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Foods That Fight Disease

Eating right really can keep you healthy.

When it comes to food, we can't ignore the facts — or the science. You need a healthy diet for a healthy life.

Research shows a healthy diet could help or prevent a number of health problems, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. And that number keeps growing as researchers learn more about how nutrition affects your health.

What You Should Know
Adopting a disease-fighting diet is easier than you think. When you shop, choose fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, such as brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Avoid foods high in sugar and fat. Here are some tips for arming yourself against disease with good-for-you foods:

Follow the Food Guide Pyramid
This guide tells you what foods to include in your diet each day and in what portions. It shows you how to have a balanced diet by eating foods from all the basic food groups:

  • milk, yogurt and cheese (two to three servings; one cup of milk or yogurt would be one serving)
  • meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts (two to three servings; one serving would be two eggs, ½ cup of tuna fish, or about ½ of a skinless, cooked chicken breast)
  • fruit (two to four servings; one serving would be a medium-sized apple or banana, ½ cup of canned fruit, or ¼ cup of dried fruit)
  • vegetable (three to five servings; one serving would be ½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables or one cup of raw, leafy vegetables, such as spinach or lettuce)
  • bread, cereal, rice, and pasta (six to 11 servings; a slice of bread, ½ bagel or English muffin, or 1 cup of pasta would be a serving)

Think color
When it comes to fruit and vegetables, eat lots of deep-colored produce. Oranges and dark berries, like blueberries and cranberries, are especially rich in natural plant chemicals that can protect you against diseases like cancer and heart disease, according to the American Dietetic Association. Orange and dark green vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach are also rich in these plant chemicals.

Remember fiber
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables will give your body extra water and fiber, which will help keep your digestive tract clean and healthy. Beans, bran, whole-grain breads and brown rice, and high-fiber cereals are also good sources of fiber.

Make good bacteria your friend
Fermented foods like yogurt are especially good for you as you get older because they contain "good" bacteria that keep your digestive tract healthy. Check food labels for these bacteria. They will say "contains active cultures." The more cultures listed, the healthier the food. The good bacteria in these foods also fight the bad bacteria that can enter your body through spoiled food and make you sick.

Eat fatty fish
Your body needs some fats to stay healthy, and the fats found in fish like salmon and tuna are good for your heart. Fish also provides a rich source of protein without the large amount of unhealthy fat you get from red meat.

Try soy
Eating about one to two ounces of soy protein daily can help lower cholesterol and unhealthy fat in your diet and protect you from heart disease. You can find many different soy products, which come from soybeans, in your food store. The most popular are tofu, soy milk (in different flavors), soy burgers and hot dogs, soy ice cream, soy nut butter, and soy flour.

Drink plenty of water
To stay healthy, drink at least eight glasses of water daily. Pay special attention to drinking enough because your thirst decision dulls with age, and remember that if you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated.
Don't abstain if you don't have to

Beer and red wine, in moderation, are another rich source of plant chemicals. This means no more than one glass of beer or red wine a day for women, two for men.

Following a healthy diet, along with regular exercise, will prevent you from gaining weight, which is important for good health. Losing 10 percent of your body weight, for instance, could be enough to lower your cholesterol. Choose healthy foods for a longer and healthier life!

Additional Resources

American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society has nutrition information for reducing your cancer risk, including guidelines, recipes, and information on supplements.

American Diabetes Association
The American Diabetes Association created the Diabetes Food Pyramid with information and tips on how to use it to suit your special dietary needs.

American Heart Association
The American Heart Association's "Eating Plan For Healthy Americans" is designed to reduce three major risk factors for heart attack: high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body weight.
This federal government site has information on the Food Guide Pyramid, supplements, food labels, and food safety.

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