The Health Benefits of Fish, Licorice and Seaweed
- 2012 May-June
Eating Fish Instead of Meat Could Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
Researchers in Spain report that the consumption of foods from the healthy Mediterranean diet — olive oil, fresh vegetables, and fish, for example — has declined in recent years as consumers reach for more red meat and heavily processed baked goods. Alongside other factors, the trend has led to an increase in both obesity and chronic diseases. The aim of their study was to understand dietary patterns and how meat and fish could be linked directly to cardiovascular risk factors. Conducted on 945 people between 55 and 80 years of age in Spain’s autonomous Valencian Community, the study showed that when fish was included in the diet, participants had lower glucose concentrations in their body and a smaller risk of developing diabetes. The researchers explained that increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the cells of the skeletal muscles improved insulin sensitivity. Eating red meat, on the other hand, was linked to higher cardiovascular risk, higher blood pressure, diabetes, and a moderate decrease in life expectancy, mainly due to cancer or heart disease. The researchers stressed that dietary education and intervention programs could help promote the multiple benefits of their traditional Mediterranean diet and that the consumption of red meat should be reduced and offset by eating at least the same amount of fish.
Dried Licorice Root Keeps Gums and Teeth Healthy
Dried licorice root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy to treat various ailments, such as respiratory and digestive problems. Scientists report now that licorice root also can kill major bacteria that are responsible for tooth decay and gum disease. According to their study, published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, Stefan Gafner and colleagues identified two compounds inlicorice — licoricidin and licorisoflavan A — that were effective antibacterial substances. These substances killed two of the major bacteria responsible for dental cavities and two of the bacteria that promote gum disease. Licoricidin also killed a third gum disease bacterium. Although these licorice substances could treat or even prevent oral infections, the researchers caution consumers about commercially available licorice products, especially licorice candy. Domestic licorice candy rarely contains natural licorice root; instead, it contains anise oil, which has a similar flavor but does not offer the same benefits. Before taking licorice root, consumers should check with their doctor, because the herb can have interactions with certain prescription drugs.
Seaweed Joins the Ranks of Heart Healthy Foods
If your experience with seaweed has been limited to sushi rolls, you might want to consider expanding your culinary repertoire. Scientists have identified seaweed as a rich new potential source of heart-healthy foods, explaining that seaweed and other macroalgae could rival dairy products as sources of so-called “bioactive peptides.” In an article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Maria Hayes, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Eimear Gallagher, and Deniz Tasdemir noted increased interest in using bioactive peptides, now obtained mainly from milk products, as ingredients in so-called functional foods that provide not only nutrition but have medicinal effects. Their review of nearly 100 scientific studies concluded that some seaweed proteins work just like the bioactive peptides in milk products to reduce blood pressure, almost like the popular ACE inhibitor drugs. Seaweeds, the researchers remarked, are a rich but neglected alternative source of these beneficial nutrients, noting further that people in Asian and other cultures have eaten seaweeds for centuries and reaped their benefits.