Defining a Healthy Diet: Contemporary Dietary Patterns in Health and DiseaseAuthor(s): Dr. Raziya Rhamanur
Nutrients and other bioactive constituents of foods may interact with each other and the surrounding food matrix in complex ways. Therefore, associations between single nutrients and chronic disease may be difficult to identify and interpret, but when dietary patterns (DPs) are examined the combination of many food factors will be considered. An explorative literature search of published review articles was conducted to obtain a fuller understanding of current DPs in epidemiological research, to discuss pros and cons of DPs in nutrition research, and to identify results of studies linking DPs to chronic disease risk in adults. Randomized feeding trials providing the experimental diets to study participants have repeatedly demonstrated that diets based on current dietary recommendations are associated with important health benefits. Systematic reviews of feeding trials and prospective population studies of DPs and chronic disease risk reach similar conclusions regardless of the methodology used to construct DPs. However, to date only a few review articles of DP studies have followed a systematic process using independent reviewers with strict inclusion, exclusion, and study quality criteria. Diets with plenty of plants foods, fish, and seafood that preferably include vegetable oils and low-fat dairy products are associated with a lower risk of most chronic diseases. In contrast, Western-type DPs with food products low in essential nutrients and high in energy, like sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, refined cereals and solid fats (e.g. butter), and high in red and processed meats, are associated with adverse health effects. An emphasis on high-quality original research, and systematic reviews following a structured process to objectively select and judge studies, is needed in order to enforce a strong future knowledge base regarding DPs and chronic disease. It is argued that nutrition studies choosing a traditional nutrient specific approach may underestimate the total health impact of natural foods, and could lead to inaccurate interpretations of study outcomes resulting in the formulation of erroneous dietary advice.