Dietary Guidelines for Health Function and Disease Prevention

Concomitant to recommendations for daily nutrient intake based on requirements, guidance and orientation for the pattern of selection of nutrient sources among the food groups have emerged as so-called 'dietary guidelines.' They are often accompanied by an icon or emblem, such as a pyramid in the US, a rainbow in Canada, and a Hindu temple in India, each of which expresses the general tenets of the dietary guidelines in a visual manner. A quantitative prescription, or some notion of balance among foods and food groups, is the basis of dietary guidelines; there is also often a proscription for foods considered to be harmful or noxious.

The additional susceptibility of older persons to chronic degenerative diseases makes adherence to these healthful dietary patterns, throughout the periods in the life span preceding the older years, more relevant. Recent epidemiological research has shown that compliance or behavior concordant with healthy eating guidelines are associated with lower later life incidences of certain cancers, cataracts, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as overall survival. There is intense interest in whether and how diet and nutrition influence the maintenance of cognitive function with aging.

Robert Russell and colleagues constructed a food guidelines pyramid, which specifically focused on the health of the elderly. Among the elements and tenets that differed from the standard US pyramid are the following recommendations: to drink additional water and liquid; to increase consumption of dietary fiber; and to consider dietary supplements such as calcium and vitamin E. Otherwise, selecting the same requisite serving portions of the specific food groups, and avoiding excess sugar, salt, and separated fats as indicated by the conventional guidelines emblem is recommended for the older population as well.

It is generally conceded that the major benefits for prevention of nontransmissible disease to be derived from adopting a healthful life style and dietary habits will accumulate over a lifetime; hence, beginning such practices at as early an age as possible will yield the greatest benefits. In this context, the application and emphasis of dietary guidelines specifically for the elderly is controversial and as yet unresolved. One school of opinion, one shared by Russell and coworkers, holds the view that the benefits of adhering to dietary guidelines are continuous, and actively protect from metabolic and neoplastic diseases even in the latter stages of the life span. The alternative proposition suggests that long-term survivorship is a manifestation of a superior genetic constitution resistant to chronic diseases. The very fact of survival to advanced age is a suggestion that the survivor's dietary practice will neither prejudice nor further protect health.

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