Is canned tuna too high in mercury for pregnant women?

Advice given to women on the amount of fish they should consume while pregnant may be flawed, researchers contend.

Experts agree that fish is a good source of protein and healthy fats, but these health benefits must be balanced with significant downsides. Fish species like tuna and carp, can contain high levels of mercury, which are absorbed from polluted waters.

Previous studies have shown that mercury, a heavy metal, can be toxic to neurons in the brain, and in 2014 U.S. federal agencies issued draft guidelines advising pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant, to avoid high-mercury fish altogether.

However, scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) argue that even if women follow the guidelines on which types of fish to eat, they may be exposing themselves and unborn babies to unsafe levels of mercury and not gaining the necessary benefits from the healthy omega-3 fats in the fish.

The EWG claims the list of high-mercury fish is incomplete or inaccurate. Specifically, canned light tuna is listed as a lower-mercury fish even though some previous studies have found it high in mercury.

“It’s misleading to name canned light tuna as one of the low-mercury species that women are encouraged to eat,” says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG.

EWG asked 254 women of child-bearing age who ate more than the U.S. government’s recommended amount of fish to record their seafood consumption and submit hair samples for mercury testing.

Among women following this preliminary advice of two to three servings of different types of fish a week, 30 per cent of the women were exposed to levels of mercury deemed unhealthy by the EPA.

Much of their exposure was tied to fish species like tuna steaks and sushi that are not included in the government’s warning.

The FDA guidelines, which aren’t final and still in draft form, only mention swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark as species for pregnant women to avoid, and suggest limiting albacore tuna to six ounces per week.

To avoid mercury exposure, the guidelines provide a list of low mercury seafood, which include salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters, and trout.

Blueberries cut dementia risk

Blueberries for weight loss, blueberries to fight cancer and now blueberries have been found to stop dementias developing. Is there anything the tiny blue fruit can’t do?! If you’re not already tucking into the superfood, and no, blueberry muffins do not count, then surely now is the time to start – especially if you’re middle aged as scientists from the University of Cincinnati found consuming them at this life point could stop dementia developing decades later.

Lead researcher Robert Krikorian looked at 47 men and women aged 68-plus who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (trouble remembering something). People with MCI are more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

The test group was each given a powder to take every day for four months, either made up of freeze-dried blueberries or a placebo alternative. The freeze-dried powder was made especially for the study, and was the equivalent to a small teacupful of berries.

Participants also had to complete a series of mental tests, focusing on the memory and thinking skills that are eroded by dementia.

Results clearly showed that the fruit boosted the brain’s ability and made it more active.

“There was a significant improvement in cognitive function in those who had the blueberry powder, compared with those who took the placebo,” Dr. Krikorian explained, adding he believes it’s to do with the anthocyanins found in blueberries.

The chemical is what gives blueberries their color, and has been linked to boosting blood flow, cutting inflammation, and enhancing the passage of information between cells.

Blueberries also helped people who hadn’t been diagnosed with memory problems, but just felt they were becoming more forgetful.

“Our findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in older adults,” Dr. Krikorian added

Is salt making your child fat?

Children who eat a diet high in salt are at an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese, warn health experts.

A study found that almost three in four children are eating above the recommended amount of salt, typically found in everyday foods such as bread, cheese, ham and sausages.

Researchers at Australia’s Deakin University analysed the urine of 666 school children and found 70 per cent of the children ate over the maximum amount of salt recommended for good health.

Children who took part in the study were eating on average 6 grams or over a teaspoon of salt a day. The recommended daily amount is 4- 5 grams.

Each additional gram is associated with “a 23 per cent greater likelihood with being overweight or obese,” explained lead researcher Dr Carley Grimes.

“Foods that contain higher levels of salt may enhance the flavor of foods which are often also higher in fat and energy and a salty diet may also encourage greater consumption of high energy sugar-sweetened beverages when these are available.

“This study is ringing alarm bells as we now have good evidence to indicate the need to cut the amount of salt that our children are eating,” added Dr. Grimes.

The effects of child eating too much salt can impact on a child into adulthood if not addressed.

“Such high intakes of salt are setting children up for a lifetime risk of future chronic disease such as high blood pressure and heart disease,” she further explained.

The occurrence of abdominal obesity was also higher in children aged 4-7 years old and 8-12 years old, who registered the highest intake of salt out of the sample.

Carrying extra weight around the stomach increases the risk of a number of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes.

Professor Garry Jennings, Chief Executive of Australia’s National Heart Foundation which funded the study, said the results are cause for serious concern.

“It highlights the importance of salt reduction to reduce the risk of future chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease later in life,” he commented.

The findings are published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Almonds = weightloss

Another day, another weight loss tip – this time it seems almonds could be the answer to our slim-down prayers. Many of us want to drop a few pounds, but it can be tricky to dedicate yourself to a diet when there are so many delicious treats winking at you from supermarket aisles. If that sounds familiar, switching some snacks to a handful of almonds daily could be what’s needed.

A team of researchers at the University of Florida in America have looked into the impact the seeds have on diets. Data was taken from 28 pairs of parents and their children, with the mothers or fathers munching on 1.5 ounces (400grams) of almonds a day for three weeks. The kids got half an ounce, or the same amount of almond butter.

