Our eating habits can help us prevent degenerative disease like diabetes or cancer
Have you ever wondered whether you could significantly reduce your chances of getting cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or even Alzheimer’s disease? Well, you definitely can. Medical research supports the fact that eating a healthy diet can have a much higher impact on your health than genetic or environmental factors, in fact, there has been estimated that about 2/3 of human cancers could have been prevented by dietary changes (1).
So, what can you do to start eating a healthier diet and reduce your risk of getting the diseases that are killing millions of people?
Eat dark green leafy vegetables every day. Besides their high content of vitamins and minerals, dark green vegetables also contain phytochemicals (or phytonutrients, phyto comes from the ancient greek word that means plant), chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and that, in recent years, have shown to play an important role in the prevention of diseases like cancer. They also contain fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol and is a binding agent that carries carcinogens out of the body. It is also well known that dark green vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants, key compounds that neutralize the effect of free radicals present in our body, blocking them from damaging the cells DNA (an acid present in the cells nucleous that contains the genetic information necessary to produce an identical cell during the reproducing process) . At the end, cancer cells were once healthy cells whose DNA was damaged, missing important genetic information and then producing a cancer cell.
Have at least half cup of a cruciferous vegetable every day. Sulforaphane is an organosulfur compound that belongs to a group of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. A study made by the Linus Pauling Institute scientists at the Oregon State University confirmed that sulforaphane, contained in broccoli, has a targeting effect that kills cancer cells and leaves normal cells intact. Sulforaphane plays a key role in the way our genes are “turned on” or “turned off”, resulting in the cells ability to promote the creation of healthy or cancerous cells. Food rich in sulphoraphane are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, collards, Chinese broccoli, broccoli raab, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip, radish, arugula, and watercress.
Include at least 2 servings of vegetables in every meal. Vegetables contain important nutrients that will protect you from illness, provide your body with energy and rebuild damaged tissue. Try to mix vegetables of different colors in your diet to get as many phytochemicals as possible as well as fiber, protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. ß-carotene, a carotenoid that is in orange vegetables, inhibits growth and presents pro-apoptotic (promotes cells death) effects in various tumor cells from human colon, breast and prostate cancers and leukaemia cells, while leaving normal cells undamaged (4).
Eat nuts and seeds every day. Nuts contain tocopherols, phytosterols, folic acid, selenium, and magnesium, these nutrients are known to have antioxidant, antiinflamatory and anticarcinogenetic properties. They are also a good source of minerals like calcium, potasium and magnesium, these minerals along with a low sodium intake, are associated with protection against bone demineralization, arterial hypertension, insulin resistance, and overall cardiovascular risk.
A review of 4 large studies of prevention of coronary heart disease showed that people consuming nuts more than 4 times a week had a reduction on risk of coronary heart disease of 37% compared to those who never or seldom eat nuts, with an average of 8% for those who consume one serving of nuts a week (2).
Eating nuts does not make you gain weight. This was the conclusion of a study made at the University of Navarro in Spain, after adjusting for age, sex, smoking, leisure time, physical activity, and other known risk factors for obesity, participants who ate nuts two or more times per week had a significantly lower risk of weight gain, than those who never or almost never ate nuts. Participants with little nut consumption (never/almost never) gained an average of 424 grams (95% confidence interval: 102 to 746) more than frequent nut eaters. Nut consumption was not significantly associated with incident overweight/obesity in this study.
Spice up your food to prevent disease. Some spices are rich in compounds called polyphenols, these nutrients have been found to be very potent antioxidants. Examples of these spices are turmeric, oregano, sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, dill and ginger.
Add onion and garlic to your dishes, onions have high amounts of quercetin, a polyphenol that has been associated with a reduction on coronary heart disease (7). Quercetin has also shown to have strong anti diabetic activity (10).
There is strong scientific evidence that shows the cancer fighting action of garlic, several experimental studies made on animals and cultured cells have demonstrated that garlic can reduce the incidence and growth of cancer tumours (13). Also, the organosulfur compounds of garlic are potent antioxidants and can stimulate the detoxiying enzymes in the liver.
When meat and fish is cooked at high temperatures, they produce aromatic amines (HAA-s), which have carcinogenic effects, however, the production of these compounds can be significantly reduced by marination with turmeric-garlic sauce before cooking (14).
Also, several human studies have revealed the anticancerogenic activity of garlic, like the one made in Italy (11) that showed the decline on stomach cancer with the increase of garlic consumption, or a case control study conducted in England (12) that showed the reduced risk of prostate cancer with increased consumption of fiber and allium vegetables, like garlic.
Include as many raw vegetables as possible in your diet. When cooked, specially for long periods of time, vegetables loose many of their nutrients benefits, one of the vitamins that is lost is vitamin C among others.
A good example of the benefits of eating raw vegetables is broccoli, sulforaphane is a very potent anticarcinogen found in broccoli, based on the findings of the researchers from TNO Quality of Life in the Netherlands published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the bioavailability of sulforaphane in raw broccoli is 37% compared to 3.4% in cooked broccoli (15).
Keep your intake of red meat to a minimum or eliminate it, if possible. The results of a 24 years study made by researchers of the Harvard School of Public Health(3) were just released in Apr. 2012, the study was made with more than 121,000 men and women and showed that every daily card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat would increase the mortality risk by 13%, with a 20% increase for processed red meat. The researchers estimated that 9.3 percent of deaths in men and 7.6 percent in women could have been prevented during the course of the study had the participants consumed just half a serving of red meat per day.
On the other hand, replacing 1 serving of total red meat with 1 serving of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, or whole grains daily was associated with a lower risk of total mortality: 7% for fish, 14% for poultry, 19% for nuts, 10% for legumes, 10% for low-fat dairy products, and 14% for whole grains.
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