I’m proof food is the best medicine: NHS doctor says changing his diet helped cure his heart condition as he shares his Eat To Beat Illness recipes that could transform your health too!
What would you say if I told you that I’d discovered a medicine that could change your life?
This miraculous drug taken every day could help protect you against Britain’s deadliest illnesses, from cancer and heart disease to Alzheimer’s and diabetes. It’s also cheap, simple to administer and readily available.
You’d be keen to take it, wouldn’t you? Well, such a medicine does exist . . . it’s found in food and lifestyle choices you make every day.
I’m proof of the power that tweaking your diet can have. I personally have managed my heart condition simply by modifying what I eat.
I’m an NHS doctor who spent six years at Imperial College in London, one of the UK’s most prestigious medical schools, and I absolutely believe that food can be some of the most powerful medicine available, and that everyone should have access to this knowledge.
Eat wisely, feel well, says Dr Rupy Aujla (pictured). He believes that food is the easiest and most cost-effective and evidence-based method of preventing and reversing disease
Because this isn’t cherry-picked strands of evidence to support faddy diets, this is science, the result of appraising thousands of high-quality studies to come up with evidence-backed advice that I hope will cut through the chatter and give you practical — and delicious — ways to improve your health and help to prevent disease.
Inside today’s Weekend magazine I’m showing you delicious, filling recipes that make eating to beat illness so easy, and next week, in exclusive four-page free pullouts, I’ll share the best food and meals to eat in relation to specific diseases — from cancer to eyesight problems. They could revolutionise your health.
My earliest introduction to the idea that food could be so potent was as a 12-year-old, decades before I knew anything about clinical trials and evidence. At the time my mother used to suffer random anaphylaxis attacks, the worst form of allergy where your airway can close and your blood pressure drops.
The attacks are life threatening and require treatment with an adrenaline shot.
Despite a barrage of medical tests, doctors were baffled, and suggested that her only option was to keep an adrenaline shot with her at all times and take allergy medication, every day, for life — which came with side effects including crushing fatigue and intolerable nausea. This wasn’t the way she wanted to live.
My kitchen essentials
Although no one single food is the silver bullet for a specific condition, the following foods have a body of evidence behind them that suggests they could help keep specific parts of your body healthier for longer.
Dark leafy greens have a huge impact on many of the body’s systems, including the brain
For your brain: SPINACH
Dark leafy greens have a huge impact on many of the body’s systems, including the brain.
They contain high amounts of nutrients that drastically reduce inflammation — thought to be a key reason why brain processes can become disrupted leading to fatigue and low mood. Other research shows a correlation between high vegetable intakes and lower rates of dementia.
Fibrous foods such as garlic feed the good bacteria in the gut
For immunity: GARLIC
Your gut has a huge role to play in a healthy immune system so fibrous foods — such as garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, endive and chicory — that feed the good bacteria in the gut are ideal.
Well-fed bacteria are better equipped to carry out their role of reducing inflammation and stopping pathogenic microbes from colonising in the gut.
Look for a rainbow of colours in your diet, including red and purple foods such as berries
For your heart: BLUEBERRIES
There is a significant body of clinical data to demonstrate that antioxidant-rich diets reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and, as a rule of thumb, colours mean antioxidants.
So look for a rainbow of colours in your diet, including red and purple foods such as berries, beetroot, red cabbage and grapes which contain chemicals shown to lower high blood pressure.
The fatty acids from nuts can positively impact inflammation
For inflammation: WALNUTS
Fat’s no longer the enemy in food, it’s all about getting the right fats into your diet.
And the fatty acids from oily fish and nuts can positively impact inflammation — a key player in a number of conditions from diabetes to cardiovascular disease.
And walnuts are a great source of these fats that can balance inflammation.
Lycopene, a chemical found in tomatoes, has been shown to inhibit several types of cancer
To beat cancer: TOMATOES
Lycopene, a chemical found in tomatoes and exotic fruit like guava and watermelon, has been shown to inhibit several types of cancer by interfering with cell signals that stop the cells growing.
It’s hard to prove direct effects on cancer outcomes, but these ingredients could be part of a diet that protects against cancer.
Keeping the gut healthy by including live yoghurt is wise
For mood: YOGHURT
There’s evidence of a relationship between the health of our gut and mental health.
Research must be done on the exact strains of microbes and how they affect mood, but keeping the gut healthy by including live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented foods is wise.
Brazil nuts contain vitamin E that can help neutralise the compounds in skin associated with sun damage
For your skin: BRAZIL NUTS
Whole grains, beans and nuts are a source of copper which encourages skin rejuvenation and wound repair, while Brazil nuts contain vitamin E that can help neutralise the compounds in skin associated with sun damage.
They’re also packed with selenium, thought to reduce the redness and inflammation associated with acne, as well as prevent DNA damage that could prevent mutations leading to cancer.
Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, a type of plant chemical that is concentrated in the eye and essential for retinal health
For your eyes: CARROTS
Yes, they are good for eyes.
Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, a type of plant chemical that is concentrated in the eye and essential for retinal health.
You’ll find it in pumpkins, red peppers and sweet potato, too.
She has no background in medicine, but her Indian upbringing had given her an appreciation of the value of food and lifestyle and, as a trained lawyer, she used her research skills and analytical approach to examine the scientific literature and create a plan of action.
I watched her completely overhaul her diet, creating a daily ‘prescription’ of a diet packed with vegetables, legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas, and whole grains, combined with good sleep patterns, exercise and meditation.
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After two years, to the amazement of her doctors, she came off all her medications and hasn’t needed to use an adrenaline shot since.
