Nutrition and Health

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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...
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