Biomedical Importance

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Besides water, the diet must provide metabolic fuels (mainly carbohydrates and lipids), protein (for growth and turnover of tissue proteins), fiber (for roughage), minerals (elements with specific metabolic functions), and vitamins and essential fatty acids (organic compounds needed in small amounts for essential metabolic and physiologic functions). The polysaccharides, tri-acylglycerols, and proteins that make up the bulk of the diet must be hydrolyzed to their constituent monosac-charides, fatty acids, and amino acids, respectively, before absorption and utilization. Minerals and vitamins must be released from the complex matrix of food before they can be absorbed and utilized.

Globally, undernutrition is widespread, leading to impaired growth, defective immune systems, and reduced work capacity. By contrast, in developed countries, there is often excessive food consumption (especially of fat), leading to obesity and to the development of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. Deficiencies of vitamin A, iron, and iodine pose major health concerns in many countries, and deficiencies of other vitamins and minerals are a major cause of ill health. In developed countries, nutrient deficiency is rare, though there are vulnerable sections of the population at risk. Intakes of minerals and vitamins that are adequate to prevent deficiency may be inadequate to promote optimum health and longevity.

Excessive secretion of gastric acid, associated with Helicobacter pylori infection, can result in the development of gastric and duodenal ulcers; small changes in the composition of bile can result in crystallization of cholesterol as gallstones; failure of exocrine pancreatic secretion (as in cystic fibrosis) leads to undernutrition and steatorrhea. Lactose intolerance is due to lactase deficiency leading to diarrhea and intestinal discomfort. Absorption of intact peptides that stimulate antibody responses causes allergic reactions, and celiac disease is an allergic reaction to wheat gluten.

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Many women who have recently given birth are always interested in attempting to lose some of that extra weight that traditionally accompanies having a baby. What many of these women do not entirely realize is the fact that breast-feeding can not only help provide the baby with essential vitamins and nutrients, but can also help in the weight-loss process.

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