Cardiovascular diseases are now the leading cause of mortality in Italy, responsible for around 40% of deaths (source: Italian Statistical Yearbook 2013). That is why the Umberto Veronesi Foundation, in conjunction with the major players in the gelato supply chain, is conducting a four-year study into the relationship between consumption of anthocyanins, present in the ingredients for various gelato flavours, and the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.
At the San Paolo Hospital’s Nephrology Unit in Milan, under the framework of the Athena European Project, a study is being carried out on 500 healthy volunteers, in order to clarify the role of anthocyanins in preventing cardiovascular risk in humans. The project leader for the nutritional aspect of this study is Dr. Elena Dogliotti, researcher and nutritionist sponsored by the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. The study is investigating the interaction between genetic structure and consumption of anthocyanins with reference to the lipid profile, in particular HDL levels. Indeed, a low HDL level is known to be associated with the onset of cardiovascular disease, and several recent studies have shown that HDL levels depend on both genetic and environmental factors.
Hand-made gelato containing forest fruit – such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries – contains between 30 and 50% fruit. As well as having a high vitamin C content, such gelato contains a high percentage of anthocyanins, pigments responsible for colours ranging from red to blue. Their high antioxidant power gives anthocyanins many different beneficial properties. Studies have repeatedly shown an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol, and a decrease in LDL cholesterol, which is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. More specifically, it is the oxidation of LDLs that raises the risk of atherosclerosis and plaque formation on artery walls, which highlights just how important the antioxidant activity of anthocyanins is.
A healthy intake of polyphenols is thus linked with longevity, and is correlated with a reduction in mortality from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, senile dementia, Parkinson's disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Equally important is the role played by nuts: hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and cashews, which are some of the most popular flavours on the hand-made gelato stand. Eating 30 grammes of nuts per day reduces cardiovascular risk and the likelihood of developing cancer.
The nutritional composition of oily nuts explains these beneficial effects. The high content of unsaturated fats, high-quality protein, fibre, vitamins (folates, niacin, vitamin E), minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium) and phytochemicals, i.e. secondary metabolites found in plants (carotenoids, flavonoids, phytosterols), explains the cardioprotective, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of nuts. It has therefore been observed that eating nuts is associated with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes, colon cancer, hypertension, and “metabolic syndrome”, which is very damaging for the cardiovascular system, and involves a group of different risk factors presenting simultaneously.
Research into the effects of a healthy diet on our genes and accurate information on the foods that help prevent these diseases thus play a crucial role, and will be the focus of a campaign: “Hand-made gelato is good for you and helps scientific research!” is the slogan which will be accompanying the colourful world of cold desserts till the end of 2014. This initiative was started up by the magazine PuntoIT to mark its tenth anniversary, coincidentally the same anniversary as the Umberto Veronesi Foundation will be celebrating.
The research project into the relationship between nutrition and DNA has found the support of various players in the gelato supply chain: AIIPA, ACOMAG, ArtGlace, CNA Alimentare, Cogel-Fipe, Confartigianato, GA, Maestri della Gelateria Italiana and SIGEP have all enthusiastically given their backing to PuntoIT magazine’s idea.