Unhealthy Diet Causes the Development of Chronic Diseases

We have evolved quite a bit from the days when we knew that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, haven’t we?  Yes, eating fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains are the key to healthy living.  There’s is now a growing body of research that good nutrition is fundamental to the prevention of chronic diseases.

What Are Chronic Diseases?

Chronic diseases fall under the category of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are not passed from person to person. They are of long duration and generally slow in progression.  They typically cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just simply disappear.  The four main types of non-communicable diseases are cardiovascular diseases (that can lead to heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes.

A Reality Check for Our Health!

An international research study shows for the first time that poor nutrition – including the lack of fruit, vegetables and whole grains – is associated with the development of multiple chronic diseases (MCC) over time. “Risk factors such as smoking, lack of physical activity and nutrition are already known to be linked to the development of chronic disease. But this is the first time research has shown that nutrition itself is directly associated with the development of multiple chronic diseases over time,” says study co-author Dr Zumin Shi, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine. These researchers found that the proportion of those in the study with more than one chronic disease increased from 14% to 34% over the five years of the study. Those participants who ate more fresh fruit and vegetables, and more grains other than wheat and rice, had better health outcomes overall. 

What to Eat?

Aside from fresh fruits and vegetables, the benefits of whole grains are well known and include a reduction in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer.  Grains other than rice and wheat – such as oats, corn, sorghum, rye, barley, millet and quinoa – are less likely to be refined and are therefore likely to contain more dietary fibre.

The Role of Micronutrients in Protecting Against Chronic Diseases

Dr Shi said, “Rice intake was significantly lower in the healthy group. This could be because rice is mainly refined and deprived of the benefits associated with fiber, and the kinds of phytochemicals that you find in whole grains.” He added, “A higher daily intake of iron, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin C, potassium and vitamin B1 was associated with healthier participants. Based on our results, it seems that a higher intake of fruit helps to prevent against the onset of the first chronic disease, while a higher intake of vegetables helps to protect against developing more than one chronic disease. “There is already a lot of general nutrition awareness among the population but this study reinforces the need for broad education programs about the benefits of healthy eating.”

The Cornerstone of Good Health

May we use the good old cliche once again …. ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’? We must have adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity regularly.  It is better to try to avoid health problems in the first place, rather than trying to fix them once they arise. If you do happen to be suffering from chronic disease, pay heed to the message of this research:  it is never too late to change habits. Even if things don’t get better, it is indeed possible to slow down the onset of chronic diseases and prevent the emergence of other complicating diseases.

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