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How Healthy Eating Prevents Disease

By Chelsea Hollander, DO | Internal Medicine

Healthy eating can help lower your risk of certain medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various types of cancers.

Eat more plant foods

Plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds provide vitamins, minerals, and other plant compounds that have cancer-protective effects. They also provide fiber, which protects against colorectal cancer. Most plant foods in their natural form are lower in calories than many other foods. Eating mostly plant foods to meet your nutrient needs can satisfy your hunger while making it easier to stay at a healthy weight. Make plant foods the focus of your meals and snacks.

Limit processed foods and added sugar

Foods with high amounts of added sugar trigger the liver to dump high amounts of fats into the bloodstream.  Moreover, a high sugar diet can lead to insulin resistance in the tissues, disrupting the endocrine system.  These foods can add extra weight to your body, weakening your bones and making your organs work harder. This predisposes you to a myriad of health problems down the road.  The largest source of added sugar in the American diet is in the form of processed foods.  As well, new studies have surfaced which link a diet high in processed foods to higher rates of cancerhow healthy eating prevents disease. It may be that the supplemental chemicals and food additives which increase the shelf life of these products unnecessarily expose the body to potential carcinogens.

Examples of processed foods and foods high in added sugar include:

  • convenience foods like most instant noodle soups and frozen pizza
  • baked goods such as cakes, cookies, muffins, donuts
  • sweet and salty snacks
  • sugary drinks

Eat less red meat and avoid processed meats

Eating too much red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Small amounts of red meat can still be part of a healthy diet. Meat is a good source of iron, protein, vitamin B12, and zinc. If you include red meat, limit the amount you eat to no more than 500 grams (18 ounces) per week. Processed meats, such as ham, bacon, sausage, salami, hot dogs, pepperoni, and many deli meats increase the risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. If you choose to eat these meats, eat them in small amounts and less often.

 Limit alcohol

Although studies have often suggested that alcohol can have cardio-protective effects, this is only true if consumed in small amounts.  Too much alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure, lead to heart failure, dementia and can increase the risk of colorectal, breast, liver, mouth, larynx and pharynx (throat), and esophagus cancers.  How much is too much?  I recommend limiting the amount of alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women; two drinks per day for men.

Stay active to prevent obesity

The importance of physical activity in maintaining and improving health cannot be overstated.  A healthy and active lifestyle will decrease your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, stroke and certain cancers.  In addition, regular robust physical activity has advantageous effects on mood, and has been proven to beneficially affect depression, anxiety and insomnia.  A healthy diet and active lifestyle can help you have a healthy body!