Nutrition: Food News & Facts

Lead Story: Chrononutrition: You are When You Eat

photograph by ALEXANDRA WILLIAMS, MA

Early to bed and early to rise? This sleep pattern may not make you wealthy or wise (as the saying goes), but it does seem to be linked to better health. Early risers not only have healthier eating patterns, but they also show a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than night owls, according to an international meta-analysis of chronotypes. (Chronotype refers to a person’s most energetic period of the day, with “early birds” having a “morning chronotype.”)

As reported in Advances in Nutrition, night owls have more erratic eating patterns and consume more sugars, fat, alcohol, caffeinated drinks, energy drinks, wine, chocolate, fast food and total calories than their early-bird counterparts (2018; 0, 1–13). On the other hand, morning chronotypes are more apt to observe regular mealtimes; eat breakfast more consistently; and consume more fruits, vegetables and grains.

Night owls also tend to eat later in the day, which negatively affects blood glucose levels. The research review linked this habit to a higher rate of chronic disease, especially type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In addition, one study showed that the evening chronotype is associated with higher levels of smoking and physical inactivity, while early risers tend to have higher energy levels and spend more time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

The reviewers noted a research gap with respect to the association between chronotype and chrono­nutrition (the timing, regularity and frequency of eating) and cardiometabolic health. They also reported that, despite their broad literature review, they could not determine causation: It was not possible to say whether changing behavioral chronotype (or bedtime) would alter eating habits or physical condition. Still, for fitness professionals, it may be helpful to keep in mind these correlations when working with clients of varying chronotypes.

Fortunately, you don’t need to wait for more research before you can put the idea of chrono-nutrition to use. In the new book What to Eat When: A Strategic Plan to Improve Your Health & Life Through Food (National Geographic 2018), Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Mike Crupain, MD, MPH, share some surprising tips that may shake up the way you think about mealtimes.

Co-author Roizen offers this simple suggestion, for starters: “If you only eat when the sun is out, and eat 75% of your calories before 7 p.m., you are hacking your metabolism to maximize your health and weight loss. That is using your circadian rhythm to gain the health benefits of intermittent fasting without the pain or unusual [food] choices. And it is a lifestyle you can live with forever. Food is a relationship, like a marriage—it is two ways.”

Get Your Antioxidants While They’re Hot

Hot brewed, that is. Two (possibly caffeinated) researchers published a study that showed differences between hot and cold brew coffee; specifically, that the hot cuppa joe had higher levels of antioxidants.

Niny Rao, PhD, and Megan Fuller, PhD, two chemistry professors from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, set out to discover whether coffee’s chemical makeup differed between the two types of brewing methods. While the acidity levels were found to be similar in both cold and hot brew coffees (pH levels ranged from 4.85 to 5.13 using six different pre-ground light and medium roasts), the hot brew had more total titratable acids (linked to bitterness) and higher antioxidant levels, while the cold-brewed coffee seemed to be less “chemically diverse.”

In the discussion and conclusion of the study, published in Scientific Reports, Rao and Fuller note that while cold brews may remain preferable to people with gastrointestinal problems (due to their lower acidity), hot water “must extract additional bioactive compounds” from coffee, even when the same beans are used (2018; 8 [1]). For people looking for maximum antioxidant kick in a cold beverage, pouring a hot latte over ice might be the perfect solution.

REGARDLESS OF DIET, THE ENDGAME IS THE SAME

The German Cancer Research Center recently finished the largest investigation on intermittent fasting to date. The study, reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2018; 108 [5]), examined 150 people with overweight or obesity (aged 35–65). Participants were divided into three groups—intermittent fasting, calorie restriction and a control group. The IF group cut calories by 75% 2 days per week, while the conventional dieters restricted calories by 20% all week long. At the end of both the initial intervention year and a 2-year follow-up, weight loss between the two dieting groups was not significantly different.

In a November 2018 interview with ScienceDaily, Tilman Kühn, lead scientist of the study, noted that what really matters is stick-to-it-iveness. “. . . for some people, it seems to be easier to be very disciplined on two days instead of counting calories and limiting food every day,” he said. “But in order to keep the new body weight, people must also permanently switch to a balanced diet.”

