Food, The Alternative Medicine

Fish oils, flaxseed oil, nuts, Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for the body to maintain its functioning CBS/The Early Show

You don't necessarily have to pop a lot of pills to ward off or treat what ails you.

There's a myriad of health benefits in many of the foods we eat every day. You can use them to prevent and even treat illnesses.

Alternative and holistic doctors often prescribe healthy foods and activities to their patients before resorting to prescription medications, which are frequently pricey and may have serious side effects.

Dr. Woodson Merrell, Executive Director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, showed The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen a wide variety of common foods that can be useful in any health regimen.

He stressed that you can't actually substitute food for medication, but food can enhance your health, and is often used in addition to drugs. Using food as a preventative is best, Merrell says.

Fish oils, flaxseed oil, nuts

Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for the body to maintain its functioning. They're available for vegetarians or people who are allergic to fish in flaxseed oil and in nuts and seeds. They're dramatically effective in helping to prevent heart disease strokes, heart attacks, arthritis, bowel disease, and can help in the treatment of manic depression.

It's fine to get our Omega-3s from fish but, says Merrell, "If you're using them to help treat conditions, I recommend high doses."

To get the full benefits of fish oils, you'd have to eat the equivalent of three pounds a day. So it's a good idea to take fish oil capsules or flaxseed oil, which has very similar benefits and may be tolerated better.

Also, the pill form means you avoid the mercury found at increasing levels in fish.

Nuts are in the same category as fish oil. They also contain beneficial oils. Nuts are beneficial in preventing heart attacks and strokes, but they're not as potent as fish oil. And nuts can contain a lot of fat.

Green Tea

It's been shown to provide protection for the heart and has substances to help prevent cancer. It has some of the most powerful anti-oxidants. There are wonderful studies that show two to three cups of green tea is enough to get those benefits. It's exciting.

As for "black tea," all tea comes from the same flak. You get less in the black tea than the green, but both are fine.

Chocolate

Chocolate is very good for you. It's an antioxidant. Studies over the last ten years have shown that chocolate helps to reduce blood pressure. It can also help your mood.

Dark or bittersweet chocolate is best. Milk chocolate is good, but there's not as much cocoa in it as the darker versions. With milk chocolate, you're getting less of the beneficial stuff and more of the fattening stuff.

Berries

Berries are particularly for vision and are fantastic antioxidants.

They're packed with some of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet. The darker the berry, the better. Dark berries like blueberries -- blueberries are best -- improve vision. Plus, blueberries are less expensive and easier to find than raspberries and strawberries.
  • Brian Dakss

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