Girl with watermelon- food for health


What Exactly Is the Relationship Between the Two?

The Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived about 2,400 years ago, is often credited with the famous and much-quoted statement:

Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.

This powerful statement is as valid now as it was in ancient times. Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes its importance. Between 2019 and 2022, have you ever heard anyone from any health organization or government talk about the importance of nutrition to keep people healthy?

By C.F. van der Horst
21 August 2015, updated 12 October 2022

Hippocrates promoted nutrition as medicine_Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hippocrates emphasized the importance of nutrition for good health. Photo: Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Relationship Between Nutrition and Health

The connection between nutrition and health is not exactly new. In their book The Nutrition Desk Reference, authors Garrison and Somer wrote that according to Egyptian hieroglyphs, the importance of nutrition’s contribution to good health was known more than 7,000 years ago.

In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on the role about nutrition for human health. The WHO wrote, “Nutrition is coming to the fore as a major modifiable determinant of chronic disease, with scientific evidence increasingly supporting the view that alterations in diet have strong effects, both positive and negative, on health throughout life.” This article highlights in a nutshell some aspects of nutrition that may be important to YOU. One of these is preclinical micronutrient deficiencies.

The Function of Nutrition

First, of course, nutrition is meant to provide the energy and building blocks for survival. Second, in most cases, a well-prepared meal is simply delicious. A third aspect is the social atmosphere in family, friends or business: the meal increases the affinity between participants and often lays an excellent foundation for good conversation. For families, it is the unique moment to share the day’s experiences.

In the Netherlands, a meal used to consist of potatoes and lard—as painted by Vincent van Gogh—whether or not accompanied by whatever could thrive on the cold Dutch soil: usually beans, legumes and cabbages. As prosperity and transportation options increased, the supply of foodstuffs gradually increased as well. Whereas food used to be purely a matter of life and death (you either ate or starved), as more food became available, taste and convenience became increasingly important.

Van Gogh's potato eaters knew little about nutrition and health

At the time Vincent van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters (1885) not much was known about the relationship between diet and health.

The number of people who actually pay attention to nutritional value these days does not seem to be very large. This aspect has not escaped the marketing department of the food industry, and it is reflected in the supermarket assortment. Because physician education does not teach our doctors anything about nutrition, no action came from this profession for better and versatile nutrition. Not surprisingly, health in Western countries is steadily declining.

Quality of Food Declines

Social prosperity and improved logistical resources brought other cuisines to the Western world after World War II. While the supply of food increased, modern chemical farming methods and food technologies caused its quality to gradually decline. This, in part, created a market for snacks: despite three meals a day, the body continued to demand nutrients. The amount of food was no longer a problem, but quality was.

Too Many Chemicals, Not Enough Nutrients

With increasing fertilizer use, pesticide use also took off after World War II. In Deadly Lies: How Doctors and Patients Are Deceived, you can read that the use of fertilizers and pesticides are linked. The toxins that one inevitably ingests through fruits and vegetables due to pesticide use are stored in fatty tissue and accumulate there. In addition, chemicals such as preservatives, sweeteners, colors, flavorings, and fragrances made their appearance and were used more frequently and to a greater extent.

Convenience Food

Convenience foods (ready-made meals and pizza) proved to be a huge market. The diet deteriorated as a result. Take the Netherlands. According to the 2007-2010 Dutch Food Consumption Survey, the population did not consume enough fruits, vegetables, fish, and fiber during that time period, while the amount of saturated fat in the diet was high. All of these issues had implications for all of our health.

The 2012- 2016 period found that adults generally do not get enough calcium, iron, vitamins A, B2, B6, C, and folate. For vitamins A and C, low intake is seen as early as age 14. Women have a low intake of vitamin B6, and girls/women of childbearing age of iron. In particular, elderly people do not get enough vitamin D. Low intake of vitamin D increases the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

However, few doctors or ‘health experts’ know the extent to which vitamins and minerals provide health and what doses of each the body needs. Moreover, in different age/sex groups, it is not possible to determine with certainty whether or not there are low intakes. This is especially true for children.

One of the things that is little known is the subclinical deficiencies that can occur with inadequate nutrition.

