Dietary Patterns – Overview
All foods have nutrients, and we know that some of them can either boost our well-being or increase the risk of us contracting chronic illnesses.
For several decades, the focus of dietetics has been ‘What single nutrients are people taking?’
These are things such as carbs, fat, fiber, proteins, and sugar. But as human beings, we don’t consume single nutrients; instead, we eat foods.
The foods we eat nourish our bodies with a complex blend of nutrients that can positively and negatively impact our health.
Nutrients are also associated with one another. For instance, cocoa contains multiple nutrients, so studies on a single nutrient’s effect can be misleading.
So as times are changing and we shift from print media such as newspapers to social media via smartphones and tablets, research is also changing.
Nutrition research is steering from single nutrients to focusing more on foods, how the nutrients in these foods correlate with each other, the quantity of food we take over days, weeks, and months, and how it might affect our health. This ideology is known as dietary patterns.
What is Dietary Pattern Analysis?
Dietary pattern analysis seeks to figure out how and what people are eating.
Traditionally nutrition studies have been focused on whether single foods and nutrients are allied to health benefits or diseases. For instance, whether vitamin C is allied to iron deficiency.
But, investigating nutrition using this approach has several limitations. For starters, people don’t ingest nutrients alone because they eat meals containing various ingredients.
A good example of this is vitamin C’s enhancing impact on iron absorption in the body, while tea and coffee tend to limit iron absorption when taken with food.
Moreover, an analysis based on nutrients alone can be bewildered by the kind of dietary pattern a person follows.
By using the dietary pattern method, it’s possible to overcome these limitations by taking into account how foods and nutrients are consumed together.
Why Explore Dietary Patterns?
Examining the complex relationship of nutrients in our diets can offer some insight into positive health outcomes with changes in our diet, not just a single aspect.
Examining these patterns will help us see what adults across the US are eating.
Eventually, we can look at how these dietary patterns are connected to body composition, cognitive function, and metabolic syndrome.
Examined patterns represent available and common foods that people are consuming and the combinations in which these foods are taken.
It might be easier to improve a person’s diet by moving them along the scales of a specific dietary pattern.
This is done by making small and relevant recommendations rather than massive changes to a less familiar dietary pattern.
A dietary pattern also offers valuable information as people choose to eat foods as opposed to nutrients.
How Do Current Dietary Patterns Differ from Traditional Diets?
This mainly depends on how you describe and interpret ‘diet.’
From a dietitian’s perspective, diet is food people often eat or a set way of eating for medical purposes, which in this instance means diet and dietary patterns are virtually the same things.
However, when you think of diet, and terms like restriction and weight loss come to mind, diets and dietary patterns are two different things.
How Are Dietary Patterns Determined?
Dietary patterns usually are obtained using two main methods:
1. The first is ‘a-posteriori,’ whereby nutritional data collected from participants is examined statistically to generate combinations of foods people eat.
2. The second is ‘prior,’ where people are graded based on whether they’re following a certain dietary pattern, such as the Mediterranean or specific nutritional guidelines.
In fact, recently, two organizations, the AICR (American Institute for Cancer) and WRCF (World Cancer Research Fund) have come up with a standardized grading system to evaluate people’s observance of their CPRs (Cancer Prevention Recommendations).
Which are The Various Dietary Patterns?
A healthy dietary pattern comprises the consumption of foods such as dairy (low-fat), fruits, legumes, nuts, veggies, and whole grains with restricted intakes of processed foods such as meat.
A new study shows the diets of Americans fall into five major dietary patterns, including:
- Alcohol: Comprises alcohol (wines and spirits), proteins, and salads.
- Healthy: Comprises grains, fruits, and veggies primarily.
- Southern: Comprises fried foods, processed meats, and sweetened beverages.
- Sweets: Comprises massive amounts of desserts and sweet snacks such as cakes.
- Traditional: Comprises Chinese and Mexican delicacies, pizza, soup, spaghetti, and other mixed delicacies such as frozen foods and takeout meals.
Researchers claim that the differences in dietary patterns can help explain racial and regional differences with regard to the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic illnesses.
Researchers also found that age, education, income, orientation, race, and region influence these five dietary patterns.
For instance, African-American individuals were more likely to follow the Southern dietary pattern compared to white people.
On the other hand, middle-aged adults from age 45 to 54 had a tendency to follow the traditional dietary pattern.
Several groups linked to the Southern diet, such as Afro-Americans and men, resided in the Southeastern part of the US and had middle to low incomes.
These results clearly show the difference in dietary patterns amongst demographic and socio-economic groups.
Other differences linked to dietary patterns were:
- Older adults, ladies, and well-educated persons (college degrees) were more likely to follow a healthy dietary pattern compared to other groups
- White people, particularly those with yearly incomes above $35000 and those who are well-educated, were more likely to follow the alcohol diet pattern.
- All men, middle-aged adults, and white people were more likely to have a sweet tooth causing them to follow a sweet dietary pattern.
Keep in mind that these findings were meant for a conference.
As such, they should be considered preliminary because they have not yet been subject to peer reviews where independent pros examine the data prior to publication in journals.
To sum it all up, as research is shifting from single nutrients, you need to start thinking more about your dietary patterns and consider the foods you take over days, weeks, and months because they can substantially impact your overall well-being.