For decades, dietary guidelines have urged adults to fill most of their plates with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. And for just as long, many people have not met the goals of MyPlate, a healthy eating tool developed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Now, two new studies suggest that even if you don’t get your target amounts of these foods, it’s worth the effort. In these studies – one focused on fruits and vegetables and the other on grains – consuming more of these foods was linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“We know that diet is one of the most important factors determining your risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” said Qi Sun, MD, doctor of science and lead author of the study that examined whole grains and researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, yogurt, and other healthy foods may result in a lower risk of developing this disease,” says Dr. Sun.
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How Different Types of Whole Grains Can Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Sun and colleagues examined data from nutrition questionnaires and health surveys completed by 158,259 women and 36,525 men without type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. After an average follow-up period of 24 years, 18,629 participants developed type 2 diabetes.
Overall, the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes was 29 percent lower among those who consumed the most whole grain products than among those who consumed the smallest amounts of these foods, according to the results published in the BMJ in July 2020 .
Whole grains included products with the following ingredients:
- Whole wheat and whole wheat flour
- Whole grain oats and whole wheat flour
- Whole wheat flour and corn flour
- Whole rye and rye flour
- Whole barley
- Whole grain rice and whole grain rice flour
- Flea seeds
People who ate the highest amounts of different grains – at least one daily serving – developed less type 2 diabetes than people who consumed the lowest amounts – less than a monthly serving. The reduced risk of type 2 diabetes for various grains was:
- 21 percent less for oatmeal
- 21 percent less for dark wholemeal bread
- 19 percent cheaper for whole grain breakfast cereals
- 18 percent less for brown rice
- 18 percent less wheat germ
One limitation of the study is that it relies on participants to accurately remember their eating habits and report on what leaves room for error. (If you forgot what you had for breakfast today, the problem becomes easy to understand.) Another disadvantage is that the study participants all worked in health professions, and most of them were white; This may mean that the results do not reflect what is happening for people with different educational or professional backgrounds, or for people of other races and ethnic groups.
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The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk of type 2 diabetes may be
Another study published in the BMJ in July 2020 examined data from blood tests for two biomarkers of fruit and vegetable consumption – plasma vitamin C and carotenoids – in 9,754 people with type 2 diabetes and 13,662 people without the disease. The participants came from eight European countries: France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Denmark.
Compared to people who had the lowest plasma vitamin C and carotenoid levels in laboratory tests, study participants with the highest blood levels of these two biomarkers had a 50 percent lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes, according to the analysis revealed. People who fell somewhere in the middle – not the lowest or highest scores – were still 23 to 41 percent less likely to have type 2 diabetes than participants with the lowest levels of these biomarkers in their blood.
In this study, the researchers also asked participants about their eating habits. The median self-reported daily fruit and vegetable intake was 274 grams (g) or about 2¼ cups for people with the lowest plasma vitamin C and carotenoid levels in the blood and 508 g or about 4⅛ cups for those with the highest levels of these Biomarkers. Every 66 g gain, or about ¼ cup, of daily fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
While one advantage of this study is that blood biomarkers were used to objectively measure eating habits, one caveat is that the results did not take into account a variety of other factors, such as income, education, and other lifestyle choices, that could have an impact the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Still, the results suggest that even a modest increase in fruit and vegetable consumption can help prevent type 2 diabetes, says lead study author Nita Forouhi, PhD, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.
“Something is better than nothing,” says Dr. Forouhi.
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The challenges of studying dietary patterns and disease risks
A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2016 examined the association between fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes in two different cohorts of adults under the age of 50 who had no history of cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Overall, no association could be found in this study, but in one of the two cohorts, those who ate the most fruit had a 5 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and those who ate the most vegetables had the most a 13 percent lower risk than those who have consumed the smallest amounts of these foods.
An older study published in PLoS Medicine tracked more than 160,000 women for more than a decade and found that people who consumed the most whole grains had a 25 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes . The researchers also analyzed the data from six previous studies and found a 21 percent reduction in type 2 diabetes risk for every two daily servings of whole grains.
Part of the reason for the inconsistent results of studies is that much of that research – along with similar research on dietary habits and disease risk – relies on nutrition questionnaires that are only as good as participants’ ability to remember and accurately report on what they have eaten in the past, says Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, the chair of the division of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida at Jacksonville.
“Food recalls are known to be subject to recall bias and measurement errors, which has led to some inconsistencies in research on the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and diabetes,” said Dr. Wright, who was not involved in any of the studies, published in the BMJ.
Tips for including more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet
An easy way to get more fruits and vegetables is to fill half the plate with these foods at each meal, Wright says. Then fill about a quarter with whole grain products and a quarter with lean meat.
