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7.11: Nutrition and Your Health

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    Skills to Develop

    • Relate the research on home-cooked family meals to comprehensive health and wellness, taste, sustainability, and the strengthening of family bonds

    The adage, “you are what you eat,” seems to be more true today than ever. In recent years, consumers have become more conscientious about the decisions they make in the supermarket. Organically grown food is the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Also, farmers’ markets and chains that are health-food-oriented are thriving in many parts of North America. Shoppers have begun to pay more attention to the effect of food on their health and well-being. That includes not only the kinds of foods that they purchase, but also the manner in which meals are cooked and consumed. The preparation of food can greatly affect its nutritional value. Also, studies have shown that eating at a table with family members or friends can promote both health and happiness.

  • Family Meals

    In the past, families routinely sat down together to eat dinner. But in recent decades, that comfortable tradition has fallen by the wayside. In 1900, 2 percent of meals were eaten outside of the home. By 2010, that figure had risen to 50 percent. Mark Hyman, MD, “How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life,” Huffington, 9 January 2011. _b_806114.html? Today, family members often go their own way at mealtimes and when they do sit down together, about three times a week, the meal often lasts less than twenty minutes and is spent eating a microwaved meal in front of a television.

    However, recent studies have shown that home-cooked, family meals really matter. Family meals usually lead to the consumption of healthy food packed with nutrition, rather than an intake of empty calories. Other benefits include strengthening familial bonds, improving family communication, and helping young children learn table manners. Increased frequency of family meals has also been associated with certain developmental assets, such as support, boundaries and expectations, commitment to learning, positive values, and social competency.Rochford, M. “Do Family Meals Still Matter?” Visions: Family and Community Health Sciences (Rutgers University) 21, no. 3 (2009).

    Home-prepared meals provide an opportunity for more balanced and better-portioned meals with fewer calories, sodium, and less saturated fat. When families prepare food together, parents or caregivers can also use the time to teach children about the ways their dietary selections can affect their health.

  • The Adolescent Diet

    Teenagers’ dietary choices are influenced by their family’s economic status, the availability of food inside and outside the home, and established traditions. Studies have found links between the prevalence of family meals during adolescence and the establishment of healthy dietary behaviors by young adulthood. Yet, many of today’s teenagers make food selections on their own, which often means eating junk food or fast food on the go.

    However, adolescents who regularly consume family meals or have done so in the past are more likely to eat breakfast and to eat more fruits and vegetables. Research has shown that adolescents who have regular meals with their parents are 42 percent less likely to drink alcohol, 50 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 66 percent less likely to use marijuana. Regular family dinners also help protect teens from bulimia, anorexia, and diet pills. In addition, the frequency of family meals was inversely related to lower academic scores and incidents of depression or suicide.Mark Hyman, MD, “How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life,” Huffington, 9 January 2011. _b_806114.html?

  • Sustainable Eating

    As discussed at the beginning of this chapter, sustainable agricultural practices provide healthy, nutritious food for the consumers of today, while preserving natural resources for the consumers of tomorrow. Sustainability not only has economic and environmental benefits, but also personal benefits, including reduced exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Sustainable eaters do all of the following:

    • Consume less processed food. People who eat sustainably focus on whole foods that are high in nutritive value, rather than heavily processed foods with lots of additives.
    • Eat more home-cooked meals. Sustainable eaters go out to restaurants less often, and when they do, they dine at establishments that provide dishes made from whole-food ingredients.
    • Consume a plant-based diet. Research has shown that a plant-based diet, focused on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, greatly reduces the risk of heart disease.
    • Buy organic food products. Organically produced foods have been cultivated or raised without synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, or genetic engineering. Certified organic foods can be identified by the USDA’s stamp.
    • Buy locally grown foods. Buying locally benefits the environment by reducing the fossil fuels needed to transport food from faraway places. Also, farmers keep eighty to ninety cents for every dollar spent at a farmer’s market.
  • Disease Prevention and Management

    Eating fresh, healthy foods not only stimulates your taste buds, but also can improve your quality of life and help you to live longer. As discussed, food fuels your body and helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Nutrition also contributes to longevity and plays an important role in preventing a number of diseases and disorders, from obesity to cardiovascular disease. Some dietary changes can also help to manage certain chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes. A doctor or a nutritionist can provide guidance to determine the dietary changes needed to ensure and maintain your health.

