ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast: What we’ve learned in 1 year
ZOE’s Science & Nutrition podcast turns 1 today. And what a year of discovery it’s been.
To date, more than 2 million people have listened, and we’ve had almost 6.5 million downloads.
In the last 12 months, we’ve tackled a mind-boggling selection of topics. From chocolate, alcohol, and cooking oils to blood sugar, circadian rhythms, and mental health, we’ve cast our net wide.
One of the main aims of ZOE’s Science & Nutrition podcast is to bring you actionable advice. We want to empower you to make changes that will benefit your health in the long run.
Another aim is to amaze — at ZOE, we love science. The journey food makes from farm to plate to toilet bowl is an immensely complex, mysterious, and captivating tale.
In this feature, we’ll cover some of the actionable advice we’ve picked up along the way.
We’ll also give you some factual nuggets to help quench your thirst for science.
How food can improve your mood
The episode delves into links between what we eat and our mental health.
Felice told us about a study she led called the Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States trial. The name works better with an acronym: the SMILES trial.
The scientists recruited people with moderate to severe depression. As part of the study, some participants received social support while others received nutrition support.
After 12 weeks, those in the nutrition support group experienced significant improvements in their symptoms.
And the results were nothing short of incredible. More than 30% of participants receiving nutrition support went into remission, compared with 8% of the social support group.
“Remission” doesn’t mean that the symptoms just improved a bit — they almost disappeared.
So, what was Felice’s dietary advice? In a nutshell, “Increase the good stuff, decrease the bad stuff, possibly throw in a bit of fermented foods.”
It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, she explained. Simply adding more plants and reducing ultraprocessed foods can make a real difference to your mental health.
Can spices improve your health?
She explained that while spices aren’t a magic potion, they can bring a range of benefits as part of a healthy diet.
Kanchan also told us about an intriguing study from Penn State University.
The researchers gave participants a high-fat, high-carb meal. And sometimes, they added a spice blend to the meal — either 2 or 6 grams of the blend.
The scientists found that when participants ate the meal with 6 g of spices, they had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
Kanchan also mentioned a study in which the researchers found that an Indian spice mix could affect the gut microbiome after just a single meal.
ZOE’s Scientific Co-Founder Prof. Tim Spector joined us for this episode.
Talking about the studies above, he said: “I think the link with the microbiome is really crucial [because] it shows how these spices can actually affect our bodies [in a way] that has lots of long-term health consequences rather than just short-term."
"A lot of the inflammation markers are just short-term, but if you combine both of them, then you can really see that big effect.”
So, what was Kanchan’s advice? Don’t change your diet to accommodate spices. Rather, add spices to your existing diet.
And, she reminds us, “Spices don’t need to be spicy!”
Kanchan offered these spiced-up breakfast ideas, among others:
Oatmeal: Add cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger.
Avocado toast: Sprinkle on some chili, coriander, cumin, sesame seeds, and fennel seeds.
Yogurt and berries: Add nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, or clove.
How to make your body clock work for you
In the ZOE Science & Nutrition episode on the body clock, we spoke with Russell Foster, an Oxford University professor who has dedicated his life to studying circadian rhythms.
In brief, circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cyclical ebb and flow of many of your body's processes.
These include everything from wakefulness to blood pressure, hormone levels, and the muscular activity of your intestines.
In the episode, Russell explained that when we fight against our natural biological rhythms, we can run into trouble.
For instance, he told us that if you’re woken up long before your normal waking time, you're as cognitively impaired as when you’re legally drunk.
And 50% of junior doctors have a crash or a near miss on the way home from a night shift.
The bottom line is that working with, rather than against, your biological clock is essential for maintaining good health.
Menopause: Does diet play a part?
Menopause is poorly understood but affects nearly half of all people, and ZOE is passionate about it. Scientists need to do much more research, and we’re doing our bit.
She discusses some findings from ZOE’s PREDICT studies.
For instance, Sarah explains how we found that "Menopause is a time not just of major upheaval in how we feel, but it's also a time of major metabolic upheaval, which can have long-term impacts on our health.”
Our research also determined that "Menopausal women had worse sleep. They ate more sugary foods, they had worse blood sugar responses, higher levels of inflammation, higher blood pressure, and worse blood lipids.”
But Sarah emphasized that it’s not all “doom and gloom.” Diet has the potential to make a difference.
Our research showed that the quality of your diet and the bacterial species in your gut microbiome are partly responsible for modifying some of menopause's effects. This included effects involving inflammation and body fat, particularly around the belly.
Also, study participants with a high-quality diet were less likely to experience menopause-related symptoms.
For instance, people with a gut-friendly diet that included lots of plants were 30% less likely to report hot flashes and sleep disturbances.
We need more research, but diet seems to play an important role in menopause. ZOE will continue to investigate, so watch this space.
In a year’s worth of episodes, the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast has gathered an incredible range of fascinating facts.
We don’t have the space to list them all, of course, so here are a few science snippets:
Sleep: In our sleep episode, Prof. Matt Walker told us that when you sleep, some brain regions are more active than when you’re awake. And, in case you’re wondering, elephants sleep for just 2.75–4 hours a night.
Veins and arteries: Finally, in our our episode with Dr. William Li, we covered heart health and aging. We learned that your circulatory system consists of 60,000 miles of pipework — long enough to wrap around the Earth twice.
Of course, we could go on, but we have to stop somewhere.
If you’ve listened to any of our podcasts over the last 12 months, thank you! We appreciate your support. Here’s to the next 12 months and beyond.
A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine. (2017). https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y
A single serving of mixed spices alters gut microflora composition: A dose–response randomised trial. Scientific Reports. (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-90453-7
Spices in a high-saturated-fat, high-carbohydrate meal reduce postprandial proinflammatory cytokine secretion in men with overweight or obesity: A 3-period, crossover, randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Nutrition. (2020). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32211803/