The thing about nutrition and health is that it’s an ever progressing field – there’s always more to learn, to test and to understand.
Here’s a look at our pick of the top 5 most interesting discoveries and/or events that took place in the nutritional space this past year.
1. Fish Oil’s Potential Weight Loss Effects
We’ve known for some time now that there are two types of fat: white and brown. The white one is the type of fat tissue that stores fat for longer. The brown one burns off faster to produce heat and keep us warm. This type is abundant in babies, but decreases when we mature into adulthood. 1 What we discovered this year, however, is that there’s an entirely new type of fat: beige fat. This type functions a lot like the brown fat – which, naturally, is good news. Omega-3 fatty acids can actually convert some of the white fat into beige fat – which means it will burn off more easily, and consequently might help lose weight. This discovery has made 2015 a big year for fish oil, since it’s very high in omega-3 fatty acids!
2. Gut Bacteria’s Role in Weight Loss
We’ve only just begun to understand just how big a role the bacteria living in our gut play, beyond simply helping us digest tough fibres. New evidence tells us that the “good” gut bacteria can even play a role in weight loss, by altering the way we store fat, the amount of energy we use, the way we balance levels of glucose in our blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full. In fact, an imbalance in this inner ecosystem (which some drugs can create), leads to weight gain!2 We have also recently found out that the gut’s bacterial composition is different in lean and in obese humans.3 The crosstalk between these bacteria and our organs also plays a crucial role in harmonizing several processes of metabolism. Researchers hope to learn how to cultivate this population in ways that could prevent—and possibly treat—obesity, and other conditions like inflammation, type-II diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Here’s hoping we get an update in 2016!
3. Sugar is More Addictive than Cocaine
Sugar is generally addictive because it releases a feel-good hormone called dopamine, which affects the ‘reward and pleasure’ centres of our brain. What makes it even more addictive is the fact that, gradually, with the more sugar you have, the less dopamine is released; to get the same effect, you need to keep having sugar!7, 8 Studies have suggested that the intense sweetness of sugar may trigger a more ‘rewarding’ sensation than highly addictive drugs like cocaine. One study on rats that were addicted to low doses of cocaine showed they would actually choose sugar over cocaine!4, 5 The brain scans of people in response to both sugar and cocaine agrees with the theory. Considering how sugar is literally handed out like candy, let’s try to give this piece of news the attention it deserves this coming year.
4. The FDA Cuts Artificial Trans-fats from Food Supply in the USA
Artificial trans-fats are truly “bad” fats. They have been linked to boosting “bad” LDL cholesterol, which raises the risk of heart disease.6They also activate the immune system unnecessarily, which makes it attack healthy tissue (see inflammation). Too much of this, over time, is the underlying cause of many ‘lifestyle diseases’ like metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis and numerous others.7, 8 We have known about the ill-effects of trans-fats for several years now. However, they’re still used in processed foods because they’re cheaper and have a long shelf-life.9 This year, in June 2015, the food regulation agency of USA took a step to phase out trans-fats from food supply in the USA. Food manufacturers have been given three years to remove them from products, after which they cannot be used. This would affect people residing in other places too, because we all consume food products exported from the USA. We can only wait and see if the rest of the world will follow suit in 2016 (here’s hoping!).
5. Starch is recognised for its role in supporting the Evolution of Man
Contradictory to popular belief, recent evidence (from, for example, human dental remains found in a cave dating from 200,000-400,000 years ago) suggests that the diet of early man included starch and polyunsaturated fats, along with meats.10 Meat was earlier given sole credit for having supported the evolution of man to a bigger-brained animal. Now, researchers believe that while meat may have kick-started the process, the starch in their diet played a key role as well. This seems to makes sense because the brain is powered by glucose, and starches are its most efficient source. Also, in an evolutionary context, certain events seem to be correlated to the growth of the brain. Geological evidence shows that the initiation of cooking came about at the same time, probably to make starches more easily digestible. We evolved to have a group of enzymes called ‘amylase’ in our saliva that break down cooked (not raw) starches to glucose. These events give us an approximate time frame, leading to the reasonable prediction that early man was indeed, cooking and consuming starches while the brain grew.11 Every single one of these headlines of 2015 can and does directly impact the way we think of nutrition and our health – so let’s keep these in mind as we enter the New Year, and get that much closer to our health goals! And since each year comes with its own set of headlines in the nutritional and health space, we can’t wait to find out what 2016 has in store for us.
1. Kim M, et al. Sci Rep 2015, 5: 18013.
2. Bahr SM, et al. EBioMedicine, 2(11): 1725-1734.
3. DiBaise JK, et al. Am J Gastroenterol Suppl 2012, 1(1): 22-27.
4. Lenoir M, et al. PLoS ONE 2007, 2(8): e698.
5. Avena NM, et al. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews 2008, 32(1): 20-39.
6. Mozaffarian D, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr 0000, 63(S2): S5-S21.
7. Han SN, et al. J Lipid Res 2002, 43(3): 445-452.
8. Baer DJ, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2004, 79(6): 969-973.
9. Dijkstra AJ, et al. Trans Fatty Acids. Wiley, 2008.
10. Hardy K, et al. Quaternary International 2015.
11. Hardy K, et al. The Quarterly review of biology 2015, 90(3): 251-268.