Title

Categorising foods in terms of healthy diets: cuisines, dietary patterns and dietary guidelines

RIS ID

86130

Publication Details

Tapsell, L., Charlton, K. & Flood, V. (2013). Categorising foods in terms of healthy diets: cuisines, dietary patterns and dietary guidelines. In L. Tapsell (Eds.), Food, Nutrition and Health (pp. 140-172). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Abstract

In the previous chapters the role of nutrients in the functioning of the body was described, and the food sources of these nutrients were listed. This chapter moves up a level and describes the effects of combinations of food on overall health. Recall in Chapter 1 that the discussion on food and health began with the concepts of molecules from foods operating at the physiological level. Food was then viewed as a combination of nutrients that were there for a purpose, reflecting the physiological needs of plants and animals that become food. Given the differences in these physiological forms, it is reasonable to assume that a wide range of foods is needed to meet human physiological needs. The only food that serves as a complete food for humans is breast milk in infancy. Indeed it is the recognised best food for infants in the first six months of life [1]. The production of breast milk is also the consequence of a human physiological process that comes after the feeding of the foetus in utero. The nutrient composition of human breast milk naturally follows suit in meeting nutritional needs for the early stages of life of the infant. With growth and development, nutritional needs are met through a combination of foods, but for best results this combination also has a nutritional code, just as breast milk does for the newborn. This code represents an ideal combination of foods that deliver requirements for health. There is always individual variation in requirements [2], but from a population health perspective, guidelines can be set based on best available knowledge at the time. The fact that humans have evolved to live longer and healthier lives can be seen as a reflection of better access to, and cultural knowledge of, foods that are good to eat. Analyses of cultural eating patterns (or cuisines) often show that staple foods provide substantial amounts of nutrients known to be required for growth and development {3]. Some cultures have even more formally defined the relationships between food and health, to the extent that foods can become somewhat medicalised (e.g. in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines). In Western societies, both the Mediterranean and Asian cuisines have been recognised as being associated with healthier outcomes than cuisines based on other food choices [4-6]. Cuisines may also be defined in terms of the foods people elect not to include, such as vegetarian cuisines that exclude various forms of foods from animal sources. Establishing the evidence for the health benefits of particular food patterns and cuisines, however, requires a substantial amount of research. In effect, the concept of a healthy cuisine is a good example of where research and practice coexist. That is, cultural practice provides a common knowledge of healthy food but modern science works to expose the details of why this may be so, to correct misconceptions and to consolidate the food knowledge base overall.

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