  • Heart Health

    According to the WHO, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death on the planet.World Health Organization. “The Top 10 Causes of Death.” Accessed However, a healthy diet can go a long way toward preventing a number of conditions that contribute to cardiovascular malfunction, including high levels of blood cholesterol and narrowed arteries. As discussed in this text, it is extremely helpful to reduce the intake of trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium. This can considerably lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, or manage further incidents and artery blockages in current heart patients. It is also beneficial to eat a diet high in fiber and to include more omega-3 fatty acids, such as the kind found in mackerel, salmon, and other oily fish.

  • High Blood Pressure

    Blood pressure is the force of blood pumping through the arteries. When pressure levels become too high, it results in a condition known as hypertension, which is asymptomatic but can lead to a number of other problems, including heart attacks, heart failure, kidney failure, and strokes. For people with high blood pressure, it can be beneficial to follow the same recommendations as those for heart patients. First of all, it is crucial to reduce the intake of sodium to prevent pressure levels from continuing to rise. It can also be helpful to increase potassium intake. However, patients should check with a doctor or dietitian first, especially if there are kidney disease concerns.

    Tools for Change

    The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, is highly recommended to lower blood pressure. This program promotes an increased intake of potassium and calcium by emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and limited amounts of lean meat. The DASH diet also decreases the intake of saturated fat and sugar. Studies have shown that blood-pressure patients on the DASH diet were able to reduce their diastolic pressure levels (the lower measurement, which is taken between beats when the heart is relaxed) by up to 5 mmHg regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. You can learn more about the DASH diet at

  • Diabetes

    The rising rates of diabetes have triggered a health crisis in the United States and around the world. In diabetics, the levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar, are too high because of the body’s inability to produce insulin or to use it effectively. There are two types of this disease. Although the causes of Type 1 diabetes are not completely understood, it is known that obesity and genetics are major factors for Type 2.

    Nutrition plays a role in lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes or managing either form of the disease. However, it is a myth that there is one diabetes diet that every patient should follow. Instead, diabetics should keep track of the foods they consume that contain carbohydrates to manage and control blood-glucose levels. Also, a dietitian can help patients create a specific meal plan that fits their preferences, lifestyle, and health goals.

    The Crisis of Obesity

    Excessive weight gain has become an epidemic. According to the National Institutes of Health, over two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and one in three is obese. Obesity in particular puts people at risk for a host of complications, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and some forms of cancer. The more overweight a person is, the greater his or her risk of developing life-threatening complications. There is no single cause of obesity and no single way to treat it. However, a healthy, nutritious diet is generally the first step, including consuming more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and dairy products.National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health. “Overweight and Obesity Statistics.” NIH Publication No. 04-4158. Updated February 2010.

  • Kidney Disease

    Chronic kidney failure is the gradual loss of kidney function and can cause dangerous levels of fluid and waste to build up in the body. Nutrition is very important in managing end-stage renal disease, and a patient with this condition should discuss a meal plan with a dietitian and physician. Certain macro- and micronutrients will need to be monitored closely, including protein, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus. Kidney patients must also keep track of their caloric intake and dietitians may recommend consuming more fast-releasing carbohydrates and low-saturated fats to boost the number of calories consumed each day.

  • Cancer

    Certain cancers are linked to being overweight or obese. Additionally, some foods are related to either an increased or decreased risk for certain cancers. Foods linked to decreased cancer risk include whole grains, high-fiber foods, fruits, and vegetables. Foods linked to increased cancer risk include processed meats and excess alcohol.

  • Digestive Disorders

    Digestive disorders can include constipation, heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. These disorders should be addressed with a physician. However, for many of them, diet can play an important role in prevention and management. For example, getting enough fiber and fluids in your diet and being active can help to alleviate constipation.

    Key Takeaways

    More and more consumers are weighing nutritional considerations as they choose which foods to purchase and prepare for their families. Studies have shown that family meals and home-cooked food not only benefit a person’s health, but also their overall well-being. Family meals lead to the consumption of healthy food, tighter familial bonds, improved communication, and the teaching of table manners to young children. Diet plays a key role in the prevention and management of many chronic conditions or diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes.

    Discussion Starter

    1. What would you recommend to help people who are struggling with diabetes? What tips would you provide? What lifestyle changes might help? Use the dietary guidelines at the Mayo Clinic’s website to help provide specific suggestions.

  • 7.11: Nutrition and Your Health is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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