N° 22 | April 2008

Time matters


Once upon a time, in such an old period that I can hardly remember, children were taught to eat a sufficient amount of good foods in order to become tall and strong. How this was working, nobody really knew. Therefore, I was surprised when, because of my old knowledge in nutrition, I was asked to provide some comments about worrying medical news. I thought that this modern world was at least improving health.

Food choices have actually expanded in such huge proportion that within a country, or even a community, including the smallest one, the family eating patterns may differ strikingly. This widening of food choices leads to confusion between choosing for immediate pleasure and choosing for real health benefits.

Three recent examples, around the world, remind us that modern foods may be safer but still need to be part of a balanced diet, beginning in childhood. In Turkey, children, and not only women or grand mothers, those eating less fruits and vegetables (and less fibres) were more likely to suffer constipation.

In Canada, the risk of suffering from severe inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease) is reduced by 30 % in children eating higher amounts of vegetable and by 60 % in those eating higher amounts of fruit. The effect is proportional to the amount eaten. Dietary fibres seem to contribute to the overall benefit in combination with vitamins. Higher consumption of nuts and fish also prove to be beneficial. Although Crohn’s disease is rare in children, a reason for its increased occurrence may be due to a decreased protection against inflammation provided by a high fat, low fibre but modern diet. Unbalanced intakes of the different fatty acids may also trigger inflammatory processes that are exacerbated in Crohn’s disease.

In Europe, about 16 million children are now overweight or obese, an unknown situation 30 years ago. The occurrence of various cardiovascular risk factors (the so called “metabolic syndrome”) was analysed in 5 different countries: Greece, Italy, Poland, Hungary and France. It was found that about one out of two of these young obese already has an enhanced cardiovascular risk, i.e. they become old before time. This suggests that negative changes in the environment such as less fruit and vegetable in the diet, are now overtaking health protective factors.

These three examples illustrate how several risks can be increased early in life. Does reducing them just mean doing the opposite? Yes. How far is it achievable? As much as we really want it…and I want it for sure for my grand children.

Yours faithfully, Granny Smith

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