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Disease and Diet

Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.
– Hippocrates (460-377 BC)

The more we understand our bodies the more we understand how food can influence our health and well-being. In short, what we eat is central to our health.

What Does Food Do For Our Body?

To stay healthy the body needs protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals and water which come from the food we eat. The nutrients (a substance that provides nourishment essential for the maintenance of life and for growth) in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions. If we don’t get the necessary nutrients, our body suffers and our health declines.

What is the Connection Between Food and Disease?

If we don’t get the right amount of food i.e. if we get too many nutrients through over-eating our bodies or not enough nutrients so we are under nourished this can lead to the development of a range of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, arthritis and diabetes.

As a society we are battling with a number of illnesses and health problems all of which are related to diet. This is backed up by numerous articles and research which shows a balanced, healthy diet can improve health and life expectancy:

Advances in Nutrition paper “Nutrition research to affect food and a healthy lifespan” concludes: “Proper nutrition offers one of the most effective and least costly ways to decrease the burden of chronic and non-communicable diseases and their risk factors, including obesity.”

The WebMD site article “Foods for a Strong Heart, Brain, and Bones” states “The science is clear: Eating the right foods can lead to a longer, healthier life.”

It’s clear that many health issues can be directly related to diet and food consumption.

The Role of Fruits and Vegetables in Disease Prevention

The health-related benefits of fruit and vegetables shouldn’t come as a surprise after all scientific research and the media report the advantages of ensuring our diet contains a mix of fruit and vegetables. To ensure a healthy lifestyle, it’s recommended that we reduce fat, sugar and salt intake, take regular physical activity and eat lots of fruit and vegetables (recommendations range between 5 – 20 portions per day).

A 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal “Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies” concluded that the study showed “further evidence that a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality.”

UCL used the Health Survey for England to study eating habits and published their findings in an article called “UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality”. The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health and found that vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.

Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, lead author of the study said “We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering. The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”

In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article “Fruit and vegetables: think variety, go ahead, eat!” studies show “the higher the consumption of fruit and vegetables, the lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease including strokes. These findings were attributed to many factors, including vitamin C. Others have shown that high plasma vitamin C concentrations are associated with a lower risk of stroke.”

Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and fibre, each contributing the body’s good health.

Vitamins and Minerals, Phytonutrients and Fibre

Fruit and vegetables are a particularly good source of vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and fibre. They are loaded with nutrients, called antioxidants, which are essential for the body’s metabolic processes, health and well-being.

An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation (a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals) of other molecules. Oxidation leads to chain reactions that can damage cells. Antioxidants such as vitamin C terminate these chain reactions, thereby protecting the body’s cells against the effects of free radicals which are believed to play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

There are three major antioxidant vitamins: beta-carotene (pro vitamin A), vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Beta-carotene (Pro vitamin A)

Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their colour. It’s converted in the body to vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant that plays a critical role in maintaining healthy vision, skin and neurological function and can fight life-threatening conditions like heart disease and cancer. It can be found in a variety of fruit and vegetables including: pumpkin, sweet potato, asparagus, carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, nectarines, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon, peaches, pink grapefruit, mangoes, turnip, spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in maintaining the health of the body’s connective tissue. Your body doesn’t make or store vitamin C so it’s important to eat fruit and vegetables that contain vitamin C. The benefits of vitamin C may include protection against cardiovascular and eye disease and immune system deficiencies. Vitamin C can be found in: kiwifruit, broccoli, berries, oranges, cauliflower, grapefruit, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers green peas, brussel sprouts and papayas.

Vitamin E

Certain isomers of vitamin E help fight inflammation, slow aging in your cells and fight off health issues like heart disease. Vitamin E benefits include the prevention and treatment of diseases of the heart and blood vessels e.g. high blood pressure and blocked or hardened arteries. Vitamin E is present in: broccoli, spinach, avocado, mangoes, sweet potato, papaya, pumpkin and red peppers.

What is the Bottom Line About Fruits and Vegetables?

I believe fruits and vegetables play a vital antioxidant role in our diets helping to keep us healthy. The bottom line is, you can’t ignore fruits and vegetables and as many of us struggle to consume even the minimum 5 recommended servings of fruit and vegetables never mind the latest recommended serving of 20 we need to find other ways of ensuring fruit and vegetables are part of our everyday diet. Sign up for my ebook to find out what I recommend.

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