As the year comes to an end, we’re looking back on some of the groundbreaking nutrition and health research from 2017. We've sorted these 18 buzzworthy studies into the best (positive news that had us jumping for joy) and worst (hard-to-hear headlines that will make us re-examine our current habits).
1. Sitting all day can cancel out benefits of exercise.
If you have a desk job that requires you to sit in a chair all day, this could spell trouble for your overall health — even if you’re a regular gym rat. Results from more than 40 studies found the more time people sit, the greater risk they have for premature death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, even if they exercise regularly.
2. It might be more dangerous to try and fail at losing weight than to never try at all.
It sounds discouraging, but a new retrospective study by The New England Journal of Medicine found people whose weight fluctuates the most are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke compared to those who maintain a steady weight. However, don’t take this as advice to avoid weight loss entirely; rather, you should take weight loss seriously and aim for an overall lifestyle change.
3. Stress can make you more likely to be obese.
An Obesity journal study discovered people with the highest levels of cortisol — a stress hormone — had the greatest body weight, BMI and waist circumference.
4. Turmeric isn’t as healthy as we once thought.
It doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking those turmeric lattes, but a Journal of Medicinal Chemistry review found no evidence to support that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has any therapeutic benefits.
5. Artificial sweeteners are screwing with your body’s metabolism.
Groundbreaking research from Yale neuroscientist Dana Small discovered that sweetness plays a role in your body’s metabolic response to food. Small found that when the amount of sweetness of a food doesn’t match the calories your body would expect to be associated with that sweetness, your body will end up storing any extra calories in muscle, liver or fat. This means carb-laden, artificially-sweetened foods, such as low-sugar protein bars, can result in your body funneling more calories into fat cells rather than converting them to energy.
6. Your size isn’t a good predictor of overall health.
According to a study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, excess belly fat, which is measured by waistline circumference, increases your risk of early death more so than being overweight or slightly obese. The difference is that the overweight and obese classifications are dependent on BMI, which only takes height and weight into account rather than amount and placement of body fat.
7. Your salty diet isn’t just making you bloated—it’s also making you hungry.
You know the trick: bars set out salty popcorn for free so it makes you thirsty and more likely to order another beer. Unfortunately, their trick is a bit misguided. According to a study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, a salty diet is actually more likely to make you hungry as opposed to thirsty. In fact, researchers found consuming a salty diet actually caused participants to drink less. So if you typically consume a salty diet, this study suggests you’re more likely to feel hungrier and could ultimately consume more calories per meal. It’s probably best you avoid these 21 foods with more sodium than a pack of ramen.
8. High red meat consumption increases the risk of death.
Scientists aren’t trying to demonize red meat, but they are suggesting you might want to stop eating it multiple times a day, every day. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute followed more than half a million people for an average of 16 years. They found those who consumed the most red meat had the highest risk of dying from eight diseases: cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, infections, kidney disease and liver disease. Alternatively, the BMJ study found white meat could reduce your risk of dying from various causes by 25 percent.
9. Like staying up late? You’re more likely to make unhealthy food choices.
There are two types of people in the world: early birds and night owls. You probably know which one you are. A study published in Obesity found that despite consuming the same number of calories, night owls consume less protein throughout the day and more sugar in the morning and at night compared to morning people.
Now for the good news:
1. You don’t have to give up alcohol to lose weight.
We can now justify red wine indulgences — even when trying to lose weight. It turns out that while heavy drinkers still risk gaining weight, light or moderate alcohol consumption isn’t associated with weight gain.
2. Owning a dog makes you more likely to exercise.
Cutting calories and working out consistently aren’t the only waist-whittling hacks that’ll get you into shape. According to a study by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, being a dog parent can help you drop the pounds! Researchers found those who walked their pets regularly had a 20 percent higher activity level and were more active for a half hour each day than those who didn’t own a furry friend.
3. Hot sauce lovers live longer.
While capsaicin is the ingredient in hot peppers that makes them spicy, it also has metabolism-boosting benefits, and it can help regulate blood sugar. Now, research has proven hot peppers and hot sauce can help you live longer. An analysis in PLOS One found that of the 16,179 American adults who participated in a larger health study, those who ate hot peppers had a reduced risk of dying early by 13 percent.
4. You can take a break from your diet and still lose weight.
Staying on a strict diet day in and day out can be overwhelming, which is why most people fail and give up entirely. Fortunately, you don’t need to have a perfect diet to lose weight — in fact, taking a break can help boost weight loss. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, those who adhered to a pattern of two weeks on and two weeks off lost more weight than those who stayed on a continuous diet. As you eat less to lose weight, your body responds by increasing appetite and slowing down metabolism to conserve energy as a famine reaction. Researchers believe that by balancing out calorie restriction with a higher calorie intake, it tricks your body into not going into starvation mode.
5. Whole grains help boost your metabolism and lose weight.
According to nutrition scientists at Tufts University, switching from refined grains to whole grains may help keep weight in check as much as a brisk 30-minute daily walk would.
6. Surprise! Eating veggies every day can lower psychological stress levels and slash obesity odds.
Did you know veggies can help you feel less stressed? A study by the British Medical Journal Open found women who ate three to four servings of vegetables a day had a 12 percent lowered risk of stress than those who only ate up to one serving per day. A separate study presented at the European Congress on Obesity found eating more fruits and vegetables cut the risk of obesity by almost half.
7. Women should be strength training.
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder, but you should know strength training is an important component of being healthy. According to a new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, strength-training lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease significantly in women.
8. Don’t fret about being a weekend warrior.
You don’t have to beat yourself up if you only find time to work out on weekends. While it’s not ideal to concentrate the recommended weekly amount of exercise into one weekend, new findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggest squeezing in two workout sessions may lower your risk of death similar to regular exercise.
9. Prebiotic foods may help improve sleep quality and help cope with stress.
What do artichokes, raw garlic, leeks and onions all have in common? They’re all prebiotic foods, which are fiber-rich and help feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. According to two new studies, prebiotic fibers may help protect beneficial gut bacteria, improve sleep and protect against the physiological impacts of stress. Both published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the studies suggest consuming a prebiotic-rich diet could help mitigate the negative effects stress has on your microbiome by helping you return to normal sleep patterns faster than if you consumed fewer prebiotics.
If you’re interested in recipes as well, don’t miss these 50 new recipes for the new year.