Subclinical Deficiencies

If the diet provides insufficient nutrients, the body will try to compensate for the resulting deficiency by eating more. However, consuming more of the same—unnutritious—food does not cure the deficiency. Similarly, additional snacks, cookies, and pretzels will not be able to stem the tide.

Deficiencies of essential substances cause a range of health complaints, while clinically the doctor cannot diagnose anything. In such a case, it is referred to as subclinical deficiencies, such as of the vitamin B group. Thus, there may be a subclinical deficiency of all micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals or phytonutrients). Subclinical deficiencies often promote chronic diseases. Deadly Lies: How Doctors and Patients Are Deceived, comprehensively addresses the topic of subclinical deficiencies. This involves both cause, effect, and solution.

"Deadly Lies. How Doctors and Patients Are Deceived" describes the conflicts of interest of government officials and scientists, the mass marketing of the pharmaceutical industry, and the lies used to deceive both physicians and you.

“Deadly Lies. How Doctors and Patients Are Deceived” describes the conflicts of interest of government officials and scientists, the mass marketing of the pharmaceutical industry, and the lies used to deceive both physicians and you.

Industrial Interests Not Good for Healthy Eating

In business, it’s all about making money. That in itself is not at all wrong, as long as the economic interest is not put above health. In the Netherlands, the food and beverage industry is the largest industry with about 122,000 employees at about 5,000 companies. According to the Monitor Levensmiddelenindustrie 2021 (Food Industry Monitor), in the Netherlands alone, it is about 69.9 billion Euro in sales in 2020.

Between 2004 and 2013, investment in R&D increased by as much as 75%. This means that there will be more and more research and development of products to maintain the Netherlands’ leading position in the world and increase profits. These are new products manufactured by humans (and not by nature), such as other types of fast foods, soft drinks, desserts, sauces, salads, pretzels, and snacks. This is not the high-quality food a body needs to function properly and stay healthy.

Agricultural Economic Institute of Wageningen UR

Innovation in the Food Industry

In the report Innovation in the food industry. An international benchmark study of Wageningen Economic Research (formerly the LEI, Agricultural Economic Institute of Wageningen UR) states, “R&D is important for the food industry, but it has a different character than, for example, in telecommunications: new products are variations of existing products; innovation is more focused on business processes, marketing, and organization, and is less driven by a technology ‘push,’ that is, by a scientific discovery.” Two of these four aspects will be able to affect you directly.

What Will Affect You as a Consumer

Of the above innovations, you as a consumer will primarily experience new (variations of existing) products and their marketing. You will see more products that differentiate themselves from a competitor’s by some kind of processing or conveniently capitalize on a fad such as “light” products—ergo with more chemical additives. The long-term effects of these additives and especially their mutual synergistic effects are still in the dark. It is a fact, however, that since the introduction of all these food additives, among other things, the number of diseases of affluence (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity to name a few) has increased alarmingly. The body can take a lot, but it has limits. Nevertheless, clever advertising will make the new, processed products with their chemicals sell even better.

Consumer’s organization Foodwatch brings attention to the fact that manufacturers don’t take the slightest notice of how they sell their products: “Consumers need to be able to trust their food. Today, this is often not the case. Packaging does not always contain what it promises: health claims on products that are not healthy at all, ingredients that are barely in them or replaced by shady alternatives, falsifying of origin…. Sometimes it even leads to outright scandals, such as the horse meat scandal or the insecticide fipronil in eggs.” The horse meat scandal referred to food fraud involving horse meat sold as beef.

Let Nutrition Be Thy Medicine

With a future expanded arsenal of new man-made food products, purely natural foods are in danger of falling by the wayside—unless YOU choose health. Choosing organic foods is recommended. These contain fewer heavy metals, more omega 3 fatty acids and more antioxidants than conventionally grown ones. A conscious lifestyle paying attention to what and how fresh you eat will also help limit industrial additives to your food. Give your body what it needs and avoid what makes it (usually over time) sick.

Let nutrition be thy medicine.

It would make Hippocrates smile.

Want to Know More?

What constitutes proper nutrition? What are symptoms of subclinical deficiencies? Not all e-numbers/additives are bad—which ones should you absolutely avoid? Why is it that doctors know nothing about nutrition?

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