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A-Z of Foods

The following is a user's guide to some of the world's healthiest foods. It is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather a handy reference as you begin your journey towards understanding why some of these delicious, natural foods can have such a positive impact on your health. Check back for regular updates.

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A.

Almonds - Almonds are a terrific source of vegetarian protein and fibre, helping to regulate blood sugar and hunger levels, making them a perfect snack for natural weight control. Almonds contain a good dose of the omega 6 oils that can even out mood changes associated with PMS. Rich in copper, manganese, vitamin B2 and vitamin E, studies have linked eating almonds regularly to: better cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease; a lower risk of diabetes; sustainable weight loss; and a lower risk of gallstones. They are also the only true alkalising nut. So, snack away or, alternatively, you can make almond milk. To do this, simply soak a cup of water more water and blend the ingredients together after 6 hours.

Apples, pears, plums, carrots and squash contain a type of fibre called pectin, which lowers cholesterol by binding fats and heavy metals, so eat a crisp, tart apple a day. It is also found in the white pith of citrus fruits so nibble on this if eating the fruit.

Artichoke helps to promote bile flow and therefore supports and benefits the liver. It should be eaten often as a healthy liver equals a healthy body. Artichoke hearts (from delis) make good snacks, additions to salads, and can be blended with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic for a great dip or salad dressing with more oil.

Asparagus is known to be a laxative and can help reduce fluid retention. It is also a highly alkaline vegetable, helping to neutralise acids in the body. Along with peas and spinach, asparagus is the green vegetable richest in folates (the group of compounds that includes folic acid) and other B vitamins; several studies have suggested that a deficiency of folate may play a role in clinical depression. Genetic predisposition prevents a significant number of people (as much as 30% in some ethic groups) from properly metabolising the monoglutamate form of folic acid (found in many supplements). This problem can be avoided by supplementing with the 'food form', 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), or by consuming foods rich in folates. Folates help you to produce the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin that works to stabilise mood and sleep cycles. They are also packed with minerals, and should be included in the diet on a weekly basis in order for you to take advantage of their fantastic array of mood-enhancing nutrients.

Avocado - It is a great shame that many people have been warned off eating this delicious fruit, fearing its high fat and calorie content. In truth, avocadoes are a wonderful source of potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure, and vitamin E, which is a fat-protective antioxidant. Furthermore, avocado contains such a rich concentrate of nutrients called carotenoids that test tube studies have shown avocado extract to reverse the growth of prostate cancer cells. Avocado is a rich source of cholesterol-regulating monounsaturated fats, and it is also an extremely versatile fruit, being not only a fabulous salad ingredient, but also excellent for dips, and as a creamy base for smoothies and shakes.

B.

Bananas are the perennial runner's snack, perfect for a quick hit of natural energy, but to consider them as being only useful in this way would be to underestimate their many other health-promoting benefits. To begin with, bananas are one of nature's most abundant sources of potassium, which helps to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Bananas, in a fruit-rich diet, have been shown to lower the risk of kidney disease. They are also a wonderful food for the digestive system, containing prebiotics that encourage the growth of friendly bacteria. Banana prebiotics have been shown to increase nutrient absorption and help to heal a digestive disorder known as leaky gut syndrome. They are also particularly useful for those with gastric ulcers, because they contain a substance that helps to produce a thicker mucous barrier against stomach acids.

Unfortunately, there is also a downside to this mucous-forming tendency for those who suffer nasal and digestive problems and are prone to inflammation, so bananas are best only eaten sparingly by these people. Additionally, in overly ripe bananas sugars can be released too quickly causing a blood sugar surge, hence why bananas are often the fruit of choice for those with a sweet tooth. So, include them in your diet, but don't buy them too ripe or let them keep for long, and vary them with other fruits.

Beans and pulses - Like wholegrains, beans and pulses provide incredible levels of fibre and nutrients, the best examples of this being lentils, adzuki beans, mung beans, soybeans, green beans and chickpeas. They are also an excellent vegetarian source of protein and, often, a rich source of folates. Beans and pulses are particularly good for regulating cholesterol levels due to their high fibre content, and also contain a substance called lecithin that helps to clear fats from the liver.

Beetroot helps to promote bile flow and therefore supports and benefits the liver. It should be eaten often as a healthy liver equals a healthy body. The dark rich purple colour is also an indicator of beetroot's high content of anthocyanin, the beneficial plant chemical that aid circulation, heart function, memory and wound healing. It can be eaten cooked or raw (grated or thinly sliced) in salads. You can get a good idea of your 'bowel transit time' from eating lots of beetroot and seeing just how long it takes to see the colour come through at the other end! This time varies even in the same person. The first of the colour should appear in the stool about 12 - 14 hours after the beetroot is eaten. The last of the color will appear within 36 - 48 hours. If the times are much longer, 72 hours or more, it may indicate a slowed bowel function. Increasing dietary fibre should speed things up! (link to fibre)

Berries - these colourful blue, purple, and red foods (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries etc) are rich in anthocyanadins, the plant chemicals (bioflavonoids) that give them their vibrant colours. These are the most abundant antioxidants in the diet, which means that they are highly protective against damage from the environment, chemicals, additives and pollution. Anthocyanidins also support circulation, so are excellent for heart conditions, varicose veins and piles. Increased circulation to the brain also improves memory, mood and concentration. Studies have suggested berries may have preventive benefits against Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, as well as cancer and diabetes.

Black beans - Also known as turtle beans, the extraordinary health properties of black beans belie their simple, velvety appearance. Most strikingly, laboratory animals fed black beans experienced profound anti-cancer benefits, while their antioxidant content has been shown to rival those of 'superfruits' such as oranges and red grapes. Black beans are one of the richest sources of the mineral molybdenum, which help to detoxify the allergenic sulfites found as a food additive in wine and dried fruits. Like most beans, they are also great for heart health, being loaded with fibre and B-vitamins. Black beans are also an excellent source of the minerals iron and manganese.

Blueberries - for their potential to impact on a range of health conditions, delicious, tart flavour and low calorie content, blueberries deserve a slot of their own. Many researchers have suggested that blueberries may be one of the world's healthiest food, and for good reason. Researchers at Tufts University discovered that blueberries have a greater capacity to protect the body from dangerous free radicals than any other fruit tested.

The good news doesn't end there, however. Blueberries also contain a special nutrient called pterostilbene that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels in mice and it was the first fruit shown to have a direct protective effect on cells in the brain and help in maintaining memory. Blueberries also contain a nutrient that may inhibit the enzyme that allow cancerous cells to spread in the body.

Blueberries are delicious as a snack, on cereal or in a fruit salad. They can also be baked into a healthy blueberry muffin made with wholegrain flour and flaxseeds.

Broccoli, (alongside its relatives cabbage, brussel sprouts and kale) contain a whole host of active components that make them true 'superfoods', including glucosinolates, sulphurophanes and indole-3-carbinol. These chemicals are particularly effective in helping to clear the liver of toxins, used hormones and alcohol, and they have also been shown to help prevent a variety of cancers. Sulphurophanes, in particular, are also a rich source of sulphur, a mineral that aids detoxification and supports circulation. Broccoli is the most nutrient rich of this family and is also a good source of Vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate, iron and potassium.

Brown rice is the most hypoallergenic all of grains, meaning that it is rarely seen to cause intolerances in the intestines. It is not usually contaminated with gluten, so is great for those with wheat intolerances or coeliac disease, and, as a bonus, less pesticides and fertilisers are used in its processing and production. Brown basmati rice is the best choice for both taste and because it is the rice with the lowest GI (Glycaemic Index) rating, meaning that its sugars release the most slowly into the bloodstream, helping you to avoid blood sugar imbalances, or mood and energy problems.

Buckwheat is a good alternative to wheat, which we eat so much that intolerance is now common. Buckwheat is technically a grass, not a grain, so most people will have less problems in general with tolerating buckwheat. Reducing our wheat burden can help digestion; buckwheat is easier to digest and more alkalising. Both buckwheat and millet contain substances called nutrilosides, the most famous of which is the anti-cancer compound laetrile, that are essential in the detoxification processes of the body.

C.