Before this, each of them were measured on the US’ Healthy Eating Index, which shows how good someone’s diet is. Scores under 51 show a poor diet, 51 to 80 means things could be better with some tweaks, while over 80 indicates a healthy food intake.

When things kicked off, the adults’ average score was 53.7, with a fluctuation of 1.8 either way. The children came in at 53.7 too, with a change of 2.6 in either direction.

After the almonds were introduced, the results changed dramatically. The mothers and fathers saw their diets rise to 61.4 (with a fluctuation of 1.4), with the kids’ climbing to 61.4 plus or minus 2.2.

Everyone ate more protein, which is known to keep you full for longer, and saw the amount of empty calories (ones which don’t offer any goodness or nutrients to the body) reduce.

“The habits you have when you are younger are carried into adulthood, so if a parent is able to incorporate almonds or different healthy snacks into a child’s diet, it’s more likely that the child will choose those snacks later on in life,” author Alyssa Burns explained.

One issue was that the children sometimes got bored with almonds and wanted more variety. It’s suggested that parents should get creative in the kitchen to guard against this, meaning using the seeds in porridge or sandwiches.

Meals + avocados = weight loss

The benefits of the humble avocado are wide ranging. From boasting cancer fighting carotenoids (organic pigments) to brimming with heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids – the avocado really is a diet staple. And new research has further proved this, with scientists from the Hass Avocado Board in California discovering the green fruit can aid weight loss.

“This study supports the body of research showing the many benefits that fresh avocados have to offer when consumed in everyday healthy eating plans,” Emiliano Escobedo, the board’s executive director, said.

Emiliano’s work, published in Journal of Clinical Lipidology, concluded that swapping solid fats for avocados can “significantly change lipid profiles”.

His team got their results by analyzing 10 unique avocados studies featuring 229 participants. They looked at the impact avocado had on cholesterol levels, finding that one to one-and-half avocadoes per day “significantly reduced total cholesterol”.

“Fresh avocado, as part of a balanced diet, and as a cholesterol-free substitute for solid fats, can help be part of the solution for maintaining normal cholesterol levels,” Dr Nikki Ford, director of nutrition for Hass Avocado Board, noted.

As well as adding avocado to your diet, try making easy kitchen swaps to up your daily fruit and vegetable intake.

One of the simplest ways to sneak in some more goodness is to switch spaghetti for spiraled vegetables. Adding meaty sauces with courgetti spaghetti (spiralised courgettes), for example, will also see you reduce your carbohydrate intake.

Spiralisers were 2015’s must have kitchen gadget, and their popularity shows no sign of slowing down. JML’s newest launch is the Veggetti 2.0, which quickly and easily turns a range of vegetables into neat spiral ribbons. There are two settings, so you can make your carrots, courgettes or cucumber thick or thin, depending on whether you choose to add them to salads or hot dishes.

For those with a sweet tooth who can’t help but reach for a treat after meal times, try incorporating fruit into your snacks. Yes we all know reaching for an apple over a bar of chocolate is the smart decision, but realistically that’s not going to satisfy your sugar craving. Instead cut up said apple and dip into peanut butter (natural is, of course, the better choice here). Goodness, but with that added naughty edge.

Scientists identify harmful molecules in processed foods

Processed junk food contains dangerous bacterial molecules that can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, a new study has revealed.

A team of researchers at the University of Leicester discovered that junk foods, as well as seemingly healthy processed options such as ready prepared vegetables and pasta sauces, contain molecules known as pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs).

It is believed that these grow as the food is being manufactured and refrigerated before being transported to suppliers.

As an example, a fillet steak would be low in PAMPs, while minced steak mince has high levels. Similarly a whole onion is low in PAMPs, but a pack of pre-prepared chopped onions is high.

For their study, lead researcher Dr Clett Erridge and his team looked at a group of volunteers who stuck to a diet of foods low in PAMPs for an entire week.

Three major factors were noted – their white blood count was reduced, their bad cholesterol levels were reduced and they lost an average of 1.3lbs in weight.

White blood cells work to protect the body from diseases. If a high white blood count is noted, it can indicate health problems such as an infection, allergy, inflammation, allergy or another issue. When sticking to the low PAMP diet, the volunteers’ white blood counts were reduced by 11 per cent.

One of the most significant findings was that the volunteers’ levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were reduced by 18 per cent. If the group continued on the low PAMP diet, the reductions in cholesterol levels would mean their risk of suffering from coronary artery diseases in the future would drop by over 40 per cent.

Volunteers also lost weight during the week-long diet and an average of 1.5cm from their waistlines – meaning that once again their risk of type 2 diabetes dropped by more than 15 per cent.

When the scientists gave the volunteers a high PAMP diet to follow, they found these benefits were completely reversed – showing the danger of the molecules.

Dr Erridge and his team are now hoping that food manufacturers will test the levels of PAMPs throughout their manufacturing process, thereby finding out at which point the molecules enter the food, like which machines or materials could be introducing them.

