Health Encyclopedia

 

Health Encyclopedia Home



Nutrition's Role in Disease Prevention

Nutrition's Role in Disease Prevention

Evidence is mounting that a healthy diet can help protect you from some diseases. What you eat--or don't eat--may help prevent heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes.

With this in mind, here's how to use your diet to help reduce your risk of disease.

Middle aged woman with teen daughter and pre-teen son eating together

Beat heart disease

To help prevent heart disease, you need to keep your blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight under control. Healthy eating habits can help you accomplish this, as well as reduce your risk for stroke.

Experts recommend these general nutrition goals for healthy adults ages 19 and older:

  • Your diet should include foods from all major foods groups, with special emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Your diet should provide about 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat; only 10 percent of these fat calories should come from saturated fat. Trans fat should be 1 percent of daily calories or lower (trans fats are found in hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated vegetable oils).

  • Depending on the amount of calories recommended for your age and activity level, you should aim for 1½ to 2½ cups of a variety of whole, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits and 2½ to 3½ cups of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables each day.

  • You should aim for at least three servings (equal to three ounces) a day of whole-grain foods.

  • Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products that are fortified with vitamin D over regular products. You should have three servings of these a day.

  • Your protein should come from lean meats, poultry, fish and legumes with at least two servings of fish each week. Ten to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein.

Other nutrition suggestions:

  • Choose fats and oils with two grams or less of saturated fat per tablespoon. These include liquid and tub margarines, canola oil, and olive oil.

  • Limit the foods you eat that are high in calories or low in nutrition, such as soft drinks and candy.

  • Limit the amount of salt you eat each day to 2,300 mg or less of sodium (equivalent to 5.8 grams of salt).

  • Maintain your weight by balancing the number of calories you eat with the number that you use. Multiply the number of pounds you weigh by 15 calories. This represents the number of calories that you use in one day if you are moderately active. If you are mostly sedentary, multiply your weight by 13 instead of 15.

  • Also maintain your weight by getting regular exercise for at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week.

  • Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day if you are a man, or one drink a day if you are a woman or a man over the age of 65. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, and 1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits.

The DASH diet is a specific eating plan developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for lowering high blood pressure, also called hypertension. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

This diet is low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat, as well as red meat, desserts, and sugary beverages. It emphasizes consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. It also includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. The typical American diet contains about 3,300 mg of sodium; the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends that you eat no more than 2,300 mg a day. The daily sodium intake is 1,500 mg for African-Americans and for people diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, as well as people 51 and older. 

Combat cancer

The best diet to help protect you against cancer helps you maintain a healthy weight and includes a variety of foods.

Obesity increases the risk for cancers of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus), colon, kidney, esophagus, and breast (after menopause).

No single food is the perfect one for cancer prevention, but a combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (which come from plants) can offer good protection, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Here are some examples of foods that researchers have identified as being particularly helpful in protecting against cancer:

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, and leaf lettuce contain fiber, folate, and a variety of carotenoids, the AICR says. Carotenoids help prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants. The carotenoids in green leafy vegetables can help stop cell growth in cancers of the breast, skin, lung, and stomach. Folate, too, may offer protection against colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer.

  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts contain substances that have been associated with a lower risk for cancer, according to the AICR. They may help protect against cancers of the breast, endometrium, lung, colon, liver, and cervix.

  • Berries are good sources of vitamin C and fiber, but they also contain ellagic acid, which may help prevent cancers of the skin, bladder, lung, esophagus, and breast, according to the AICR.

To help protect against cancer, your diet should include five to 13 servings of vegetables and fruits each day, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the USDA.

Here are some ways to add fruits and vegetables to your daily fare:

  • Make sure vegetables and fruits are a part of every meal, and serve them as snacks.

  • Limit the amount of fried vegetables you eat; prepare vegetables in healthier ways, such as steaming or microwaving. Or eat them raw.

