Proud Tips | Introduction of Natural Foods in Health | Our ancestors knew well the healing power of natural foods and turned to them to combat all manner of maladies. It’s only now, centuries later, that research has begun to confirm that the therapeutic benefits –of these foods can be scientifically proven.

In fact, some wonder foods have been found to work even better than drugs – and without the adverse side effects. Most experts now agree that eating a diet rich in natural, health-giving foods can help us to ward off common complaints such as colds, coughs and infections as well as to protect ourselves against chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, heart disease and arthritis. So, next time you’re feeling below par, instead of turning to the medicine cabinet turn to your own fridge or kitchen cupboard where, with the help of this great; book, you’re likely to find a remedy. It really is possible to eat your way to good health and improve the.

The way you feel and look. Natural Wonderfoods includes 100 delicious and nutritious foods that you can easily introduce into your diet for maxi­ mum impact on your health. The food entries offer practical and reliable information, as well as recipes for tasty dishes, beauty treatments and home remedies (the latter two marked and for easy reference), a nutrient list and at-a-glance symbols highlighting each food’s health­ enhancing properties.

Most fruit and vegetables, especially, have wide-ranging benefits. Many health conditions stem from nutrient deficiencies, so they can be alleviated – and often cured – by eating better. Base your diet on a wide range of vegetables and fruits, backed by wholegrain cereals, organic meat and dairy products, with as little processed food as possible. Let’s take a closer look at the food groups and their nutrients.

FRUITS

Generally, fruits contain more vitamins than vegetables, whereas vegetables rate higher in the mineral stakes. Most fruits are exceptionally cleansing and alkalizing, helping to eliminate toxins from the body and to regulate the digestive system by stimulating the movement of the digestive tract and improving the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Fruits are also a fantastic source of enzymes, natural sugars and cell-protective photochemical.

As the body digests fruits relatively quickly (within 30 minutes), they are best eaten on their own, separately from other foods that take longer to digest. This prevents them from fermenting in the digestive tract. Between meals is probably a good time to fit them in, unless you opt for an all-fruit breakfast.

Both fresh and dried fruits are nutrient-rich, with dried fruits also being an excellent source of minerals. While freshly pressed fruit juices are good for you, it’s advisable to dilute them with water to reduce their fruit-sugar content. This will help to curb blood-sugar fluctuations and lower the calorie count, which can add up when fruits are juiced, as well as reduce the risk of dental caries.

VEGETABLES

If there’s one food group we can never eat too much of, it has to be vegetables. Abundant in vitamins, minerals, fiber and water, vegetables help to cleanse and alkalize the body, neutralizing acidity and reducing the toxic load. They are also low in fat and calories (with the exception of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, winter squash and yams) and are one of the best sources of phytochemicals – potent plant compounds that help to protect the body against disease.

Scientific research suggests that phytochemicals slow down the aging process and reduce the risk of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and arthritis. Most of them function as antioxidants, helping to counteract the hazardous effects of free radicals – unstable molecules that damage body cells.

In fact, free radical damage is thought to be one of the main causes of aging. Phyto­ chemicals exert various other properties, such as stimulating the immune system, regulating hormones and providing antibacterial and antiviral activity. The great news is that all vegetables are full of these natural plant components, of which hundreds have now been identified.

Try to make vegetables a central feature of main meals and find new ways of incorporating them into your diet, so that you eat generous amounts every day. When preparing salads, instead of sticking to basic ingredients such as lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes, use them only as a base, and add a variety of other colorful ingredients such as celery, red pepper, radicchio, beetroot, fennel, watercress and carrots.

Cooked vegetables are good too, especially in the winter.To preserve fragile nutrients such as vitamin C, steam, stir-fry or bake them rather than boil them, or add them to soups and stews. Juicing is another great way of reaping the goodness from vegetables in a more concentrated form.

MEAT AND DAIRY

Protein is vital for strong immunity and building strong bones and muscles, as well as essential for repairing the body’s tissues, and meat and dairy products abound in it. This vital component is required to manufacture all cells, including the immune system’s antibodies and enzymes. It is made up of amino acids, which play a key role in immune health – for example, the amino acid glutathione is an important antioxidant and detoxifier. Many people are deficient in protein, so we have included protein-rich foods, such as chicken, lamb, eggs and bio-yogurt.

FISH

As well as being a great source of protein, fish, such as sardines, salmon and fresh tuna, are a superb source of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) that play such a vital role in helping us to feel and to look fantastic. Not only do EFAs play a central role in keeping the brain active, the mind agile and the nervous system healthy, but they are also fundamental to the preservation of the elasticity of the skin and to keep the hair glossy and healthy, and to improving our fitness.

