Eating well to keep well
Eating a healthy diet is an essential part of good health. From helping you get enough nutrients to protecting you against diseases, eating the right foods has the power to keep you well.
But, despite the link between what we eat and our health, many of us are falling short of the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables, fibre, nuts, seeds and fish in our diets, while overindulging on fatty, sugary and salty foods.
Latest research shows that a diet high in salt and low in fruit, vegetables and fibre can have a negative impact on health—leading to obesity, chronic illnesses and even early death. And studies have suggested that foods high in fat and calories promote an inflammatory reaction in our bodies—which can trigger illnesses and make us unwell.
While more research is needed, it’s yet another reason why following a healthy diet can help to keep you in good health.
Diet can also play a part in the treatment of people living with chronic illnesses. Lauren Vaknine is one person who has seen the benefits. After radically changing her diet to help treat her juvenile arthritis, the effects have been transformative.
When a chemo-based medication left her wheelchair bound at 17, Lauren looked at alternatives to conventional medicine to put her on the road to recovery. As part of her journey she has completed a nutrition course and set up her blog Organic Spoon, where she writes about her lifestyle and shares recipes. Lauren also does talks on how changing her diet, along with other alternative approaches to health, including homeopathy,has helped put her illness into remission.
“People say, ‘I believe in everything in moderation’, but that didn’t work for me—I was looking for results. I had an illness and I knew that if I wanted to get better, I had to be militant and extreme about it—and that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing,” she says.
For Lauren this means following a largely plant-based, organic diet with the exception of sustainably caught, wild fish and organic eggs from her local farm. “My whole philosophy is to keep the body as close to nature as possible,” she adds. “Anything processed or man-made has chemicals in it, but by eating organic you’re limiting and reducing the amount of toxins you’re ingesting by a huge amount.”
The power of prevention
As well as having the power to help treat ailments, nutrition is key in preventing illnesses that can be brought on through a poor diet.
“People want to live the life they want to live, then when they get a chronic illness they go to the doctor and want to be fixed,” Lauren says. “We have to take prevention seriously.”
Part of that is about changing people’s attitude about living a healthy lifestyle—and bringing about an understanding of the importance of taking our healthcare into our own hands.
But as a lifestyle choice that was a decade in the making, Lauren is keen to stress that drastically changing your diet to improve your health is not something that can happen immediately. And the longer you take to do it, the more sustainable it is. “It was a very gradual process—I didn’t wake up one day and decide to cut out dairy, gluten, refined sugar and meat overnight,” she says.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that it’s a lifestyle that needs a lot of dedication. People need to want to do it and put the effort in, and put their healthcare in their own hands on a long-term basis.”
That said, it is possible—and Lauren feels she’s living proof of that. “I honestly believe I was meant to have this illness and get as bad I did in order to get as extreme as I did in my recovery, so I could show people it could be done,” she says.
A tailored approach
There isn’t a magic “one size fits all” approach to diet and nutrition. So what works for one person won’t necessarily for you—and cutting out certain foods might not be needed either.
“As with homeopathy, it’s important to treat the person, not the disease,” says Lauren. “It should be the same with food, too. Go to a homeopath or a naturopath and find out what your body is doing and if it is lacking in anything.”
If you are considering changing your diet, it’s important to think about what nutrients you could be missing out on. Cutting out meat and dairy, for instance, could leave you lacking in B12, while you could lose out on other vitamins and minerals if you’re opting for plant-based alternatives that aren’t sources of certain nutrients.
Lauren recommends taking a probiotic and vitamin C and D supplements, but points out that this might not be the right combination for everyone. “I think it’s really important to not just take anything. My advice would be to find out what your body is doing and what it needs.”
Lauren’s sweet potato coconut curry
This sweet potato coconut curry with lemongrass is so easy to make and one of the easiest ways to get a heap of nutrients into us.
1 butternut squash
2–3 sweet potatoes
1 head cauliflower
drizzle olive oil
Himalayan salt to taste
1 tsp coconut oil
2 onions, chopped
3–4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp lemongrass paste
2 tins coconut milk (full fat)
1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable stock
2 stalks lemongrass
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
black pepper to taste
coriander, parsley, chilli flakes and pistachios
brown rice, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Peel and chop the butternut, sweet potatoes and cut the cauliflower into florets. Place them on an oven tray and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and a pinch each of cumin and paprika. Make sure the vegetables are all coated, then put them in the oven for around 30 minutes or until they start to golden. Mix halfway through the cooking time to fully coat.
Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large pan and add the onion and garlic. Sweat over a low heat until the onions start softening and going translucent. Add the lemongrass paste and continue to sweat over a low heat for up to 15 minutes.
Take the vegetables out of the oven and add to the pan, coating in the oil and the paste. Then add the coconut milk, stock, lemongrass stalks, cumin, turmeric, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well then leave to simmer for around an hour, stirring regularly to stop it from sticking.
Before serving, remove the lemongrass stalks and mix in, or garnish with, the coriander, parsley, chilli flakes and pistachios. Serve with brown rice.
For more healthy recipes visit www.organicspoon.co.uk.