Topic of the Month

2017 in Review: The Top Stories in Nutrition Research

Julia Bird

November 27, 2017

Nutrition in the News

One of the big trends over the past few years was the super-veggie kale: full of antioxidants, iron and eye-friendly carotenoids, we couldn’t resist adding this relatively unknown brassica to smoothies, pizza, or simply sautéing it as a feel-good side dish. However, it seems that kale’s crown as the queen of healthy green vegetables may be shifting. The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared different green leafy vegetables for their nutrient content and found that kale was not in the top five. In fact, the top superfoods in 2017 were more mundane, featuring foods Grandma would think of as healthy such as legumes, apples, cabbage and blueberries.

It seems that the clean eating trend may be on the way out as well. To replace it, more and more of us are interested in vegetarian and vegan products. In 2017, marketing data showed an increase of 8 percent in one year in the plant-foods category. Related news stories involved a large fast-food restaurant chain developing a vegan burger, and the renaissance in non-dairy ice creams that are apparently delicious to both people who love dairy, and the lactose intolerant.

Linking in with interest in the microbiome and probiotics, news outlets picked up on a clinical trial by Hsiao and co-workers showing that peanut allergy resolved after combined treatment with probiotics and peanuts [1]. This is related to a recent Topic of the Month from NUTRI-FACTS about Diet, Nutrition and the Gut Microbiome.

Another topic of interest is the effect of nutrition and diet on longevity. Diet and longevity are clearly associated with each because the definition of a healthy diet is one that keeps us free of disease. A study that found small, healthy changes in the diet lead to improvements in life expectancy made headlines, for example. While it’s good to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in the diet, there seems to be a little confusion about the right amount. Earlier in the year, some news outlets reported that 10 servings were better than 5 at preventing chronic diseases. Another study, however, found that 4 servings were enough, and that more did not translate to reductions in mortality rates.  

As if its taste wasn’t enough to love, chocolate consumption was associated with lower risk of an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke and heart failure, and the researchers thought this may be due to its polyphenol content. Chili peppers may also help people live longer – people reporting consuming hot peppers had a reduced risk of mortality according to research.

The Latest and Greatest Nutrition Research

Every year, there are 20,000 to 30,000 research articles published in the field of nutrition*, and most do not attract the attention of major news outlets. However, many of these articles are important for nutrition researchers and can have a significant impact on the field. Notable articles are cited by thousands of other scientists, and a list of the most cited articles in nutrition science in the past 5 years is maintained. This year may also yield a perennial favorite among scientists, judging by the high number of citations they have already received.

Highly Cited Primary Nutrition Research Articles and Reviews

There is considerable research into obesity and its associated health effects, as nutrition is inextricably linked. Researchers looking for an all-round citation about the health consequences of obesity on a global scale have found the article by Afshin and colleagues {Afshin, 2017 #265}to be valuable [2]. The article linking obesity with changes in how DNA is activated, from Wahl and associates, could be used to better identify the onset of Type 2 diabetes and help to find treatments [3]. The review from Saxton and Sabatini on the function of the mTOR enzyme, which is a central regulator of metabolism and physiology in mammals, was highly cited. mTOR does not function as it should in obesity and Type 2 diabetes [4].

Looking at the health consequences of obesity, Del Chierico and colleagues were able to show differences in the gut microbiome and gut metabolites in people with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease [5]{Afshin, 2017 #265}. The recent study by Plovier et al. was related to this area of research: a normal gut microbe that is associated with less metabolic disease, Akkermansia muciniphila, could reduce obesity, insulin resistance and irregularities in blood lipids in mice when administered either live or pasteurized [6].

A group of researchers lead by Mattison were interested in the divergent results from two different studies of the effect of calorie restriction on longevity in the Rhesus monkey [7]. In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, calorie restriction resulted in an improvement in longevity for the monkeys, but another study at the National Institute on Aging found that there was no effect. The authors discuss differences in how the monkeys were selected and fed during the study, and the effects this could have had on the outcome.

Another interesting article that has been cited considerably during the year discusses the health benefits of the compound curcumin, which is found in the yellow spice turmeric. Written by Nelson and colleagues, the authors argue that curcumin is poorly bioavailable and produces false positive results in laboratory tests, therefore it is unlikely that any health benefit can be derived from it [8]. This review paper is controversial in light of other reviews that suggest that curcumin has biological effects particularly in the anti-aging sphere [9].

The field of nutrition is evolving rapidly, incorporating advances from other fields particularly related to informatics, improved analysis techniques and genetics. Multi-disciplinary work is improving our understanding of how nutrition related to our health and wellbeing. Next month, we will look at the what is on the horizon for 2018 and beyond.

*Based on searching biomedical and life science database Pubmed for “nutrition” articles over the past 10 years.

