How Adequate Is Our Diet?

healthy and balanced diet

We may be very careful and try to eat a diet which may seem quite adequate, yet we may not be aware of many pitfalls in our selection process. What seems to be a good and nourishing diet may actually lack quite a few essential health promoting items.

A diet is a “good” diet when it provides all the nutrients that a particular individual requires after working out his health status, biochemical individuality and stress levels.

We hear it talked about everywhere doctors, dieticians, nutritionists are never consistent about what they hold as the right diet – today it is high protein, tomorrow it may be high fibre, yesterday it was high carbohydrates; no sugar; no fats, fruits eaten whole with skins, not as juices; raw, steamed, not fried; grilled, no red meats, butter, eggs, full milk – the “Notes” are endless “the musts” and “shoulds” increasingly forbidding and unpalatable! But all are agreed that a good diet should provide all the nutrients required but in the lifestyles and stresses of today’s modern living, this may not be possible.

Our comparatively healthy long-lived forefathers were predominantly vegetarian. With fruits and vegetables in bulk and later meat, dairy products and grains… their meats were from wild herbivores containing only 4% fat, while today’s meat from domesticated animals contains more saturated fatty acids (25 – 35 % fats): Plants foods too differed in composition. The diet would have included different plant species suited to the particular soil type of the area and a greater range, trace nutrients. The fibre content was greater than as in present diets, intake of grains and dairy products was less, less salt was consumed and refined sugar was unheard of.

[Read: We Are What We Eat!]

A good diet cannot be generally and universally applied – requirements vary from individual to individual, dramatically. Recommendations include 5 – 10% of proteins, encouraging fish for essential fatty acids, a high emphasis on fresh complex carbohydrates, chemical additives and preservatives and their exclusion. Also emphasized is an increase in fibre to 30 – 40 gms per day and a reduction of salt and refined sugar intake.

Other than a balance of the constituents of our diet, there are other factors that affect the nutritional status. Stress, emotional and physical stress, affect our metabolism as also the individual biochemical make up determine the benefits we gain from what we eat. Other areas of concern are pollution of the environment, methods of cultivation, processing of foods and ingestion of drugs.

Environmental pollutants – air pollution from excess lead, reduction of ozone layer by chlorofluorecarbons and increased presence of chemicals in water due to effluents etc. are the environmental contaminations that affect our health.

Lead and other toxic chemicals pollute the air from industrial and car exhaust fumes. Excess fluoride in water causes calcification of soft tissues, more in hot, dry climate. Fluoride and chlorine cause corrosion in cooper and galvanized steel water pipes and cooper, lead and cadmium compromise zinc levels in the body. Increased ingesting of chlorine from chlorination increases the risk of developing cancers of the rectum, colon and bladder. Lead not only causes childhood hyperactivity and learning and behaviour disorders, stillbirths, development abnormalities, cancer, heart disease and blood pressure, kidney and metabolic diseases, symptoms of lethargy and depression, frequent infectious and immune dysfunction are also traced to lead poisoning. Treatment with vitamin E resulted in significant reduction in methemoglobin levels and vitamin E supplementation may be prescribed to treat ozone induced blood toxicity.

[Read: Food: What To Eat? How To Eat?]

Farming practices that involve an overuse of chemical fertilizers and the leaching of essential minerals from the soil affect the quantity of food production and modern farming practices have resulted in genetic alteration of crops.

The quantity of the soil in which they grow is essential in the conversion process of inorganic matter to food. Fertilizers, pesticides and plant genetic engineering has dramatically changed that we can expect to derive from our plant based foodstuffs. Attention has been confined to increased yield without taking note of the disruption of the essential balance of nutrients in the soil.

Many farmers add chorine to the soil which leaches out essential minerals such as magnesium, zinc and calcium. Modern developments in agriculture have encouraged plant varieties developed by man and natural wild varieties have been lost to the gene pool. The varieties developed require fertilizers and pesticides to give maximum yield. Insecticides that are highly toxic have led to higher mortality and allergies. Antibiotics have contaminated grain feed to cows and cattle and have resulted in metabolic changes which affect the nutritional status increasing excretion of vitamin C, riboflavin, aminoacids, folic acid, niacin and nitrogen and a decreasing absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, xylose aminoacids and fats. They disrupt the natural intestinal flora, interfering with bacterial synthesis of vitamin K.

Cooking processes too, affect the quality of food we eat. Heating destroys many of the nutritional values in food particularly vitamins and enzymes. Cooking in Aluminium accumulates in the body, when food is affected by the action of acidic foods, fruits, alkaline foods; salty water, hard water or detergents, and thus affects the central nervous system and causes mineral deficiencies and nutritional depletion of essential phosphorous and calcium. Unlined copper and lead vessels can cause copper poisoning.

