90 per cent of us visit a GP at least once a year. Dietitian Tracy Morris looks at the most common medical complaints and reveals the foods that can help you prevent them – without visiting your doctor.
Fight back with food
Could an apple a day really keep the doctor away? No one is entirely sure, but according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the majority of our trips to the GP are preventable – and in many cases, prevention includes putting the right foods on our plates. Here, we take a look at some of the most common reasons Australians visit the doctor – and what you should be putting in your trolley to avoid the trip (and the extra medical bills).
High blood pressure
Go for fresh food
High blood pressure generally means that blood is pumping with too much force through our blood vessels, potentially resulting in a stroke or heart attack. High-salt diets are strongly linked to high blood pressure, and to make matters worse, Aussies eat a whopping nine times the amount of salt we need for a healthy diet. Cutting back on high-salt foods could make a big difference in lowering your risk of having a heart attack. As most of our salt comes from packaged food, go for fresh items like fruit and veggies. And avoid salty foods – any food items containing more than 500mg sodium per 100g are considered high in sodium.
Colds and ' flu
Go for breakfast
Most adults get sick as often as three or four times a year – and while there’s still no cure for the common cold, research shows that doing something as simple as eating breakfast each day may be able to assist in keeping colds and the flu at bay. Researchers couldn’t explain why the association occurred, but we do know that people who skip breakfast tend to have poorer diets, with fewer nutrients and antioxidants, so it’s possible that missing out on these key immune-boosting nutrients is what is increasing the risk.
Go for peppermint oil
Here’s a surprise: according to Queensland University research, your back pain may be the result of altered abdominal muscle activity, caused by gastrointestinal problems, such as IBS. Daily use of peppermint oil has been shown to be effective in relieving a troubled tummy, so adding some to your diet – or even a cup of peppermint tea after meals – may be beneficial. Also, consider shedding a few kilos and strengthening your core muscles – excess abdominal fat shifts your centre of gravity to the front of the lower spine, putting extra pressure on your lower back.
Go for Brazil nuts
Up to 40 per cent of Australians experience tension headaches, with 90 per cent of us having had one in the last year. A recent trial found that taking a high daily dose (600mg) of magnesium for 12 weeks reduced the frequency of headaches by an impressive 42 per cent. Add Brazil nuts, soy beans, wholegrain cereals, green leafy vegies and seafood to your diet to increase your magnesium intake. Alternate remedy: coffee. For some, a small amount of caffeine during the onset of a headache can stop it in its tracks.
Go for plant sterols
The biggest culprit of high cholesterol? Too much saturated fat! Try lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet with a few easy swaps: animal protein for soy, butter for a plant-sterol-fortified-spread (such as Flora Pro-Activ), salty or sugary snacks for a handful of raw nuts and bran for breakfast. Canadian researchers found that combining all of these foods was just as effective at lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol as taking a cholesterol-lowering drug – and without the nasty side effects.
Go for cherries
Joint pain is most often caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritits and gout. While the two former conditions tend to be hereditary, gout can be triggered by dietary factors like alcohol and offal (see below) – but cherries may help. A study in which 10 healthy women consumed two servings (280g) of cherries after an overnight fast, showed decreased blood levels of a gout-triggering chemical. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may help people with osteoarthritis, and foods rich in omega-3 can help reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.
Go for high-fibre foods
Heartburn is caused by acid rising up to the throat from the stomach – usually occuring after a meal. For some people, there are obvious triggers, such as large, fatty or spicy meals. Opting for smaller, more frequent meals and ensuring you stay upright after you’ve eaten can help. A recent study found that people who ate a high-fibre diet were 20 per cent less likely to have acid reflux symptoms, regardless of their body weight. So fill your diet with plenty fibre-rich plant foods like wholegrains, legumes and vegetables.
Go for probiotics
Vomiting and diarrhoea due to gastroenteritis is a common reason for visiting our GP. Most parents will also take their child to see a doctor for a ‘tummy bug’ at some point in the child’s life. Oral rehydration solutions, which you can get from your pharmacy, will help to restore intestinal balance and prevent dehydration. But to prevent future visits, probiotics may be helpful by strengthening your immune system and increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut. So make a probiotic drink or a tub of probiotic yoghurt one of your daily snacks
Go for vegetables
Millions of Australians lie awake at night tossing and turning, and many end up bleary-eyed at their GPs, asking for a prescription for sleeping tablets. But before you pop another pill, it’s important to find out why your sleep is being disrupted. The most common physiological reason for poor sleep is obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is often associated with being overweight, and it’s now proven that losing weight can help. A new study, which looked at overweight or obese patients with mild OSA, found that those who lost weight (10kg on average), were four times less likely to have mild OSA, compared to those who did not lose weight. Filling up on low-kilojoule foods like vegetables can go a long way to reducing your waistline and, in the long run, ensuring a better night’s sleep.
Urinary tract infections
Go for cranberry juice
One in three women will get a urinary tract infection at least once in their life. However, it’s been shown that just 250ml of cranberry juice a day (with a minimum 25 per cent cranberry juice content) is enough to reduce the likelihood of developing a UTI. The berries are jam-packed full of unique antioxidants that are able to prevent the bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls.
Go for tomato paste
Staying out of the sun and wearing sunscreen are the best ways to avoid sunburn (obviously), but we do need a certain amount of those golden rays to keep our vitamin D levels up. So is there anything you can eat that will act as a ‘sunblock from the inside’? Good news: a German study found that adding 40g of tomato paste to the daily diet for 10 weeks improved the skin’s ability to protect against harmful UV rays by 40 per cent. The benefit comes from the antioxidant lycopene, which is most abundant in tomatoes, but can also be found in other red fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon.
Why should I avoid offal if I suffer from gout?
Offal is any internal organs of animals (liver, kidneys, brain) or products made from organ meat, such as paté. It can be high in positive nutrients, like iron and vitamin A, but it also provides very concentrated amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, and contains very high levels of purines, chemicals which can precipitate an attack of gout in people prone to the condition. So avoid overdoing it if you want to keep your insides in good shape.
It’s a sad reality that the majority of our health complaints end up being treated with medication, even though many of the problems are actually lifestyle-related.
While it’s important to see your doctor for regular check-ups, there’s nothing wrong with adding the foods we’ve recommended to your diet – you could save yourself from getting sick later!
Australians visit a GP five times a year, on average.
Each year, people consume 235 million doses of antibiotics. It’s thought 20%–50% of those doses are is unnecessary.