Meals that heal

Meals that heal

Want more energy, or better sleep? Reach for a menu instead of medicine.
Can’t fall asleep? Worried about high cholesterol? Well, close the medicine cabinet and grab a fork. “There’s a growing awareness that simple choices like what we eat play a powerful role in our health and well-being – not only in preventing disease but also in feeling better and in the quality of life,” says Dr Dean Ornish, founder and president of the Prevention Research Institute in California.

Dr Ornish was the first researcher to show that diet and lifestyle changes can reverse heart disease without surgery or drugs. “And it’s not just what you exclude from your diet; there are more than a thousand substances in food that protect the body with anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, anti-ageing properties,” he says. Most of these are found in fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes. (Of course, if you’re already on medications for heart disease or other conditions, don’t stop taking them without asking your doctor.) Here, with help from Dr Ornish and registered dietician Mindy Hermann, are some prescriptive meals that are easy, delicious – and healing.


Blueberry crunch with yogurt, whole-grain cereal, sunflower seeds and Green tea.
Begin the day by lowering your cancer risk with blueberries, which have more free-radical-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. Like the blueberries, cereal fibre is heart-healthy.
Soy yogurt is a good source of low-fat vegetable protein rather than LDL-raising animal fat. Plain non-fat dairy yogurt is high in protein and contains friendly bacteria that may help prevent yeast infections, boost immune function and deactivate potential carcinogens.
And while refined flour carbohydrates, such as those in pastries, rolls and many cereals, cause insulin surges and cravings, whole grains are absorbed at a much slower rate, keeping hunger pangs away and energy on an even keel throughout the morning. Look for “100 per cent whole grain” on the label. Instead of the usual cup of coffee, which will help give you a burst of energy followed by lethargy, try a cup of tea, which contains less caffeine, boosts immune function and may reduce the risk of gastro-intestinal cancer. Green tea may also reduce the recurrence of breast cancer.


Brown-rice pudding, Oatmeal pancakes with strawberries, Dr Ornish’s blueberry muffins.


Triple tomato brushetta, Gourmet green salad with walnuts, chickpeas and turkey breast, Seedless grapes, Herbal iced tea

Tomatoes are loaded with vitamin C. Cooked tomatoes, such as those in stews or pasta sauces, are especially rich in lycopene, a carotenoid linked with a lower risk of prostate, breast and digestive-tract cancers. In one large study, European men who ate the most lycopene-rich foods were 50 per cent less likely to have a heart attack than men who ate little of these foods. Not only is this meal pleasing to the eyes, its good for us: “Spinach in the salad contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of macular degeneration, the main cause of decreased vision and even blindness in older people,” says Dr Ornish. Spinach also contains folate, which reduces levels of heart-damaging homocysteine, while chickpeas are a source of cancer-fighting isoflavones. Add heart healthy, mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids by adding some flaxseeds or chopped walnuts to the salad. You may also want to take a daily fish-oil supplement, which some studies suggest can help fight depression. Ending the meal with grapes gives you the benefits of red wine without the hang-over: grapes contain antioxidants known as polyphenols, and one in particular, resveratrol, increases HDL, or good, cholesterol. Whats more, the flavonoids in grapes can improve arterial health and reduce the chance of blood clots, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke.


Waldorf chicken salad on a bed of greens, medium wholegrain roll, sparling water.


Pomegranate smoothie

Earlier this year, Dr Ornish and his team at the preventative Medicine Research Institute presented the results of the first clinical study that shows drinking a 250ml glass of pomegranate juice a day for three months may improve blood flow to the heart in people with coronary heart disease. Dubbed “best healthy beverage” in the US Readers Digest “Best of America” issue last year, pomegranate juice also has more antioxidants than any other drink. These fight the free radical damage that can lead to premature ageing, heart disease and cancer. So drink it straight, or keep 125ml for a fruity smoothie treat that you can enjoy every day.


Mexican platter, green salad, easy gazpacho, glass of red wine.

Go Mexican with a meal that may improve your health as you sleep. In addition to getting more of the healing benefits of tomatoes, greens and nonfat yogurt, “the carbohydrates in corn tortillas and beans, as well as the cheese, may help boost serotonin production, which inturn may help people sleep better and improve their mood,” advises Dr Ornish.
Red wine can relax you and contains the heart-helping substance resveratrol, but more than one glass can interfere with sleep. Most important says Dr Ornish, don’t eat a full meal right before bed.
Other dinner ideas include prawn “fried” rice using a high-fibre brown rice and broccoli with garlic. (Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a cancer fighting chemical that also destroys the H.pylori bacteria that cause most ulcers; garlic helps boost immunity and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.) Or you can try his recepies for black bean soup and grilled Portobello mushroom burger, loaded with protein, fibre and iron, as well as essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium and selenium.


European hot chocolate

Foods containing tryptophan, such as a glass of warm milk with honey, help make you feel sleepy and increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Or try some hot chocolate. Eating a piece of dark chocolate daily is good for both body and mind. It contains the flavonoids that fight free radicals, as well as serotonin, which improves mood. But chocolate can be high in kilojoule and fat, so do indulge wisely.