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Eat yourself healthy

Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can mean the difference between living a normal, healthy life or a life plagued by discomfort bringing on chronic conditions.

The relationship between diet and health is a complex one. A healthy diet can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, while the converse has been linked to an increased risk of a stroke or dementia. A Mediterranean-style diet, for example, has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression, and is chockfull of fresh herbs and veggies, fruit, cereals, grains and legumes, fish, garlic and healthy fat, such as olive oil.

The food types that negatively affect the brain are those that prevent the conversion from food to nutrient, such as saturated fat (for example butter and lard), and those that fool the brain into thinking it needs to release certain chemicals that our bodies need, such as chocolate and caffeine, resulting in mood swings and erratic behaviour.

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We’ve put together a list of common health issues and how the correct eating habits can help keep you in optimum shape and ward off depression, illness and exhaustion. Remember that a nutritious and wholesome eating plan is not a quick fix, but rather a lifestyle choice.

Lactose and gluten intolerance

When it comes to food sensitivity, dairy and gluten are two of the biggest culprits.

If you suffer from bloating, heartburn, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, skin problems such as acne or eczema, or frequent nausea, chances are you are intolerant to gluten or dairy.

The symptoms for both lactose and gluten intolerance are fairly similar. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body no longer produces the enzyme responsible for breaking down the natural sugars found in dairy (known as lactase) in sufficient quantities. Gluten intolerance is the body’s inability to digest or break down the gluten protein found in wheat and certain other grains. Because the symptoms are so hard to distinguish from each other, it is easy to confuse the two, and in serious cases can lead to anxiety, depression and hormonal imbalances. (Gluten sensitivity is not to be confused with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the gluten causes the immune system to attack the cells lining the intestine).

Learning to live without dairy isn’t as overwhelming as it may sound. There are so many alternatives on the shelves these days, from nut-based milks like almond, hazelnut and cashew, to soya, oat, hemp and coconut. There are also plenty of dairy-free cheese varieties, as well as yogurt, ice cream and plant butters. Foods such as rice, polenta, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and oats are all gluten-free, and with a bit of effort and innovation, will soon become second nature. Pay special attention to any packaged and processed foods’ labels to guarantee that there aren’t any hidden gluten or dairy ingredients, and educate yourself on which ingredients you need to steer clear of, for example caseinate, whey, malt and brewer’s yeast.

A balanced and healthy diet is the most important step. After living a dairy or gluten-free lifestyle for a while, your body will start to heal and your health will improve. Fresh fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, beans and legumes, seeds, nuts, plant-based oils and spices (some spice mixes contain dairy and/or wheat, be sure to check the labels).

Make sure you eat enough calcium-rich foods to compensate, such as oranges, broccoli and kale. Most plant-based milks are calcium-enriched.

Did you know? Quinoa is rich in antioxidants, minerals and fibre, and contains all nine essential amino acids. Thought of as one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, quinoa is a superfood which also improves blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Inflammation

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing process. When you catch a cold or tear a muscle, the immune system responds by sending white blood cells to fight the invading bacteria, virus or infection, which increases blood flow to the area, causing redness and a sensation of warmth.

Known to continue after the initial threat of infection has passed, inflammation can not only result in constant discomfort, but can also eventually lead to life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Symptoms to look out for are chronic depression, digestive problems, fatigue, ongoing sinus issues, headaches and migraines.

It’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that in most cases a healthy and appropriate eating plan can prevent the acceleration of inflammatory disease, reducing the risk of illness. So, instead of reaching into the medicine cupboard, increase your intake of the correct foods..

Green leafy veggies, like spinach, kale and chard, turmeric and apple cider vinegar, olive oil, tomatoes, nuts, peppers, broccoli, avocado, green tea, mushrooms, fruits such as cherries, strawberries, oranges and blueberries, dark chocolate and oily fish are all known to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Try to avoid or cut down on refined carbohydrates such as white bread and baked pastries, sugary drinks, deep-fried and fast food, red and processed meat, shortening, margarine, lard, processed snacks such as microwave popcorn and crisps, and full-fat dairy foods.

