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Farm before pharmacy: Foods that harm and heal

Friday - 5/3/2013, 10:03am  ET

Salmon.jpg
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon, help to soothe the symptoms of seasonal allergies. (Thinkstock)

Rachel Nania, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Those who suffer from health conditions, ranging from seasonal allergies to chronic joint pain, may want to explore the cupboard before opening the medicine cabinet.

Courtenay Smith, executive editor of Reader's Digest and editor of "Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal," explains some foods can make health conditions worse, while others can improve symptoms.

"Food has such an immediate and powerful impact on our bodies," Smith says. "It's well known at this point that what we eat can energize us, it can fatigue us, it can prevent and treat chronic ailments and it can really help make us feel better when it comes to everyday ailments, like allergies, colds, flu and even insomnia."

Smith worked with a team of experts to produce "Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal." The book, which Smith refers to as the "bible" of health-and-food-linked information, indexes 175 different foods and 100 health conditions.

Smith offers some examples of foods that can aggravate and alleviate certain conditions.

  • Fermented foods. Those who are allergic to mold should stay away from fermented foods and foods that harbor mold spores, such as beer, wine, blue cheese, pickles, sourdough bread and vinegar.

  • Honey. Smith says despite prior speculation, local honey has not been shown to make allergies better.

    "What may happen is the pollen from the flowers and things the bees use to make the honey, that might actually have microscopic amounts of allergens that people may really react to," she explains. Smith advises those allergic to pollen to skip the honey, or at the very least, pay attention when eating it to see if it's triggering something.

  • Flaxseeds, salmon and herring. Smith says omega-3 fatty acids help to soothe the symptoms of seasonal allergies. When using flaxseeds, Smith says be sure to grind them up so the body can fully absorb their nutrients.

  • Turmeric. Often a main ingredient in a lot of Indian dishes and curries, turmeric has a natural antihistamine effect.

Depending on a person's specific health condition, the book advises what foods should be avoided and which ones are recommended.

"I think one of the most surprising things for any condition is that any food has the ability to harm and heal. But everyone's needs are really individual, and you really can get specific when you're trying to make a certain health condition better," says Smith, who adds that the book also includes tips for shopping, storing and cooking a variety of foods. "Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal" also contains information on interactions between food and medication.

Smith says her main reason for publishing the book is to help others realize that food really helps disease at its root cause.

"A lot of people want to eat better, but they don't know what that means, so we really tried to boil it down to the essentials," she says.

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