Nutrition's Role in Disease Prevention

By Gordon, Sandra

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.

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:

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

  • Your diet should provide about 29 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).

  • You should aim for at least five to 13 servings (or 2-1/2 to 6-1/2 cups) of fruits and vegetables, depending on how many calories you need 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 1-1/2 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

The DASH diet is a specific eating plan developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) 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 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends that you eat no more than 2,300 mg a day.

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:


Did You Know?

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