It is a fact that the fundamentals of healthy eating is well documented in academic text books, scientific journals and governmental literature. Yet, this basic knowledge has not been passed on to the general public in an absorbable and comprehensive format that enables individuals to make well informed choices in order to change their eating habits and lifestyle. Despite the large volume of information available, a big gap exists in the knowledge of those who need to know.
Advice on diet and health is often incomplete or biased hence people are somewhat confused or uncertain of how to put the concept of healthy eating into practice. Understanding such a message is only one side of the story; putting it into day-to-day practice is another matter. It has become obvious to me over the years that people, although familiar with general healthy eating messages such as, “eat less fat and more fibre” lack a clear understanding of the make-up of a healthy diet. One of the many reasons why these healthy eating messages remain simply messages is because they are preached everywhere, by everyone. For example filling a shopping trolley with fat-free or low-fat products does not guarantee freedom from ill health and chronically degenerative diseases, unless the diet as a whole is balanced.
Whilst people are busy achieving life goals and developing their careers, the insidious process of the narrowing and hardening of the arteries may be taking place. This is particularly likely in those who are inactive and/or have little concern for what they eat. Nutritionally related illnesses, nowadays referred to as non-communicable diseases are quite different from infectious diseases; they take a long time to become known, and when diagnosed it might be too late to reverse the damage. Surprisingly, most diseases related to obesity, including coronary heart disease and diabetes are often only recognized when a non-fatal heart attack or angina is experienced, or when people are in hospital for other reasons, including annual check-ups. An interesting point is that most of these health problems could have been avoided had some time been invested in assessing and maintaining nutritional health, prior to their fruition. Means of assessing nutrition status, such as cholesterol and blood sugar testing, should be sought by everyone.
Nowadays, there is much interest in the relationship between food and health and increasing efforts are being made towards improving the health of the nation. There is a particular concern about fat, sugar, salt, dietary fibre and calcium, but the science of Nutrition is much wider than that. The main objective of this article is to inform and shed some light on the main constituents of food, and how a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet can be achieved. This is not just for the purpose of losing weight, but achieving and maintaining good health too. This article is targeted towards those who are ‘health conscious’, and therefore keen to appreciate the role of Nutrition in general health. It goes beyond the short and often incomplete message of ‘eating less fat’ and having a ‘high-fibre diet’, in order to uncover the practicality of making a fresh start and eating for health.
Only over the last two centuries, with the emergence of the science of Nutrition, it has become possible to accurately quantify the contents of the optimum diet for health maintenance. Foods provide energy and nourishment for both survival and enjoyment. Too little food can result in illness, but too much of it can also lead to ill health. Therefore, it is important to get the balance right between the amount and the type of food we consume.
The last few decades have also witnessed remarkable changes in eating habits and meal patterns. There is now an enormous range of affordable foods available all year round. But the fact that it is easier to obtain good quality food does not always guarantee a healthier choice. Indeed, the bewildering choice of food available might make it difficult for some people to choose the components of what is regarded to be a healthy and balanced diet. As a consequence, the incidence of the so-called diseases of the affluent has increased drastically, particularly in Western society albeit the developing countries are now following the same trend. Many common health problems such as Obesity, heart disease, Type II Diabetes, Arthritis, and various forms of Cancer (endometrial, breast, and colon) are linked to diet, either directly or indirectly.
The fast moving world around us seems to have left us with no time for food preparation and allocating specific times for meals is a seldom occurrence. Despite the flood of information about diet and health, people are getting fatter and more unfit. Such a trend might be brought about by the availability of an extensive range of ready prepared meals, both from supermarkets and takeaway outlets. Furthermore, this type of food is often promoted through heavy advertising by all types of media. The modern kitchen is well equipped with all sorts of gadgets (food processors, microwaves, etc.) and such gadgets make food preparation an easy, fast, simple and certainly more enjoyable task compared to a few decades ago. Yet cooking is increasingly becoming one of our last priorities, and the younger generation seem to have forgotten how to cook.
It is my belief that understanding the basic principles of Nutrition and the impact of food and its nutrients on health, will equip individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills to choose, prepare and consume a better diet, paving the way towards healthier living and better quality of life. What is also important is people’s readiness to embrace changes in their eating habits and lifestyle in order to harvest the benefits of eating for health.
The ways in which the adequacy of any diet can be assessed form part of the science of Nutrition. Knowledge of its principles is thus important, especially to those who plan and provide meals. Before proceeding further, it is necessary to define the sources of energy in the diet.