Nutrition & Healing

With mounting evidence regarding the role of poor nutrition in the development of diseases and poor healing, it’s no secret that appropriate nutrition is crucial to optimal health.

Our modern world is laden with pollutants – in the air we breathe, in the foods we eat, in the water we drink and in the wide variety of products we use in our everyday living. No wonder our bodies suffer the consequences. When our bodies can no longer fight the ill effects of these harmful substances, our defences start to weaken and ailments develop.

The food we eat can have a dramatic effect on our body’s ability to heal itself. It takes more than an apple a day to keep viruses at bay! You can ensure that your body and immune system run smoothly by getting your 7 servings of fruits and veggies and 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, at the very least – but the following tips will give your meals some extra punch.

VITAMIN C AND BETA-CAROTENE

These are two of the most powerful antioxidants found in food. Antioxidants stimulate immune function and help our bodies fight diseases and infections. They also play an important role in the healing process. Citrus fruit, strawberries, blackcurrants, guavas, kiwi fruit and peppers are all good sources, but as vitamin C is easily destroyed in cooking, it is wise to eat fruit and vegetables in their raw form.

SELENIUM AND OMEGA-3s

Plentiful in shellfish such as oysters, lobsters, crabs and clams, selenium helps white blood cells produce cytokines, proteins that help clear flu viruses out of the body. Salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation and protect the lungs from colds and respiratory infections.

PROBIOTICS

These are active bacterial cultures that can help restore gut function and improve immune response. During illness, the gut is often compromised, due to medication or simply because nutrient intake is poor. Probiotics are found in yoghurt and other fermented foods. A study from the University of California at Davis found that people who ate one cup of yoghurt a day had 25% fewer upper respiratory tract infections than non-yoghurt eaters.1 Make a habit of eating yoghurt right now to build up your immunity before the cold and flu season starts next winter.

OATS AND BARLEY

These grains contain beta-glucan, a type of fibre with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than echinacea, reports a Norwegian study.2 When animals eat this compound, they’re less likely to contract infections such as influenza. In humans it boosts immunity, speeds wound healing, and may help antibiotics work better.

DRINK JUICES

New ‘gourmet’ juices made from pomegranates, blueberries, black cherries and so on contain up to 20% more antioxidants than orange, apple and cranberry juices. These more exotic juices are often stocked in a store’s health food or fresh produce section. Pick those labelled 100% juice, since they’ll have no added sugar or syrups. While these juices tend to be relatively expensive, they’re intensely flavoured, so a little will go a long way. To tone down a pure juice’s strong taste try blending it into a smoothie or making a spritzer. Be wary of restaurants promoting specialty drinks or products with add-ins that claim to increase immunity. Your best bet is to stick with whole, natural foods!

SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

Enjoying a variety of herbs and spices may help you live a healthier life. Seasonings have been used since Biblical times to perk up the flavour of food, so why not give the following a try:

Turmeric. This herb of the ginger family provides the yellow colour in curries. It’s a powerful antioxidant and has been used in Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. Turmeric enhances immune function, improves digestion and may reduce the risk of heart attack. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties scientists are studying curcumin, one of the most active substances in turmeric, as a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis.3

Ginger. This spice is effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. To get the stomach-calming benefits, simply steep fresh ginger root in a cup of hot water. Ginger also contains an inflammation-fighting substance called gingerol, which may help reduce pain and improve function in people who have muscle aches and pains associated with cold and flu symptoms.

Cinnamon. One of the oldest spices known, cinnamon seems to reduce inflammatory processes that may occur during illness. Chewing cinnamon gum or simply smelling the spice may also help to improve attention and memory.

MOM’S CHICKEN SOUP

When University of Nebraska researchers tested thirteen brands of chicken soup, they found that all but one blocked the migration of inflammatory white cells.4 This is an important finding, because cold symptoms are a response to accumulation of white blood cells in the lungs. The amino acid cysteine, released from chicken during cooking, chemically resembles the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine, which may explain the results. The soup’s salty broth keeps mucus thin in the same way that cough medicines do. Added spices, such as garlic and onions, can increase soup’s immune-boosting power.

GREEN TEA

The polyphenols in green tea act as potent antioxidants. Catechins, a specific type of polyphenol, may stimulate the immune system and hinder disease-promoting compounds. Although you may detect a bitter taste, you can disguise it with a little honey. Adding milk is a no-no as it will bind to the polyphenols and they will no longer have a beneficial effect.

NUTS

Snack on almonds, cashews or walnuts, which are packed with vitamin E. This antioxidant helps kick those pesky free radicals out of your body. Vitamin E also helps create antibodies that fight the bacteria that make you sick. Other healthy vitamin E-rich foods are seeds and whole grains.

GARLIC

Garlic contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infection and certain bacteria. Studies suggest that garlic lovers who eat more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer.5

CONCLUSION

Evidence of the central role of poor nutrition in the disease causation and poor healing is mounting, and it’s no secret that appropriate nutrition is crucial to optimal health. Eating lots of high-fat foods and forgoing your daily fruits and veggies can also weaken the immune system. Achieving the correct balance of elements provides the body with the ability to adapt to a shifting and often hazardous environment. Good food choices are the cornerstone to a healthy body … a body that is able to heal itself, and remain disease free!

References

  1. http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/medresearch (accessed 22 April 2008).
  2. Perril D, et al. Safety and efficacy of Echinacea (Echinacea anjustifolia, E. purourea and E. pallida) during pregnancy and lactation. http://www.cjcp.ca/pdf/CJCP05035_e262e267F.pdf (accessed 20 April 2008).
  3. Zeitlin P. Can curcumin cure cystic fibrosis? N Engl J Med 2004; 351(6): 606-608.
  4. Barbara O, et al. Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Pulmonary and Critical Care 2000; 118(4):1150-1157.
  5. Kris-Etherton PM, et al. Bioactive compounds in foods: their role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Am J Med 2002; 113(9): 71-88.

 

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Nutrition & Healing

Megan Rich
About The Author
- She is a qualified dietician working in intensive care units and in private practice. She has a special interest in gastroenterology and diseases of lifestyle.