Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Research gives us food for thought

Our love of a good old Ulster fry seasoned with a liberal shaking of salt and featuring dipped soda and potato bread may be an exaggerated view of the Northern Ireland diet, but not by much if the latest medical evidence is correct.

For too much fat, too much salt and lack of vegetables in our daily food is literally killing us, with almost 2,000 needless deaths attributed to these factors in a two-year period. That is a shocking statistic and should make us all think more carefully about what we eat.

The Mediterranean diet - plenty of vegetables and a glass of red wine - used to be held up as an effective way to combat what was our biggest killer, heart disease. But many lives could be saved from strokes, heart disease and diet-related cancers if we adopted the eating habits of much nearer neighbours, people living in England. For they have a greater intake of fruit and vegetables and cut down on the fat and salt and their death rates from those diseases are - statistically speaking - significantly lower.

The medical evidence inevitably has led to a call for greater action from Stormont and there is scope for formulating a co-ordinated approach involving sectors like health and education. Maybe we need shock food advertisements like those aimed at drunken or careless drivers to shake us out of our complacency about our diets. Or perhaps sample meals using the most nutritious foodstuffs could be more widely publicised to help people make the right choices, but individual taste and cost will still be strong determining factors.

But the real desire to change must come from each individual. Health professionals and educators can only put the evidence before us, they cannot accompany us on the weekly shopping trip to the supermarket. There really is no excuse for not changing our diet. Our health is the incentive and the range of quality of good food now available is greater than it has ever been. Living longer can be as simple as eating correctly.

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