References – News Articles – in order of appearance in text

  1. Julie R. Thompson. Huffington Post. 09/07/2017. The Best Salad Greens, Ranked By Nutrition.
    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kale-nutrition_us_59b30419e4b0354e4411fb61
  2. Nancy Rones. TIME. August 4, 2017. The 19 Best Foods for Health and Happiness.
    http://time.com/4859607/superfoods-better-health/
  3. Roni Caryn Rabin. New York Times. March 24, 2017. Ask Well: Red Cabbage vs. Blueberries?
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/well/eat/ask-well-red-cabbage-vs-blueberries.html
  4. Bee Wilson. The Guardian. August 11, 2017. Why we fell for clean eating.
    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/11/why-we-fell-for-clean-eating
  5. Elaine Watson. Food Navigator. September 13, 2017. US plant-based food market up 8.1% in year to August 12, 2017, Nielsen data
    https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2017/09/13/US-plant-based-food-market-up-8.1-in-year-to-August-12
  6. Hilary Hanson. Huffington Post. 10/07/2017. McDonald’s Is Testing Out A Vegan Burger
    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mcdonalds-vegan-burger-mcvegan_us_59d92818e4b046f5ad98a0ed
  7. Melissa Clark. New York Times. July 21, 2017. Vegan Ice Cream Enters a Golden Age.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/dining/vegan-ice-cream-non-dairy.html
  8. Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine. Huffington Post. October 26, 2017. Making sense of probiotics and prebiotics
    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/making-sense-of-probiotics-and-prebiotics-what-we_us_59f21cbfe4b05f0ade1b55a1
  9. Alice Park. TIME. August 17, 2017. A New Therapy May Cure Kids of Peanut Allergy.
    http://time.com/4905191/peanut-allergy-peanuts-probiotics/
  10. Australian Associated Press. The Guardian. August 16, 2017. Peanut allergy cured in majority of children in immunotherapy trial
    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/aug/17/peanut-allergy-cured-in-majority-of-children-in-immunotherapy-trial
  11. Stephanie Castillo. Fortune. July 13, 2017. Improving Your Diet Just a Little Bit Can Help You Live Longer, Says Study.
    http://fortune.com/2017/07/13/healthy-diet-longevity-study/
  12. Sarah Boseley. The Guardian. February 23, 2017. Forget five a day, eat 10 portions of fruit and veg to cut risk of early death.
    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/23/five-day-10-portions-fruit-veg-cut-early-death
  13. Amanda Macmillan. TIME. October 13, 2017. Do You Really Need to Eat Five Fruits and Vegetables a Day?
    http://time.com/4920832/fruit-vegetables-legumes-servings/
  14. Nicholas Bakalar. May 23, 2017. Why Chocolate May Be Good for the Heart.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/well/why-chocolate-may-be-good-for-the-heart.html
  15. Mostofsky E, Berg Johansen M, Tjønneland A, et al.  Chocolate intake and risk of clinically apparent atrial fibrillation: the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study.  Heart 2017;103:1163-1167.
    http://heart.bmj.com/content/103/15/1163.citation-tools
  16. Nicholas Bakalar. January 17, 2017. Eat Peppers, Live Longer?
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/well/eat/eat-peppers-live-longer.html

References – Scientific Articles

  1. Hsiao, K.-C.; Ponsonby, A.-L.; Axelrad, C.; Pitkin, S.; Tang, M.L.K.; Burks, W.; Donath, S.; Orsini, F.; Tey, D.; Robinson, M., et al. Long-term clinical and immunological effects of probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy after treatment cessation: 4-year follow-up of a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 1, 97-105. 10.1016/S2352-4642(17)30041-X.
  2. Afshin, A.; Forouzanfar, M.H.; Reitsma, M.B.; Sur, P.; Estep, K.; Lee, A.; Marczak, L.; Mokdad, A.H.; Moradi-Lakeh, M.; Naghavi, M., et al. Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity in 195 Countries over 25 Years. The New England journal of medicine 2017, 377, 13-27. 10.1056/NEJMoa1614362.
  3. Wahl, S.; Drong, A.; Lehne, B.; Loh, M.; Scott, W.R.; Kunze, S.; Tsai, P.C.; Ried, J.S.; Zhang, W.; Yang, Y., et al. Epigenome-wide association study of body mass index, and the adverse outcomes of adiposity. Nature 2017, 541, 81-86. 10.1038/nature20784.
  4. Saxton, R.A.; Sabatini, D.M. mTOR Signaling in Growth, Metabolism, and Disease. Cell 2017, 168, 960-976. 10.1016/j.cell.2017.02.004.
  5. Del Chierico, F.; Nobili, V.; Vernocchi, P.; Russo, A.; Stefanis, C.; Gnani, D.; Furlanello, C.; Zandona, A.; Paci, P.; Capuani, G., et al. Gut microbiota profiling of pediatric nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obese patients unveiled by an integrated meta-omics-based approach. Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.) 2017, 65, 451-464. 10.1002/hep.28572.
  6. Plovier, H.; Everard, A.; Druart, C.; Depommier, C.; Van Hul, M.; Geurts, L.; Chilloux, J.; Ottman, N.; Duparc, T.; Lichtenstein, L., et al. A purified membrane protein from Akkermansia muciniphila or the pasteurized bacterium improves metabolism in obese and diabetic mice. Nature medicine 2017, 23, 107-113. 10.1038/nm.4236.
  7. Mattison, J.A.; Colman, R.J.; Beasley, T.M.; Allison, D.B.; Kemnitz, J.W.; Roth, G.S.; Ingram, D.K.; Weindruch, R.; de Cabo, R.; Anderson, R.M. Caloric restriction improves health and survival of rhesus monkeys. Nature communications 2017, 8, 14063. 10.1038/ncomms14063.
  8. Nelson, K.M.; Dahlin, J.L.; Bisson, J.; Graham, J.; Pauli, G.F.; Walters, M.A. The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin. Journal of medicinal chemistry 2017, 60, 1620-1637. 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975.
  9. Aggarwal, B.B.; Sundaram, C.; Malani, N.; Ichikawa, H. CURCUMIN: THE INDIAN SOLID GOLD. In The Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Curcumin in Health and Disease, Aggarwal, B.B.; Surh, Y.-J.; Shishodia, S., Eds. Springer US: Boston, MA, 2007; pp 1-75.