A recent pilot study found that eating local foods with less additives could reduce the risk of abdominal fat, blood pressure and diabetes. The analysis is small but the results are interesting.
The food we eat has an enormous impact on our overall health— that much is abundantly clear.
The prevalence of both type 2 diabetes and obesity is a clear sign that attention is needed overall to people’s dietary habits in the United States.
Consumers want good, actionable dietary advice.
This need has expressed itself in a never-ending search for the ultimate nutritional intervention: a diet that will cure all diseases, improve well-being and increase lifespan.
A diet that at least ticks some of these boxes would likely contain fruit, vegetables, whole grains and small amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.
But as many of us are all too conscious, it’s hard to adhere to a healthy diet plan. Or, as one author puts it, “The science of diet or policy has progressed rapidly, creating confusion.”
Popular diet choices now include Mediterranean, low carb, no carb, Atkins, ketogenic, and intermittent fasting, all jostling for public-spirited place.
A recent study examines whether making a small change to our purchasing habits could make a significant difference for our health.
A reliance on highly processed foodstuffs
The most common explanation for this in ultra-processed foods is the high levels of fat, sugar and salt.
A recent pilot study, using a different approach in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism, centered on food additives in processed foods instead.
Such additives, according to the scientists, include chemicals used by the food industry to make food “palatable, nutritious, and long-distance transportable.”
The researchers set out to understand the effect of consuming locally produced food for their study which they conducted in Italy. Rather than concentrating on fat and sugar content, the additives were of sole interest to them.
The experiment focused in particular on cheese, sausage, pasta, pastries, biscuits and chocolate which is produced in distant locations. Instead of telling the participants to cut off these ingredients from their diet, the team asked them to provide local food supply.
In all, the 6-month study was completed by 159 healthy participants. The scientists measured a number of parameters, including height, weight, systeolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts), and diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats).
They measured, inter alia, the overall fat and abdominal fat of the participants, and their anxiety and depression levels. They used a standard questionnaire named the Beck Depression Inventory to assess depression.
Blood samples were taken by the scientists to measure resting blood glucose and potassium, sodium, insulin, creatine, and C-peptide levels (a measure of how much insulin someone makes).
The scientists have measured ratings for the evaluation of the homeostasis model (HOMA). The medical community considers HOMA scores as an measure of the role of insulin resistance and beta cells (the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin).
There had been no significant differences between the two classes at the beginning of the analysis.
The researchers split the participants into two groups, randomly. The members of the first group were asked by local producers to buy cheese, sausage, fresh pasta, pastries, biscuits and chocolate.
As the authors explain, these suppliers had been vetted before the analysis by “an expert from the food manufacturing industry to ensure that pesticides were not used” and that all of the supply was local.
For example, cheeses contained only milk, salt, and rennet, while pastries contained no chemical flavours, antioxidants, or monoglycerides, and diglycerides, both of which are often used by manufacturers to enhance a product’s volume and texture.
Alternatively, the second group participants bought these items in supermarkets. The researchers asked all group members to observe the Mediterranean diet and maintain a comprehensive food diary.
All groups ate equal amounts of calories overall.
The researchers repeated the barrage of experiments they had done at the start of the study after 6 months.
A number of differences
The body mass index (BMI) and the salt levels in the blood were lower than normal measurements across both categories. There were differences among the groups too, though.
The researchers found the participants in the first group had significantly better HOMA scores at the 6-month mark and lower levels of fasting glucose than those in the second group. Those in the local food community also had lower visceral fat levels, decreased systolic blood pressure, and higher depression ratings relative to their baseline measures.
However, those in the second group experienced increases in the levels of fasting glucose, diastolic blood pressure and C-peptide compared to their baseline scores.
The study, as the authors explain, does have significant deficiencies. They have only designed it as a pilot study, of example, so researchers will have to repeat the findings over a longer period with a larger group of participants.
There were other issues apart from the size and length of the study. Of example, participants “blind” was not possible. In other words, because it involved them using different shops and changing their diet, they were aware of the intervention.
Future studies can avoid this problem by providing participants with cookies, meat, and other items to remain unaware of their ingredients or origin.
With relation to the increased scores for depression, it should be remembered that differences between the experiences of the participants during the study may have played a part.
One could say that it could be a more positive experience to visit independent local sellers than to visit a supermarket. Perhaps, possibly, organic, natural, additive-free food could taste better than additive-filled foods, and because the food we eat will affect our mood, maybe this difference alone could explain the changes with recorded mood.
Even if we take all of the above into account, if only 6 months of choosing additive-free versions of a handful of items will boost metabolic factors related to disease risk, this research line is worth following up.