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How can food contribute to better health?

Jean Seignalet dedicated his lifes work to

the question.

Jean Seignalet (1936-2003) was a French surgeon and immunologist
who spent a good part of his working life studying the
interconnection between food and health. Although controversial
among his peers, his rather extreme recommendations still
highlight how important our diet is to our health.
French surgeon and immunology researcher Jean Seignalet was one
person who dedicated his working life to exploring the links
between the human lifestyle and health, focussing in particular on
diet. His work was controversial within the scientific community,
but he nonetheless drew attention to the important issue of how we
can be the actors of our own well-being.

Going back to the diet of hunter-gatherers

Jean Seignalet was born in 1936 and first became known as a
surgeon and immunologist: specifically, he worked on
compatibility-related issues for organ donation. He used to publish
articles in the most serious scientific journals, where his work would
be reviewed and approved by his peers. In the 1980s, after becoming
seriously ill, Seignalet started to look into the relationship between
food and health in more detail.
He soon came to the conclusion that the human lifestyle has evolved
much faster than our organisms, and that the modern diet is
generally unsuitable for the needs and processes of our bodies and,
long-term, can trigger or favour the appearance of certain diseases.
He thus came up with a specific diet, called hypotoxic, intended to
resemble as closely as possible that of the hunter-gatherers of the
Palaeolithic Age (200,000 to 12,000 B.C.). The diet is strict, as it
excludes all foods cooked at high temperatures and gluten for
instance. The consumption of organic foodstuffs and unrefined oils
is encouraged. As Seignalet was first and foremost a doctor, his diet
aimed to help patients recover from diseases, some of which were
considered incurable.

A complex legacy

In a book called LAlimentation ou la troisime mdecine (Food, or
the Third Medicine), he recounted the results he witnessed with his
patients, which no scientific journal agreed to publish. His work on
diet and health was never acknowledged by the scientific
community, and he insisted that he did not set out to cure diseases
with the hypotoxic diet, but rather to help prevent their apparition
and support the recovery process. This controversial figure died in
2003, leaving behind him a community of enthusiastic adepts of his
diet who live by it every day. Even though his specific
recommendations were never validated by his peers, in a context of
increasing diet-related issues (such as the spread of obesity in the
developed and in the developing world), Seignalets work resonates
with the idea that we can, to a certain extent, be our own healths
best helper.

