Food is the new medicine

Replacing nature’s produce with processed food is asking for health problems, writes Lisa Mitchell for the Melbourne Age.

Former restaurateur turned food and health consultant Samantha Gowing says about 75% of her clients present with general malaise. “They have this cycle of erratic nutritional intake – they’re not getting enough sleep, drinking too much coffee, skipping breakfast, overeating at lunch, having too much sugar at 3pm because they haven’t had enough breakfast to maintain their glycaemic index throughout the day … There’s too much all at once and not enough when they need it.”

Former chef and now health and wellbeing consultant Sherry Strong concurs, saying more than 95% of lifestyle diseases can be averted through preventative culinary measures.

“Every day in Australia, 275 people are diagnosed with diabetes, one in three Australians will get cancer, 26,000 people die each year of heart disease … This is not some freaky curse that has befallen Westerners. They are called ‘lifestyle diseases’ because of the style of living we adopt,” says Strong.

For millenniums, ancient cultures such as the Chinese, native Americans, Latin Americans, Africans and indigenous Australians have infused their food with the medicinal bounty provided by nature. The more we replace nature’s fare with food technologies of convenience, the sicker we become, argues Strong.

After being diagnosed as gluten and wheat-intolerant, Nicol initially reduced her diet to fruit, steamed vegetables and rice, as there were so few gluten-free alternatives. Slowly, she reintroduced meat and various fats. With the help of a nutritionist and food makeover, she was jogging 36 kilometres a week within three months.

“A lot of new thought on nutritional or culinary medicine is that if you have a more alkaline diet (vegetables, especially ‘dark green leafies’), you have less inflammation,” says Gowing. “(Build up of) acid causes inflammation … which might be gastritis, arthritis, rheumatism, or a wonky liver.”

People are plunged in acid baths of their own making, their bodies overheated and increasingly toxic, unable to process the foreign matter that passes as food these days, amid the chain of added colours, preservatives, and emulsifiers.

How do we turn things around when dietary needs are as individual as we are? Gowing and Strong recommend avoiding processed foods and processed fluids, eating seasonally, eating more vegetables and drinking more water.

Consider having homemade vegie soup to begin each meal, suggests Manny Noakes, author of the popularThe CSIRO Total Well Being Diet. And treat vegetables with the same exuberance as the main meal.

“My background is Italian … we’ll have a roast but also beans tossed in olive oil and garlic with some potato, and from the garden a lovely salad and tomatoes with some olive oil and cracked pepper. Vegetable dishes prepared in a simple way using lots of herbs can make a big difference,” says Noakes.

Herbs such as basil, oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, and before we all became paralysed with fear over fats, they make a wonderful companion for vegetables too, says Strong.

“There are two things butter does for our vegetables: it’s a fat, and most vegetables have fat-soluble nutrients in them, vitamins that can only be digested in the presence of fat. The other thing is it increases that feeling of being sated,” Strong says.

When will the love affair with margarine end? Mark Wahlqvist, founding director of the Asia-Pacific Health and Nutrition Centre says the trans-fatty acids margarine contains are a far greater problem than the saturated fat in butter because they increase the risk of thrombosis and heart disease.

“The food industry, which has been singing the praises of so-called polyunsaturated fats in margarine, has had to reckon with the fact that it generated the whole new problem of trans-fatty acids, and now they’re taking them out. But the way they’re doing it, and what they’re replacing them with, is almost entirely untested in terms of human health,” he says.

On Noakes’ top 10 list of foods for vitality are: fish, for the Omega 3 fats; oysters and sunflower seeds for zinc, which is associated with better immune function; tea as a source of antioxidants; dark chocolate for the cocoa polyphenols thought to have a lowering effect on blood pressure; and nuts (preferably unsalted) for their cardio-protective qualities.

Dietary makeovers don’t need to be extreme to achieve results and you don’t have to feel deprived to eat well, says Strong. Just “pick your poisons”.

Chocolate, cheese, wine – fine, but make sure they are top quality. It takes less of a truly good thing to satisfy the body. “What I have people do is learn to feel within their bodies … How do I actually feel after, or the next morning, when I have this food?” Strong says.

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Restorative foods by Samantha Gowing

Oats: Prized for high levels of magnesium, the anti-stress mineral, and slow-release carbohydrate qualities that provide energy throughout the day.

Carrot, beetroot and cucumber juice: Highly alkalising, enhances nervous function, supports kidneys by clearing excess acidity typically associated with increased stress levels.

Mung beans: Traditional Chinese medicine says they are highly detoxifying and cleansing, and can decrease levels of triglycerides from the blood.

Dark leafy green vegetables: Spinach, cress, lettuces, endive and bitter greens all contain rich amounts of potassium, iron, folate, carotenes, calcium and vitamin A. They contain chlorophyll, which promotes internal purification and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Tomatoes: Their healing properties lie within the antioxidant lycopene, which provides its red colour, as well as the pink in guava, grapefruit and watermelon, and the orange in apricots. Recent studies show lycopene is strongly associated with decreased risk of cancer in the gastrointestinal tract, prostate and upper digestive tract (especially in men).

Turkey: Contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps the body produce niacin, which in turn, helps the body produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, a calming agent in the brain.

Essential fatty acids: Omega 3 found in oily fish (tuna, salmon, sardines) and flax seeds.

Pecan nuts: Provide an abundance of organic pyridoxine (vitamin B6), essential for serotonin release and nervous-system health.

Brown rice: Its outer coating is far superior in nutrient content to white rice. Very nourishing and ideal for treating indigestion, vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, digestive disorders, and for expelling toxins.

Ginger: Medicinally, ginger is a diaphoretic (promotes sweating) and is highly beneficial in treating coughs and colds by clearing mucous build-up in the lungs, sinus and throat. Freshly squeezed, it helps allay nausea associated with motion and morning sickness and food poisoning.

Source: Gowings Food and Health
First published: The Age October 28, 2008

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