Healthy Nutrition and Physical Health

Scientific research and evidence have shown that your dietary intake can increase or reduce your risk for developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and even some forms of cancer. These chronic diseases are called “lifestyle diseases” because they come primarily from poor and habitual lifestyle choices such as high consumption of processed foods, bad fats, too much alcohol and nicotine, and inadequate vegetables and fruits. Good choices in food and supplement intake, to the contrary, improve everyday health as well as longevity. The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) developed Food-Based Dietary Guidelines that have been established by many countries throughout Europe, tailored to national culture, food preferences, and food availability. [1].

Common recommendations include eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, and choosing foods that are lower in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Although the details may vary between countries and cultures, there are many similarities between all the European guidelines” [2].

Food-Based Dietary Guidelines

Virtually all European Food-Based Dietary Guidelines include similar categories in a visual layout for easy understanding. 

The following is an example from Greece: The Mediterranean Diet food pyramid:

  • Vegetables: Eat a wide variety of green and leafy vegetables. Limited intake of potatoes is recommended, because they are full of rapidly digested starch, which has the same roller-coaster effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets. In the short-term, these surges in blood sugar and insulin lead to hunger and overeating, and in the long term, to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic disorders.
  • Fruits: Choose a color variety of fruits every day.
  • Whole Grains: Consume whole grains (oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice). Processed grains, similarly to potatoes, are high in starch and create sugar spikes in the blood stream, which are detrimental to health.
  • Proteins:Focus on chicken, fish, nuts and beans, and non-animal proteins. Limit red meat and avoid processed meats, since eating even small quantities of these on a regular basis raises the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and weight gain.
  • Healthy Oils: Limit butter and avoid trans-fat. Use olive, canola, and other plant oils in cooking, on salads, and at the table, since these healthy fats reduce harmful cholesterol and are good for the heart.
  • Water: Drink water, tea, or coffee (with little or no sugar). Limit milk and dairy (1-2 servings per day) and juice (1 small glass a day) and avoid sugary drinks.

You can read more about the Mediterranean Diet here.

How do nutrition and lifestyle influence behavior?

We all know the old saying: “We are what we eat”. For example, we know there are “good” and “bad” foods that act on the risk of being obese, having diabetes, or suffering from cardiovascular disease, and medical science knows quite a lot about how this works.

What if we told you that what we eat can also affect the way the brain works? Here, however we are not so sure how it works. What we know is that there is convincing evidence of a sizeable impact – both harmful and protective – of nutrition components on behaviors such as impulsivity and compulsivity. It is not yet clear if specific (but common) nutrition interventions actually do work. More importantly, we don’t really know how big the impact (effect size) of these non-pharmacological interventions will be, which raises questions such as: can we improve our overall brain functioning or mental health by improving our diet and lifestyle?

Studying the Effect of Nutrition on Mental Health

We are at the beginning of the field of nutritional psychiatry, which has the possibility of being a significant new direction in mental health care [4]. Numerous studies have revealed the powerful connection between nutrition and mental health, and have supported the concept of the “gut-brain axis”, by which the brain and gut perform two-way communication. Eat2beNICE is at the forefront of this research and conducts numerous research studies and clinical trials to further develop this burgeoning field.

The four clinical trials of Eat2beNICE study the effects of:

The Gut-Brain Axis: linking healthy diet to mental health

We also want to understand how food or diet can influence our brain functioning and mental health. We therefore study the gut-brain axis.

The gut and the brain are connected and “speak” to each other in a bidirectional communication that includes information on everything from infections and nausea, to mood and stress. This bidirectional link is known as the “Gut-Brain” axis. Recently, the bacteria that live in our gut (known as the gut microbiota) have been identified as potentially important mechanistic contributors to the “Gut-Brain” axis  and behavior and mental health and disorders.

This is relevant for two reasons:

  1. the gut microbiota produces substances such as essential amino acids, and these substances could have a direct impact on our brains and
  2. the structure and function of our gut-microbiota depends on the food we eat.

This means that if we can identify and modify the structure of our gut microbiota (via our diet), we could, in principle, modify (ever slightly) the way our brains work. In Eat2beNICE we are studying how this works.