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High-density nutrients might reduce disease risks, study says

Diets that are high in micronutrients might reduce incidence of heart disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, according to research published in the nutrition journal, "Nutrients."

A new DSM article, published in the human nutrition journal "Nutrients," suggests that nutrient density can be a tool in breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition and obesity.

While life expectancy is increasing globally, non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent. NCDs cause of 38 million deaths each year, according to World Health Organization (WHO). Micronutrient intake is known to play an important role in determining the risk and the time of onset of many common NCDs. It is estimated that 80 percent of premature deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes could be prevented via modifiable factors such as improved nutrition and physical activity. However, inadequate micronutrient intake is widespread, even in affluent Western societies where a variety of food is readily available.

The paper follows a workshop at the University Medical Center in Groningen, Netherlands, where experts discussed the role that diet plays during critical periods of life, when the body is most susceptible to changes that increase the risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The goal was to present evidence for the benefits of healthy nutrition throughout life and to discuss how the concept of nutrient density — the content of micronutrients relative to energy in foods or diets — can help resolve some problems arising from the demographic and lifestyle changes currently underway.  

Co-author Manfred Eggersdorfer, senior vice president, Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM and professor for Healthy Aging at Groningen University, said, “Modern lifestyles and economic constraints lead people to consume diets high in energy and low in micronutrients, resulting in increased obesity and suboptimal nutritional status. Information about nutrient density can help identify foods that have a low cost-to-nutrient ratio and can therefore help compile affordable diets that cover nutritional needs without increasing the risk of becoming obese.

“Given the positive impact that a nutrient-dense, low-energy diet can have on health, stakeholders such as the food industry, academia and governments should join efforts to develop options for affordable and appealing nutrient-rich food products, which, in combination with physical activity, allow for optimal health throughout the life-course,” he said.  

A shift towards nutrient-dense diets could significantly lower the risk of developing NCDs and help maintain a higher quality of life. Learning more about nutrient density can be a valuable tool in nutrition education and dietary guidance.  

Enabling food, beverage and condiment producers to make products healthier through nutrient fortification and reducing energy content by lowering fat or sugar would be a major step forward to good nutrition. This approach could hold the key to tackle both over- and under-nutrition problems and will be the topic of a follow-up workshop.

For more information on the role of nutrition in providing health benefits, visit DSM’s webinar channel.

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