Did you know? Your risk of a heart attack decreases by between 20 and 30 per cent for every 10 per cent drop in cholesterol levels.

 

Healthy heart, healthy body

Despite the fear inspired by the words “high cholesterol”, there is no need to rush to the pharmacy or doctor for medicine. In most cases, cholesterol is easily managed by making these few simple lifestyle changes.

• There are good and bad fats; learn the difference between the two and limit your consumption of the bad. Good fats include nuts, fish, seeds and vegetable oils such as sunflower, olive and canola. Bad fats are trans and saturated fats which increase the cholesterol levels in your blood, thus increasing your risk of heart disease.

• Limit your intake of refined grains such as white flour. Opt for wholewheat couscous, quinoa, polenta, millet and wild rice.

• Concentrate on veggies, fruit, wholegrains and legumes. Foods that are naturally high in fibre will keep your heart performing at its peak.

• Eat more plant protein. Animal proteins raise blood cholesterol levels, while plant sources lower it. Examples are tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, lentils, beans, almonds, peanuts, spirulina, quinoa, seitan, chia seeds, beans and rice, potatoes and protein-rich vegetables such as dark-coloured, leafy greens.

• Last, but definitely not least, exercise. Find an exercise regime that best suits your lifestyle.

Did you know? Brazil nuts are a nutritional powerhouse of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and healthy fats. They are also particularly high in selenium, a trace element which has been shown to have an enhanced effect on mood disorders. Selenium is also crucial for the healthy function of the thyroid, has a direct influence on the immune system and is vital for cell growth and the proper functioning of the body.

 

Boosting your post-Covid reserves

Sometimes not even a good night’s sleep can shake the deep-boned exhaustion that can occur after doing the simplest thing, especially if you are recovering from a viral infection such as Covid.

In many cases, it takes three to four weeks for Covid-related fatigue to pass, but in some cases it lingers for months.

To combat the tiredness Covid leaves in its wake, it is important to recognise the signs and respond accordingly. Make sure you get enough sleep. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga. Staying active helps to restore and maintain energy levels; unfit people tire more easily. Slowly build up your activity levels when you feel your energy has stabilised. Getting plenty of vitamin D is a must, so go outside and bask in the sunshine for a few minutes. Follow a routine, and remember to stay hydrated.

Easy-to-digest, light but nutritious food, and a handful of nuts every day is an excellent way to get a quick fix of core fatigue-fighting vitamins and minerals such as zinc, protein, potassium, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C, E, K and B6.

Eating more plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts, beans, wholegrains and pulses also does wonders. A variety of colour each day helps regulate the trillions of gut bacteria in the microbiome. Try to eat smaller, regular meals.

 

Finding your feet after cancer treatment

After cancer treatment, there is nothing more important than getting back to and maintaining optimum long-term health. A nutritious diet, regular exercise, good sleep, as little stress as possible (not always easy in today’s world), not smoking, and overindulging in alcohol are crucial. Make plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – in an array of colours – part of your daily intake, and eat proteins that are low in saturated fat such as fish, nuts, seeds and legumes, and healthy fats. Limit your intake of dairy, especially full-fat, add healthy fats such as olive oil and nut butter, avocado, nuts and seeds, and drink plenty of water. When it comes to carbohydrates, opt for legumes and wholegrains. Avoid refined sugars, processed and packaged food, white carbohydrates, red and processed meat, trans fats and alcohol.

Did you know? Turmeric has been used as a pain reliever and healing agent for thousands of years. It has powerful antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits, improves liver function and is said to reduce the risk of certain cancers.

 

Life after prostate cancer

In South Africa, five men on average die from prostate cancer every day, while one in 23 men develop prostate cancer in their lifetime,.

Your nutritional choices can help reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer or slow its development, which is why maintaining a healthy weight, taking in sufficient amounts of the correct essential nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates, phytonutrients such as carotenoids (the richly coloured molecules that are the source of red, yellow and orange in many fruit and vegetables) is important. Keep sugary drinks to a minimum, drink plenty of water and eat organic wherever possible. It is important to stay active. A daily walk or light exercise should make sure you do not lose muscle mass.

