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Five tips for healthy diet this New Year, by WHO

HEALTHY DIET…Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

• Why green leafy vegetables can protect liver health, by researchers
• How to protect mental well-being this festive season, by studies

The World Health Organisation (WHO), Medical News Today (MNT) and recent studies have given recipes for healthy diet this New Year, why green vegetables can protect liver health and how to protect one’s mental well-being this festive season.

Whatever your New Year’s Resolution, a healthy and balanced diet will provide many benefits into 2019 and beyond. The WHO in a special report on five tips for a healthy diet this New Year provides a guide. What we eat and drink can affect our body’s ability to fight infections, as well as how likely we are to develop health problems later in life, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and different types of cancer.

Consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions. However, increased productions of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns. People are now consuming more foods high in energy; fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, and many people do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other dietary fibre such as whole grains.

The exact make-up of a diversified, balanced and healthy diet will vary depending on individual characteristics (example age, gender, lifestyle and degree of physical activity), cultural context, locally available foods and dietary customs. However, the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet remain the same.

The exact ingredients of a healthy diet will depend on different factors like how old and how active we are, as well as the kinds of foods that are available in the communities where we live. But across cultures, there are some common food tips for helping us lead healthier, longer lives.

Top five tips include: Eat a variety of food; Cut back on salt; Reduce use of certain fats and oil; Limit sugar intake; and Avoid hazardous and harmful alcohol use.

Eat a variety of food
Our bodies are incredibly complex, and (with the exception of breast milk for babies) no single food contains all the nutrients we need for them to work at their best. Our diets must therefore contain a wide variety of fresh and nutritious foods to keep us going strong.

Some tips to ensure a balanced diet:
*In your daily diet, aim to eat a mix of staple foods such as wheat, maize, rice and potatoes with legumes like lentils and beans, plenty of fresh fruit and veg, and foods from animal sources (example meat, fish, eggs and milk).
*Choose wholegrain foods like unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice when you can; they are rich in valuable fibre and can help you feel full for longer.
*Choose lean meats where possible or trim it of visible fat.
*Try steaming or boiling instead of frying foods when cooking.
*For snacks, choose raw vegetables, unsalted nuts and fresh fruit, rather than foods that are high in sugars, fats or salt.

Cut back on salt
Too much salt can raise blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Most people around the world eat too much salt: on average, we consume double the WHO recommended limit of 5 grams (equivalent to a teaspoon) a day.

Even if we don’t add extra salt in our food, we should be aware that it is commonly put in processed foods or drinks, and often in high amounts.

Some tips to reduce your salt intake:
*When cooking and preparing foods, use salt sparingly and reduce use of salty sauces and condiments (like soy sauce, stock or fish sauce).
*Avoid snacks that are high in salt, and try and choose fresh healthy snacks over processed foods.
*When using canned or dried vegetables, nuts and fruit, choose varieties without added salt and sugars.
*Remove salt and salty condiments from the table and try and avoid adding them out of habit; our taste buds can quickly adjust and once they do, you are likely to enjoy food with less salt, but more flavor!
*Check the labels on food and go for products with lower sodium content.

Reduce use of certain fats and oil
We all need some fat in our diet, but eating too much – especially the wrong kinds – increases risks of obesity, heart disease and stroke.
Industrially-produced trans fats are the most hazardous for health. A diet high in this kind of fat has been found to raise risk of heart disease by nearly 30 per cent.

Some tips to reduce fat consumption:
*Replace butter, lard and ghee with healthier oils such as soybean, canola (rapeseed), corn, safflower and sunflower.
*Choose white meat like poultry and fish, which are generally, lower in fats than red meat, and limit the consumption of processed meats.

Check labels and always avoid all processed, fast and fried foods that contain industrially-produced trans fat. It is often found in margarine and ghee, as well as pre-packaged snacks, fast, baked and fried foods.

Limit sugar intake
Too much sugar is not only bad for our teeth, but increases the risk of unhealthy weight gain and obesity, which can lead to serious, chronic health problems.

As with salt, it’s important to take note of the amount of “hidden” sugars that can be in processed food and drinks. For example, a single can of soda contains up to 10 teaspoons of added sugar!

Some tips to reduce sugar intake:
*Limit intake of sweets and sugary drinks such as fizzy drinks, fruit juices and juice drinks, liquid and powder concentrates, flavoured water, energy and sports drinks, ready-to-drink tea and coffee and flavoured milk drinks.
*Choose healthy fresh snacks rather than processed foods.
*Avoid giving sugary foods to children. Salt and sugars should not be added to complementary foods give to children under-two years of age, and should be limited beyond that age.

