What do we love about food? At its best, not only is it nourishing but it is a way to bring people together. However, it can also become a vice at times to manage stress by indulging in foods high in unhealthy fats and sugars. What we put into our bodies matters more than you may suspect. For instance, a heart healthy diet supports every aspect of our health from our skin, teeth, energy levels, and mood. Many people are surprised to discover that this even applies to healthier hearing!
What is a Healthy Diet?
It can feel overwhelming trying to determine what a healthy diet even is, especially when the grocery shelves are full of conflicting information. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that “Unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity are leading global risks to health.” However, they report that “People with diets rich in vegetables and fruit have a significantly lower risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer.” In general, a diet which favors vegetables, whole grains, fruits and lean meats, while avoiding processed sugars and salts will support healthier hearing and a healthier body in just about every aspect of your health.
How Diet Affects Our Hearing
It surprises many when they hear that even their hearing is affected by diet but once you understand how we hear, it makes a lot more sense. We hear in our brains—our ears are more of the collector of sounds and their job is to deliver audio information. The ears do that by sending sound waves through the eardrum and ossicles, which amplify the sound before arriving in the snail shaped tiny organ called the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with fluid and houses tiny cells that resemble hairs, called stereocilia. Stereocilia transform audio waves into electrical impulses which can be interpreted by the brain. However, these cells are very fragile and reliant on a healthy and dependable supply of oxygenated blood to the brain. When we have complications with our heart or issues with the supply such as in the case of hypertension and diabetes, it can affect the cell health throughout our body including our ears!
A Study on Diet and Hearing Health
To better understand how diet affects hearing on a wide scale, researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts examined data in over 3,000 women and took note of their general dietary choices and cross-referenced that with hearing exams at the start and after three years. The results of the 2019 study showed that eating a heart-healthy diet supports better hearing.
WHO explains that a heart healthy diet is one which includes “Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. lentils and beans), nuts and whole grains (e.g. unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat and brown rice) At least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots” In addition, they note that it’s important to avoid processed sugars and foods with excessive levels of salt. The study was able to identify that the women who ate a healthy diet were 25% less likely to develop a hearing loss!
Recommended Heart Healthy Diets
Adhering to a strict diet free of sugars and excess salt can feel hard at first and there will certainly be times where you will struggle. Many cultures are built around indulgence in food together and these foods aren’t always the healthiest for us. Everything in moderation is a good way to start. It can be exhausting constantly trying to determine what is safe or ideal to eat, which is why prescribed diets can help give you some structure as well as recommend recipes which promote flavor as well as nutrition. The study from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital identified two diets in the study which seemed to produce noticeable drops in hearing loss. These heart healthy diets include:
- AMED (alternate Mediterranean diet): This diet is based on local fare of people who live in the region around the Mediterranean Sea and prioritizes vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish as well as nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
- DASH (the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension): Similar to the AMED this diet also insists on limiting intake of salt, sugar, and fat.
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