We have known for a long time that eating more fruit and vegetables is likely to be good for us, and the famous five a day campaign was always intended as a recommendation aimed at promoting the minimum we should eat, rather than a maximum.
What this study adds to things we had previously known is that eating vegetables is better for us than eating fruit (probably because fruit has far more sugar in it) and that eating tinned fruit seems to be positively bad for us (again, probably because it is often in a syrup).
On the basis of this study, you should aim to eat at least four portions of vegetables a day and around three portions of fruit. Importantly, you should eat them, not drink them. The study found no real benefit from drinking fruit juice.
So how do you reach your seven-a-day? If you’re feeling continental, you might start the day with an omelette containing a decent handful of spinach. The protein in the eggs will keep you full for longer and spinach is rich in folate and betaine – vitamins that help regulate homocysteine (high levels of which are associated with heart disease).
Alternatively you could add a handful of strawberries or blueberries to your cereal, or wolf down an orange
For lunch and your evening meal you are going to be eating vegetables, with fruit as a dessert. But which vegetables? Again, the recommendations are that you add as much colour as possible to your diet. The different colours of different plants represent some of the thousands of different bioactive compounds, known as phytochemicals, which keep plants alive and healthy.Eat them raw or lightly steamed rather than boiled to death.
So-called “leafy greens”, which include spinach, chard, lettuce and kale, are a good source of minerals like magnesium, manganese and potassium.
Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and other members of the brassicas family contain sulphur and organosulphur compounds. Sulphur is essential for the production of glutathione, an important antioxidant, as well as amino acids like methionine and taurine.
Fruit and vegetables with yellow or orange in them are rich in carotenoids. Foods rich in carotenoids include, not surprisingly, carrots. The type of carotenoid you find in carrots can be converted to retinol, an active form of vitamin A. As vitamin A is important for healthy eyesight, this may explain why carrots are supposed to help you see in the dark. Vitamin A also plays an important role in bone growth and regulating our immune system. As well as carrots you will also find carotenoids in melons, tomatoes, peppers and squash.
Another class of carotenoids that produces the colour red are called the lycopenes. You’ll find lots of lycopene in rich, red tomatoes. Oddly enough cooking tomatoes actually boosts the levels of lycopene. The reason is that heat helps break down the plant’s thick cell walls, making the nutrient more available.
Blue and purple foods get their colouring from a group of flavonoids called anthocyanins. You’ll find decent levels of these particular flavonoids in blackberries, blueberries, purple carrots and red cabbage. There is some evidence that anthocyanin – rich blueberries may improve memory and cognitive function in people as they get older. White
Examples include garlic, white onions, shallots and leeks. These are rich in alliums and allyl sulphur compounds. Although there is no compelling proof that garlic will ward off vampires, it does appear to be quite good at killing microorganisms.
Until now, the rationale for following an ultra-low calorie diet to ward off ageing has been based on experiments in worms and mice but now studies reported in Nature Communications found that primates also benefited from the regime.
Advocates of the Calorie Restriction (CR) diet claim that by severely restricting the number of calories they consume they will live longer, perhaps into their hundreds.
They cite a wealth of scientific evidence dating back more than 75 years.
Much of the research is based on experiments in animals such as mice and worms, with primate studies giving conflicting results. Now, a US team has published new evidence showing CR also shows benefits in primates.
“CR works to delay ageing in primate species,” Dr Rozalyn Anderson of the department of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told BBC News. “Our study data is consistent with that.”
The study found CR boosted survival in a group of rhesus monkeys studied over the course of decades.
And she said conflicting findings, from a previous study at a different institute, might be due to flaws in the control group. But she said CR was a research tool not a lifestyle recommendation.
“The concept is to delve into the biology of ageing and try to understand what’s the basis for increased risk for diseases as you get older and with advanced age,” she said. “It would be very difficult to implement CR in a long term way in humans.”
A US study is currently looking at whether healthy humans live longer on less food.
The participants restrict calories by 25% over several years, existing mainly on a diet of vegetables, fruits (especially apples), and soups.
