While it’s common to hear about improved nutrition as a pathway to weight loss, the critical benefits of a healthy diet go well beyond aesthetics or “feeling good” in the present. Making the right choices about the food you eat today can also greatly improve your ability to both prevent and fight off diseases and unanticipated health challenges in the future. This includes not only conditions like heart disease and diabetes, but many forms of cancer, as well.
According to the CDC, poor nutrition is one of the four main risk factors for preventable chronic diseases. To look at this phenomenon more closely, we’ve listed some of the most prevalent chronic diseases below, along with some ways that smart nutritional choices can help reduce the risk over time.
Cancer: An unhealthy diet can increase the risk of some types of cancer, such as endometrial cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women, and colorectal cancer.
To help reduce your cancer risk, the American Cancer Society recommends:
- Maintain healthy eating patterns
- Be physically active on a regular basis
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid or limit alcohol
Heart Disease and Stroke: High blood pressure and high cholesterol are two of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. Consuming too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. By comparison, according to the CDC the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg of sodium a day on average.
To limit sodium in the diet, the American Heart Association recommends:
- Limit canned and processed foods
- Use onions, garlic, herbs, spices, citrus juices and vinegars in place of some or all of the salt to add flavor
- Drain and rinse canned beans and vegetables to cut the sodium by up to 40%
- Limit adding salt to foods, 1 tsp. of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium
To help prevent high cholesterol, EatRight.Org recommends:
- Choose lean proteins and low fat dairy to reduce saturated fat intake
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Eat more plant-based or vegetarian meals using beans and soy foods for protein
- Consume 25-30 g fiber daily
Type 2 Diabetes: People who are overweight or have obesity are at an increased risk for Type 2 Diabetes. More than 1 in 3 US adults have prediabetes and more than 8 in 10 do not know they have it.
To help prevent Type 2 Diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends:
- Reaching a healthy weight
- Daily physical activity, such as walking
- Making healthy choices such as cutting back on regular soft drinks and juice and choosing calorie-free drinks
Be sure to talk to your doctor about what kind of diet plan is best for you and your needs.
Posted by Southeastern Med with input from Erica Dodge, Clinical Dietitian, and Ben Dyer, Dietetic Technician Registered