Special Diets for Health Problems
FAQs supplied by accredited dietitian and nutritionist Catherine Saxelby
For more answers to your questions, go to www.foodwatch.com.au
Q. I suffer from mild but irritating insomnia. Are there any dietary or natural approaches that can help with a good night’s sleep?
Evening eating and drinking habits can interfere with natural sleep rhythms. Try these tips to achieve a more easy night’s sleep:
Avoid heavy meals late at night – allow two hours after dinner before bed.
Sip a glass of warm milk.
Keep alcohol moderate – just one drink a night.
Skip caffeine (tea, coffee, cocoa, energy drinks with guarana) after 4pm.
Try caffeine-free herbal teas such as chamomile.
Combine these tips with a good daily exercise routine, some evening relaxation or stretching, and a regular bed time.
Q. My teenage daughter is lactose intolerant. How can she get enough calcium if she can't eat milk and cheese? Can you suggest other foods high in calcium?
Many people with lactose intolerance can manage lactose in small amounts so eliminating ALL dairy products is not necessary. Yoghurt is low in lactose and many hard yellow cheeses are virtually lactose free. A special milk (trade name Zymil) is available as reduced-lactose or lactose-free varieties at supermarkets. Soy beverages can also be used as a milk substitute but make sure your buy one with added calcium for your daughter. Other good sources of calcium include salmon and sardines (provided you eat the bones), almonds, spinach and tahini (sesame seed paste).
Q. I have a lot of trouble with wind and was wondering what else I can do. I’ve already cut out really windy foods like cabbage and lentils but I still seem to have problems which is so embarrassing.
You can also eliminate other notorious gas-producing foods such as bran, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, curries, onions, corn and dark grain breads. In addition, tips that have worked for others are:
Drinking plenty of fluids
Staying regular (don’t get constipated)
Eliminate a sweetener called sorbitol found in sugarfree gum, diet cordials and pear or apple juice (in high quantities)
Watch you’re not swallowing air when chewing
Cut out fizzy drinks and beer
If the wind persists, perhaps it’s wise to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to check for Irritable Bowel Syndrome or lactose intolerance, as these are often the underlying reason for flatulence as well as for bloating and loose motions.
Q. Should I try a yeast-free diet to clear up my Candida infection?
A yeast-free diet has been claimed to clear up vaginal infections, fatigue, skin disorders and headaches, all supposedly due to the excessive growth of a micro-organism Candida albicans. The diet eliminates yeast spread, bread, beer and wine as well as any food likely to carry yeasts or moulds.
Many people swear that they feel better and have more energy on the diet, but this can be attributed to the better quality of food they’re eating. Because a yeast-free diet also excludes sugar, white flour and ‘junk foods’, it greatly improves eating habits – people on the diet end up cooking regular meals and eat lots of vegetables, rice, beans, fruit, fish, lean meat and yoghurt. Scientifically, there have been no sound clinical trials to show whether a yeast-free diet works or not. Candida infections do occur, but they are not directly related to the diet nor to the symptoms often claimed.
Q. I tend to retain fluids. Are there any foods I should be avoiding?
The most important is salt, especially if you also have any kidney problems or Meniere's syndrome. Make an effort to avoid using salt and buy no-added-salt products when shopping and see if this makes a difference after 2 or 3 weeks. In addition, you can counteract salt's harmful effects by eating extra potassium and magnesium, two minerals which you'll find in fruits, juices, vegetables, nuts and lean meats. Eat plenty of these.
Q. My doctor recently told me I was anaemic. Could you give me some advice on low cholesterol, high iron foods?
Lack of iron in your diet is one of the main causes of iron deficiency anaemia. The best source of dietary iron is lean red meat and nutritionists recommend that if eaten three to four times a week it can reduce your risk of iron deficiency anaemia without raising your blood cholesterol.
Whole grains, legumes, leafy vegetables, nuts and eggs are also sources of iron but their iron is not as well absorbed as that from red meat. To make the most of the iron in these foods. make sure you include a rich source of vitamin C (orange juice, capsicum or tomato), at the same meal.
Q. Are there certain foods that you could suggest to help with menopause symptoms?
Many were hopeful that soy foods (and the phytoestrogens they contain) could alleviate menopausal symptoms but research shows their benefits are mild if they occur at all. More certain is the fact that a healthy diet containing a wide variety of foods (including soy and other legumes) will be good for your health and well-being at this time. Menopause is a time to lower fat and increase your fruit and vegetable intake to help maintain weight, ensure you get three serves of low fat dairy to keep bones strong and to limit alcohol which for some can make hot flushes worse.
Q. I have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and need to reduce my fibre, not increase it. Can you help?
To reduce your fibre intake, aim to eat low-fibre versions of breads, grains and cereals such as
white bread - not wholemeal or grainy
white rice - not brown
puffed rice - not whole wheat cereals
flaked cereals- not muesli, oats or bran cereals
You may also be eating a lot of fibre from vegetables, dried beans and fruit which could contribute to wind or other bowel symptoms. So opt for lower fibre types such as peeled apples, peaches and apricots. Avoid dried fruits like prunes, apricots, sultanas and raisins which are concentrated in fibre.
Q. I am asthmatic and find foods like dried apricots provoke my asthma. Are there other foods I should avoid?
Food is not the usual trigger for asthma. However you may be one of the small percentage of adults with asthma (around one to two percent) that is affected by certain food chemicals - both natural and added.
Dried apricots are generally treated with sulphur preservatives such as sodium metabisulphite (code number 223) to maintain their nice colour and prevent wrinkling or drying out. Most likely, it is the sulphur that’s causing a flare-up in your asthma.
Other common foods that are preserved with sulphur are wine, fruit juices, fruit-flavoured soft drinks, pickled onions and sausages. You can check for it by looking for the code numbers 220, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225 and 228.
To avoid these trigger foods without unnecessarily restricting your diet, it is best to seek the advice of a dietitian who specialises in food sensitivity or intolerance. For your nearest Accredited Practicing Dietitian, call 1800 812 942.
Q. If I don’t eat meat, how can I get the iron I need?
Vegetarians can obtain iron with the help of vitamin C, one of the ‘enhancers’ of iron uptake. Vitamin C or ascorbic acid reacts with non-haem iron, making it an ‘easier’ molecule for absorption. Adding a glass of fruit juice or some tomato or capsicum (all rich in vitamin C) to a meal increases the amount of iron from grains or lentils. Most vegetarian meals with their emphasis on vegetables and fruit would automatically contain much vitamin C. Even small amounts of meat (such as a few strips of beef in a vegetable stir-fry) improve iron absorption.
Something in meat known simply as the ‘meat factor’ also works to make the iron in vegetables more readily available. What you drink with your meal also plays a part. Orange juice doubles iron intake relative to water, while milk decreases it by 50 per cent and tea by 75 per cent. Like the phytate in spinach, the polyphenols in tea act to bind iron, especially non-haem iron.
Content updated March 21, 2006