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It is indisputable that what we eat is critical to our state of health. Nutrients provide the body with the raw materials for our most basic functions. Essential nutrients are nutrients that the body requires for growth, development and functional maintenance. However many diets, particularly the Western diet, unfortunately lack some of these essential nutrients. Additionally, processed food high in fats and sugars that have been chemically changed, often to the point of becoming toxic, is consumed in increasingly large quantities. As many functions of the body are interactive and interdependent, an imbalance of essential nutrients can have far-reaching negative effects. High levels of some substances found in processed or artificially ‘enhanced’ food may have the ability to alter our metabolic state and adversely affect our body’s functions. In obesity, an overweight but in some ways undernourished, state, the long term risk of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and arthritis is vastly increased.  Until recently it was believed that a wide range of diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and some cancers could be caused by a single gene mutation. More recent findings, however, indicate that these conditions are attributable to a network of biological dysfunction. Furthermore, it is now also known that a lack of essential nutrients, caused by an inadequate supply in the diet, can be an important factor in this biological dysfunction. In order to better understand and treat these diseases, intense research is required to identify how multiple nutrients interact, and how these interactions affect body functions. As the relationship between nutrition, metabolic function and disease becomes more apparent, the view of the virtues of food in simplistic terms of calories or fat will no doubt require revision. Focus must be drawn to food that it is essential to include, rather than just highlighting those to avoid. In the diet of the future, instead of looking at foodstuffs as the ‘enemy’, to be continually reduced or excluded, we will perhaps instead be directed to see the diet as a means to promote good health. By including the right kinds of foods we may even be able to decrease or eliminate the risk of many diseases that are currently epidemic in Western societies. Additionally, with the advent of personalised medicine and advances in genotyping, future diets may even be designed to coincide with an individual’s unique metabolism. There is increasing evidence of the adverse impact on health caused by food that is processed, or has a high sugar and fat content. As we find out more about the true, scientifically-backed ways to maintain a healthy diet, we can shape our health and even our future. Current thinking shows that a balanced and varied diet consisting of freshly prepared food from natural sources, rich in essential nutrients and free from pesticides is the most sensible option to maintain health.  Li, YX. & Zhou, L. (2015) Vitamin D deficiency, obesity and diabetes. Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 61(3). 35-8.  Han, TS. & Lean, ME. (2016) A clinical perspective of obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. doi: 10.1177/2048004016633371.  American Heart Association Nutrition Committee et al. (2006) Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 114(1). 82-96.  Rozin, P. et al. (1999) Attitudes to Food and the Role of Food in Life in the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish Belgium and France: Possible Implications for the Diet–Health Debate. Appetite. 33(2). 163-80.  Chadwick, R. (2004) Nutrigenomics, individualism and public health. Proceed Nutr Soc. 63(1). 161-6.
Fats in our diet are a valuable source of energy (1 g is equivalent to 9 kcal), and they are essential in a healthy balanced diet. While some fats are beneficial, others, if consumed in excessive amounts, have detrimental effects on health. Fats are classified by their chemical structure, falling into several groups including saturated fats, mono-/polyunsaturated fats and trans fats. The fatty acid chains in saturated fats consist of only single bonds, indicating that there are no bonds available for further binding. Foods that contain high levels of saturated fat include whole milk, butter, cheese, lard, palm oil, coconut oil, “fatty” meat and meat products, fried food, and some cakes, biscuits and pastries. All of the above should be eaten in small amounts as saturated fats have a proven association with increased cholesterol levels, which can progress to clogged arteries and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. There have been numerous studies confirming the benefits of reducing saturated fats in our diets. For example, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduces cholesterol levels, thus decreasing the risks of heart disease and stroke.,  Both epidemiological and randomised clinical trials have consistently evidenced that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat, is beneficial in coronary heart disease. The fatty acid chains in unsaturated fats contain either one double bond (monounsaturated fat) or more than one double bond (polyunsaturated fat). Foods rich in these types of fats include vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed or sunflower oils, avocados, nuts and seeds. It has been demonstrated these fats help decrease the risk of heart disease.,  Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats found mainly in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon or sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits, and are associated with good heart health as they reduce the risk of blood clots and assist in the regulation of heart rhythm.,  They are also important during pregnancy and breastfeeding, supporting infant development.,  Trans-fats are the most harmful to our bodies. This group of fats are manufactured by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils, resulting in a firmer, better tasting fat with an increased shelf life. They are found in most processed and ‘fast’ foods, that are already very high in saturated fats. Manufactured trans-fats have been shown to have an even more adverse impact on cholesterol levels than saturated fats, which in turn is associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.,  Whilst knowing which fats are more healthy than others can certainly help in reducing the risks associated with fat consumption, some fats can actually become more harmful during cooking, depending on the processes involved. Vegetable oil, for example can accumulate by-products known to pose a significant risk of cardiovascular disease when heated repeatedly. Cooking can also change the ratio of healthier unsaturated fatty acids to unhealthy saturated fats and trans fats. Reducing fat in the diet is advisable to prevent obesity and its related complications, such as type 2 diabetes. Even beneficial mono-/polyunsaturated fats should be consumed in moderation, as they still have a high calorific value. In fact studies on mice have shown that a high fat diet induces greater weight gain than a low fat diet, even if their calorific intake is the same. A reduction of saturated and trans-fats in the diet can be achieved by avoiding processed and ‘fast’ foods as much as possible and choosing food prepared at home from fresh, low fat ingredients. Lean sources of protein, low fat dairy foods, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables are a healthier choice than foods high in fat, although beneficial oils such as olive, canola and sunflower oil can be used for cooking and salad dressings.  Nelson, D & Cox, M. (2008). Lehninger principles of biochemistry. (5 ed.)  Jakopsen, M.U. (2009). Major types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 85(5). 1425-1432  Mozaffarian, D. et al. (2010). Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLos Med. 7(3). e1000252  Siri-tarino, P.W. et al. (2010). Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Current atherosclerosis reports. 12(6). 384-390  Covas, M.I. (2007). Olive oil and the cardiovascular system. Nutritional Pharmacology. 55(3). 175-186  Gillingham, L.G. et al. (2011). Dietary monounsaturated fatty acids are protective against metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Lipids. 46(3). 209-228  Swanson, D. et al. (2012). Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Advances in Nutrition. 3(1). 1-7  Calder, P.C. et al. (2009). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and human health outcomes. BioFactors. 35(3). 266-272  Stender, S. et al. (2006). A trans world journey. Atherosclerosis Supplements, 7(2), 47-52.  Micha, R. et al. (2009). Trans fatty acids: effects on metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes. Nature Reviews: Endocrinology. 5(6). 335-344  Bhardwaj, S. et al. (2011). Overview of trans fatty acids: Biochemistry and health effects. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews. 5(3). 161-164  Ng, CY. et al. (2014) Heated vegetable oils and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Vascul Pharmacol. 61(1). 1-9  Bhardwaj, S. et al. (2016) Effect of heating/reheating of fats/oils, as used by Asian Indians, on trans fatty acid formation. Food Chem. 212. 663-70  Petro, A.E. et al. (2004). Fat, carbohydrate, and calories in the development of diabetes and obesity in the C57BL/6J mouse. Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 53(4). 454-457