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Food, Your Gut and Lower Blood Pressure – What’s the Connection?

Cardiovascular disease remains the world’s number one cause of death. With World Heart Day just around the corner on September 29th, new research points to the beneficial effects of flavonoid-rich foods on blood pressure.

A study just released reveals a link between flavonoids and the gut microbiome in improving blood pressure.

Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland found that consuming higher levels of flavonoid rich foods including berries, apples, pears, and red wine may be associated with a reduction in blood pressure levels. This can be explained in part by the characteristics of the gut microbiome.

The gut microbiome are the good bacteria that live in the digestive tracts. The gut microbiome has been studied for its role in gut health, immunity and behavior and now heart health can be added to the list! There is mounting evidence to the importance of a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. This research suggests that the composition of the gut microbiome can play a key role in metabolizing flavonoids to enhance their benefits on heart health.

This study looked at over 900 adults and was published in Hypertension, the scientific journal of the American Heart Association. Those who had the highest intakes of flavonoid-rich foods had lower systolic blood pressure levels as well as a greater variety of bacteria in their gut compared to participants who consumed the lowest levels of flavonoids.

Lead researcher, Professor Aedín Cassidy explains that ‘These blood pressure lowering effects are achievable with simple changes to the daily diet. Eating  160 g of berries a day (which is about 1 cup sliced berries) was associated with a 4.1 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure, and 12% of the association was explained by gut microbiome factors. Drinking 700 mL red wine per week (which is about one glass of red wine 3 times a week, where a glass is 233 ml), was associated with a 3.7 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure levels, of which 15% could be explained by the gut microbiome.’

Researchers say that the ‘strength of their study was that they could examine the association between the intake of flavonoid rich foods, blood pressure and the composition of the microbiome concurrently.’

Are you interested in leveraging World Heart Day for your business?  Check out their 2021 playbook for information and ideas.  Let’s connect to help make a difference.

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Is it OK to eat processed foods?

head shot of Sue on a background collage of grocery cart

In short, the answer is YES! As Registered Dietitians, we believe that all foods can be part of a healthy diet, in sensible amounts. But there are actually different categories of processed foods, and some are better choices than others. Let’s break it down.

When you hear the term “processed foods”, you may automatically think of foods that come in a box or package. There’s more to the term “processed foods” though. Scientists at the School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil developed a classification system called NOVA (it’s not an acronym) that groups foods into 4 different categories depending on the extent of the processing:

  1. Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods:

Unprocessed foods have not undergone any changes whatsoever. Some examples are fresh fruit and veggies as well as plain unseasoned fish and meats. Minimally processed foods are essentially unprocessed foods that have been cleaned, dried, ground, pasteurized, fermented or frozen. No oils, fats, sugars, salt or other substances have been added to the original food. Dried fruit, frozen veggies, dried beans, dried herbs and ground spices are just a few examples of minimally processed foods. Both unprocessed and minimally processed foods should from the foundation of a healthy, balanced diet.

  1. Processed Culinary Ingredients:

    These are oils, fats, salt and sugars. These ingredients have been extracted from whole foods using processes such as pressing, grinding, refining and crushing. Vegetable oils for example are made from crushed seeds, nuts and fruit. Table sugar and molasses are obtained from sugarcane or sugar beet. Maple syrup is extracted from maple trees, and sea salt is mined from sea water. 

  1. Processed Foods:

    These are unprocessed foods with added oils, fats, salt or sugars. Most processed foods have just 2 or 3 ingredients. Some examples are salted nuts, smoked fish, fruit packed in syrup, pickled veggies, and homemade / bakery-made bread. These foods can still be enjoyed as part of an overall healthy diet. 

  1. Ultra-processed Foods:

    Most ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat products would be considered as ultra-processed foods. These are foods that are made by a series of processes and have extra ingredients such as oils, fats, salt, sugars, additives, colours, flavours, emulsifiers and thickeners. Some examples are cake mixes, packaged pasta dishes, frozen entrées, reconstituted meat products and seasoned packaged snacks. While these foods can be convenient, enjoy them occasionally and in sensible amounts.

Do you have a question about food or nutrition? Ask us (info@NutritionForNonNutritionists.com) and we’ll answer it in a future blog!