Diet-Related Diseases

The idea of diet-related diseases might sound far-fetched but in the last three years, as I gradually changed my diet I found that I got rid of many health challenges. It was then that I decided to find out what I could about the role of diet in health and disease. Governments all over the world recommend that we eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and that we cut down on fat and salt intake. These measures seem to be aimed at reducing the risk of obesity and that of cardiovascular disease. In fact, diet-related diseases (sometimes referred to as chronic or noncommunicable diseases) include (1-3):

  • Cardiovascular diseases and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Some cancers (such as bowel, pancreas, liver and oral)

They are diseases that can be controlled with medication but cannot be cured by medication (4). The problem is that most medications have unwelcome side-effects.

Why our diets are unhealthy

Starting from the time they are planted to when they are packaged and made available for consumption our foods are contaminated with fertilisers, pesticides, preservatives and additives while animals and poultry are treated with antibiotics and hormones (5). Traditional, plant-based diets have been replaced by high fat, energy dense foods many of which are animal-based (6). 

Our modern diet also consists of high sugar foods (such as cakes, biscuits), refined foods such as (white sugar and white bread), foods containing yeast (such as bread and rolls) and fast foods. These foods have no nutritional value but are energy-dense causing excess weight, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some foods are known to cause cancer. We’ve had some of this information for some time and yet we continue to eat unhealthily. This is because we do not have the full picture. There is convincing evidence for the link between diet and the diseases listed above (7;8).

Our nutrient-deficient diet causes chronic diseases. Governments can warn us and force the food industry to label foods so that we know exactly what we are eating. However, they cannot force us to heed their warnings. We have to accept full responsibility for our own health and to do this we need to have all the facts about diet-related diseases.

Diet and Cancer

There is convincing evidence that:

  • Processed meat causes bowel cancer. Processed meat means any meat preserved by salting, curing, smoking or the addition of preservatives. This includes ham, bacon, hot dogs and sausages (7;8)
  • Red meat (which includes beef, lamb and pork) causes bowel cancer (2;7;8). It also causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (9)
  • Animal fat (especially from red meat) increases the risk of prostate (10) and pancreatic cancer (11)
  • Alcohol (2;7;8;12) causes: Oral cancers (mouth, pharynx and larynx) oesophageal cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer
  • Being overweight causes cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, breast and bowel

Chronic Disease Statistics

  • In 2001, 60% of the 56 million deaths, worldwide, were due to chronic disease (6)
  • Almost half, of the chronic disease deaths, were due to cardiovascular disease
  • It is projected that by 2020, chronic diseases will account for 75% of all deaths worldwide
  • At least 7 million people die every year from cancer

What governments say about diet-related diseases

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and its member states have set up committees and commissioned studies on the effect of diet and physical activity on health (1;6;13;14). 

They agree that:

  • Chronic diseases can be prevented and controlled
  • Preventive and curative measures are well-established but under-utilised
  • Due to poor diet, more and more adults and children are suffering from cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancers and diabetes
  • To reduce the risk of diet-related diseases, a more effective implementation strategy is required
  • At least 80% of most chronic diseases and 40% of all cancers would be prevented if the risk factors of unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, tobacco use and alcohol were eliminated (3). Risk factor reduction can lead to amazingly quick health gains
  • Countries, like Poland, that have implemented effective prevention programmes have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of deaths from chronic diseases, in the last 3 decades (3). The programmes included more fruit and vegetables, reduction in animal fat and a decrease in tobacco use. It was found that improvements in medical treatment contributed little, if at all, to the fall in death rates
  • The Diabetes Prevention Program found that participants who made dietary changes and increased physical activity sharply reduced their chances of developing diabetes (15)
  • After reduction in tobacco use, increased consumption of fruit and vegetables may be the most effective cancer prevention strategy (14)

Preventing Diet-Related Diseases

Chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke have similar causes and can be prevented. There are many plant-based foods that have been shown to be cancer fighting foods and the same foods have been shown to protect against heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.

Government Recommendations to Reduce Diet-Related Diseases

  • You should eat no more than 500g of red meat per week
  • Limit intake of fats
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day), legumes, whole grains and nuts
  • Limit intake of refined sugars
  • Eliminate alcohol and tobacco

My Recommendations

The government recommendations are fine, in themselves, but they don’t go far enough. It's all very well to cut out certain foods to reduce the risk of certain diseases. But how do you go about it? If you've been eating sausages, bacon and ham all your life cutting them out will not be easy. If you do cut them out but continue to eat red meat then you could still get bowel cancer. We are told to limit intake of refined sugars but, to many of us, this means replacing white sugars with artificial sweeteners or unrefined sugars while we continue to eat fast foods and to mix foods that fight at the same meal. How many people do you know that take tea or coffee without sugar, eat a fair amount of fruit and vegetables, go to the gym and yet suffer all sorts of symptoms like allergies and high blood pressure? This is because of all the other things that they eat and the way in which they combine them (beef stew and rice, fish and chips or spaghetti bolognese etc). Sometimes we buy refined foods because vitamins and minerals have been added to them. This is not the form in which we should be taking our vitamins and minerals. Eating fruit and vegetables provides you with vitamins and minerals in the most suitable form.

To prevent diet-related diseases we have to commit to a complete lifestyle change. The diet that works best for me is the raw food diet which excludes all animal products. The only problem I had was in trying to add variety to what I ate. I ended up eating the same foods over and over until I couldn't take it any more. I have since learnt that there are many people who have dedicated their lives to simplifying the whole process of changing to raw food meals and they have created many mouth-watering recipes. However, you should choose the lifestyle that works best for you. I also have experience with the food combining and alkaline diets.

In some studies, vegetarian diets were associated with lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and certain cancers (16).

Whichever diet you choose, make sure it really works for you. See the list of supplements that I believe will help promote good health and improve quality of life. Of course, they are most effective if you are on a suitable diet.

Word of Caution

If you do decide to reduce your chances of getting diet-related diseases by changing your diet, please do so with the approval of your doctor and please continue taking any prescribed medications. It is important that you read my disclaimer.



References 

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