Rethinking a Healthy Diet to Include More Plant-Based Foods

2014-03-07 | |
Last updated: 2019-10-20

The role of diet in maintaining good health and preventing illness has become mainstream in the past few decades. But the efforts have not gone far enough for driving health. Individuals can do a lot more through diet, exercise and stress management to prevent chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease, diabetes. Such efforts can also aid in preventing many cancers.

A Healthy Diet Involves More Than Moderation

Each of us needs to first acknowledge the link between nutrition and disease. We then need to take responsibility for what we put in our bodies if we want long term health. We need a shift in people’s perceptions of what moderation means. For instance, a lot of dietitians advise people to eat everything in moderation. However, there are certain foods that we really should avoid completely and others that we should eat more of.

Several studies have shown that specific processed foods increase the risk of digestive system problems and colorectal cancer. This means that people should generally avoid eating processed meats like salami, hot dogs, processed hams and hamburgers. Instead we should generally opt for a diet based on fresh sourced products instead. The problem is that a lot of food advertising does not help people understand what a really healthy diet is. The epidemic of obesity shows that the prevention message is not really working.

How Much Can Diet Help Prevent Disease?

There are numerous studies that back up the role of diet in prevention or recurrence of certain cancers.

For example, high fibre, low-fat diets reduce recurrence of breast cancer by 31 percent in women with higher oestrogen levels, according to a new report from the Women’s Healthy Living and Eating Lifestyle study in the United States. In the study, about 3,000 breast cancer survivors were randomly assigned to one of two diets. One group had a special high-fibre diet including five vegetable servings, 16 ounces of vegetable juice and three fruit servings daily. The second group had a comparison diet based on the US Department of Agriculture’s five serving of fruit and vegetables guidelines.


How Much Benefit Can We Get From Plant-Based Diets

The good news is that nutrient-rich plant-based diets do reduce the percent of fat intake in the diet and increase the amount of fiber without changing the feeling of satiation (feeling of fullness) one gets from food.

As a start, we should all realize that the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day should only be a minimum. Even as far back as 1998, there was a study published in the British Medical Journal which claimed that if more people shifted to a diet richer in fruit and vegetables, low in meat and low in high-fat dairy products, millions of deaths from cancer would be prevented.

The American Institute for Cancer Research has also launched a campaign to challenge the current food pyramid to convince Americans to adopt a more plant-based diet. Also, the School of Public Health from Harvard University launched the Healthy Eating Plate in response to USDA’s MyPlate.


Although the proposed change is manageable for anyone, the shift to a healthier diet is complex because it challenges what people do on a daily basis and it is difficult for each of us to accept both that what we are doing is sometimes a poor choice and that we might be directly responsible for some of the illnesses that we develop.

We are not physiologically adapted, our bodies are not adapted, to thrive under the circumstances most of us live our lives – our diet and lack of exercise and sedentary type jobs. We can survive to an extent but thriving and surviving are two different things. Bigger changes are needed to prevent typical diseases of Western old age.

If more people knew about the potential effects of diet, they would choose a healthier one. People who have already had treatment for cancer or heart disease should be supported in making changes to their diets to prevent a recurrence. They should be given cookery classes and information on what foods to eat to prolong their lives.

Donna Saddler is a nutritionist who likes to write in her spare time about the positive and negative effects of foods and plants on our bodies, such as the fenugreek and the shea butter

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Category: Disease Prevention, General Health

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