A healthy diet can help prevent and control chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. And certain foods can have a more immediate benefit and may help tame common health problems. So the next time you experience one of the conditions below, consider heading to your kitchen before you open your medicine cabinet.
Whether you have headaches frequently or only occasionally, “the first thing to do if you get one is drink a tall glass of water or two,” says Robin Foroutan, an integrative nutritionist in New York and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Dehydration is a common cause of headaches, so water may address the pain right away.”
Having a snack with a combination of carbs, protein and healthy fat may also help because it prevents dips in blood sugar, which can trigger headaches, Foroutan adds. A good combo snack is an apple with a handful of walnuts.
Consider, too, whether you’ve had your usual dose of caffeine in the past couple of days, because caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches. In addition, blood vessels may enlarge during a headache and caffeine can constrict them, so coffee or tea might offer some relief, the National Headache Foundation says.
For some people, however, caffeine can set off a headache, so if you’re in that group, skip the java.
But if you experience migraines, be aware that food reputed to trigger those headaches — aged cheese, cured meats, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, MSG and soy — are to blame much less often than you might think.
“Alcohol is the one exception: It’s more likely to cause a headache than other foods, especially if it’s heavily fermented, such as red wine,” says Mark W. Green, director of the Center for Headache and Pain Medicine and a neurology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Ginger has been extensively studied as a potential remedy for nausea, especially during chemotherapy and pregnancy. A 2016 review of research, published in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights, found ginger to be effective and safe. It seems to help by moving food out of the stomach quickly, and possibly turning off neurotransmitters such as serotonin that can contribute to nausea.
To make ginger tea, steep 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger in 1 ½ cups of boiling water. (Add honey if you like.) Let it sit for 10 minutes, then strain the ginger out before drinking.
As for nausea, William Chey, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says evidence doesn’t support long-standing advice to eat only bland foods. He recommends small, frequent meals rich in protein, especially chicken and fish, and vegetable proteins.
Some people suggest sipping warm milk for insomnia. That’s because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted to serotonin, which will relax you, and melatonin, which regulates sleep. But studies haven’t proved that.
Instead, you may want to try snacking on two kiwis an hour before bedtime. A 2016 review of studies published in Advances in Nutrition concluded that the fruit may promote sleep because it’s a rich source of folate, a B vitamin that may help the brain produce sleep-inducing chemicals. Kiwi’s high antioxidant content may also be a factor. Those plant-based chemicals combat oxidative stress — cell and DNA damage from factors such as sun exposure, smoking and pollution — which has been linked to sleep problems. But more research is needed on the kiwi-sleep connection.
The typical dietary advice for fighting heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) is to eat smaller, more frequent meals, skip spicy foods and avoid eating or drinking within three to four hours of bedtime. The problem is that this only helps reduce the likelihood of future attacks. Once the burning sensation strikes, try having a banana. Some research suggests that the fruit may act as a natural antacid. Another remedy: Chew sugarless gum. Studies have found that it may decrease reflux after a meal.
For the long term, consider cutting back on sugars. A 16-week study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that reducing refined carbohydrates, especially sucrose (table sugar), eliminated symptoms in obese women who complained of GERD at the start of the trial.
No foods are a proven remedy to shorten a cold, but some may help ease sneezing, a sore throat and a stuffy nose caused by inflammation.
What about chicken soup? A study published in the journal Chest many years ago found that chicken soup made with a sweet potato, turnips and other healthful ingredients did a better job of reducing inflammation than plain chicken broth.
And you may want to avoid sugars when you have a cold. “There’s some research showing sugar weakens the activity of certain [virus-fighting] white blood cells,” Foroutan says.
For further guidance, go to ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.
For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.