Could something as simple as taking photos of our food aid weight management and keeping us healthy? This week’s Nutrition News article looks at recently published papers that discuss this and other novel findings in the world of nutrition.

Find out more here.

Taking photos of our food could be key to weight management

Recent research suggests that taking pictures of our food doesn’t just populate our social media accounts but it might serve as the key to weight management. Discussed in the article “Picture this: Snapping photos of our food could be good for us”, this study evaluated the weight of meals consumed by participants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner over a single day. Participants used various technology-assisted methods to recall their dietary intake over the past 24 hours, with one group using the mobile Food Record app to photograph their meals. These images were subsequently analysed by a research dietitian.

A key finding was that the group that used photos to document their meals had a significantly higher accuracy in reporting their nutritional intake compared to those who relied on memory alone. Clare Whitton, the study's first author and a PhD candidate, noted that this research was the largest of its kind to utilise the mobile Food Record app. Whitton emphasised the importance of accurate dietary data in supporting public health initiatives.

"Accurate, reliable data about what the population is eating is key to supporting people to optimise their health," Whitton stated. She highlighted the difficulty many people face in recalling their food intake and how taking photos alleviates this burden, making dietary assessments more precise.

While current methods involve expert analysis of food photos, the research team is working towards automating this process. They are collaborating with Purdue University to employ artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically analyse the foods in the photos. Professor Deborah Kerr, the study lead and co-creator of the mobile Food Record App, expressed excitement about this advancement.

"It makes it a lot simpler for people to track what they consume when they only have to take photos for the day," Professor Kerr said. She noted that as AI technology progresses, the analysis of these photos will become fully automated, simplifying dietary tracking further.

Professor Kerr added that this technological progression not only improves the capture of dietary data but also enhances the precision of dietary advice, aiding individuals in achieving healthier eating habits. "This research shows the benefit of images; that's the pathway we're going down to get an accurate picture of what people are eating," she concluded.

While the study has some promising findings, it is important to note that the app is designed to support weight management and a balanced nutritional profile, and that photographing food for social platforms can be linked to adverse dietary patterns and eating disorders. Those concerned with their weight should consult a healthcare practitioner.

Omega 3 linked to lessened feelings of aggression

New research reveals that omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil, or consuming omega-3 rich foods, may help reduce aggressive and violent outbursts.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed in the article “Omega-3 Fish Oil Supplements May Help You Feel Less Angry and Irritable” found that omega-3 supplements reduced aggression by 30%, regardless of age or gender. A meta-analysis of 29 randomised controlled trials demonstrated that omega-3 reduces both reactive aggression (behaviour in response to provocation) and proactive aggression (planned behaviour).

“The study’s findings align with existing knowledge about the critical role of these nutrients in brain health,” says Stefanie Daniels, a registered nutritional therapist. Daniels highlights that omega-3s reduce inflammation and support neurotransmitter function, both crucial for emotional regulation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that our bodies need but cannot produce. They must be obtained through diet and are vital for reducing inflammation, supporting brain and heart health, and maintaining cell membrane flexibility, which influences mood and behaviour.

Daniels explains four reasons omega-3s reduce aggression. Firstly, they are anti-inflammatory. “Chronic inflammation in the brain is linked to mood disorders and aggressive behaviour, and omega-3s help reduce this inflammation,” she explains. Psychiatrist and nutritional therapist Dr. Jennifer Kraker concurs, adding that omega-3s inhibit pathways that cause irritability and aggression.

Omega-3s also enhance neurotransmitter production and function, especially serotonin and dopamine, which regulate mood. Balanced nutrition supports these neurotransmitters, reducing aggression. Furthermore, omega-3s maintain the integrity and fluidity of brain cell membranes, aiding communication between cells and contributing to better emotional regulation.

Lastly, omega-3s modulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, balancing the stress response, offering stress support, and reducing aggression.

Besides reducing aggression, omega-3s offer other brain health benefits. They may reduce anxiety and depression, protect against cognitive decline, and enhance neurodevelopment in children, potentially reducing ADHD symptoms.

To support omega-3 intake, adults should aim for 0.6-3g of EPA and 0.15-2g/day of DHA. Pregnant or nursing women should consume 300-900 mg of DHA daily. Most Westerners are deficient in omega-3s, so supplementation and dietary changes are recommended. Eating fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, anchovy, sardines, and herring twice a week, using extra virgin olive oil, and incorporating walnuts and chia seeds into meals can increase omega-3 levels.

The study suggests poor nutrition is a risk factor for behavioural problems, and increasing omega-3 intake may counter feelings of aggression. While healthy eating isn’t a cure-all for violent outbursts, a diet rich in omega-3s can improve mood and emotional regulation.

Mediterranean diet could reduce mortality in women

Investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital have uncovered mechanisms that might explain why the Mediterranean diet reduces all-cause mortality risk by 23% for American women. While the Mediterranean diet's health benefits have been highlighted in numerous studies, there has been limited long-term data specifically for women’s health and little understanding of the underlying reasons for its effectiveness.

This new study, discussed in the article “Mediterranean diet tied to one-fifth lower risk of early death in women,” following over 25,000 initially healthy U.S. women for up to 25 years, found that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly lowered the risk of death, including cancer and cardiovascular mortality. The study also identified biological changes such as alterations in metabolism, inflammation, and insulin resistance.

"For women who want to live longer, our study says watch your diet! The good news is that following a Mediterranean dietary pattern could result in about one-quarter reduction in risk of death over more than 25 years with benefits for both cancer and cardiovascular mortality," said senior author Dr. Samia Mora, a cardiologist and director of the Centre for Lipid Metabolomics at the Brigham.

The Mediterranean diet emphasises plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, with olive oil as the primary fat. It includes moderate consumption of fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and alcohol, with limited intake of meat, sweets, and processed foods.

This study explored the long-term benefits of the Mediterranean diet in a U.S. cohort from the Women's Health Study, investigating biological mechanisms behind the diet's positive effects. Researchers evaluated around 40 biomarkers related to metabolism, inflammation, triglycerides, obesity, and insulin resistance. These biomarkers played a significant role in the observed health benefits.

"Our research offers significant public health insights: even modest changes in established risk factors for metabolic diseases can yield substantial long-term benefits from following a Mediterranean diet," said lead author Dr. Shafqat Ahmad, an associate professor of Epidemiology at Uppsala University and researcher at the Brigham.

Despite limitations, such as the study's focus on predominantly non-Hispanic, white, well-educated female health professionals, and reliance on self-reported data, the research's large scale and lengthy follow-up period add robustness to the findings.

"The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are recognised by medical professionals, and our study offers insights into why the diet may be so beneficial. Public health policies should promote the healthful dietary attributes of the Mediterranean diet and discourage unhealthy adaptations," concluded Dr. Mora.

Share your thoughts

Agree with the findings in this week’s Nutrition News? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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.