What Does Health Matter?
What is the meaning of health?"
the aging French author Jean-Paul Sartre said when journalists asked him whether he regretted his lifestyle, considering his poor physical health. The audience was provoked by his comment. But it could actually be worth thinking about what we are really striving for with all this health advice.1, 2
Why Should We Lose Weight?
There are many discussions about how we should eat in order to lose weight. But why actually should we lose weight? Severe overweight can produce difficulties with joints and in some cases social problems as well. It is not always an advantage, however, to be slender as a thread. On the contrary, studies show that it can be a disadvantage to be too thin at a high age.
Weight loss in itself can hardly be life’s main goal. However, weight reduction has a number of side effects that are beneficial.
Weight reduction, for example, can reduce the ectopic fat, which is fat that is stored in the wrong place - for example around the liver and pancreas instead of in fatty tissue. The ectopic fat causes inflammation and damages the insulin-producing cells. Weight reduction can therefore lead to better blood sugar and reduced risk of diabetes.
But Why Should We Have Good Blood Sugar?
Much dietary advice, such as that we should consume dietary fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids, are based on studies that have better blood sugar control as a goal.3 But once again: the goal of life as a whole can hardly be to have perfect blood sugar.
However, as a side effect good blood sugar produces fewer complications in the blood vessels. Unfortunately, extensive studies on how diet affects diabetic complications in the small blood vessels in kidneys, eyes and nerves are lacking. But it is clear that many points in the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations actually reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.1
Now perhaps we’re starting to approach the core. After all, a side effect of less cardiovascular disease is increased longevity! The most well-conducted studies examine the significance of diet for longevity. And shouldn’t a long lifetime be the ultimate measurement of a healthy lifestyle?
But we are still missing an important point with Sartre’s question. Very few studies have investigated the role of diet for quality of life and the patient’s own experience of health..
Health Is More Than the Numbers
Traditionally within healthcare and research we focus on what can simply be measured – everything from weight to longevity. All of these measurements are important, of course. But there are other sides of health that are getting increased attention. The World Health Organization (WHO) talks about a new way of looking at health, as a personal experience of well-being and meaning in life – a sound mind in a sound body.4
Through these pages, we want to help you think about what you really want to achieve with your lifestyle choices. It is so easy to focus on weight and blood sugar without seeing the bigger perspective.
Please use the information and tips here to make healthy choices. But keep in mind that the best health choices are those that are meaningful in themselves and not just a means to improve a number.
Perhaps Sartre was not that far off with his provocative question.
What does health mean to you?
1. SBU. [In Swedish: Mat vid Diabetes. 2010]
2. Nordiska ministerrådet. Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012
3. Socialstyrelsen. [In Swedish: Kost vid diabetes.]
4. Sigurdson O (red). [In Swedish: Kultur och hälsa - Ett vidgat perspektiv. Göteborgs universitet 2014.]