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Can diet help you fight chronic disease?

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Cropped image of a couple preparing a salad, slicing cucumber on a wooden chopping board

With the cost of traditional health care rising, more and more people are turning to diet and nutrition to treat or prevent disease. Whether you are trying to lose weight, stay healthy, increase energy or beat a health problem, your diet options are endless and can be confusing. While simply eliminating or cutting down on processed foods can have a significant impact on your health, certain diets promise even greater benefits. Here, we look at some of the most popular diets for people facing chronic health conditions.

Paleo
The Paleo diet is also known as the caveman diet because of way it mimics the way our ancestors ate before food modernization. The diet focuses on increasing lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, while avoiding grains, processed foods, sugars, dairy and legumes. 

Believers in the Paleo diet claim that it can lead to weight loss and improved blood lipids. Studies have shown that following a Paleo diet can improve blood glucose levels and blood pressure - and lower weight and body mass index. One of the biggest misconceptions about this diet is that it is a high-protein, low-carb plan. Paleo doesn’t have to be low-carb thanks to its inclusion of starchy vegetables. Healthy fats, including coconut products, are emphasized and protein consumption doesn’t necessarily have to be high.

The ketogenic diet 
Ketosis was made popular thanks to the induction phase of the Atkins diet, in which you limit carbohydrates to under 20 grams per day to put your body into ketosis. Ketosis helps the body switch from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat. The John Hopkins Medical Center currently utilizes the ketogenic diet to manage some cases of pediatric epilepsy. Additional research has examined the potential for the ketogenic diet to help manage neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and autism. 

Vegan 
Vegans say goodbye to all traces of animal products and focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Those on a vegan diet may tend to consume fewer calories, which can help with weight loss. Recent research has shown veganism to be a good diet choice for improving blood lipids and glycemic control, helping to reduce the risk of diabetes.  A study funded by the National Cancer Institute showed vegans to have a lower rate of cancer than both meat eaters and vegetarians, especially in women-specific cancers such as breast, cervical and ovarian cancer. Since it is so restrictive, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that some vegan diets create a risk of inadequate intakes of certain vitamins and minerals, so it’s important for vegans to regularly check for nutrient deficiencies.

Macrobiotic 
An essentially vegetarian diet popularized in Japan, the macrobiotic diet emphasizes local, organic whole foods including whole grains, sea vegetables, beans and aged soy products and limited amounts of fish and seafood. It includes nothing artificial or processed. Macrobiotic followers believe that the quality of the food you eat affects not only health, but also well-being, happiness and energy flow. While research on the macrobiotic diet is limited, proponents claim that it can help relieve anxiety, heart disease, arthritis, cancer and other chronic conditions through a combination of diet, lifestyle and mind/body practices.

Whatever your health battle, the right diet can help play an important role in disease prevention. The key is finding one that fits your lifestyle and that you can stick with. Listening to cues from your body will help you decide what feels best and using a combination of different diets may be the answer.

Jacqueline Banks is a certified holistic health counselor and busy mother.  Her focus is on helping other busy moms in all stages of motherhood keep themselves and their little ones healthy and happy.  She uses natural and organic solutions to solve individual health problems and promote clean living. Check out her website at www.jbholistic.com