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 Integrative Medicine: Foods to Eat for Good Health 

Many fish are also excellent sources of polyunsaturated fats, which provide tremendous health benefits. The best fish sources of these fats include salmon, trout, mackerel, and halibut.

Fish oils, including eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), are converted to the series-3 prostaglandin hormones. One member of the series, called PGE 3, has anticlotting effects and helps to reduce platelet stickiness. As a result, it helps reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes when it is manufactured by the body in high levels. PGE 3 also helps to decrease triglyceride levels, thereby reducing another risk factor for heart attacks. It also helps prevent the manufacture of PGE 2, an undesirable prostaglandin made from arachidonic acid, which is a fatty acid derived primarily from dietary sources of red meat and dairy products. Unlike PGE 3, arachidonic acid-derived PGE 2 actually promotes platelet aggregation or clumping, thereby initiating potentially dangerous clot formation.

The fats found in poultry are a different story. While poultry such as turkey, chicken, and goose do contain some of the beneficial linoleic acid, the amount is much less than that found in plant sources. Linoleic acid ranges between 15 to 20 percent of the total fat content of turkey and chicken and 20 to 25 percent in goose. Certain fish (like salmon and trout) are far better sources of essential fatty acids than poultry. Luckily, much of poultry's fat is found within the skin (which is laden with fat) and in the internal organs, so it can be easily removed. In addition, the total fat content of the most commonly eaten poultry—chicken, and turkey—is far lower than that of beef (11 percent for chicken, compared to 30 to 40 percent for beef).

If you want to minimize your fat intake when eating poultry, choose muscle meat like breast and thigh over the internal organs, and remove the skin before cooking or eating. Also, it is best to eat white meat rather than dark, as white meat is much lower in fat. Also, avoid duck and goose, which tend to contain more fat in their meat and skins.

Besides protein and fat, fish and poultry contain a number of other important nutrients. Fatty fish, such as salmon and halibut, are good sources of vitamins A and D. Mackerel, herring, and haddock tend to be rich in minerals, although this varies by type of fish. Saltwater fish and shellfish are excellent sources of iodine, a difficult to obtain trace mineral needed for healthy thyroid function. They are also high in zinc, particularly oysters, though lobster and crab are fairly abundant in zinc as well. Shellfish are also a good source of selenium and copper. In general, fish provide high quantities of potassium, phosphorus, and iron, though magnesium levels tend to be low. Fish can be an excellent source of calcium. Canned sardines and salmon are good choices because of their tiny, partially dissolved and easily digested bones.

Chicken and turkey are less abundant in their vitamin and mineral content, for the most part, than fish or vegetable sources. Chicken does contain some vitamin A and vitamin B complex, but no vitamin E and negligible amounts of vitamin C. It does contain some potassium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, and iron, but levels of other minerals like calcium, magnesium, and manganese tend to be low.

Turkey is fairly similar to chicken in its nutrient makeup. A few minerals, such as potassium and phosphorus, are slightly more abundant in turkey than in chicken, but turkey's vitamin A content is even lower. Neither type of poultry should be used to supply all your vitamin and mineral needs. They should be combined with plant based foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, which are richer in these essential micronutrients. The same is true, to a lesser extent, with seafood.

Seafood and poultry can be purchased fresh, frozen, canned, and smoked. Seafood is also available cured and dried. Both seafood and poultry are prone to bacterial contamination and can cause infections to the consumer if not handled properly. Neither type of meat should be left out at room temperature. They should be well wrapped, refrigerated, and eaten soon after purchasing or thawing.

Both fish and poultry are best eaten broiled, roasted, sauteed, or baked. Frying or sautéing in large amounts of fat should be avoided. Poultry is rarely eaten raw, although seafood in sushi bars and in some seafood recipes calls for it to be served raw or only lightly cooked. There is some risk of contamination by parasites and bacteria when eating raw or undercooked seafood. It is important that any seafood eaten this way be as fresh and clean as possible.

If you eat poultry frequently, try to buy the organic, rangefed brands, as their exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones has been reduced. Also, I recommend limiting your intake of meat to small portions (3 ounces or less per day). Most Americans eat much more protein than is healthy. Excessive amounts of protein are difficult to digest and stress the kidneys. Instead of using meat as your only source of protein, increase your intake of grains, beans, raw seeds, and nuts, which contain not only protein but also many other important nutrients. For many years I have recommended that my patients use meat more as a garnish and a flavoring for casseroles, stir fries, and soups.

Types of Poultry

  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Game bird: pheasant, partridge, quail
  • Goose
  • Guinea hen
  • Turkey
Types of Seafood
  • Freshwater Fish
    • trout
    • perch
    • pike
    • whitefish
    • catfish
    • bass
    • blue gill
    • crappie
    • crayfish
    • carp

  • Saltwater Fish
    • salmon
    • tuna
    • swordfish
    • shark
    • mackerel
    • sole
    • blue fish
    • flounder
    • red snapper
    • sardine
    • herring
    • smelt

  • Shellfish
    • crab
    • lobster
    • shrimp
    • scallop
    • abalone
    • oyster
    • mussel
    • clam
Fruits are the edible structure of flowering plants, specifically the mature ovary of the plant. (This is why when we open up a fruit we see their seeds or the offspring of the plants.) Fruits come in many shapes and colors. They delight our senses with their sweet flavors and delicious textures. Nutritionally, fruits are a treasure trove of vitamins A and C, many minerals, natural sugars, fiber, and water. Some fruits even contain protein and fat. Many studies have been done on the abundant nutrients found in fruit. Adequate fruit intake can help to prevent or relieve a wide variety of female related health complaints, as well as many general health problems. Fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C, which provides important protection against cancer and heart disease. In fact, vitamin C helps protect the cardiovascular system by preventing oxidation of the low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). This is an early event leading to the development of atherosclerosis. Certain cancers, such as cervical cancer, occur more frequently in vitamin C deficient individuals. Vitamin C reduces capillary fragility and can help control or reduce heavy menstrual flow in susceptible women, particularly in teenage girls and in women who are transitioning into menopause.

