A healthy diet can improve your overall wellbeing. The right food may also have the potential to prevent or ameliorate certain diseases or chronic conditions. While dietary modifications are no substitute for professional medical care, they may lower your risk of certain conditions, moderate symptoms and perhaps even reduce your needs for certain medications. Instead of depending on a prescription to regulate your blood pressure, your diet could do it for you. If you’re looking for a less pharmaceutical approach to your health, here are five conditions that the right foods might improve.
Diet may help reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies, which are allergies that are directly tied to the time of year, mainly due to an excess of pollen in the air. Avoiding some foods and consuming others may reduce your symptoms if you’re a seasonal sufferer:
- Foods to avoid: Alcohol and highly processed food may exacerbate allergies, but some natural foods can be just as detrimental depending on the severity of your symptoms. If you have ragweed allergies, for instance, avoid foods that contain substances similar to ragweed pollen, including bananas, chamomile, cantaloupe, echinacea, watermelon and zucchini.
- Foods to eat: A substance called quercetin found in onions, apples and berries may reduce allergic symptoms. As all three foods are low fat, low calorie and packed with healthy vitamins and phytochemicals, they are good for your overall health as well. Spicy foods can help clear out your sinuses. Finally, make sure to drink enough water as dehydration can thicken mucus and worsen sinus symptoms.
Diet can help with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in several ways, including:
- Weight control: The first way diet can help with arthritis is weight control. If you suffer from arthritis, losing weight will decrease the stress placed on your joints, especially ankles, knees, hips and back.
- Bone health: People with arthritis should make sure to consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D for bone health. While you can obtain vitamin D by spending 15 minutes a day outdoors, people who are housebound or live in northern climates may need to obtain vitamin D from foods, such as fortified dairy products or dairy substitutes like soy or almond milk.
- Inflammation: Inflammation is a major contributor to arthritis symptoms. Certain foods, especially saturated and trans fats and simple sugars, may worsen inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, walnuts and flax seeds may reduce inflammation. Researchers have been studying avocado soybean unsaponifiables to help with symptoms of arthritis. Although the research is at an early stage, adding nutritious and tasty avocados to your diet and using soybean oil in salad dressing or cooking might help with certain symptoms.
High Blood Pressure
Adjusting your diet may help reduce your blood pressure. There are several dietary changes that can be helpful. As you make these changes, have your doctor monitor your blood pressure and possibly adjust any medications you’re taking.
- Weight reduction: Losing weight usually reduces blood pressure. This doesn’t mean going on a crash or fad diet but instead gradually reducing your consumption of highly processed fatty and sugary foods, and adding more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins into your diet. Incremental changes over time can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, which could keep your blood pressure at an appropriate level.
- Avoiding sodium, excess carbs and alcohol: A high-salt diet tends to increase your blood pressure, and reducing salt in your diet may help reduce it. Try substituting herbs and spices for salt in recipes and avoid highly processed foods and salty snacks. As alcohol also raises blood pressure, either avoid or limit alcohol consumption. The same holds true with processed carbs, like baked goods and sweets. These simple carbs can cause you to retain water, which would lead to bloating and higher blood pressure as well.
- The DASH Diet: The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to help control blood pressure. It’s a low-sodium diet emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and legumes and avoiding saturated and trans fats.
Cardiovascular diseases are ones affecting your heart and blood vessels. Your lifestyle choices impact your overall risk of cardiovascular diseases and can help slow down their progression. The first important lifestyle choice to reduce cardiovascular is exercise. Even going for a short daily walk, peddling a stationary bicycle or dancing to an exercise video can improve your cardiovascular health. Diet is also important.
- Foods to avoid: Saturated and trans fats and dietary cholesterol may contribute to the formation of plaques that clog your arteries. As losing weight can improve cardiovascular health, watch the total amount of calories you consume and avoid calorie-dense sugary and fatty foods, such as cakes, doughnuts, potato chips and fried foods.
- Foods to eat: Foods rich in fiber may help improve your cardiovascular health. Replace refined grains like white rice and white bread with whole grains like brown rice, whole grain breads and oatmeal. Add fiber and protein-rich beans to salads and stews for extra fiber, and make sure to eat fresh fruits and vegetables regularly.
Pregnancy and Breast Feeding
When women are pregnant or breastfeeding, their nutritional needs change. First, you need about 300 to 500 additional calories a day to support the growth of your baby and milk production. This doesn’t give you license to gorge on junk food. Instead, choose foods that have the nutrients you need to maximize the health of your child and yourself. If you’ve got specific questions about nutrition, check in with your doctor or a lactation consultant (if you’re breastfeeding). In general, these foods can help promote a healthy pregnancy and/or postpartum period:
- Iron: As your iron requirements increase while pregnant or breastfeeding, eat lean meats, legumes and fortified cereals to ensure adequate iron intake.
- Calcium: Needed for breastmilk and a developing baby’s bones, calcium can be found in dairy products, dark leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
- Folic acid: Essential to the brain development of babies during pregnancy, folic acid can be found in fortified cereals, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and legumes.
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats are essential to your baby’s development. Choose the fats found in olive oil, nuts, avocados and fatty fish (but avoid fish that may contain mercury).
- Protein: Adequate protein is essential for your baby’s development, especially in the second half of your pregnancy, and can help keep your appetite in check. Lean proteins can be found in meat, dairy products, nuts and legumes.
None of these dietary modifications are instant fixes. They tend to have gradual, modest effects over a long period. Before making substantial changes to your diet or lifestyle, talk to your doctor. Even great diets might still demand some medication. Our bodies aren’t the same, after all. But a diet that includes nutrient-rich foods is always better than one without, whether you need prescriptions or not.