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Some Facts about Food and Health

FRUIT AND VEGETABLE

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  • Fruit and vegetables are a major food group and are important components of a healthy diet. 
  • Diets rich in fruit and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease, whereas low fruit and vegetable consumption has been linked to poor health. 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that, in 2013, an estimated 5.2 million deaths worldwide were attributable to lower than recommended fruit and vegetable consumption. 
  • The evidence is strong for cardiovascular disease, relatively consistent for specific cancer sites and is weaker for both diabetes and obesity. 
  • Fruit and vegetables are micronutrient- and fibre-rich, as well as containing a range of beneficial non-nutrient components, including plant sterols, flavonoids, and other bioactive, which have a range of potential health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Consuming a variety of fruit and vegetables will help to ensure an adequate intake of many of these essential nutrients. Fruit and vegetables are, therefore, recommended across all dietary guidelines. 
  • WHO suggests consuming more than 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day to improve overall health and reduce the risk of certain non-communicable diseases.

FISH

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  • Fish is a very healthy food that may be classed as white fish, fatty fish or shellfish.
  • Fish provides good quality protein and can be a source of many micronutrients, including selenium, iodine, and vitamin D. 
  • Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardine, and mackerel, is the best source of the omega-3 fatty acids that are important for visual and cognitive development and for heart, cognitive and inflammatory health. 
  • Epidemiological studies have shown associations between higher consumption of fish and reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, cognitive decline, depression, and several other noncommunicable diseases. 
  • The protective effects of fish are often ascribed to omega-3 fatty acids, but it is likely that the other nutrients in fish also play a role.
  •  To obtain sufficient omega-3 fatty acids, it is recommended that people eat one or two servings of fatty fish each week. In many countries, fish consumption, especially of fatty fish, is lower than recommended. 
  • Despite its clear health benefits, fish can be a source of toxins such as mercury and contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, which are harmful to health. These compounds can become concentrated within the marine food chain. For this reason, pregnant women are advised not to eat certain fish. 

MILK AND DAIRY

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  • Dairy foods are not essential in our diet but can contribute to over 40% of daily intake of calcium, iodine, phosphorus and some B-vitamins in Europe and the USA. Dairy also provides a higher quality of protein than meat. 
  • All dairy foods are made from milk that comes from ruminant animals such as cows, sheep, goats and water buffalo and has been consumed for over 7,500 years in some European populations. 
  • There is a misconception that milk is a high-fat food, yet whole milk contains only 3.6% fat, semi-skimmed 1.7%  and skimmed 0%.
  •  Dairy foods are the main contributor to saturated fat intake in many countries, but a high intake of dairy (excluding butter and cream) is not generally associated with heart disease risk. 
  • On the contrary, proteins, calcium, magnesium and probiotic bacteria in dairy foods have been linked to some beneficial effects on heart health, including lowering blood pressure. 
  • While some individuals develop an allergy to milk protein, others have lactose intolerance and are unable to digest dairy sugar (lactose). 
  • Interestingly, adult lactose intolerance is a normal condition in mammals. 
  • However, most humans have a genetic mutation that enables them to consume dairy products in adulthood, due to the persistence of lactase, required for lactose digestion.

EGG

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  • Egg yolk contains all of the essential ingredients to build a living organism and provides a richer source of micronutrients than any other single food. 
  • Egg white contains protein that is superior to beef steak in nutritional quality (the content of essential amino acids) and bioavailability. 
  • Eggs also boast the highest ratio of nutrient to energy density than any other food. So why have dietary guidelines restricted the intake of such nutritious food? 
  • An egg yolk provides the main source of dietary cholesterol (approximately 200 mg/egg), which has been linked to coronary heart disease (CHD) by its association with ‘low-density lipoprotein cholesterol’ (LDL-C).
  •  However, the dietary cholesterol in an egg is not the same as the LDL cholesterol that circulates in our blood and blocks arteries, and it is erroneous to believe that dietary cholesterol simply becomes LDL cholesterol in blood once it has been eaten.
  •  Eating an excessive amount of dietary cholesterol in eggs can increase blood LDL cholesterol – by reducing the ability of our cells to extract LDL-C from the blood – but for most healthy people, an egg a day will have no significant effect in raising LDL-cholesterol,  or risk of CHD, especially in comparison to the effects of eating too much-saturated fat and being overweight. 

