Journal Review Series 2: Chia, Soy, Oats and Nopal

Hi again, hope you enjoyed the first installment of our new journal review series, on soy protein, isoflavones, and health. If you’re starting here, My name is Nick, I’m a member of the Biolent team, and I’ll be summarizing peer-reviewed journal articles in simple terms in order to generate discussion and hopefully fill some of the gaps in our collective knowledge of nutrition and health science.

Our next entry features an article titled “A Dietary Pattern Including Nopal, Chia Seed, Soy Protein, and Oat Reduces Serum Triglycerides and Glucose Intolerance in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome”, published in the Journal of Nutrition. The title pretty much sums up the results, so if you want to stop reading there, you have the basics. The interesting part, though, is just how this group of researchers from Mexico came up with these results, and how their findings could impact the powdered meal replacement industry.

This study demonstrates a point that is on the way to becoming a running theme in these articles: our health is inextricably linked to what we put in our bodies, and consuming certain foods, especially emphasizing plant products, low-fat dairy, fiber, and all the other wonderful things recommended by the Canadian Hypertension Education Program (CHEP) can benefit us in many ways. At Biolent, we understand this, and work to incorporate ingredients that not only keep your belly and wallet full, but help you work towards better health every day.

OK, OK, enough of the corporate plugs. On to the research. Today’s study was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study with a sample size of 67. If that all sounds like jargon to you, it is, but it means that the sixty-seven test subjects were put into test or control groups randomly, some participants were given a test diet or a different, standardized (control) diet to compare the test diet against, and both the researchers and the subjects were unaware which subjects were part of which groups. All this reduces the chance that researcher or subject bias or dumb luck might prevent accurate, representative results.

Because we don’t have all day, I’ll lay out a summary in the PICO format. These are most important points of the study in brief. Because scientists have their own word for everything, I’ll include some clarification along the way.

Population: Individuals living with at least 3 criteria for metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that put you at elevated risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. To be diagnosed with the syndrome, you need at least three of the following traits: large waist circumference, high blood triglycerides, reduced HDL (“good") cholesterol, increased blood pressure, and elevated fasting blood sugar.

Intervention: Introduction of calorie-restricted diet including daily 7g of nopal (a cactus), 4g of chia seeds, 22g of oats, 32g of soybean protein, 0.02g of sweetener (Splenda), and 1g flavoring. Consumed for two months. This is the test diet, consumed by the test group, that outcomes were measured for.

Control: Calorie-restricted diet including daily 30g of calcium caseinate, 30g of maltodextrin,
0.02g sweetener, and 1g flavoring. Consumed for two months. This is the control diet, consumed by the control group at the same time that the test group was consuming their diet.


- Significant decrease in serum triglycerides (-0.32mmol/L) in the test group, with no change in the control group. Serum triglycerides (triglycerides in the blood) are a marker for heart disease. Reducing serum TG results in a corresponding reduction in heart disease risk.

- Significantly smaller spike in insulin concentration caused by sugar ingestion in test patients versus control patients. Insulin is produced in response to sugar in the blood, to allow it to enter the body's cells. Smaller spikes in insulin concentration in the blood with no change in sugar concentration spikes means that the body is absorbing the same amount of sugar with less insulin, and becoming a more efficent metabolizer.

- Significantly greater decrease in number of test patients with glucose intolerance (dropped from 40.6% at baseline to 18.8%) versus control patients (held steady at 34.3%). Glucose intolerance is a marker for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Decreasing glucose intolerance means sugar metabolism is becoming more efficient.

- Significant drop in serum CRP in test group, but not in control group. C Reactive Protein is a marker of inflammation, so a drop in CRP represents a reduction of inflammation.

- No changes in blood glucose, serum insulin, leptin, total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL, area under the curve for glucose, or adiponectin in either test or control groups. These biochemical markers were tested, but no significant changes were noted from baseline in either test or control groups.

- Individuals with certain genotypes were more or less likely to improve. Genetics plays a role in illness and body type, making some people more or less likely to develop certain illnesses or be responsive to certain treatments. The details of the genes studied are too specific a topic for this review, but feel free to check the study for yourself.

The takeaway message from this article should be to reaffirm that diet plays a substantial role in health, and not just for Mexicans aged 20-70 diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. If you believe that the data is generalizable, the results of this study suggest that by including nopal, chia, soy protein, and oats in our diet, we might be reducing our risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and a host of other “diseases of affluence”. Biolent already contains oats, chia, and soy, but we will most definitely be looking at nopal as an option once we’ve done a little more reading to validate its potential benefits.

Thanks for reading, here’s a T-handle dancing in microgravity for your trouble. We’d love to hear your thoughts for better or for worse in the comments! As I’ve said, we’re all learners here, so corrections, rebuttals, or further reading are always welcome, just make sure to cite those facts!