Dr. Jean Seignalet Ancestral Diet

What conditions is this diet best for?
The author of the Seignalet Diet blog, which is the only information
available in English on Dr. Jean Seignalets diet thus far, notes that
Dr. Seignalet originally developed the diet for rheumatoid arthritis,
ankylosing spondylitis and Behcet disease. Good results from the
diet moved him to eventually expand into treating all autoimmune
disorders and even other diseases of unknown cause.
What are the main tenets of the diet?
The basic premise of the diet is that modern foods are
chromosomally/genetically different from ancestral foods, and the
human gastrointestinal tract has not had time to adapt to these
changes. Dr. Seignalet also believed that cooking at high
temperatures can modify the protein structure of foods, which can
lead to autoimmunity as well as alteration of the gastrointestinal
flora (bacteria that colonize the GI tract and play a large role in
immunity and gastrointestinal function). Dr. Seignalet believed that
these modified proteins may not be fully digested, which can change
the bacterial flora from a fermentation flora (physiologically
preferred) to a putreficaiton flora (not physiologically preferred).
Bacteria, which work to putrefy proteins, create toxic by-products,
which can cause many imbalances and lead to disease. The
philosophy of the diet involves eating non-modified foods, which
can be completely digested and assimilated, or used properly by the
Foods given up/Foods eaten frequently:
Cereals and grains
Wheat and its products (see exceptions below), oats, corn, barley,
rye, kamut, millet, bulgur, couscous, farro (even though it is
marketed as an ancestral grain) are not allowed. Buckwheat, quinoa,
rice, wheat starch and corn starch are allowed, for the damaging
proteins do not exist in the starch anymore. Soaking and sprouting
of allowed grains is preferred.
All animal-source dairy are avoided.
Raw meat is preferred, such as in the form of carpaccio or steak
tartare. Gently cooked meat is allowed. Raw deli meats such as
parma ham, sausages and salami are allowed. Cooked deli meats
(like cooked ham, turkey, chicken, roastbeef) are not allowed.
True foie gras is allowed and its fat is considered healthy, although
many people choose to avoid foie gras for ethical reasons. Pate is
typically not allowed, as it contains both milk and flour.
Just as with meat and eggs, the recommendation is, the less cooked
the better. The author notes that lightly steamed fish is not as
dangerous as cooked meat. Shellfish and oysters are allowed,
preferably raw.
Best raw or poached, never hard-boiled. The reviewer notes that
soft-boiled would be preferential to hard-boiled.
Fruits and Vegetables
All are allowed and recommended in large quantities. Pulses and
legumes are allowed as well.
Dried Fruits and Nuts
Recommended in large quantity, although the reviewer notes that
these are likely intended to be preservative-free. The author notes
that nuts should be consumed raw, and the reviewer notes that
soaking nuts, as well as pulses, legumes and grains, before
consuming improves digestion and assimilation.
Other foods
Dr. Seignalet recommended eating honey and pollen; chocolate must
be pure and dark with no additives. It may be sweetened with brown
sugar, agave, honey or maple syrup; white sugar must be eliminated.
Any oil from a first cold press is allowed.
All are allowed in pure, additive-free form, including herbs and
spices. Salt should only be taken in whole form, versus refined.
Tap water and mineral water are encouraged. Coffee and tea are
tolerated in reasonable quantities. Achicoria (Spanish for chicory
root) consumption is recommended. Chicory root contains inulin,
which is a type of carbohydrate that serves as a prebiotic. Prebiotics
are indigestible carbohydrates for humans, but friendly
gastrointestinal flora are able to digest them and use them for
energy. All alcoholic beverages (excluding beer and drinks with
added sugar) are allowed in moderate amounts. Drinks with added
sugar, such as soda and commercial juices and prohibited.
Dr. Seignalet recommended avoidance of cooking as much as
possible, with over 70% of diet consumed as raw. He recommended
that cooking temperatures, when cooking is unavoidable, to remain
below 212 Fahrenheit, with a preference for steaming. Over this
temperature (and especially over about 400), he stated that many
mutagens, Maillard molecules and isomers are created, which turn
into toxins once inside the body.
Light sauting, stewing, steaming and dehydrating are allowed,
since all of these methods dont reach high temperatures. Frying
and oven cooking are not recommended, since these methods allow
very high temperatures to be reached. Eating smoked foods with
moderation is recommended because of the carcinogen effect in the
Meal Frequency and Portion Sizing:
No specific recommendations given.
No specific recommendations, although bee pollen can be
considered a supplement.
Will this diet require shopping at a specialty or organic grocery
store, or buying the diets pre-packaged food (aka, is this diet
going to be very expensive to sustain)?
This diet will require some shopping at a specialty or organic
grocery store. Genetically modified foods are not recommended, so
organic foods would be the obvious choice. Also, since quinoa, rice
and buckwheat are the only recommended grains, one may wish to
find flours made of these to use in cooking, as well as nut, bean and
banana/plantain flours. All of these will require specialty
shopping. There are no pre-packaged diet foods associated with this
diet. This diet can be expensive, although careful meal planning and
the minimization of eating out (which is implied) can help to off-set
What other autoimmune diets is this diet similar to?
This diet is similar to most autoimmune diets in that organic and
unprocessed foods are highly recommended. It is also similar to
elimination diets for autoimmunity, since dairy, gluten,
additives/preservatives are excluded. This is diet is unique to other
autoimmune diets with its recommendation for mostly raw foods,
including meats, fish and eggs. The reviewer notes, however, that
the concept of consuming mostly raw or gently cooked meats/foods
is not new or unique to this diet. The idea of protecting the structure
of proteins as well as fats is an idea that the reviewer believes is
worth considering for optimal health and well-being. Anytime raw
meat is consumed, one must make sure the meat has been handled
appropriately prior to consumption.