Avoid hazardous and harmful alcohol use
Alcohol is not a part of a healthy diet, but in many cultures New Year’s celebrations are associated with heavy alcohol consumption. Overall, drinking too much, or too often, increases your immediate risk of injury, as well as causing longer-term effects like liver damage, cancer, heart disease and mental illness.

WHO advises that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption; and for many people even low levels of alcohol use can still be associated with significant health risks.

Remember, less alcohol consumption is always better for health and it is perfectly OK not to drink.

You should not drink alcohol at all if you are: pregnant or breastfeeding; driving, operating machinery or undertaking other activities that involve related risks; you have health problems which may be made worse by alcohol; you are taking medicines which directly interact with alcohol; or you have difficulties with controlling your drinking.

If you think your or someone you love may have problems with alcohol or other psychoactive substances, do not be afraid to reach out for help from your health worker or a specialist drug and alcohol service. WHO has also developed a self-help guide to provide guidance to people looking to cut back or stop use.

Why green leafy vegetables can protect liver health
New research that features in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) discovers that a compound present in green leafy vegetables helps prevent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in mice.

Green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, contain high concentrations of nitrate, a compound that may keep fatty liver at bay.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), or liver steatosis, is a condition in which fat builds up in the liver. Between 30 and 40 percent of adults in the United States are living with NAFLD.

The condition is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in Western countries, and experts associate it with obesity, being overweight, and metabolic risk factors.

Currently, there are no approved treatments for NAFLD, which can progress into more serious conditions, such as steato-hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Healthcare professionals recommend losing weight, making healthful food choices, and doing more physical activity to reduce fat in the liver.

New research, however, may pave the way for a new treatment. Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have just published a study in which they show that inorganic nitrate — a compound that occurs naturally in green leafy vegetables — can reduce the buildup of fat in the liver.

Mattias Carlström, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Karolinska Institutet is one of the senior researchers and corresponding authors of the study.

Carlström and colleagues studied the effects of supplementing a high-fat, high-sugar Western diet with dietary nitrate in mice.

They divided the mice into three groups and fed each of them a different diet. The control group received a normal diet, while the high-fat diet group ate the equivalent of a Western diet, and the third group received a high-fat diet with nitrate supplementation.

This so-called chaperone protein helped regulate fat and glucose metabolism in mice.

As expected, the mice in the high-fat diet group gained weight and fat mass, and they had raised blood sugar levels. However, all of these markers were significantly lower in the group that also received nitrate.

Carlström reports on the findings, saying, “When we supplemented with dietary nitrate to mice fed with a high-fat and sugar Western diet, we noticed a significantly lower proportion of fat in the liver.”

The researchers also found that the rodents that received the nitrate had lower blood pressure and better insulin sensitivity than those on a high-fat diet without nitrate.

Previous research, the investigators explain, has shown that dietary nitrate boosts cell metabolism. It has also suggested that green leafy vegetables may protect against metabolic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

Scientists also know that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables has a positive effect on cardiovascular function.

“We think that these diseases are connected by similar mechanisms,” Carlström hypothesizes, “where oxidative stress causes compromised nitric oxide signaling, which has a detrimental impact on cardio-metabolic functions.”

The researchers explain that the medical community still does not know exactly which compounds make leafy greens so healthful. “No one has yet focused on nitrate, which we think is the key,” continues Carlström.

“We now want to conduct clinical studies to investigate the therapeutic value of nitrate supplementation to reduce the risk of liver steatosis. The results could lead to the development of new pharmacological and nutritional approaches.”

More studies are necessary to clarify which compounds are responsible for these healthful properties and to confirm that nitrate is key for liver and metabolic health. In the meantime, the team advises people to consume more green leafy vegetables.

Those with the highest concentration of inorganic nitrate include “celery, spinach, lettuce, and rocket.”

How to protect your mental well-being this festive season
A perfect world sees the holiday season filled with love, warmth, and happiness. However, more often, it is crammed with stress, exhaustion, and panic. Here, Medical News Today offers some advice on how to bring a little calm back to the festive season.

Many people have stressful lives before the added pressures of the holiday season; sometimes, the extra cognitive weight can make them buckle.

A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that people in the United States (U.S.) are likely to feel more stressed around the holidays rather than less.

