The increased availability of foods due to the industrialization of our world has influenced dietary changes more than any other factor in the last fifty years. Technology has led to food refinement, increased storage, and flavor control. Salt, sugar, and fried foods have never been so prevalent. Diets have shifted from more natural ones to fast and snack foods. The working class has always looked for ways to save time and effort in food preparation. Even in the last decade or two, we have seen a shift from TV dinners and other frozen foods to the huge “fast-food” restaurant business and microwave meals. The influence of technology on our food chain, though it has helped somewhat in food shelf life, has had a very bad effect overall on general nutrition. The Western or American diet has been the most shaped by these industrial changes, which are spreading rapidly to other nations.
These technological influences have definitely played a major role in the field of nutritional medicine. Our main concern in the past was deficiency disease, caused by not getting enough of certain important nutrients. Though this still occurs in some people, we now have the added concerns about problems that arise from excesses found in the new world diet.
There is no longer any doubt that there is an important relationship between diet and disease. Even the federal government has recently acknowledged this relationship. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published in 1988 The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. Dr. C. Everett Koop and other contributors discuss the dietary aspects of the most common diseases that plague our society, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, dental diseases, behavior, and many others.
Probably the most significant aspects of diet are the fat and fiber content. Protein sources are a concern, and vitamin and mineral levels are also important. But overall, it is the high amount of fat, specifically saturated fat, that is associated with the major diseases cancer, cardiovascular disease and hypertension and their secondary problems.
Though the high-fat (and high-protein) diet has made Americans and others consuming this diet bigger in stature and weight than most of the more vegetarian cultures, it is not necessarily healthier. Cancer and cardiovascular disease, both nutritionally related, are the two biggest killers of our adult population and the two greatest costs to society, in terms of direct medical costs and lost work. But these diseases can be changed, and they are changing, because more doctors and the public are responding to the suggestions contained in this book and many other good nutrition texts.
There are usually big differences between the diets of rural and urban families. The availability of restaurants, fast-food outlets, and giant supermarkets have become obstacles to good nutrition for many people. Growing our food, either as our means of making a living or in our own gardens, brings us back into contact with the earth and provides us with the freshest, most vital nutrition on the planet. This influence often will affect the rest of our diet for the better. And it has! Words such as natural (as nature provides), organic (chemical free), and fresh (just picked) are becoming more popular again in societies that have moved far from these qualities.
Each of us needs eventually to find our own balance in diet. Through knowledge
and experimentation, we can learn what works best for us. Each culture must find this balance as well. Each has its basic natural diet, as well as extremes or abuses that may undermine health. For example, the Oriental diet is high in fiber and complex carbohydrate, with a good balance of fat and protein. But it uses a lot of salted or pickled, preserved, foods which influences the incidence of stomach cancer. Those Western cultures that consume more fat and less fiber have a much higher incidence of colon cancer.