Diet basis

JEAN SEIGNALET worked as a doctor and professor in the
Montpellier Hospital (France). He was the administrator of the renal
graft department during 30 years, and a pioneer in organ
transplantation, especially renal. His wide knowledge as a doctor
and biologist allowed him to create a global theory that related a big
part of autoimmune diseases with modern diet, designing a diet that
applied with success to his patients. At first, he designed a diet to
eliminate the possible stimulators of the immune system in
autoimmune diseases, especially in rheumatologic ones: rheumatoid
arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Behcet disease The good results
obtained moved him to apply his diet to autoimmune diseases from
other specialties, and after that even to other diseases of unknown
cause. The results are shown here. In 1998 published
LAlimentation ou la Troisime Mdecine (Alimentation, the third
medicine) where he exposes the basis of a healthy diet, and
healing/preventive for many diseases.
JEAN SEIGNALET sets his proposal of diet following a basic idea:
some modern foods are modified from ancestral ones, whereas our
digestive system has not modified. This modification of the food is
given by the genetic mutation caused by agriculture, in the case of
some cereals, or by cooking at high temperatures, that modifies the
protein structure. Thus, the proteins we eat may not be digested
completely, altering the balance of the intestinal flora and passing
from a fermentation flora (physiologic) to a putrefaction flora (non
physiologic). This alteration of the flora and of the intestinal content
creates toxins that are absorbed and disturb the body balance. This
alteration may be given by the elimination of the excess of toxins, in
the case of the elimination diseases, by the accumulation of this
excess of toxins, in the accumulation diseases, or by the stimulation
of the immune system by strange proteins, in the case of the
autoimmune diseases. The philosophy of the diet involves eating
non-modified foods that are completely absorbable.
Basic principles:
Exclusion of cereals, with some exceptions.
Exclusion of dairy and dairy products.
Preferential consumption of raw products (more than 70% of
the diet should be raw).
Use of virgin oils, obtained by cold pressure.
Priority to biologic products.
Frequent consumption of probiotics.
1.- Cereals:
- Modern cereals are forbidden, as they are mutated because of
agriculture selection. It is known that modern wheat has 21-23
chromosomes, whereas ancestral wheat had 7. This modification
affects the protein structure, which can act as a toxin not being
completely digested. This toxins act in the intestine too, modifying
the intestinal flora and creating a putrefaction flora that affects the
intestinal wall and creates even more toxins.
- Wheat is dangerous, for the reasons above. Thus, foods containing
it must be eliminated: bulgur, couscous, Italian pasta, cakes,
bakery Spelt is not admitted, because despite being sold as
ancestral wheat, it has 22 chromosomes. Kamut isnt valid either
for the same reasons. Only the variety minor escanda is valid,
because it contains 7 chromosomes.
- Corn is dangerous for the same reasons that wheat: the original
plant measured half a meter, whereas the modern plant measures 3
meters high.
- Barley, rye and oat are from the wheat family: must be excluded.
- Rice is accepted. It has remained in his wild prehistoric form, and
the clinical experience proves that its rarely harmful, even cooked.
- Buckwheat is very well-tolerated by the patients and is allowed.
Probably sesame is very good too.
- About the African cereals (millet, sorghum) and others
(amaranth, quinoa), Seignalet doesnt have a clear opinion. They
are probably inoffensive, as have never reached massive farming.
Recent studies show that millet is also probably a mutated cereal,
and so should be excluded.
- It is possible to use flour, but from the accepted foods: buckwheat
flour, quinoa, soya, chickpea, rice, banana
- Thus, the traditional Italian pasta is not allowed (made of wheat
semolina), nor couscous, nor bulgur. Many other foods also contain
wheat of other forbidden cereals; carefully read the ingredients on
the labels to be certain.
- The corn and wheat starch are allowed, as they dont contain
proteins if purified.
2.- Dairy and dairy products:
- Cows milk is a very nutritive foodfor a growing calf. Humans
can only digest milk from our specie, and during the lactation
period. The main protein from milk, casein, is hard to digest
completely by humans, creating the problems mentioned above.
- Dairy is forbidden (cow, sheep, goat), and dairy products as well
(butter, cheese, cream, yogurt)
- This suppression doesnt provoke a calcium deficiency, as the
foods we eat are already rich in calcium, and the body will absorb
calcium depending on its needs.
- Soya milk and yogurt are good substitutes for classic dairy. Other
vegetable milks are also available: almond, hazelnut, rice
3.- Meat:
- Its preferable to eat raw meat (carpaccio, steak tartare) or just a
bit done.
- Raw grocery is allowed (parma ham, sausages, salami) and
cooked grocery is forbidden (cooked ham).
- True foie-gras (goose duck liver ) is allowed, as its fat is known
to be healthy. Common pat isnt, because it usually contains milk
and flour.
4.- Fish:
- As for meat and eggs, the less cooked, the better. However, cooked
fish is less dangerous than cooked meat. It can be steamed or cooked
at low temperature.
- Shellfish is allowed. And if eaten raw (oysters) even
5.- Eggs:
Better raw or poached, never hard-boiled.
6.- Greens and fruits:
- All greens and fruits are allowed (and recommended). They should
be eaten in big quantities.
- Pulses or leguminous are allowed the same as greens, its admitted
as an exception cooking in a pressure-cooker.

