Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC) and the European Project FOIE GRAS, coordinated by CNC, have been working closely with the organizing team of the European University Games 2018 in order to promote exercise practice and healthy living.


As part of this EUG2018-CNC partnership, the CNC researchers and the FOIE GRAS ESRs have written a series of chronicles that build upon the benefits of exercise practice on health. 

These chronicles result from the collaboration between the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC) of the University of Coimbra, the European Advanced Training Network FOIE GRAS (http://www.projectfoiegras.eu), the Erasmus+ Program and the Academic Sports Federation University (FADU) in the scope of the European University Games Coimbra 2018.


These illustrated chronicles will be published in Portuguese at the local newspaper Diário de Coimbra and you can read here the English version on our website. 


The FOIE GRAS coordinator, Paulo Oliveira wrote the preface chronicle as an introduction to the series. Know more about the project here or here.


 The Inner Beauty of Being Active




Good food and exercise a day keeps the doctor away

Nutrition is one of the best allies of exercise. A complete and balanced diet is fundamental for maintaining our health and for a good performance and a good recovery during and after exercise. One of the links between exercise and nutrition resides in the management of the energetic flux that keeps us alive. As described in a previous chronicle, to preserve a state of energy homeostasis in our body, the energy that is provided by the nutrients in food should be matched by physical activity and basal metabolic functions. Exercise helps to preserve this healthy energy balance and prevents the excessive accumulation of fat that can take place when our sedentary routine does not balance food intake. On the other hand, to be able to effectively perform exercise - whether for leisure or in competition - the quality of the fuel that we feed the body is very important. We are what we eat, and what we eat limits what we can do!

Our body is like a building that is in continuous construction and needs good bricks to have a solid and healthy structure. These bricks come from the food that we eat and as such, the nutrient composition of our diet is important. A dietary pattern consistently associated with weight gain, obesity, and all correlated metabolic diseases such as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, is what we call the Western diet. In the past few decades, most Western countries have undergone a food system transition driven by the high mechanization of the food industry. This has promoted the adoption of diets high in processed foods, which are incidentally cheaper, more convenient, and highly palatable. In terms of nutrient composition, typical products from the Western diet are very high in trans-saturated and saturated fat, refined sugars, and salt. Fast food, pre-baked goods or deep-fried and frozen items contain a large amount of trans-saturated fat. Trans-saturated fat, widely used by the food industry to increase the shelf-life of processed foods, is artificially generated and essentially non-existent in natural food sources. Since the amount of trans-saturated fats is not displayed on food package labels, it is better to reduce the consumption of any processed food item that may contain them. Another product typical of Western diets are sweetened sodas, energy drinks and juices. These beverages are rich in refined sugars such as sucrose, glucose and fructose. Since ingesting these drinks makes a major contribution to surpassing the body’s energy requirements, while the sugar components are also potent triggers for inducing fat synthesis, they are rapidly and efficiently converted into fat by the liver. Thus, these sugary drinks are implicated in causing NAFLD.

At the other side of the equation, the Mediterranean diet has repeatedly been associated with weight-loss, health and well-being. In fact, the Mediterranean diet is recognized by the UNESCO as part of the intangible cultural heritage of Humanity. The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in plant foods such as cereals fruits, vegetables, legumes, tree nuts, seeds, and olives with olive oil used as the principal source of added fat and high to moderate intakes of fish and seafood. In addition, there is a moderate consumption of eggs, poultry and dairy products such as cheese or yoghurt and low intake of red meat. In comparison to simple or refined sugars, the complex carbohydrates of plant foods are much more effective at inducing satiety (the sensation of fullness) hence people stop eating sooner thereby ingesting fewer calories. Another beneficial aspect of the Mediterranean diet is the preferential consumption of unsaturated over saturated fats, the latter found in farm animal meats and dairy products. Unsaturated fats, typically found in plant foods and oily fishes are an essential element in a diet because they contain omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3 or n-3), a class of unsaturated fat that cannot be produced by our body and therefore need to be ingested. Sources of ω-3 fatty acids, including fish such as mackerel, pilchards, sardines, salmon, trout, tuna and herring, are preferentially metabolized for energy and are also less harmful to the cardiovascular system. There are several studies on animal models that suggest that ω-3 could help in reducing inflammation, insulin resistance and lowering the levels of fat in the blood, which are some of the hallmarks of obesity and its related metabolic disorders. ω-3 may also protect against neurodegeneration and preserve cognitive function during aging.

Another component of the Mediterranean diet are mushrooms, such as the champignon mushroom or the oyster mushroom, whose nutritional benefits are begining to be rediscovered. Mushrooms are rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. They also have low amounts of fat and are rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. Due to their high protein content, they are being considered as a substitute for a meat-based diet, and some studies already show reductions in weight and body fat after 1 year of replacing red meat with mushrooms. Mushrooms also increase satiety and reduce appetite – and highly relevant for the practice of exercise - they also have anti-fatigue effects. On the other hand, studies reveal that the intake of mushrooms may protect individuals against obesity, inflammation and cancer.

The nutrient composition of our diet influences our peak performance and endurance capacity for physical exertion as well as post-exercise recovery. This in turn, determines our body fitness and our well-being. Healthy nutrition and regular exercise keeps both body and mind healthy, or as our Mediterranean ancestors would say, Mens Sana in Corpore Sano.



Authors: Gabriella Sistilli, Raquel Baccetto and Adriana Fontes are early stage researchers of the FOIE GRAS project. Gabriella Sistilli is doing her research at the Fyziologicky Ustav Akademie Ved Ceske Republiky Verejna Vyzkumna Instituce, in Praha (Czech Republic), at the Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen Deutsches Forschungszentrum Fuer Gesundheit Und Umwelt GMBH (HMUG), in München (Germany), and at the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), in Pisa (Italy). Raquel Baccetto is doing her research at the Università degli studi di Bari Aldo Moro, in Bari (Italy) and at the companies Mediagnost and microBiolytics (Germany). Adriana Fontes is doing her research at the HMUG), in München (Germany), at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC), at the University of Coimbra (UC), in Portugal, and at the Instytut Biologii Doświadczalnej (NENCKI), in Warsaw (Poland).

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The project: This chronicle results from the collaboration between the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology (CNC) of the University of Coimbra, the European Training Network FOIE GRAS (http://www.projectfoiegras.eu), the Erasmus+ Program and the Academic Sports Federation University (FADU) in the scope of the European University Games Coimbra 2018.


Coordination: Anabela Marisa Azul, João Ramalho-Santos, Mireia Alemany i Pagès, Paulo Oliveira and Sara Varela Amaral


Revision of the text: Mireia Alemany i Pagès, Anabela Marisa Azul, John Jones, João Ramalho-Santos, Martin Rossmeisl, Jan Kopecky, Amalia Gastaldelli, Piero Portincasa, Andrea Normann, Martin Winter, Hans Zischka, Mariuz Wieckowski and Paulo Jorge Oliveira


Illustration: Rui Tavares

This chronicle reflects only the authors’ views and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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