Want to eat your way to better health? It’s completely possible.
Many of the diseases and conditions that may run in your family can be staved off with some healthy eating choices.
If you have diabetes in your family, try eating…
According to a new study in BMC Medicine that followed about 200,000 people over as much as three decades, low- and high-fat dairy consumption was not linked to having a risk for type 2 diabetes. Those who ate yogurt, however, may have lowered their risk.
People who ate 12 ounces of yogurt a day had an 18 percent reduction in their risk for type 2 diabetes.
“There is some research suggesting that the probiotic bacteria in yogurt may be beneficial. But, there is no certain conclusion yet,” said Mu Chen, a researcher from Harvard.
Alexandra Rothwell, R.D., a nutrition coordinator at the Dubin Breast Center at The Mount Sinai Hospital, also recommends adding cinnamon to your diet. She says the enzymes in cinnamon can stimulate the response of cells to insulin, which lowers insulin resistance and works to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
If you have breast cancer in your family, try eating…
Researchers at the City of Hope Cancer Research Hospital found three particular foods prevented breast cancer in some clinical trials — the superfoods: mushrooms, blueberries and pomegranates. The center also did more research and found that grape seed extract blocks a hormone that allows breast cancer to spread and grow. They also say cinnamon blocks tumors from forming blood vessels, which can feed its growth.
“Several superfoods — mushrooms, pomegranates and grape seed extract — contain compounds with the ability to block the enzyme aromatase, which helps produce estrogen. Because most breast cancers are dependent on estrogen to grow, cutting down on the amount of estrogen may help kill the tumor,” their website states.
Upon further research, a diet rich in fiber, omega-3s, cruciferous veggies and folate can work to prevent the disease.
If you have hypothyroidism in your family, try eating…
If you’ve already been diagnosed with a sluggish thyroid, or have family members with this condition, you may want to watch what you eat — and actually avoid some foods that can be otherwise quite healthy.
In talking about the thyroid, it’s interesting to note that some foods like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard, kale, turnips, soy, peanuts and canola oil include goitrogens that can interfere with iodine uptake and might enlarge the thyroid.
Complement your iron intake with adequate amounts of vitamin C from foods such as citrus fruits, red berries, tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers to help maximize your body’s iron absorption efficiency.
Coconut and coconut butter have been shown to regulate thyroid function. Other superstars include kelp (which is rich in iodine) and turkey (which is rich in the important nutrient selenium). Copper and iron are also important for healthy thyroid function.
If you have infertility in your family, try eating…
Word is that vitamin E can improve sperm health in men and boost fertility in females. Good sources of it can be found in asparagus, bananas and eggs.
A Yale study looked at vitamin D in 67 infertile women and found that just 7 percent of them had normal levels — the rest had insufficient levels or a clinical deficiency in vitamin D. Of those with polycystic ovary syndrome, none had normal vitamin D levels.
Another study found citrus boosted sperm count and motility in men. Eating salmon is a good source of selenium, which some say can make sperm more fertile. Other good foods to eat for male and female fertility include dark leafy greens, berries and beans.
If you have Alzheimer’s disease in your family, try eating…
Dr. Joseph Keenan, a doctor based in Minnesota, recently studied white matter in the brain, which makes up about 50 percent of it. Healthy white matter means a brain learns and functions better. His recent study in showed that vitamin E tocotrienols derived from Malaysian palm oil may support white matter health by weakening the progression of white matter lesions. Brain white matter lesions are not only linked to increased stroke risk, but they are also known to be linked to development of other diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Where can you get these protective vitamin E tocotrienols?
“It’s relatively easy to get the recommended 15 milligrams of vitamin E tocotrienols by snacking on a handful of sunflower seeds or almonds,” Keenan said. Vitamin E tocotrienols are not as abundant in everyday foods, so Keenan recommends Malaysian palm oil.
Other superfoods that can fight Alzheimer’s disease include leafy greens, which were documented as successful in Annals of Neurology. Think spinach, kale or broccoli. Salmon and other cold-water fish, extra virgin olive oil, berries, coffee, chocolate and cold-pressed virgin coconut oil are other foods that may ward off the disease.
If you have bad joints in your family, try eating…
According to this website, a few must-eat foods for joint health include bananas, plantains, blueberries, green tea, tofu, orange juice, peanut butter, lobster, whole grains, pineapple and salmon.
“Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” says Rothwell. “These fatty acids are effective for reducing unwanted inflammation. Additionally, the type of protein in salmon may provide support for joint cartilage.”
If you have cholesterol problems in your family, try eating…
A recent study of people with high cholesterol (greater than 240 milligrams/deciliter) compared statin treatment with eating 20 grams of flaxseed a day. After 60 days, those eating flaxseed did just as well as those on statins. Try sprinkling ground flaxseed on oatmeal, yogurt and salads.
Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil does not contain cholesterol and trans-fats and has been shown to boost HDL (good cholesterol) and act as an antioxidant and natural antibiotic — as well as aid in thyroid function.
Just a note: You might want to avoid grapefruit, which can interfere with the absorption of drugs used to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.
If you have cancer in your family, try eating…
To reduce your risk of cancer, look no further than your fridge. “All the studies on cancer and nutrition point to eating plant-based foods for their phytonutrients and other special compounds,” says Richard Béliveau, Ph.D., chair in cancer prevention and treatment at the University of Québec at Montreal and author of Foods to Fight Cancer.
Aim for five to nine daily servings of all kinds of fruits and vegetables — especially these six superstars: broccoli, berries, tomatoes, walnuts, garlic and beans.
A study out of Michigan State University found that black and navy beans significantly reduced colon cancer incidence in rats, in part because a diet rich in legumes increased levels of the fatty acid butyrate, which in high concentrations has protective effects against cancer growth. Another study, in the journal Crop Science, found dried beans to be particularly effective in preventing breast cancer in rats.
The bottom line
After reading this, you probably notice a few of the same contenders are valuable to beat multiple conditions. This is why it is essential to eat a well-rounded diet.
“No one food can directly prevent a medical condition or disease, though a combination of healthy, nutrient-dense foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy can have a protective effect against many cancers and chronic conditions,” said Rachel Neifeld, a registered dietitian at Friedman Diabetes Institute at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
“When it comes to nutrition for disease prevention, there’s no ‘magic bullet,’ rather a combination of wholesome, plant-based foods that work together to improve overall diet quality, thus reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.”
It’s not just about what you eat, either — preventative eating is largely based on what you omit from your diet.
“In addition to including a variety of nutrient-dense foods in the diet, it’s important to limit intake of added sugars, trans fats, sodium and overly processed food products that provide little nutritional value,” Neifeld adds.
Rothwell said she recommends a hybrid plan of a Mediterranean diet and plant-based eating pattern.
“The Mediterranean diet — characterized by high intake of fruits and vegetables, plant-based fats and oils, fish, only small to moderate quantities of high-quality animal products and dairy and avoidance of refined carbohydrates — has been most consistently associated with a reduction in risk for a variety of chronic diseases,” she adds.