Nutrition between sustainability and quality

G M Fara
Annali di Igiene: Medicina Preventiva e di Comunità 2015, 27 (5): 693-704
This lecture describes the complex interrelations existing between human nutrition, quality of aliments, their safety and the sustainability of the feeding habits adopted by the different cultures in the World. At present, a significant part of the developing World is still affected by insufficient availability of nutricious and safe food, and these difficulties are due more to political events as wars and less to natural events as famine. It is equally true that in the developed World, where abundance reigns and international trade grants a large variety of foods everywere, the existing health problems arise from the excess of nutrition, worsened by sedentarity, because the fatigue due to manual work has disappeared and people maintain their feeding habits; but such problems depend also on the diet composition, which in some countries is too rich in meat and animal fats. As a consequence, chronic degenerative pathologies and a progressive dependance of people in their third age are becoming more and more common. But this situation could be overturned by corrective interventions driven by good epidemiological knowledge, as teach us the great international institutions as UNO and WHO. The goal is not to expand without limits the production of food, but to better distribute it socially and geographically, to minimize losses and wastes and also to change those diets based on foods which consume too many natural resources and, therefore, do not respect sustainability. Sustainability can be measured under different aspects: ecology (use of water, energy and soil), economy and health protection. Accurate analyses and evaluations have brought to the conclusion that the least sustainable diets are those, quite popular in the Anglosaxon countries and northern and eastern Europe, rich in meat and animal fats, while those based on cereals, legumes and fish - like the Japanese and the Mediterranean diets - respect much more the environment, consume less resources and improve health and longevity (or, better, longevity in good health). The Mediterranean diet has been identified, classified and scientifically documented as the one that can guarantee longevity in good health by the US physiologist Ancel Keys, who lived many years in the Italian area of Cilento, the Italian creadle of such a diet, and died at the age of 100. The Mediterranean diet has been recognized in 2010 as an intangible cultural patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, and is practiced also in many areas of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Morocco and Cyprus. Good diets per se are not sufficient to improve health if they are not accompanied by a daily physical exercise, which is necessary to replace the physical fatigue, represented in the past by the manuality of almost all jobs, with new practices as swimming, bicycling or at least walking enough time every day Another aspect to be developed is the capacity of the Mediterranean Diet to safeguard the cultural aspects, like conviviality and sharing of food, which are good mechanisms for socialization and improving the life of families and communities.


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