The Future of Diets: The Changing Face of Our Eating Habits
The field of nutrition is an evolving science. As food is an integral part of life, the quest for the optimal diet is centuries old. Increasingly sedentary lifestyles coupled with greater access to energy dense foods have contributed to an obesity pandemic of staggering proportions. People are increasingly looking to science to improve their body composition, wellness, health and lifestyle.
One of the biggest developments in molecular biology is the success of the Human Genome Project. This information has been leveraged across a range of medical applications including the field of nutrition.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrients in food interact with our genes and how small genetic differences have implications for how our bodies use nutrients. Despite the excitement surrounding nutrigenomics the field is still young and lacks general application. Over a thousand human genes causing disease have been identified. However, diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer are due to complex interactions between many genes and environmental factors.
Although dietary interventions are effective as preventative measures against a range of diseases, it has been shown that general dietary recommendations do not affect every individual the same way because diet is an environmental factor that interacts with genes.
What we do have is an opportunity to provide personalised nutrition to treat obesity and associated medical conditions, taking into account the interactions between diet, genes and health. While these discoveries are still in their infancy, given time we may be able to optimise health through targeted nutritional interventions.
Let’s switch gears, from genes to bacteria. Our bodies are home to billions of different bacteria that reside on our skin, in our hair, and most relevant to this blog, in our digestive system. Our entire digestive system is filled with a range of bacteria, many of which play a vital role in our overall mental and physical health. The gut ‘microbiota’ is made up of all the bacteria that live in our gut. Other ‘biomes’ are found in the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Different microbe communities populate these different biomes.
Generally speaking, the more diverse your gut microbiota is, the healthier you are. Although there is no one ideal microbiota, there is a health associated microbiota for everyone. As time has gone on, we’ve begun to understand more and more about the role of the gut microbiota in growth, mental health, immunity and nutrition. Certain conditions like asthma and obesity may be partially due to alterations in the microbiota.
When your gut flora are in balance, bacteria work together to efficiently digest food.
An imbalance in gut flora or ‘dysbiosis’ has been linked with a number of health problems including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, coeliac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We still don’t know whether dysbiosis contributes to disease or whether it is the other way around. In IBS, dysbiosis can lead to discomfort and bloating through the rapid fermentation of poorly absorbed, short chain carbohydrates, or FODMAPs. The Low FODMAP diet, when conducted with the help of an experienced dietitian, is a diagnostic tool to identify problematic FODMAPs.
Probiotics are live bacteria, present in large numbers that have a proven benefit on health. If you have a specific health problem, probiotics may be a good option but only if there is enough evidence for that particular probiotic type. Although much is still unclear, specific strains may improve gut health, mental health, immunity and responses to weight loss interventions.
The microbiota also plays a role in energy metabolism. An individual’s gut microbiota composition can predict how successful they may be with weight loss. It seems that the microbiota modulates the efficiency by which the host extracts calories from the diet. Animal studies show that rapid weight gain after dieting may be down to the microbiota. Mice with a previous ‘weight gain weight loss’ pattern were more susceptible to rapid weight gain and this could be transferred to other mice via a faecal transplant – suggesting it is more about their microbiota than their metabolism.
Most foods are functional. Some foods contain protein for muscle repair, carbohydrates for energy or vitamins and minerals for cell function. In the 1980s, the class of ‘functional foods’ were formed. These foods have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition, potentially improving health and reducing the risk of disease.
The functional components of these foods have the ability to modulate one or more metabolic processes or pathways in the body. For instance, the soluble fibre in oats can help reduce cholesterol levels thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Technological innovations allow us to modify foods to contain specific components. For instance Golden Rice, fortified with beta-carotene is used to help prevent vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.
As time goes on our ability to modify and enhance foods to include functional components is increasing, with positive effects on and optimise access to food that is both nutritious and disease preventative.
Financial and Environmental Impact of Healthy Eating.
A common barrier people face in maintaining a healthy diet, especially for weight loss, is the cost. More needs to be done to reduce the cost of healthy food.
Our understanding of nutrigenomics and functional foods may result in governments ensuring fair prices on foods to keep their populations healthy, whilst focusing on preventative measures to reduce stress on medical systems.
Sustainable eating is about choosing foods that are kind to the environment and our bodies. A global shift toward more plant-based foods would help feed the world’s growing population a nutritious and sustainable diet. This plant-based eating style includes more legumes (beans, peas, lentils, peanuts), whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and less animal-based foods, especially red meat and processed meat. Limiting refined grains and added sugars is encouraged as well.
Our ability to enhance and modify foods may mean that nutrient-dense foods are more easily accessible, with staples such as bread, rice, and potatoes offering additional health benefits. Furthermore, our ability to modify foods allows greater yields from farms.
The Future is Full of Possibilities
The field of nutritional science continues to shape and evolve. Every other day there is a new discovery or innovation that propels the industry into a brighter and better future.
At Weightless we take great pride in keeping up with the latest breakthroughs and technologies in helping our clients take control of their lifestyle and eating habits.
We offer an array of evidence-based protocols to help guide our clients on their weight loss journey and keep our finger on the pulse to ensure we are always offering the most up-to-date services our industry has to offer.
If you’re looking to improve your health and live the life you’ve always dreamed of, get in contact with Weightless today.