New findings shed light on diverticulosis
Plus: Study labels to reduce trans fats
Q: I spoke with a friend recently who said he had a bad attack of diverticulitis. First, is that the same thing as diverticulosis? Also, can a high-fiber diet help prevent either condition?
A: Diverticulosis is a disease of the large intestine (the colon) in which pockets form and bulge outward from the colon wall. It gets more common as you age, over age 60. Many people who have diverticulosis don’t even know they have it, though it may cause mild cramps, bloating or constipation. It’s estimated that about one-third of Americans older than 60 have diverticulosis.
But if the pouches become inflamed or infected, that’s diverticulitis. Severe abdominal pain on the left side is the most common symptom of diverticulitis, and you might also experience fever, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, or vomiting. The condition can be quite severe, sometimes requiring hospitalization.
It’s unclear what causes diverticulosis. For decades, the scientific community thought the problem stemmed from a low-fiber diet, but findings from a study of 2,100 people recently published in the journal Gastroenterology casts doubt on that theory. In fact, the researchers found that people who reported the lowest fiber intake were 30 percent less likely to have diverticulosis than those who ate more fiber. The study also found no link between diverticulosis and constipation, physical inactivity or intake of fat or red meat. The researchers, from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, believe gut flora may play a role in the development of the disease.
These findings echo a 2008 Harvard University study. Before that, eating popcorn or nuts was considered risky for people with diverticulosis. But the Harvard researchers found no such risk when they examined data from more than 47,000 men, 800 of whom developed diverticulosis. In fact, the study found that those who ate nuts at least twice a week were 20 percent less likely to develop diverticulitis; those who ate more popcorn had a 28 percent reduced risk.
These studies reveal that we still have a lot to learn when it comes to understanding the effects diet can have on specific conditions.
Although this might not help people who have suffered a bout of diverticulitis and want to avoid another, one thing is for sure: Your best bet for good health remains a varied, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains along with low-fat dairy, lean protein and healthful oils.
Q: I just heard something on the news about trans fats, but I thought they weren’t allowed in food anymore. Am I wrong?
A: You are wrong, but it’s easy to see why you’re confused.
Ever since 2006, when companies had to start explicitly listing trans fats on Nutrition Facts labels, they’ve pulled something of a vanishing act.
The new regulation was coupled with a trans fat awareness campaign. Rather than taking the risk that consumers would leave their product on the shelf in favor of more heart-healthy alternatives, many manufacturers found ways to reformulate their products without trans fats. In addition, some communities, including New York City and Boston, have banned trans fats at restaurants, bakeries and similar establishments.
Even though “0” trans fat on a Nutrition Facts label doesn’t always mean exactly “0” (see below), the efforts to reduce trans fats in foods seem to be having an effect. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the level of trans-fatty acids in the blood of white adults in the United States dropped by 58 percent from 2000 to 2009. (The CDC also is looking at trans fat levels in other race and ethnic groups, as well as children and adolescents.)
Trans fats have been targeted because they increase bad LDL cholesterol and decrease good HDL cholesterol — a nasty combination. There’s substantial evidence that links them with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, a recent study in the journal Annals of Neurology found that post-menopausal women who consumed the most trans fats had a 39 percent increased risk of stroke.
Grazing animals produce trans fats naturally, so there is some in beef, lamb and full-fat dairy products. But most trans fats in the diet are made when liquid vegetable oil is processed into solid fat.
Nutrition Facts labels can say foods contain “0” trans fat if they have less than 0.5 gram per serving. To be certain a food is trans-fat free, look in the ingredients listing to make sure “partially hydrogenated” oil isn’t listed. If it is, you’re getting some trans fat.
Check the serving size. If you normally use more than one teaspoon of non-dairy creamer, for example, you’re probably getting more trans fat than you realize.
Pay special attention to foods you consume often — including baked goods, crackers, breakfast cereals, frozen foods, microwave popcorn, and other snacks and processed foods.
Check nutrition information at restaurants. If it’s not available, ask.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or email@example.com.
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