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Nutrition 101 ;

Spotlight on nutrition: Research into the impacts of our diets

King’s has been an epicentre for nutritional sciences. Perhaps you’ve read one of Professor Tim Spector’s articles, or read the latest recipe book from Dr Megan Rossi, but our research goes way beyond suggesting what you should eat. From beans, to berries to new types of bread, our researchers have been doing a range of work to help us better understand the impact of our diets.

Yet another reason to go Mediterranean

In case you needed another excuse to try a Mediterranean diet, Professor Tim Spector has been leading some fascinating research into its benefits for cancer patients. Defined as one rich in whole grains, nuts, fish and vegetables, it was positively associated with a response to immune checkpoint blockades (ICBs) – a new immunotherapy used to boost the immune system in fighting against advanced cancers.

Professor Spector highlighted how the gut microbiota could be a key mechanism underpinning this response, as it mediates the activities of several nutrients which have previously been linked towards promoting anti-tumour activities.

Read the full article: Mediterranean diet benefits patients with advanced Melanoma


How a healthy diet can keep the doctor away

And that isn’t the only research that Professor Spector’s done on the dietary impact of the gut. In a collaboration with Dr Sarah Berry, they conducted the first longitudinal study of the relationship between diet and COVID-19 by examining the data of nearly 600,000 people from the ZOE COVID study app.

‘Diet quality scores’ were given to each participant based on broad dietary pattern. Diets rich in plant-based foods (fruits, veg, whole grains), oily fish as well as being low in processed food and refined carbohydrates were given high scores.

These scores were compared with the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 and its symptoms. The results showed that people who ate the highest quality diets were ~10% less likely to develop COVID-19, and 40% less likely to become severely ill when contracting COVID-19, highlighting how access to nutritious food impacts public health.

Another important finding was the impact of socioeconomic status. When looking at people with the lowest quality diet score, people in low-income neighborhoods were ~25% more at risk of COVID than those living in affluent communities, despite having the same ranking.

Read the full article: Eating a plant rich diet reduces risk of developing COVID-19

ZOE PREDICT-ing the impact of late night snacking

The global impact of the ZOE study and app during the pandemic has shown how research can lead policy, but as we continue towards a ‘post-pandemic’ world, ZOE continues to be an innovative tool for studying nutrition. Recently, ZOE data was used to look at the impact of snacking on health with over 1,000 participants from the ZOE PREDICT study.

Their analysis of how snacking quality, quantity and time affects fat and insulin levels in the blood found that the most important indicator was ‘high quality foods’. This meant that eating foods that had significant levels of nutrients when compared to their calories was associated with better blood fat and insulin levels. The researchers also found that late-evening snacking was associated with more un-favourable levels of blood glucose and fats.

Read the full article: Bedtime snacks worse for your health


It's not just what you eat but when you sleep

Research from King’s and ZOE led Dr Wendy hall and Dr Sarah Berry has been the first to  find multiple associations between social jet lag – the shift in your internal body clock when your sleeping patterns change between workdays and free days - and diet quality, diet habits, inflammation and gut microbiome composition in a single cohort.

Previous research has shown that working shifts disrupts the body clock and can increase risk of weight gain, heart problems and diabetes. However, there is less awareness that our biological rhythms can be affected by smaller inconsistencies in sleeping patterns due to waking early with an alarm clock on workdays, for example, compared to waking naturally on non-workdays for people working regular hours.

Read the full article here: Irregular sleep patterns associated with harmful gut bacteria


Reducing blood glucose levels by the pulse

You may have read Tim Spector’s recent piece on the virtues of sourdough. Well, that isn’t the only type of bread that’s caught the attention of King’s. In this study, Dr Sarah Berry worked with Dr Balazs Bajka and Professor Peter Ellis at King’s to investigate bread made from pulse flour – a flour made from cellular chickpeas.

When the researchers gave people bread that was 30% cellular chickpea flour, they found that blood glucose levels were reduced by 40% compared to regular white bread due to slower breakdown of starch in the flour. People who ate chickpea flour bread felt fuller due to it releasing more ‘satiety signals’ to the brain.

The results highlight how, if chickpea flour were used in bread recipes, it could reduce overeating and lower blood sugar levels, helping people with diet-related conditions like type 2 diabetes. The researchers are currently trying to set up larger trials to test whether diet-related conditions could potentially be managed with chickpea flour-based bread.

Read the full article: Bread made from cell pulse flour keeps you fuller for longer


Fruits that are berry good for you

Dr Ana Rodriguez-Mateos has been leading research into the benefits of plant foods, focusing on the impact of plant chemicals. One food group that has come under her watchful eye is the berry.

Earlier this year, Dr Rodriguez-Mateos was involved in a study that tested the impact of blueberries, or more specifically a blueberry powder beverage. Compared to the placebo, patients who had the blueberry drink were found to experience a range of benefits. This included cognitive improvements in memory and accuracy in attention-based tasks and the cardiovascular benefits of lower blood pressure.

And the benefits don’t stop with blueberries, as Dr Rodriguez-Mateos also led a study on cranberries to test the effect of whole cranberry (freeze-died powder) over one month. Participants who ate cranberries were found to have significant improvements in their flow mediated dilation, which saw blood vessels widen as the blood flow of these increased.

Read the full article: A handful of blueberries a day could help improve brain function


Fueling positive guts with nuts

Another group of researchers, led by Professor Kevin Whelan have investigated the impact of almonds on the gut. Participants who typically eat unhealthy snacks were invited to an experiment and given snacks of either 56g of whole almonds, ground almonds, or the equivalent amount of calories in muffins.

After eating daily portions for four weeks, researchers found that almond eaters had significantly more butyrate – a short-chain fatty acid which is a major fuel source for the cells lining the colon. As guardians of the gut, these cells promote a strong and non-leaky gut that can absorb nutrients while also supporting the gut microbiota.

Read the full article: Snacking on almonds boosts gut health

Megan Rossi bean

And finally... try this Bean-tastic recipe from Dr Megan Rossi 

Our academics continue to have a direct impact on the way we eat, even on the King’s campus. Nothing provides that more than Dr Megan Rossi, who created a legume-based recipe for King’s Food outlets based on the science of legumes which have bene showing to be a good source of fibre, protein and pre-biotics – the latter of which supports anti-inflammatory bacteria in the gut.

Read the full article and get the recipe: Dr Megan Rossi partners with King's Food

In this story

Tim Spector

Tim Spector

Professor of Genetic Epidemiology

Sarah Berry

Sarah Berry


Megan Rossi

Megan Rossi

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Kevin Whelan

Kevin Whelan

Professor of Dietetics

Ana Rodriguez-Mateos 

Ana Rodriguez-Mateos 

Reader in Nutritional Sciences

Balazs Bajka

Balazs Bajka

Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences

Peter  Ellis

Peter Ellis

Professor of Carbohydrate Biochemistry

Wendy  Hall

Wendy Hall

Professor of Nutritional Sciences

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