Nutritionist Elisa Zied, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips, says that certain diseases can be prevented by consuming certain foods on a regular basis. To find out which diseases you can prevent and what to eat, keep reading.
Q: What kinds of diseases can be prevented through diet?
A: There’s evidence that making dietary and lifestyle changes can play a role in the prevention of a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Q: What are your top disease-fighting foods and why?
A: There’s no one food that can prevent disease, but consuming a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods in the context of a healthful dietary pattern can add to the disease-fighting arsenal of the diet.
Here are four foods/classes of foods that may play a role in preventing several diet-related diseases.
1. Legumes — which include beans, soybeans, lentils and peas — are rich in both protein and complex carbohydrates. They’re also among the top sources of dietary fiber, and are packed with folate (a B vitamin) and minerals including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Soybeans and foods made with them also contain alpha linolenic acid (ALA; omega-3 fats that are essential and need to be obtained in the diet) and may reduce the risk of heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends ½ to 3-1/2 cups of legumes each week, depending on suggested calorie intake. For a person who consumes between 1,800 and 2,400 calories a day, that translates to 3 cups per week.
2. Nuts and seeds may benefit health by reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, reducing inflammation that can contribute to diseases, and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as some cancers. They may also reduce total and bad LDL cholesterol levels, and play a role in weight management. Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein and healthful monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Several kinds (namely walnuts, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans) are also rich in ALA, which can protect the heart. Brazil nuts, almonds, pine nuts, and peanuts are all good sources of both vitamin E and magnesium, while sunflower seeds and hazelnuts are also good sources of vitamin E. Cashews and chestnuts are also rich in magnesium. Although the Dietary Guidelines for Americans does not suggest a daily or weekly amount of nuts, ½ to 1 ounce per day is a good rule of thumb. Because nuts are energy-dense — they pack a lot of calories in a relatively small portion — it’s a good idea to include them regularly as a garnish or topping for a dish, or as part of a healthful snack. But be sure to keep an eye on portion size to keep your total calorie intake in check.
3. Cold water fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, and oysters, are great dietary sources of powerful omega-3 fats [docosapaentanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapaentanoic acid (EPA)]. Salmon, canned tuna, and mackerel are rich in vitamin D (pink salmon is also rich in calcium and sockeye salmon is rich in potassium), while oysters are a great source of iron. Studies suggest that the omega-3 fats found in fish may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and prostate cancer, and may even decrease the risk of death from cardiac events in those who have heart disease. Consuming at least two fish meals per week — about 8 oz, cooked — is recommended by the American Heart Association; this amount supplies the diet with about 500 mg/day of EPA/DHA.
4. Cruciferous vegetables — including kale, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and turnips — are loaded with phytochemicals, vitamins (like vitamins A and C), minerals and fibre. They also contain glucosinolates, indoles and other substances that can reduce the risk of some cancers. They’re naturally low in fat and cholesterol free, high in water content and can fill you up while providing relatively few calories. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2-1/2 to 3 cups per day for those who consume between 1,800 and 2,400 calories/day; of those, at least 3 cups/week should be dark green in colour (many cruciferous vegetables are dark green).