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Category Archives: Research

Food’s effect on our mental health

I met Sarah McKay (medical writer / neuroscientist / blogger) at last week’s trivia tournament – not only is she lovely, Sarah was also was a total boon for our team! I’ve read her blog on and off for a while now, so it was great to meet in person and chat about some of the fascinating work she does.

Sarah recently shared a great infographic on her site, which you can see below. Diet, digestion and lifestyle play an important role in so many body functions, including our mental and emotional health.

The Nutrition of Mental Health

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Why breakfast matters

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? It’s definitely in the top three.

Eating something in the morning provides fuel for your activity in the early part of the day. Breakfast plays an important role in both blood sugar regulation and metabolic function… and the type of breakfast you choose can influence these significantly.

A newly published study has looked at how the breakfasting habits of teens can impact on their later life and health. Researchers examined the dietary habits of almost 900 kids and found, after 27 years, that the odds of developing metabolic syndrome were significantly higher (68% increase!) among those who had poor breakfast habits in their teens. The ‘poor’ breakfast habits that were linked to metabolic disease risk? Only eating or drinking something sweet in the morning OR not eating breakfast at all.

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health conditions that include high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood glucose levels and abdominal obesity. It’s also a significant risk factor for subsequent development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Not good, in other words.

These results are not new, or in fact startling. Particularly for those of us who work in health. It’s a familiar picture that we are, unfortunately, seeing more of. For example, a large Australian study published only a few years ago demonstrated similar results after following up with 9-15 yrs olds after 20 years. This study found that those who skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood had a larger waist circumference, higher insulin and cholesterol.

So, in answer to the orginal question: yes, breakfast is an important meal.

And remember, it’s not just about eating ‘something’ in the morning, but making a good choice about what that meal is. Not only does a decent breakfast benefit our health now, as adults, it is incredibly important for the longterm health of our kids.

Eat more of this:

YES!

YES!

Eat less (or preferably none) of this:

NOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOO!
image via http://asweetlife.org/

Where do you and your family sit on the breakfast scale?

1. Wennberg et al 2014. Poor breakfast habits in adolescence predict the metabolic syndrome in adulthood. Public Health Nutrition. DOI: 10.1017/S1368980013003509 2. Smith A et al 2010. Skipping breakfast: longitudinal associations with cardiometabolic risk factors in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr 92, 1316–1325.

The cost of being healthy

An interesting article was published in the BMJ late last year, looking at the cost (as in, affect on our wallets) of healthy diet and lifestyle patterns. The article’s lead author explained: “people often say that healthier foods are more expensive and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits.”

So… does it cost more to live well and, if so, by how much?

To answer this question, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies, from 10 different countries, which included information on price for individual foods and healthier versus less healthy diets. What they found was that healthier diets – rich in vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts – cost significantly more than unhealthy diets, rich in processed foods and refined grains. Averaged out, the healthiest diet patterns cost around $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

$1.50

Now that doesn’t sound like much, does it – and for many of us it really isn’t. But for many others, it really is. $1.50 per person, per day, adds up. Particularly if you have a large family. Particularly if you don’t have much money. Often compounded by lack of choice and inadequate understand of what ‘healthy’ actually is (food marketing does an excellent job at bamboozling most people in this regard).

The researchers suggest the reason for this cost difference includes food subsidies and policies that favour the production of “inexpensive, high volume” foods over their healthier counterparts. In other words, we don’t have the infrastructure to support the widespread production and distribution of healthier foods. That’s certainly a factor.

Education and ready access to quality food is another one. Sometimes people don’t realise that the simplest changes will have profound effects on their immediate and long term health. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the information fed to us by food companies (food shouldn’t have to tell you it’s healthy FYI), family members, news articles, health blogs (yeah yeah, I know)… there’s a lot out there and messages can be mixed.

Although I will happily overhaul your diet and lifestyle, encourage avid consumption of leafy greens, espouse the virtues of chia and and get you to down some herbs if I can; it doesn’t have to be that, shall we say, radical. Cut down the amount of fizzy drinks you consume in favour of water, add a handful of veggies to just one meal each day, swap white bread out of your diet, eat one piece of fresh fruit daily… Seemingly small changes such as these can have big effects. ‘Being healthy’ can be quite simple, really. Start small, learn a few recipes, don’t be afraid to try new things and choose what you (and your family) like.

I’ve sort of gone off on a tangent from my original article discussion, but it is related. I suppose what I’m trying to say is: although healthy eating doesn’t have to cost the earth, it can be a very real stretch for some folk. Regardless, do what you can. If that means coconut water, organic veggies and meat, go nuts! Or if it’s frozen veggies and non-processed cheese, go nuts! Just do your best. You’ve got one life and one body to carry you through it, so look after it the best you possibly can.

farmers markets

some lovely produce at the orange grove markets

Reference: BMJ Open. 2013 Dec 5;3(12):e004277

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