Vitamin C also has important antistress and immune stimulant properties. It is needed by the adrenals for the production of adrenal cortical hormones. Women who are deficient in vitamin C due to low dietary intake or insufficient supplementation tend to handle stress less effectively, resulting in anxiety, nervous tension, and even chronic fatigue. Adequate vitamin C intake helps us to fight off a wide range of viral and bacterial infections. Vitamin C is also needed for collagen production, which maintains the structural integrity of the skin. The best fruit sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and lemons, and other fruits such as melons, strawberries, and other berries.

Citrus fruits and berries are also rich in bioflavonoids, another essential nutrient that affects blood vessel strength and permeability. Bioflavonoids also have an anti-inflammatory effect, important to women with allergies, menstrual cramps, or arthritis. Many bioflavonoids are natural sources of plant estrogens. Like our own andogenous estrogen, these weak dietary sources of estrogen can be supportive of the female reproductive tract and can improve mood and increase energy levels in women with PMS or menopausal symptoms. They can also help relieve estrogen-related migraine headaches. Although citrus fruits are excellent sources of bioflavonoids and vitamin C, they are highly acidic and may be difficult to digest for some women with food allergies or sensitive digestive tracts.

Citrus fruits are used for the commercial production of bioflavonoid supplements. Unfortunately, much of the bioflavonoids in citrus fruits are found in the inner peel and pulp of the fruit. This is the bitter part of the fruit that many people discard, unaware of its health benefits. Also, the skin of grapes, cherries, and many berries are rich sources of bioflavonoids. Make sure to eat the whole fruit rather than just the juice.

Yellow and orange fruits such as cantaloupe, papaya, persimmons, apricots, and tangerines should be included in your diet because of their high vitamin A content. Vitamin A in fruits is available in high levels as a provitamin called beta carotene. Like vitamin C, vitamin A helps to protect the body from developing many types of cancer, including cervical, lung, and bladder cancer. It also helps to protect the cardiovascular system from heart attacks and lowers the risk of strokes.

Vitamin A in the form of beta carotene helps to improve female health in a number of other ways. Deficiencies in vitamin A have been linked to benign breast disease, heavy menstrual bleeding, and skin aging. Because it is needed for healthy mucous membranes, a lack of vitamin A can worsen the signs of aging of the vagina and genitourinary tract after menopause. Vitamin A is also essential for healthy immune function, resistance to infection, and healthy vision. Clearly, beta carotene containing fruit should be eaten often for adequate intake of this essential nutrient.

All fruits are excellent sources of potassium, though bananas, grapefruits, berries, peaches, apricots, raisins, figs, and melons are particularly rich in this important mineral. Adequate potassium intake is necessary for good health. It helps to regulate fluid balance in the body. When women are deficient in potassium at the expense of high levels of sodium (which is ubiquitous in the American diet as table salt), health problems can occur. Low potassium and high sodium levels can predispose a person to bloating and fluid retention during the premenstrual period. In women entering menopause, a potassium deficiency can worsen fluid retention, weight gain, and high blood pressure. Women with a low potassium intake tend to tire easily and lack stamina and endurance. In fact, several studies have shown that energy levels improve significantly when a combination of potassium and magnesium supplements are taken.

Besides containing high levels of potassium, certain fruits— raisins, blackberries, and bananas, to name a few are good sources of calcium and magnesium. You can eat these fruits often, as their minerals are essential for proper nervous system and muscular function.

Eat fruits whole to benefit from their fiber, which helps to prevent constipation and other digestive irregularities.

Fresh and dried fruits are excellent snacks and dessert substitutes for cookies, candies, cakes, and other foods high in refined sugar. Although fruit is high in sugar, its fiber helps slow down absorption of the sugar into the blood and, thereby, helps stabilize the blood sugar level. Fruit juice, however, is another story, and I recommend consuming it in small quantities. While fruit juice contains nutrients like vitamin C and minerals, it does not contain the bulk or fiber of the whole fruit. As a result, it acts more like table sugar and can destabilize your blood sugar level dramatically when taken excessively. It can worsen anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, and "spaciness" in women with both hypoglycemia and PMS. In the case of fruit juice, less is better. If you want to have fruit juice on a more frequent basis, mix it with one-half water. It is best to drink it freshly squeezed right from the fruit since its nutrient content will be higher. If you cannot drink fruit juice right away, don't let it sit on the kitchen counter. Be sure to refrigerate it right away to protect its vitamin C.

(Excerpted from The Women's Health Companion ISBN: 0890877335)
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 About The Author
Susan Lark MDDr. Susan M. Lark is one of the foremost authorities on women's health issues and is the author of nine books. She has served on the faculty of Stanford University Medical School...more
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