The role of specific foods in preventing and treating chronic diseases


Apex Hospitals Doctor

Apex Hospitals

09-02-2024 5 Min Read

Functional Foods for Chronic Disease Prevention

    Consuming food is essential to human survival, just as it is for every other living entity. One of the most fundamental aspects of human existence is the innate desire to consume food, which encompasses many aspects, including biological, psychological, and societal factors.

    Although whole foods are what we perceive and consume, the nutrients contained within these foods provide our cells with the fuel they need to carry out the processes necessary for their survival. An imbalance in nutrient intake can cause a disruption in cellular processes over an extended period, whether excessive or insufficient. This disruption can ultimately result in cellular dysfunction and may even lead to the development of chronic diseases.

    In the past century, there has been a significant expansion in the medical community’s comprehension of dietary science and the pivotal role of nutrition in the genesis of chronic ailments. However, the proliferation of misinformation, often propagated by “fad diets” and ill-informed health advice disseminated through social media platforms, has emerged as a concerning trend.

    To counteract this surge of health misinformation, it is imperative to revert to the fundamentals: understanding what to consume and imbibe.

    Individuals can witness remarkable enhancements in their well-being by making simple and feasible adjustments to dietary patterns and beverage selections. These changes not only act as preventive measures against silent adversaries like obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes but also safeguard the vitality of vital organs such as the brain, eyes, heart, and kidneys, ultimately augmenting longevity.

Balancing nutrition to prevent chronic diseases

    Achieving a balance of nutrients is crucial for promoting overall health and preventing chronic diseases. Our bodies rely on diverse nutrients to support daily functions, each playing a specific role in our physiological processes.

    These nutrients can be broadly categorized into

    Macronutrients: These are the primary sources of energy and include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Carbohydrates and proteins yield 4 kilocalories per gram, while fats provide 9 kilocalories per gram. Although alcohol also provides energy at 7 kilocalories per gram, it is not considered a nutrient as it lacks a functional role in the body.

    Micronutrients: These are essential chemical substances or elements required in small quantities for various bodily functions, including growth, development, and metabolism. Micronutrients comprise vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients such as antioxidants.

    Water: Often overlooked, water is an indispensable nutrient as the body cannot synthesize it independently. Constituting 60-70% of our body composition, water is vital for maintaining hydration and facilitating cellular processes. While we typically associate water with hydration, it is also present in various foods, mainly fruits and vegetables.

    An imbalance in nutrient intake, known as malnutrition, can adversely affect health. However, it’s essential to recognize that aside from a few exceptions like trans fats, nutrients are neither inherently “good” nor “bad” Instead, the quantity and balance of nutrients matter, with individual nutritional needs varying based on age, lifestyle, and health status.

Cardiovascular diseases

    Red and processed meats are strongly linked to increased cardiovascular risk.

    Conversely, individuals adhering to a meatless diet experience a notable reduction in mortality risk by 24% to 29% and a 32% decrease in incident cases.

    Meanwhile, sugars and refined grains play a significant role in elevating the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

    On the other hand, consuming fruits and vegetables is associated with remarkable reductions in cardiovascular risk. Just incorporating two and a half servings of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet can lead to an 8% decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease, a 16% decrease in the risk of stroke, and a 10% decrease in overall mortality risk.

Insulin resistance

    Processed meat is the most closely linked to type 2 diabetes risk, conferring a 37% increased risk.

    The risk of type 2 diabetes is also increased when carbohydrates are replaced with protein.

    On the other hand, consumption of whole grains and fruit lowers the risk of diabetes, she said. Eating one piece of fruit daily decreased diabetes risk by 12%, and eating one piece of fruit three times a week in patients with diabetes lowers the risk of all-cause mortality by 17%, microvascular complications by 28%, and macrovascular complications by 13%.

Cancer Prevention

    Consuming 100 grams of red meat per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 17%, and 50 grams of processed meat per day increases the risk by 18%.

    Instead, physicians should encourage patients to eat seven and a half servings of fruits andvegetables daily, which is associated with a significant 14% reduction in total cancer risk. Whole grains are also potent for reducing cancer risk, colorectal cancer risk and total cancer mortality by 17%.


    The optimal approach for sustainable and healthy weight loss involves adopting a long-term eating pattern that prioritizes overall health rather than focusing solely on shedding pounds.

    Diets that promote low-carb and high-protein intake, such as the ketogenic diet, should not be endorsed by physicians due to potential health risks.

    Instead, healthcare professionals can advocate for diets rich in plant-based foods, as research indicates that such dietary patterns are associated with healthier body mass indexes (BMIs) and support long-term wellness.

    Essential nutrients that protect us against chronic diseases

    a] Antioxidants:

    Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, and minerals like selenium and zinc, play a crucial role in preventing oxidative damage to cells. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders.

    b] Minerals:

    Dietary fibre is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system and preventing chronic illnesses. High-fibre foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts can aid in weight management, regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, and colon cancer.

    c] Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

    Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have anti-inflammatory effects and promote cardiovascular health. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. Incorporating these foods into your diet can help reduce inflammation, prevent heart disease, and improve cognitive function.

    d] Calcium and Vitamin D:

    A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis. Sources of these nutrients include leafy greens, dairy products, fortified plant-based milk, sunlight exposure, and fortified foods. Consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D promotes bone health and reduces the risk of fractures and chronic bone diseases.

    e] Phytochemicals:

    Phytochemicals are bioactive compounds in plants that offer various health benefits. Diets rich in phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and flavonoids in foods like tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits, carrots, and leafy greens, can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Incorporating these foods into your diet can support overall health and well-being.

    Optimal nutrition plays a crucial role in managing and preventing chronic diseases. By understanding the impact of nutrition and making healthier dietary choices, individuals can achieve excellent health and reduce their risk of developing chronic illnesses. At Apex Hospitals, our expert dieticians and professionals are dedicated to helping you reach your dietary goals. Don't wait any longer to take control of your health – book your appointment now and start your journey towards a healthier lifestyle.


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