Going to appointments with her and spending time with her doctors was what inspired me to get into the medical profession in the first place, but it wasn’t until I was in my first medical job and was diagnosed with a heart condition that I had first-hand experience of the power of food.
Three months after I began working as a junior doctor in Basildon I started getting palpitations. Within the hour I’d been hooked up to a heart monitor which showed I was in fast atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition where your heart beats irregularly, inefficiently and, in my case, very fast (up to 200 beats a minute).
Spice up your life to help fight cancer
I’m a huge fan of using herbs and spices in cooking, as much because they deliver exceptional taste, as because they have clear health benefits.
Exotic spices, such as turmeric and cloves, may have a role in treatment of inflammatory disorders such as osteoarthritis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Ginger, turmeric, and fennel may be valuable in immune support as they have been shown in some small studies to reduce gut inflammation, while ginger and turmeric could also have a significant role to play in cancer prevention.
But, as a general rule of thumb, a wide range of spices contain dense concentrations of phyto-chemicals and micronutrients, which provide a variety of antioxidants that have the potential to help reduce inflammation.
So rather than concentrating your diet around specific spices that you may not even enjoy or have access to, a simple strategy is to use those that you appreciate the flavour of.
In the short term this can cause dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness and, left untreated, can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and heart failure.
It was very unusual for someone of my age, who was a normal weight and had no family history of heart problems.
After a load of tests, cardiologists could find no reason for it. Their proposed solution was a procedure that uses a laser to burn an area of the heart thought to be responsible, and to put me on beta-blocker medication.
I didn’t want such a drastic solution as the burning treatment, so my doctors agreed that I could try lifestyle changes to see if that might have an impact first.
I swapped canteen lunches for Tupperwares full of home-made plant-based dishes with beans and chickpeas and quality fats.
I started meditating and took up yoga and weights rather than the high-intensity training I had been doing, I tried to optimise my sleep and cut out using my phone and my laptop late at night. A year later, the AF episodes had stopped entirely and I was able to come off my medication.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what worked, but my increased vegetable intake may have replaced the electrolytes and vitamins in my cells that were lacking, eating vegetables on a daily basis flooded my body with plant chemicals that we now understand have profound effects on the way our genes express, added dietary fibre probably improved the functioning of my gut bacteria, lowering inflammation and increasing essential fatty acids, and practising mindfulness undoubtedly helped with stress.
My personal experience of the transformative power of food made me eager to find out more. I scoured journals, watched presentations, attended international nutrition conferences and began to unravel a magnitude of clinical evidence highlighting the impact of food on disease.
I read thousands of papers, studies, editorials and books dedicated to nutritional medicine, and then I started talking to my patients about what they ate, when they ate, and started to give them advice based on what I’d researched.
It worked. My diabetic patients improved their blood-sugar control, arthritic patients lost weight and become more active and even those who had no significant change in their body composition felt better in themselves — all without drugs.
I truly believe that the reason why food can work better than anything else is because, unlike a drug that is just dished out, patients can take an active role in their recovery, they can tailor recipes to their lifestyles, likes and dislikes, and make food and health a part of their life.
Put simply, food is the easiest and most cost- effective and evidence-based method of preventing and reversing disease.
Health advisory: Read this before starting
As with any health concern, always see your doctor first.
Seek medical advice if you are taking prescribed medication, have a significant medical or mental-health condition, are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Take care with any food allergies and dietary requirements.
Broadly speaking the diet that I recommend is a Mediterranean one — it’s predominantly vegetable-based using a rainbow of fresh produce that gives us a gamut of different plant chemicals that have been proven to be beneficial for health.
It’s about ditching excess refined sugars and refined carbohydrates, and instead upping your intake of whole grains, pulses and legumes, as well as nuts and seeds and good quality fats and oils.
I’m not anti-animal proteins, but I don’t think we need them every day, and I think that ideally they should be carefully sourced and unprocessed to ensure we’re getting as many nutrients as possible from them.
It’s a diet that has been studied over decades and is backed by thousands of research papers that are evidence of its ability to improve health, reverse disease and increase longevity.
Obviously I’m not a saint when it comes to food — and I don’t expect anyone else to be, either.
I was recently on holiday in Bologna, Italy, and had this incredible croissant filled with Nutella — it was amazing and I enjoyed every single bite.
What I am conscientious about when I’m eating is the provenance of meat. I want to know where animal products come from. So I’d definitely have fried chicken but I’d make sure that the chicken was free range.
I probably have red meat once every two weeks or so and when I do, it will be from an animal that’s been well looked after and well fed. And that costs money. A lot of the budget-range meat that we see in supermarkets is not great, both from a nutritional perspective and an environmental perspective.
I know that when it comes to healthy food, there are a lot of conflicting messages out there, but I really want to cut through all of that and give you the information that you truly need to make healthier choices for you and your family.
After reading the pullout available in Weekend magazine today, and the ones that you’ll see over the next few days, I hope that you’ll realise that culinary medicine isn’t about fancy meals, it’s about making educated decisions about improving your diet in ways that can slot into a hectic lifestyle.
I’m living proof of the incredible medicinal benefits of food and I’ve got no doubt that just a few tweaks and changes to what you put on your plate will leave you feeling — and looking — better than ever.
The Doctor’s Kitchen: Eat To Beat Illness by Dr Rupy Aujla will be published on March 21 by Thorsons at £16.99. © 2019 Dr Rupy Aujla.
To order a copy for £13.59 (20 per cent discount), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. Offer valid until March 16, 2019. p&p is free on orders over £15.
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