We’ve long relied solely on drugs to cure illness. But here’s why we should also be taking a look at what’s on our plate…
Often when we feel ill the automatic response is to raid the medicine cupboard.
But, increasingly, doctors are encouraging us to think about what we’re eating instead.
Scientific research is supporting the idea that food can be as effective as medicine
in treating illness.
A seven-year study conducted in Italy suggested that a Mediterranean-style diet may
be better at treating heart disease than statins.
Professor Giovanni de Gaetano, who led the research, said we shouldn’t look at drugs as the only way of saving lives.
He said: ‘Many scientific studies have shown that a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, more importantly, of death from any cause.’
The study found heart patients with a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil cut their risk of premature death by 37 per cent — compared with
18 per cent for statins.
Researchers have also been successfully treating epilepsy in children through a ketogenic diet. The high-fat, low-carb, controlled protein diet has been used since the 1920s to treat epilepsy when anti-epileptic drugs fail to work.
Now one GP in particular is spreading the word about the medicinal powers of food.
Dr Rupy Aujla, author of The Doctor’s Kitchen, has long been an advocate of plates over pills.
As a working GP based in London, he’s seen first hand the effects of a poor diet — including high blood pressure, low mood, chronic pain and diabetes.
Combining his medical knowledge and his love of food, Dr Aujla aims to make healthy eating delicious and accessible to everyone.
In his book, he explains why he believes so strongly in food as medicine.
As a junior doctor working gruelling hours, he began experiencing heart palpitations.
He says: ‘I asked my registrar to check my pulse and within the hour I was admitted to the acute medical unit.’
It was the first of many episodes of atrial fibrillation Dr Aujla suffered over the next two years.
With his cardiologist’s support, Dr Aujla decided to try out alternatives to the high-dose medication he was offered.
‘For the next year I focused on my lifestyle and replaced elements in my diet, all while juggling the hectic job of being a junior doctor,’ he says. ‘I read everything I could on associations between diet and my condition, and entered a new world of wellness.’
Dr Aujla replaced breakfast cereals with dark, green leafy vegetables, and ate meals packed with vegetables and healthy fats.
He tackled stress with meditation and made sure he was getting enough sleep.
And what did he find? His heart episodes reduced from one or two a week to zero.
‘My family’s story, my personal story and those of the thousands of patients across the world who have managed to reverse and prevent disease using lifestyle medicine is my motivation for writing this book,’ he says.
In his book, Dr Aujla explains the medicinal benefits of different herbs and spices, from kitchen staples such as garlic, believed to reduce the risk of cancer, to the antioxidant qualities of ginger.
He says: ‘We need to investigate spice compounds further. We know they are safe for consumption because we’ve essentially been testing them by including them in our diets for years, and exciting early research suggests a potential role for their use in treating different conditions.’
While many conditions will always require conventional medicines, it’s clear from the research that diet and lifestyle are key to tackling illness.
As Dr Aujla says: ‘The answer to our epidemic of chronic disease is staring at us from
the grocery aisles.’
Edited by Jess Bell
Dr Aujla’s favourite medicinal spices
A rich, burgundy-coloured spice, sumac is found in Iranian and Turkish dishes such as tagines or stews. Dr Aujla says the spice is one of the most antioxidant-rich ingredients on the planet. It’s traditionally used to treat diabetes and cardiac disease.
As well as packing a punch in the flavour department, this spice has anti-inflammatory effects and improves metabolic syndrome.
Dr Aujla says: ‘Invest in a large, high-quality tub of it — you cannot have a kitchen without this spice.’
This spice is probably ‘one of the most extensively researched spices we have in nutritional science’ according to Dr Aujla. There’s evidence that a daily dose of turmeric can prevent bowel cancer, as well as benefitting dementia, chronic pain and inflammatory conditions.
Adding flavour and richness, garlic also has a bunch of medicinal benefits, including antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Basil, rosemary and thyme
Herbs boost health too. Studies suggest thyme can help your immunity, thanks to its levels of vitamins C and A.
The Doctor’s Kitchen: Supercharge your Health with 100 Delicious Everyday Recipes by Dr Rupy Aujla, published by Harper Collins, £14.99.