Another easy thing is to swap out less healthy versions of foods for healthier alternatives, Wright suggests.
“Replace white bread with whole wheat, choose a whole grain cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, add barley or bulgur to your soups and casseroles, make half your pasta whole grain,” advises Wright.
Buying a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables during the season is also a great way to get more of these foods onto your plate. But frozen alternatives are just as nutritious, and canned foods can work in a pinch, as long as you check the labels to avoid added sugar and sodium, Wright says.
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Dietary approaches to prevent type 2 diabetes
In order to eat foods that minimize the risk of type 2 diabetes, there are four important things to keep in mind, according to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. These include:
- Choose whole grains instead of refined or highly processed grains
- Choose water over sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages
- Choose healthy fats in nuts, seeds, and olive oil over unhealthy trans fats
- Choose poultry and fish instead of red and processed meats like bacon and sausages
A variety of diets can achieve these goals. Two that are widely recommended by clinicians are the Mediterranean Diet and the Diet with Diets to Stop Hypertension (DASH). Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets encourage the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, and poultry. And both diets limit red meat, added sugar, and salt.
“Both the DASH and Mediterranean diets are great options for starting a more plant-based diet, and there are many cookbooks based on them,” said Samantha Heller, RD, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City .
Consultation of cookbooks that focus on the plant-based diet can be enough to point many people in the right direction. However, if you belong to a group known to be at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, you may need additional help.
“If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, work with a registered dietitian who can help you create a personalized plan that reflects your dietary preferences, culture, lifestyle and Take your budget into account, ”advises Hellerer.
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Which diet is the healthiest? One eating hack can boost more than your body
Scientists, nutritionists, and social media influencers have made their careers researching what—exactly—makes the best diet. In recent years, the Paleo diet, which attempts to replicate what our ancient ancestors were said to have eaten, has been pitted against the keto diet (essentially a version of the Atkins diet) and intermittent fasting (which insists there isn’t any diet is) fought for supremacy. But there’s one diet that almost all scientists agree is healthy for your body, your brain — and maybe even the planet.
Many nutritionists have long emphasized that a balanced diet consisting primarily of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and fruits is ideal for a healthy adult body and has numerous health benefits.
In other words: a plant-based diet. As it turns out, this type of diet is not only good for human health — it can also save the planet from the climate crisis.
In a recent study published in the journal Nature, scientists show how people in higher-income countries could remove enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius by switching to a plant-based diet change.
Two degrees is the upper warming limit set by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel to contain the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Specifically, researchers cite the EAT-Lancet diet as the healthiest diet for you and the planet. Here’s what you need to know.
What is the EAT Lancet Diet?
An infographic summarizing the plant-based diet recommended by the EAT-Lancet Commission. The diet is high in vegetables and low in meat.
The world population is expected to grow to 10 billion people over the course of the 21st century. Feeding this growing population in a way that is sustainable for the planet will be a challenge.
The EAT-LANCET Commission brought together leading scientists to determine the best “Planetary Health” diet – a diet to promote human health and protect the sustainability of the environment in line with the UN’s climate goals. (You can read the full report here.)
People in higher-income countries make up just 17 percent of the world’s population, but if they switch to a plant-based diet, we could eliminate the equivalent of “about 14 years of current global agricultural emissions,” the researchers say.
According to the Commission, the two main components a meal that follows the guidelines of the Planetary Health Diet:
- Half a plate of vegetables and fruit.
- Half a plate with a mix of “whole grains, plant-based protein sources, unsaturated vegetable oils, and (optionally) modest amounts of animal-based protein sources.”
The number of calories, on the other hand, would depend on the needs of the person.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of what a person can eat on an average day as part of the planetary health diet:
- Whole grains (rice, wheat, corn, etc.): 232 grams or 811 calories
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes and cassava): 39 calories
- Fruit: 200 grams or 78 calories
- Dairy: 250 grams or 153 calories
- Protein: Can vary from 14 to 50 grams (30 to 291 calories) depending on whether it is animal protein (ie beef, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs) or plant protein (legumes and nuts).
- Added Fats: Unsaturated Oils (40 grams or 354 calories) or Saturated Oils (11.8 grams or 96 calories)
- Added Sugar: 31 grams or 120 calories
The commission’s scientists conclude that a plant-based diet is a “win-win” for the earth and humanity, stating: “A diet high in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods brings both improved health and environmental benefits.”
Why is the planetary health diet good for the earth?
If people in high-income countries switch to a plant-based diet and we convert farmland to natural vegetation, we can make a big contribution to curbing global warming, researchers find.Getty
Food systems in rich countries contribute a lot to the climate crisis. As the researchers report in the latest Nature study, the global food system emits 13.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or about 26 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Animal production, along with land use, “constitutes the majority of these emissions.”