7.- Dry fruits:
He advises to eat a lot of them: figs, dates, almonds, walnuts,
hazelnuts, olivesBut always raw, never toasted.
8.- Other foods:
- Seignalet advises eating honey and pollen. Also aprouted grains of
leguminous (soya, lentils).
- Chocolate has to be black, biologic and with brown sugar or other
natural sweeteners (agave, maple syrup, honey).
- White sugar must be eliminated and replaced by brown sugar,
much richer in minerals and vitamins.
9.- Oils:
Seignalet recommends the following oils:
- olive oil because it contains monoinsaturated fatty acids.
- walnut, soy and canola oil that bring alfa-linoleic acid.
- onagra and borage oil that bring beta-linoleic acid. But any oil is
good whenever its virgin and extracted by first cold pressure.
10.- Condiments:
All allowed: salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon, garlic, parsley, mustard,
curryHe recommends to limit the salt consumption and not taking
refined one, but complete salt (Maldon salt, Himalaya salt)
11.- Drinks:
- Tap water and mineral water bring us oligoelements and minerals.
- Drinks rich in white sugar are excluded: soda, commercial juices.
- Beer is excluded, because it contains barley proteins.
- Coffee and tea are tolerated in reasonable quantities.
- Chicory consumption is recommended.
- All alcoholic beverages are allowed (beer excluded) in moderated

- Avoid as much as possible cooking food. Its important to eat as
much raw food as possible (over 70% of diet should be raw), and
when cooking is necessary/inevitable, temperatures shouldnt
overpass 110C or even 100C, preferably steaming. Over this
temperature (and especially over 200C) a lot of mutagens, Maillard
molecules and isomers are created, that turn into toxins once inside
our body.
- Its ok to fry very lightly, stewing, steaming or dehydrating,
because all of these methods dont reach high temperatures.
- Frying is not recommended if 200C or more are reached, nor is
oven-cooking, which can even reach 280C.
- Eat smoked foods with moderation because of the carcinogen
effect in the stomach.

- Not smoking.
- Doing physical exercise as a routine
- Taking probiotic products to regulate intestinal flora.
This is a diet that needs the person to understand the reason that
lies under this type of alimentation, and then using his
intelligence and willpower to follow it correctly.

Alimentation or the third medicine:

The origin of most diseases appears
mysterious. Consequently, treatments cannot be directed
against the cause, but are only symptomatic or palliative.
Treatment is often disappointing and many illnesses are
considered as uncurable or incurable.

Why do the mechanisms remain unexplained?

Partly because most doctors and researchers are excessively
specialized and they only consider a single facet of a
pathological state, which in fact possesses many other
aspects. A larger vision, using the date provided by all
branches of medicine and biology, allows a much deeper
analysis and results in a plausible conception of the
physiopathology of different diseases.

Favouring hereditary factors, named susceptibility
genes, are present but not sufficient. The intervention of
environmental factor is necessary. In many cases most
factors can be eliminated (radiation, chemical products,
tobacco and other toxic substances, medication, allergens,
viruses) and two suspects are retained : bacteria and food.
A great number of bacterial and alimentary macromolecules
are able to penetrate the human organism and modern food
is mainly responsible for this phenomenon.

