what is a “balanced” diet today?

Haro on red meat, on salt, sugar and fat! At a time when food condemnations are pouring in, what remains of the nutritional balance?

“Make your food your medicine”. This formula attributed to Hippocrates, a tutelary figure of medicine, has been used in all sauces, including those of the most absurd diets. But its success is undeniable because it reaffirms a popular belief: you have to eat well to be fit. And it is not the nutritional investigations repeated over several decades that contradict this impression.

In 2017, during the third edition of the vast Inca study (national individual study on food consumption), the National Food Safety Agency (Anses) concluded that “the role of food in increasing or preventing certain diseases such as cancer, obesity or cardiovascular disease is now scientifically established “.

junk food kills

Too much salt, sugar, and fat too many ultra-processed foods; fiber, fruit and vegetables are not enough… The diagnosis is made: in our countries it is no longer malnutrition, but the food imbalance that kills. It is not enough to eat, you have to eat everything. Last April, an international study published in the journal The hand he quantified the number of deaths in the world attributable to an unhealthy diet at 11 million. That’s one in five premature deaths … more than tobacco, which causes 8 million deaths every year.

Balanced eating is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Is the food balance the same for Chinese and Italians? For the teenager and the old man? For athletes and diabetics? The cardiologist recommends balancing the diet with more fatty fish. The gastroenterologist remembers the interest in fiber, and the pediatrician the interest in dairy products. Finally, the geriatrician checks that the elderly eat enough protein … However, there are no contradictions between these specialists because definitelythe personalized advice of each doctor to his patient fits well into a general nutritional plan that sets the conditions for a balanced diet in terms of public health.

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Stop the progression of obesity

And indeed, the National Health Nutrition Program (PNNS) was able to make people smile in 2001 with its invitations to eat five fruits and vegetables, but it had a positive effect. “In 2016, the Esteban study showed that in France there had been, for over ten years, a halt in the progression of obesity and overweight in adults as well as in children. Public health campaigns have participated in it ”, observes Dr. Chantal Julia, doctor, professor-researcher at the AP-HP and the University of Paris-XIII.

In January 2019, to take into account the progress of research, the French public health agency therefore modified the recommendations of the “Eat-Move” program with some new features:

– Consume more legumes, chickpeas or lentils, for example;

– Increase the share of whole starchy foods, such as wholemeal bread or rice;

– Add walnuts, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, rich in omega 3 and beneficial to the cardiovascular level;

– Limit the consumption of cured meats and meats.

Varied fruits and vegetables remain among the recommendations of the PNNS 2019, as well as the call to further reduce the amounts of sugar or salt.

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Don’t calculate everything

‘Nutritional balance should not be viewed from the rigorous standpoint of a balance between input and output, consumption and expenditure of nutrients, but as an overall health-promoting diet plan,’ explains Dr Julia. A functional view of food, limited to calculations of intake of such a nutrient or such a vitamin, cannot be permanently integrated into daily life, and instead risks favoring orthorexia, an obsession with food control that we know of. the perverse effects … “

It is also for this reason that the advice of the PNNS must be understood on a weekly basis rather than on a daily basis, even less meal by meal. And who also insist on the importance of exercise to combat a sedentary life.

Eating well is not about making a budget, but neither is it about demonizing certain foods and banning them forever. It’s more about showing good products and promoting variety. This is the goal of Nutri-Score, the nutritional labeling launched by Public Health France in 2016. Its logos, which indicate the nutritional value of a food product based on a classification from A to E on a green colored band. to red, I am destined to guide the consumer’s choice. The ultra-finished products labeled E are not prohibited, but brought to the attention of the customer, who can thus limit their consumption.

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“Plus, all processed products in the same category, industrial pizzas or biscuits, for example, don’t all end up with the same E on a red background,” notes Anne-Juliette Serry, Head of Nutrition and Activities. at Public Health France. “Cookies that are less fat, for example, or are less rich in hidden salts, have a C instead of an E”. And the consumer immediately finds his orientation without having to consult the nutritional information, which is always written in lowercase. “Indirectly, the Nutri-Score is also designed to encourage producers to improve their recipes and get their products out of the red,” confirms Anne-Juliette Serry.

Finally, following a balanced diet now also means eating ethically, as the environment and health are inextricably linked. Public health researchers who are developing PNNS therefore assume that they now also want to influence food improvement by recommending shorts, seasonal and even organic products, and limiting pesticides.

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