EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT OF NUTRITION

CestoOver the past years an important evolution in the concept of food has been apparent, from being a source of pleasure it has become a source of real nutrition, capable of affecting, as Professor Jacotot says, man’s health and in healthy subjects,of preventing particular diseases. A widespread interest in nutritional problems has arisen; so much so that, in the opinion of Professor Del Toma, we lose count of features dedicated to diet – on television, in daily newspapers and magazines. Diet, in the sense of strict diet, has taken on the wider meaning of style of food, to be used as a reference point for good living.

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THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET: THE BASIS FOR HEALTH

This awareness had slow beginnings ,starting in the fifties and sixties, as Professor Capurso recalls, when Ancel Keys pointed outPesce in his papers that the prevalence of atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction was lower among the Mediterranean population as a consequence of a diet that he called “mediterranean”, rich in unsaturated fatty acids (derived from olive oil), vegetables, carbohydrates, fish and fresh fruits. Nowadays there still remains a lot to be done, considering that excess nutrition in Western countries represents one of our current major concerns. According to the Vital Sign 2001 report, “The trends that are shaping our future”, prepared by the WorldWatch Institute in collaboration with ONU, on a world scale obese persons total more then one thousand million, that is, one in every six inhabitants of the planet, with a peak in the USA, where 61% of the population is overweight and 27% is obese. We eat too much and badly. This is the reason behind the increase in metabolic diseases: obesity, diabetes mellitus and atherosclerosis. Professor Calabrese puts this down to the fact that the mediterranean diet is the base of our good health, but few of the European population follow it, even if it is of vital importance in the preventions of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
The question of diet has also arisen in Spain, where there are careers for dieticians in at least 4-5 Universities, according to Professor Perez Jimenez.

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THE RISKS OF AN INCORRECT DIET

Finally, what are the risks of an incorrect diet and what pathologies ensue? Professor Capurso gives us the answers: Hypercholesterolemia, hypertension and diabetes mellitus, which represent the main risk factors for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction.
But in Professor Jacotot’s opinion, the excess of saturated fatty acids is also responsible for colon and breast cancer, both on the increase, as it must not be forgotten that an insufficient intake of antioxidants promotes certain types of cancer, ischemic cardiopathy, osteoporosis and ageing.

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HOW TO PREVENT DEGENERATIVE DISEAS

FruitAn alarming picture, which Professor Calabrese says can be avoided by increasing our intake of Mediterranean food, such as extra virgin olive oil, fish, vegetable, fruit, cereals, legumes, milk and dairy products. The problem according to Professor Del Toma is that of spreading a culture of correct diet, of guiding food habits, because many dietary mistakes are not the consequence of conscious choices, but just due to a lack of knowledge regarding problems and fundamental foods. Professor Calabrese points out how variety in a diet is fundamental for prevention, where nutrients are important not only for the energy that they provide, but also and above all for antioxidant and anti-tumoral components, present in different foodstuffs. But we need an important recuperation plan, because, as Professor Perez Jimenez says, the Mediterranean diet has been forgotten about, especially by young people and is only followed by 15-20% of families.

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BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF OLIVE OIL

OlivesThis is due to the fact that its beneficial effects are well known, but perhaps not suuficiently so, particularly those of olive oil, due to its components, because as Professor Capurso explains, extra virgin olive oil is made up of 70-75% of monounsaturated oleic acid, 15-20% of di-unsaturated linoleic acid and 2% of non-lipid fraction, containing many antioxidant compounds (tocopherols, carothenes, polyphenols and in particular hydroxitirosol). Professor Calabrese adds that monounsaturated fats are fundamental for the protection of arteries and cellular membranes agianst oxidative agents and oil has also been shown to protect against the onset of breast tumours and to prevent life-shortening disease, favouring longevity thanks to its high vitamin E content.

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SLOWING DOWN THE AGEING PROCESS: THE NEW PRIORITY

MedicoProfessor Jacotot says new studies into cancer prevention will be necessary at either an experimental level or clinic level, mainly through epidemiological studies.
If until few years ago the aim was to study the effects of monounsatured fats on the metabolism, now, says Professor Perez Jimenez , interest in the influence of diets rich in olive oil is increasing. Regarding cholesterol behaviour, Professor Capurso adds that it has been demonstrated that the populations in Puglia, thanks to their diet rich in olive oil, has a lower cholesterol level and are less at risk from myocardial infarction. A recently published report by our group on the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging (ILSA – a study carried out on 5.ooo elderly people aged 65-85 from 8 different regions in Italy) has shown that the olive oil in the Mediterranean diet significantly prevents cognitive decline in the elderly in our country. In France, too, adds Professor Jacotot, the effects of olive oil in ageing prevention have been studied either on a food level or using trans-cutaneous methods.

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THE BIO-AVAILABILITY OF OLIVE OIL PHENOLS: FIRST INTERNATIONAL FINDINGS

OlioThere has been agreat deal of other researches carried out, such as the evaluation of anti-infarction and anti-tumoral effects of olive oil antioxidants and the identification and bio-aviability of minor polar compounds in order to study their metabolism and biological effects. This is because the rule of these antioxidant compounds is important in the prevention of ischemic cardiopathy. In Italy, too, and as the first research carried out by the Istituto Nutrizionale Carapelli, Professors C. and G. Galli from Milan University demonstrated that olive oil phenols are bio-avaible, noted principally for their biological activity in the body and the first step towards the demonstration of their role in the prevention of cardiovascular and other degenerative diseases. The fact that different countries have studied the same question demonstrates how important it is that scientific scientific research is not unidirectional, needing a great deal of confirmation for the results to be valid, using different interpretative models and patterns. This gives rise to the importance of interaction and exchange of opinions and results obtained by the various researchers, schools and specializations. For this reason the Istituto Nutrizionale Carapelli wants to bring together a wide representation of olive oil researchers on an international level for its Scientific Committee, whom the Institute would like to thank for their participation, sure in the knowledge that progress and collective interest will result from meetings and research conducted together.