Caffeine increases mental alertness and concentration and can improve performance; it can be useful and pleasurable to take. However, too much caffeine (and remember, this will be a different amount for each person) has been associated with:

  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Emotional instability
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness and 'jittery' feelings
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Restlessness
  • Stress, including physical symptoms such as palpitations (rapid heart beat) and temporarily raised blood pressure.

Both tea and coffee are diuretics, meaning they cause the body to shed extra water and minerals, thereby causing dehydration. Contrary to popular opinion, tea may contain as much caffeine as coffee. For example, a strong cup of tea can provide as much caffeine as a weak cup of coffee. Tea's tannin content interferes with the absorption of minerals and tea drinkers may have an increased risk of stomach ulcers, while coffee consumption is linked with a greater risk of pancreatic cancer. Finally, the beneficial components of black tea, catechins, are likely to be neutralised when milk is added as they are 'bound up' by proteins within the milk.

Approximate Levels of Caffeine:

  • Cup of filter coffee 100mg
  • Can of energy drink 80mg
  • Cup of instant coffee 66mg
  • Cup of tea (loose leaf) 41mg
  • Cup of tea (instant) 40mg
  • Can of cola 23mg
  • 50g bar plain chocolate 20mg
  • 50g bar milk chocolate 7mg
  • Cup of hot chocolate 5mg
  • Cup of green tea 4mg
  • Cup of 'decaff' 3mg

(Ref: Geary, A. The Food and Mood Handbook, Thorsons 2001) (link).

Cantaloupe melon - as with all orange foods, cantaloupe is abundant in beta-carotene and vitamin C, both antioxidant nutrients that may help to protect your body against degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis, and also from the environmental pollutions that encourage the progress of these conditions.

Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products. Carbohydrates are made from simple sugars, which can all break down to glucose eventually. It had been previously thought that diabetics should completely avoid carbohydrates due to their inherent chemical make-up, but it is now known that it is the type of carbohydrate eaten that should be considered along with the speed at which they break down into glucose in the body. Carbohydrates are our main source of fuel, should make up half of our daily calorific intake, and are very important for sustained energy production, but correct choices are paramount.

  • Complex carbohydrates release their sugars slowly so are used for energy rather than laid down as fat. They also contain fibre that helps to slow down sugar release and take toxins out of the body to help prevent disease. The wholegrain bran part of grains, that is removed in white flour and processed foods, contains the fibre and provides glucose molecules that are bound together in more complex structures. Vegetables and fruits in their raw, natural state provide complex carbohydrates bound in fibre. They therefore take much more time to breakdown into their simple sugars and provide a more slow and steady release into the bloodstream, which is much easier for our bodies to deal with.
  • Refined carbohydrates are those found in simple table sugar, as well as white, processed grains such as white breads, pastas, snacks foods and confectionery made from white flour like cakes, pastries, pies, crackers and doughnuts. Eating these foods contributes to obesity, type II diabetes and, possibly, cancer and other diseases of ageing. These carbohydrates are rapid fuel suppliers for the body are readily converted to fat. These harmful foods can be easily avoided by switching from, for example, frosted flakes to porridge oats, baguettes to wholewheat rolls or white toast to toasted rye bread.

Carrots contain fat-soluble carotenoids such as beta-carotene, nutrients that give them their colour and protect fatty areas in the body such as our eyes, heart, liver, brain and all cell membranes. Like all root vegetables, carrots are a storehouse of the complex sugars from which a plant can grow, sugars that are increasingly broken down the more the vegetable is cooked. The danger here is the more the sugars break down, the more readily they will be absorbed as simple sugars, which can be problematic for those with blood sugar problems and diabetes. They need some cooking though (like steaming instead of boiling) to make these carotenoids more absorbable. Carrots can also be grated, which also breaks them down, and oil is needed to carry those carotenoids into the body. So, add some olive oil, which, with lemon juice, makes a perfect salad base.

Celery is high in the chemicals apigenin and phthalide, which expand blood vessels and help to prevent high blood pressure. As few as four celery stalks can have this immediate effect. It has also shown to lower cholesterol and has long been used traditionally as a natural sleep aid, due to its calming effects, making it a good snack before bed - a cup of celery soup is most soothing!

Chickpeas are high in folate and low in fat. High-protein legumes are a nutritious alternative for people who don't eat meat, and a delicious addition to any diet. Chickpeas are rich in fibre, iron, and vitamin E. For a simple snack, combine a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas with some minced garlic, fresh lemon juice, and olive or canola oil in your blender or food processor. Add salt, pepper and other spices as you wish. The resulting houmous (or hummus) makes a healthy and hearty vegetable dip.

Chicory helps to promote bile flow and therefore supports and benefits the liver. It should be eaten often as a healthy liver equals a healthy body. The bitter taste of chicory and its relatives endive and radicchio signal the body to get the digestive juices flowing so makes a great starter to any meal. Chicory makes a good snack if you like the taste, and it can be dipped in houmous or added to salads.

Chocolate - scientific research over the last few years has revealed findings that we have all waited a lifetime to hear - chocolate is a highly nutritious health food! The cacao bean is loaded with nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, vitamins B1, B2 D and E, and antioxidants. It contains beneficial chemicals called flavonoids, the particular type of these found in chocolate being catechins. Catechins are also found in green tea and red wine, but dark chocolate contains around four times more than the former and twice as much as the latter.

Chocolate is emerging as one of the most important foods for preserving heart health, containing substances that widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. It has also been shown to aid diabetics in metabolising sugar efficiently. So, dark, organic chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids or 100% cacao powder, stirred into hot water and drunk in moderation like the famously healthy Kuna people of Peru, is most definitely a powerful health tonic. However, as with everything nutritional, you must learn to differentiate between what is a 'food' and what is a 'treat' and prioritise those treats that are most important and least damaging to you.

Cinnamon helps to balance blood sugar and reduce the ill-effects of sweet foods. It has long been used to treat high blood pressure and improve circulation and is now used to help control insulin in diabetics and to inhibit the bacteria that cause peptic ulcers. Research has shown that it helps the body to use insulin more effectively by helping fat cells recognise and respond to insulin (Anderson, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Centre, journal - Diabetes Care. Vol. 26 p.3125). Anderson and his researchers found that this is caused by the water-soluble flavonoid (plant chemical) MHCP and cooking does not affect the potency. MHCP has been shown to mimic insulin, activate its receptor and work synergistically with insulin in cells. Work since 2002 has concentrated on the reduced blood sugar raising effects seen in to which cinnamon is added. Practically, this can be achieved by adding cinnamon to tea or coffee (one or two allowed per day!) where it can lessen the sharp spike in blood sugar levels that usually occur. Adding cinnamon to baking or choosing a cinnamon flavoured cake for the occasional treat has been shown to be less harmful than without, but unfortunately still cannot make up for the high sugar and saturated fat content.

Citrus fruits - famous for being a good source of vitamin C this family, which includes oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes, offer at least six other health-promoting benefits that are at least, if not more, exciting than those of vitamin C alone. For example, naringenin, a flavonoid found in grapefruit, is one of the finest of all fruits helping the liver to detoxify, and also speeds up DNA repair (DNA damage is an initiator of cancer and linked to other diseases of ageing). Both grapefruits and oranges contain a range of other flavonoids, such as hespertin, an anti-cancer compound, and others that have been shown to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol as effectively as statin drugs and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Additionally, pink grapefruits contain lycopene, which is beneficial for both the eyes and the heart.

Many of the health benefits of lemons and limes are in the skin, which contains a compound called limonene, thought to possess anti-cancer properties. Lime juice also contains kaempferol, a compound so strongly anti-bacterial that it has been used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery in Africa. Lemons are the most alkalising of all citrus fruits, which may seem surprising as they seem so acidic, but it is the alkaline 'ash' they leave in the body that has this effect. This means that they buffer the harmful, acidifying effects of refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol.

Coconut is famously a native plant of the tropical pacific, despite that the coconut features in Indian writings from as far back as 2,000 years ago, causing much debate as to its true origins. What is not in dispute are its incredible health benefits. Even today, cultures that feature coconut regularly in their diets consistently show lower incidences of high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.

