A balanced diet isn’t just about food

When discussing nutrition and balanced diets, the focus is very much on food. However, if we continue to ignore and undervalue the importance of physical activity in achieving this balance, then dietary recommendations will fail to meet the goal of preventing obesity and other nutrition-related chronic diseases.

Human diets have changed drastically from the gatherer-hunter or scavenger mode of existence to our current agriculture-based model that is increasingly concerned with convenience over anything else.

Many parts of the world are currently in a period of so-called “nutrition transition”, defined as changes in the food and nutrition profile of populations as a result of the interaction between economic, demographic, environmental and cultural factors in society. Using Latin America as an example, it is easy to see the shift towards high-energy-density foods (that are high in fats and sugars) and a decrease in physical activity as sedentary urban populations begin to predominate.

Our genes have evolved over millennia to maximize the use of ingested energy and store as much of it as possible for later use. This evolutionary adaptation is no longer a benefit to us. Our current environment demands comparatively little physical labour for the majority when compared to the scavenger model, and so these genes that were meant to help us stay healthy and well in the hunt for food are now a detriment, contributing to obesity, insulin resistance and associated metabolic consequences (diabetes, dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis and hypertension).

Read more about the need for physical activity in a balanced diet in Ricardo Uauy’s article here.

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