The Heart of Nutrition

Like grammar followed the spoken language, nutrition succeeded ingestion of food and drink. When dining only a small percentage of people will focus on the nutritional benefit of a chosen meal and its accompaniment. The continuous evolvement of nutritional science in the last few decades highlight the developing understanding of our physiological needs and the role of food.

It’s a very odd thing-
As odd as can be
That whatever Miss T eats
Turns into Miss T

Walter De la Mare

The food we eat has an effect on our health. What we eat determines the quality of our blood, which affects our cells, tissues and organs. Nutritional food strengthens our bodies by promoting healthy cell regeneration for growth and repair to damaged structures within our physical makeup. Nutritionally void food has the propensity to diminish our cell regeneration properties.

Nutrition: 1 the process of nourishment. 2 the study of the body’s nutritional needs [1].

Nutrient:

  • A substance from which the body can produce energy, to use in movement and keeping warm;
  • A substance that is used in growth, repair and reproduction;
  • A substance necessary to regulate the production of energy or the processes of repair and growth [2].
  • The major classes of nutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Combining these nutrients with oxygen and water sustains life. A cup of black, unsweetened coffee has little nutritional value. It is therefore not a nutrient as it is not used by the body for growth or energy.

    Eating is instinctive. It is our means to survival. Survival of the fittest dictates that we need to eat to become strong, repair injuries sustained in hunting for food, and feed our offspring to allow the “herd” to proliferate despite natural onslaughts. Historically, in times of famine, the strong hunted the weak. In times of plenty the fast ate the slow, the cunning outwitted the disadvantaged. Those who ate, inhabited the earth.

    At the end of the last Ice Age man initiated farming of cereal and domestic animals which soon became a major source of carbohydrates and protein. Migration was no longer necessary as food sources were sustained within the locality of the population. Families settled in a geographical location and expanded their own production and storage of food to eliminate seasonal famine. This lead to the compositional change of food. Domestic animals have a different physiological make-up to wild animals due to their repetitive diet and often restrictive movement. Localised cultivated crops became nutritiously less potent due to soil chemical depletion.

    Migration of animals for slaughter is now at best confined to rotation of pasture. Although there are a few small producers that ensure adequate nutrition and a natural environment, most animals are fed at best a generic feed and at worst animal carcasses and sundry waste products. What these animals ingest inevitably makes its way onto our dinner plate. Protein with added by-products.

    Historically our survival was based on trial and error when “discovering” different types of wild vegetation. Mistakes claimed lives due to limited medicinal cures as contra measures and the knowledge was passed on to the next generation to ensure survival of the community. The cassava plant, a staple food in Africa which is used to make tapioca, contains compounds called cyanogenic glycosides, which can release poisonous hydrogen cyanide through a physiological reaction occurring in the intestine. In order to eat cassava without dire consequences the plant is chopped, fermented and then cooked where the volatile hydrogen cyanide is rendered harmless to the consumer. Today consumption of nutrient void processed food does not elicit such obvious, immediate harmful symptoms. Symptoms of ill health related to these modern foods only appear in later life.

    It is widely acknowledged that many presenting chronic health problems are related to diet [3]. The dietary factors implicated in these health concerns may however not be as obviously regarded. The wealth of scientific information brings forth confusion and conflict amongst both consumers and health care providers. Perhaps it is this wealth of information that makes it so difficult to dictate the “optimum diet” for modern day man. The Arctic Eskimo tribes have the ability to thrive on a diet of raw fat and protein from marine mammals [4] whereas the Australian aborigines of the Western Desert enjoy a diet largely consisting of a few wild plant species5.

    Evidence suggests that for the most part of human existence we have lived and proliferated as hunter-gatherers. This means that our diet was based on wild plants and animals. It would appear that if we were to revert back to this type of diet we may be able to prevent many diseases of affluence, such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, certain cancers, obesity and perhaps even eating disorders. However, as we can not be certain as to the precise daily dietary menu of our ancestors, or assure the availability of food for the increasing number of global inhabitants, this may not be a practical and sustainable solution.

    According to Katherine Milton in her paper titled, Hunter-Gatherer Diets: Wild Foods Signal Relief from Diseases of Affluence [3], it seems that the relatively recent changes in certain features of the modern diet may, in an evolutionary sense, have occurred so rapidly and so recently that human biology has not as yet had time to adapt to them.

    Food serves to provide fuel, and as observed in most affluent western cultures way in excess of physical requirements, at the expense of nutrients. The conversion of food to usable energy in the cell requires a multitude of cofactors for optimal function. Nutrient dense, whole foods provide these cofactors and allow for a successful energy yield in a healthy body.

    Modern day man too often chooses his breakfast from any one of the multitude of generic coffee outlets dotted on most streets in most built up areas. The influx of citizens to cities place a considerable pressure on food production and availability. Recently it has become more fashionable and desirable to consume on the run pre-prepared food and beverages in place of whole food products. Fruit consumption is at best limited to juices and smoothies, the latter of which has an extended shelf life thanks to technology which may also impact the overall micro nutrient content.

    The British heart foundation promotes the daily intake of at least 5 fruit and vegetables to promote healthy cardiovascular function. According to the British Nutritional Foundation, research around the subject of cancer strongly suggests basing the bulk of the diet on raw fruit and vegetables. The Global Diabetes Community advises adopting a diet which consists of plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruit.

    In 2003 the World Health Organization published a report titled: Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases.

    The report highlights that only a small and negligible minority of the world’s population consumes the recommended average daily intake of fruits and vegetables. They advise daily individual intake of up to 400g of fruit and vegetables.

    This report states that an improvement of current diets with an increase of physical activity in adults and the older members of society will reduce chronic disease risks for death and disability.

    In the complex world of modern nutritional studies it appears evident that general consensus amongst researcher scientists and nutritional health care providers is that the heart of nutrition consists of natural, unprocessed foods, with an overwhelming focus on fresh fruit and vegetables and an increase in daily physical activity level.

    Perhaps an apple a day really does keep the doctor away.

    References:

    1. Chambers Pocket Dictionery. Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd. Edinburgh. P611. ISBN 0 550 10583 2. 1997
    2. Book 3 Nutrition and Health. The Open University. Milton Keynes. ISBN 0 7492 51433. 2000
    3. Ungar PS and Teaford MF. Human Diet Its Origin and Evolution. Bergin & Garvey. Connecticut. ISBN 0 89789 736 6
    4. Ho KJ, Mikkelson B, Lewis LA, Feldmans SA, and Taylor CB. Alaskan arctic Eskimos: response to a customary high fat diet. Am.J.Clin.Nutr. 25: 737-45. 1972
    5. Gould RA. Living Archeology. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1980

    Bibliography:
    http://www.diabetes.co.uk/nutrition.html
    www.nutrition.org.uk
    www.bhf.org.uk
    http://www.who.int/hpr/NPH/docs/who_fao_expert_report.pdf

    This article was published in Positive Health On-Line Magazine in 2010.

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