A boy eats a piece of pizza while watching television at his home in Madrid in March last year.

A boy eats a piece of pizza while watching television at his home in Madrid in March last year.
A boy eats a piece of pizza while watching television at his home in Madrid in March last year.Jesus Hellin (Europa Press)

The effects of a poor diet in childhood and other harmful lifestyle habits begin to become evident at the age of 20, the age at which health problems typical of older people have begun to be detected, including cancer, diabetes, diseases cardiovascular and respiratory. Emilia Gómez Pardo, nutritionist and doctor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, believes that in the first few years what can be a devastating harvest for health in two decades is sown. And she points to individual responsibility to curb this trend. “We are what we eat, but we eat what we buy,” she warns. In this way, she demands that refrigerators and pantries be emptied of “unhealthy food” -promoted by what she considers a “marketing predator” – to avoid its effects, which are becoming increasingly apparent at younger ages.

Obesity is the most immediate and obvious consequence of a poor diet, added to other harmful lifestyle habits, such as inactivity. According to Gómez Pardo, “the environment that surrounds us is absolutely obesogenic: everything is prepared for people to be overweight”. The prevalence is alarming in childhood. According to the data offered by biochemistry in a conference organized by the foundation Chris against Cancerfour out of 10 Spanish children are overweight: “It is an unacceptable situation because it is directly related to hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver, eating disorders and depression.”

Some of these pathologies, characteristic in most cases in elderly people, are already manifesting in childhood. Gómez Pardo affirms that “22% of Spanish children have high cholesterol levels, more than 200 milligrams, that is, what is stipulated for hypercholesterolemia in adults.” The incidence of hypertension in childhood rises to 32%.

The environment that surrounds us is absolutely ‘obesogenic’: everything is prepared for people to be overweight

Emilia Gómez Pardo, nutritionist and doctor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The effects begin to be noticed after the age of 20, when the researcher affirms that “highly worrying numbers” of diseases derived from food and habits have been detected in the previous stages. In this sense, Gómez Pardo affirms: “The millennials [nacidos en las dos últimas décadas del siglo XX] they have double the risk of contracting cancer due to the western lifestyle and because they come with damage since they were children”.

In this sense, biochemistry calculates that, “taking into account alcohol consumption and overweight, it can be said that one in three tumors has to do with inadequate nutrition.” And the consequence is that they are “registering at younger ages types of cancer that until now were presented in adults.” According to her estimates, it now takes half as many years as in previous generations to accumulate and favor the mutations that lead to the development of cancer.

“The most relevant case”, he explains, “is that of colorectal cancer, which has advanced its age of presentation. There are studies that predict that, if the current lifestyle is maintained in the next decade, colon cancer will increase in people between 20 and 30 years of age by 90% and rectal cancer by 124%”. “And everything points,” he insists, “that poor nutrition is responsible for this dramatic increase.” “Also, younger generations around the world are experiencing earlier and longer-lasting exposure to excess adiposity during their lifetime than previous generations, which is translating into a significant increase in multiple myeloma and endometrial cancer.”

The goal is to reach adulthood without risk factors caused by a poor diet, for which the researcher recommends that parents “lead by example”, because “lifestyle is inherited and spread”, and empty the pantry and refrigerator of unhealthy foods to replace them with healthy ones: fruits, vegetables, legumes, unsweetened dairy products, eggs, ham, fish, nuts, whole grains.

“We are what we eat, but we eat what we buy and we end up eating it because we are human and because they are designed for us to like it,” he says, making a list of products that should not come home: processed products —“anything that come in a package with many ingredients”, he simplifies, red meats, sausages, pâtés, cured meats and sweets, including those made at home.

Die sooner and age worse

Acting in this direction now can get rid of the disease or delay it – “between 30% and 50% of cancers are attributable to modifiable risk factors”, according to biochemistry – while maintaining trends only leads to dying earlier and age worse.

And also to drastically reduce our defense capacity. Eating a diverse diet with at least eight to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day is supposed to reduce microbial resistance to antibiotics in the intestines, according to a study published by scientists at the Agricultural Research Service in mBio.

Microbes resistant to several commonly used drugs are a significant source of risk and this ability to evade them is related to the gut microbiome, as this is where microorganisms develop genetic strategies to survive contact with antibiotics.

According to molecular biologist Danielle Lemay, of the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, Calif., and lead author of the study, “The results show that modifying diet has the potential to be a new weapon in the fight against resistance. to antimicrobials. “And it’s not about eating an exotic diet, but a diverse diet, adequate in fiber,” she adds.

Soluble fiber is found in grains such as barley and oats, legumes such as beans, lentils and peas, seeds such as chia, nuts such as walnuts, fruits and vegetables such as carrots, artichokes, broccoli and pumpkin.

In addition, a correct diet also benefits mental health. Young people between 18 and 25 years old with symptoms of depression and a poor diet experience improvements when they change their habits towards a Mediterranean model, according to a study carried out by researchers at the University of Technology Sydney and published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The main researcher of this study, Jessica Bayes, explains that the strategy of the work was to modify the eating habits of young people to include vegetables, legumes, whole grains, oily fish, olive oil and salt-free nuts. In contrast, the intake of processed foods, sugar and red meat was reduced. “There are many reasons why we scientifically believe that food affects mood,” says Ella Bayes. “For example, about 90% of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is produced in the gut by gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis.” “In order to have beneficial microbes, we need to feed them fiber, which is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables,” she says.

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