Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.
While few people would contest that fruit and vegetables are good for you, there can be some confusion over how many servings of them you're supposed to eat in a given day. The USDA advises people to eat anywhere from five to nine a day, with international standards similarly converging around five or six, though some go much higher.
Luckily, a new study that reviewed the health and diets of 100,000 people and combined it with meta-studies of the available data puts the debate over how many servings a day you should get to rest.
The researchers followed 66,719 women from the Nurses' Health Study and 42,016 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study to see how their diet affected their long-term health and mortality rates. Over the three decades of follow-ups, a clear, non-linear relationship developed between how many servings of fruit and vegetables people consumed per day and their risk of death.
That overall risk reached its lowest point at five servings a day—two of fruit and three of vegetables—with further increases having no additional benefit. What type of vegetable was consumed mattered as well, with starchy veggies like corn and potatoes having fewer benefits than other types. Fruit juices were also less helpful than just eating the fruit. On the other hand, leafy greens, carrots, citrus fruits, and berries all demonstrated health benefits.
The net benefits of this compared to only getting two servings a day (roughly what the typical American is eating) are notable. It averages to about a 13 percent lower risk of death from all causes, a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer, and a 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
To confirm the findings, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 26 other studies involving two million people. The results were similar, with the greatest reduction in mortality occurring at the five-a-day mark, though one study found that eating 10 servings a day offered some improvement on that.
For those who are unsure, a serving of fruit is one medium-sized fruit (like an apple), half a cup of something canned, or a fourth of a cup of something dried. When it comes to vegetables, a cup of leafy greens is a serving, as is half a cup of anything else which is fresh, canned, or frozen.
The study is not without issues. The dietary data is self-reported and could be inaccurate. Participants could also choose to eat better as their health declines, reducing the observed benefits. Above all, the study was observational, and causation cannot be proven. Despite these limitations, the study provides a great deal of support for the idea that eating more fruit and veggies is good for you.
Now to just settle the problem of getting them into your meals.
A large new study puts caffeine-drinking moms on alert.
- A study finds that the brains of children born to mothers who consumed coffee during pregnancy are different.
- Neuroregulating caffeine easily crosses the placental barrier.
- The observed differences may be associated with behavioral issues.
As one human body gives birth to another, so many things have to, and usually do, go right. It's known that substances a mother ingests can influence the success of fetal development. Modern mothers are careful regarding the consumption of alcohol, associated with a wide array of problems during fetal development and later in life.
Researchers have also investigated the impact of coffee consumption during pregnancy. It's known that caffeine easily traverses the placenta and that a fetus lacks the enzymes necessary to break down this known neuroregulatory compound. Studies have found that the coffee's caffeine can result in lower birth weights when too much of the beverage is consumed.
Now a substantive study from researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester states definitively that coffee during pregnancy can change important fetal brain pathways that may lead to behavioral issues later in life.
What's too much coffee? First author Zachary Christensen says, "Current clinical guidelines already suggest limiting caffeine intake during pregnancy—no more than two normal cups of coffee a day. In the long term, we hope to develop better guidance for mothers, but in the meantime, they should ask their doctor as concerns arise."
This guidance may change as a result of this study, notes principal investigator John Foxe, who says, "I suppose the outcome of this study will be a recommendation that any caffeine during pregnancy is probably not such a good idea."
The study is published in the journal Neuropharmacology.
A large study of nine- and ten-year-old brains
Credit: myboys.me/Adobe Stock
For the study, researchers analyzed brain scans of 9,000 nine and ten-year-olds. Based on their mothers' recollections of their coffee consumption during pregnancy, the researchers found that children of coffee drinkers had clear changes in the manner in which white brain matter tracks were organized. These are the pathways that interconnect brain regions.
According to Foxe, "These are sort of small effects, and it's not causing horrendous psychiatric conditions, but it is causing minimal but noticeable behavioral issues that should make us consider long-term effects of caffeine intake during pregnancy."