 

Diet guidelines for prostate health

• Plenty of fruits and vegetables – cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage and Brussel sprouts), carrots, tomatoes, pomegranates, grapes, citrus fruit, including grapefruit, avos, peppers, including chillies, apples, berries and mushrooms

• Limited intake of animal protein – red meat especially is related to aggressive prostate cancer

• Green tea – jam-packed with potent antioxidants, studies have shown that green tea can slow the development of prostate cancer

• Wholegrains such as corn, oats, rice, barley, millet, quinoa and whole-wheat bread are all excellent sources of magnesium and fibre, and also deliver protein.

Did you know? Combining equal amounts of beans and rice constitutes a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.

 

Make sure your pantry is well-stocked with the foods necessary to ensure you keep in tip-top mental and physical shape.

Shopping list

Fresh fruits and vegetables

• Fresh seasonal fruits – berries, oranges, apples, pears, bananas, papaya, figs, mandarins, grapefruit, plantains, pineapple, apricots, mangoes, grapes and tomatoes.

• Dried unsweetened fruits – raisins, cranberries, dates, figs, berries, bananas, mango, papaya, apples and apricots.

• Fresh seasonal vegetables – yellow, green, and red bell peppers, butternut, cucumbers, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, celery, eggplant, zucchini, pumpkin and sweet potato.

• Not a fruit or vegetable, but highly beneficial nonetheless, mushrooms are high in fibre, protein, antioxidants, and are an excellent source of selenium. Studies show that they may also alleviate the risk of developing chronic diseases such as
diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart
disease and cancer.

Oil and vinegar

Olive oil and vegetable oil such as canola or sunflower.

Apple cider vinegar.

Herbs and spices

Several spices have numerous health benefits such as cognitive boosters, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, and cancer-fighting properties. Among them are turmeric, ginger, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne.

Pantry essentials

Lentils, barley and split peas, assorted canned beans, oats, brown rice, wild rice, grains such as couscous, polenta, millet, bulgur or quinoa, and wholegrain breads.

Nuts and seeds

Assorted nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower, pumpkin, poppy or sesame seeds.

 

Chickpeas

The top food trend for 2021/22, chickpeas are packed with key vitamins and minerals, and like all legumes, are high in protein and fibre and an excellent source of zinc. Research shows that the health benefits of the humble garbanzo bean include lowering the risk of cancer, diabetes and cholesterol, improving mental health, promoting weight loss, regulating blood pressure as well as blood sugar, building muscle and boosting the immune system. Chickpeas are delicious in soups, stews, curries, burger patties and falafels, as dried snacks, and of course, hummus.

Hummus recipe

Packed with fibre, folate, vitamin C and antioxidants that help lower blood pressure, fight inflammation and improve overall well-being, this delicious beetroot hummus is the real deal. With its gorgeous red colour and slightly sweet, earthy flavour, it’s everything you need to keep in optimum health while still enjoying the food of the gods.

Ingredients

• 1 medium roasted beetroot, cubed • 1x 410g can of chickpeas • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice • 1 garlic clove, minced • 2 tbsp olive oil • A pinch of ground cumin • A good handful of fresh parsley, chopped • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste and optional) • Salt (to taste) •
2 tbsp water • ½ tsp paprika • Extra olive oil to garnish

Method

Add all ingredients except the paprika and extra olive oil to a blender. Blitz them until smooth and creamy. Scrape the hummus out into a bowl and then sprinkle the paprika all over the top. Drizzle the olive oil over the paprika and leave to stand for 10 minutes, until the paprika has absorbed the oil. Serve with crisp pita breads or crudités.

Did you know? Beetroots are rich in nitrates, which the body changes into nitric oxide, which is an important free radical. They are also high in folate (vitamin B9), which helps with cell growth and function, and plays a key role in controlling damage to blood vessels, which in turn helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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