By: Dr. Larissa Niemeyer

How your morning coffee might save you from skin cancer

Every few years a new group of scientists publishes their recent study results on “bad” and “healthy” food and gives new dietary advice. As “superfoods” like avocado, chia seeds and goji berries come and go and fill the pockets of marketing experts, the question remains which nutrients and aliments are really helping to live a longer, healthier life.

Especially interesting for many people is the question of food-related risk factors for cancer. There are aliments that have been connected to a higher risk of developing cancer types like lung, skin or liver cancer. However, these results aren’t always consistent and it might be that after a few years food recommendations change again.

In a new meta-analysis (which means a study that summarizes and compares a high number of already existing studies) published in Nature, scientists focus on these issues. They report that it is very difficult to exactly measure food consumption – especially over a long period of time – because researchers have to use information given by participants instead of objective tests. They looked for studies in which the data quality was as good as possible and they also compared results.

In the end they found several associations that were strongly supported and should be noted when trying to implement a healthy food lifestyle.

First, the consumption of alcohol is connected to a higher risk of colon, rectum, breast, esophageal, head, neck and liver cancer. As frequent intake of alcohol has been linked to many kinds of diseases as well as a reduced life-expectancy, this finding is not very unexpected. Still, it is always important to remember to only consume small amounts of alcohol and seek help if you fear losing control over your drinking.

Second, calcium, dairy products and whole grains can reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Dairy products, which contain a lot of calcium, are an important part of everyday alimentation. Two of your meals should include food like cheese, milk or yoghurt.

Third – and especially delightful for many hard working, chronically tired people – drinking coffee decreases the possibility of liver and skin basal cell carcinoma. Remember though, that drinking too much of it might irritate your stomach and make you feel restless and nervous. A good night’s sleep can never be replaced.

Finally, the authors pointed out that obesity is one of the major diet-related risk factors for different kinds of cancer. Therefore, watching what you eat in general and keeping track of your weight is always a good idea.

Further information:

Papadimitriou N, Markozannes G, Kanellopoulou A, Critselis E, Alhardan S, Karafousia V, Kasimis JC, Katsaraki C, Papadopoulou A, Zografou M, Lopez DS, Chan DSM, Kyrgiou M, Ntzani E, Cross AJ, Marrone MT, Platz EA, Gunter MJ, Tsilidis KK. An umbrella review of the evidence associating diet and cancer risk at 11 anatomical sites. Nat Commun. 2021 Jul 28;12(1):4579. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24861-8.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-24861-8.pdf

Schoepf D, Heun R. Alcohol dependence and physical comorbidity: Increased prevalence but reduced relevance of individual comorbidities for hospital-based mortality during a 12.5-year observation period in general hospital admissions in urban North-West England. Eur Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;30(4):459-68. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2015.03.001. Epub 2015 Apr 2. PMID: 25841661.

By: Johanne Telnes Instanes

Why you should limit added sugar in your diet

There are many sources of sugar in our diet.  So-called natural present sugar naturally occurs in food. One example is milk sugar (lactose) found in milk and yoghurt. Sugars in fruits are another example of natural sugar. In addition to sugar, these foods also contain important nutrients like vitamins and minerals.

There are also a lot of foods that contain additional, added sugar. Added sugar is usually understood as sugar added to food during food preparation or processing [1]. There are several reasons for adding sugars to food. Commonly they are used as sweeteners and to preserve food. They are also used to aid fermentation, when making beer for instance.

Examples of food often high in added sugar are sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, ketchup and breakfast cereals.  Added sugar is often used in making ultra-processed food, that is food based mostly or entirely on substances derived from food and additives (https://newbrainnutrition.com/ultra-processed-food-and-adhd/).

Why are we concerned about added sugar? Added sugar is a source of energy but with otherwise little or no nutritional value, and thus a source of so-called “empty calories”. Studies have shown associations between high intake of added sugar in early childhood and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity at a later age [2].

The amount of added sugar in food can be used as a proxy for overall diet quality (see previous blog about proxies: https://newbrainnutrition.com/fiber-a-proxy-for-diet-quality/). A high amount of added sugar indicates low diet quality, i.e. a diet not in adherence with national dietary guidelines  [3]. If you eat more than that, it is difficult to keep a healthy diet within the calory limit and at the same time get all the nutrients you need.    

According to American guidelines, added sugar should be limited to 10 percent of total calories per day [4]. As an example, if you´re eating 2,000 calories per day, you can eat about 50 grams of added sugar. That may sound a lot, but as an example, a 330 ml can of Coke contains about 35 grams of sugar (9  teaspoons). If you are drinking two cans in one day, you are already beyond the limit!

Is the amount of added sugar in the diet of pregnant women associated with behavioral traits in the offspring? As a part of the Eat2beNICE project we use data from The Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). From this large observational study (we have data of about 40,000 mother-child pairs!), we have information on added sugar intake during pregnancy and behavioral features in the child up to 8 years of age. Thus, we can study the potential associations between the amount of added sugar in diet during pregnancy and possible symptoms of ADHD and autism in their children.

References

1.            Bowman SA. Added sugars: Definition and estimation in the USDA Food Patterns Equivalents Databases. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 2017;64:64-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2017.07.013

2.            Neri D, Martinez-Steele E, Monteiro CA, Levy RB. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and its association with added sugar content in the diets of US children, NHANES 2009-2014. Pediatr Obes. 2019;14(12):e12563. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31364315/

3.            Louie JCY, Tapsell LC. Association between intake of total vs added sugar on diet quality: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews. 2015;73(12):837-857. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26449366/

4.            U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf

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.