If you thought healthy eating was all about getting your daily intake of vitamins, you’re in for a surprise. For, far beyond the reach of a multivitamin pill, eating real fresh fruit and vegies does so much more, from protecting against a raft of chronic diseases to even providing UV protection.
Recently, 2000 of the world’s leading dietitians converged on Sydney for what one organiser dubbed “The Nutrition Olympics”, in a four-yearly international conference where they share the latest research and dietary findings.
It was a great opportunity to talk to some of the world’s most knowledgeable dietitians and hear what’s happening at the cutting edge of nutrition science.
I was delighted to meet dynamic Israeli researcher Dr Niva Shapira who has coined a wonderful phrase “SPF on your plate”. She’s exploring how a Greek-Mediterranean diet contains many valuable sun-protective properties. This diet is low in red meat and high in heart-healthy fats from fish and olive oil, and also high in antioxidant rich fruit and vegies. This the typical diet of people in Mediterranean regions, where skin cancer is extremely low. She recently undertook a fascinating two-week study comparing a group of women who drank cola and water with another who drank antioxidant-fortified fruit juice. She found those on the fruit juice had 50 per cent less sun damage. She also found that fruit and vegies high in red and orange pigments, such as tomatoes and watermelon, carrots and pumpkin, delay the first step in the process that leads to skin damage.
Her evidence is so strong that the Cancer Council of Israel now issues dietary advice as part of its sun protection campaign. Dr Shapira’s “Go Greek” shopping basket includes loading up on fresh fish, fruits, vegies, beans and lots of water.
Meanwhile, other researchers are coming close to understanding how certain foods and nutrients play a key role in preventing, or at least warding off, a range of health conditions, from diabetes through to Alzheimer’s disease. While they’re not saying the right diet is a magic bullet, they’re currently exploring just how far the right diet can go towards reducing your risk.
Here in Australia, scientists at Griffiths University have found increasing the folate (found in peanuts, many beans and spinach) beyond the amount currently recommended for daily intake can significantly decrease the disabling effects of migraines. That’s fabulous news for many, who are laid low by debilitating auras.
And a Japanese study has found a dietary link between people with hearing problems and tinnitus – surprisingly, the frequency of coffee drinking seems to be a factor.
All of these findings point to the fact that the more we explore the complex world of nutrition, the more we come to see how intertwined every aspect of our health and wellbeing is with consuming the right balance of nourishing food each and every day.
The coming issues Healthy Food Guide will bring you more on these and other recent findings and show you how you can tailor these insights to your own everyday meal plans.
Meanwhile, with long summer days approaching, I’m being inspired by Dr Shapira and I’m ditching the red meat tonight and opting for pasta and a salad piled with crunchy greens, a little reduced-fat feta, olives and fresh tomatoes. What’s your first good-health choice going to be today?