We are surrounded by a vast array of foods to eat and activities to pursue. Every day we make choices among those foods and activities based on our cultural background, knowledge, experiences, and goals. Each choice may have an impact on our overall health and quality of life. Our ancestors’ food choices were limited by what they could gather, catch, cultivate, and harvest. Physical pursuits were determined by the work that needed to be done.
Today, advances in agriculture, transportation, food preservation, and storage bring nearly every type of food from every country of the world to our local supermarkets throughout the year. With such a limitless array of foods, choosing the ones that promote health is easier than ever, but making these choices requires knowledge and motivation.
THE DIETARY REFERENCE INTAKES (DRIS)
We all need the same nutrients, but the amounts we need depend on our age, sex, and a few other factors. For example, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more of most nutrients. The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, a group of nutritional scientists from the United States and Canada, has established the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), a set of recommendations for nutrient intake. The DRIs are age- and sex-specific.
Have We Made Progress?
The explosion of health information and nutrition education programs has led to good progress on several fronts. Deaths from heart disease have declined and, to a slight degree, so have deaths from some cancers. On average, the intake of total fat and saturated fat has decreased. Food labeling provides much more useful information now. Restaurants offer more low-fat and low-calorie options on their menus.
Nutritionists are now assessing our progress in meeting the goals of Healthy People 2010. These efforts will include evaluating healthful behaviors in the areas of fitness and nutrition, ensuring a safe food supply, and reducing and preventing diseases such as osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.