Christensen says that what makes this finding noteworthy is that "we have a biological pathway that looks different when you consume caffeine through pregnancy."
Of children with such pathway differences, Christensen says, "Previous studies have shown that children perform differently on IQ tests, or they have different psychopathology, but that could also be related to demographics, so it's hard to parse that out until you have something like a biomarker. This gives us a place to start future research to try to learn exactly when the change is occurring in the brain."
The study doesn't claim to have determined exactly when during development these changes occur, or if caffeine has more of an effect during one trimester or another.
Foxe cautions, "It is important to point out this is a retrospective study. We are relying on mothers to remember how much caffeine they took in while they were pregnant."
So as if being pregnant wasn't difficult enough, it sounds like the most conservative and safe course of action for expectant mothers is to forgo those revitalizing cups of Joe and switch to decaf or some other un-caffeinated form of liquid comfort. We apologize on behalf of science.
From baboon hierarchies to the mind-gut connection, the path to defeating depression starts with understanding its causes.
- According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people suffer from depression. It is the leading cause of disability and, at its worst, can lead to suicide. Unfortunately, depression is often misunderstood or ignored until it is too late.
- Psychologist Daniel Goleman, comedian Pete Holmes, neuroscientist Emeran Mayer, psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, and more outline several of the social, chemical, and neurological factors that may contribute to the complex disorder and explain why there is not a singular solution or universal "cure" that can alleviate the symptoms.
- From gaining insight into how the brain-gut connection works and adopting a more Mediterranean diet, to seeking help from medical or spiritual practitioners, depression is a personal battle that requires a personalized strategy to keep it at bay, as well as more research and understanding.
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
You know the drill. You're having dinner when suddenly a black nose appears under the table between your legs. You tilt back and there are those eyes. Those eyes. If you're a savvy dog owner, you resist sliding down there — eating from the table is a bad habit you don't want to encourage. Plus, this is your food. It's people food. We don't eat animal food. Dogs have their own food, specially formulated for their dietary needs. Right?
Well, maybe not. A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois (U of I) finds that not only is human-grade food digestible for dogs, but it's actually more digestible than much dog food. The proof is in the pooing.
The study is an accepted manuscript for the peer-reviewed Oxford Academic Journal of Animal Science.
Four diets were tested
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock
The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The ingredients of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a pasta maker. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.
For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:
- a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe
- a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe
- a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe
- another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.
The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts.
(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)
Senior author Kelly S. Swanson of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he says, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."
Tracking the effect of each diet
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock
The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.
It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.
Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."
Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.
"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in previous studies, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."
How did kibble take over canine diets?
Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been since 1870, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn human-food waste into profit.
Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese, and certainly their diet is a factor.
We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're not looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.
Can we end world hunger by 2030? Thanks to a new program, the data for it is all there.
- An international team of researchers has released a series of studies geared towards ending world hunger.
- They are thought to be some of the first people to use Evidence Synthesis for agricultural data.
- Their ideas could increase food production and lower poverty for a low cost, regardless if they meet their lofty goal.
World Hunger is one of those problems that everybody seems to want to solve but that just won't go away. In 2020, nearly 700 million people suffered from hunger at some point.
This is despite years of both lip service to the idea of feeding everybody and sincere attempts by people, governments, and organizations with deep pockets to solve the issue. The number of people going hungry has been declining in recent years, but getting those last few hundred million fed has proven difficult.
A new project offers potential solutions that could finally feed the world. Ceres2030, named for the Roman Goddess of Agriculture, aims to help the world reach the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal No. 2 and end world hunger in ten years using evidence-based, targeted investments in various areas.
Who are these people?
Headquartered at Cornell University, Ceres2030 is a collective project involving people from around the world. It is financed in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.