Coconut often gets a bad press for being high in saturated fat, but these fats are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and easy for us to burn off as energy. In fact, MCTs may actually aid in weight loss because they are not converted into stored fats by our livers. Coconut also contains lauric acid, which is protective against viruses and bacterial infections. With its similar lauric acid content and immune-protecting properties, coconut has been described as the closest known substance to human breast milk. Don't let that put you off though; these protective properties are why coconut oil is now being frequently used in human infant formula feeds.

Coconut water, the liquid found in the middle of the coconut, has the same electrolytic balance as that in our blood, so provides the right minerals in the right proportions to keep our fluid levels and blood pressure perfectly regulated.

Coconut milk is made from the steeped, mashed and cooked flesh to create a thick, creamy substance. The milk is great in curries, stews and dhals. It is also fantastic for making smoothies, as a substitute for dairy products, and a whole lot better for your immune health and liver.

Dried coconut should be bought unsweetened; it is important to look at labels because it is generally sold sweetened and sometimes needs hunting down. Dried coconut is a great snack to have handy to satisfy sweet cravings. As a healthy fat source it can satisfy hunger and the urge to overeat. It is also lovely added to homemade or shop bought muesli. For the sheer fun, try buying the fresh whole nuts, now widely available in supermarkets, and have a go at cracking yourself - just keep something like a plastic bag close by to catch the liquid!

One of the most important reasons for introducing coconut into your kitchen is to reduce the amount of damaging free radicals that are created by cooking food in oil. It is easy to switch to unrefined coconut oil for roasting, frying and baking. Be assured that the pure oil has none of the coconut taste, so does not overpower other food flavours.

For therapeutic benefit, unpreserved oils and milks are best - you can eat as much as 2-3 tablespoons of unprocessed coconut oil daily, 150ml of coconut milk twice a day or 1/2 coconut eaten any way you wish.

The coconut devotees at http://www.coconut-connections.com summarise nicely the importance of reintroducing the coconut into modern diets, reminding us that 'for about 3960 years of the of the past 4000 years of the documented historical use of the fruits of the coconut palm as a food and a pharmaceutical, the news has all been good', and that it is only the misguided modern attitude that 'all fats are bad' that has tainted its reputation as a health food. Despite this, equally modern scientific evidence has uncovered its ability to prevent tumours, lower cholesterol, lower viral loads in HIV infection, herpes and other viruses, address adrenal fatigue and normalise blood sugar and blood pressure. It can also stimulate metabolism and therefore encourage natural weight loss.

Complex carbohydrates release their sugars slowly so are used for energy rather than laid down as fat. They also contain fibre that helps to slow down sugar release and take toxins out of the body to help prevent disease. The wholegrain bran part of grains, that is removed in white flour and processed foods, contains the fibre and provides glucose molecules that are bound together in more complex structures. Vegetables and fruits in their raw, natural state provide complex carbohydrates bound in fibre. They therefore take much more time to breakdown into their simple sugars and provide a more slow and steady release into the bloodstream, which is much easier for our bodies to deal with. See Carbohydrates section for overview link

Cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, but also cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale contain a whole host of active components that make them true 'superfoods', including glucosinolates, sulphurophanes and indole-3-carbinol. These chemicals are particularly effective in helping to clear the liver of toxins, used hormones and alcohol, and they have also been shown to help prevent a variety of cancers. Sulphurophanes, in particular, are also a rich source of sulphur, a mineral that aids detoxification and supports circulation.

D.

Dairy - milk is mucus-forming and made up of sticky proteins. If these are only partially digested they can form mucus in the body creating symptoms such as nasal blockages and sinusitis, catarrh, throat and chest infections and less fluid joints, leading to arthritis. It may also be inflammatory and trigger conditions such as asthma, eczema and acne. Avoiding dairy means giving up milk, cream, cheese and non-bio yoghurt - look at labels and avoid lactose too; most supermarkets now label own brands, stating whether or not they contain cow's milk. Some people who are dairy or "lactose intolerant" are able to tolerate "bio" or "live" yoghurt as the inherent lactose is pre-digested by the beneficial bacteria.

E.

Eggs are pretty much the best protein source you can eat as they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. These are the building blocks of protein and eggs have the highest quality possible. Eggs are designed to provide all the nutrients for the growth and development of new life and so are a very neat package of iron, zinc, vitamin A, the B vitamins and omega-3 fats. They also contain sulphur and lecithin, substances that help your liver with digestion and detoxification.

According to researchers from the University of Connecticut, eggs are an inexpensive and low calorie source of nutrients such as folate, riboflavin, selenium, choline and vitamins B12 and A. An excellent source of high-quality protein, eggs are also one of the few dietary sources of vitamins K and D. The Journal of Nutrition reviewed the recent recommendation by the American Heart Association (AHA), which limits consumption of other animal foods if already eating one egg yolk per day. Contrary to popular belief, numerous studies fail to link dietary cholesterol and egg intake to the progression of coronary heart disease. On the other hand, many other clinical studies show that eggs contribute to the prevention of chronic age-related conditions like coronary heart disease, loss of muscle mass, age-related macular degeneration, hearing loss and memory loss. So enjoy a couple of eggs 2-3 times a week, they are one of nature's truly complete, nutritious foods.

Enzyme-rich foods like papaya, pineapple and sprouted beans such as alfalfa and mixed sprouts contains enzymes to aid digestion and help reduce problems such as excess mucus, constipation and food intolerances.

F.

Fats - excess fat in the diet has been associated with some of our most serious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. However, we do need fat for many purposes in the body, such as healthy cell membranes, resistance to infection, hormone function, cholesterol regulation and optimum mental function. Low-fat diets may have serious health implications and "low-fat" products often have added sugar to improve their taste. Fat is a quality issue and it is the difference between a "fat" and an "oil" which determines how it acts the body. Imagine, literally, how healthy a liquid oil seems in comparison to a hard lump of fat; rigid fats cause rigid membranes, meaning that cells cannot respond to messages being sent to them, nor function optimally. See Oils and Cooking section for specific advice link

  • Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources and are solid at room temperature, examples being butter and meat fats, and can act as solid fats in the body; if eaten in high amounts they can clog arteries and add to the risk of heart disease. In combination with sugars, these can become laid down as fat, so foods combining both such as pastries are often the main culprits of weight gain.
  • Monounsaturated oils, traditionally eaten regularly in Mediterranean countries, are vegetable in origin and include olive, almond, hazelnut, peanut and avocado oils. They contain a fatty acid called oleic acid or omega 9 and remain liquid at room temperature, but begin to solidify when refrigerated. These have been found to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol, although excess can raise fat levels in the blood. The exception is olive oil, which has been actually shown to reduce both of these. This is, however, thought to be due to unique active components rather than its monounsaturated fat content. These fats are less damaged by heat than oils that stay liquid at room temperature and can therefore be used for cooking.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids are always liquid and contain the essential fatty acids, the omega 3 and 6 oils. Omega 3 oils can be found in oily fish and, of interest to vegetarians, in flaxseed, walnut, soya and rapeseed oils. Omega 6-rich oils include sesame, soya, sunflower, walnut, pumpkin and hemp. The omega 6 oils help to produce localised hormones in the body that are important for blood sugar regulation, correct cholesterol regulation and heart health. They are called "essential" because they are crucial for body functions and must be eaten because they cannot be made in the body. Saturated fats can actually stop essential fats being used at a cellular level. See separate Omega 3 and Omega 6 entries link
  • Hydrogenated (trans-) fats One of the unfortunate by-products of the rise of fatty convenience foods is the increase of trans fatty acids (TFAs) in the diet. These fats do not appear in nature and involve a rotation of molecules on one side of a double-bond in the fatty acid chain. This effectively disables enzymes that no longer recognise the natural form of these fats. Trans-fats are treated as saturated fats in the body, which is why they are used to make margarines and spreads; they are solid at room temperature and still fulfil the "polyunsaturated" claim.
  • As well as deceiving consumers as to the amount of fat they are eating, TFAs can block many critical metabolic processes. For example, like saturated fats, they can hinder the conversion of 'bad' LDL cholesterol into 'good' HDL cholesterol, causing a back-up of LDLs and a rise in blood levels of this substances, which is harmful in excess.
  • Fat Facts: Making use of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, eating the nuts, seeds and vegetables that these oils are produced from can also play an important part in health. For example, avocadoes contain not only beneficial oils, but high levels of nutrients particularly important in diabetes. According to The American Diabetes Association, they are classed as a "superfood" for diabetics, containing many nutrients important for cholesterol management and they also protect against damage to arteries. Plant sterols help to bring down bad cholesterol and lutein helps to protect the eyes against diabetes-related macular degeneration. Although avocadoes, olives, nuts and seeds also contain some saturated fats, in moderation they are an important part of everyone's diet in providing omega 6 oils, vitamin E, vitamins B3 and B6, zinc and magnesium, which all have an important part to play in blood sugar management.

