What is your diet doing to you?
Article date: 17 January 2014
As more research continues to be done in the field of diet and nutrition, the age-old mantra 'you are what you eat' seems to be proven time and time again.
It is so easy to slip into bad dietary habits, snacking on unhealthy nibbles throughout the day or rustling up easy - but unhealthy - ready meals after a long day at the office.
A recent study showed that the average Brit is struck by a health wake-up call at the age of 39. Research commissioned by Ateronon showed that approaching 40 causes many people to take a long hard look at their life decisions in terms of their health, with three-quarters going on to make "serious lifestyle changes", such as quitting their job or giving up smoking.
The findings showed that 45 per cent took the decision to eat a more healthy, balanced diet, with eating more fruit and veg coming in pole position of the top ten lifestyle changes to make at this age.
However, if people knew just what an unhealthy diet could be doing to their bodies, would it make them think twice about reaching for another bag of crisps, earlier than the age of 39?
Interestingly, the aforementioned research also revealed that 64 per cent of respondents regretted not making more of an effort with their health when they were younger - and rightly so.
Research shows that what goes into our mouths in our younger years can have a significant impact on our health further down the line.
For example, a study from the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program at Michigan State University found that a high-fat diet during puberty could speed up the development of breast cancer. Furthermore, it could also result in a particular genetic signature in the individual that is consistent with a subset of breast cancers, which carry a worse prognosis.
"Overall, our current research indicates that avoiding excessive dietary fat of this type may help lower one's risk of breast cancer down the road," commented Richard Schwartz, microbiology professor and associate dean in the College of Natural Science.
Similarly, an animal model study by scientists from Universidad CEU-San Pablo in Madrid showed that a high-fat diet could impair adolescents' learning and memory abilities.
"Since there isn't any evidence suggesting that avoiding this type of diet is harmful, it just makes sense to do it," added Dr Schwartz.
The western way
Nowadays, many adults indulge in a typically western diet that is high in saturated fat and salty foods, and lacking in essential nutrients from sources such as fruits and vegetables.
While research has not only proved the benefits of a typically Mediterranean diet, it has also highlighted the damage that can be done by this so-called western way of eating.
For example, scientists from Columbia University Medical Center found that, in an animal model, a diet that is high in saturated fat resulted in increased levels of endothelial lipase - an enzyme linked with the development of atherosclerosis.
Consuming too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can increase the risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
But it is not just our physical health that can be put at risk by poor nutrition.
What we eat has even been linked to mental health outcomes, with researchers from the University of Eastern Finland finding that eating well could help to reduce the risk of severe depression. Similarly, adhering to an unhealthy eating plan was linked to an increased prevalence of heightened depressive symptoms.
A study of 80,000 Brits by scientists from the University of Warwick also found that happiness and good mental health were highest among those who ate seven portions of fruit and vegetables every day - that is, more than the recommended five.
Study co-author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the university's medical school, commented: "The statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise."
While having a poor diet can cause enough health problems in itself, adverse secondary outcomes can be just as damaging. Rather, an excessively high-fat diet may constitute a one-way ticket to obesity, which itself presents a host of very serious health implications.
Not consuming enough essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients can also lead to deficiency diseases, such as rickets (lack of vitamin D and calcium) and scurvy (not enough vitamin C).
Nowadays, it is easier than ever to maintain a commendable diet, with healthy meal options and recipe advice readily available to all. Anybody who is concerned about their diet and what it may be doing to them is advised to speak to their local GP.