disease fighting diets

Which diets have evidence of helping fight and manage disease?

Written by: Kelley R. Hill, MSN, RN-BC

In a Nutshell

  • The CDC determined that 30% of heart disease deaths are preventable through healthy lifestyle choices, which includes diet.
  • The common link to many disease states may be in the impact of diet on chronic inflammation throughout the body.
  • Emphasis on whole grains, protein, and… 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? Not enough. Try 7 to 10!

Diets that have the primary goal of weight loss often unnecessarily restrict foods essential for good health and that help prevent disease, and those that do boast better health are frequently based on popularized belief more than science.

Well-established, healthy eating patterns – especially those that include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – reduce cardiovascular disease, lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and lessen the odds for some cancers. This we know from an abundance of research. They also have the potential to reduce mild cognitive decline associated with aging, and even ease arthritis pain.

Disease Fighting diets are focused on gut health, cardiovascular protection, boosting immunity, and reducing inflammation. The bottom line: Some foods are harmful and destructive, while others are helpful and protective.

What is whole grain, anyway?A whole grain contains the germ (mineral rich center), the endosperm (starchy fuel source of the germ and largest part of a grain seed) and the bran (fibrous coating that surrounds it). Refined grains – like white flour – remove both the bran and the germ, eliminating any nutrients and fiber.Flours, breads, pastas, and cereals that are “whole grain” leave the entire grain, and thereby all the healthy components, intact.

Disease Fighting Diets

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • DASH
  • Gluten-free
  • Low-FODMAP
  • MIND
  • Ornish
  • Portfolio
  • TLC Program

Scientific & Expert Support

Most of the diets in the Disease Fighting group have been around for several decades and have strong evidence to substantiate their beneficial claims, particularly the grandfather of the group – the DASH diet.

There exists only moderate (not strong, though also not flimsy) evidence to support the claims of the Anti-inflammatory and Portfolio diets.

Where Does Alcohol Fit In?

Research consistently suggests that moderate intake of alcohol (1 drink daily for women, up to 2 for men) – namely wine, and red wine at that – may contribute to heart health.

Research has firmly established, however, that frequent or heavy alcohol consumption promotes inflammation and contributes to myriad health problems.


Not all the Disease Fighting diets are balanced (meeting all intake recommendations).

Some of the diets are not particularly easy to follow because of restrictions or cost.

The diets are also not a one-size-fits-all approach. A couple of the diets in this group are very disease-specific, targeting signs and symptoms of only one – maybe two – conditions, and hoping by extension to bring better overall health. For example, the gluten-free diet is aimed at those suffering from celiac disease and, to date, there is no evidence supporting its use by those who don’t have celiac disease or other gluten/wheat sensitivity. Avoiding gluten reduces your fiber intake and may lower your intake of key nutrients (as foods made from refined gluten-free grains are not always enriched).


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