Fibre can be either soluble or insoluble, each having unique properties, and both are very important for a healthy diet, especially for those with diabetes. Aim for 35 grams per day to balance blood sugar, lower cholesterol levels, clean the colon of toxins and help to prevent heart disease (link to food sources of fibre). Fibre helps to level out blood sugar by slowing down carbohydrate digestion and, therefore, release of sugar from food into the bloodstream.

  • Soluble fibre tends to be found in fruit and vegetables, especially apples, citrus fruits, carrots, cherries, avocadoes, beetroot, dried apricots and prunes, and also some seed husks such as linseed, oat bran and psyllium, which many people take to counter constipation. It helps digestion by absorbing water, softening stools, and also helps to lower cholesterol levels
  • Insoluble fibre remains undigested so clears the digestive system, prevents constipation, lessens the incidence of colon and rectal cancer and speeds waste out of the body. It is found in brown rice (the fibre is removed when processed to white), rye bread and crackers, lentils, asparagus, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and other wholegrains and fibrous vegetables.
  • Fibre in food- oats are a complex carbohydrate, none of which is deemed to turn directly into sugar in the body, but they provide 10% of their weight in fibre so make a perfect breakfast food. Vegetables and fruits contain cellulose, an insoluble plant fibre that contains little sugar, but it is important to remember that when cooked these become broken down more readily into sugars. These is why vegetables taste sweeter the more they are cooked - think of carrots, peppers and parsnips in this context, for instance. (link to food sources of fibre)

Flax (Linseeds) - the tiny, humble golden linseed is a fantastic form of insoluble fibre. Also known as flaxseed, it is often also taken in supplement form, but it can be most useful added to foods as a ready supply of soluble fibre in the form of lignans, which are particularly effective at cholesterol regulation and hormone balance. Lignans also help to prevent gallstone formation and keep our channels of cholesterol elimination via the liver, gallbladder and bowel free from obstruction, as they bind to bile acids to remove them, taking along the cholesterol in the bile too.

Linseed should be ground, as it is otherwise almost impossible to digest the seed pods, and added to cereals or smoothies, but it should be kept cool and dark to avoid damage; the essential oils (both omega 3 and 6) are vulnerable to heat and light damage. Perhaps most usefully though, linseed can be soaked overnight with a little water, which opens up the tough kernels and forms a mucilage from the types of soluble fibres inside called polymucosaccharides. When added to porridge, berries, cereal or yoghurt (or just knocked back with the water) this coats the gastro-intestinal tract and works to regulate both constipation or diarrhoea by drawing water into the stool or the bowel as needed. It also helps digestion by healing the gut wall and promoting the all important mucosal lining, the microfilm of the gut, our first line of immune defence, which is vital in reducing the incidence of food intolerances that can lead to constipation and cholesterol build-up. Drink the water too for extra lignan benefits!

Linseed can also be used to great effect on the outside of your body. In Ayurvedic medicine, a hot poultice of linseed oil is used to treat eczema and other skin complaints. For topical use, choose organic, cold-pressed linseed oil; many varieties are roasted, which damages the sensitive essential omega 3 and 6 oils in the seeds.

G.

Garlic is said to be able to lower blood pressure and cholesterol in amounts as small as one clove a day. It is also a natural antibacterial and antifungal so keeps the gut clean and supports the immune system. Use raw in dressings (chopped) and roast with vegetables whole; raw garlic retains more of the active chemical, but cooked garlic still has beneficial properties.

Ginger has shown to lower cholesterol levels and support circulation. Have a few slices in hot lemon before breakfast, drink teas and use in cooking, for example in stir-fries.

Green tea is simply the dried leaves of the tea plant, black tea on the other hand, undergoes natural fermentation, which destroys most of its polyphenols. The polyphenols in green tea have antioxidant, antibacterial and antiviral properties, thereby protecting against cancer, helping to lower cholesterol and to regulate blood clotting. Green tea may also act as a weight loss aid by helping to burn fat and regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.

The beneficial effects of green tea on the immune system have long been known, but Japanese researchers have now also identified a compound that reduces the severity of allergic responses; the compound methylated epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been seen to actually block a key cell receptor involved in producing the allergic response. "Green tea appears to be a promising source for effective anti-allergenic agents", says Hirfumi Tachibana, an associate professor of chemistry at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan and head of the study, "if you have allergies, you should consider drinking it."

Green tea is an excellent alternative to 'normal' tea because it contains a little caffeine, so satisfies a craving, but does not contain other chemicals that cause overstimulation. The change from black tea or coffee to green tea lowers total caffeine intake in a day, which is less stressful on the body, as well has helping to reduce an allergic response - green tea drinking is simply good all round.

H.

Herbs and Spices - cinnamon, cloves, garlic, rosemary, oregano and turmeric all have antibacterial properties and can help keep the gut clean of unwanted problems. Spices and herbs contain aromatic oils that give them their fragrant smells and tastes, but also have strong medicinal properties that aid circulation, cleansing, digestion and blood sugar balance.

Licorice, ginger, rosemary, basil, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, lemon balm, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary are all age-old traditional depression remedies that we are still beginning to understand in terms of their scientific properties, but can still show to be highly effective for a range of conditions, particularly when used topically.

  • Herbal teas are a healthy alternative to caffeineated drinks and rehydrate the body, whereas coffee and tea have a dehydrating effect. Peppermint soothes the digestive tract; fennel alkalises and soothes; most good organic brands offer digestive blends, which can be found in supermarkets and health stores.

Hydrogenated (trans-) fats One of the unfortunate by-products of the rise of fatty convenience foods is the increase of trans fatty acids (TFAs) in the diet. These fats do not appear in nature and involve a rotation of molecules on one side of a double-bond in the fatty acid chain. This effectively disables enzymes that no longer recognise the natural form of these fats. Trans-fats are treated as saturated fats in the body, which is why they are used to make margarines and spreads; they are solid at room temperature and still fulfil the "polyunsaturated" claim.

As well as deceiving consumers as to the amount of fat they are eating, TFAs can block many critical metabolic processes. For example, like saturated fats, they can hinder the conversion of 'bad' LDL cholesterol into 'good' HDL cholesterol, causing a back-up of LDLs and a rise in blood levels of this substances, which is harmful in excess. See Fats section for overview link

I.

Insoluble fibre remains undigested so clears the digestive system, prevents constipation, lessens the incidence of colon and rectal cancer and speeds waste out of the body. It is found in brown rice (the fibre is removed when processed to white), rye bread and crackers, lentils, asparagus, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and other wholegrains and fibrous vegetables. See Fibre section for overview link

J.

Juices - freshly made juices can be a useful way to get many nutrients directly into your body, with little energy needed for full absorption. This is especially true of juice mixes that go beyond the popular carrot, apple and ginger combinations. For example, adding in celery, beetroot and parsley makes for a particularly cleansing drink. Adding cabbage to any combination can help to heal the gut and it actually tastes good, with other fruits and vegetables masking its intense flavour. Add in a teaspoon of flaxseed oil per portion to slow down the sugar release from the fibreless fruit and vegetables.

K.

L.

Leeks - Part of the onion family, leeks are very cleansing, containing high levels of sulphur, which is needed for the clearance of toxins from liver and other cells. They provide a substance called inulin, which helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Totally versatile, they make a fantastic simple soup, are good steamed, stir-fried or roasted in olive oil, or added to pies and stews.

