Poor Nutrition is a global risk factor that needs our attention.
It would be fair to say that regions across the world can benefit from good nutritional consumption.
French Chef Auguste Escoffier once said that "good food is the foundation of genuine happiness”. Ancient Greek Physician Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, also considered nutrition to be fundamental in treating disease and pivotal for improving performance in the Olympic Games. In modern times, you may have seen "good food, good mood" quotes, deriving from Hippocrates' ideal of “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
What does the research have to say about the current state of health in the world?
Poor Nutrition is a global risk factor that needs our attention
A Global Burden of Disease study exploring dietary consumption between 1990 to 2017, found that one in five deaths were associated with poor diet.
Leading risk factors across 195 countries shared commonalities including high intakes of sodium, and diets that had an insufficient intake of healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. This was considered just as detrimental as ingesting unhealthy meals.
Cardiovascular disease was at the forefront of chronic illness caused by poor nutrition, followed by cancer and type 2 diabetes. Studies have also suggested that Western dietary patterns that are high in refined sugars, can lead to impaired brain function, elevate oxidative stress and inflammation, and may lead to poor mental health with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This evidence invites us to shift our attention from the mindset of restricting unhealthy food, towards focusing on creating a lifestyle geared toward increasing healthy food components. We can modify our dietary creature comforts to support well-being and prevent mental illness.
Is there a one size fits all solution to optimal nutrition?
There may not be an ideal or perfect diet for everyone, however there is compelling research that the Mediterranean dietary style, encompassing a balance of high-quality food, can be used as a guide.
Referred to as the gold standard in preventive medicine, links have been made with significant improvements to wellbeing and quality of life, increased life expectancy and reduction of chronic disease.
This traditional diet is characterised by whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, seafood and whole grains, that are enriched with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that help nourish and protect the brain from oxidative stress. It tends to avoid refined sugars, red and processed meats, trans and saturated fats, and limits dairy intake.
A study found that the Mediterranean diet can improve endurance in athletes within four days, when compared against the Western diet.
The well-established Mediterranean Diet has been recognised as an unpretentious healthy way of life by the scientific community, that goes beyond a dietary pattern.
Plant Based Diet
Diets that are rich in vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats are best for the body and brain. It's no surprise the ever-growing popularity of vegan culture has become more widely accepted.
A research analysis on plant-based diets revealed benefits to psychological health, quality of life, weight and help with diabetes and cholesterol. However, more exploration was needed into psychological health, dietary patterns and diabetes.
Whilst there are many benefits to a plant based diet, it is important to note that fatigue can be a common side effect due to lower intakes of B12 and iron, along with a decreased sense of taste and smell due to lower zinc levels. Therefore, it is important to supplement these deficiencies to obtain sufficient nutritional intake.
In saying so, world class athletes who follow a plant based diet are not concerned about the reduction of protein in their meals. Professional tennis player Venus Williams shared that she made the change after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and a plant-based diet helped her maintain her performance on the court.
The World Health Organisation highlights the importance of eating nutrient rich foods and balancing energy intake with physical activity for all ages. Key factors of nutrition related chronic disease include the quality of food that is eaten and the unbalanced consumption of energy in the form of sugar, starch and fat, alongside physical inactivity or sedentary behaviours.
Choosing a balanced and nutritious diet may help elevate mood, happiness and act as a buffer against depression and anxiety. Whilst it can be tempting to jump on the latest dietary trends, and avoid unhealthy food, perhaps we can take more ownership in choosing what works best for us by embracing a lifestyle that is geared towards increasing nutrients in our meals for better health. After all, where our focus goes, energy flows. This may enable us to experience more genuine happiness in addition to good health in our lives.