Once upon a time, food as medicine wasn't such a strange ideaHippocrates himself vouched for it. And while you may not expect your meals to hold as much importance in an era when doctors can do face transplants, food is still vital for mental and physical well-being. "Our bodies have a remarkable capacity to heal, and what we eat can help with that," says Travis Stork, MD, co-host of The Doctors and a practicing board-certified emergency-medicine physician. The thought that diet enhances mood and wellness may be age-old, but the scientific proof is brand-new. So turn your grocery list into an Rx for what ails you, using this latest research as your guide.
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Curb heartburn: Whole grains and fiber
'Tis the season for overindulgingand heartburn. But adding in more veggies and replacing refined grains like white rice and pasta with their whole-wheat counterparts might help you survive the holidays reflux-free. The secret? The high insoluble-fiber content gets things moving, explains Ronald Primas, MD, clinical instructor of medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, in New York City: "The more fiber you eat, the less time food spends in the stomach, which helps keep food and acid from coming back up."
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Survive cold season: Tuna, halibut, turkey
Don't subsist only on salads during the winter months. Getting an insufficient amount of selenium can mean that you're missing out on a key player in immune function. Selenium helps build up white blood cellsparticularly those responsible for killing bacteria and viruses, even the flu. Animal studies have shown that selenium deficiency not only leads to more severe flu symptoms but also enables mild flu viruses to mutate into more virulent strains. Just one serving of halibut or sardines gives you more than 60 percent of your RDA and provides you with mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids.
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Survive cold season: Fermented foods
What do yogurt, kimchi (Korean cabbage), kefir (a fermented milk drink), miso and tempeh (made from fermented soybeans) have in common? They all contain beneficial bacteria, aka probiotics, which can help keep your immune system strong, explains Siona Sammartino, a nutritionist and natural foods chef in Seattle, WA. A Swedish study found that having a daily probiotic drink cut workplace sick days by 55 percent. And a Cochrane meta-analysis of 10 studies found that probiotics worked better than placebos for reducing upper respiratory infections. Not into yogurt? Say cheese: Many aged raw-milk cheeses (such as Edam, Gouda or feta) are good sources of probiotics, notes Sammartino.
Vitamin A is the VIP here, keeping mucous membranes moist and healthy so germs can't get past them, says David Katz, MD, founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well.
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Soothe joint and muscle pain: Fatty fish
It's like oil in the Tin Man's joints: The omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as salmon and sardines can help get stiff knees working again. A recent meta-analysis of research found that taking omega-3s daily reduced joint pain and a.m. stiffness enough to allow patients with rheumatoid arthritis to reduce NSAID use.
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Soothe joint and muscle pain: Tart cherries
Athletes swear by the anti-inflammatory powers of tangy "sour-pie" cherry juice to reduce after-workout soreness. In a study from Oregon Health & Science University, runners who drank 12 ounces of the tart stuff twice daily for a week before a race (plus on the day of the event) reported less post-run pain than those who had a cherry-flavored placebo drink.
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Clear allergy fog: Nuts and seeds
Got itchy eyes and sneezing fits? Make like a squirrel and stock up on nuts and seeds. Almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds (and even some vegetables) are chock-full of vitamin E, which studies suggest may help reduce the allergic response, explains Today show nutrition expert Joy Bauer, RD. A German study found that people with diets high in vitamin E had a lower risk of hay fever than those who weren't getting as much of it. The RDA for adults is 15mg, the amount in about 2 ounces of sunflower seedsperfect for powering up a salad.
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Clear allergy fog: Berries, apples, onions
Consider these foods a garden-variety allergy pill. It's thanks to a compound called quercetin, which has shown promise in test-tube studies done at Tufts University for preventing immune cells from releasing the histamines that cause those familiar symptoms.
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Fight a UTI: Parsley tea
Lab research suggests why you should eat the parsley-sprig garnish on your plate (and then some): It's been shown to be an antibacterial force against the germs that cause urinary tract infectionseven some of those that have demonstrated resistance to antibiotics. Next time you feel the dreaded twinge of a UTI, try this: Boil some water, steep a bunch of parsley in it for 10 minutes and then drink up, recommends Param Dedhia, MD, internal-medicine physician at Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa, in Tucson, Ariz. Repeat throughout the day.
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Fight a UTI: Cranberry juice
It's not merely a sweet mixer for boozy beverages. Studies show that the go-to preventive remedy for UTIs isn't just the stuff of folklore. Past research has focused on compounds in cranberries (and blueberries) called proanthocyanidins, which were found to keep bacteria from attaching to bladder cells and causing infection. Now new research from McGill University demonstrates yet another way that the humble cranberry may be a woman's best friend: "In lab studies, cranberry prevented the bacteria from producing a specific protein called flagellin, which is necessary for growing the tails that enable them to swim up the urinary tract and attach to cells," explains lead study author Nathalie Tufenkji, PhD. Look for products with cranberry juice listed in the first three ingredients.