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May 7, 2014

Lifestyle actions contributing to over-consumption of grains

by Helene van den Berg

Modern people have busy lifestyles that make them eat out more often and consume convenient foods (refined, processed, salty, canned foods), which causes chronic diseases like hypertension, kidney diseases, CAD, ischemic stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

CAD, ischemic stroke, diabetes and some cancers were common in high-income countries, but has now become a common source of mortality worldwide, due not to genetic factors, but to environmental factors, including diet and lifestyle. Low rates of these diseases can be attained without drugs or expensive medical facilities, because these rates have been historically low in developing countries with few medical facilities. However preventing these diseases will require changes in behaviors related to smoking, physical activity and diet; investment in education, food policies, and urban physical infrastructure are needed to support and encourage these changes.

Reductions in dietary fiber and increases in the dietary glycemic load (large amounts of carbohydrates from refined starches and sugar) and high energy density diets, contributes to obesity (BMI of 30 and greater) and overweight (BMI of 25-30). Inexpensive food energy from refined grains, sugar and vegetable oils has become extremely plentiful in most countries.

Food manufacturers and suppliers make products based on these cheap ingredients maximally convenient and attractive. The replacement of whole-grain, high-fiber grains for refined, low- fiber grains fit into the convenient lifestyle of many people – less cooking time and traditional wholesome cooking has been replaced by eating out at fast food chains.

Dramatic reductions in physical activity are occurring because of urbanization, increased availability of cars to replace walking and bicycle riding and mechanization of labor (in China, car owners were 80% more likely to be obese). Regular physical activity (½ hr walk/day) is a key element in weight control and prevention of obesity.

The number of hours of television watched per day (more than 2hrs/day) is associated with increased obesity rates among both children and adults and with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and gallstones. This is attributed to reduced physical activity and to the increased consumption of foods (refined grains) and beverages high in calories, which are promoted on television.

There are 6 aspects of diet which indicates important health implications:

  • Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, including more sources of omega-3 fatty acids (less omega-6 fatty acids; 3:1 relation).
  • Ensure generous consumption of fruits and vegetables and adequate folic acid intake (reduce risk of neural tube defect pregnancies, colon and breast cancer).
  • Consume cereal in their whole-grain, high- fiber form.
  • Limit consumption of sugar and sugar-based beverages (high-fructose corn sweeteners contributes to dietary glycemic load, worsens the metabolic syndrome and risk diabetes and CAD .
  • Limit excessive calorie intake from any source (esp. sugar-sweetened beverages).
  • Limit sodium intake (3 grams/day).

Interventions aimed at changing diet and lifestyle factors include:

  • educating individuals through school-based programs, health care providers, worksites and general media
  • changing the environment (road pricing systems to discourage car use, well-maintained sidewalks and parks to promote walking and cycling)
  • modifying the food supply (improving processing and manufacturing – less trans-fats in food;, fortifying food especially flour, rice and pasta; increasing the cost and availability of healthy foods; promote healthy food choices and limit aggressive marketing to children – fast-food chains personify food products with cartoon characters).
  • undertake community interventions (e.g. in 1972 Finland had the world’s highest CVD mortality rate. In 1992 the mortality rate dropped by 57% by using the media, schools , worksites and spokespersons from sports, education and agriculture to educate residents.)
  • implementing economic policies – subsidies can favor the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and fish e.g. Poland shelters them from sales taxes ; provide secure bicycle parking, subsidize public transport; reduce health insurance premiums etc.


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