We all know that eating greasy, packaged foods laden with saturated fat, salt and preservatives increase our risk of diseases such as strokes, diabetes and cancer….but instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t eat, have you ever stopped to think about how eating more fruit, more vegetables, more low fat dairy, more wholegrains and more fish can actually protect you against disease? Every delicious mouthful of fresh, nutrient-dense food may actually be helping you live a longer, healthier life! So, let’s look more closely at why we should be ditching the dial-in menus and preparing some of nature’s own supplements…

Eat fruit and vegetables to protect against heart disease

Fruit and vegetables are packed full of vitamins and minerals which are protective against a range of diseases. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that up to 2.7 million lives could potentially be saved each year simply by people consuming the recommended intakes of fruit and veg ! It is suggested that one in three heart attacks can be linked to people not meeting their fruit and vegetable requirements. Fruit and vegetables contain a large variety of micronutrients, antioxidants and dietary fibre which create a unique combination of protective substances to guard against diseases such as heart disease. It is recommended that we consume at least 400g of fruit and vegetables each day, which can be met by eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables or salad.

Tips for increasing fruit & veg
Include vegetables or salad at both lunch and dinner daily.
Try adding a serve of fruit to your breakfast cereal each morning.
Snack on vegetable crudités as a healthy snack between meals.
Grate vegetables and add to minces, casseroles and soups.
Have fresh fruit for a sweet dessert after your evening meal.

Eat dairy products to protect against osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become fragile and break easily. The disease currently affects about two million Australians causing more than forty Aussies to break their hip daily, with at least four of these people ending up in a nursing home. Yet, osteoporosis can be prevented! Numerous studies show that dairy products are protective against osteoporotic fracture risk. Dairy products are rich in calcium, protein, phosphorus and vitamin D which strengthen bones making them less likely to fracture, even after a fall. One serve of dairy (such as 250ml milk, 200g yoghurt or 40g cheese) contains approximately 300mg of calcium, so consuming the recommended three serves daily goes a long way to helping you meet the recommended 1000mg per day that you require to help protect against osteoporosis. Dairy products also have a low glycemic index (GI) which helps you to feel fuller for longer, so a glass of skim milk or tub of low fat yoghurt makes a great between meal snack – and provides you with the assurance that every mouthful is strengthening your bones!

Tips for increasing dairy intake
Have a glass of warm milk before bed
Start the day with a bowl of high fibre cereal and milk
Treat yourself to a small skim latte each day
Make a tzatziki dip from natural yoghurt and serve with vegetable crudites

Eat wholegrains to protect against bowel cancer

It is commonly taught that fibre is essential to protect against bowel cancer, yet a recent study of over 480,000 people found that only fibre from wholegrains (such as brown bread, cous cous and oats) was protective against bowel cancer, and not the fibre from other refined sources such as white bread. The study found that those that ate the most wholegrains had a twenty percent lower risk of colorectal cancer than those who ate the least. The lesson here is simple: swap white processed cereals with brown wholegrain choices!

Tips for increasing your wholegrain intake
Use brown rice instead of white
Start the day with a bowl of high fibre wholegrain breakfast cereal
Add cous cous to your salads
Swap to a multigrain bread

Eat fish to protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease has been described as one of the “most disabling” diseases affecting older Australians today as the progressive decline in neurological functioning leaves sufferers with a high degree of dependence. Studies show that fish consumption can be protective against this condition. It is thought to be the long polyunsaturated omega 3 fats found in fish, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), that protect the brain against the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s. One study of over 800 men and women found that those who consumed fish at least once per week were 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease! Whatever the reason, with figures like that, it’s worth ensuring that fish is included in your weekly menu!

Tips for increasing your fish intake
Add salmon to pasta
Try fish fingers for a quick and easy dinner
Add tinned tuna to salads
Grab a sushi roll for a quick and healthy take away food option

So, looking at the research, it’s safe to say that food, in addition to filling our tummies and tantalising our palates, is nature’s own medicine, and as such it is essential that we make our daily choices wisely.