While life expectancy is increasing globally, NCDs such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent
DSM’s new article, which suggests that nutrient density can be used as a tool to help break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition and obesity, has been published in the human nutrition journal Nutrients.
The paper follows a workshop held at the University Medical Center in Groningen, where experts discussed the nutritional situation of the general population and the role that diet plays during critical periods of life, when the body is most susceptible to changes that increase the risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The goal of this session was to present evidence for the benefits of healthy nutrition throughout life and to discuss how the concept of nutrient density, which refers to the content of micronutrients relative to energy in foods or diets, can help resolve some of the problems arising from the demographic and lifestyle changes currently under way.
While life expectancy is increasing globally, NCDs such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), NCDs are the cause of 38 million deaths each year. Micronutrient intake is well known to play an important role in determining the risk and the time of the onset of many common NCDs and it is estimated that 80% of premature deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes could be prevented via modifiable factors such as improved nutrition and physical activity.
However, despite the important role nutrition can play in countering these illnesses, inadequate micronutrient intake is widespread, even in affluent Western societies where a variety of food is readily available.
Co-author Manfred Eggersdorfer, Senior Vice President, Nutrition Science and Advocacy at DSM and Professor for Healthy Ageing at Groningen University, comments: 'Modern lifestyles and economic constraints lead people to consume diets high in energy and low in micronutrients, resulting in increased obesity and suboptimal nutritional status. Information about nutrient density can help identify foods that have a low cost to nutrient ratio and can therefore help compile affordable diets that cover nutritional needs without increasing the risk of becoming obese.'
He adds: 'Given the positive impact that a nutrient dense, low energy diet can have on health, stakeholders such as the food industry, academia and governments should join efforts to develop options for affordable and appealing nutrient-rich food products, which, in combination with physical activity, allow for optimal health throughout the life-course.'
A shift towards nutrient dense diets could have a significant effect on the risk of developing NCDs and help to maintain not only life expectancy, but also a higher quality of life. Learning more about nutrient density can be a valuable tool in nutrition education and dietary guidance.
Enabling food, beverage and condiment producers to make their products healthier through nutrient fortification and reducing energy content by lowering fat or sugar would be a major step forward along the road to good nutrition. This approach could hold the key to tackle both over- and under-nutrition problems and will be the topic of a follow-up workshop.