An increasing amount of people today know that official diet advice is phony, putting industry interests before public health. The state of capitalism today is that corporates have a legal obligation to keep driving up their profits and driving down or off-loading their costs. This means that multinational corporations who produce, prepare, package and distribute food to large retailers have to align all their efforts with enriching their shareholders, despite diminishing the wellbeing of their customers.
Sadly, that is not going to stop happening on our current trajectory. It is the job of governments to balance the cost of healthcare to consumers paid through taxes against the profits from those same consumers from selling products. How is it that unhealthy items such as processed food, alcohol, gambling and medications need so much official support, lobbying, advertising, promotion and publicity? Meanwhile, healthy activities, lifestyle, nutrition, organisations and community are criticsed, attacked and divided by those who are paid to protect us.
NHS costs from unhealthy lifestyle House of Lords report (2017):
* £3.5bn from alcohol related issues
* £2bn from tobacco related issues, which causes 80,000 premature deaths a year
* £5.1bn a year directly spent tackling obesity and an estimated £27bn from related costs.
We need to bear in mind factors, which influence how we respond to different foods. In my view, macronutrients: protein (amino acids), fats (fatty acids) and carbohydrates (saccharides) can guide us to types of foods, which suit our gene type or might signal supplementation because the foods we need are not available locally or suited to our lifestyle.
Interestingly, food fads have led to removing all 3 macronutrients: gluten-free is removing the protein in grains not the sugar or starch, which damage the liver through the production of glucose, which is used for immediate energy or stored as fat in the liver or elsewhere. Fat-free has devastated healthy eating, by removing healthy fats and good cholesterol, which perform vital health functions and provide natural flavour to food. Sugar-free has opened the door to all kinds of artificial sweetener production and promotion. Lastly, meat-free plant protein alternatives do not suit everyone and there is not enough information out there to point people to missing nutrients when they exclude a main food group.
The good news is that today there are supplements, which make any diet involving real food potentially healthy. The trouble is that there is an overwhelming amount of products on the market, but we are rarely given the whole story, which is that we need a range of vitamins, macrominerals and trace elements for optimal mental and physical health.
Human beings are highly diverse genetically and DNA wellbeing tests and nutritional scientists such as Zoe Global are finding ways to personalise nutrition by correcting deficiencies and suggesting alternatives to food intolerances or allergies.
However, macronutrients: protein, fats and carbohydrates, are the best way to describe the variation in diet we need according to our genes, geography and current climate. When the weather is hot we all eat less and people, such as the Sámi, who live in arctic conditions eat a more animal fat than a person living near the equator who spends time outdoors all year round and probably avoids oily fish and nuts, which provide fat soluble vitamins they get from constant sunshine on their skin.
We do need to consider foods in terms of our age, genetics and lifestyles. For example, an athlete may need more readily available energy, which would be store as fat in a person without much muscle who sits in an office all day. It is well-known now that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ healthy eating regime does not exist.
However, the top new year’s resolution for people in the United Kingdom and United States is to eat more healthily, which received more votes than popular goals such as finding love, earning more money, getting a better job, losing weight or affording a bigger house.
Although health covers mind and body and our brains and physical symptoms work together, healthy eating and physical activity are only considered in relation to physical, not mental health.
Flip-flopping in the press, which tells us we can or cannot eat chocolate or drink coffee or red wine applies the same treatment to physical activity. The Guardian newspaper published articles on working out in the gym being unnecessary and then another article saying that regular walkers weren’t getting enough exercise.
Gems of information can be so hard to find, that we don’t know they are there until they are mentioned in passing in relation to something else. For example, this article on gaining weight as we aged provides a nugget of information, which may explain how many healthy people’s immune systems got put out of whack when lockdowns took millions of people who commuted to work from daily outdoor physical activity to being policed for leaving their homes for an hour a day.
In addition, Greendale says that as we age the immune system can get out of whack, turning on an inflammatory response when there are no bacteria or viruses to kill, and keeping it on long after the body’s invaders have left.
Such an inappropriate inflammatory response can actually damage one’s own cells in whatever part of the body the inflammation occurs, whether it’s in muscles, joints or organs.
Ensuring such muscle and joint strength can also help fight this and other unfortunate aspects of aging, arthritis and inflammation.Why We Gain Weight As We Age (2010) – Patti Neighmond for NPR
The ultimate question in terms of keeping people healthy, reducing cost burden on healthcare from treating avoidable diseases and preventing severe disease from virus pandemics is whether good public health messaging plays a role in prevention alongside vaccination and effective treatments. In terms of transmission, a healthy immune system reduces the viruses’ chances of becoming established and spreading via that person.
Finally, nutrition (eg, dietary recommendations) to boost the immune system should be explored and recommended“Immune response in COVID-19: A review’ Chowdhury et al. 2020. Science Direct
It seems Science Direct was not alone in recommending nutrition as a way to reduce or prevent COVID-19, while recongising huge challenges in meeting these suggestions. “In the current global context with limited movements, it is difficult to obtain a balanced and varied diet. Therefore, achieving recommended amounts of calories and micronutrient will be a challenge and elective micronutrient supplementations may be beneficial especially for vulnerable populations such as the elderly.” National Centre for Biotechnology Information (2020). “Enhancing immunity in viral infections, with special emphasis on COVID-19: A review” Jayawardena et al.