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Got flu, stress or skin conditions? Top GP reveals what to eat for 12 common ailments

BEST foods to eat and foods to avoid for top 12 common ailments

The best foods to eat for the most common ailments are outlined in Dr Sarah Brewer’s new book, Eat Well Stay Well. From bad breath to painful periods, we have you covered for the most beneficial foods

In the past week flu deaths have soared by 41 percent with 17 new fatalities. That means that 120 people in the UK have now died from the virus this winter. In the past week alone, 8.3 million people have been struck down by the flu. If you’ve been struck down by flu, we’re here to help.

The foods you eat provide building blocks needed for the body’s growth, repair and maturation, says Dr Sarah Brewer, who suggests the most beneficial diet for 50 common ailments in her new book, Eat Well, Stay Well. Below are the top 12 you may be suffering with right now, the best foods to eat and foods to avoid that could could prevent or help treat.


Everyone has a different stress threshold, and this can depend on your fitness levels, relationships, and whether you are well rested, for example. The automatic response of needing to fight or flee rarely occurs in modern life, and so stress can build up when energy preparing you for fight or flee isn’t consumed. It can drain your energy and make you feel exhausted, leading to burnout or even a nervous breakdown.

Foods that help with stress:

  • Stress raises blood glucose and fat levels, ready to fuel muscles during fighting or fleeing. It’s best to select foods with a low to moderate glycemic index (GI), to help maintain an even blood glucose level.
  • Low-GI foods you can eat freely include bran cereal, baked beans, most fruit and vegetables, including sweet potato, carrots, mangoes, kiwi, peas, grapes, oranges, apples, pears, and berries.

Foods to avoid:

  • Eat foods with medium-GI in moderation. These are brown rice, wholewheat pasta, honey, new potatoes boiled, dried apricots or dates, bananas, crisps, sweetcorn, porridge oats, or muesli.
  • Go easy on foods with high-GI, and if you do eat them, combine them with foods that have a lower-GI to help even out fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
  • Also monitor caffeine, as it can act on the adrenal glands to increase circulating levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Cut back gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms, to no more than one cup a day, and no more than three mugs of tea, preferable green or white tea.
  • Avoid excess alcohol, not exceeding 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men, with at least two days per week alcohol-free.

Extra tips: Try stress relieving activities so you don’t emotionally eat. Regular exercise or yoga can neutralise stress hormones, and keeping a diary can help identify how you cope with stressors.

MORE: 5 breathing exercises for every type of stressed out



There is no conclusive evidence that acne is solely caused by a poor diet, but it can worsen symptoms. Nutrition influences the effect of male hormones, the ‘stickiness’ of skin cells and the degree of inflammation that occurs, all of which can lead to pimples. There are different types of acne, and the most severe is at risk of scarring.

Foods good for skin:

  • Follow a low-GI diet that doesn’t produce swings in blood sugar levels.
  • Fruit and vegetables, oily fish that contain omega-3 oils (DHA, EPA), and dark chocolate (with at least 72 per cent cocoa) all contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Or try an omega-

Food to avoid:

  • Cut back on sugary and carbohydrate rich foods, as these promote release of insulin, which enhances the effects of androgen hormones, and increases the proliferation of skin cells.
  • Switch to goat’s milk, and cow’s milk contains sugars, growth factors, and hormones.
  • Cut back on processed foods as vegetable oils contain omega-6 fats, and these promote inflammation in excess.
  • Reduce the intake of red meat, as this contains hormone-like substances that may affect DHT levels in body tissues.

Extra tips: Look for water-based cosmetics and skin-care products labelled as ‘noncomedogenic’. Do not pick spots and persevere with treatments as they can take up to eight weeks or more to work.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)


SAD affects an estimated five per cent of the population, and four times more women are affected than men. It is a form of depression that comes on when natural sunlight is reduced (normally from November to March).

Food that can help SAD:

  • Follow a low-GI diet, concentrating on wholegrain cereals (such as porridge, brown rice, pearl barley, quinoa, oatcakes, unsweetened breakfast cereals), root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, turnhip, swede) cruciferous plants (broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese leaves), legumes (lentils, kidney beans) and fresh or dried fruit.
  • Sweet potato, despite its name, is low-GI is better than normal white potatoes and sugars.
  • Eat oily fish and cheese to obtain tryptophan, a substance needed to make serotonin in the brain.
  • Obtain vitamin D from foods such as oily fish, fish-liver oils, animal liver, fortified margarine, eggs, butter, and fortified milk. Vitamin D is important for mood, and low levels during winter, when daylight hours are reduced, may contribute to SAD. Or take Nutri Advanced D3 Drops, £10.95 for fast absorption.
  • Get plenty of vitamins B6 (wholegrains, soy, walnuts, oily fish, green leafy vegetables, avocado, banana, walnuts) and vitamin C (citrus, kiwi, berries, sweet peppers) help the production of serotonin.

Foods to avoid:

  • Reduce intakes of alcohol, salt, and caffeine.

Extra tips: Try using a light box that emits bright, cool white fluorescent light, similar to natural daylight. Light therapy is best started a month or so before symptoms develop.

MORE: How to get more vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) during the winter



Eczema affects an estimated one in ten adults. There are a number of dietary allergens linked with eczema, so paying attention to what you eat is essential.

Foods that can help eczema:

  • A diet for eczema should be healthy and including wholefoods, providing at least five – or preferably more – servings of vegetables and fruit per day, for their valuable antioxidant content.
  • Ensure a good calcium intake from nuts, seeds, wholegrains, leafy vegetables, and supplements, if avoiding dairy products long term.
  • Useful supplements to boost immunity and reduce flare-ups include omega-3 fish oils, probiotics, and antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C, E, pine bark or grapeseed.