NUTS

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  • There has been increasing interest in nuts and how they might improve human health. 
  • Peanuts and tree nuts are foods that most commonly cause an allergic reaction, but it has been demonstrated that consumption of a frequent peanut-containing snack by infants who are at high risk of developing a peanut allergy may prevent the development of allergy. 
  • Nuts are a varied food group, including, for example, tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and cashews) and legume seeds (peanuts). Nuts are nutrient-dense foods that are high in energy, but also with a favorable fatty acid (FA) profile (high in monounsaturated FAs and/or polyunsaturated FAs) and contain a range of bioactive compounds that also have proposed health benefits, such as vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants. 
  • Increasing nut intake has been demonstrated to reduce blood pressure, improve regulation of glucose, improve blood vessel health, reduce inflammation and improve lipid profile. 
  • Therefore, increasing intake could reduce the risk of heart disease, and nuts are a key food group consumed within a Mediterranean Diet, which has been proven to be heart-healthy. Nuts have a high energy content, but concerns about them being fattening are largely unfounded. 


GRAINS AND GLUTEN

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  • The edible seeds from plants of the grass family are called ‘cereal grains’, or ‘cereals’. The general term for both the fruit  (the seed or kernel) and the plant is ‘grain’. 
  • Major grain types worldwide are wheat, rice, corn (maize), barley, sorghum, oats, rye, and millet. 
  • Other important plants that are used as grains but are not technically grains include wild rice, buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa. 
  • Wheat flour is the preferred flour for baking due to the formation of gluten when the flour is mixed with water and stirred or beaten, such as when making a batter or kneading dough. 
  • Gluten,  a mixture of two proteins, gliadin, and glutenin, is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. Besides wheat, gluten can also be found in barley, rye, and triticale. 
  • It gives baked goods soft, fluffy and moist qualities. Without it, bread would lose its shape, dry out and quickly become stale. 
  • However, individuals with coeliac disease (an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine), wheat allergy (allergic reactions caused by gluten or other wheat protein) or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity eat naturally gluten-free diets or products made with gluten-free flours, such as those from corn, rice, potato, and soy, amongst others.


VEGAN AND VEGETARIANISM

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  • Between 1 and 10% of the population in developed countries follow a vegetarian diet. Many individuals and special interest groups claim that vegetarian diets can prolong life and promote health and vitality. 
  • These claims are largely unsubstantiated in terms of reliable scientific evidence. However, populations following vegetarian diets do seem to have reduced risk of heart disease and obesity. 
  • It is widely recognized, however, that over-reliance on one single food or food group will not provide the range of nutrients required for optimum health and well-being. If a particular food or food group is not consumed routinely, alternative nutrient sources must be included; for example, instead of meat,  plant-based protein sources such as legumes. 
  • Very restrictive or unbalanced vegetarian diets can result in nutrient deficiencies, particularly iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D.  This is especially the case for groups at risk of nutrient deficiency, including infants, children, menstruating and lactating women and athletes. 
  • Vegetarian and vegan diets can, however, be balanced and healthy for all stages of life, provided appropriate preparation and planning are followed. Vegans may require supplementation if adequate intake of nutrients cannot be achieved.


MEDITERRANEAN

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  • The Mediterranean Diet is a diet pattern rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil, and low in red meat and processed foods. 
  • There has always been regional variation and, more recently, changes over time in the exact foods and how frequently they are consumed, but the traditional pattern is based on the typical diet of many regions in Greece and southern Italy in the early 1960s. 
  • The Mediterranean Diet has been rated as the dietary pattern most likely, based on current knowledge, to offer protection against cardiovascular disease. 
  • This is supported by robust and consistent evidence from different types of population studies, including trials where people have changed their diet and rates of heart disease have been reduced.
  •  How the diet protects the heart is not fully understood, but those who follow it more closely seem to have a healthier lipid profile, lower blood pressure, lower insulin resistance and less inflammation. Emerging evidence also suggests that following a Mediterranean Diet may have additional benefits for overall longevity and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
  •  The health benefits offered appear to be attributable to interactions between different food components rather than the effects of single nutrients.



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