  • If you want to drink fruit or vegetable juice, make sure it's 100 percent juice. Other types of fruit beverages contain only small amounts of juice.

Besides fruits and vegetables, a healthy diet should include whole grains. Whole grains are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a wide range of phytochemicals that may lower the risk for cancer, the AICR says.

You should choose whole grains over processed or refined grains and sugars. When buying rice, bread, pasta, and cereal, look for varieties that are made from whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends that you eat 3 to 4 ounces of whole grains a day. Limit the amount of refined carbohydrates you eat. This includes pastries and desserts, sweetened cereals, and soft drinks, according to the ACS.

When selecting sources of protein, choose fish, poultry, or beans instead of beef, pork, or lamb. When eating red meat, buy lean cuts and serve smaller portions. Bake, broil, or poach meats instead of frying or grilling. This reduces the fat content.

Another food that may help protect against cancer is green tea. Both black tea and green tea contain polyphenols and flavonoids, which are antioxidants, according to the AICR. One type of flavonoid, catechins, seems particularly promising in its protective effect. Green tea contains about three times the amount of catechins that black tea has. Green tea may help protect against cancer of the colon, liver, breast, and prostate.

Fight osteoporosis

The best step you can take against osteoporosis: Eat plenty of low-fat foods that are rich in calcium and fortified with vitamin D such as skim milk, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese, as well as broccoli.

Other steps you can take: Use calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice and breakfast cereals. Add soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, to your diet. Besides being a good calcium source, soy foods have been shown to increase bone density. If you drink soymilk, buy brands that are calcium fortified.

Also, reduce your consumption of carbonated beverages. Studies show the phosphorus they contain may leach calcium from bones. Not all carbonated beverages contain phosphorus, however. If phosphoric acid is not listed on the label, then the beverage will not affect your calcium levels.

Here are the recommended calcium intakes: Children ages 1 to 3 should get 700 mg of calcium each day; children ages 4 to 8 should get 1,000 mg; and children 9 to 12 should get 1,300 mg. Teens should consume 1,300 mg each day. Adults ages 19 to 50 should consume 1,000 mg each day; adults 50 and older should get 1,200 mg.

You should also make sure you get enough vitamin D in your diet. Despite the importance of the sun for vitamin D synthesis, it is important to limit exposure of skin to sunlight due to risk for skin cancer, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). As we age, we are less able to make vitamin D through our skin. That's why food sources of vitamin D become even more important in older adults. Good sources of vitamin D include fortified dairy products, egg yolks, ocean fish, and liver. Most multivitamins and calcium supplements contain vitamin D.

People ages 1 to 70 should get 600 international units each day. Those over 70 should get 800 IU a day. Ask your doctor before taking higher doses of vitamin D supplements daily.

Decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes

The best way to help prevent type 2 diabetes: Maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced, low-fat diet. Obesity is a strong risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Another strong risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes is having prediabetes, a condition in which your blood sugar is above normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. A person with prediabetes is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years, and also is at higher risk for heart attack or stroke, according to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP).

Losing 5 to 7 percent of your weight if you are overweight can reduce your risk, according to the NDEP.

Other steps you can take to reduce your risk, according to the American Diabetes Association: Reduce your fat intake to less than 30 percent of your calories and your intake of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your calories. Eat more high-fiber foods, such as oatmeal, beans, legumes, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables.

Get regular exercise, which help you with weight management, as well as reduce your risk. The USDA recommends 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking or some other moderate exercise most days of the week to maintain your weight. To lose weight, 60 to 90 minutes a day may be needed.