Legumes (beans and pulses) - Like wholegrains, beans and pulses provide incredible levels of fibre and nutrients, the best examples of this being lentils, adzuki beans, mung beans, soybeans, green beans and chickpeas. They are also an excellent vegetarian source of protein and, often, a rich source of folates. Beans and pulses are particularly good for regulating cholesterol levels due to their high fibre content, and also contain a substance called lecithin that helps to clear fats from the liver.

Lettuce actually supplies more goodness than many people imagine. It is a good source of soluble fibre, so cleans out the bowel, and has good levels of essential trace minerals, especially if grown organically.

Linseeds - the tiny, humble golden linseed is a fantastic form of insoluble fibre. Also known as flaxseed, it is often also taken in supplement form, but it can be most useful added to foods as a ready supply of soluble fibre in the form of lignans, which are particularly effective at cholesterol regulation and hormone balance. Lignans also help to prevent gallstone formation and keep our channels of cholesterol elimination via the liver, gallbladder and bowel free from obstruction, as they bind to bile acids to remove them, taking along the cholesterol in the bile too.

Linseed should be ground, as it is otherwise almost impossible to digest the seed pods, and added to cereals or smoothies, but it should be kept cool and dark to avoid damage; the essential oils (both omega 3 and 6) are vulnerable to heat and light damage. Perhaps most usefully though, linseed can be soaked overnight with a little water, which opens up the tough kernels and forms a mucilage from the types of soluble fibres inside called polymucosaccharides. When added to porridge, berries, cereal or yoghurt (or just knocked back with the water) this coats the gastro-intestinal tract and works to regulate both constipation or diarrhoea by drawing water into the stool or the bowel as needed. It also helps digestion by healing the gut wall and promoting the all important mucosal lining, the microfilm of the gut, our first line of immune defence, which is vital in reducing the incidence of food intolerances that can lead to constipation and cholesterol build-up. Drink the water too for extra lignan benefits!

Linseed can also be used to great effect on the outside of your body. In Ayurvedic medicine, a hot poultice of linseed oil is used to treat eczema and other skin complaints. For topical use, choose organic, cold-pressed linseed oil; many varieties are roasted, which damages the sensitive essential omega 3 and 6 oils in the seeds.

M.

Mackerel - like salmon, mackerel is high in omega 3 oils, types of essential (polyunsaturated) fatty acids (EFAs) that our bodies cannot manufacture alone, but that we need for mental function, heart health, growth and renewal. Mackerel is also a source of vitamin D and so is a good winter food during the months when we can't get much from our body's preferred source, sunlight. As a small oily fish it is one of the lowest in terms of risk of mercury toxicity, and also provides a rich source of vitamin A. Fresh is best, but some smoked mackerel can be a convenient choice. Just ensure that it is naturally, not chemically smoked. If the label doesn't say then don't trust it - paying a little more is worthwhile!

Mange tout are a useful source of fibre, and an excellent source of vitamin C and beta carotene. They are a great way to add pulses to your diet if you aren't keen on other beans.

Manuka honey comes from New Zealand where the art of Apitherapy (using bee products medicinally) - is strongly represented by the Manuka Bush flowers from which the bees feed. Much research has been done on the potent antibacterial action of this honey and has lead to the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF®) rating system, which judges the potency of the honey, batch by batch. Manuka is the only honey that is tested for its ability to destroy bacteria and other microbes. It can be taken internally for antibacterial and antimicrobial protection, but can also be applied topically to cuts, burns, sores and infected or poorly healing areas of skin. According to the Waikato Honey Research Unit in New Zealand, "active manuka honey with UMF is about twice as effective as other honey against Eschericihia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, the most common causes of infected wounds". There are now many products on the market that utilise this potential, but going to the source is often the most potent form of application.

As a foodstuff, medical claims cannot be made about honey, but it has been traditionally used for digestive problems, skin and stomach ulcers, eczema, sore throats and infections. Look for a Manuka honey with a UMF rating of more than 10, the minimum that health professionals in New Zealand use. It is not cheap, but you get what you pay for and a superior brand of Guaranteed UMF16+ is a worthwhile investment.

Millet is a good alternative to wheat, which we eat so much that intolerance is now common. Buckwheat is technically a grass, not a grain, so most people will have less problems in general with tolerating buckwheat. Reducing our wheat burden can help digestion; buckwheat is easier to digest and more alkalising. Both buckwheat and millet contain substances called nutrilosides, the most famous of which is the anti-cancer compound laetrile, that are essential in the detoxification processes of the body.

Monounsaturated oils, traditionally eaten regularly in Mediterranean countries, are vegetable in origin and include olive, almond, hazelnut, peanut and avocado oils. They contain a fatty acid called oleic acid or omega 9 and remain liquid at room temperature, but begin to solidify when refrigerated. These have been found to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol, although excess can raise fat levels in the blood. The exception is olive oil, which has been actually shown to reduce both of these. This is, however, thought to be due to unique active components rather than its monounsaturated fat content. These fats are less damaged by heat than oils that stay liquid at room temperature and can therefore be used for cooking. See Fats section for overview link

Mushrooms are a fundamental part of the traditional diet of the Far East, where they have been cultivated and used medicinally for thousands of years. Of these mushrooms there are three, shiitake, reishi and maitake, that have been under intense scientific study in recent years.

The shiitake mushroom contains a nutrient called lentinan that boosts the immune system and specifically a type of white blood cells known as a CD4, which is notably low in patients diagnosed with HIV infection. Maitake, also known as 'hen of the woods' and native to northern Japan, contains beta-glucans, which is thought to also boost the immune system while other fractions of the mushroom have been shown to help regulate blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Reishi mushrooms have been studied in relation to their potential to help combat breast cancer and are used in this way by many alternative physicians. Mushroom local to more temperate and familiar regions, such as chestnut and button, while not containing any such potent properties, are usually rich in the anti-cancer mineral selenium.

Oriental mushrooms make a wonderful addition to soups and stews, either bought fresh, or bought dried and hydrated in boiling water for half an hour. European mushrooms can be sliced and added to salads and sandwiches.

N.

O.

Oats are a true superfood with many impressive health benefits. For example, they are low in calories, but high in both fibre and protein. They are a rich source of phytonutrients, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper.

Whole oats, oat bran, rolled oats and whole oat flour are some of the best sources of soluble fibre that we can eat, especially as it is so much easier to eat oats in large amounts than it is apples or cherries! In 2004, oat products even gained an official health claim: 'the inclusion of oats as part of a diet low in saturated fat and a healthy lifestyle can help reduce blood cholesterol'. In the UK it is now legal for oat products to carry this claim if they contain at least 0.75g per serving of beta-glucan, the type of soluble fibre which has had such proven effects in lowering cholesterol.

Like most wholegrains, oats contain starches, though those found in oats break down into sugars slowly in the body to provide sustained energy release, helping blood sugar balance, thyroid function and stress reduction. Oats are also one of the few foods that contain the essential fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which helping the produce to produce anti-inflammatory substances called prostaglandins.

Eating oats as the wholegrain in porridge is the best way, and this should be made from the whole oats, rather than instant, but making your own oat crunchy cereal or healthy flapjacks is also a good treat option (see recipes). One of the most useful sources oats are the many healthy snacks and treats available that have now become oat-based; though it is still important to scour labels for sugar levels and hidden sugars or sweeteners. Look in the 'healthy' section of supermarkets or healthfood shops for choices and taste test for sweetness and a more natural flavour. Look for 'real' ingredients rather than 'flavoured' fruits and avoid processed cereal type bars, which tend to be loaded with sugars in order to make up for their 'low fat' claims. Alternatively, you can make your own and then add far more nuts, seeds and fruit than the manufacturers would ever do!

Fortunately for many, oats are often better tolerated than the other gluten grains wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is a type of binding protein found in these grains, to which many people are intolerant and it is often the cause of digestive problems such as IBS, constipation and diarrhoea. Good digestion is the cornerstone of good health and oats' capacity to take toxins out of the body as well as support all aspects of the digestive process is good enough reason in itself to start the day with some hearty porridge!

