Nature’s Top Foods to Prevent and Reverse Disease
BY MARLAINA DONATO
Heart disease and chronic illnesses like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and inflammatory bowel disease are reaching alarming rates in this country. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 71 percent of all healthcare spending in the U.S. goes toward treating people with multiple chronic conditions.
Plant-dominant diets have a profound and universal effect on disease prevention, and often pose the potential for reversal. Enlightened institutions like the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, in Loma Linda, California, are now offering resident physicians specialized studies in lifestyle medicine based on therapeutic applications of diet.
Founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, international speaker and bestselling author Dr. Michael Greger, whose How Not to Die book now has a companion cookbook, is at the forefront of the growing conscious eating for wellness movement. The conclusions he’s drawn from his own practice are supported by the largest study to date on disease risk factors, the Global Burden of Disease, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “The number one cause of death and cause of disability in the United States is our diet. Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. Genes are not our destiny,” Greger says.
Big Changes Made Easier
Eating superfoods slows inflammation, a major factor in myriad health conditions, and fosters an internal environment that opposes cancer cells. According to Greger, incorporating nutrient-dense foods into our daily diet need not feel like a chore or sacrifice. “If you eat junk, not only are you feeding your precious body crummy fuel, but you’re missing out on choices that are health-promoting,” says Greger, whose free Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen phone app helps make the switch easy and intriguing.
“I’m a fan of techniques for getting more plants on our plates,” says Greger. “Try using meat as more of a condiment or flavoring. Find entrées you already like and make them more plant-friendly. For instance, try replacing the taco meat with lentils spiced with traditional taco seasonings.”
Other helpful tips include tapping a family member, friend or colleague eager to support healthy choices. It can be difficult to be the only one eating healthfully in any group, but having a support system can help make the transition easier.
Superfoods as Allies
According to Jennifer Di Noia, Ph.D., of William Paterson University of New Jersey, in Wayne, superfoods have 17 nutrients in common that are critical to the prevention of chronic disease, based on findings of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Institute of Medicine.
Phytochemicals are the body’s best source of antioxidants to help fortify cells against cancer and premature aging, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of dementia. Leafy greens such as collards, beet tops and certain lettuces, along with cruciferous vegetables, pack the most punch. Surprisingly, popular kale came in at number 15 on the CDC list of 41 superfoods, scoring only 49 out of 100 points for phytonutrient value.
Results of an in vitro study published by the journal Nutrition Research spotlight the cholesterol-reducing benefits of steamed collard greens and their ability to boost the body’s natural cholesterol blockers by 13 percent more than the pharmaceutical drug Cholestyramine.
Results as Reward
Greger reminds us that changing our diet can be initially daunting, but better health is worth the effort, as exemplified by one of his leading cases. “I met with an obese, middle-aged man with Type 2 diabetes
in the beginning stages of diabetic neuropathy. After a month of being on a plant-based diet, he had reversed his diabetes and his nerve pain disappeared. Within three months, he no longer needed medications for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Two decades later, he remains vigorous and free of chronic disease.”
Greger’s greatest reward is seeing people enjoying better health. His joy is evident when he confides, “Stories of people regaining health charge my batteries and make me jump out of bed in the morning.”
Marlaina Donato is a freelance writer and author of several books, including Multidimensional Aromatherapy. Connect at MarlainaDonato.com.
Today’s 26 Top Superfoods
Source: Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach, a study led by Jennifer De Noia, Ph.D., in Preventing Chronic Disease, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Visit Dr. Michael Greger’s nonprofit website NutritionFacts.org for free diet information.
This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.