Human enzymes and mucines are adapted to prehistoric food,
but not to modern food which is very distant. The principal
changes are the following :

* Consumption of animal milks and their derivatives
* Ingestion of muted and cooked cereals
* Absorption of many over cooked products
* Utilisation of hot extracted vegetal oils
* Presence of numerous chemical additives
* Partial deficit for some minerals and vitamins

Modern food appears as the first cause of many
unexplained diseases. It provokes three modifications in an
essential organ, the small bowel :

1) Some aliments are incompletely degraded, for the
digestive enzymes are not adapted to their structure. The
consequence is an excess of alimentary macromolecules.

2) Gut flora is altered and turns into a putrefaction flora,
with proliferation of some dangerous bacteria. The
metabolism, the death or the destruction by an immune
response of these bacteria release an excess of bacterial

3) This abnormal intestinal content is agressive towards the
gut mucosa, which is fragile, because it is very extensive
(100 square meters) and very thin (1/40 of millimeter). The gut
barrier becomes too permeable.

Stresses aggravate the small bowel hyperpermeability, for
they induce a gamma interferon secretion. This mediator
binds to gut mucosa epithelial cells, leading to a spacing
between these cells.

Later on, some bacterial and alimentary macromolecules
arrive in blood circulation. The composition of these
molecules varies according to individuals, for it is conditioned
by variations in gut flora, alimentary habits and efficacy of
enzymes which cut proteins, lipids and glucids at different
sites. According to their structure, these molecules will have
an affinity for various types of cells and tissues. They can
provoke three categories of pathology :

1) The peptides are going to bind with HLA molecules, which
present these peptides to T cells. These lymphocytes are
unable to recognize a whole agressor : bacterium, virus ou
protein. Their little membrane receptors only allow the
recognition of relatively small peptides, and these peptides
must be associated with HLA molecules. Activated T cells
induce an immune response directed against the cells which
express the peptide. The consequence will be
an autoimmune disease :

* Rheumatoid arthritis (Proteus mirabilis peptide in synovial
and chondral cells, coupled with HLA-DR4 or HLA-DR1).
* Ankylosing spondylitis (Klebsiella pneumoniae peptide in
enthesis, coupled with HLA-B27).
* Grave's disease (Yersinia enterocolitica peptide in thyroid
epithelial cells, coupled with HLA-DR3).
* Coeliac disease (gluten gliadine peptide in small bowel
mucosa epithelial cells, coupled with HLA-DR53 ou HLA-DQ2)
and so on ...

2) The non peptidic molecules essentially include bacterial
ADN, bacterial lipopolysaccharides, products of Maillard's
reaction, isomeres of proteins, lipids and glucids. These
substances are poorly recognized or not recognized by
lymphocytes and do not stimulate an immune response. But
they may settle in extracellular medium, they may block some
membrane receptors and they may accumulate in cytoplasm
and nucleus of cells. The outcome is a "clutter" pathology :

* Maturity onset diabetes mellitus (cluttering of endocrine
pancreas, muscles and adipose tissue)
* Fibromyalgia (cluttering of molecules, tenders and brain)
* Arthrosis (cluttering of chondral cells)
cancers (cluttering provoking some genetic alterations which
transform a normal cell into a malignant cell) and so on ...
3) The human organism attempts to evaluate these nocious
wastes. The macromolecules which are unbreakable by
enzymes, remain whole. They must be carried by
macrophages and neutrophils, escorted by lymphocytes, from
blood circulation to the outside, through various tissues. The
tissues infiltrated by leukocytes become inflammed and the
chronic inflammation leads to the elimination pathology :

* Through the skin : acnea, psoriasis
* Through the colon : irritable bowel, Crohn's disease
* Through the bronchia : bronchitis, asthma
* Through the mucosa of ORL sphera : recurrent infections,
hay fever, Behet's disease and so on ...

The logical treatment of all quoted diseases is the return to
an ancestral diet, close to that practiced by prehistoric
men :

* Suppression of animal milks and their derivatives
* Suppression of cereals, except rice which has never muted
* Consumption of products, either crude, or cooked at a
temperature lower than 110C
* Use of oils obtained by first pression, at cold temperature
* Preference for biological aliments
* Supplementation with physiological quantities of minerals
and vitamins.

