I was struck this month by how self-deluded as a species we can be! As many Huffington Post readers know I am a member of the Global Nutrition & Health Alliance (GNHA), a group of health experts focused on educating about optimal nutrition including the use of vitamin, minerals and supplements. Well, new data from GNHA published in Nutrition Today reveals that most adult believe their diets meet nutritional requirements. So far, so happy.
But this is in direct conflict with the fact that an estimated seven million people the UK are living with cardiovascular disease, resulting in more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK each year. The GNHA survey was conducted among 3,030 people across three countries - here in Britain, Germany and the US. It concentrated on people's confidence and awareness of their diet and how they consumed key nutrients (specifically omega-3s and vitamin D).
According to the results, 72% of respondents, regardless of country, believe they have a healthy diet and more than half believe they get all key nutrients through food sources alone. However, if you look at the prevalence of heart disease, it's clear that many of us [if not all!] are overestimating how "healthy" our diets are.
You'd think it would be enough to follow medical advice on diet and supplements to prevent us from getting such illnesses. But much of today's dietary advice ignores a fundamental truth: We may know what is good for us, but we still make 'convenient' choices - fast and processed foods. As I've said before, it is nearly impossible to consume all the key nutrients through food alone.
Take omega-3 fatty acids for example. The UK Government recommends at least 450mg of omega 3 daily. In order to achieve this solely through food, a person would have to eat 2-3 servings of an omega-rich fish, like salmon, each week. For multiple reasons, most people simply aren't meeting this requirement.
And while there is consensus among the nutrition and medical communities that diet can protect us from many chronic conditions, the average person's knowledge of key nutrients is low - and why shouldn't it be - they're not Dietitians!
But I am - so let's take a closer look.
Cardiovascular Disease and Benefits of Omega-3s
Countless studies link the benefits of omega-3s to a reduction in cardiovascular risk. And according to the GNHA survey, that message is being heard, as 78 percent of we Brits polled recognize the importance of omega-3s. Yet 41 percent aren't sure if they consume enough via their diet and less than a third (32 percent) are supplementing.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Reemerging Concerns
As I've written here before, vitamin D deficiency is on the rise globally and especially in the UK. It is even estimated that roughly three quarters of the UK population is deficient! Subsequently, ailments associated with the deficiency, like rickets, are reemerging. Hospitalization rates for rickets alone in England are now the highest in five decades. And many are finding the nutrient is linked to more than bone health. Besides causing bones to become thin and brittle, lack of vitamin D has also been associated with increased risk of cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypertension, and infectious diseases.
The survey reveals that while 84 percent of people recognize the health benefits of vitamin D, more than half (55 percent) are not sure if they consume enough in their diet.
So what now?
Nutritional needs are not all the same. Recommendations vary by age, gender, and even race. Diet preferences also alter the mix of nutrients received. A healthy diet full of nutrient-rich foods is absolutely the first step in achieving optimal nutrition, but the reality is that most individuals are just not able to eat all the foods required to consume what is considered optimal.
As health professionals and researchers we need to look at our role. We have to be prepared to accept that our healthy eating messages are sometimes falling on deaf ears. As researchers, we have to be certain that our food actually provides the nutrients we believe it does as most of the analysis used to assess the vitamins and mineral content of our food is way out of date.
We have to accept that some people cannot and will not ever eat a healthy diet. So, we ought to plug our nutritional gaps, and protect ourselves from disease with good quality supplements. Better to be safe than sorry!
To learn more about the Global Nutrition & Health Alliance and survey findings, visit their website: - www.GlobalNutritionHealth.org