Diets That Prevent Disease

Want a diet to fight breast cancer? Foods to lower cholesterol? Prevent chronic disease? We've got the eating plan for you

by Meryl Davids Landau
diets that prevent disease
Photograph: Illustrated by Aad Goudappel

In recent years, researchers have amassed more and more evidence that what we eat plays a huge role in how disease free we remain. “Along with avoiding tobacco and being physically active, a healthy diet reduces the risk of most major chronic conditions by as much as 80 percent,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. But while doctors can prescribe a great, one-menu-fits-all eating plan for general good health, it’s also possible to tailor your diet to specific health concerns, such as preventing breast cancer, heart disease and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as chronic diseases in general.

Here are four different paths to a healthier you. But before you take action, make sure you get the OK from your physician.

The Intermittent Diet

Goal: Prevent breast cancer

In brief | Severe calorie restriction for two days a week; a Mediterranean diet the other days.


Women who are worried about breast cancer can’t change most of their risk factors, such as their family history, but they can significantly boost their odds of dodging the disease by staying at a healthy weight. Gaining too many pounds after menopause increases breast cancer risk by 30 to 60 percent. This plan is aimed at women who need to lose weight but find it tough to slash calories day after day; here, you have to muster major discipline for only 48 hours a week.


For five days, you follow a Mediterranean-based diet, filled with vegetables, legumes, lean protein and good fats like olive oil. (See here for menu ideas.) You eat the number of calories you normally do when you’re not putting on weight. (In other words, you follow a maintenance diet.) On the two other (not necessarily consecutive) days, you become super strict and consume a maximum of 650 calories, mostly from milk and produce. Are these intermittent low-calorie days dangerous? No, says Katz, although he believes a traditional eating plan might be easier to follow for the long term.

The Evidence 

In a four-month study of 115 women, intermittent dieters shed more weight and body fat and improved their insulin response more than those on a consistent 1,500--calories-per-day Mediterranean diet (the two dieting groups ate the same total number of calories per week). 

For more information and menu plans click here.

A (strict) day on the diet


1 cup black coffee (or add milk from your lunch allotment)

1 banana


1 cup green tea


Cream of carrot soupmade with
2 carrots, 1 vegetable bouillon cube, 1 cup 2% milk and spices of your choice

1 cup skim milk


1 glass plain sparkling water


2 small vegetable portions(a portion equals 2 broccoli spears, 1 tomato or a cereal bowl of either lettuce or spinach) stir-fried with soy sauce and ginger

1 glass water


2 cups 1% milkblended with ice to make a smoothie (or served hot with cinnamon and artificial sweetener)

  Diet created by the U.K.’s Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention organization.

The Portfolio Diet

Goal: Cut your risk of heart disease

First published in the November 2012 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Post new comment

Click to add a comment