LET’S STUDY OUR FOOD. LITERALLY.

Molecule by molecule, Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, DPhil, wants us to rethink our diets as a form of molecular therapy that can treat particular diseases. To do that, though, we must begin to give as much research attention to food molecules as we do to those in pharmaceuticals.

“Unlike most medicines, whose effects we sift, measure and scrutinize, often using the most rigorous clinical trials, human diets—the other set of molecules we put into our bodies—have gone relatively unexamined,” he wrote in his December 2018 “On Medicine” column for The New York Times Magazine.

The thought came to this assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University when he was taking a postsurgery antibiotic to speed healing and prevent infection. He conjectured that, since molecules in his medicine were designed to target certain microbes, perhaps molecules in food could be used similarly. Combining diet and medicine, he believes, can provide a synergy with extensive benefits.

As a physician, biologist, hematologist and oncologist, Mukherjee proposes that scientists run studies in which diet and drugs are used in collaboration to produce a desired effect, such as the reduction of a cancerous tumor. He is hoping to begin research on people with lymphomas, endometrial cancer and breast cancer this year.

Food for (Future) Thought

Personal trainers: Do you want your older male clients to remember your workout advice? Encourage them to consume more leafy greens, red and dark-orange vegetables, berry fruits, and orange juice. A 20-year study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published in the journal Neurology (2019; 92 [1]) collected data from 27,872 male health professionals and found that eating more of these foods was associated with a lower risk of memory decline. (The men were about 50 when the study commenced.)

For example, those who drank a half cup of orange juice daily were nearly 50% less likely to develop poor subjective cognitive function (SCF) than those who drank less than one serving per month. Also, men who consumed six servings per day of vegetables (with one serving equaling 1 cup of raw vegetables or 2 cups of leafy greens) were 34% less likely to exhibit poor SCF than men who ate only two servings a day.

“This study of men, memory loss and produce intake continues to [demonstrate] that a balanced diet including ample fruits and vegetables shows a potential benefit for long-term health outcomes,” says Amanda Boyer, MS, RDN, CD, NASM-CPT, owner and nutrition therapist, Wholehearted Nutrition in Bloom­ington, Indiana. “How­ever, it also shows that diet is not the be-all and end-all to perfect health. There are individuals who ate more vegetables who [did develop] cognitive deficits and those who ate less vegetables and did not.” This is because other factors play a role in memory, “such as genetics, age, co-existing disease, medication and more,” says Boyer.

She hopes future research will delve into similar information regarding women—and perhaps examine levels of produce intake that are more moderate. “It would be interesting to see if there is a significantly different outcome if someone were to eat three to five servings versus the observed two or six,” she says.

USDA Food Label Update: A New Claim to Look For

In November 2018, the FDA approved a new qualified health claim for edible oils that contain high levels of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) shown to provide cardiovascular benefits when used to replace saturated fat in the diet. The approved wording:

“Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 11/2 tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid (at least 70%) may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. To achieve this possible benefit, oleic acid–containing oils should not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of [x] oil provides [x] grams of oleic acid (which is [x] grams of monounsaturated fatty acid).”

The key takeaway for clients is buried in the middle: These fats must be used to replace saturated fats, and they must not boost your daily calorie intake. In other words, they’re a swap, not an addition. The claim will soon be appearing on high oleic versions of olive, canola, sunflower, safflower and algal oil.

For an interesting glimpse at the level of work involved in adding a new food label claim, you can go to fda.gov and pull up the 27-page document titled “FDA Response to Petition for a Qualified Health Claim for Oleic Acid in Edible Oils and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease.” With a title like that for its response letter, it’s no wonder that the label lingo runs on for so long!

The Scoop on Multi-Ingredient Preworkout Supplements

What do you get when you combine caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids and nitric oxide agents? MIPS, aka multi-ingredient preworkout supplements, which many athletes take to improve exercise performance and training adaptations. While a recent review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that most of the relevant research backed these perks, some serious concerns remain.

First is the duration of the studies (most are 12 weeks or less). Second is the lack of transparency regarding ingredients, which makes it difficult for consumers to ensure they are not taking any banned or potentially harmful substances—and to avoid dangerous drug interactions. Third, research is lacking (not surprisingly) on women as well as other “underresearched” groups, such as untrained adults aged 40 and older.