Oils and Cooking - the following table shows the safest oils to cook with at different temperatures to retain their goodness, but most importantly to avoid creating harmful free radical molecules caused by heat induced damage (See Fats section for overview link) :

* t
SATURATED MONOUNSATURATED POLYUNSATURATED SUPER-UNSATURATED
Animal fats Almond Hemp* Flax or linseed
Palm Avocado Pumpkin*polyunsaturates tha
Palm kernel Hazelnut Safflower also contain super-
Coconut Olive Sesame -unsaturates
Cocoa Peanut Soya*
Shea nut   Sunflower  
    Walnut*  
       
High heat: 190 oC/375 oF Moderate heat: 170oC/325 oF Low heat: 100 oC/ 212 oF Cold: up to 49 oC/120 oF
More stable in the presence of heat, light and oxygen. Best used for high temperature cooking such as frying. Butter can be clarified to make ghee to remove the harmful milk solids. Although oils, do not contain essential fatty acids and as more stable are more suitable for medium heat cooking such as sautéing and stir-frying. Except those with super-unsaturates* - heat sensitive for cold dishes or low temperature cooking such as baking and sauces. For bread and cakes up to 163oC/ 325 oF, moisture keeps the inside temp. under 100 oC/ 212 oF. Extremely vulnerable to damage from heat - should only be used cold in the preparation of dressings, dips, relishes and mayonnaise. Includes those above*

Oily fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and trout contain the richest levels of the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which help mood, concentration, memory, immune function, liver function, heart health, and on and on we could go. Studies have shown that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can have a protective effect against the development of gallstones, an increasingly common condition that has many knock-on effects for long-term health. The advice here is to eat, at least three times a week, from the list above, but don't eat larger oily fish, such as tuna or swordfish, too often as they have been shown to carry harmful amounts of toxic heavy metals such as mercury.

For further reading on this important subject, Udo Erasmus' seminal book Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill more info remains an important lesson on the potentially damaging consequences of the low-fat diet. This book re-introduced natural oils like flax into health regimes. According to Dr Erasmus, 'omega-3 (fish oils) deficiency is the single, most widespread, most health-damaging physical cause of degenerative disease in our time. we can live without bread and milk, but we cannot live without essential fats or omega-3 fats'.

For vegetarians, hemp, pumpkin, soya and walnut oils contain some omega 3 oils, but are higher in omega 6 (link). The two should be eaten in a four to one ratio, and flax or linseed (the best vegetarian and vegan alternative) can be added to food as a source of omega 3 oils.

Olive oil - the virtues of olive oil have been well established, researched and documented. It forms the basis of the healthy Mediterranean diet and contains monounsaturated fats, flavones, quercetin and omega 9 oils; this is a heady combination of protective nutrients.

In a recent series of laboratory experiments, carried out by scientists from Harvard Medical School in 2003 (Nature on 24 August 2003) they discovered that a group of molecules called polyphenols could extend the life of yeast by 70 per cent. The quercetin in olive oil is one of these polyphenols (as is resveratrol found in red wine - see main article), nutrients believed to increase in plants in response to stressful conditions. The researchers say that polyphenols appear to stimulate sirtuin enzymes, which can extend an organism's lifespan. 'We think sirtuins buy cells time to repair damage,' said molecular biologist David Sinclair, assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. 'There is a growing realisation from the ageing field that blocking cell death - as long as it doesn't lead to cancer - extends life span'.

It is well known that the lifespan in Mediterranean countries surpasses our own; we may now be close to knowing exactly why, but there are many other reasons to include olive oil in your diet. For example, olive oil contains a compound called hydroxytyrosol, which protects cholesterol in the arteries from being damaged, a process that precedes cardiovascular disease.

Omega 3 oils are those found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, trout and sardines. Like the omega 6 oils, these are essential fatty acids and crucial for our health. There is much research on how important they are for heart health and that optimum levels can be consumed by eating fish 3-4 times a week, in variety. Both essential fats aid the function of parts of the body that are rich in fats, areas that commonly become damaged in a person with diabetes: eyes, kidneys, liver and circulation from the heart. For vegetarians, hemp, pumpkin, soya and walnut oils contain some omega 3 oils, but are higher in omega 6. The two should be eaten in a one to one ration and flax or linseed can be added to food as a source of omega 3 oils.

Omega 6 oils - Much research over the last decade has suggested that an imbalance in the dietary ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 oils is contributing to a wide variety of illness, including heart disease and depression. The optimal ratio is thought to be 4:1 (6 to 3) or lower, while modern diets contain ratios as high as 20:1. Most of the omega-6 oils causing this problem come from refined, supermarket vegetable oils such as soy, canola, corn and rapeseeds oils, which contain high levels of harmful trans-fats. That said, omega-6 oils should not be avoided completely, as it appears to be damaged oils that cause most problems, so healthy omega-6 sources such as pumpkin seeds, walnuts and whole, organic soy products should be a regular part of a healthy diet. Another, non-essential, omega-6 oil, is arachidonic acid, which is found in egg yolks and is important in the structure of the brain. See Fats section for overview link

P.

Papaya, pineapple and sprouted beans such as alfalfa contain enzymes that aid digestion and help reduce problems such as excess mucus, constipation and food intolerances.

Parsley acts as a diuretic, helping the body to shed excess fluid, which is often seen as weight gain - this effect can be seen after eating just 25g of fresh parsley. The active ingredients that cause this effect are the plant chemicals apiol and myristicin. This effect also cleans out the kidneys and parsley aids their general function, in addition to helping with skin problems, high blood pressure and the build-up of uric acid, which can lead to gout. Parsley has traditionally been used to support the adrenals glands and , therefore, to help cope with stress.

Parsnips, unlike carrots, lack the beta-carotene that provides a rich orange colour, but they do make up for it with plenty of potassium, which is needed to help maintain normal blood pressure, reduce bloating and cope with stress. The downside is that they release their sugars very quickly, especially when cooked, so should always be eaten with a protein food to slow down this surge.

Peaches - as with all orange foods, peaches are abundant in beta-carotene and vitamin C, both antioxidant nutrients that may help to protect your body against degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis, and also from the environmental pollutions that encourage the progress of these conditions.

Pectin-containing foods such as apples, pears, plums, carrots and squash help to lower cholesterol as this type of fibre binds fats and carries them out of the body. Pectin also helps to remove toxic metals like mercury, lead and cadmium that cause lots of harm, so eat a crisp, tart apple a day. It is also found in the white pith of citrus fruits so nibble on this if eating the fruit.

Pineapple - our favourite and most widely eaten tropical fruit, pineapples provide a delicious balance and sweetness and acidity and a number of nutritional benefits. They are a wonderful food for aiding digestion, containing naturally occurring protein-digesting enzymes, hence why the west has traditionally served pineapple with steak. Pineapples also contain vitamins C and B1 as well as the antioxidant mineral manganese. These nutrients also promote healthy collagen production and so help to heal all the tissues in your body; good news as fresh pineapple tastes really fresh and juicy too! The stem of the pineapple is rich in bromelain, a anti-inflammatory nutrient that can be helpful for those suffering from allergies or osteoarthritis, but the stem is discarded in pre-prepared pineapple so, for maximum benefit, buy fresh and juice.

Pomegranate - in the last few years the pomegranate, a delicious pink and purple fruit native to Iran and Northern India, has emerged as another five-star health food. Pomegranate is loaded with vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants called polyphenols that have great benefit for the heart.

For example, in one study, lead by the well known natural health advocate Dr Dean Ornish, patients with blocked blood vessels to the heart were able to increase their blood flow by nearly 20 percent, simply by having one eight ounce glass of pomegranate juice daily. Even better, pomegranate helps to prevent cardiovascular disease in three other, completely separate, ways, including prevent damage to cholesterol already in the artery wall and regulating blood pressure. Pomegrante also has properties that may help to prevent cancer. Patients with prostate cancer drinking a glass of pomegranate juice a day had a far slower rise in their PSA levels, a marker used to assess the development of cancer, than a control group not drinking pomegranate.