The enterprise includes more than 70 researchers from 23 different countries with the best information available on what works to reduce hunger. These researchers are divided into eight teams, each covering a separate subject area. Each group reviews the literature and combines it into a general review which can be used to inform policy decisions.
There exists a technique, frequently used in medical science and other health-related fields, called "Evidence Synthesis." It aims to review all of the relevant literature on a topic in a way that outlines where the scientific consensus is, clearly shows where gaps in the research are, and provides a context for new discoveries. Before now, it was rarely, if ever, used to review information on agriculture.
Using AI to sort through the endless data, the project considered half a million previously published reports, studies, and articles searching for information. By reviewing the summaries of these documents, the machine was able to synthesize the findings. The humans involved with the project then took these findings and authored ten papers summarizing them to allow readers to draw broad conclusions on what the evidence suggests would effectively improve crop yields and farmer incomes.
This might strike you as a high tech version of an intensive review of the literature. However, it is essential to remember that many important works can sit unread for years at a time. Some of the studies reviewed may have been read by no more than a handful of people, and they certainly never reached the attention of farmers or officials in a place to apply their findings. By having computers go through this information, the Ceres team was able to create the most comprehensive summation of the data possible.
If humans alone were trying to do this task, they'd probably still be reviewing the data in 2030.
What do they want us to do?
The analysis shows that many studies agree on the benefits of a few, straightforward initiatives. Among these findings are game-changing ideas like:
Farmer's organizations help their members increase both their incomes and crop yields. Membership was linked with higher incomes in nearly 60 percent of studies, and benefits to crop yields were demonstrated in a quarter. These organizations play a part in helping farmers adopt modern techniques, tools, and crop types to help implement other policy suggestions. Assisting people in joining them can have a tremendous impact on their lives.
In the middle and lower-income countries, nearly three-quarters of small farmers live and work in areas where water is scarce. The vast majority of these farms do not have an irrigation system to speak of. Output and income could both be increased by addressing this infrastructure issue. Helping farmers switch to more climate change and drought-resistant crops and introduce new and improved livestock sources, both as sources of labor and food, can improve productivity and keep people resilient in the face of climate change.
These are just a handful of the ideas Ceres2030 endorse in their press releases. In each case, they point to piles of data showing the effectiveness of these ideas in increasing incomes, crop yields, and small producers' resiliency in the face of threats such as climate change. It could cost roughly 14 billion dollars more a year in aid to do it, about twice as much as we are spending on the problem now, alongside new investments by the governments of nations most plagued by hunger.
All of these ideas can be implemented tomorrow; many places have already done these things. It is only a matter of deciding to do it. Some of the findings and ideas are even simpler than these, including discovering that we waste a lot of food and that simple solutions can prevent much of it.
More information on their ideas and how they came to their conclusions can be found on the Ceres2030 website.
Will this work?
The findings and recommendations are based on extensive research, histories of successful implementation elsewhere, and a sincere desire to use evidence to help people. Following them would lead to better-informed farmers making more money while sustainably growing more food. The recommendations are neither one-size-fits-all, nor are they overly specific to the point where they cannot be generalized.
There are also plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. A study published this year in Nature argues that we will not be able to end world hunger by 2030. It takes the stance that some countries with endemic malnourishment are unlikely to reach their development targets for 2025, let alone the more ambitious goals for 2030.
The costs of not at least making progress on this front are very high. Without progress, an additional 100 million people could end up both hungry and mired in extreme poverty by the end of the decade, according to an estimate by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some regression already, as economic difficulty leads to empty bellies.
The entirety of human history has been marked by attempts to produce enough food for everybody, and it is only recently (relatively speaking) that we've managed to do that. Today, we grow enough food for 10 billion people but seem to have difficulty getting it to the people who need it most. The suggestions of the Ceres2030 team, if followed, offer the chance to finally rid the world of hunger and famine for less than $50 per currently malnourished person per year.
It's only a question of doing it. Let's see if we want to.