[Read: A Complete Guide To Healthy Eating]

Manufacturing processes are increasingly becoming a controversial factor in our food products. Greater concern is being directed to the products in the market which use chemical preservatives, colouring and associated materials, for instance, during manufacture of white bread, the wheat germ and bran is removed leaving only the starchy endosperm. Thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, vitamin E and essential fatty acid content is radically reduced and even when some enrichment is sought to replace these vitamins the enrichment is inferior to the natural goodness.

In the manufacture of edible oils chemicals such as gasoline, hexane, benzene, ethyl ether, carbon disulfide, carbon tetrachloride or methylene chloride can be used to extract oil from the seed. The product is completely unnatural and the oil has lost most of its nutritional value, e.g., lecithin which aids fat digestion.

Apart from manufacturing processes, a recent problem is from the large amount of additives added to foodstuffs – colouring, dyes, preservatives and other chemicals are added to our food daily. Chemical sensitivity in individuals is becoming commonplace, particularly in those suffering from asthma, allergies, alcohol addiction, immune disorders, hyperactivity and learning disorder in children, gastro intestinal disturbances and skin disorders. Exclusion diets are used to eliminate the offending food or chemical and rotation diets used to give minimum exposure to the offending item. Since many chemicals are introduced in combinations, effect of a solitary additive has been difficult to identify and eliminate in treatment.

The ingestion of coffee, tea, alcohol, smoking and prescription drugs had become a way of life but many of these compromise our nutritional status severely and are being taken note of as health threats. Alcohol, antibiotics and prescription drugs users show multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies developing as a side effect. Discovering their effects has been slow and difficult and research in this field is still new.

[Read: The Right Diet For You]

The oral contraceptive shows metabolic effects with increased vitamin A circulation and depletion of riboflavin, B12, folic acid, vitamin C, E and K and magnesium deficiency – Caffeine depletes vitamin A, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, biotin, choline, folic acid and para-amino benzoic acid. Sugar increases our requirement of thiamine, choline etc. Sugar and salt added to most commercially prepared foods and increased salt intake disturbs our potassium – magnesium balance. Fast foods have increased sulphite and phosphates intake. Alarming increase today in chronic degenerative diseases as arthritis, heart attacks, cancers, allergic and sensitivity disorders, can be attributed to the nutritional levels of our food and heightened stress levels.

Increased stress levels put a heavy demand on the neurotransmitters that cope with stress situations and there is an increased need for the amino acid precursor which encourages neurotransmitters production. Vitamins and minerals act as catalysts or co-factors in the production cycle and should be essential constituents of the diet.

Prolonged physical stress in individuals may cause symptoms of fatigue, tiredness, muscle tension or weakness, indigestion, irritability, hyperactivity, nervousness, insomnia and general fatigue, while mental stress can manifest in poor memory, difficulty in concentrating, mental confusion, excessive worry and anxiety phobia, fear hallucination, depression and personality changes.

A good nutritional status is essential for the optimum functioning of the antioxidative defence system. Vitamin c, beta-carotene, cystine, methionine, histidine, vitamin A and E all play important roles and increased stress calls for increased nutritional requirements to maintain optimum functional capacity of this protective antioxidant body function.

From these facts we can see that contamination of our environment and food put a strain on the detoxification processes of our body; farming practices and manufacturing processes are introducing a number of chemical residues in our food and water, cooking processes leach contamination and all drugs further compromise our nutritional status and so there is general inadequacy of the diet to provide many of the additional nutrients the body may require when placed under stress. But what is a ‘good diet’?

A diet is a “good” diet when it provides all the nutrients that a particular individual requires after working out his health status, biochemical individuality and stress levels. There is still not enough known on all the constituents of our food or the reaction and effect they have on different body constitutions. Many diets have too much fats, sugars, salts, not enough fibres, too preserved, too over cooked and what is ‘normal’ for one may not be so, for another. We generally do not get enough nutritional support from the diet; this combined with environmental stresses, depletes our nutritional resources and impaired utilizations of the nutrients from our diet will compound problems. It has become increasingly necessary to create awareness on existing toxins and pollutants that cause crippling ill health as also to increase nutritional supplements in the form of vitamins, minerals and aminoacids, etc. Therapists are today stressing the role of nutrition in health maintenance and treatment, progressively leading away from drugs. “Nutritional supplementation and consequent support for the body’s own healing mechanism is the treatment of choice, e.g. using vitamin C in supporting the immune system functions”. Vitamin B, A & E play important roles in the antioxidation processes, as do zinc and selenium, calcium, Vitamin D and enzymes in body building and repair.

Recent research demonstrates the beneficial role the nutritional approach to health care has played and with increasing knowledge will come the more defined application of nutritional science.

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