Pomegranate is delicious (if very messy!) to eat from the whole fruit. Simply pull back the skin and scoop out the sweet purple pods. To avoid the messiness, go for the organic juice.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are always liquid and contain the essential fatty acids, the omega 3 and 6 oils. Omega 3 oils can be found in oily fish and, of interest to vegetarians, in flaxseed, walnut, soya and rapeseed oils. Omega 6-rich oils include sesame, soya, sunflower, walnut, pumpkin and hemp. The omega 6 oils help to produce localised hormones in the body that are important for blood sugar regulation, correct cholesterol regulation and heart health. They are called "essential" because they are crucial for body functions and must be eaten because they cannot be made in the body. Saturated fats can actually stop essential fats being used at a cellular level. See Fats section for overview link

Prebiotic foods - probiotics are the 'beneficial bacteria' in your gut. The human gut houses a staggering 10 to 100 trillion microbes from 500 to 1000 species, more than 10 times the number of cells that make up the human body. In an adult, these gut microbes weigh some 1-1.5 kg. Our relationship with these organisms is complex and, ideally, 80% of the bacteria should be 'good', that is working for the good of our health. It is a fight for territory in our guts and that level of beneficial bacteria keeps the 'bad' bacteria, or other potentially harmful invaders such as viruses and fungi, from taking over the neighbourhood. The presence of some bad guys does keep us on our toes though, and we are used to living with some element of danger. Rather than kill off these potential hazards, it is better to improve your good flora, which will create the best environment for them to flourish, which is also a difficult one for the 'baddies' to populate. These probiotics support good digestion, and liver and kidney function. More and more is being found out about the role that this gut flora plays in our health and how these effect have far-reaching effects on the whole of the body.

Prebiotic foods help to feed probiotics and are known to be equally important a consideration in gut health. Prebiotic foods include chicory, onions, leeks, garlic, beetroot, cabbage and Jerusalem artichoke. Eat these raw where possible. Raw, grated beetroot is particularly good on salads, with grated carrot, courgette, olive oil, lemon juice, turmeric and cumin, and fennel seeds - a real digestive combination. Sauerkraut is also a particularly effective prebiotic, while a portion of beans, peas or green beans can provide resistant starch, another good form.

Protein sources - these should be included in all meals, especially breakfast, in order to start the day off with a sustained source of energy as well as the materials to produce the hormones, enzymes, antibodies and neurotransmitters that your body will need to help you cope and react appropriately throughout the coming day. Proteins are broken down into amino acids - the building blocks of the body's structures such as skin, bone, teeth, muscle and connective tissue. They are also crucial for good mental function, including mood and cognition.

Protein is found in large amounts in meat (muscle) and eggs, and in lesser amounts in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, grains, vegetables and fruit. Good healthy sources include fish, chicken, turkey, bananas, figs, dates, yoghurt, tuna, organic eggs, soybeans, tofu, nuts (especially almonds), quinoa, cottage cheese, avocadoes and whole grain crackers. Great combinations for vegetarians include cereals and fruit with nuts and seeds, or starches (potatoes, rice, bread) with fish, lentils, beans or tofu. (see vegetarian protein sources)

Pumpkin seeds - Pumpkin seeds contain both omega 3 and omega 6 oils, making them unusual in the plant world and highly therapeutic for those with mood disorders. Like all nuts and seeds, they are high in fibre, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc - an all-round serotonin (feel good brain chemical) producing package! They are also particularly therapeutic for prostate problems, containing hormone re-balancing plant sterols.

Q.

Quercetin containing foods - apples, onions, garlic and green tea contain quercetin, a bioflavonoid (plant chemical) that reduces inflammation and helps control food allergies. Green tea is a good substitute for black tea and coffee as it contains a fraction of the caffeine, but has shown to have marked benefits for the immune system. (see green tea)

Quinoa is a South American super-seed once referred to by the Incas as the 'mother grain'. Rich in iron, calcium, B-vitamins and zinc, this food contains the most perfect balance of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, for human consumption all of known foods. Quinoa cooks very much like rice, has a pleasant, nutty flavour, and is delicious in Mexican and Indian meals.

R.

Radishes - have remained unchanged and used in cooking since ancient history. Cultivation in different areas produced red, black and white varieties, known as daikon or mooli, but they all have a similar, if subtly different taste. Used in salads, the more unusual types add an interesting variation on the traditional British salad that many associate with the radish. Despite this old-fashioned reputation, radishes have a lovely sharp, peppery taste and a good crunch that perks up any salad and they also have fantastic effects on the thyroid gland, normalising either high or low levels of thyroid hormones.

Refined carbohydrates or sugars are very simple molecules; what we call "sugar" for cooking and eating is actually sucrose, just two molecules of glucose which provide a very quick supply of sugar to the bloodstream, demanding a high need for insulin that the diabetic cannot supply. These sugars are found in processed foods, sweets, cakes, soft drinks, fruit juices and very refined carbohydrates such as white bread, where the bran part of the wheat has been stripped away. This fast supply sugar can be laid down as fat if the body cannot utilise it for energy quickly enough.

Current research has shown that many diabetics may eat more sugar than they realise because they have a reduced ability to taste sugar. For diabetics, bringing down high blood sugar levels is a priority. As well as being a damaging, high octane molecule itself, excessive sugar levels can lead to the obesity often associated with diabetes. See Carbohydrates section for overview link

Rice is the most hypoallergenic grain, meaning that it seen to cause the least intolerances in the intestines; it is not usually contaminated with gluten and less pesticides and fertilisers are used in its processing. Refined or 'white' rice has little nutritional value, being just the starchy inside of the grain with the hull removed. Brown rice retains its fibre, magnesium, B vitamins and other nutrients. Brown basmati rice is the best choice for taste and slow sugar release.

S.

Salmon - wild salmon is the best choice, to ensure no dyes have been added to give the flesh an unnaturally bright pink colour. The colour of salmon should come from its astaxanthin content, a potent antioxidant that protect the heart and eyes and which should come from natural micro-organisms eaten by the salmon. Additionally, with wild salmon the chances of mercury contamination are very low, while the reliability of the nutritional content is very high. Salmon is full of omega 3 oils, types of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (EFAs), which our bodies cannot manufacture, but that we need for mental function, heart health, growth and renewal. Wild salmon is also the best choice because it will have had the chance to exercise freely, so its fat content is better balanced, with a higher essential to saturated fat ratio. Salmon is also a source of vitamin D, so is a good winter food given that most of us can't get sufficient vitamin D from from our body's preferred source, sunlight, during those dark months. See Omega 3 Oils section for overview link

Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources and are solid at room temperature, examples being butter and meat fats, and can act as solid fats in the body; if eaten in high amounts they can clog arteries and add to the risk of heart disease. In combination with sugars, these can become laid down as fat, so foods combining both such as pastries are often the main culprits of weight gain. See Fatss section for overview link

Soluble fibre tends to be found in fruit and vegetables, especially apples, citrus fruits, carrots, cherries, avocadoes, beetroot, dried apricots and prunes, and also some seed husks such as linseed, oat bran and psyllium, which many people take to counter constipation. It helps digestion by absorbing water, softening stools, and also helps to lower cholesterol levels. See Fibre section for overview link

Spices and Herbs - cinnamon, cloves, garlic, rosemary, oregano and turmeric all have antibacterial properties and can help keep the gut clean of unwanted problems. Spices and herbs contain aromatic oils that give them their fragrant smells and tastes, but also have strong medicinal properties that aid circulation, cleansing, digestion and blood sugar balance.

Licorice, ginger, rosemary, basil, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, lemon balm, marjoram, peppermint, rosemary are all age-old traditional depression remedies that we are still beginning to understand in terms of their scientific properties, but can still show to be highly effective for a range of conditions, particularly when used topically.

