What are true health-promoting and disease-promoting foods?

To truly consume a healthy diet, the vast majority of the diet must be composed of health-promoting foods, and disease-promoting foods must be avoided. To define health-promoting and disease-promoting foods, we can turn to science to learn which foods are consistently shown to be protective against chronic disease (or associated with disease risk), which foods are associated with longevity (or mortality), and which foods contain known anti-cancer substances (and which contain cancer-promoting substances).

True health-promoting foods – these foods have the power to protect, to heal and prolong human lifespan:

Green vegetables. Many green vegetables (such as bok choy, broccoli, and kale) belong to the cruciferous family, vegetables that contain potent anti-cancer compounds called isothiocyanates (ITCs).1 Green leaves are perhaps the most powerful longevity-inducing foods of all.

Onions and mushrooms also have well-documented cancer-protective properties. Onions and their Allium family members contain chemoprotective organosulfur compounds2, and consuming mushrooms regularly has been shown to decrease risk of breast cancer by over 60%.3

Fruits, especially berries and pomegranate. Blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are true super foods. They are full of antioxidants and have been linked to reduced risk of diabetes, cancers and cognitive decline.4 Pomegranate has multiple cardiovascular health benefits, for example reducing LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. 

Beans are an excellent, nutrient-dense weight-loss food - they have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, which promotes satiety and helps to prevent food cravings. Plus they contain substances that lower cholesterol, and regular bean consumption is associated with decreased cancer risk.5

Nuts and seeds. Nuts contain a spectrum of beneficial nutrients including healthy fats , LDL-lowering phytosterols, circulation-promoting arginine, minerals, and antioxidants. Countless studies have demonstrated the cardiovascular benefits of nuts, and including nuts in the diet has been shown to aid in weight control.6 Seeds have even a richer micronutrient profile, abundant in trace minerals, and each kind of seed is nutritionally unique. Flaxseeds provide abundant omega-3 fats, pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc and iron, and sesame seeds are high in calcium and multiple vitamin E fractions.


True disease-promoting foods – harmful foods that should be avoided:

Cheese, butter, and ice cream. These are dangerous foods that are loaded with saturated fat, that contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and several cancers.7 Dairy products are also associated with prostate cancer in men.8 

Potato chips and French fries. High heat cooking produces acrylamides, dangerous cancer-promoting substances. Acrylamides have been shown to cause genetic mutations in animal studies leading to several cancers. Fried starchy foods, like potato chips and fries, are especially high in acrylamides and other toxic compounds. Baked starchy foods like breakfast cereals and crackers also contain these dangerous substances.

Refined carbohydrates. Sugar and white flour products are not nutritionally inert, simply adding a few extra calories to the diet – they are harmful. Devoid of fiber and stripped of vital nutrients, these refined foods promote diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.9

Salt. The dangers of salt are increasingly recognized, with government agencies finally considering salt reduction programs. Excess salt intake contributes not only to high blood pressure, but also to kidney disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, stroke, ulcers, and stomach cancer. Salt consumption becomes the leading contributor to a premature death in a individual eating an otherwise health-supporting diet.

Pickled, smoked, barbecued, or processed meats. Processed meats have been strongly and consistently linked to colorectal cancer, and have also been linked to prostate cancer. Processed meats contain carcinogenic substances called heterocyclic amines.10 In fact, any type of meat cooked at a high temperature will also contain these substances – for example, grilled or fried chicken was found to have the highest level of heterocyclic amines.11 High processed meat intake is also associated with increased rates of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.12



1. Higdon JV et al. Cruciferous Vegetables and Human Cancer Risk: Epidemiologic Evidence and Mechanistic Basis. Pharmacol Res. 2007 March ; 55(3): 224–236

2. Powolny AA, Singh SV. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vegetable-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):305-14.

3. Zhang M, et al. Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women. Int J Cancer. 2009;124:1404-1408

4. Bazzano LA, Li TY, Joshipura KJ, Hu FB. Intake of fruit, vegetables, and fruit juices and risk of diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2008 Jul;31(7):1311-7.

Hannum SM. Potential impact of strawberries on human health: a review of the science. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2004;44(1):1-17.

Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Willis LM. Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. J Nutr. 2009 Sep;139(9):1813S-7S.

Stoner GD, Wang LS, Casto BC. Laboratory and clinical studies of cancer chemoprevention by antioxidants in berries. Carcinogenesis. 2008 Sep;29(9):1665-74.

5. Bazzano LA, Thompson AM, Tees MT, et al. Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Nov 23. [Epub ahead of print]

Aune D, De Stefani E, Ronco A, et al. Legume intake and the risk of cancer: a multisite case-control study in Uruguay. Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Nov;20(9):1605-15.

6. Sabaté J, Ang Y. Nuts and health outcomes: new epidemiologic evidence. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1643S-1648S. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

Mattes RD et al. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1741S-1745S.

7. Kesteloot H, Lesaffre E, Joossens JV. Dairy fat, saturated animal fat, and cancer risk. Prev Med. 1991 Mar;20(2):226-36.

Genkinger JM, Hunter DJ, Spiegelman D, et al. Dairy products and ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 12 cohort studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006 Feb;15(2):364-72.

Keszei AP, Schouten LJ, Goldbohm RA, et al. Dairy Intake and the Risk of Bladder Cancer in the Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Dec 30. [Epub ahead of print]

Denke MA. Dietary fats, fatty acids, and their effects on lipoproteins. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2006 Nov;8(6):466-71.

8. Ma RW, Chapman K. A systematic review of the effect of diet in prostate cancer

prevention and treatment. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2009 Jun;22(3):187-99; quiz 200-2.

Kurahashi N, Inoue M, Iwasaki M. Japan Public Health Center-Based Prospective Study Group. Dairy product, saturated fatty acid, and calcium intake and prostate cancer in a prospective cohort of Japanese men. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008 Apr;17(4):930-7.

Allen NE, Key TJ, Appleby PN, et al. Animal foods, protein, calcium and prostate cancer risk: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Br J Cancer. 2008 May 6;98(9):1574-81. Epub 2008 Apr 1.

Ahn J, Albanes D, Peters U et al. Dairy products, calcium intake, and risk of prostate cancer in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. Cancer

Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007 Dec;16(12):2623-30.

Qin LQ, Xu JY, Wang PY, et al. Milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer in Western countries: evidence from cohort studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(3):467-76.

 Chan JM, Stampfer MJ, Ma J, et al. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk in the Physicians Health Study. Presenta- tion, American Association for Cancer Research, San Francisco, April 2000.

 Bosetti C, Tzonou A, Lagiou P, et al. Fraction of prostate cancer attributed to diet in Athens, Greece. Eur J Cancer Prev 2000;9(2):119-23.

9. Barclay AW, Petocz P, McMillan-Price J, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk--a meta-analysis of observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):627-37.

Sieri S, Krogh V, Berrino F, et al. Dietary glycemic load and index and risk of coronary heart disease in a large italian cohort: the EPICOR study. Arch Intern Med. 2010 Apr 12;170(7):640-7.

Pisani P. Hyper-insulinaemia and cancer, meta-analyses of epidemiological studies. Arch Physiol Biochem. 2008 Feb;114(1):63-70.

10. Zheng W, Lee S. Well-done Meat Intake, Heterocyclic Amine Exposure, and Cancer

Risk. Nutr Cancer. 2009 ; 61(4): 437–446.

11. Thomson B. Heterocyclic amine levels in cooked meat and the implication for New Zealanders. Eur J Cancer Prev 1999;8(3):201-06.

12. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, et al. Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(6):562-571.

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Comments (14) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Dean Laterra - April 28, 2010 11:03 AM

Great Article.

I can't resist sharing this for those who didn't know already.

In the very first chapter of the Bible, God says this about man's diet.

Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (Genesis 1:29-30)

Our Creator, who knows us best, designed us to eat plants and fruit. That was His original intention all along.

In the same way that following God's dietary advice will serve us well for prolonged earthly life, accepting and putting our full faith in Jesus Christ will give us eternal life.

Thank you for this post and have a Blessed Day!

Emily Boller - April 28, 2010 12:02 PM

Great explanation of what are health promoting and disease promoting foods.

We don't just need a Food Revolution in America - that's merely a first step.

We need a Health Revolution in America - we need a total re-education of what foods are health promoting and disease promoting.

Now THAT is something I will sign a petition for, most definitely!

David Griffin - April 28, 2010 12:26 PM

Now that we've gotten the Christianity preaching out of the way... But, yes Dean, science is teaching us what we mostly already knew from nature, that's very true.

This article is a great summary of the foods we should and shouldn't eat. I've learned so much from Dr Fuhrman and others like him - it's truly life changing information. The key though is, you can't just add a few more berries and cut a bit of salt and think you're eating healthy. You have to learn that most people around us are eating 4-5 times the salt we should, several times the amount of fat, etc, and barely leaving room for any fruits, veggies, beans and seeds, when it should be exactly the opposite. Even after eating 3,000 calories a day on the American Diet, we lack nearly all of the micro-nutrients that each of our cells require to function properly.

You have to make drastic changes, start fresh, read these books, then throw out all your processed foods, cooking books, and everything you've heard about protein vs carbs vs fats, and simply start over. This is what Dr Furhman's books teach you, if you learn, and jump in, you will become a whole new person, happy, energetic, slim, and most importantly, virtually disease proof. And in time, you will actually enjoy and prefer the new way of eating as compared to the old way.

C. L. - April 28, 2010 3:24 PM

David, thank you for your comments. I feel so alone b/c so many people are not eating like Dr. Fuhrman's book and they make me feel like the freak when really they are the ones that are clueless. I'm new to the Dr. Fuhrman way of eating but trying to do it so that I can be disease free and teach my child the right way to eat.

Emily Boller - April 28, 2010 3:34 PM

David, with all due respects to your point of view, Dean was merely making a statement as everyone is freely entitled to on Onlyourhealth.

We all preach by sharing our thoughts and opinions on various topics.

I agree 100% with your nutritional statements above ~ bingo ~ right on! . . . .but please, let's all go easy on anyone who has an opinion to share on a public forum. It takes a lot of courage for some to write a public comment and we want to encourage everyone to feel free to express his/her thoughts concerning a post writing. (unless it is downright hurtful , untrue or derogatory in nature)

Best of health and well-being to you and everyone!


ginger - April 28, 2010 6:55 PM

Thank you for this lovely list.

How sad that in a discussion this important, some cannot just honor the beliefs of another. Why is it necessary to or tear down others like that? True health will come to those, who first put the right things in their bodies (veggies and fruits), second exercise and care for said bodies, and third cherish other people regardless of belief system. Let us all do everything we can to spread the word about proper nutrition in a loving non-judgmental way--please.

Abe - April 29, 2010 7:49 AM

Since we're using the Bible for reference, what do you make of this passage, also in Genesis:

In the course of time Cain presented some of the land's produce as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also presented an offering — some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:3-7)

And then Cain killed Abel.

Reg Wilkins - April 29, 2010 9:17 AM

Emily - couldn't agree more.

Kat - April 29, 2010 9:57 AM

Thank you, Ginger and Emily. It needed to be said.

Dean Laterra - April 29, 2010 10:47 AM

I'm always happy to see people using the Bible as a reference.

Quickly to answer your question about Cain and Abel, it had to do with the cost of sin.

Cain and Abel happened after the fall of man, and ever since then, blood would be a requirement for the forgiveness of sins. Without blood unfortunately, there is no forgiveness of sin. God is very particular about this, and is why He sent Jesus as the once and for all sacrifice for human kind.

Abel approaching God with a blood sacrifice, was symbolic of the atoning blood that was shed by Jesus, for the eternal forgiveness of our sins.

This is the basic point of it all, without getting into a lengthy teaching and detailed explanation of it.

But bless you for referring to the Bible.

Also, continued blessing to Dr. Fuhrman and all his readers as they pursue healthy living!


StephenMarkTurner (formerly Steve) - April 29, 2010 5:18 PM

This post was originally about healing and harmful foods, not Cain and Abel???


Dean - May 20, 2010 11:16 AM

The jury is very much out on acrylamides, the author is overreaching.

And, while refined carbohydrates are not the best thing you can eat, the link between them and diabetes, cancer, and heart disease is complex. A light intake of refined carbohydrates is unlikely to make a difference in healthy, normal weight adults.

Beverly - September 8, 2010 7:19 PM

While I totally agree with Dr Furhman and his list....
I agree that God did have the perfect diet in the Garden of Eden when He had perfect people and a perfect world to work with. However, if you read past the 1st book of Genesis – you see that those people sinned and the world was no longer a perfect place to live. Farther along you see the great flood and the change that the world went through. Jesus ate fish and I don’t believe He made any mistakes…
Now- we eat WAY too much meat and let veggies and fruit take a back burner for sure, and I certainly dont think God intended that either...

Pam - October 31, 2010 8:10 AM

Thanks for all the great comments on God and food i'm skipping church today and reading this blog now I feel as if I have had some time of bible study today with out going to church!!

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