Reduce Your Cancer, Heart Disease, and Stroke Risk With Healthy Diet
April 25, 2000 -- Eating right helps you stay healthy -- that's not news.
But a new study offers concrete evidence that the food choices we make every
day can have a direct influence on our risk of dying from cancer, heart
disease, and stroke.
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and low-fat dairy products can
reduce the risk of dying from those diseases by as much as 30%, according to a
study of more than 42,000 women in this week's issue of the Journal of the
American Medical Association.
"Diet does make a difference. That's what this study is showing,"
Melanie Polk, RD, tells WebMD. "When studies focus on individual nutrients
in diet, it really doesn't give you the whole picture, so it's really nice to
see a study that focuses on the overall diet and especially on the health
impact of eating a diet that's high in fruits and vegetables, a mostly
plant-based diet." Polk, who reviewed the study for WebMD, is the director
of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research in
The study authors compared the weekly intake of 23 different foods reported
by the women, whose average age was 61. The foods are all part of current
dietary recommendations that experts say should be part of a healthy, balanced
diet for men and women.
Foods included apples or pears; oranges; cantaloupe; orange or grapefruit
juice; grapefruit; other fruit juices; dried beans; tomatoes; broccoli;
spinach; mustard (weed), turnip or collard greens; carrots or mixed vegetables
with carrots; green salad; sweet potatoes, yams; other potatoes; chicken or
turkey; baked or stewed fish; dark breads like whole wheat, rye, or
pumpernickel; cornbread, tortillas, and grits; high-fiber cereals such as bran,
granola, or shredded wheat; cooked cereals; 2% milk; beverages with 2% milk;
and 1% or skim milk.
Researchers, led by Ashima K. Kant, PhD, of the department of family,
nutrition, and exercise sciences at Queens College of the City University of
New York in Flushing, assigned each woman a score based on the total number of
recommended foods that she reported eating at least once a week. The highest
possible score was 23. They then followed the women for more than five years to
see how many developed cancers or heart disease or had a stroke.
Compared to those with the lowest scores, those who had the highest scores
-- closest to 23 -- had a 30% reduction in risk of various cancers, heart
disease, stroke, and all other illnesses combined. Women with the highest
scores tended to be older, more educated, physically active, more likely to
drink alcohol and use dietary supplements regularly, and less likely to be
The authors say the findings support earlier data showing that women and men
who do not include a wide variety of foods in their day-to-day diet are more
likely to have an increased risk of death from all causes.