Diet and health Foundation
A balanced diet A healthy diet should be based on a range and variety of different foods, as shown below. An unbalanced diet can lead to dietary related diseases.
Malnutrition Having intakes of energy and/or nutrients below or in excess of needs for long periods of time can affect health. It is a serious condition called malnutrition. Malnutrition includes both under and over nutrition. Severe under nutrition (having an intake of energy and/or nutrients below what is needed) is rare in the United Kingdom, but can be common in some developing countries. However, under nutrition does occur in the UK, e.g. micronutrient deficiencies. Children suffer the effects of starvation (not enough food) more quickly than adults.
Under nutrition – not enough nutrients Worldwide, Kwashiorkor and marasmus are two common diseases caused by a lack of protein and energy. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and minerals are stored in the body so it takes time for these deficiency diseases to develop. Water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body so low intakes usually lead to signs of deficiency relatively quickly. The most common symptom of under nutrition is unplanned weight loss. Other symptoms include lethargy, low mood, poor concentration, delayed wound healing and an increase in illnesses or infections.
Over nutrition – more nutrients than required Over nutrition is a problem usually associated with developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, however it is also rapidly increasing in some parts of the developing world. The most common over nutrition problem is obesity, resulting from too much energy being consumed, or high levels of inactivity.
Risks of malnutrition The risk of malnutrition is increased by: • increased requirements for some nutrients • restricted range of foods • reduction in availability of food • low income • medical conditions • unusual dietary habits • psychological conditions.
Health issues There are a number of health related issues relating to diet, including: • CHD • Cholesterol levels • Obesity • Cancer • Bone health • Anaemia
Rates of CHD CHD is the most common cause of death in the United Kingdom. It is a major cause of premature death (i.e. before the age of 65 years). CHD is more common in men than in women.
Risk of CHD The chance of suffering from CHD is affected by many factors. These are called risk factors. Factors that increase the risk of CHD include: • smoking • high blood cholesterol level • high blood pressure • physical inactivity • diabetes. Other risk factors: • being overweight or obese • having a family history of CHD – the risk is increased if you have a male relative with CHD under 55 or a female relative 65 years
Diet and CHD A low-fat, high fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fruit and vegetables and wholegrains. Salt should also be limited to no more than 6g per day. A small amount of unsaturated fat should be included in the diet, which will help to reduce your cholesterol levels. Foods high in unsaturated fat include: • oily fish • avocados • nuts and seeds • sunflower, rapeseed, sesame and olive oil. To maintain a healthy weight, combining a healthy diet with regular physical activity. To learn more about CHD, click here.
Blood cholesterol levels Cholesterol is a type of fat made by the liver and can also be found in some foods. It is needed for healthy cells in the body, but if there is too much in the blood it can lead to CHD. The level of cholesterol in the blood depends partly on genetic factors, but can also be affected by diet.
Cholesterol and the diet The level of blood cholesterol is affected by the amount and type of fat in the diet. High intakes of saturated fatty acids, and of total fat, can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, and therefore increase the risk of CHD. Most people are consuming too much saturated fat and need to reduce their saturated fat intake and switch to foods containing unsaturated fat.
Obesity Obesity describes people who are overweight with a high degree of body fat. Body Mass Index is the most widely used method of assessing a person's weight. Body Mass Index = weight (kg) height (m)2 A person is considered obese with a BMI 30-40 or morbidly obese with a BMI over 40. Waist circumference measurements provides information about how your weight is distributed around your body. People with larger waists (≥ 94cm in men and ≥ 80cm in women). It is understood that a greater waist circumference can lead to a higher chance of getting diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. Obesity is also an increasing problem in children with 18.9% of children aged 10-11 classified as obese (NCMP data 2012/2013). Obese children are more at risk of being obese later in life.
Problems associated with obesity People who are obese are more likely to suffer from • breathlessness • increased sweating • snoring • difficulty sleeping • inability to cope with sudden physical activity • feeling very tired every day • back and joint pains. Obesity can also cause high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels which significantly increase the risk of develop CHD. Another long term problem is diabetes. Obesity can also be associated with health problems such as gall stones, arthritis and some type of cancers. In addition, psychological problems may also arise, e.g. low self esteem, low confidence levels and feeling isolated in society.
Obesity Being active and eating healthy is important in maintaining a healthy weight. Being slightly overweight is not a risk to health, but it is important to not continue gaining weight. To learn more about obesity, click here.
Cancer Cancer is a complex disease where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. It sometimes begins in one part of the body before spreading to other areas (metastasis). A wide variety of factors are involved in the development of cancer, including: • age • genetics • environment • hormones • infections.
Common cancers The most common cancers in the UK are: • Lung, prostate and bowel cancer in men • Breast, lung and bowel cancer in women. To learn more about bowel cancer, click here.
Coronary heart disease Coronary heart disease (CHD) is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of arteries around the heart (coronary arteries). The deposits narrow the arteries and restrict the flow of blood to the heart. If one of the blood vessels becomes completely blocked, the blood supply to part of the heart stops and that part is damaged. This is called a heart attack.
Bone health Calcium is important for strong bones. Vitamin D is needed for calcium to be absorbed from food. Osteoporosis is a disease where bones become weak, brittle and more likely to break. It is caused by severe losses of calcium resulting in gaps of the structure of the bone. It is most common in men and women over the age of 55.
Osteoporosis Healthy bone is strong and does not break easily. During childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, calcium and other substances are added to the bone. This makes bones stronger. After the age of 30-35, bone density loss begins. It is a normal part of ageing, but it can lead to a osteoporosis and an increased risk of factures. After the menopause women lose bone at an increased rate.
Bone health Bone strength is affected by: • genetics • gender • sex • diet • exercise • body weight • smoking • hormones. It is important that people at risk of osteoporosis take steps to help keep bones healthy and reduce the risk of developing the condition, e.g. regular physical activity, healthy eating and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake.
Anaemia The mineral iron is used to produce red blood cells. Iron from the diet forms haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. If there are fewer red blood cells than normal, the organs and tissues will not get as much oxygen as they usually should. There are several different types of anaemia and each one has a different cause. Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type. If the body’s store of iron is low and there is too little iron in the diet, the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia will start to develop. Large amounts of iron can be toxic.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia The main symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include: • tiredness and lethargy • shortness of breath • health palpitations • pale complexion.
Blood health Iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources. However, Vitamin C increases absorption of iron from plant sources. It is important that the diets of infants and young children contain foods rich in iron. Iron requirements increase during adolescence because of growth and for girls at the start of menstruation. Some women have very high iron requirements because they have large menstrual losses.
Task Select on dietary related disease and create a pamphlet or fact sheet suitable for a teenager to learn more about: • the health problems • risks factors • steps which could help to prevent the development of the disease.
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