Ann Fernholm

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Children Who Consume a Lot of Wheat Flour Have a Higher Risk of Gluten Intolerance

Eating lots of pasta, bread, pancakes, buns and pizza during the first years of life increases the risk of developing gluten intolerance if the child has a genetic risk for the disease. These are the showings in a new international study conducted across four countries.

For many years, parents like myself have been advised to give our children wheat at the barely ripe age of 4-6 months old. It was said to protect against gluten intolerance and celiac disease, among other things, this was supported by a multitude of national food agencies.

Researchers have compared the effect of giving children gluten at six months compared to waiting until they turn one year old. The study shows that half as many have celiac disease at the age of two if the gluten was introduced later. At the age of five, however, there is no difference between the children.

The more flour, the higher the risk of celiac disease

Now, an international study conducted in Sweden, Finland, Germany and the United States shows that the amount of gluten that children eat seems to play a role in the development of celiac disease. The study included 6605 babies with genetic risk of celiac disease. On several occasions, parents have had to fill out dietary questionnaires and on the basis of these researchers have analyzed how much gluten the children consumed during the first years of life.

More than one slice of white bread increases the risk

The results show that the children who ate the most flour were most at risk of developing celiac disease. In an interview with one of the researchers behind the study, Daniel Agardh from Lund University, said:

– It is difficult to say how much gluten is harmful and at what level, but it seems that if you exceed two grams per day, which is quite little, the risk increases, compared to those who do not eat two grams per day, says Daniel Agardh.

Two grams of gluten is about the amount contained in a slice of white bread.

Low Gluten Cooking for Babies

The study is a so-called observational study, and researchers cannot establish any causation correlation. The study should be followed with a so-called randomized and controlled trial. In anticipation of such studies, parents can try to vary children’s diets and try out some “low gluten cooking”. Now a days there are recipes galore for pancakes, bread and pizza, which contain alternative types of flour such as buckwheat, sorghum, teff and almond flour. The great thing about them is that the food also becomes more nutritious, a great side bonus. Reducing wheat flour is easier than many people think, especially if you give your child such food right from the start.

Ann Fernholm is the author of several books in Sweden pertaining to health, food and children. She has also founded the Kostfonden, a non-profit research fund with the goal of ensuring that food is used as medicine in healthcare. Every now and then she writes here at Food Pharmacy. The views in the chronicle are the writer’s own.



Ann Fernholm

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Do Solid Foods Help Babies Sleep?

For a number of years, parents have been told that babies should be solely breastfed until six months of age. But now, new research shows that children sleep better if they start eating solid foods earlier.

In my book, Smakäventyret: att lära små barn äta mat (a book about introducing food to children), I devote a chapter to the exciting research that suggests that allergies can be prevented if babies are allowed to start eating solid foods early. British researchers, for example, have conducted a large and well-designed study that establishes that the risk of peanut allergy may decrease to one-seventh if the child eats small doses of peanut protein, such as peanut butter, regularly already in the first year of life. The results are astonishing, and it gives good reason to suspect that parents have received recommendations that have been directly harmful to their children. Parents are often told that babies at high risk of allergy should avoid eating foods that may cause an allergic reaction.

Allergies can be prevented

Since the release of Smakäventyret, there have been several similar studies confirming that early food introduction can protect against allergy. In one of these studies, called EAT, babies ate small doses of peanuts, eggs, milk, sesame, fish and wheat from the age of three months. Many babies had difficulty eating food that early, but among those who managed, the risk of allergy decreased to about a third (primarily the risk of becoming allergic to peanuts and eggs).

Babies given solid food early sleep better

Researchers have also discovered that the babies who started solids early in the EAT study slept longer and woke less frequently. At six months of age, babies in the early solids group slept for an average of 17 minutes longer than those who were only just starting solids. Serious sleep problems were also twice as common in the group of babies that began eating solids later. The results were published this summer. Here’s an article about it from the New York Times: For Babies, Solid Food at 3 Months May Lead To Sounder Sleep.

CONCLUSION: If you have a small baby at home, there are really no reason to wait to introduce solid foods. For various reasons (research for an upcoming book), I’m in close contact with the speech and language therapist Kajsa Lamm Laurin. She is an expert on children’s oral motor development and she believes it’s too early to start introducing solids already at three months, as they have difficulty moving and controlling the tongue and the jaw. But if a four-month-old child is showing interest in foods – go for it! The consistency should initially be thin, but as your baby gets used to more texture, you can gradually decrease the amount of liquid used. By the age of six months, the oral motor skills have often developed enough to manage more solid foods.

That’s enough for today. Time to get back in the swing of things and finish that book.

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Ann Fernholm

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New Study: Low Carbohydrate Diet is an Effective Treatment for Fatty Liver Disease

Approximately one quarter of all adults have fatty liver disease, increasing the risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Today, there is no medical therapy available for fatty liver disease, and it is considered a chronic disorder. However, a new Swedish study shows that a strict low carbohydrate way of eating can eliminate the fat from the liver within two weeks. This is a major breakthrough.

Fatty liver disease was previously something primarily associated with alcoholism, but the condition has seen a significant increase as part of the obesity epidemic. Studies from the United States and from Europe show that one in ten teenagers has a fatty liver, and that the condition has increased the need for liver transplantations in both adolescents and adults.