In practice, this diet is very often and very intensely
efficient. To show some examples, it considerably improves
or leads to a complete remission :

1) Among autoimmune diseases :

* 80 % of patients in rheumatoid arthritis
* 95 % in ankylosing spondylitis
* 80 % in psoriatic rheumatism
* 70 % in Sjgren's syndrome

2) Among cluttering diseases :

* 75 % of patients in maturity onset diabetes mellitus
* 80 % in fibromyalgia
* 75 % in arthrosis
And an evident preventive effect on cancer (except skin
tumors) : only one case occurred among 1000 subjects who
practiced the ancestral diet since a mean of 5 years (the
expected number was 18 cases).

3) Among elimination diseases :

* 99 % of patients in acnea
* 99 % in irritable bowel
* 97 % in Crohn's disease
* 90 % in asthma
* 99 % in hay fever
The hypotoxic diet often cures a disease, but cannot repair
some definitive lesions : articular deformations in
rheumatoid arthritis, destruction of lachrymal and salivary
glands in Sjgren's disease, scars in acnea, stenosis, abcess,
fistula or fissure in Crohn's disease, and so on... Chronic
bronchitis is curable, but not bronchectasia, for the elastic
tissue of bronchia is distented. Therefore, it is essential to
start the nutritional change as soon as possible.

Catherine Kousmine: a pioneer in the study of
the relationship between health and food

Catherine Kousmine was a Russian physician who lived and worked
in Switzerland. In the mid- 20th century, she was among the first
researchers to work on the influence of food on health and, more
precisely, on medical treatments. Her works gained her fame, and
some controversy too.
The relationship between health and food might seem obvious to us
in our society today: we are constantly exposed to public health
messages urging us to take care of our bodies through physical
activity and by adopting healthy eating habits, and we follow them.
But we have not always been aware of the link or at least not with
such a degree of accuracy. There was of course always a major
element of common sense in understanding that a balanced diet
helps keep us in better shape than excesses would. Also, this
concerns the general publics knowledge of the relationship between
health and food: the much more precise and complex link between
medicine and food has a lower public profile, simply because
medicine as an area of expertise leaves the issue of medical nutrition
to professional researchers, doctors and caregivers. But there are
figures who have explored this issue and brought it into view of the
general public.
One of them is Dr Catherine Kousmine (1904-1992), a pioneer in
the study of the help that food can give to medicine. This
controversial scientist mothered a method and a Foundation that
now perpetuate her findings and teachings.

Curing cancerous mice with natural food

Catherine Kousmine was born in Russia in 1904. Her family was
wealthy; in 1918, the Russian Revolution forced them into exile, and
they moved to their holiday home in Switzerland. Catherine thus
attended school in Lausanne, and later specialised in medicine and
paediatrics. After having lost two young patients to cancer, she
started to research the link between the disease and food almost
by accident. She said she was examining cancerous mice and that, in
order to save money, she alternated the food she gave them; one day
they received bread, milk, carrots, beer, etc. and the next nutrition
pills, as are usually given in labs.
This proportion of 50% of good food and 50% of bad food coincided
with the cancers dropping by 50%,
says the Kousmine Foundations website. She thus became
convinced that some diseases that were thought to be incurable
could be fought using a complementary healthy diet which provided
elements required by the body. Retrospectively, Catherine
Kousmine is now considered as one of the founders of
orthomolecular medicine, an approach that favours substances
naturally known to the human body over the use of molecules
created by man for therapeutic purposes. In 1949, Dr Kousmine
claimed to having cured a man suffering from generalised
reticulosarcoma thanks to her complementary nutritional method a
result that has not been documented in any other case ever since.
She also specialised in other diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and
At the time, Kousmines findings were criticized for a lack of
scientific rigour, especially in the testing methods used. She always
claimed that her conclusions were based on consistent experience
and that her recommendations showed results, but she was never
recognized by the scientific community. Despite this, she achieved a
degree of fame, notably through her books: Soyez bien dans votre
assiette jusqu 80 ans et plus (Eat Well and Be Well till 80 and
Beyond), La Sclrose en plaque est gurissable (Multiple
Sclerosis is Curable) and Sauvez votre corps (Save Your Body).
She died in Switzerland in 1992, and the people who had known her
and worked with her decided to continue her work through a
Foundation which undertook to teach her method all around the
world. Whether Catherine Kousmine was right or wrong, it is still
difficult to say with certainty. What is sure is that she opened the
way for greater attention to be paid to the strong interconnections
between food and health.

