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How diet affects our health, for better or for worse

How diet affects our health, for better or for worse

We are what we eat, in every sense. Until now we have always published articles in which we show the benefits of a healthy diet, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. But what happens when the diet is unbalanced and some foods are exceeded? The answer is given by two very recent scientific studies. The first study was published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control by an American team from Brown University and focused on understanding the effects of a high-fish diet (Li et al, Cancer Causes and Control, 2022). The second study, on the other hand, appeared in the journal Nutrients and analyzed the action on cognitive function of a diet high in pro-inflammatory substances (Wang et al, Nutrients, 2022).

Fish is good, but…

Eating fish is good, we hear and read it everywhere. But, as in everything, even in this case it is important not to overdo it. In fact, American scientists from Brown University, based on a large study, NIH-AARP, analyzed the health and eating habits of 491,367 adults. What emerged is that those who regularly consume higher quantities of fish, tuna or other non-fried fish, show a greater risk of developing cellular degeneration of the skin that can, in some cases and in the long term, develop into melanoma. It is believed that the reason is due to the contamination of the fish by substances such as arsenic, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls or dioxins. In fact, previous studies have already shown that eating large quantities of fish leads to higher levels of these substances circulating in the body. Certainly the research is still in its infancy and the researchers themselves say other factors, such as skin type, history of severe sunburn or habits in the sun, need to be taken into consideration, but the results are interesting and allow us to understand two things. The first is that you should never overdo any food, even if it is considered healthy. The second is that it is important to choose quality foods and always be aware of what you are eating. In the case of fish, it is useful, for example, to avoid or at least limit large fish, such as swordfish or blue shark, and to prefer smaller fish, such as sardines, anchovies or mackerel.

Diet-induced inflammation and brain health

The second research studied the health and nutrition data of 1050 adults. In particular, each volunteer was subjected to tests to evaluate cognitive function and each was associated with a score representing the degree of inflammation determined by the diet. This value was obtained by comparing protective and anti-inflammatory foods, rich in unsaturated fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, selenium, anthocyanins and vitamins A, C and E, and pro-inflammatory foods, and therefore containing high amounts of saturated fatty acids, cholesterol and refined carbohydrates, taken with the diet. Well, what emerged was that those who had higher values of this inflammatory index, and therefore a diet more unbalanced on pro-inflammatory foods, also had a greater risk of developing cognitive impairment. Hence the importance of a diet that favors foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, such as fruit and vegetables, and unrefined carbohydrates.

Conclusions

What emerges from these two scientific studies is therefore that nutrition affects health, both of the body and of the mind. And this can happen with benefits, when the diet is healthy and varied, rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances, or by causing damage at the cellular and neuronal level when this is unbalanced and unhealthy. It is therefore important to be aware of what we eat because food is not just energy and nourishment to allow us to move, think or talk, but it has an active role in our health conditions.
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