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Berry good!

For those of us who suffer with the mid-afternoon slump, the answer to beating our fatigue could lie in a dose of mixed berries. New research conducted by the University of Reading, in conjunction with British Summer Fruits, has found that consuming mixed berries at breakfast could sustain or improve cognitive function for up to six hours after consumption. The research, which was presented at the recent International Conference on Polyphenols and Health in Quebec, tested 40 adults aged between 20 and 30, who consumed either a drink containing 75g of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, or a placebo. The adults were tested on a computer-based task and were monitored two, four and six hours after consumption.

Findings from the double-blind trial suggest that the adults who consumed the polyphenol-rich berry drink sustained their cognitive performance throughout the day. The study also found that reaction time for those who had consumed the mixed berry drink was faster six hours after consumption compared to their performance at two hours and four hours, whereas no improvement was found for the control group.

Time to stop the plastic tide

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is calling for a charge to be placed on single-use plastic items such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids, in a bid to tackle plastic pollution. In the Great British Beach Clean 2017, the UK’s largest and most influential beach clean-up and survey run by MCS, almost 7,000 volunteer beach cleaners picked up record amounts of litter from 339 UK beaches – on average, a staggering 718 pieces of rubbish from every 100 metres cleaned.

Litter classed by MCS as ‘on the go’ items made up 20 per cent of all litter found on the UK’s beaches between 15 and 18 September 2017.

Luca Bonaccorsi, Director of Engagement and Communications at MCS, said: “The 5p single-use carrier bag charge has made a massive difference to the number of plastic bags entering our seas. If a charge was placed on single use plastic such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, cups and cup lids, we're confident that we'd find fewer of these items on our beaches.”

For more information on the appeal, visit www.mcsuk.org/stop-the-plastic-tide

High cholesterol: the silent killer

February is National Heart Health Month, and research from the cholesterol charity HEART UK indicates that most people don’t know they have high cholesterol. This is why it’s becoming known as “The silent killer”. There are often no clear symptoms of high cholesterol and for some, the first sign might be a heart attack.

Linda Main, from HEART UK, says: “Simply knowing that you have raised cholesterol and understanding what this means for your health is probably the most important step. Once you’re aware of high cholesterol, there are many things you can do to help manage your levels, and most of them are simple changes to your diet and lifestyle and take very little effort.”

Oat beta-glucan has been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. The beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 3g of oat beta-glucan. Ask your independent health food store for further information on OatWell®, which contains concentrated oat beta-glucan.

Vitamins in pregnancy linked with reduced autism risk

A new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, has found that women who took multivitamins and folic acid either before or during pregnancy were significantly less likely to have a child who went on to develop autism spectrum disorder.

The study followed 45,300 Israeli children (of which around half were girls) born in 2003-2007 and checked for a diagnosis of autism up until January 2015. During this time, 572 (1.3 per cent) children received a diagnosis of autism.

Commenting on the study, dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service said: “The results showed a 61 per cent reduced risk of autism when mothers had taken either a multivitamin and/or folic acid supplement prior to becoming pregnant. It was also found that mothers who took these vitamin supplements during pregnancy were 73 per cent less likely to have a child who went on to be diagnosed as autistic. While this is an observational study and we need to be cautious, it is an important finding which contributes to our body of knowledge on factors linked with autism. According to autism charities, over 695,000 people in the UK may be autistic, with a prevalence rate of 1.1 per cent in children. Taking a daily multivitamin is a useful way of ensuring that women have the nutrients they require. If planning a pregnancy, a daily folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms should be added to this.”

A grain of truth

University of Hertfordshire researchers have been trialling a new approach to help the public identify which wholegrain foods are the healthiest. Currently there is no national or international definition of what a wholegrain food is, leading to some foods containing high levels of fat or sugar being labelled as wholegrain and appearing to be healthier than they are.

The researchers found that wholegrain foods with a carbohydrate: fibre ratio of less than 10:1 tend to be the lowest in fat, sugar and salt. A total of 266 breakfast cereals and 162 breads sold at the four major UK supermarkets were identified as meeting this criterion and their nutritional quality was compared with the Food Standards Agency traffic light system. Breads which met the criterion typically contained medium fat, low saturated fat, low sugar and medium salt whilst breakfast cereals typically contained medium fat, low saturated fat, high sugar and low salt.

Dr Angela Madden, Lead for Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Hertfordshire said: “Our work shows that using the carbohydrate:fibre ratio helps to identify foods that have good nutritional value. We suggest that food manufacturers should consider adopting this approach to help consumers.”

Their findings have been published in the online journal Public Health Nutrition.

Fibre-rich diet could help arthritis

A fibre-rich diet could have a positive influence on chronic inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis, leading to stronger bones, say researchers from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany.

The research team discovered that a healthy, fibre-rich diet can change our gut bacteria in such a way that more short-chained fatty acids, particularly, propionate, are created. Short-chained fatty acids are needed in order to provide energy, stimulate gut movement and have an anti-inflammatory effect.

“We were able to show that a bacteria-friendly diet has an anti-inflammatory effect, as well as a positive effect on bone density,” said Dr Mario Zaiss, who is leading the team behind the study. “Our findings offer a promising approach for developing innovative therapies for inflammatory joint diseases as well as for treating osteoporosis, which is often suffered by women after the menopause. We are not able to give any specific recommendations for a bacteria-friendly diet at the moment, but eating muesli every morning as well as enough fruit and vegetables throughout the day helps to maintain a rich variety of bacterial species.” The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Mediterranean diet may protect against frailty

An analysis of published studies indicates that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of frailty in older people. The findings, which were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, suggest that a diet emphasising primarily plant-based foods – such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts – may help keep people healthy and independent as they age.

Researchers from University College London analysed evidence from all published studies examining associations between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and development of frailty in older individuals. Their analysis included 5,789 people in four studies in France, Spain, Italy, and China.

“People who followed a Mediterranean diet the most were overall less than half as likely to become frail over a nearly four-year period compared with those who followed it the least,” said Dr Kate Walters, who led the research team.

The investigators noted that the Mediterranean diet may help older individuals maintain muscle strength, activity, weight, and energy levels, according to their findings. “Our study supports the growing body of evidence on the potential health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, in our case for potentially helping older people to stay well as they age,” added Dr Gotaro Kojima.

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