Spinach - Greens such as spinach are a veritable fountain of folic acid and iron, two nutrients vital for growth, energy and renewal. The darker the greens, the greater the nutritional value, so add raw spinach into salads and sandwiches. Its rich, dark colour is made up of lots of different types of carotenoids, plant substances like beta-carotene that help to protect the leaves from the harmful UV rays of the sun as they photosynthesise and create energy for the plant. We also benefit from these chemicals as they help to protect us from the sun. Spinach also contains a surprisingly high amount of protein for a leafy vegetable, making it a wise choice for vegetarians. It also contains the liver and cell supporting substances glutathione and alpha lipoic acid, and has been widely shown to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Sugars or refined carbohydrates are very simple molecules; what we call "sugar" for cooking and eating is actually sucrose, just two molecules of glucose which provide a very quick supply of sugar to the bloodstream, demanding a high need for insulin that the diabetic cannot supply. These sugars are found in processed foods, sweets, cakes, soft drinks, fruit juices and very refined carbohydrates such as white bread, where the bran part of the wheat has been stripped away. This fast supply sugar can be laid down as fat if the body cannot utilise it for energy quickly enough.

Recent research has shown that many diabetics may eat more sugar than they realise because they have a reduced ability to taste sugar. For diabetics, bringing down high blood sugar levels is a priority. As well as being a damaging, high octane molecule in itself, excessive sugar levels can lead to the obesity often associated with diabetes.

If we consistently eat sugar, especially refined carbohydrates such as sweets, white sugar and white flour, we 'flood' the system and the pancreas may over-react and overly secrete insulin in an attempt to reduce blood glucose levels. With time, this could lead to a rapid fall in blood sugar, or hypoglycaemia, as it is more commonly known. When levels are too low, we may experience symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, nervousness, depression, sweating, headaches, digestive problems and hunger. This is when we reach out for stimulants such as tea, coffee, chocolates and cigarettes to 'keep us going' - creating a vicious cycle as our pancreas is again stimulated to produce more insulin.

If this is a constant occurrence, the pancreas could become exhausted, and if you consider that the average person in Britain consumes 38 teaspoons of sugar a day, in comparison to two teaspoons in the 1820's, that's quite a bit of work! Once exhausted, instead of producing too much insulin, the pancreas produces too little. The result is too much glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia) and not enough for cells. Discouraging the development of a 'sweet tooth' has many health benefits, including better dental health, a more consistent good mood, higher energy and, perhaps most importantly a reduced the risks of obesity. See Carbohydrates section for overview link

T.

Tomatoes - tomatoes are our perennial summer salad fruit. In fact, many people consider a salad to be only a combination of lettuce leaves, tomatoes and cucumber. This is a disservice to the salad, but takes nothing away from this delightful, refreshing red food that, in its many forms, offers a variety of health benefits.

While being rich in vitamins C and K, niacin, folate and potassium, the real nutritional superstar in tomatoes is the fat soluble compound lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid, and has been shown to both protect and repair DNA (damage to DNA is a precursor to cancer and other diseases of ageing). In test tube studies, lycopene has been found to have protective properties against a growing list of cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, lung and, in human studies, cancer of the prostate. Lycopene has also been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, through being anti-inflammatory and through its ability to regulate blood clotting.

One of the best ways to take in a good amount of lycopene is by using tomato purees regularly in the diet, as freshly made pasta sauces and as bases for stir fries and stews. In fact, tomato puree contains several times as much lycopene as a raw tomato; it is released from the food matrix of the tomato by both heating and mashing.

Trans-fatty acids - one of the unfortunate by-products of the rise of fatty convenience foods is the increase of trans fatty acids (TFAs) in the diet. These fats do not appear in nature and involve a rotation of molecules on one side of a double-bond in the fatty acid chain. This effectively disables enzymes that no longer recognise the natural form of these fats. Trans-fats are treated as saturated fats in the body, which is why they are used to make margarines and spreads; they are solid at room temperature and still fulfil the "polyunsaturated" claim.

As well as deceiving consumers as to the amount of fat they are eating, TFAs can block many critical metabolic processes. For example, like saturated fats, they can hinder the conversion of 'bad' LDL cholesterol into 'good' HDL cholesterol, causing a back-up of LDLs and a rise in blood levels of this substances, which is harmful in excess. See Fats section for overview link

Turkey is one of the leanest of all meats, containing much less saturated fat than lamb, beef or even chicken. It also a rich source of the anti-cancer mineral selenium, as well niacin (B3) and other B-vitamins, and zinc. As with all meats, it is worth spending a little extra for organic turkey.

Turmeric - this beautiful, bright orange spice is the powdered root of the turmeric plant, a member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family. Turmeric is as important a player in the kitchen for therapeutic and preventive health as its close cousin. Turmeric has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for joint problems, digestive problems, menstrual irregularities and liver complaints. Recently, extensive research has built on statistics that reveal Indian levels of heart disease and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and cancers are much lower than in the west. The active compound in turmeric, curcumin has also been shown as preventive against multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, ulcers, skin complaints, carpal tunnel syndrome and most digestive disorders.

Additionally, curcumin has been shown to slow down phase I liver detoxification, while egging on phase II, helping the liver to move toxins more quickly through the two detoxification phases ready to be eliminated from the body. This may explain turmeric's powerful anti-cancer properties and its ability to help cholesterol and hormone regulation. Asian diets contain enormous amounts of turmeric, and is part of the traditional diet from early childhood. It would be quite difficult for us to emulate these amounts and although we can continue our love of Asian cooking, turmeric is notably difficult for humans to absorb; it has been said that we only absorb 4% of the active curcumin contained.

For these reasons, many people are now turning to turmeric supplements as an addition to their diets, particularly as an anti-inflammatory agent and digestive remedy. This can be a more practical way to take advantage its cholesterol regulating abilities, as you would need to eat 100 gram (about 3 1/2 ounces) of turmeric in its spice form to get the therapeutic dose equivalent of curcumin (1.2 g per day).

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V.

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Walnuts - a Harvard study identified both omega-3 fatty acids and a substance called uridine in walnuts as being as effective as anti-depressant medications in lifting mood. Walnuts, unlike other nuts, contain omega 3 oils, as well as omega 6, making them a really potent, balanced package. They are also a good source of the anti-cancer compound ellagic acid.

Watercress - greens like watercress are a veritable fountain of folic acid and iron, two nutrients vital for growth, energy and renewal. The darker the greens, the greater the nutritional value, so add watercress to sandwiches and salads. The peppery taste helps to get digestive juices flowing and watercress is also a rich source of the mineral sulphur, which is necessary in all body cells for moving out toxins and moving in nutrients. Its rich, dark colour is made up of lots of different types of carotenoids, plant substances like beta-carotene that help to protect the leaves from the harmful UV rays of the sun as they photosynthesise and create energy for the plant. We benefit from these chemicals as they also help to protect us from the sun.

Wheat - the high amount of the sticky substance gluten, found in large amounts in wheat, has been linked to, among other illnesses, IBS and depression. There has been a recent surge in wheat intolerance because it is increasingly prevalent in many foods as a cheap ingredient and bulking agent, although it is a relatively new addition to man's diet. The grain that we eat today is modified to contain much greater amounts of the proteins that cause the problems and is inherently difficult for us to digest. Wheat gluten for example, is an inflammatory protein, may irritate the gut and is mucous forming. An intolerance is different to an allergy in that an intolerance describes a more gradual immune response, in which a particular food can provoke enough antibodies over a period of time to create an immune reaction, as opposed to a classic allergy where the reaction is immediate. With intolerances, symptoms can occur minutes to days later and signs can range from headaches, bloating and nausea to rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions.

That said, wheat is still the world's most important cereal crop and, in its unrefined form contains an array of important nutrients for those who can tolerate it, including vitamins B1, B2, B3, E and folic acid, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, as well as fibre. For those who can't, the best alternatives are spelt (an ancient form of wheat), rye, buckwheat, millet and corn, all of which can be substituted in breads, pastas and pancakes.

Whole grains - Example of these are wholemeal flour products, brown rice, oats, rye, quinoa and barley. These foods help to regulate blood sugar levels ensuring that we have steady energy, mood and motivation. They also assist in detoxification and ensure healthy digestion, while also being great sources of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E.

 

Disclaimer

The information provided on this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, nor is it intended to replace the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. The website is intended for "educational" use only. Please see your health professional before changing your diet, starting an exercise program or taking any food supplements. Authors and contributors can assume no responsibility for misuse of this material.