In Sickness and In Health: How What You Eat Can Affect Disease

By Elizabeth Yarnell

Chronic disease sufferers typically receive detailed instructions regarding dosages of medication, but the conventional medical community is just starting to recognize the effects of diet on disease. For almost any type of ailment, choosing to practice a healthy diet can be an effective tool in any disease management strategy.

Diet, of course, is only one part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, sleep and stress management. However, thinking logically, if we have plaque build-up in our arteries that led to a heart attack, continuing to eat foods that add to that plaque could lead to another, possibly fatal attack. There are many diseases, including cardiac disease, that respond well to changes in dietary habits or may even be preventable with a little conscious eating.

Both diabetics and multiple sclerosis sufferers report success in reducing the severity of symptoms by changing their diet to one lower in saturated fats and higher in whole foods and unsaturated fats. Since Omega-3 fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fats play a role in healthy nerve conduction, MS patients may benefit from maintaining a diet that not only promotes nervous system function, but may even help repair existing damage. Good sources of unsaturated fats include avocados, nuts, seeds and fish.

The National Cancer Institute reported in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association that various fruits and vegetables may protect against heart disease, stroke, cancer, cataracts, chronic obstructive lung disease, diverticulosis and possibly high blood pressure. Produce especially rich in cancer-protective chemicals include:

  • Onion family
  • Cabbage family (including broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale and Brussels sprouts)
  • Dried legumes (beans and peas)
  • Tomatoes
  • Deep yellow-orange produce (sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and winter squash)
  • Citrus fruits
  • Blueberries
  • Dried fruits such as prunes and raisins

The American Heart Association recommends that patients with heart disease change their diets to one higher in produce and lower in meat and saturated fats. Flavonoids and other antioxidants found in produce can inhibit the formation of blood clots and artery-clogging cholesterol. Natural potassium may help to prevent or control high blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Produce especially protective against heart disease and stroke include:

  • Orange fruit and vegetables high in potassium (orange, cantaloupe)
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Cabbage family
  • Citrus fruits

Researchers additionally believe that several components of whole grains such as antioxidants, minerals, fiber and phytoestrogens, act in symphony with each other to fight both heart disease and cancer. Whole grains can help lower LDL cholesterol levels, and oats contain a number of nutrients that can help reduce several heart disease risk factors.

A large study of male health professionals showed that fruits and vegetables high in the antioxidants of carotenoids and vitamins C and E appear to reduce the risk of developing cataracts. Produce especially helpful to prevent cataracts include:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Corn
  • Tomato sauce

These are only a few examples of foods that have been formally studied in connection with a specific disease; imagine how much we don’t know or can’t identify yet about the link between diet and health. Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients were only first isolated and identified within the last century and new properties are still discovered regularly.

Since, in many ways, the formal study of human nutrition is a relatively recent field and much is still unknown, the best way to hedge our bets toward health may be to attempt to provide our bodies with the nutrition it needs to function properly, if not optimally. A diet rich in a variety of whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins can not only provide a balanced source of energy but will also nourish and sustain bodily functions from the cellular level on up.

Try this recipe for a quick, convenient, nutritious and delicious one-pot meal that offers a variety of whole foods containing a medley of nutrients to supply a healthy body.

French Riviera Tomato Trout with Potatoes

Servings 2


1/2 lb. potatoes, red boiler or new

2-5 cloves garlic, chopped

8-10 pearl onions, peeled, whole

1/2-3/4 lb. trout fillets

1 Tbsp. capers, drained

1/4 cup kalamata olives, sliced

1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup haricots verts (green beans), cut in thirds

2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped roughly

1/3 cup white wine


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray inside of 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven and lid with olive oil.

Scrub and eye the potatoes and cut into 1"x1/2" pieces. Place in base of pot in a single layer. Distribute 1/2 the garlic and all of the onions among the potatoes.

Lay the trout in a single layer (skin side down) atop the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with rest of garlic, capers, olives and 1/2 the parsley. Lightly season with salt and pepper.

Add the haricots verts. Top with the chopped tomatoes, sprinkle with the rest of the parsley and again lightly season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine over all.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes.


Eat in the light, clean Mediterranean tradition for meals that are low in saturated fats but high in flavor. You can easily skip the wine in this recipe and still have a great tasting meal, but if you do choose to use wine, try a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc rather than a "cooking wine.”

About the author: Elizabeth Yarnell is a Certified Nutritional Consultant and the author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A new quick & healthy approach to Dutch oven cooking, a guide to a guide to preparing quick, healthy and balanced one-pot meals. Visit Elizabeth online at www.GloriousOnePotMeals.com to subscribe to her free newsletter. The Glorious One-Pot Meal cooking method is unique and holds US patent 6,846,504.