Eat to Protect Your Health

mushroom cap

When it comes to our health, we don’t have unlimited control. From genetics to environmental conditions, age, and exercise, so many factors impact our lifespan and quality of life. Yet, we do have power over one key component of preventing disease and disability: what we eat. Read on to learn why nutrition is so instrumental to preventive medicine.


Nutrient-rich foods can boost health 

Extensive research has revealed how eating foods rich in nutrients can help reduce the risk of diseases. For example, several studies have linked the Mediterranean diet (which relies on plant-based foods, with olive oil, seafood, dairy, and poultry consumed in moderation) to decreased risks of diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, and heart disease. Other research has suggested that a plant-based diet could reverse coronary artery disease and that a very low-carb diet could help eliminate type 2 diabetes. These two diets seem very different, yet both promote the consumption of nutrient-rich foods.

Processed foods can harm health

While eating nourishing foods can improve health, eating unhealthy foods (like sugary drinks, fast food burgers, and white bread) can harm your gut bacteria and lead to insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and disease. 

Research has validated this, with one study of more than 100,000 people correlating a 10% increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods with a 12% increase in cancer risk.1 Similarly, a study published in 2019 showed that in 2017, 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years were likely the result of poor diets.2  

Where you can, rely on whole foods

Try to glean most of your nutrients from whole foods. Here’s why:

  • Whole foods (such as legumes and fruits and vegetables) provide dietary fiber, which helps promote proper digestion and elimination and reduces the risks of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, stroke, and heart disease. 

  • Whole foods contain a wide range of different macronutrients and micronutrients, including antioxidants, which protect cells from damage that could lead to disease. These nutrients work synergistically to benefit health. 

  • Whole foods even help with hydration. You can gather some of the water your body needs from fruits and veggies, like cucumbers, lettuce, and melons. 

These whole foods are superstars

Include a wide range of whole foods in your diet. However, research suggests that a number of  “superfoods”–like these–can be particularly rich in health benefits:

  • Fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, help fight inflammation and protect against heart disease.

  • Mushrooms can boost the functioning of the immune system, heart, and brain.

  • Turmeric helps treat arthritis and metabolic syndrome.

  • Berries can protect against cancer.

  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, may decrease the risk of heart disease for the right people.

  • Green tea might reduce inflammation and the risk of disease

In the future, you may be prescribed food instead of drugs

Since the positive effects of a healthful diet are so powerful, many health practitioners now realize that personalized nutrition is the future of medicine. According to a 2020 analysis published in The BMJ, the perspective that food is preventative medicine is gaining traction, leading to more physicians and hospital staff increasing their educational knowledge of nutrition.3 While the power of our food choices seems like an easy thing to grasp, how each food interacts with our own unique biology is often more difficult to identify. Fortunately, a variety of innovative and modern solutions are now available that are tying the links between our gut health - and the health of our microbiomes - and really putting in the ‘precision’ behind ‘precision nutrition’ recommendations.


1 Fiolet, T., Srour, B., Sellem, L., Kesse-Guyot, E., Allès, B., Méjean, C., Deschasaux, M., Fassier, P., Latino-Martel, P., Beslay, M., Hercberg, S., Lavalette, C., Monteiro, C. A., Julia, C., & Touvier, M. (2018). The BMJ, 360.

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