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Nutrition and health

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Nutrition and health

? We are indeed much more than we eat,

but what we eat nevertheless helps us

to be much more than we are.?

A century ago our ancestors feared infectious and communicable diseases such as smallpox -- diseases that claimed many children's lives and limited the average life expectancy of adults. Today far fewer infectious diseases threaten us, thanks to medical science's ability to identify disease-causing microorganisms and develop vaccines. In developed nations, purification of water prevents the spread of infections, and immunizations protect individuals. Most people live well into their later years, and today's average life expectancy far exceeds that of our ancestors (Whitney pp.646).

As the 20th century draws to a close medical science's concerns differ significantly from those of earlier years. According to the Background on Adult Nutrition from the FamilyHaven site: ?prior to World War II, Americans? main nutritional problems stemmed from lack of sufficient food or variety of foods. Nutrition scientists of that era focused on defining essential nutrients, primarily vitamins, in order to outline the minimum food intake for good health.?

Diet has always played a vital role in supporting health. Today, over consumption of foods -- especially those high in fat -- is a major concern for people in the United States. When we look at the ten leading causes of illness and death in the United States, the top categories are heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Diet influences the development of the chronic diseases. Taken together, these four diseases account for about two-thirds of the nation's 2 million deaths each year (FamilyHaven: Food choices pp.15).

These ?causes? are stated as if single conditions such as heart disease caused death, but most chronic diseases arise from multiple factors over many years. A person who died from heart failure may have had preexisting conditions, such as obesity and high blood pressure, may have been a cigarette smoker, may have spent years eating a high-fat diet and getting too little exercise (Dr. Solomon pp18-19).

Of course, not all people who die of heart disease fit this description, nor do all people with these characteristics die of heart disease. People who are over weight may die from complications of diabetes, or those who smoke may die from cancer. They might even die from something totally unrelated to any of these factors, such as automobile accidents. Still, statistical studies have shown that certain conditions and behaviors are linked to certain diseases.

Today, there is a growing awareness that the food you eat affects your health and your whole life. However, according to a new Gallop survey, Americans today recognize that they do not need to sacrifice taste to eat right. Rather, they can enjoy their favorite foods in a way that combines the basic tenets of a healthy diet: balance, variety and moderation. People can continue to eat their favorite foods, even if they are high in fat, salt or sugars, but remember to moderate their portion size and frequency. In comparing the findings with a similar survey conducted in 1990, Americans continue to be very concerned about good nutrition and want sound information on healthy eating. Their interest in diet and health continues at a fairly high level (FamilyHaven: food choices pp.1).

Despite consumers? positive attitude toward good nutrition, some misconceptions continue to prevail. As in the 1990 survey, two-thirds of Americans believe there are ?good? and ?bad? diets. Any food can fit into a healthy way of eating. The key is to balance your food choices over time so that your overall diet is sound. For example, when you eat a higher-fat food, cut back on the fat in the next meal or snack.

Consumers are also confused about the fat content of individual foods and their overall diet. Seven out of ten respondents believe that foods should contain 30 percent or less calories from dietary fats. Americans appear to be incorrectly applying the figure of 30 percent of calories to individual foods, rather than to the total diet. A diet with this percent of calories from fat can contain both lower-fat and higher-fat foods. What matters is not how much fat is in each food but how much fat you can eat over the course of a day or several days (Ibid. 11pp).

?These misconceptions tell us that consumers need further guidance in balancing individual food over time to create sound eating patterns,? said Sara C. Parks, RD, President of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). ?People need to be shown that foods are not ?good? or ?bad?.... [and that] one's overall diet, not individual foods, should contain 30 percent or less of calories from fat. One of our goals is to help consumers understand how all foods can fit into their overall eating style.?

Where do consumers look for information about diet and health? As in the 1990 findings, the media is cited as the primary source of food and nutrition information for the general public. The most popular sources include magazine articles, newspaper reports, and television broadcasts. A small percentage of people further seek nutrition advice from health professional.

Many consumers want to eat less fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, more complex carbohydrates, and dietary fibers. Until recently, however, grocery shoppers found foods without nutrition labels or labels without enough useful information. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 brought sweeping changes to the regulations that define what is required on the food labels. The new requirements were designed so that the labels would provide consumers with useful information about the food they eat, and especially about how individual foods fit into their daily diets. Labels are valuable only if people know how to use them, and so the labeling law contains an educational component. Consumers who understand how to read labels will be best able to apply the information to achieve and maintain healthful dietary practices. The Food and drug Administration (FDA) has designed several programs to educate consumers about the nutrition information on food labels and the benefits of using that information to maintain healthful dietary habits (Whitney 69).

It is common scientific knowledge that the overly rich diet people eat today ' people in every part of this country and in other prosperous countries ' is linked with serious diseases: heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. These diseases threaten life development as a result of metabolic abnormalities induced by such factors as genetics, age, sex lifestyle and environment. Diet is among the many lifestyle factors that influence the risks of developing these chronic diseases (Davis 5).

The same factors ...

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