Could something as simple as following a healthy eater on social media be the key to improved diet and general health? This week’s Nutrition news looks at some of the most recently published studies and articles in the world of nutrition and answers this and many more questions.

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Social media could increase fruit and vegetable consumption

Aston University researchers have unveiled a fascinating discovery: simply engaging with healthy eating content on social media platforms such as Instagram can significantly impact dietary habits, leading to a more varied nutrient profile containing more vitamins and minerals necessary for normal health and well-being. Led by Dr. Lily Hawkins and supervised by Dr. Jason Thomas and Professor Claire Farrow from the School of Psychology, the study, which was reported in the article “Social media can be used to increase fruit and vegetable intake in young people” delved into the effects of following healthy eating accounts on social media for a mere two weeks.

The experiment involved 52 volunteers, all regular social media users averaging 22 years of age, who were divided into two groups. The intervention group followed healthy eating Instagram accounts, while the control group followed interior design accounts. Over the course of two weeks, participants documented their dietary intake.

The results were striking: those exposed to healthy eating content increased their daily fruit and vegetable consumption by an impressive 1.4 portions while consuming 0.8 fewer energy-dense items like high-calorie snacks and sugary drinks per day. This represents a noteworthy improvement compared to previous dietary interventions.

Dr. Thomas and his team attribute this change in eating behaviour to affiliation, especially among participants who felt connected to other Instagram users. With only 28% of the UK population meeting the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, finding effective ways to promote healthier eating habits is crucial, given the link between low consumption and chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.

The study suggests that leveraging social media to promote positive dietary norms could be a game-changer in supporting heart health and health more generally, especially for younger demographics. Dr. Thomas expressed excitement about the findings, noting that even minor adjustments to social media habits could yield significant dietary improvements at no cost. Looking ahead, the researchers plan to explore whether such interventions can sustainably alter perceptions of dietary norms over time.

Dr. Hawkins emphasised the real-world impact of the study, underscoring the potential for broader community-based interventions. As the researchers continue to delve into this promising avenue, the implications for public health and behaviour change are profound.

Higher omega 3 levels linked with longevity

In a groundbreaking study reported in the article “Higher omega-3 levels linked to reduced risk of death” researchers from Aston University have unveiled compelling evidence linking docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a marine omega-3 fatty acid, with long-term mortality outcomes. Analysing data from the UK Biobank, encompassing 117,702 subjects over 12.7 years, the study explored associations between plasma DHA levels and all-cause mortality, cardiovascular (CV) mortality, and cancer mortality.

The results were striking: individuals in the highest quintile of circulating DHA levels experienced a remarkable 21% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to those in the lowest quintile. Further analysis revealed similarly significant reductions in the risk of death from CV disease, cancer, and other causes. These findings were bolstered by a secondary analysis merging UK Biobank data with a recent meta-analysis from the Fatty Acid and Outcome Research Consortium (FORCE), amplifying the significance of the results.

These findings underscore the potential of DHA, sourced from marine omega-3, in promoting longevity and cardiovascular health. The study's lead researcher, Dr. Lily Hawkins, emphasised the importance of these findings, particularly in the context of encouraging higher consumption of marine omega-3s, consistent with recommendations from the American Heart Association.

Moving forward, researchers are eager to explore the broader implications of these findings and investigate whether similar interventions can be replicated on a larger scale.

In conclusion, the study not only illuminates the potential benefits of DHA in supporting longevity but also highlights its promise in supporting general well-being.

Western diet linked to poor memory outcomes

During the critical stages of childhood and adolescence, the human brain undergoes significant development, laying the foundation for cognitive function in adulthood. However, a recent study conducted by researchers at USC Dornsrife in California, reported in the article “Western diet may cause long-lasting memory damage to growing brains” reveals a concerning vulnerability in brain health during this life stage, particularly in response to high-fat, high-sugar junk food — characteristics of a Western diet.

The study focused on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh), vital for memory processes such as learning, attention, and arousal. Reduced ACh levels have been associated with Alzheimer's disease in humans, prompting investigation into the impact of junk food on ACh levels in juvenile and adolescent subjects.

Subjects in the experimental group were provided with a range of unhealthy foods typical of a Western diet, while a control group had access only to standard food and water. Upon reaching young adulthood, memory tests revealed significant deficits in the subjects exposed to junk food during their developmental stages. Even after transitioning to a healthier diet, these memory impairments persisted, suggesting enduring damage to the brain.

Notably, the researchers observed compromised ACh signalling in the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory and learning. This disruption mirrors patterns observed in Alzheimer's disease, highlighting the long-term consequences of early exposure to unhealthy dietary habits.

Dr. Scott Kanoski, the senior investigator of the study, emphasised the importance of understanding how early-life dietary factors influence long-term brain health. While further research is needed to unravel the complexities of this relationship, the study underscores the detrimental impact of junk food on cognitive function during critical developmental stages.

Moreover, reversing undesirable changes in the gut microbiome caused by a Western diet and supporting gut health may hold potential for mitigating memory deficits.

Experts caution against the hazards of a Western diet, characterised by ultra-processed foods high in fat and sugar. Such dietary patterns have been linked to cognitive decline and metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes. Instead, they advocate for foods rich in choline, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, which support normal brain function and memory.

In conclusion, the study underscores the importance of promoting nutritious dietary habits, especially during critical periods of brain development, to safeguard cognitive function and overall brain health in the long term.

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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.