In this Spotlight, Medical News Today covers seven simple tips that might help a person keep their mental well-being intact across this year’s festive season.

1. A family affair
If you find your family challenging to be around, you are not alone. Make sure you set boundaries early on — stay for one night instead of two or three, for instance.

This goes for all aspects of holiday planning: be realistic. Don’t take on more than is comfortable. Not even a super hero could plan the office party, a family party, and the school Christmas play; then cook New Year and Christmas dinner, buy gifts for everyone, and still be smiling.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to some people; they probably won’t mind — they might even be relieved.

If you do have to travel long distances, build in some wriggle room with the timings— if you expect delays, they won’t seem quite as stressful in the likely event that they crop up.

2. Planning cash flow
It is very difficult to avoid spending too much money during Christmas and New Year. Gifts, food, drink, outings, guests, more food, more gifts; it quickly mounts up.

Although many people know they are likely to overspend during the holiday period, very few make sensible plans in advance.

This year, try to set a reasonable budget that you think you can stick to. Wherever possible, only spend cash or use a debit card. Credit cards might seem like a good idea when you are in full festive flow, but we all know they can come back to haunt us in the doldrums of January.

3. Alcohol overload
There are many opportunities to drink alcohol over the holidays. Before the festivities begin, remind yourself that you do not have to drink alcohol at every single event.
Saying “no” can be tough but rewarding.
Try to make a plan before you arrive; decide what you will drink and when, and stick to it.
Perhaps decide to make every other drink a nonalcoholic drink. Pace yourself. This can be more difficult than it sounds, but it is worth it.
Excess alcohol often causes interpersonal problems that wouldn’t have arisen otherwise, especially when people are feeling more stressed than usual.

During the aftermath of a night out, dealing with relatives or making plans might be much more challenging and stressful than they would have been otherwise.

Alcohol feels like it reduces stress at the time but, in the long run, it might make things worse.

4. Calorie overload
There is no point pretending that we are going to stick to a pure and healthful eating regime for the entire holiday period. Anyone who can maintain dietary goals throughout the season receives a gold star but, for most people, it’s just not a reasonable ask.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to eat healthfully for the duration of the holidays. At the same time, make solid attempts to moderate yourself. Choose the more healthful option now and again, and don’t go back for second helpings.

5. Don’t let it all slide
Exercise routines tend to go out of the window, too. This, to a certain extent, is both understandable and acceptable.

We all need to take our foot off of the gas at some point during the year, so it may as well be while the weather is awful and there are plenty of good movies on the television.

That said; exercise is a great way to sharpen the mind and lift a person’s mood.

This is the time of year when we most need a boost, yet most of us cut out physical activities entirely.

Be sure to cut yourself some slack, but also make sure to get some exercise when you can. Even light exercise, such as walking, can be enough to stave off the festive blues.

If you can, get out into nature, so-called green exercise has been shown to boost self-esteem and improve mood.

6. Approaching loneliness and loss
Not everyone struggles with an overly busy calendar during the holidays. For some people, it can be a lonely, isolated time.

To beat this, planning is necessary. There are plenty of things to do; it is just a matter of looking around and diving in. You could join a group, start a new hobby, or, even better, volunteer for a local charity.

For many of us, the holiday season can be a reminder of loved ones we have lost. Starting new traditions can be a useful way to turn this into a positive. Perhaps consider incorporating that particular loved ones’ interests into the new tradition to help keep their memory alive.

It is also a good idea to seek out people who are going through a similar experience; they will understand and might be able to offer advice, or simply a listening ear.

7. Manage your expectations
When we daydream about the holiday season, we might picture a harmonious, well-dressed, gleeful family sitting at a beautiful oak table, a huge Christmas tree and New Year gift, and a roaring open fire. That, sadly, is unlikely to match reality.

Before the celebrations begin, be realistic. Mental well-being can take a substantial hit if the reality doesn’t match up with our preconceived ideas. However, if we have realistic expectations, we are much more likely to be happy with the results.

We do not live in a movie; we inhabit the real world — a messy, unpredictable world; expect less and roll with the punches.
The take-home message

Sadly, as is often the case, moderation is key. When approaching food and drink, exercise some reserve; when people expect too much from you, push back: if being with family stresses you out, limit the time you spend with them.

All of the above are simple in theory but can be difficult in practice. Setting some guidelines for you ahead of time might do a world of good. Happy holidays!

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