Expert advice on the importance of proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent chronic diseases.
Chronic disease or noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and cancer causes the largest portion of deaths in the South-East Asian Region, with an estimated 8.5 million deaths each year.1 This represents a huge burden on healthcare costs and resources. To share more on how lifestyle habits such as ensuring proper nutrition is Dr Chin-Kun Wang, a distinguished professor in Chung Shan Medical University, the honorary president of Nutrition Society of Taiwan, council member of FANS (Federation Association of Asian Nutrition Societies), and chief executive of ISNFF (International Society for Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods).
- Why are chronic health issues becoming an increasingly prominent public health concern in Asia Pacific?
Asia Pacific faces an epidemic of chronic health diseases which are responsible for many deaths in the region. The rise in busy and affluent lifestyles have given rise to issues such as over-eating, sedentary lifestyles, excessive alcohol and tobacco use. These unhealthy habits contribute to the continuous increase in the likelihood of chronic diseases, leading to an alarmingly poorer quality of life.
In addition, chronic diseases tend to become more common with age and many countries in Asia Pacific are facing an ageing population. Leading chronic diseases include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
- What are some lifestyle habits that will result in an increased risk for chronic diseases, for example obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease?
Some lifestyle habits that cause an increased risk for chronic diseases include tobacco use, overconsumption of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and inadequate relief from stress. These are the main factors that contribute to the development of preventable chronic diseases.
To reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, we should avoid our habitual consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Having an active lifestyle greatly improves our cardiovascular health, regular exercise is essential. However, the incorporation of physical activity must always be paired with a nutritious diet. This helps to prevent obesity, one such chronic health issue that’s of growing concern in Asia Pacific.
One can consider taking probiotics and prebiotics supplements if necessary. Probiotics help to improve our gut health and immune system, lower blood pressure and even boost mental health. Besides the nutritional benefits of probiotics, prebiotics can enhance mineral absorption and are anti-inflammatory in nature.
On top of all these we need adequate rest to reduce bodily and mental stress which allows the body to repair itself and reduce the risk of developing serious illnesses such as chronic diseases.
- What is the relationship between good nutrition and prevention of chronic health issues?
Eating nutritiously can help to prevent weight gain and in essence, obesity. Being obese can lead to increased risk of chronic health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, some cancers, and osteoporosis. Sugar-laden food causes elevated blood sugar levels for a prolonged period of time, insulin and leptin resistance, which are linked to weight gain and excess body fat. High-fat diets affect our brains too, not just our bodies. Recent studies have shown that high-fat diets contribute to irregularities in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which regulates body weight homeostasis and metabolism and can cause weight gain.
We need to ensure that we’re getting sufficient nutrients from our food on a daily basis. An important nutrient such as calcium helps to prevent osteoporosis. Healthy and nutritious diets boost “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and decrease unhealthy triglycerides which directly reduces one’s risk of heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Besides ensuring proper nutrition how should we be taking ownership to live a healthy lifestyle?
There are a variety of ways in which we can improve or change habits in our lives to have a healthy lifestyle. Apart from ensuring proper nutrition, we should exercise regularly, take care of our mental health and avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Regular exercise can help prevent coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Weight-bearing exercises can also help prevent osteoporosis by building bone strength. Keeping our mental health in check is crucial in ensuring that we don’t make poor lifestyle choices, which would negatively impact our physical health and increase the risk of contracting chronic health illnesses.
Smokers and alcoholics can find alternatives, healthier ways to curb their cravings. Experimenting with fun physical activities can help to reduce the craving for and draw attention away from these negative habits by enhancing mental wellness, which can discourage continuous intake of unhealthy substances.
- Could you highlight what types of foods to look out for that will ensure good nutritional levels are met?
A balanced diet is one that includes a lot of natural food consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and meat. One should look out for non-fat or low-fat products and food with less sodium. Vegetables do wonders in reducing the risks of cancer contractions in our body, especially in our lungs, breasts and stomach. Always consume phytonutrient-rich foods which come in a variety of colours!
- Noncommunicable diseases and mental health [online], Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/nmh/ncd-tools/who-regions-south-east-asia/en/
Dr. Chin-Kun Wang, Nutrition Advisory Board member, Herbalife Nutrition
Dr. Wang is a distinguished professor in Chung Shan Medical University, the honorary president of Nutrition Society of Taiwan, council member of FANS, and chief executive of ISNFF