December 2020

A Healthy Diet: Your First Line of Defense Against Disease

Heart disease. Cancer. Diabetes. If only there were an easy way to protect yourself—some simple thing you could pop in your mouth to help ward off these and other health worries.

Actually, there is. A healthy diet lays the foundation for your overall well-being. And heart-healthy fruits and vegetables—between to 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit each day—are the cornerstone.

Your daily diet should also include at least 3 to 4 ounces of whole-grain foods, 5 to 6.5 ounce equivalents of protein foods, and 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat dairy products. And be sure to eat only small amounts of fats and sweets.

Foods that fight disease

Once you’ve built your nutritional foundation, follow these tips to help prevent specific conditions:

  • Heart-related problems(high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke). Pump up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating about 8 ounces of salmon, tuna, or trout every week. Adults with high blood pressure, who make up nearly half of the American population, should eat only 1,500 milligrams (mg) or less of sodium each day. Other adults should aim for less than 2,300 mg per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting foods that are high in saturated fats and trans fats. Many foods high in cholesterol, such as high-fat dairy and fatty meats, also contain these unhealthy fats.

  • Diabetes. While healthy polyunsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds) can help ward off type 2 diabetes, trans fats do the exact opposite. Consume as few as possible in your diet. Read nutrition labels to double check if your foods contain trans fats.  

  • Osteoporosis. Take in 1,000 mg of calcium a day and 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D, which helps calcium absorption. Women ages 51 and older, and men ages 71 and older, need 1,200 mg of calcium. All adults 71 years and older need 800 IUs of vitamin D per day. Foods rich in calcium include fat-free and low-fat dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified orange juice. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk and cereals, as well as salmon and tuna. Your body also produces vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. 

  • Cancer. Fruits and veggies can help decrease your risk for cancer. They contain important antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Opt for colorful produce (red, yellow, orange, and dark green)—these varieties tend to have the most nutrients.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2019
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