US experts say people need to place a greater focus on cutting sugar intake and suggest the benefits of lowering salt levels are “debatable.” Their arguments are published in the journal Open Heart.
But other researchers have said the claims are “disingenuous” and “scientifically unnecessary”. They maintain both need to be reduced.
Researchers from St Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, and Montefiore Medical Centre in the USA reviewed a selection of evidence from basic science experiments, animal studies and human research.They came to the conclusion that sugar – particularly fructose – may play a stronger role in high blood pressure and other cardiac conditions than salt.
And they say lowering salt consumption under certain levels may do more harm than good as the research team suggests attempts to reduce salt in processed food may drive people to eat more.
The US experts focus on a particular type of sugar – added fructose – often found in processed foods and sugary beverages.
But they say naturally occurring sugars in whole foods, for example those in fruit and vegetables, are not a cause for concern.
Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in England suggests most adults and children eat more sugar than recommended.
The World Health Organization recommends sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake per day – this works out at about a maximum of 50g (1.7oz) of sugar for the average adult.
But the global health body recently acknowledged that halving this, to 5% of total energy intake per day, would have additional benefits.
Fasting for at least 12 hours appears to switch on important fat burning pathways in the body.
The US team told the journal Cell Metabolism they now plan human tests to see if the same is true in man.
During the study around 400 mice were fed diets high in sugar or fat or both, or normal diets and over different time periods.Overall, mice that were only allowed to feed for nine or 12 hours gained less weight than mice that could eat the same amount food but at any time they wanted in a 24-hour period.
Even when the restricted feed time mice were allowed a blow out at weekends and could eat when they liked, they still gained less weight, suggesting that the diet can withstand some temporary interruptions, the researchers said.
And when obese mice who had been eating freely were moved to a restricted schedule they lost 5% of their body weight even though they were eating the same number of calories as before.
The researchers believe a key to controlling weight gain could be sticking to a consistent 12-hour fast every 24 hours.
In the experiments, fasting at night had beneficial effects on blood sugar and cholesterol and reversed the effects of diabetes in the mice.
Study leader Dr Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor at the Salk Institute in California, said that brown fat, which burns energy at a much higher rate is also activated by this approach.
Additional work in mice by another team showed that limiting eating to half the day also altered the balance of microbes in the gut, which experts say might be important.
Experts said the findings could help time medication to hit sweet-spots in the body clock.
The body’s internal clock is known to drive huge changes – it alters alertness, mood, physical strength and even the risk of a heart attack in a daily rhythm.
A team at the University of Pennsylvania investigated the impact of the time of day on the way DNA functions in experiments on mice.
Every two hours they looked at samples from the kidney, liver, lung, adrenal gland, aorta, brainstem, cerebellum, brown fat, white fat, heart, hypothalamus, lung and skeletal muscle.
They showed that 43% of genes, sections of DNA, involved in protein manufacture altered their activity throughout the day.
Different genes had different activity patterns in different tissues so the research team conservatively estimate that more than half of genes would show daily fluctuations if every tissues type was sampled.
The liver was the most dynamic with 3,186 genes showing a daily pattern compared with just 642 in the hypothalamus.
It is already known that some drugs work better at certain times of the day.
Heart disease is driven by artery-clogging cholesterol, which is mostly made in the liver at night. Taking statins in the evening makes them more effective.
The researchers said 56 of the top 100 selling drugs and nearly half of the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines acted on genes which were now known to have this daily oscillations.
Five big killers – heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung and liver disease – account for more than 150,000 deaths a year among under-75s in England alone and the Department of Health estimates 30,000 of these are entirely avoidable.Coronary Heart Disease is the biggest killer, causing almost 74,000 deaths each year in the UK- that’s about 200 people dying every day.
More than a quarter of the deaths occur in people who are younger than 75 and experts say the majority are preventable.
Smoking, being overweight and having high blood pressure are all risk factors.
About one in three adults in England and Scotland have high blood pressure and nearly half of them are not receiving treatment for the condition, says the British Heart Foundation.
Between April 2011 and March 2012 only 2% of those eligible in England actually had a health check. Out of nearly 16 million people eligible, about 425,000 were offered a check and 211,000 took up the offer.
