& Joannie Dobbs Wednesday,
January 6, 1999
Eating for disease prevention may not be healthy
How important is health to you and your family? People who no longer enjoy all the benefits of good health will tell you that health is more important than wealth. But until illness or disease interrupts an active lifestyle, the full value of health is seldom appreciated.
Even if you are already interested in staying healthy, you may not be eating in a way that will keep you healthy over the long run. Many popular diet plans are based on altering eating habits in ways that may prevent certain diseases but may not promote overall long-term good health
This may seem like splitting hairs, but it really isn't. Let's start by defining health. Certainly, health indicates the absence of chronic disease. And even though we all have different genetic weak links, being in a state of health allows us to have the energy, strength, and mental poise to
maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses throughout our lifespan.
Disease or illness can be defined as a condition that occurs when one or more parts of the body no longer function properly. Often it takes years for a disease to develop to the point that it becomes evident. Chronic diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancers, and osteoporosis have their roots in youth.
This is evident from the fact that most people in their 20's and 30's look healthy. And no matter how they may abuse their bodies with poor diet, alcohol, drugs, and lack of activity, they still look vibrant. But as people enter their 40's and 50's, numerous pains become more common. For example, gastrointestinal problems and aching joints become relatively frequent sources of pain. These problems really begin when people still seem healthy. Diseases such as diabetes, cancers, hypertension, and heart disease generally go unnoticed for many years. By the time people start showing symptoms, the damage to organs systems cannot easily be reversed
So, are you eating to prevent disease or are you eating to promote long term health? Two questions immediately come to mind: 1) What is the difference between these two eating philosophies? and 2) Is their a "PERFECT" way to eat to assure health?
Over the last two decades there has been a significant amount of bad press about diets containing excessive cholesterol, fat, saturated fat, sodium, and calories. Bookstores are packed with self-help books and cookbooks on how to decrease or remove foods from our diets that contain these nutrients and food components. And some of these food groups contain important nutrients.
Eating to prevent a specific disease frequently changes eating habits away from a balanced diet. Restricting certain types of foods may benefit a particular disease but at the same time increase the risk of other diseases. For example, some "heart healthy" diets that may inadvertently eliminate good calcium sources may decrease the risk of heart disease but in turn
may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, hypertension, and colon cancer.
A diet that promotes long-term health takes a more balanced approach to foods. This approach may also limit some foods but is more apt to promote foods known for their many health benefits. Certainly, there are some foods that have more healthful properties than others. But more important than consuming individual foods with healthy properties is to make sure that the overall diet is balanced in nutrients and other important
Our focus this year will to be to provide a broad perspective on balancing diet and activity to promote wellness from head to toe.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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