A Healthy diet 

Good nutritional habits to incorporate into your lifestyle. Good health starts with a healthy diet and good nutrition. Incorporating sensible eating habits into your lifestyle now will help maintain your future wellbeing.

The western approach

Western nutritional therapy focuses on obtaining a balance of protein, carbohydrate, fruit, vegetables and fibre, plus a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals.

In general, nutritional therapists recommend that you should:

* Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
* Use organic and free-range produce whenever possible.
* Decrease your intake of junk and processed foods.
* Consume fresh foods and wholegrains every day.
* Limit your intake of tea, caffeine and alcohol.
* Drink plenty of good quality water.
* Limit your intake of saturated fats (found in red meat, cheese, cream etc) but ensure sufficient intake of essential fatty acids (found in oily fish, nuts and seeds).
* Have only a moderate intake of sugar; use unrefined or fruit sugar or honey in place of refined sugar.
* Limit your salt intake and use herbal or low-sodium salts.
* Avoid preservatives and colourings when possible.

The oriental approach

In oriental medicine, the approach to nutrition is quite different. It focuses on eating seasonal foods and balancing them according to their properties. For example, in summer, it’s recommended that lots of salads, vegetables grown above ground (such as peas and beans) and soft fruits are taken. In winter, root and other vegetables grown below ground (such as turnips, burdock and carrots) are advised.

Eating out of season – for example, eating imported tropical fruits in winter – is considered inadvisable. All foods are classified according to their properties and their effects on the body, such as whether they’re ‘warming’ or ‘cooling’ foods. If too many ‘cool’ foods, such as tropical fruits, are taken during winter, they will cool the body unduly making it more susceptible to ‘cold’ diseases such as poor circulation, colds or weak digestion. Taking lots of ‘hot’ foods in summer, on the other hand, will overheat the body and may aggravate conditions such as certain types of skin diseases and liver problems.

According to these principles, oriental medical dietary advice is tailored to the person’s general constitution or ailment. For ‘cold’ conditions, warming foods such as root vegetables, pulses and meats, and spices such as ginger and cinnamon, will be recommended. For ‘hot’ conditions, cooling foods such as lettuce, watercress, radish and soft fruits are advised.

Food preparation and cooking methods are also important. Boiled, grilled or fried foods, casseroles and soups are considered ‘warming’, while raw, cold and refrigerated foods are considered ‘cooling’.
The naturopathic approach

Naturopathy focuses on eating habits and cooking techniques, as well as on cleansing diets and fasting. Food is seen as medicine in its own right.

Naturopaths recommend the following good eating habits:

* Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly to increase saliva production.
* Take meals in a calm and quiet environment (not in front of the TV).
* Don’t do any other activity, such as reading, while eating.
* Don’t drink water or other beverages while eating, as this can dilute the digestive juices in the stomach.
* Always leave a portion of the stomach empty at the end of a meal to allow for digestion.
* Avoid overeating and don’t take heavy meals in the evening.

When it comes to preparing and cooking food, naturopaths advise the following:

* Incorporate raw food into the diet.
* Cook food as little as possible.
* Lightly steam food, rather than frying or boiling it, to preserve its vitamin and mineral content.
* Use stainless steel or enamel pans for cooking.
* Avoid all canned and processed foods in favour of fresh or home-preserved foods.
* Make vegetable juices from fresh, organic produce.
* Use natural seasonings, spices and flavourings to enhance taste in place of heavy seasoning with salt or artificial flavourings such as ketchup.

Naturopaths recommend the following dietary regime for health and vitality:

Breakfast – wholefood muesli made from rye, oats, barley, millet and brown rice flakes, sweetened with dried fruits and honey and taken with yoghurt or buttermilk, plus a herbal tea or chicory coffee.

Lunch – the main meal of the day is made up of salads, raw vegetables, seeds, nuts, sprouted grains and plant oils, plus wholegrain bread and soya or other protein.

Supper – a light meal similar to breakfast, or simple steamed/raw vegetables and vegetable juices, plus wholegrains.
Food as medicine

Specific foods are also used as medicine in naturopathy. For example:

* Raw potato juice is used to treat gastric problems and arthritis because it’s very alkaline. (Any sprouts must first be removed from the potato and any green potatoes discarded. One small potato, or half a large one, is then juiced, diluted with warm water and drunk first thing each morning).
* Sauerkraut (fermented white cabbage; homemade rather than the salty manufactured type) is rich in vitamin C, lactic acid and other digestive enzymes and used to treat all kinds of digestive problems.
* Whey concentrate is used to regulate gastric secretions and blood sugar levels.
* Wheatgerm oil is used to regulate menstrual function and ease menopausal problems. It can be added to soup, made into salad dressing or taken neat. Adult dosage is one tablespoonful two to three times a day, while children can be given one teaspoonful twice daily.

This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.