England has one of the highest rates of asthma prevalence in the world. Figures from GP registers in 2008 suggested that about 6% of the English population has asthma.
And more than three million people in England are living with COPD. This lung disease kills about 23,000 people a year in the UK.
The most important cause of COPD is smoking, but about 15% of cases are work-related, triggered by exposure to fumes, chemicals and dusts at work.
Premature deaths from COPD in the UK was almost twice as high as the European average in 2008 and premature mortality for asthma was more than 1.5 times higher.
The disease is one of the most common causes of emergency admission to hospital and is expensive in terms of acute hospital care. It costs nearly 10 times more to treat severe COPD than the mild disease.
Strokes are the third leading cause of death in England each year and the leading cause of disability. More than 150,000 people have a stroke every year in the UK but, according to The Stroke Association, up to 10,000 of these could be prevented if more people were aware of the symptoms and sought out emergency treatment.
Symptoms can include facial weakness, speech problems and pins and needles down one side of the body.
The Health Secretary Mr Jeremy Hunt says a major challenge is getting all parts of the country to meet the performance levels of the best.
For example, if all patients suffering from a mini stroke (transient ischaemic attack or TIA) were treated as rapidly as those treated in the top 25% of hospitals, 540 strokes would be avoided each year, which in turn would save the NHS £4.5m a year.
Cancer has now become so common that today one in 30 people living in the UK either has cancer or is in remission. By 2030 it is estimated that three million people in England will have had some form of cancer.
The good news is that cancer survival rates are now improving in the UK.
More men are now surviving prostate and bowel cancer and women with breast cancer have a better outlook than ever before. But the UK still lags behind other European countries in terms of cancer survival.
Cancer Research UK says part of the problem is unhealthy lifestyles. It is estimated that about a third of cancers are caused by smoking, diet, alcohol and obesity.
And many cancers are detected too late. Although there are national screening programmes for certain cancers, like breast and cervical, public awareness of symptoms and the need to seek help early is still too low.
Another issue is access to treatment. Waiting times to see a doctor for speedy diagnosis and treatment have come down. But the provision of certain types of cancer investigations and treatments across the UK is variable and some groups of society, like the very old, can miss out.
Lastly, the Chief Medical Officer of England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, highlighted liver disease as an issue in her annual report.
It is the only major cause of mortality and morbidity that is on the increase in England while it is decreasing among European peers.
Between 2000 and 2009, deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the under 65s in England increased by about 20% while they fell by the same amount in most EU countries. And all three major causes of liver disease – obesity, undiagnosed infection, and, increasingly, harmful drinking – are preventable.
More than a third of men and over a quarter of women regularly exceed the government recommended level of alcohol intake – three to four units of alcohol a day for men and two to three units for women.
The government in England is currently considering whether to set a minimum unit price for alcohol to deter problem drinking and cut alcohol-related illness.
Spices have been revered for their health benefits throughout history- but are they really good for your health?According to Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient belief system in Hinduism, spices can be warming or cooling and are used to affect the balance of the digestive system.
“They act as a stimulus to the digestive system, relieve digestive disorders and some spices are of antiseptic value,” explains Dr Krishnapura Srinivasan, a scientist at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India.
It is not surprising that spices have become associated with dieting. As far back as 2500 years ago, the Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius recommended eating ginger at every meal to improve digestion. But there is still no scientific consensus on how spices affect our health.
“There’s a perception that spices are good for dieting as this is often covered in the media; women will often latch on to anything that sounds as though it’s an easy way to lose weight,” explains Azmina Govindji, an award-winning dietician from the British Dietetic Association.
Scientists at the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, North Carolina, US, recently studied whether culinary doses of red pepper and turmeric would reduce chronic inflammation in overweight females aged 40-72.
They hypothesised that inflammation in overweight people could be caused by oxidative stress. This is a process when chemically reactive molecules known as free radicals trigger physiological events or damage tissues.
But the results of the month-long clinical trial were negative. No evidence was found to suggest that red pepper or turmeric alters inflammation by influencing oxidative stress.
