Extra, Extra: Nutrition News That You Can Use (Part 1)

As summer begins to wind down, I thought you might be interested in catching up on various nutrition studies that have been released over the past few months. Some of the research findings are perhaps not all that earth-shattering, but they serve to remind us of how a few lifestyle changes can really make a difference in terms of health. Other of the findings provide some hope, particularly in the areas of heart disease, weight management, and diabetes. At any rate, read this for what it’s worth!

Heart Health

  • A high-salt diet lowers the effectiveness of blood pressure medicines.

    It’s not news that eating a high-sodium diet can increase the chances of developing high blood pressure. But researchers found that people taking an average of three blood pressure medicines per day who were on a high-salt diet had a higher average systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading, measured when the heart is contracting) than people taking an average of three blood pressure medicines who were on a low-salt diet. The conclusion? Both diet and medicine play a role in managing high blood pressure, and taking medicine doesn’t replace the benefits of a lower-sodium diet.

  • Are dose recommendations for omega-3 fatty acids on the horizon?

    You might be taking a fish oil supplement to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. But do you really know how much you’re supposed to take? Various health organizations and health-care professionals have made recommendations, but there really isn’t a standard, daily amount that’s universally accepted at this point. But that may soon change: A study conducted by Dr. Carl Lavie, a cardiologist from the Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, and his colleagues has suggested that healthy people should consume at least 500 milligrams per day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two omega-3 fatty acids, in order to meet their daily needs for these nutrients. Those with heart disease are advised to consume 800–1,000 milligrams per day. (However, it’s always wise to check with your health-care provider before taking any kind of supplement.)

  • A healthy lifestyle helps prevent heart disease.

    OK, so you probably already knew that. But in the research world, studies are often repeated to verify results, and two large studies have helped to confirm this idea. In the first study, researchers found that adhering to any one of “six modifiable healthy lifestyle factors” was linked to a lower lifetime risk of heart failure compared to not adhering to any of the factors. The six lifestyle factors were maintaining a normal body weight, never smoking, getting regular exercise, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, eating plenty of grains, and eating fruits and vegetables. The second study looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and found that women who followed any one of six lifestyle factors lowered their blood pressure. The lifestyle factors in this study included keeping body mass index under 25, exercising every day, following a heart-healthy diet, consuming a modest amount of alcohol, using nonnarcotic pain relievers less than once a week, and taking a folic acid supplement. So, yes, a healthful eating plan and regular physical activity, among other things, really do work!

  • Mediterranean diet’s benefit is due to largely to alcohol.

    The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and a longer life. Researchers decided to look at the individual components of the diet to decipher what makes this way of eating so healthful. They looked at data from over 23,000 Greek men and women who were free from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Their findings? Moderate alcohol intake was the single largest contributor to their longevity, followed, in order, by a low intake of meat and a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, and legumes. Grains and seafood didn’t appear to make a significant impact. While this isn’t a recommendation to start drinking alcohol, it does serve to highlight the benefits of modest alcohol intake (up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women) in generally healthy people.

More nutrition news next week!

  • Steve Parker, M.D.

    Thanks for the update. I’m not ready to write-off fish consumption as a healthy component of the Mediterranean diet. The omega-3 article you mention also advocates fish consumption.

    Wine consumption lowered fasting blood sugar levels by 15% in type 2 diabetics who had previously not been habitual drinkers, according to a 2007 study in Israel.

    Researchers studied 109 type 2 diabetics (41-74 years old) in Israel who previously had abstained from alcohol. They were randomly assigned to drink either 150 ml (5 oz) of wine or nonalcoholic diet malt beer (as a control) during dinner daily for three months. Wine choices were a dry red (Merlot) or white (Sauvignon Blanc). Three out of four chose the Merlot.

    The investigators imply that the various types of alcohol – beer, wine, spirits (whiskey, vodka, gin, etc) – will have the same effect on fasting glucose levels. The study at hand provides no evidence except for wine.

    Some type 2 diabetics have fasting glucose levels routinely as low as 80 mg/dl. If they start drinking wine like this, dropping their fasting glucose to around 6o or less, they could end up with symptomatic hypoglycemia in the mornings, or even hypoglcymia while asleep. Use caution. I’ve read other studies indicating that hypoglycemia usually is not a problem with light to moderate alcohol consumption.


  • Tony

    Hey Amy,

    I love summertime foods :-)
    Nothing beats having that hamburger on the grill and some crispy fries…but I now learned to still enjoy those foods but now eat the hamburger without the bun on a bed of crunchy lettace..and skip the fries for some grilled eggplant or sliced sweet potatoes !
    I live with type 2 for 2 years…and I’m still learning to enjoy :-)

  • acampbell

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the information, as always. In general, most people with diabetes can safely consume alcohol (as long as other medical factors aren’t involved). As you mentioned, it’s important to learn how alcohol affects your own glucose in order to avoid or at least decrease the chances of hypoglycemia.

  • acampbell

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the hamburger tips! And you’re exactly right – you never stop learning about diabetes!

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear Amy.

    The salt issue is something that free enterprise capitalism cannot solve by itself. Salt is so cheap that adding a large amount gives the food manufacturer the maximum profit. Big goverment interference is needed.

    All my favorite prepared foods here in Canada have prodigious amounts of salt. There are no regulations in Canada so many of the same brand names have higher salt here than even the USA.

  • miss kitty3

    Keep salt in your cupboard. Great as a natural scrub ingredient; great for dealing w/ snails.
    Everything external.

  • cas18551

    What does anyone know about the consumption of aloe vera leafs to reduce glucose levels?