Diet centrism describes the naïve tendency of both researchers and the public to attribute a wide-range of negative health outcomes exclusively to dietary factors while neglecting the essential and well-established role of individual differences in nutrient-metabolism.
For example, obesity and other chronic diseases have been mainly associated with the intake of sugar and saturated fats, though other non-dietary factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices and environmental factors play major roles in the pathogenesis of these diseases.
A diet high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats or high energy intake has been attributed as the main cause of obesity in an individual.
However, low physical activity, female gender, genetic predisposition, stress and other lifestyle choices such as alcoholism also contribute to risk of obesity.
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Current research findings have showed evidence of the effect of physical activity on obesity. The study reported that individuals with low PA had higher levels of cravings for foods compared with those who had high levels of PA.
In Ghana, adults are encouraged to engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week to stay fit.
Weight loss and ketogenic diet
With the notion that a diet high in saturated fats and sugars is the principal cause of obesity, different types of diets have also evolved over the years to battle weight loss.
One of such diets is the ketogenic diet which is trending in Ghana. Clinically, it is used in the treatment of epilepsy and other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Starches, fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the Dietary and Physical Activity Guidelines for Ghana, must form the bulk of our daily energy intake for normal metabolic activities.
However, the ketogenic diet excludes or reduces the amount of carbohydrate intake and increase protein and fat intake.
This causes the body to rely on fat instead for energy which leads to the production of ketone bodies which are harmful chemical by-products of fat metabolism when in excess.
Another study showed long-term effects of the ketogenic diet which include insulin resistance and dyslipidemia associated with metabolic syndrome and increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
The sustainability of the keto diet is also an issue as it is expensive and difficult to maintain and also possibly harmful to health in the long term.
Hence, a healthy eating diet pattern, coupled with regular exercise, is recommended for weight loss.
Diabetes, the sugar disease?
In Ghana, diabetes is normally referred to in the local dialect as ‘sugar disease’ inferring that sugar causes diabetes which is certainly untrue.
Diabetes is caused by a myriad of physiological metabolic conditions characterised by high levels of blood glucose. It occurs when the body produces little or no insulin or cannot utilise insulin properly.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas.
It acts in response to high levels of glucose in the blood by causing uptake by individual cells. The absence of insulin or lack of response by cells to insulin decreases the uptake of glucose into cells leading to extremely high glucose levels in blood known as hyperglycaemia which leads to diabetes and its complications.
Eggs and cholesterol
Diet centrism may account for why some foods that were noted to be unhealthy are now in recent times being encouraged to be a part of daily diets.
For example, eggs in the past were associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease as yolks were high in cholesterol.
As such, the intake of dietary cholesterol from eggs was suggested to increase the risk of coronary heart disease because it increased blood cholesterol.
Researchers then found available evidence which showed that dietary cholesterol from eggs had no effect on serum cholesterol.
This implied that the intake of eggs did not contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
However, it is important to note that the high intake of eggs may lead to high saturated fat in the body and can predispose one to cardiovascular diseases.
Thus, excessive intake, especially for individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease must be restricted.
Diet centrism revolves around the idea that certain foods cause diseases neglecting the fact that other factors contribute to the incidence of diseases.
This is quite misleading and may be detrimental to health and scientific progress. Issues with diet centrism also boil down to the idea of individual interventions with respect to prevention and management of diseases.
As such, it is expedient that one consults a registered dietitian for evidence-based dietary counselling and education to prevent being gullible to misleading dietary information out there, especially on social media.
The writer’s are with the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition
University of Ghana