August 26, 2011

Prevention of disease is the cornerstone of a healthy life and what you eat has an enormous impact on your chances of avoiding disease. A poor diet is one of the major causes of problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Diet is defined as the amount and kind of food and drink that a person takes in a day. It also refers to food selections planned to meet specific requirements of the individual, by including or excluding certain foods.

Eating practices are influenced by taste and food preferences, the body’s ability or inability to process various foods, concerns about nutrition and weight control, lifestyle, availability of food in the environment, food product safety, the social situation, and the emotional meaning attached to foods and eating. Eating is an important source of pleasure and an occasion for social interaction. In our society, extralarge servings of food and snacking on high-calorie snacks have replaced the three-meal pattern of the olden days. We all know that obesity is on the increase. Obesity can lead to chronic disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, and cancer, which have an enormous impact on overall health costs.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommend eating a variety of foods; maintaining a healthy weight; choosing a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; choosing a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and grain products; and using sugars and salt in moderation. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation. Moderate drinking is described as no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol.

A balanced diet is a diet that provides the amount of energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that a person needs, consistent with the dietary guidelines for Americans. A balanced diet is different at different ages. The aim of the diet is to maintain a healthy life without any nutritional deficiencies, while avoiding excesses and minimizing the risk of diet-related diseases. A balanced diet can be achieved by planning the meals based on “The Food Guide Pyramid,” in which all five food groups are arranged in the form of a pyramid along with the number of recommended servings. Foods are placed in the pyramid to show the need to eat more foods from the bottom of the pyramid and fewer from the top. Foods in one group cannot be replaced by food from another. Planning your diet based on the food pyramid will help you reduce the intake of total fat, saturated fat, and sugar.

A vegetarian diet excludes meat. Some people prefer to eat only plant-based foods due to religious and cultural practices, environmental concerns, and ethical reasons. There are three types of vegetarian diets: vegan or strict vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, and lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Vegans exclude all animal foods
such as meat, fish, egg, dairy products, honey, poultry, and fish. This diet is deficient in vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium, and iodine. It is not suitable for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children due to the increased needs for calcium in these groups. Leafy green vegetables are good sources of calcium, but this calcium is not absorbed well because it is bound to oxalic acid. Lacto-vegetarians include dairy products but exclude eggs. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians include eggs and dairy products in their diet. Vitamin B12 is usually lacking in vegetarian diet. Foods like tofu and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12. If these foods are not eaten, supplementation is recommended.

A modified diet is based on a normal diet, but altered in its consistency, texture, nutrients, and caloric value to meet the needs of certain diseases or conditions. For instance, people with swallowing difficulties may require thickened liquids to avoid accidentally inhaling what they drink. People with heart disease may require a low-sodium diet to avoid retaining fluid.

The majority of weight loss diet plans use a lowcarbohydrate diet for rapid weight loss. People lose weight and keep it off only for a short time. Glycogen, the body’s carbohydrate reserves, is stored with water. When low-carbohydrate dieters use up their carbohydrate reserves, about 3 g of water is lost for every gram of glycogen that is used. This produces rapid weight loss, which is regained after a short period of time. When the stored glycogen is depleted, the body uses fat reserves for its energy needs and chemicals called ketones are produced. Ketosis, a condition in which ketones are found in the blood and urine, can produce undesirable effects such as nausea, gout, dehydration, muscle weakness, and kidney failure. Weight-reducing diets can be effective only if the calorie intake is less than the calories required by the individual. Excluding one group of foods and indulging in another food group will result in nutritional deficiencies but not in weight loss. The best bet to win the weight control battle is to eat less and burn more calories by exercising.

SEE ALSO: Body mass index, Calcium, Cholesterol, Nutrition

Suggested Reading

  • Bender, A. E. (1985). Health or hoax?: The truth about health foods
  • and diet. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. Messina, M., & Messina, V. (1996). The dietitian’s guide to vegetarian diets: Issues and applications. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.
  • Wescott, P. (2000). Diet and nutrition. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn.

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