 
Related Items
Wellness Library
  Let's Do Lunch
  How to Make Tastier Veggies
  Tips for a Healthy Restaurant Breakfast
  Refreshing Summer Meals
  How to Choose Healthy Crackers
  Eat Alone? Make Your Meals Nutritious
  Five Fun Fruits You Should Try
  Low-Fat BBQ: Cooking as Delicious as It Looks
  Simple Ways to Improve Your Diet
  Measuring Your Meal
  Tips for Tuning Up Your Nutrition
  The Benefits of Adding Soy to Your Diet
  Kids Need Their Nutrients
  Beans: Nutritious and Delicious
  Cutting Calories and Fat When Eating Out
  Fill Your Grocery Cart with Savings
  Enlist These Foods to Help Prevent Cancer
  How Do You Fuel Your Workout?
  Finding the Right Mix of Carbs, Proteins, and Fats
  Diet Traps That Keep You From Losing
  The Nutritious Apple
  Make Healthy Eating a Habit
  For Older Adults: When You're Cooking for One
  Three Cheers for Breakfast!
  Put Up a Food Fight Against Disease
  Give Eating Right a Green Light
  Modifying Recipes for Better Health
  Salad Days: It’s Easy Eating Green
  Make a Sensation with Sauce
  Serve a Super Summer Salad
  Understanding the Latest Diet, Nutrition News
  Choose My Plate Shapes a Healthier Senior Diet
  Go for the Whole Grains
  How to Make Heart-Healthy Food Choices
  Eating on the Run
  Five Minerals We All Need
  The Supermarket as Classroom
  How Safe is Nonstick Cookware?
  The Importance of Eating Together as a Family
Content Type 134
  Folic Acid for a Healthy Baby
HealthInk Healthy Tips
  The Best Nutrition Advice
  Check Cider Labels
  Tips for a Trimmer You
  Don't Say No to Nuts
  Chew on This
  Portions Times Two
  Minding the Menu
  Candy's Not Dandy
  Fatty Acids and Heart Health
  Fish Consumption May Lower Heart Rate
  Healthier Choices
  Milk Better at Breakfast
  Don't Forget the Fruit
  Low-Sugar Jam on Toast
  Bigger Fries
  Salad Idea
  A Healthier Breakfast on the Go
  Diet and Cancer
  Tortilla Snacks
  A Healthy Dinner Out
  Fast Food Adds Pounds
  Morning Meal
  A Better School Lunch
  Eating More Fruits, Veggies
  Good Snacking
  Watching Your Sugar Intake
  Lingering Over Mealtime
  Fruity Taste Not Always Nutritious
  Going for Grains
  Eating Well Every Day
  Checking Out the Calories
  Tips for Eating More Fruit
  Larger Portions
  Preschoolers Eating More
Recipes
  Ginger Grilled Pork
  Broiled Trout with Almonds
  Southeastern Seasoned Catfish
  Chicken Salad Blues
  California Marinated Salad
  Chicken and Mushroom Pasta
  Mandarin Stir-Fry Beef
  Polenta with Peppers and Cheese
  Grilled Lemon-Sage Chicken
  Lima Bean, Mushroom, and Barley Soup
  Black Bean Tortilla Casserole
  Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins
  Warm Apple and Cool Ice Cream
  Southeastern Fresh Ginger Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
  Southern Chicken and Dumpling Soup
  Southwestern Tex-Mex Chicken Noodle Soup
  Bronzed Mushrooms
  Mushroom Barley Soup
  Mushroom Crab Appetizer
  Crunchy Chicken Salad
  Skillet Zucchini with Chopped Tomatoes
  April Fool
  Strawberry Spinach Salad
  Strawberry Spread
  Seedless Raspberry Sauce
  Raspberry Mustard Dip
