Let food be your medicine: Diet for disease prevention

Let food be your medicine: Diet for disease prevention

Health & Lifestyle

Manohar Panse

Manohar Panse

292 week ago — 8 min read

Today we take pride in the fact that we are a fast growing developing country. Unfortunately, our astounding growth in recent years has been an unhappy bargain with respect to people’s health. Our people are imperfectly healthy. Living longer has also turned out to being sick longer. We are caught between the realities of the developing and developed world and witnessing an increase in diabetes along with other infectious and lifestyle diseases.

Health challenges of developed & under-developed nations
Malnutrition numbers in our country, place us among the weakest and poorest countries. Our diabetes rates vault over United States. Health problems of the people of highly developed countries are increasing severity and incidences of degenerative diseases, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, mental illness etc. Under-developed countries are plagued with malnutrition, infant mortality, lack of post-partum care, infectious diseases etc.

Increase in lifestyle related ailments
Although there is increased awareness about health in general, due to changes in lifestyle and food habits there is increase in health deterioration especially among the young population. Due to our present diets which are centered on cheap, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods (including both 'fast foods' and nutrient-poor staples), there is alarming increase in obesity and chronic diseases. It is now being increasingly recognised that unhealthy fat and high glycemic (sugary) foods, low intake of essential nutrients (including omega-3 fatty acids), are mainly responsible for higher levels of cellular inflammation resulting in unprecedented increase in rates and progression of degenerative ailments, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), obesity, arthritis, cancer, pregnancy complications, mental illness etc.

It pays to adopt healthy eating habits
Young or old, it pays to eat well and understand some nutrition basics. Good eating habits throughout life can help to promote physical and mental wellbeing. There is abundant evidence to show that an optimal level of nutrition can extend the lifespan and improve the quality of life. A large body of research examining the health of vegetarians, who typically consume a diet that is lower in calories, saturated fat, and protein, and higher in fiber and phytochemicals as compared to non-vegetarians, shows that vegetarians suffer from less heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. A well-planned vegetarian diet supports good health for all ages. While age related changes affect different people in different ways, a good diet can help to overcome or reduce symptoms of certain health problems that may become more common with age.


Essential nutrients for good health
To remain healthy, we daily need all 40 essential nutrients (15 minerals +14 vitamins +9 amino acids+2 PUFAs) in addition to carbohydrates, fats, protein and water. Good food, basically, has to contain carbohydrates (preferably low glycemic), proteins (that must supply adequately the essential amino acids), and fats (that includes both omega-3 and omega-6 fat in appropriate proportion and amount), ample antioxidants (to neutralise oxidative stress) along with the essential vitamins, minerals, and water.

Fats are the main source of energy for the body. Both quality and quantity of the fat consumed daily is critical in maintaining the state of health. Dietary fat is composed predominantly of triglycerides (TGs) with small amounts of phospholipids and sterols. The TGs serve as energy source whereas phospholipids constitute membrane components. The fatty acid in TGs consists of saturated fatty acids (SFA), mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and poly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). There are two types essential PUFA, namely, omega-3 PUFA and omega-6 PUFA. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA; 18:3) is the primary essential omega-3 fatty acid and linoleic acid (LA; 18:2), is the primary essential omega-6 fatty acid. They are essential because they can’t be synthesized in human body. Though LA has lipid lowering effects but being proinflammatory in nature have been shown to have adverse effects at higher intakes. High LA, with low ALA intake can result in increased adiposity and increased fat deposition in adipose tissue.

A healthy omega-6/omega-3 ratio is important not only for health but also for prevention and management of obesity. It is therefore recommended that dietary ratio LA/ALA should not be more than 10 preferably 5. The increased consumption of LA rich oil has skewed ratio of omega-6 to omega -3. The effective utilisation of omega-3 fatty acid consumed is greatly influenced by availability of folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, therefore, their adequacy in diet also needs to be ascertained, to get maximum benefits from omega-3 fatty acid consumption.


Role of diet to fight diseases
Obesity affects more than 1 billion people globally. Obesity is a major risk factor for many conditions, like type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, heart disease and more. Eating foods loaded with sugar, fats and calories can add extra weight to your body, weakening your bones and making your organs work harder. This automatically puts you at a higher risk for health problems down the road. The best way to prevent type 2 diabetes and heart diseases is to eat a low-fat, well-balanced diet. Decrease fat consumption to less than 30 percent of calories and saturated fat consumption to less than 10 percent of calories. Consume good fats especially omega 3 PUFA. Adding high-fiber foods to a diet regimen will be useful to prevent these lifelong conditions. Too much saturated fat in diet can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, two major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Healthy diets boost 'good' cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and decrease unhealthy triglycerides. This directly impacts risk of heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood pressure by helping your blood flow smoothly. The healthier foods you eat, the better your 'good' cholesterol levels will be, helping to prevent disease. Obesity increases the chances of developing cancer, and there are many foods that can aide in prevention. Leafy green vegetables, whole grains and flax seeds, green tea will help to protect against various types of cancer. Although there is no single food as a sure way to prevent cancer, the appropriate combination of vitamins and minerals along with a well-balanced diet can provide solid protection.


Without enough calcium, your bones can become unhealthy, brittle and weak. This makes you more susceptible to osteoporosis. Therefore, a diet that is high in calcium can help to prevent osteoporosis. In order to keep bones healthy and strong, a low-fat diet which is high in calcium and vitamin D is recommended. Calcium rich products, like milk and milk products, orange juice, cereals and soy-based foods are a good way to increase calcium in a diet.


Incorporating a healthy diet into your lifestyle will automatically reduce your risk for serious, life-threatening diseases. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, rightly said, “Let food be your medicine.”


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