Some people “eat to live” while others “live to eat” and both of these examples epitomizes two extreme ways of defining nutrition. The first presupposes that people eat to satisfy their physiological needs and ward off hunger pangs, the second implies a deeper more complex relationship with food that presupposes a level of planning, anticipation and satisfaction.
Unfortunately the act of eating is far more complex and multi-faceted than these two extremes suggest. It involves our psychological makeup, our social environment, our genetic blueprint, our economic situation, class and also the availability of food.
At the beginning of the twentieth Century science had advanced to a point that it was beginning to understand what nutrients our bodies required and in what quantities. However today we have come to realize that although diets in the Western World in theory supply all our nutrients, they also directly contribute to some diseases. Today the emphasis is on what nutrients directly cause disease and we are learning that the best way to approach nutritional needs is “optimum nutrition”. However altering people’s eating habits is actually quite difficult and it highlights the difficulty of even defining nutrition. At best it can be defined as the study of people’s relationship with food.
A further definition can be the nutrients needed for the body to grow, maintain and produce the cells, but the danger with that definition is the fact that people do not eat nutrients, they eat food. This is highlighted with the increase in the mortality and morbidity rates of many diseases such as cancers, bowel diseases, cardio-vascular disease, obesity and type two diabetes all of which are food or diet related.
In 1997 The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (IARC) studied the assessment of the role of food in causing cancer in a consistent and a scientific way. Most cancers are more prevalent in the Western World, the Chinese call breast cancer the rich woman’s disease and some cancers occur up to thirty times higher in the West. This would suggest that there is a strong link between the environment and cancer, because although we tend to have the idealized thoughts that everything is cleaner in the third world it is not necessarily the case.
There have been many different observational studies comparing communities and the way that they live, including groups within groups and migrant studies as well. However there is still no proof about biological mechanisms or causality about cancer, and all the results are underpinned by tentative experimental findings.
Eventually we will be able to link biological markers and genetics, but before that time, more genetic research has to be carried out. Much of the studies have allowed the researchers to calculate risk, from the exposure to certain factors, such as the hormones in red meat.