrains are not just healthy sources of protein, they are low in saturated fat and high in fibre – exactly what you need to lower your risk of cognitive decline!

It’s likely that monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados) and vitamin D (supplements) also have a protective effect on your nervous system but more research is needed. Sunshine is the primary source of vitamin D but we should all take a vitamin D supplement, at least over the winter months, because there simply isn’t sufficient sunshine and we don’t get enough, regardless of diet. Making it a part of your daily routine may be a good strategy!

It’s important to note that if you’re using multiple supplements, choose those without iron and copper as high intakes of these minerals can have a negative effect on your cognitive health. Take iron supplements only when advised by a medical professional to avoid dangerously high iron intake.

Other factors that may reduce the risk

Regular physical activity is linked to a reduced risk of dementia. People who are active tend to preserve their cognitive health better into old age. You don’t have to become a professional athlete but make sure you at least take a brisk walk or dedicate 30 minutes to exercise on a daily basis.

Insomnia also negatively impacts cognition – as you probably know if you suffer from it – and if it’s chronic insomnia, it may increase your risk of cognitive decline to some degree. However, this varies from individual to individual.

Feed your future

If you’re vegan, you’re probably already consuming most, if not all, of the foods and nutrients from the ‘good’ list. With a skyrocketing rise of vegan junk foods, however, it’s good to remind yourself what your body truly needs. If you base your diet around fruit and vegetables, pulses, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, and add vitamin B12 and D supplements, you can’t go wrong!

Source: Viva!

Study Compares Low-fat, Plant-based Diet to Low-carb, Animal-based Diet

People on a low-fat, plant-based diet ate fewer daily calories but had higher insulin and blood glucose levels, compared to when they ate a low-carbohydrate, animal-based diet, according to a small but highly controlled study at the National Institutes of Health. Led by researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the study compared the effects of the two diets on calorie intake, hormone levels, body weight, and more. The findings, published in Nature Medicine(link is external), broaden understanding of how restricting dietary carbohydrates or fats may impact health.

“High-fat foods have been thought to result in excess calorie intake because they have many calories per bite. Alternatively, high-carb foods can cause large swings in blood glucose and insulin that may increase hunger and lead to overeating,” said NIDDK Senior Investigator Kevin Hall, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “Our study was designed to determine whether high-carb or high-fat diets result in greater calorie intake.”

The researchers housed 20 adults without diabetes for four continuous weeks in the NIH Clinical Center’s Metabolic Clinical Research Unit. The participants, 11 men and nine women, received either a plant-based, low-fat diet or an animal-based, low-carbohydrate diet for two weeks, immediately followed by two weeks on the alternate diet. The low-fat diet was high in carbohydrates. The low-carbohydrate diet was high in fats. Both diets were minimally processed and had equivalent amounts of non-starchy vegetables. The participants were given three meals a day, plus snacks, and could eat as much as desired.

The main results showed that people on the low-fat diet ate 550 to 700 fewer calories per day than when they ate the low-carb diet. Despite the large differences in calorie intake, participants reported no differences in hunger, enjoyment of meals, or fullness between the two diets. Participants lost weight on both diets, but only the low-fat diet led to a significant loss of body fat.

“Despite eating food with an abundance of high glycemic carbohydrates that resulted in pronounced swings in blood glucose and insulin, people eating the plant-based, low-fat diet showed a significant reduction in calorie intake and loss of body fat, which challenges the idea that high-carb diets per se lead people to overeat. On the other hand, the animal-based, low-carb diet did not result in weight gain despite being high in fat,” said Hall.

These findings suggest that the factors that result in overeating and weight gain are more complex than the amount of carbs or fat in one’s diet. For example, Hall’s laboratory showed in 2019 that a diet high in ultra-processed food led to overeating and weight gain in comparison to a minimally processed diet matched for carbs and fat.

The plant-based, low-fat diet contained 10.3% fat and 75.2% carbohydrate, while the animal-based, low-carb diet was 10% carbohydrate and 75.8% fat. Both diets contained about 14% protein and were matched for total calories presented to the subjects, although the low-carb diet had twice as many calories per gram of food than the low-fat diet. On the low-fat menu, dinner might consist of a baked sweet potato, chickpeas, broccoli and oranges, while a low-carb dinner might be beef stir fry with cauliflower rice. Subjects could eat what and however much they chose of the meals they were given.

“Interestingly, our findings suggest benefits to both diets, at least in the short-term. While the low-fat, plant-based diet helps curb appetite, the animal-based, low-carb diet resulted in lower and more steady insulin and glucose levels,” Hall said. “We don’t yet know if these differences would be sustained over the long term.”

The researchers note that the study was not designed to make diet recommendations for weight loss, and results may have been different if participants were actively trying to lose weight. Further, all meals were prepared and provided for participants in an inpatient setting, which may make results difficult to repeat outside the lab, where factors such as food costs, food availability, and meal preparation constraints can make adherence to diets challenging. The tightly controlled clinical environment, however, ensured objective measurement of food intake and accuracy of data.

“To help us achieve good nutrition, rigorous science is critical − and of particular importance now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we aim to identify strategies to help us stay healthy,” said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D. “This study brings us closer to answering long-sought questions about how what we eat affects our health.”

Source: National Institutes of Health