It’s Time To Develop A Better Understanding Of Nutrition

November 25, 2022

Summary: In the US, more people now die due to chronic metabolic disorders, many of which are highly preventable through dietary measures. Obesity is among the most significant health threats. However, nutritional recommendations in the US are insufficient and do not answer many critical questions. There is a need to develop a national consensus regarding a dietary approach to weight loss or obesity or to prevent various chronic pain and disorders. One of the reasons for the problem is insufficient federal funding. America urgently needs to establish an institute devoted to the nutritional causes of poor health.

Poor or wrong food choices are now the leading cause of diseases, disability, and death. Obesity is widespread, and yet people are living with nutritional deficiencies. They are eating what they should not be and avoiding nutrient rich foods. Much of it is happening due to a lack of adequate understanding of nutrition.

Most nutrition-related research occurred in the mid-20th century. However, since then, much has changed. Till the mid 20th century, greater stress was on preventing nutritional deficiencies due to food deficit. However, now obesity is widespread, and so are the various chronic ailments related to wrong dietary choices. The challenge in countries like the US is not food deficiency but instead wrong dietary choices. Hence, health experts think it is time for the US to establish a new institute focusing on modern nutrition requirements and other pressing issues of contemporary life.

Just take an example of the study published in the journal The Lancet. The study found that each year 11 million people die directly due to wrong dietary choices. These are not people living with severe malnutrition but people who eat unhealthy foods, food lacking some beneficial nutrients.

Thus, the study found that some of the reasons for untimely death are high salt intake, low dietary fiber intake, high trans fatty acids, inadequate omega-3 fatty acids intake, and high sugar intake, to name a few factors1.

In the US alone, more than 1000 people die each day from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Most of these deaths are untimely, and they can be avoided. Not only that, an even bigger concern is the massive health burden caused by wrong dietary choices and issues like obesity. Some researchers estimated that chronic diseases caused by obesity result in a loss of $1.72 trillion, which is almost 10% of the GDP.

Poor food choices contribute to the high prevalence of so many health issues. It means lost productivity, higher poverty, and health disparities. Obesity and wrong food choices are even affecting military readiness. Thus, one report by retired generals and admirals found that obesity is now the leading cause of medical disqualification in otherwise healthy Americans from joining the military. It means we must look at the broader impact of wrong dietary choices and start looking beyond just health issues.

However, experts say that there is insufficient funding, which is among the most significant reasons for poor understanding among people regarding dietary choices. For example, researchers estimate that federal agencies are getting just about $1.5 billion for nutrition research. To understand how minute this amount is, we need to realize that people in the US spend more than $40 billion per year purchasing candies.

Experts that some of the burning questions that must be answered are:

  • Developing an understanding of how foods can be used to treat diseases so that “food is medicine” becomes a reality.
  • Optimal nutrition is required for various health conditions like physical injuries, those living with PTSD, military readiness, and more.
  • Developing a better understanding of the role of the gut microbiome in health.
  • Understanding nutritional requirements of various population groups depending on age, ethnicity, genetics, metabolic health, and more.
  • Metabolic effects of some of the most commonly consumed foods like dairy, meat, and fermented foods.
  • Optimal weight loss diet.
  • Diet to prevent cancers.
  • Health effects of bioactive compounds like flavonoids, phenolic compounds, and their essentiality for wellbeing.
  • Food for good mental and brain health.
  • Dietary recommendations for those living with food allergies, chronic health disease, and autoimmune disorders.

Of course, we have dietary recommendations regarding the intake of vitamin-rich foods. However, most of that information is outdated. Additionally, that information does not answer some of the pressing questions. For example, those dietary recommendations are not focused on preventing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic health issues.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA