Rob Hobson, author of The Detox Kitchen Bible and Healthspan Head of Nutrition look at how food we eat can play a key role in keeping us well.
Current research has suggested that the Internet is fast becoming a resource for self-diagnosis and treatment solutions of many health conditions, the top ten including:
- Back pain
Previous research looking at the most common health searches has also shown popular conditions to include those relates to skin problems, reproductive health, heart health (high blood pressure, high cholesterol), sleep problems (insomnia), headaches and digestive health. The same research also highlights an interest in nutritional supplements and alternative treatments for common health complaints.
Self-diagnosing your health via the Internet is an ill-advised minefield of often conflicting information, lots of which may involve the motives of companies selling poorly researched treatments and therapies. For any serious health concern, professional advice from your GP is the only way to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
However, for diagnosed health concerns or recognised conditions, certain foods and dietary changes may provide an option to tackle the symptoms or compliment medical treatment. Lots of research has been conducted around the healing potential of food, some of which has formed the basis of recognised alternative treatments for many health conditions and some that have anecdotally been shown to have a positive effect. Whilst food is unlikely to cure you of disease, it does offer a relatively risk-free approach to explore.
Here are some of the UK’s most commonly researched health conditions and foods that may hold healing potential.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and effects many people on the UK. The condition can be the result of an unhealthy diet high in saturated and sugar or a symptom of a genetic condition called hypercholesterolaemia. If diet is the cause of your high cholesterol then certain foods hold the potential to help reduce it to healthy levels.
Certain soluble fibres known as beta-glucans can be found in foods such as oats and have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Other fibre-rich foods such as seeds, nuts, pulses and fruits rich in another fibre called pectin (apples, pears and grapes) can also help as they bind with cholesterol in the digestive tract and carry it away through the bowel. Soy foods (tofu, soya beans and soya milk) and almonds have also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and form the basis of a recognised cholesterol-lowering regime called the portfolio diet.
Poor digestion encompasses many conditions including constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and heartburn. High fibre foods are key to good digestion and particularly useful foods to ease conditions such as constipation include prunes and flaxseed (as well as keeping well hydrated). Magnesium is important for a healthy gut so including nuts and seed (also high in fibre) are good to include in the diet.
Probiotics found in live yoghurt as well as foods high in prebiotics (raw onion, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks and chicory) that help good bacteria to flourish can also ensure a healthy gut environment and often help with bloating. Other foods such as papaya and pineapple (particularly the stalk) contain papain and bromelain, enzymes that help to breakdown protein in food and may help as a digestive aid. Fresh mint tea can also help with bloating (a symptom of poor digestion) after eating by relaxing the gut wall to release excess gas.
High blood pressure
Another serious condition that increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure is affected by the diet. Whilst lowering your intake of salt (particularly that hidden in processed foods) and maintaining a healthy weight are well established diet-related ways of keeping blood pressure in check, ensuring a good intake of potassium-rich foods also helps. This mineral is essential for controlling the balance of fluid and electrolytes and rich sources can be found in foods such as salmon, beans (especially adzuki), bananas, dried fruit, avocados, spinach and Swiss chard.
Calcium and magnesium also play a role in regulating blood pressure so including plenty of dark green veggies, seeds, low fat dairy and dairy-free calcium foods such as tofu, dried fruit, almonds and kale will help maintain a good intake.
This condition is an auto-immune disease that affects the lining of joints (and other areas of the body) as the immune system attacks its own tissues causing inflammation and a high production of free radicals that cause damage to the joints. Eating lots of brightly coloured vegetables ensures a good supply of antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta-carotene and other phytonutrients (plant compound) that help to combat free radical damage. Maintaining a healthy weight is also beneficial to reduce the stress on joints.
There is compelling evidence that omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, fresh tuna) may help relieve the swelling and pain associated with this condition. Try eating up to four servings of oily fish each week.
Low levels of selenium have been linked to quickening the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and is a mineral lacking in the UK diet. Brazil nuts are the best way to source this mineral with just three or four kernels providing more than the entire recommended daily intake. Another antioxidant known as beta-cryptoxanthin has been shown to possibly help slow the disease progression and can be found in orange and red coloured foods such as red and orange peppers, butternut squash, carrots, papaya, apricots and watermelon. Whilst the research surrounding both these nutrients is not conclusive inclusion of nutrient rich foods is beneficial for overall health.
All mental health conditions are the result of many factors but maintaining a healthy diet will help, especially as a lack of appetite means less nutrient intake (a lack of magnesium and B vitamins have been linked to depression and anxiety). There is strong evidence that omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce the symptoms of depression so maintaining a good intake of these fats by eating up to four servings per week of oily fish may help. If struggling to get omega 3 into the diet I would suggest supplementing with Healthspan’s Omega 3, 1,000mg, 240 capsules £12.95.
Maintaining steady blood sugar levels is also important and whilst it won’t directly affect symptoms of depression will go some way to regulate mood. Choose high fibre carbs and proteins at mealtimes whilst limiting refined sugars found in processed foods and soft drinks.
This autoimmune condition is fairly common and is the result of the immune system attacking healthy cells and increasing the rate of skin cell growth. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (oily fish) can help reduce inflammation (via compounds known as prostaglandins) and have been shown to help skin patches looking less aggressive. Avoiding foods rich in an omega 6 fatty known as arachidonic acid (ARA) that encourage inflammation may also help. Such foods include liver (and other fatty meats), dairy and eggs. Extra virgin olive oil is also an anti-inflammatory food so switching to this as your main cooking oil may also be beneficial.
Rob has also provided us with a series of delicious recipes – designed to assist in healthy eating. Click the links below to try them out!
Avocado Smash with toasted nuts – a delicious blend, perfect for breakfast to assist with the lowering of Cholesterol
Cajun chicken with avocado salad & mango salsa – a rich, aromatic dish with the ingredients to assist in warding off cognitive decline