Nutrition For Your Health
Optimal Health and Disease Prevention
Nutrition is a basic and vital component of your health care. Proper nutrition is required for general wellness, as well as the promotion of optimal health and disease prevention. Over 40 nutrients are required for normal growth and bodily functions. As they say, you are what you eat.
Our food sources must provide adequate levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to sustain life and prevent diseases. Vitamins are organic (contain carbon) substances that come from plants and animals. They provide necessary nutrients as well as aid the body's metabolism in the use of other essential nutrients such as minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Minerals are inorganic (do not contain carbon) elements from plants and animals that are also required for proper body maintenance. Water soluble nutrients (vitamins C, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-12 and folic acid) need to be replenished regularly since any excesses are normally eliminated in the urine (except for vitamin B-12 which is stored in the liver).
Six of the ten most common causes of death are diet or nutrition related (coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity). For example, the National Cancer Institute estimates that one in three cancer deaths are diet related and that 8 of 10 cancers have a nutrition/diet component. Ongoing scientific research continues to support the benefits of specific nutrients associated with the prevention and/or treatment of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, neural tube defects, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other illnesses.
Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, selenium, coenzyme Q10, and flavonoids can help slow the aging process and reduce the risk for certain diseases by preventing free radicals from damaging healthy molecules and DNA.
The American Dietetic Association reports that epidemiologic research has shown a positive association between dietary intake of food components found in fruits, vegetables, grains, fish oil, and legumes and their effect on chronic disease). Other nutrient-related correlations link dietary fat and fiber to prevention of colon cancer, folate to the prevention of neural tube defects, calcium to the prevention of osteoporosis, psyllium to the lowering of blood lipid levels, and antioxidant nutrients to disease prevention, to list just a few.
The American Dietetic Association also reports that phytochemicals, which are specific food components, are gaining scientific research to support their role in the prevention and treatment of disease. Examples include indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane, which are found in vegetables such as broccoli and have been shown to trigger enzyme systems that block or suppress cellular DNA damage, reduce tumor size (in animal studies, and decrease the effectiveness of estrogen-like hormones. Allylic sulfides, which are found in onions and garlic, are another example. They enhance immune function, increase the production of enzymes that help to excrete carcinogens, decrease the proliferation of tumor cells, and reduce serum cholesterol levels. Many other phytochemicals may offer benefits hitherto unknown. For instance, the isoflavonoids found in soy have been shown to reduce serum cholesterol levels through the production of weak estrogens via fecal formation in the human gut. For more information from the ADA, visit www.eatright.org/aphytochemicals.html.
Unfortunately, many people eat mostly for pleasure and taste, not nutritional value. This contributes to nutrition related health problems and the 55% of American adults and 20% of teenagers being over weight. Excess body fat can increase the chance for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some types of cancer and other illnesses. Want to know more about the health risks of being overweight, see the NIDDK article at www.niddk.nih.gov/health/nutrit/pubs/health.htm.
American Dietetic Association www.eatright.org/aphytochemicals.html retrieved 8/98
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), www.niddk.nih.gov/health/nutrit/pubs/health.htm retrieved 8/98
The American Diet
Most American diets are far below the basic Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). The USDA's Healthy Eating Index found that the average American scored only 63.9 out of a possible 100 points, based on a diet conforming to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid. Only 12% had diets scoring higher than 80 points. Another study found that only 1% of adults consumed diets meeting the five food-group recommendations that are the basis of the food guide pyramid. Other diet analyses reveal that most Americans consume inadequate levels of vitamins A, C, E, thiamin, riboflavin, B-6, B-12, and folic acid, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, selenium, and zinc. Numerous surveys also indicate similar concerns and the obvious need for nutrition improvements.
A 1997 USDA study found that overall only 1 percent of American children meet the nutritional guidelines of the Food Guide Pyramid. Teen boys did a little better than average - 1.6 percent eat the recommended amounts from all five food groups. However, almost no teen girls (0.6 percent) meet all the recommendations. In every food category, fewer girls than boys eat the Pyramid way. (source: www.beef.org:8010/beef/nut_libr/american_teens.htm)
In addition, the current RDA nutrient levels are believed by many to be too low and are under review by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. New RDAs or guidelines may be issued based on known nutrients needed to optimize health and minimize risk of chronic diseases.
Who Should Be Concerned About Their Diet?
Everyone should be conscious of their diet so they obtain essential nutrients. Diet analyses reveal that most Americans consume inadequate levels of vitamins A, C, E, thiamin, riboflavin, B-6, B-12, and folic acid, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. The following people may need to improve their nutrition for optimal health and disease prevention. If you fall into one or more of these categories, a self-assessment of your nutrient intake and/or consultation with your health care professional may identify specific deficiencies or nutrition concerns.
||Adults and teenagers with busy lifestyles not eating regular healthful meals
||Dieters limiting their foods|
||Physically active people not properly balancing their diets|
||Elderly people not eating properly or not digesting foods efficiently|
||People with certain disorders or diseases that interfere with the digestive, metabolic, or cellular communication process|
||People taking certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs that interfere with absorption and metabolism|
||Heavy alcohol drinkers|
||People eating mostly foods that are processed or canned with high temperatures, or commercially grown in nutrient deficient soil may not be getting the complete nutrient value|
Understanding Basic Nutrition
Click on each to learn about what they are, how they work, and sources where they are found.
For detailed information on the functions, deficiencies, clinical uses, food sources, toxicity, and recent research on selected vitamins and minerals, see the peer-reviewed scientific data from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences www.nutrition.org/nutinfo.
- Fats - Saturated, Polyunsaturated, Monounsaturated
- Fiber - Soluble, Insoluble
- Cholesterol - HDL, LDL