Seafood, such as prawns and oysters, are also loaded with useful minerals, such as iodine, which regulates the thyroid gland, and zinc and selenium, powerful antioxidants that boost immunity and help to fight off infections.

NUTS, SEEDS AND OILS

All these foods provide protein, minerals and vitamin E, which are very important for the skin, reproductive organs and circulatory system. They are also packed with the healthy fats associated with lowering high cholesterol, balancing hormones and reducing inflammation. The high-fat content of nuts and seeds means they are calorie-laden, so eat them in moderation. They are ideal sprinkled on salads, cereals and desserts or as snacks. Also, nut and seed butter make tasty spreads on toast or crackers.

GRAINS, PULSES AND BEANS

Grains are the primary source of energy for many people throughout the world. Unrefined grains are rich in slow-releasing carbohydrates that help sustain and fuel the body. They are also rich in fiber to aid digestion. There are two main types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood-sugar levels and to lower high cholesterol, while insoluble fiber regulates bowel movements. Grains contain both types.

Some grains, such as quinoa, provide the body with complete protein; other grains need to be combined with beans, pulses or seeds to make their protein more usable by the body. This can easily be achieved and we often do it when preparing meals in traditional combinations – for example, in baked beans on toast, rice and dhal, and so on. Like fruit and vegetables, grains supply many healing vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Most grains supply B-vitamins, which are needed for normal metabolism and a healthy nervous system, along with calcium and magnesium and various trace elements. If you are allergic or intolerant to gluten (a sticky protein found in wheat, rye and oats), there are plenty of grains that are gluten-free, such as rice, millet, buck­ wheat and quinoa. Collectively known as legumes, pulses (the edible seeds of certain legumes) and dried beans are an excellent source of protein (especially when combined with grains), as well as soluble and insoluble fiber and complex carbohydrates.

This makes them ideal energy foods for balanced blood sugar. They also contain a broad spectrum of minerals and a brain nutrient called lecithin. If legumes cause you to bloat, their gassy effects can be avoided by adding a few bay leaves or a strip of kombu seaweed during the cooking process.

HERBS, SPICES AND OTHERS

Besides adding taste and aroma, herbs and spices boost the nutrient content in all kinds of meals. Some, such as garlic and ginger, are particularly versatile in their culinary uses while giving fantastic healing and health­ enhancing benefits. To preserve the nutrients of both fresh and dried herbs, add them to dishes toward the end of the cooking time.

They also make fabulous sub­stitutes for salt and some aid digestion. However, it’s best to add spices earlier to allow their flavor to develop fully. Herbs and spices can be made into medicinal teas to help to relieve various health problems. There are some foods that do not fit into any of the categories mentioned so far, but without which no articles on foods would be complete.

These include condiments, such as cider vinegar, which has long been valued as a curative; natural sweetener, honey, which also has amazing healing properties and tofu, which is a low-fat food jam-packed with nutrients, often used in Oriental cuisines.

STORING FOOD

Fresh fruit and vegetables lose much of their vitamin content in storage. So shop where you know food is fresh, keep it in a fridge or a cool place and eat as soon as possible. Fresh meat should be placed on a plate on the bottom shelf of the fridge, where it can’t drip onto anything. Fresh herbs can be kept in a clean screwtop jar with a pinch of salt, covered with olive oil, or for a few days in the fridge, wrapped in damp paper.

SUPPLEMENTS

It’s always better to get your nutrients from a balanced diet than by taking supplements. No one knows exactly how it works – only that the whole fruit or vegetable seems to provide a full range of nutrients in the right balance. Beta-carotene, for example, is so good for the lungs that smokers who get plenty of it in their diet reduce their risk of lung cancer.

Yet taking beta-carotene supplements seems to increase their cancer risk. It’s almost impossible to overdose on nutrients from fruit and vegetables, but it’s easy to unbalance your levels of vitamins, and especially minerals, if you take them in the large quantities supplied by supplements. The only exception is vitamin Bl2. Vegans who can’t get enough of this from their diet should take this as part of a vitamin B-complex supplement.

EAT ORGANIC

Organic foods are produced in much the same way food was grown for thousands of years, until the twentieth century. Organic farmers don’t use synthetic chemicals or sewage sludge. Their animals are given medicines only when they’re unwell – not to make them put on weight faster or as a way of counteracting the unhealthy conditions of factory farms. It’s worth paying a little extra to eat organic, although the price difference is narrowing all the time. Not all scientific studies have found that organic foods are more nutritious, but many have – and none has found them less healthy!

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