Per capita meat consumption in richer countries is six times higher than in lower-income countries. Greenhouse gas emissions from meat consumption are also significantly higher: animal-based products account for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from food systems in richer countries, but only 22 percent in lower-middle-income countries.
“Hence, dietary changes in high-income countries could have the potential to significantly reduce agricultural emissions around the world,” the researchers write.
If people in higher-income countries transition to the plant-based diets outlined here and return farmland of animal origin to natural vegetation, researchers say we can reduce annual agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from those countries by 61.5 percent and save up to 98.3 gigatons carbon dioxide in the soil.
Besides saving the planet, EAT-Lancet is also crucially good for human health, which can help people in wealthier countries adapt to a plant-based diet.
Why is the planetary health diet good for humans?
Eating a plant-based diet has numerous benefits, from reducing obesity to improving heart health. Getty
The food best suited to cooling down a warming planet is also extraordinarily good for human health.
“Healthy plant-based eating should be recommended as an environmentally responsible dietary option for improved cardiovascular health,” researchers write in a separate 2018 report.
Numerous studies shed light on how plant-based eating can improve or reduce the risk of a variety of health conditions, including:
“Improving plant-based diet quality over a 12-year period was associated with a reduced risk of total and [cardiovascular disease] mortality, while increased consumption of an unhealthy plant-based diet is associated with a higher risk of total and [cardiovascular disease] mortality,” researchers write in another 2019 study.
Animal proteins provide essential nutrients like iron and zinc. So if you choose to eat a plant-based diet, it’s important to get enough plant-based protein from other sources to make up for the loss.
Iron-rich foods include legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grain breads – all of which are included on the ideal plate, according to EAT-Lancet guidelines.
For this reason, following a diet with specific guidelines for consumption — like the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet — can ensure you’re still getting essential nutrients and protein despite following a plant-based diet.
The reverse analysis – Whether you’re trying to convince a friend to cut down on his meat intake or working to include more leafy greens in your own diet, it’s helpful to remember the connections between the planet and our own bodies.
After all, skipping a cheeseburger because of global warming might seem like an abstraction, but when you consider that your heart health is at stake, you’re more likely to choose a healthier, plant-based option that also has tremendous benefits for the planet.
Fiber offers many health benefits
Conversations and advice about nutritional components seem to be in the news all the time. Low carb here, high protein there. But one thing that doesn’t get nearly the attention it should is fiber.
When you learn about all the benefits of getting enough fiber, you’re wondering why we’re not talking about it more. According to the National Institutes of Health, fiber is found in the plants you eat, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is sometimes referred to as bulk or roughage.
Some people probably don’t talk much about fiber because we primarily associate it with normalizing bowel movements and relieving constipation. However, there are many other health benefits of fiber as well. Some studies suggest that a high-fiber diet may also help you lose weight and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
There are two forms of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both are good for us for different reasons. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that binds to fats. This helps lower blood cholesterol levels, especially LDL or bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose, which may help people with diabetes. Insoluble fiber is also helpful as it bulks up the stool and helps it move through the body more efficiently.
In general, whole fruits, legumes, and vegetables are good sources of both types of fiber. Take an apple for example; The skin consists of insoluble fiber and the fleshy part contains soluble fiber.
The latest USDA dietary guidelines recommend women eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams per day. Our American average is only about 10 to 15 grams per day. In practice, you could get 27 grams of fiber by eating ½ cup chopped vegetables (4g fiber), 1 medium whole fruit with peel (4g fiber), 2 slices of 100% whole wheat bread (6g fiber), ½ cup eat black beans (8 g fiber) and ¾ oatmeal (5 g fiber).
Dan Remley, our OSU Extension Food, Nutrition and Wellness field specialist, has developed a great resource called Fiber Fills You Up, Fills your Wallet and Fuels Your Health. In it, Remley says, “High-fiber meals are lower in calories, affordable, and can help your family feel full after a meal.”
He has a few fiber tips to help you gradually add more fiber to your day:
- Eat oatmeal several times a week.
- For breakfast, choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal with 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. Choose grains with “whole grain,” “bran,” or “fiber” in the name. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
- Serve a meatless dinner once a week. Replace meat with beans.
- Eat two servings of vegetables per meal.
- Leave the skin on fruits and vegetables.
- Add oatmeal to cookies.
- Snack on nuts, dried fruits and popcorn.
- Choose chips or crackers with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
On the other hand, there are some processed foods with added fiber sources. In some cases, this can be a helpful way to add more fiber to your diet. Be aware that these products are high in calories and may add more sugar or sodium than you think. Your best bet is to eat as many whole fruits and whole grains as possible rather than these formulated products.