What is nutrition economics?
The relation between food and health has been documented
sufficiently for a new discipline to emerge: nutrition economics.
This rising research field focuses on the interdependency between
dietary habits, health and public expenses. A paper recently
published in the British Journal of Nutrition tells us more about how
social & public spending, everywhere in the world, could be
checked through the adoption of healthier diets.
In fact, it is a topic that guides our whole reflection on nutrition,
because it is key to improving peoples well-being everywhere in the
world. This idea is at the heart of Danones mission: to bring health
through food to as many people as possible.
Developed and developing countries are facing challenging health
issues, and a growing number of them are diet-related
undernutrition, diabetes and obesity for example. The latter two fall
into the category of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), recently
highlighted by the World Economic Forum as one of the three most
significant risks to global well-being. We cant talk about risk
without talking about cost: these threats to global health necessarily
imply economic burdens for public health systems. This idea lies at
the heart of a new research field called nutrition economics. It
explores the close links between dietary habits, health and public
The aim of the research is to offer concrete solutions to help prevent
the spread of NCDs and food-related conditions, in order both to
improve peoples well-being and to help health budgets shed a little
In March 2013, five experts (including one from Danone Research)
published a paper in the British Journal of Nutrition entitled:
Nutrition Economics Food as an Ally of Public Health. It is an
interesting read which sheds some light on nutrition economics, its
findings and its recommendations.

The rising challenge of preventing diseases

What actually is nutrition economics? A merging of health
economics and nutritional sciences, write I. Lenoir-Wijnkoop, P. J.
Jones, R. Uauy, L. Segal and J. Milner, who co-authored the piece.
The term was coined in 2010 by a group of multidisciplinary experts
who defined it as
a discipline dedicated to researching and characterising health and
economic outcomes in nutrition for the benefit of society.
The central idea here is to improve health maintenance and delay the
onset of disease: if the links between diets and health are
uncovered, then appropriate policies can be defined to prevent
diseases from erupting, thereby efficiently fighting diet-related
health concerns. The stakes are huge: in most developed countries,
health care expenditure continues to rise faster than economic
growth, write the authors. In the past 10 years, it has increased by
50% in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation,
while the economic cost of diet-related NCD in China was
estimated at 2.4% of gross domestic product in 1995. The paper
reminds another striking information: cancer, diabetes, heart disease
and lung disease kill 36 million people worldwide every year,
making up 63% of global deaths and a majority of cancers
occurs in high-income countries. It thus becomes obvious that the
commitment by governments to eradicate hunger and undernutrition
is not only an ethical imperative, but also a sound investment that
will yield significant economic gains and major social benefits. A
win-win opportunity, you might say. Public health efficiency is in
fact a key to a sustainable health care organisation, and nutrition
economics supports the development of sound, persuasive public
policies to promote health through food. Now the main question is:
how? Science has some answers in store.

Let thy food be thy medicine

The methodology used by nutrition economics researchers can be
broken down into three steps: first, they measure and establish the
actual cost of diseases; second, they evaluate the economic impacts
of food habits in real, everyday life; and third, they define precise
strategies to help actually change dietary and nutritional behaviours.
As they write in the conclusion of the paper, this work must help
raise awareness as well as recommending turnkey actions: There is
a need to improve awareness among health authorities and decision
makers of the very considerable benefits of better-quality diets and
of the effective and cost-effective policies that can achieve that goal.
Nutrition economics has a major role in informing this desirable
policy direction. Here is a strong example of how science can and
must guide public action, by providing clear information on the
costs and benefits of a particular policy. Science has a responsibility
to demonstrate the approaches that will be most beneficial to all. As
highlighted by the paper, governments and public authorities can
strive to alleviate undernutrition, deficiencies and NCDs by
promoting healthy dietary habits as part of everyday life
(communication to the public has a major role to play here), and by
supporting the use of functional foods (foods where an additional
ingredient has been included to provide a supplementary function).
These are effective ways to prevent diseases,on the long term, and
every effort must be made to help the public understand that it truly
As Hippocrates once said: Let thy food be thy medicine. In these
times of crisis, nutrition economics highlight how this principle must
guide modern societies towards both offering better health to
everyone and reducing public expenditure.