Eat yourself healthy
The foods that can beat heart disease, hangovers, depression. . .
Published 01/03/2011 | 05:00
To many people, the idea of food therapy is sitting with a tub of ice-cream after a bad break-up, nursing a glass of merlot after a tough day at the office or trying to counter PMS with a family-size bar of Dairy Milk.
But, in fact, it's food that could be the best weapon to fight off every illness in the book.
"Prevention is better than cure and everyone can try to minimise their risk of suffering many diseases by eating a healthy diet," says Heather Leeson from Positivenutrition.ie, at the Castlewood Clinic in Dublin.
The reason we're all so quick to reach for the pain-killers once a problem has already set in is down to ignorance.
"People overlook the health benefits of a good diet because of a perception that a healthy diet will be inconvenient and costly," says Dr Daniel McCartney from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institution (INDI).
"Unfortunately the intensive marketing of high fat, high sugar, high salt foods often makes these more likely food choices than the healthier alternatives."
So put down that Big Mac and step away from the paracetamol -- here's what you really need to eat your away around some of the most common complaints.
Eat to beat ... depression
Bad news. "There is little or no credible evidence to suggest a significant mood-enhancing effect of chocolate, while alcohol, especially in large amounts or binges, can have a devastating effect on mood in people with depressive tendencies," says Dr Daniel McCartney from INDI.
Eating more oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines, which all contain omega 3s, can keep the brain alert and upbeat, as can fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin B like bananas, avocados and sweet potatoes.
Eat to beat ... your hangover
Your body might be screaming for a plate full of grease, but what it's actually saying is "you left it too late!"
Fatty foods will just leave you with an upset stomach when gobbled down post-boozy night out.
Plumping for porridge will stabilise your blood sugar and it contains selenium that will get your liver up and working again.
Bananas and kiwis will restore potassium, while strawberries supposedly enhance short-term memory (which may or may not ease the pain depending on the night before).
Eat to beat ... brittle bones
In Ireland, 50% of women over 55 and up to 20% of men over 50 will suffer from osteoporosis.
"The cells in our bones are constantly breaking down old bone and rebuilding it and the nutrients that we eat are essential to this process," Ms Leeson says.
Calcium-rich foods are crucial to keeping bones healthy but swap acid-forming cheese for non-dairy foods like leafy green vegetables, soya products, almonds and molasses.
Vitamin D, from sunlight and vital for calcium absorption, is an area where many of us are deficient; beat this with more eggs, cereals, margarines and oily fish.
Eat to beat ... high blood pressure
A recently launched diet in America called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has proved to be as good or even better than the effects of drugs and is now being suggested as a first line treatment for people with high blood pressure.
The diet, which has been shown to lower moderately high blood pressure in 14 days urges replacing red meat (which causes an inflammatory effect) with fish and limiting anything made with white flour like biscuits, bread and cakes as well as saturated fats and salt.
Eat to beat ... low energy
The best way to raise your energy levels isn't by eating more, it's by eating less of the trigger foods that mess with your blood sugar.
"Avoiding or minimising both fatty foods and sugary foods avoids the spikes and drops in blood sugar," says Dr McCartney.
"It also helps us to control our weight."
Ditch cakes, alcohol and sugary drinks for slow-release alternatives like oatmeal or high-fibre cereals.
Stress causes potassium levels to drop, leaving you tired -- beat this with bananas and stay mentally alert with sardines.
Eat to beat ... heart disease
Heart disease is a bigger killer for women than breast cancer but it's also one of the most preventable killers.
In 2009, a study in America revealed that 96,000 deaths could have been avoided simply by eating more vitally important omega 3s.
Get chomping on dark green leafy vegetables, mustard seeds, oily fish and walnuts. Garlic also has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, cholesterol and circulation.
Eat to beat ... cancer
According to nutrition expert Dr Marilyn Glenville, who is holding a series of lectures across Ireland next month (www.positivenutrition.ie), "39% of the 13 major cancers are preventable through better nutrition and lifestyle habits, making changes to what you eat really can mean lasting improvements to your health".
We should eat more soya for breast and prostate cancer, flaxseed for detoxification and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
"But we're also lucky to have some good research which clearly indicates the foods which increase our risk of cancer," says Dr McCartney.
"These include processed red meats (especially if overcooked), burnt starchy foods, alcohol and salty and pickled foods."