Today I leave you with this quote from Desmond Tutu: “Do your little good where you are; It’s those little bits of good that overwhelm the world.”
Emily Marrison is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and can be reached at 740-622-2265.
The case for making whole-wheat pizza dough
The Perfect Loaf is a column by Maurizio Leo-turned-bread expert (and resident bread baker of Food52). Maurizio is here to show us anything that’s naturally leavened, enriched, yeasted, whatever – basically any vehicle to smear a lot of butter. Today he talks about the pros and cons of whole wheat pizza dough.
* * *
The longer I bake bread and bake pizza, the more I like increasing the whole grain content of the dough. Sure, there’s an undeniable charm that comes with the classic Italian way: a 00-flour-based pizza baked at a super-high temperature, resulting in an extremely soft texture, high rise, and an open, airy crust . And while my sourdough bread almost always includes a whole grain component, lately I’ve been pushing the whole grains into my naturally leavened pizza dough as well. Swapping out some white flour is an easy way to take flavor to the next level: the addition of bran and germ mixed into the batter brings deeper grain flavors (read: nutty, earthy, and hints of minerality) and in Combined with long natural fermentation you get a double whammy of flavor and nutrients.
The challenge, however, is that adding more whole grains to a recipe (pizza and bread alike) usually results in a sturdier end result. The increase in bran and germ in the dough begins to affect the dough structure, inhibiting that high rise and open, airy interior. But what these doughs lack in volume, they more than make up for in flavor.
Let’s look at how we can bring these flavor and nutritional benefits to a whole wheat sourdough pizza dough.
How much whole wheat flour should be in pizza?
To be honest, I don’t think you can go too far! I had pizza made from 100 percent whole wheat flour, and while it was a bit more squat, a bit chewy, and a lot heartier than a classic pizza, the flavor was great. Personally, I like to split the difference. Using half white flour (00 or all-purpose flour) and half whole wheat flour is the best of both worlds: nice rise from the white flour and added flavor from the whole grains, all in a dough that still stretches easily to make cakes .
Typically, with sourdough pizza, the more whole grains you have in the mix, the more sour or complex the final flavor profile. I think that’s partly why the longer I bake bread and cook pizza, the more I value adding whole grains to a mix – the depth of flavor is just unmistakable. For pizza, however, a 50:50 mix of whole wheat and white flour means extra acidity, but not too much. It makes a wonderful addition to any toppings you might add and will brighten up the flavor of any cheese, meat or veg you throw on your pizza.
What other flour can I use?
In addition to pure whole wheat flour, using another sifted variety like Type 85 (which falls somewhere between whole wheat and white flour) is also a good option. This flour contains more bran and germ than white flour, but it’s not as much that you get all the wheat berries as it is with 100 percent whole grain. What I like about Type 85, which can sometimes be described as a “high extractive” flour, is that it works and works very similarly to white flour, but there’s a big flavor boost from the fine bits of bran and germ that are still present in the flour . And there’s a wide range of these balanced flours too, from Type 80 all the way up to Type 110, which is much closer to whole grain than white – experiment to see which you prefer. White wholemeal flour, i.e. wholemeal flour made from white wheat berries, would also work here. It produces a milder flavor profile due to the reduction in tannins.
What mods do I need to increase whole grains even more?
When topping up the whole wheat flour in a recipe, you need to increase hydration since the flour contains more particles of bran and germ, which tend to absorb more water. Also, you need to watch the fermentation activity in the dough as whole wheat flour tends to increase fermentation activity due to the increased nutrients. I like to add my sourdough starter or levain portion to a batter in step with whole wheat flour increases. For example, if I wanted to make a 75 percent whole wheat pizza dough, I would reduce the 18 percent starter called for in a 50 percent whole wheat dough to 15 percent.
How can I make my dough softer?
One thought I had in mind when developing my whole wheat sourdough pizza dough was to add a small percentage of extra virgin olive oil to the dough. Some pizza enthusiasts may balk at the idea of a free-form pizza, but adding fat to a dough helps create tenderness. We must also take into account the fact that we are preparing this pizza in a home oven, not in a professional pizza oven where it will still take a few minutes to fully bake; The added fat keeps the crust from drying out.
Adding a little olive oil — I use 1 to 2 percent of the total flour weight — brings just enough softness to offset the longer cooking time required in a home oven. In fact, I go this route with my sourdough pizza romana, which is baked on a sheet pan and results in a firm and crunchy, yet somewhat chewy and soft dough. With this recipe, however, I found the batter to be overcooked and soft enough for me, but if you’re looking for a little more tenderness, a drizzle of olive oil added during the batter mixing step is the answer
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