Researchers concluded, “We would recommend discussing specific products and dosages of any supplement with a knowledgeable health professional or sports dietician prior to ingesting any product.”

Mindset During Meal Planning Shifts Food Choices

One way to encourage clients to stick to their nutritional goals is to have them intentionally focus on the benefits of healthy food choices. In a recent experiment published in Appetite, researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany learned that individuals can potentially make better food choices regarding portion sizes by adopting a specific mindset as they plan their future meals (2018; 125, 492–501).

In the study, Maike A. Hege et al. directed participants (whose weights were categorized as anywhere from average to obese) to adopt one of four mindsets while choosing the size of their lunch portion:

  • a health mindset (a focus on how good the food was for them)
  • a pleasure mindset (a focus on how much they would enjoy it)
  • a fullness mindset (a focus on staying full until dinner)
  • a neutral mindset (receiving no mindset instruction, to serve as an experimental control)

Brain scans showed greater activity in the prefrontal cortex—which is linked to self-control and the cognitive process of future meal planning—when people adopted the health mindset. This mindset also led participants in all weight categories to select a smaller portion of food than they did with any other focused mindset.

Your New Favorite Protein Bar

Looking for a new “favorite” protein bar? Ashley Walterhouse, NASM-CPT, has the perfect recipe for you. A self-described “firm believer in the power of fitness and whole foods . . . and the color turquoise,” Walterhouse says the recipe below is a simple variation on her 4-Ingredient Homemade Protein Bars—with some chocolate and coffee flavors mixed in.

One of the perks of making these yourself: You can swap in decaf coffee powder or go half-caf if you’re sensitive to the stuff (or want to nosh them at night). Walterhouse says it best: “[You] should consume everything with a little asterisk*—meaning what works for one person may not work for you.”

PALEO CACAO-COFFEE PROTEIN BARS

  • 2 cups nuts, such as almonds, pecans, cashews, or walnuts
  • 1 cup egg white powder
  • ¼ cup cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 Tbl espresso powder or instant coffee
  • 18 large Medjool dates, pitted (about 10 oz)
  • water (as needed)

In a blender or food processor, lightly process the nuts with the powdered ingredients; stop before the nuts are pulverized. Add the dates; process. With the motor running, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until the ingredients are sticky (up to 6 tablespoons). Press into a parchment-lined 8-by-8-inch pan; refrigerate 1 hour or freeze 30 minutes. Cut into 12–16 squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

A BEAUTIFUL COINCIDENCE
Foods for “Healthy Aging”Can Improve Workouts, Too

In endless pursuit of the Fountain of Youth, consumers are driving demand for foods and beverages marketed as “promoting healthy aging.” So says a review of 2019 trends identified by the marketing intelligence agency Mintel Group. In a November 2018 article on nutraingredients-usa.com, Nikki Cutler quoted Mintel Food and Drink spokesperson Jenny Zegler as saying that more products this year will feature foods from Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, such as turmeric, green tea extract and medicinal mushrooms.

Aesthetics may be the primary motivation for purchasing these items, but there’s a double bonus for the fit-minded among us: These foods have also been found to have a positive effect on exercise performance and recovery.

TURMERIC. In a review of research on curcumin (the key ingredient in turmeric) published in Foods, several small studies showed promise for reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness after both cardio and resistance workouts (2017; 6 [10], 92).

GREEN TEA EXTRACT. A small study in Physiology & Behavior suggests a positive link between green tea extract and postexercise muscle recovery (2018; 197, 77–82), while another in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported an increase in fat oxidation during exercise with GTE—whether it’s decaffeinated or caffeinated (2015; 12).

MEDICINAL MUSHROOMS. A report in BioMed Research International showed a link between these and a reduction in muscular fatigue. This may be due, in part, to the food’s effect on lactic acid and glycogen storage (2017; doi:10.1155/2017/9648496).

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Williams Alexandra Williams, MA, A writer and editor, as well as a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara in the department of Exercise Studies, Sport and Recreation. She is a vegetarian who cooks and bakes from scratch. Find her at FunAndFit.org.

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