Could adding olives to your salad help support your weight management efforts? A recent study suggests it might! Find out more in this week’s Nutrition News.

Olives found to support weight management

As of 2022, one in every eight people worldwide lives with obesity. Obesity significantly increases the risk of several health issues, including type 2 diabetes, resulting in ongoing diabetes support. According to Dongmin Liu, PhD, a professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise at Virginia Tech, obesity is a major pathogenic factor for type 2 diabetes and a challenge for effective metabolic control in patients.

In a new study, Liu’s team explored the potential of a natural compound found in olives and olive oil, elenolic acid, to improve blood sugar control and support weight management. The team identified elenolic acid as a compound that triggers the release of metabolic hormones PYY and GLP-1 from L-cells, helping control appetite and blood sugar levels.

The study, reported in the article “Can a compound found in olives help treat obesity and diabetes?” found that obese subjects with diabetes experienced a 10.7% reduction in obesity after four to five weeks of elenolic acid treatment. This compound also increased muscle weight, reversed fatty liver disease, and improved liver function. Remarkably, the treated subject’s blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity were comparable to healthy-weight mice.

Liu highlighted the significance of these findings, suggesting that elenolic acid could potentially be developed into a support for humans with obesity and diabetes. Future research will focus on understanding how elenolic acid manages blood sugar and obesity, and exploring combination therapy with metformin. Human studies are necessary to confirm these benefits, but the potential for a natural, effective treatment is promising.

Monique Richard, MS, RDN, suggests incorporating olives and olive oil into diets to leverage their health benefits. However, due to their sodium content, it is essential for those on sodium-restricted diets to consume them in moderation. Researchers are continuing to study the mechanisms and safety of concentrated elenolic acid for future human clinical trials.

Baby carrots linked to skin health

A recent study reported in the article “Eating baby carrots three times a week raises skin carotenoid levels in young adults” revealed that snacking on baby carrots just three times a week significantly boosts skin carotenoid levels in young adults. These phytonutrients, responsible for the vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues of many fruits and vegetables, can be measured in the skin to gauge fruit and vegetable consumption. The study found that combining this healthy snack with a multivitamin containing beta carotene further increased carotenoid levels.

Carotenoids in the skin not only indicate fruit and vegetable intake but also enhance antioxidant protection and lower the risk of chronic diseases. They also reflect better skin health  and immune function.

Previous research has shown that consuming three times the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables daily for three weeks can elevate skin carotenoid levels. This new study suggests that even a simple dietary change, such as incorporating baby carrots as a snack, can significantly increase carotenoid accumulation.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned 60 young adults to four groups: a control group receiving Granny Smith apple slices, a group consuming 100 grams of baby carrots, a group taking a beta carotene-containing multivitamin, and a group combining baby carrots with the supplement. Using a VeggieMeter, a noninvasive spectroscopy instrument, they measured skin carotenoid levels before and after the four-week intervention.

Results showed a significant 10.8% increase in skin carotenoid scores for the baby carrot group and a 21.6% increase for the group combining carrots and the supplement. There were no significant changes in the control group or those taking only the supplement.

Simmons noted, "The combination of baby carrots and a multivitamin with beta carotene can enhance skin carotenoid accumulation. People should choose a multivitamin containing beta carotene and snack on baby carrots at least three times a week."

Healthy eating thought to lower risk of cognitive decline

A wealth of evidence supports the benefits of a diet rich in plants and low in salt, saturated fats, and processed foods for overall health. Such diets can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Recent studies also suggest that healthy eating in older age can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

New research presented at NUTRITION 2024, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, and reported in the article “Healthy eating habits can help prevent cognitive decline later in life” adds further evidence to this. The study emphasises that adopting healthy eating patterns early in life increases the likelihood of maintaining cognitive function into old age. Although these findings have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they highlight the long-term benefits of a nutritious diet.

Kelsey Costa, a registered dietitian at Examine, notes, “This study strengthens the link between diet and cognitive health, showing the importance of dietary choices for brain function as we age. Tracking cognition alongside diet throughout life is a major contribution of this research.”

The study followed 3,059 individuals over seven decades, beginning in 1946. Participants completed questionnaires and tests on diet, cognition, and general health. Researchers assessed dietary intake at five points between ages 4 and 63 and cognitive ability at seven points between ages 8 and 69, using group-based trajectory modelling to analyse the data.

Scott Kaiser, MD, from the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, explained, “While this study doesn’t establish causation, it supports the idea that diet can protect brain health or accelerate cognitive decline.”

Using the 2020 Healthy Eating Index (HEI), researchers found a strong association between diet quality and cognitive trajectory. Those with high cognitive abilities in old age consumed more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains and fewer added sugars, refined grains, and sodium.

Lead researcher Kelly Cara, PhD, noted that early dietary habits influence later life choices, suggesting the cumulative effect of diet over time impacts cognitive abilities. Costa agrees but emphasises that improving diet even in later life can still benefit cognitive health.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with low sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods, can support brain health. These diets, such as the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets, contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components that protect brain cells and maintain vascular health.

Ultimately, adopting a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can help maintain cognitive function and overall vascular health, promoting a sharper mind into old age.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.