Some fat in the liver is normal. But in the long run, too much fat can cause inflammation, an increased risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Removing the fat from the liver will drastically reduce the risk of these diseases.

Current recommendations are to avoid sweetened drinks, control portion sizes and exercise, but few people manage to get rid of their liver fat. A Swedish study, carried out at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, now shows that a strict low carbohydrate approach can be of great help for sufferers. In the study, the participants continued to eat as many calories as before, while decreasing the amount of carbohydrates consumed and instead increasing the amount of protein. And participants losing weight were encouraged to consume more food, in order to maintain the weight. Despite this, fat was eliminated from the liver. The researchers saw a positive trend already on the first day.

A Surprising Discovery: the Gut Bacteria Started to Produce Folic Acid

The study, newly published in Cell Metabolism, was small – only 10 participants. However, it is very detailed and shows exactly what happens in the body when someone cuts back on starches and sugar. The metabolic functions of the liver changed immediately and the liver fat was rapidly reduced.

The scientists also detected a drastic change in gut flora. A surprising discovery was that the gut bacteria increased the production of folic acid, a vitamin necessary for normal liver metabolism. And previous studies have shown a connection between folate deficiency and fatty liver disease.

Is Sugar Worse Than Starch?

According to some researchers, eating too much sugar increases the risk of fatty liver disease. Sugar contains fructose, which is metabolized by the liver. A high intake of for example candy and soda can lead to a buildup of fat in the liver.

The hypothesis has been tested by a group of scientists at UCSF in San Francisco. They examined the effects of a diet reduced in fructose, and found that a diet that cut out fructose significantly reversed the buildup of liver fat in children and adolescents. In the experiment, the calories from fructose were replaced by glucose-rich, starchy foods. In both the UCSF study and the Gothenburg study, the calorie intake was designed to equal pre-study levels so that the participants wouldn’t lose weight. In only nine days, the participants’ liver fat had been reduced by almost 50%.

Dietary Science Foundation Supports New Study on Treatment for Fatty Liver Disease

Can we draw any conclusions? First and foremost: stop counting calories. Different types of calories have different effects on your health. Carbohydrates do more harm than good for people suffering from fatty liver disease, and we have reason to believe that sugar is the biggest culprit.

BUT. Both the Gothenburg study and the UCSF study are small and lacked a control group. In order for studies to provide results that are as objective as possible, we need large, long-term and well-controlled studies. The Dietary Science Foundation recently informed that we will support a study which will examine the effects of low carbohydrate eating and intermittent fasting (5:2) on fatty liver disease. The study will incorporate a control group, more participants and will carry on for a longer period of time. Thus, it will complete the study from Sahlgrenska in Gothenburg. Over a billion people suffer from fatty liver disease. What if there is a treatment available that could help millions of people achieve better lifelong health in only a few weeks? Think about how these results could affect healthcare costs. Simply put, a new treatment of fatty liver disease would be an amazing development.

Science journalist and writer Ann Fernholm runs the blog Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.




Ann Fernholm

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New Vital Projects for the Dietary Science Foundation

Boy oh boy, dear readers, what a week! Seems almost unreal. The Dietary Science Foundation has set up some new goals! We will be raising funds to finance a whole bunch of scientific studies connected to diet and health. When we first started the foundation, our goal was to be able to support open-minded scientists who conduct high quality scientific research. And now, our wish has come true!

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to the 1.3 million SEK (approximately 160.000 US dollars) that we have donated towards various studies on diet and health. THANK YOU! Your donations may help prolong lives.

No treatment for fatty liver disease

One of the projects supported by the Dietary Science Foundation is an evaluation of strict low-carb diet and 5:2 diet for people with fatty liver disease. Today, there’s no treatment for those who suffer (25% of all adults in the world). They are told to lose weight: drink less soda and count calories. Few succeed and way too many die from irreversible liver damage due to inflammation. Others will get liver cancer, type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

If you can reduce or remove the fat from their livers, it will drastically reduce the risk of these diseases. That’s definitely something worth fighting for. What diet should these patients follow?

Carbohydrates and its role in obesity

The second project is to evaluate diet programs for people suffering from obesity. Questions asked are: What is the role of butter, cream and crème fraîche? And what about the importance of carb quality and quantity?

These questions have been around for a long time. And this study is really good. The Dietary Science Foundation’s mission is to support ambitious scientists who dare to aim high. One of them is Simon Dankel at the University of Bergen who studies carbohydrates and its role in obesity.

Future goal: Large Nordic study of type 2 diabetes

The real good news is that Simon Dankel will also coordinate a Nordic study of low-carb diet for people with diabetes type 2. Scientists at Karolinska Institutet, Lund University and University of Copenhagen will perform the study together. They will meet this spring to discuss the framework. Then, we will start raising funds to finance the study.

We need knowledge – not opinions

We’re tired of ideas, opinions and discussions. When the research aims to tackle some of our most severe and widespread diseases from which people die, we need facts. In all future reports, we would like to read this: The dietary advice for people suffering from type 2 diabetes is based on scientific evidence provided by well-conducted and controlled trials. People who follow the advice can expect to live a symptom free life with little or no medicine. 

Is this your goal too? Your support can change people’s lives. Please help us make this happen.

Science journalist and writer Ann Fernholm runs the blog Now and then, she writes here at Food Pharmacy.