This could point to the need for higher doses and longer testing periods, scientists say. Or that the spices simply have no effect.
Cayenne pepper is another spice touted as a weight loss solution. You might have added it to poached eggs or corn on the cob, but how about eating it with maple syrup? Deep fried calamari with garlic and lemon mayonnaise Crispy calamari deep fried with cayenne pepper, salt and paprika
The cayenne pepper and maple syrup diet made headlines in 2007, when US singer Beyonce Knowles reported losing 20lb (9kg) after following it for two weeks.
So why is the spice hotly tipped as a solution to weight loss?
“There have been suggestions that red cayenne pepper may be a useful aid to weight management, especially in people who don’t normally eat chilli peppers,” says Ms Govindji. “But this remains to be confirmed.”
The effect of red pepper on thermogenesis, a process which affects metabolism and appetite, was studied by scientists at Purdue University, Indiana in the US.
The study found that as body temperature increased, metabolic rate increased, and the desire to eat fatty foods was decreased in participants who ate red pepper as part of a meal compared to those who didn’t.
Another study by researchers at Kyoto University, Japan found that males in the country who consumed a normal diet along with a red pepper extract known as “CH19-Sweet” experienced slightly decreased body fat and weight loss after two weeks.
But can we draw any real conclusions from studies such as these? Whether you’re taking a leaf out of the Hairy Dieters book and roasting some cumin-crusted vegetables, or cooking up a spiced apple and raisin crumble, ultimately it is not the spices alone that help you lose weight but how you cook with them.
Cannabis makes pain more bearable rather than actually reducing it, a study from the University of Oxford suggests.Using brain imaging, researchers found that the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis reduced activity in a part of the brain linked to emotional aspects of pain.
But the effect on the pain experienced varied greatly, they said.
The researchers’ findings Amygdala activity contributes to the dissociative effect of cannabis on pain perception are published in the journal Pain.
The Oxford researchers recruited 12 healthy men to take part in their small study.
Participants were given either a 15mg tablet of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) – the ingredient that is responsible for the high – or a placebo.
The volunteers then had a cream rubbed into the skin of one leg to induce pain, which was either a dummy cream or a cream that contained chilli – which caused a burning and painful sensation.
Each participant had four MRI scans which revealed how their brain activity changed when their perception of the pain reduced.
Dr Michael Lee, lead study author from Oxford University’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, said: “We found that with THC, on average people didn’t report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less.”
MRI brain imaging showed reduced activity in key areas of the brain that explained the pain relief which the study participants experienced.
Dr Lee suggested that the findings could help predict who would benefit from taking cannabis for pain relief – because not everyone does.
“We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but we would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods.”
He added: “Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly.
“Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates.
“Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.”
The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.
The longevity lifespan that Olympians enjoy is within the reach of everyone, doctors say.Research Survival of the fittest: retrospective cohort study of the longevity of Olympic medallists in the modern era published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests athletes live 2.8 years longer on average than the average lifespan.
The research indicated those who took part in non-contact sports such as cycling, rowing and tennis enjoyed the longest life of all.
But the general population could have a similar “survival advantage” by doing a little more exercise, experts said.
The conclusion by two public health professors came after they reviewed two studies of Olympic athletes published by the BMJ website.
The studies looked at the lifespan and health of 25,000 athletes who competed in Games dating back to 1896.
Those taking part in contact sports such as boxing had the least advantage, while cyclists and rowers enjoyed the best health.
But the researchers also found those who played lower intensity sports such as golf enjoyed a boost.
Possible explanations put forward for the finding included genetic and lifestyle factors and the wealth and status that comes with sporting success.
The recommended level of physical activity for adults is 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week.
Studies suggest people who manage that amount or more live for up to several years longer than those that do not.
Writing for the BMJ website, the professors said: “Although the evidence points to a small survival effect of being an Olympian, careful reflection suggests that similar health benefits and longevity could be achieved by all of us through regular physical activity.
“We could and should all award ourselves that personal gold medal.”
But they said governments were still not doing enough to promote the benefits of physical activity, calling it a “public health failure”.