Foods to avoid with eczema:

• Try eliminating cow’s milk (switch to rice milk).
• Also try eliminating gluten-containing products (found in wheat, barley, and rye) for two weeks to see if symptoms improve.
• The top twelve dietary allergens linked with eczema are: milk, eggs, wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, chocolate, finfish/shellfish, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and berries.
• Eczema may also occus as an adverse reaction to food additives, especially E104, E214, E215, E216, E218, and E282.
• Allergenic cross- reactivity can also occur with related plant groups: for example, if you react to apple, you may also react to hazelnut, potato, carrot and celery; and if you are sensitive to latex, you may react to banana, avocado, kiwi, chestnut, soybean, peanut, papaya, and fig.

Extra tips for eczema treatment: Avoid contact with soap, detergents, cleansers, bubble bath, cosmetics, perfumes, solvents, and household cleaning materials. Always wear gloves for housework, gardening, and preparing food.

Bad breath


There are many causes of bad breath, including dissolved tooth enamel, lack of saliva (use a artificial saliva spray), infected gums which can also lead to periodontitis, which involves the jawbone and can be detectable from several feet away.

Best foods for bad breath:

  • Decrease the frequency with which you consume acidic food or drink, and consume them quickly, rather than chewing or sipping daintily. Don’t avoid fruit and fruit juices altogether, as they form a vital part of a healthy diet. Using a straw positioned towards the back of the mouth lessens the contact time between fluids and your teeth, and may help reduce erosion caused by soft drinks.
  • Rehydrate your mouth regularly by sipping water, and sluice your mouth out after drinking any other drinks.
  • Eat more foods containing calcium, such as cheese, as this protects against acid erosion, and select fruit juices fortified with added calcium; this decreases their erosive potential.
  • Dental experts suggest holding a piece of chees in your mouth for a few minutes after eating a fruit salad, to counter the acidic effects.
  • Eat peppermints or parsley, or chew sugar-free gum, to help mask breath odours from eating onions and garlic.

Foods to avoid:

  • Avoid high protein diets, which contribute to mouth odour.

Extra tips: Use dental floss, mouthwash, and electric toothbrush. Consider Co-enzyme Q10 tablets and topical hyaluronic acid gel, which can reverse gum inflammation and promote healing of gum disease.



Psoriasis develops when new skin cells are produced around ten times faster than normal.

Foods that can help psoriasis:

  • Eat oilier fish two or three times a week can reduce symptoms, as omega-3 can damp down skin inflammation.
  • Top up your turmeric, as this spice contains curcumin, which can reduce skin inflammation. Recent studies suggest it targets cell-signally pathways involved in skin cell regeneration and wound healing.

Foods to avoid:

  • Cut back on omega-6 fats, which can promote inflammation, found in sunflower, safflower and corn oils, plus many processed foods.
  • Some people have been found to benefit in avoiding foods high in saturated fats, read meats, dairy foods, eggs, gluten, alcohol, coffee and refined sugars.

Extra tips: A diet for psoriasis is important, but other things to consider are to not smoke, add dead sea mud or minerals to bath water (they contain magnesium, calcium, bromide and zinc that can slow the rate of skin cell reduction), and try aloe vera gel – in one study, gel applied three times a day healed over 80 per cent of plaques within four weeks.

MORE: 5 best creams for psoriasis


Rosacea starts with temporary facial flushing after eating spicy food, drinking alcohol or hot drinks, or when overly hot. Gradually, redness can become persistent.

Foods that can help rosacea:

  • Some people find it helpful to follow an alkaline diet that avoids acid-forming foods. Although some fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes, and tomatoes, are acidic to taste – the way they are processed in your body actually uses up acid.
  • Fruit, vegetables, and salads are therefore the main alkaline-forming foods in the diet. For sweetness, use stevia, honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup, and make sure you drink plenty of water.

Foods to avoid:

  • Following an alkaline diet means cutting out some grains (barley, oats, quinoa, rice, wheat), dairy products (cheese, milk, yoghurt) animal proteins (eggs, poultry, meats, seafood), beer and wine. These foods are important sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals, however, so it’s best to follow a strict alkaline diet under the supervision of a medical nutritionist.
  • Try to avoid spicy foods, coffee, tea, sodas, and foods with preservatives, colourings, artificial sweeteners and other additives.

MORE: 5 celebrities you didn’t know have rosacea plus 5 products to help



Most people experience insomnia at some point in their life, whether for a few days or long term due to anxiety, depression, illness, or alcohol abuse.

Foods for Insomnia:

  • Eat foods containing tryptophan which is needed for the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. These include turkey, bananas, oats, honey, wholegrains, dairy products, oily fish, and nuts and seeds.
  • A light bedtime snack that includes complex carbohydrates (wholegrains) and low-fat dairy products such as semi-skimmed milk or live yoghurt, for example, provides calming substances.
  • Drink Montmorency cherry juice as it contains melatonin. There are many supplements you can try too, such as Valerian, Rhodiola, 5-HTP, Magnesium, Camomile, and Lavender.

How to get good sleep:

  • Avoid substances that interfere with sleep such as caffeine, nicotine, and excess alcohol.
  • Get into a routine of going to bed at a regular time each night.
  • Make sure your room is of an ideal temperature: 18-24 degrees Celsius.

Buy Dr Sarah Brewer’s Eat Well Stay Well, published by Eddison Books, for £12.99.

MORE: 11 foods to help bloating already in your kitchen

MORE: How to stop emotional eating

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