Removing the PAMPs from foods could help make them healthier without adversely affecting the taste or texture, as well as the cost or ingredients of preparing the food.

The study was published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases.

Runny eggs OK during pregnancy

Here’s some good news for pregnant women out there, the runny egg is back on the menu. For around 30 years expectant ladies in Britain have been warned against cracking into undercooked eggs and advised to avoid hollandaise sauce, homemade mayonnaise and mousse.

However, anyone yearning for a runny boiled egg to dip your toast soldiers into will be happy to know a year-long review conducted by government approved scientists has determined that the risk of contracting salmonella from a British egg is “very low”.

Salmonella is caused by bacteria living in hens and can be very serious in pregnancy, increasing the risk of miscarriage or premature labor. In some cases it can also be fatal for toddlers or older people.

The advice now being issued is that pregnant women, toddlers and elderly people can enjoy soft yolks from eggs bearing the British Lion kitemark on the shell. It is reassuring to know that 90 per cent of the eggs produced in the UK do carry this stamp of approval.

“The Working Group is in agreement that there has been a major reduction in the microbiological risk from Salmonella in UK shell eggs from hens since the 2001 report,” states the report by the British Government’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food.

“The very low risk level means that eggs produced under the Lion Code, or produced under demonstrably equivalent comprehensive schemes, can be served raw or lightly cooked to all groups in society, including those that are more vulnerable to infection, in both domestic and commercial settings, including care homes and hospitals.

“The group’s view is that this is especially the case for those eggs produced under the Lion Code Scheme, which comprises a suite of measures including: vaccination, a cool chain from farm to retail outlets, enhanced testing for Salmonella, improved farm hygiene, better rodent control, independent auditing, date stamping on the eggs and traceability.”

However, those individuals previously deemed to be at risk have been warned that eating runny eggs from cafes or restaurants should be avoided as they can’t guarantee the eggs will have the kitemark.

The British government first issued warnings about eating eggs following a salmonella scare in 1988, when everyone was told to only eat thoroughly cooked eggs. A decade later the advice was relaxed and aimed at groups deemed a greater risk, such as pregnant women, toddlers, those with long-term illnesses and elderly people.

Nutritionists have welcomed the news, explaining eggs offer a vital source of high quality protein and Vitamin D which are beneficial during pregnancy.

Chocolate can be beneficial during pregnancy

Pregnant women often worry about gaining too much weight when they are expecting, but a new study has shown that eating chocolate could provide essential health benefits. Anyone who has been through pregnancy will have experienced cravings at any time of the day or night – with chocolate being top of many women’s list. Now you no longer need to stress about tucking into your favorite sweet treat, as scientists have found high–flavanol chocolate can boost fetal growth and help the placenta perform more efficiently.

The study conducted by experts at Universite Laval in Quebec City, Canada, also determined the sweet stuff can decrease the risk of pre-eclampsia, a potentially serious condition which can occur in the latter stages of pregnancy.

“This study indicates that chocolate could have a positive impact on placenta and fetal growth and development and that chocolate’s effects are not solely and directly due to flavanol content,” explained study co-author Dr Emmanuel Bujold.

Previous studies have produced conflicting findings when it comes to the impact of eating chocolate during pregnancy, so this latest trial focused on the effect of high-flavanol chocolate, such as dark chocolate, which is high in cocoa solids.

For the study, 129 women were chosen, all between 11 and 14 weeks pregnant with one baby. They were given 30 grams of either high-flavanol or low-flavanol chocolate to eat every day for 12 weeks, and their progress was followed until they gave birth. Each participant’s uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index (PI) was measured, which shows blood velocity in placental, fetal and uterine circulations. The PI showed noticeable improvement for both groups.

Gestational hypertension, placenta weight, pre-eclampsia and birth weight was also noted for each woman – and no differences were found between the two groups.

Fizzy drink consumption = Organs wrapped in fat

We all know that snacking on bags of crisps and bars of chocolate washed down with a litre of something fizzy is no good for our waistline or insides. In fact, very few people need another study to tell them the dangers of a diet high in sugar and fat, but unfortunately it’s an area of growing concern as obesity continues to soar across the world.

This time, latest research highlights the damage fizzy drinks cause to our insides, with those consuming the sugary beverages daily finding their organs wrapped in fat.

Scientists at the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Massachusetts followed 1,000 middle-aged participants for six years to conclude their results. Everyone in the study was asked how often they drank fizzy drinks and underwent X-rays to determine how much visceral fat they had.

Visceral fat is harmful fat stored within the abdominal cavity, which means it lingers around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. As well as making people pile on the pounds, visceral fat plays an important part in diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

The results have been published in medical journal Circulation, with the team finding those who drank sugary or fizzy drinks every day put on nearly a litre in extra visceral fat over the six years. That’s 30 per cent more than those who never consumed the beverage.

Diet drinks didn’t yield the same results, which suggests it’s sugar that causes the problem. The team suggests that insulin resistance triggered by added sugar could be to blame for fat increase.

“There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” Dr Caroline Fox, who led the new study, explained.

“Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink. To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health.”

Talk of a sugar tax is ongoing in Britain, with the latest study poised to add even more weight to the argument to make sugary treats more expensive.