Healthy Habits

Healthy Eating for Disease Prevention

From the Dietitian’s Desk
With Becca Rick, MS, RD

Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet has been found to decrease the risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Healthy eating for disease prevention does not have to completely overhaul your diet, but rather can consist of small, simple changes to promote a long and healthy life.

Who should engage in healthy eating for disease prevention?

Everyone! Those who are healthy or have low disease risk can maintain their same level of wellness with healthy eating and exercise. Those who have an existing chronic condition or a higher disease risk can delay further disease progression or risk by following simple recommendations. In addition to receiving a yearly wellness check from a primary care provider, aiming for a diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins and engaging in enjoyable forms of physical activity can make a major difference in potential disease risk.

What specific changes can be made?

Since lifestyle-related diseases have components that are out of our control, like genetics or age, it is important to address controllable factors, such as diet, that can reduce disease risk and lead to a happier, healthier life. There are certain foods and nutrients that can be incorporated into a regular diet to help decrease risk of preventable disease. The table below lists where to obtain certain nutrients that are often deficient in the American diet and why they are important for preventative care.

Food Group Examples Benefit
Whole grains Whole-wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, quinoa Improve blood pressure and heart health, maintain steady blood sugar, regulate digestion
Unsaturated fats Olive oil, canola oil, fish, nuts, avocado, chia seeds Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, improve heart health and cognitive function
Whole fruits and vegetables Broccoli, spinach, bell peppers, berries, apples Strengthen immune system, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol, inhibit cancer growth
Lean protein Fish, poultry, beans, nuts Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, improve blood pressure and cholesterol, build strong muscles and bones

Incorporating these food groups will lead to a more nutritious diet, though the most important aspect is to establish consistent healthy habits over the long term.

References
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/fill-up-on-phytochemicals
https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
Riserus, U., W.C. Willett, and F.B. Hu, Dietary fats and prevention of type 2 diabetes. Prog Lipid Res, 2009. 48(1): p. 44-51.

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