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Optimum Nutrition Is Needed for Optimum Health

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Nutrition is fundamental to health. Nutrition affects immune responses, metabolic pathways, hormones, growth, mood, energy and overall well being (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009). Health status is directly related to levels of nutrition. Optimum health requires optimum nutrition, whereas poor nutrition underlies poor health.

It is widely accepted that nutrition plays a significant role in the aetiology, prevention and management of many chronic diseases (National Public Health Partnership, 2001). As primary care providers, General Practioners (GPs) are in a unique position to encourage beneficial dietary changes to prevent disease and move patients towards optimum health (Maw, 1997).

The World Health Organisation defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Optimum health includes prevention, peak performance, vitality and the best possible quality of life. This can be achieved with a well balanced diet, adequate water intake, appropriate supplementation and exercise.

The body synthesises non-essential nutrients but is unable to make nutrients essential for proper body function so these must come from the food intake. Essential nutrients include substantial quantities of macro-nutrients; carbohydrates, protein, fats and water, plus small quantities of micro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009).

Carbohydrates break down into glucose to provide fuel and energy with any excess stored as fat. A healthy diet requires a high percentage of high fibre complex carbohydrates which aid digestion and a healthy bowel, plus are low in fat (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009). Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down providing a longer lasting, steady flow of energy. Simple carbohydrates are mostly sugar and contain minimal if any nutrients (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009). These should be avoided as they are broken down quickly, negatively affecting blood glucose levels and weight gain (Shepherd, 2009).

Proteins are necessary for the growth and repair of the body's muscles, cells and tissues . Proteins are broken down into amino acids which are used to create hormones, enzymes and antibodies (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009). They provide protection against infection and disease plus some vitamins and minerals (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009).

Polyunsaturated fats (including essential fatty acids, omega-6 & omega-3) and monounsaturated fats are required for proper bodily function (Rolfes, Pinna, Whitney, 2009). These are considered good fats as they can lower blood cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Saturated fats (from animal sources) can lead to cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol so must be minimised. Artificially produced trans-fats (e.g. margarine) should be avoided altogether. A diet high in fats, particularly saturated, lead to chronic health issues including obesity (Ebbeling et al. 2002).

Water is required in large amounts to hydrate the body. It is a medium for all metabolic changes (digestion, absorption and excretion), transports nutrients, acts as a lubricant and helps maintain body temperature.

Vitamins and minerals are vital to optimum functioning. They are co-enzymes that speed up the body's chemical reactions, assist the conversion of food into energy and help the body utilise nutrients from macro-nutrients.

Unfortunately the nutritional value of our food has diminished due to depleted soils, food refining, transporting, processing, storage, and preparing conditions. However, other lifestyle factors such as stress, bad eating habits (resulting in poor digestion, irritable bowel etc), the contraceptive pill and lack of exercise actually increase our nutritional requirements. As a result vitamin/mineral supplementation is now essential. Nutritional requirements and dietary plans need to be assessed on an individual basis to ensure the vital nutrients are digested and properly absorbed into the body at a cellular level.

Nutrient deficiencies are the primary cause underlying the major health crisis facing the western world. Diets are too high in sugar and fat (particularly saturated), refined carbohydrates and processed foods whilst low in nutritional value (Shepherd, 2009). Excluding smoking, diet, weight and exercise are the major risk factors for chronic heart disease and cancer (Kones 2010, Kushi et al. 2011).

Diabetes and obesity are epidemic. In Australia (2007-08), 61% of adults and 25% of children were overweight or obese (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). Research shows that most obese children will remain obese as adults increasing their risks of chronic disease. (Ebbeling et al. 2002). Obesity related diseases include: asthma, some cancers, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, infertility, orthopaedic and psychosocial problems (depression) and type II diabetes (Ebbeling et al. 2002).

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed the leading causes of mortality to be cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's and stroke.

Most of these diseases can be prevented or reversed by following basic nutrition principles (Kushi et al. 2011) GPs have a significant opportunity to help address this crisis. Early detection of nutritional deficiencies and lifestyle risks could significantly improve health outcomes and quality of life (Nicholas, et al. 2005). Hanson

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