  Apple Carrot Salad
  Southwestern Spaghetti Squash and Turkey Meatballs
  Summer Squash Saute
  Apple Coffee Cake
  Frosted Orange Cake
  Vegetarian Chili
  Brussels Sprouts with Mushroom Sauce
  Stuffed Cabbage Soup
  Barley Pilaf
  Pear and Quinoa Salad
  Updated Macaroni and Cheese
  Tortilla Pizzas
  Lime Shrimp Kebabs
  Panini for One
  Fruity Nutty Spinach
  Broccoli and Walnut Salad
  Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms with Rosemary
  Homemade Chicken Parmigiana
  Blue-Green Canapés
  Cantaloupe Soup
  Carrot-Oatmeal Muffins
  Confetti Wraps
  Orange-Walnut Salad
  Cornish Hens with Ginger Plum Stuffing
  Chicken in a Curry-Pistachio Crust
  Fiesta Shrimp
  French Toast Sandwiches
  Oriental Greens
  New World Salmon Florentine
  Multigrain Chicken Soup
  Vegetable Tart
  Tasty Pumpkin Pie
  Shiitake with Veal
  Pork Sauté with Vegetables
  Picnic Potato Salad
  Shrimp Scampi Pizza
  Ciabatta Pizza
  Barbecue Chicken Pizza
  Dark Chocolate Chip Oat Bars
  Whole-Grain Party Mix
  Lemon Meringue Kisses
  Tiny Fruit Tarts
  Brownie Kisses
  Gingered Rice Pudding
  New York Strip Steak Salad
  Strawberry-Kiwi Spritzer
  Pink Lemonade
  Pineapple Smoothies
  Pitcher-Perfect Iced Tea
  Cherry Vanilla Frappe
  Blueberry Banana Smoothie
  Grilled Salmon Steaks
  Garlic Walnut Sauce
  Do-It-Yourself Trail Mix
  Red Rosemary Vinegar
  Vegetable Dip Mix
  Base for a Variation on Hummus
  Pumpkin-Cranberry Gift Loaves
  Seasoned Salmon for One
  Enlightened Crab Cakes
  Summer Vegetable Curry
  Spicy Asian Veggie Pasta
  Fruited Buckwheat Pancakes
  Carrot Oat Bran Muffins
  Herb-Crusted Tilapia for Two
  Lime-Mango Whip
  Lime Thyme Chicken
  Garlic Whipped Potatoes
  Peach Berry Crisp
  Strawberry Cheesecake
  Cream of Broccoli Soup
  Citrus Swordfish
  Simple Salmon with Dill Sauce
  Honey-Herb Chicken
  Lamb Pockets
  Quick Apple Crisp
  All Red and Ready-to-Go Pizza
  Amish Potatoes with Lima Beans
  Black Bean Chili
  Blender Bean Dip
  Beet-All Pasta Salad
  Fresh Cranberry Applesauce
  Classic Tomato Sauce
  Cheddar-Vegetable Surprise
  Stacked Fruit Salad for One
  A Fruity Way to End the Meal
  Zesty Grilled Chicken with Thyme
  Go Swiss with Rosti
  Fresh Lemon Broccoli Pesto-Style Sauce
  Do-It-Yourself Minestrone Soup
  Fresh Mushroom Sauce
  Mediterranean Vegetable Strata
  Peach Melba Smoothie for Two
  Southwestern Pork
  Pork Chops with Savory Apples
  Ginger Shrimp Open-Faced Sandwiches
  Stovetop Chili
  New-Style Ham and Cheese
  Herb Roasted Potatoes
  Mediterranean Diced Salad
  Florentine-Swiss Omelet for One
  Roasted Asparagus
  Roasted Vegetables
  Roasted Winter Squash Soup
  Red, White, and Blue Berry Tarts
  Stuffed Peppers
  Cherry Swirl Pudding
  Spicy Pork Skewers
  Topped Potatoes
  Fresh Tomato Sauce
  Tuna Salad in the Round
Quizzes
  Dietary Fiber Quiz
  Disease Prevention Quiz
  'Choose My Plate' Quiz
  Nutrition Quiz for Seniors
Disease Management
  Cook for a Healthy Heart
Newsletters
  Cracking the Nut to a Longer Life
  Wanted: Whole Grains in Your Diet
  What Makes Red Meat So Unhealthy?