Top Disease-Preventing Foods
Almost every major medical condition is either caused or affected by what you eat. Yet very few medical doctors are knowledgeable about nutrition. As a result, they rarely give nutritional advice -- even when specific foods can help curb symptoms or correct underlying problems as well as or better than prescription medications.
Best food treatments for five common diseases...
This respiratory ailment affects up to 20 million Americans and is becoming increasingly common, presumably because of worsening air pollution.
Best foods: Chili peppers... fish... and coffee.
People who regularly consume hot sauces or chili peppers may have less frequent -- and less severe -- asthma attacks. Capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot, may stimulate nerve endings to help keep airways open. The fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, lower levels of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, chemicals that increase airway swelling.
Helpful: Three or more two- to three-ounce servings of fish each week can reduce the frequency of asthma attacks.
Doctors traditionally have advised people to drink one cup of strong coffee at the onset of asthma attacks if none of their usual medications are available. One of the active ingredients, methylxanthine, relaxes airway muscles. Adult asthmatics who drink several cups of caffeinated coffee daily have 30% fewer asthma attacks than noncoffee drinkers. I recommend three to four cups a day, provided you don't have active ulcers or cardiac arrhythmias.
A cataract is a clouding (opacity) of the lens of the eye, which results in impaired vision. Much of the damage is caused by free radicals, harmful oxygen molecules that are produced as a by-product of metabolism.
Best foods: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables -- especially squash, spinach, broccoli, oranges, carrots and sweet potatoes. They're rich in vitamins C and A as well as beta-carotene, all of which reduce eye damage.
Helpful: Eat five or more servings daily.
CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE
It occurs when an underlying condition -- such as a viral infection, hypertension, a narrowed heart valve, etc. -- inhibits the heart's ability to pump blood.
Best foods: Brown rice, spinach, oatmeal, legumes (such as beans and peas), potatoes and bananas. They're rich in magnesium and potassium, both of which improve cardiac function.
Warning: These minerals often are depleted by the use of diuretics -- standard drugs for the treatment of heart failure.
Helpful: Eat two daily servings of magnesium- and potassium-rich foods.
Also: Eat four to six small daily meals instead of three big ones. Blood flow to the stomach following big meals increases energy demands on the heart.
Limit total daily sodium intake to less than 2,000 mg daily (a little less than one teaspoon). Excessive salt increases fluid retention and reduces the heart's pumping ability.
About half of the 20 million American adults who have gallstones don't have symptoms. In the remaining sufferers, these collections of solid crystals in the gallbladder or bile ducts may cause severe pain under the breastbone or in the upper right side of the abdomen, especially after meals. The presence of such crystals can irritate the gallbladder and promote infection. Even a single, large stone developing in the gallbladder predisposes that organ to cancer.
Best foods: Fruits...legumes ...and vegetables -- anything that's low in fat. Fatty foods stimulate gallbladder contractions that can precipitate attacks.
Bonus: The fiber in plant-based foods interacts with bile in the gallbladder and reduces stone formation. A high-fiber diet may dissolve existing stones and also helps with weight loss.
Warning: People who are just 10% overweight are twice as likely to get gallstones as those who maintain a healthful weight.
Helpful: Get 35 g to 45 g of fiber daily. Eat at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, along with whole-grain pasta and breads, legumes and other high-fiber foods.
Good choices: One cup of baked beans (13 g of fiber)...one medium baked potato (4 g)...one large apple (5 g)...or one-half cup All-Bran (10 g).
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS)
It's associated with excessively strong and frequent contractions of intestinal muscles. Symptoms include gas, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
Best foods: Legumes, whole-grain breads and cereals. They're high in soluble fiber, which reduces diarrhea without adding too much "bulk" to the intestine. Coarse miller's bran, available in health-food stores, is very high in insoluble fiber.
Helpful: Slowly work up to two tablespoons of miller's bran, twice daily. To reduce constipation when eating high-fiber foods, drink several extra glasses of water a day.
Avoid milk and other dairy foods for a few weeks to see if symptoms subside. Many people with IBS are unable to digest the lactose in dairy foods. If you are among them, take a supplement, such as Lactaid, with meals.