How to eat yourself well
RESEARCH is proving the old saying “you are what you eat” to be true.
A FEW years ago, James Colquhoun’s father Roy was in a very bad place, physically and mentally.
Suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression and persistent flu-like symptoms, Roy Colquhoun was on a cocktail of prescription drugs, eating poorly and mostly couldn’t get out of bed.
So James, a Sunshine Coast filmmaker, decided to launch an intervention, virtually forcing his father to begin exercising, start eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables and take vitamin supplements.
“My life was a psychotic daze spiralling out of control,” Roy recalls. “Feelings of hopelessness started to dominate my life. Suicide was becoming a frightening and very real option.”
James and his wife Laurentine ten Bosch decided to harass Roy until he went on a detox that involved “eating only raw food, no alcohol and continuing on a special cleansing diet thereafter”.
The results have been spectacular, with Roy now out of bed, 20 kilograms lighter than he was before, and jogging twice a week.
“Dad is great now,” says James. “He’s turned his life around. What we learned in the process is that food and what you eat is critical to wellbeing.”
After his father’s recovery, James made Food Matters, a documentary about the connection between food and wellness. “The mantra ‘you are what you eat’ is very real,” he says, “because the foods we consume become the cells and tissues of our bodies.
“If we want lasting energy, vibrant skin and also to prevent and help with chronic illnesses we need to pay special attention to the food we eat.”
But is it possible to cure – or at least prevent – illness just by eating certain foods?
While only the most passionate followers of alternative medicine would argue that food alone can cure sickness, nutritionists, dietitians and medical professionals certainly advocate diet as a means of promoting health.
And research is increasingly showing that some foods can actively work to cure certain illnesses, especially when used in conjunction with exercise. Here, we check out the best foods to eat to maintain good health.
Colourful fruit and vegies
Mothers always badger their kids to eat their vegetables and it seems mum really does know best. Studies are increasingly demonstrating that consuming a range of colourful vegetables is the best way to ward off lifestyle-induced illnesses.
Dietitian Fiona Pelly, from Queensland’s University of the Sunshine Coast, says the rule that the more colourful the vegetable, the better its health properties, is true.
“When you’re looking at chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension and high blood pressure, all of these tend to be classed together as diseases that occur due to lifestyle,” Pelly says.
“This means poor eating and no exercise. Improving the way you eat can make a difference to that.”
She says the National Health and Medical Research Council is redrafting its guidelines about how much fruit and vegetable matter people should consume daily to place greater emphasis on eating the right types of vegetables, such as those that are red, orange or green.
Pelly says colourful vegetables such as broccoli, watercress, pumpkin, capsicum and sweet potato and fruits including watermelon, oranges and papayas, are high in antioxidants, vitamin A and other health-giving nutrients, which can help reduce chronic health conditions by boosting the immune system.
Grains, oats and bran
Another way to reduce chronic health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure is to switch from processed to wholegrain foods such as wholemeal bread, rice and pasta.
Dietitian Caitlin Reid, author of the website Health & The City, says switching to wholegrains can give an immense health boost.
“Wholegrains improve glucose metabolism in the body – this effect is thought to be because of the soluble fibre and magnesium in the wholegrains,” she says. “Insoluble fibre slows digestion, thereby reducing the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and helping to control blood glucose levels after a meal.”
She says heart problems caused by high cholesterol can also be reduced by eating oats and bran, which can work to naturally block cholesterol entering the bloodstream.
“As little as three grams of soluble fibre a day has been shown to have a small but significant effect on reducing bad cholesterol levels,” Reid explains.
She says that other foods high in beta-glucan include psyllium and barley, which can also help with heart and blood-pressure health.
Legumes and nuts
Pelly says research is increasingly pointing to the benefits of legumes such as chickpeas, cannellini and kidney beans, and nuts, including walnuts and almonds, in the diet.
“In the past I don’t think people thought of legumes as an alternative to meat, but the recommendations these days are to eat a bit less meat, or balance it with other protein sources as well. Legumes are a good source of fibre and protein, they’re low in fat, and many, like walnuts and linseeds, are high in omega-3s.”
Reid says people suffering from heart disease, or potential heart disease, should boost their intake of plant sterols, which are found naturally in nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and legumes. But she says a shortcut is to use plant sterol-enriched margarines such as Pro-activ or Logicol.
Fresh seasonal foods
For James Colquhoun, who has interviewed natural food advocates from around the world for his documentary, the best approach to eating well is a “natural and holistic approach that… sees the body as a whole operating system”.
“The best foods for supporting the human form include raw, organic, in-season, plant-cased fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, superfoods, herbs and sprouts,” he argues. “These foods promote health and boost energy.”
“Eating good food helps your immunity,” adds Pelly. “The best idea is to eat food as close to its natural state as possible, that hasn’t gone through a lot of refinement processes.”
Nourishing winter fuel
• Chicken soup: US researchers have found that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease chest infections and reduce chills and fever.
• Oranges, lemons and grapefruit: Packed with vitamin C, citrus fruits can help reduce the length and severity of colds. Research has found that regularly consuming 200mg of vitamin C reduces the length of a cold by eight per cent in adults and 14 per cent in children.
• Garlic: Contains allicin, a property that is believed to help reduce the severity of colds.
• Green tea: Full of powerful antioxidants, green tea can help boost the immune system, which will help the body fight off bacteria and viruses.
• Ginger tea: Ginger has several bacteria-fighting properties that can help suppress colds. It is also used as an anti-nausea therapy and contains gingerol, which can suppress coughing fits.
• Red meat: When eaten in moderation, red meat boosts the immune system and helps fight anaemia and feelings of lethargy.
• Oysters: One of the richest sources of zinc, oysters help aid the development of white blood cells, the body’s natural immunity boosters.
• Wasabi and chilli: Hot and spicy foods can clear out the throat and nose when congested and warm the body to ease chills and fever.