Ask a Dietician — Foods that Prevent Illness

Ask a Dietician — Foods that Prevent Illness

Question:  Are there some foods that can prevent illnesses?

Foods that offer additional health benefits other than basic nutrition are known as functional foods. These foods contain a naturally present biologically active component that is believed to decrease the risk of developing a chronic disease. Some of these foods have gained popularity in the media because they are widely promoted to prevent conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis and obesity.

A variety of clinical studies have been performed to support the benefits of incorporating functional foods into your diet. However, it is important to realize that no food can be considered the magic bullet to wellness. Variety in the foods you eat is key. This concept, accompanied with plenty of physical activity, a smoke-free environment and a low-stress lifestyle can all contribute towards optimal health. Some of these foods and their associated perceived health benefits are described below accompanied by tips on how to add them into your diet.

Oats – Oat Products contain a soluble fibre called b-glucan. This fibre has been shown to reduce total and low-density (LDL) cholesterol. This effect can reduce one’s risk for coronary heart disease. Tasty Tip – try a steamy bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.

Tomatoes – Tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene that is perceived to reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancers because it is an effective quencher of free radicals. Tasty Tip – add sliced tomatoes to your sandwiches; bring some color to your salad with cherry tomatoes or make some homemade tomato soup.

Garlic – The purported health benefits of garlic are many. Garlic is promoted to prevent cancer, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and as an antibiotic. Tasty tip – For added flavour add a clove or two of minced garlic to sauces, meats or stews during cooking.Broccoli and other Cruciferous Vegetables – (Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts) Epidemiological research has associated frequent consumption of cruciferous vegetables with decreased cancer risk. The anticancer properties of cruciferous vegetables are attributed to their relatively high levels of glucosinolates. Tasty tip – Create a stir-fry with a medley of vegetables including Chinese cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Or, serve some steamed broccoli and cauliflower as side dish covered in a warm cheese sauce.

Tea – Tea, especially green tea, contains a high concentration of polyphenols and flaveniods. These compounds are respectively suspected to have anticancer properties and reduce risks for developing cardiovascular disease. Tasty tip – Caffeine-free green tea with a little bit of honey can be a refreshing way to end a nice meal with family or friends.

Citrus Fruits – In addition to the essential nutrients of vitamin C, folate and fibre, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes contain a class of phytochemincal called limonoids. Limonoids are currently being studied to explore their role in fighting and preventing cancer. Tasty tip – On a warm day, juice your own citrus fruits to make a fresh squeezed class of citrus or try some grapefruit and oranges in a refreshing fruit salad.

The above question was answered by Laurel Leconte, a nutrition intern.

The “Ask a Dietician” column is an initiative of the Miramichi Regional Health Authority MANGO Program that promotes healthy eating and active living. The Miramichi people and its surrounding communities are invited to ask their nutrition and physical activity related questions to a MANGO dietician by e-mail at, or calling (506) 623-3555 and leaving a message.