We all have a pretty good idea of what’s ‘good’ for us and what’s not so good for us. Fruit and vegetables versus cakes and biscuits, for example. But some foods go beyond just being ‘good’ for us and can play an important role in improving our health, treating and preventing disease. Head of Nutrition and Dietetics at Monash University Helen Truby lists six foods that could play an important role in optimising the functioning of our key body systems:
Cocoa, cacao and even our beloved chocolate have been investigated for their potential health benefits. Cocoa contains flavanols (a type of phytonutrient) which, in some studies, have been found to reduce serum insulin and lower blood pressure.
Tip: Add small amounts of dark chocolate, or cocoa or cacao powder to your diet to receive potential preventative health benefits, rather than using it to treat any symptoms you may have.
Curcumin is the active ingredient and bright yellow pigment found in the spice turmeric and, more recently, in some supplements. It has been associated with reducing inflammation in the body, which is significant as inflammation could play a role in chronic illnesses such as autoimmune and cardiovascular disease.
Tip: As we learn more about curcumin’s potential health benefits, use turmeric when you’re cooking Indian and Chinese food.
Green tea, a drink enjoyed by millions around the world, contains numerous components with antioxidant properties, such as polyphenols (especially catechins, which may possess anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties). The benefits of antioxidants in green tea have been investigated in many studies, however more research is needed to prove a definite link.
Tip: Include green tea regularly to increase the polyphenol content of your diet for general good health.
Garlic has been a much-loved ingredient of foods around the world for generations, yet we are still learning about its potential health benefits. Garlic has been associated with improving immune system function, with some studies suggesting that its potential anti-microbial properties have a role to play in helping prevent the common cold.
Tip: While evidence of the exact role garlic may play in warding off colds and flu is debated, including it in your diet regularly will help boost your intake of phytonutrients, which could help you to stay healthier!
Brown seaweeds such as Wakame and Mekabu contain many bioactive compounds such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols and polysaccharides. Some researchers suggest that algal polyphenols have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and possible anti-diabetic effects, while omega-3 has been associated with having cardio-protective effects.
Tip: When eating out, try including some seaweed based dishes in your diet, such as in Japanese cuisine, or look to see whether you can source seaweed and start including it in your own home cooking.
Ginger has been associated with reducing nausea in both pregnancy and in patients undergoing chemotherapy. With no known side effects, using ginger in tea or general cooking could be a great option for those struggling with nausea.
Tip: Including ginger in your cooking is a great way to improve the flavour of your meals, and if you would like to use it more for its potential anti-nausea properties, speak with your healthcare professional.
For more information on health and nutrition, head to free online course provider FutureLearn and follow the short course, Food as Medicine.