Smoothies are a great way to get a big dose of vitamin C. Photo / Getty Images

How A Plant-Based Diet Could Help Improve Your Health & Vitality

Evidence shows that a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet can increase vitality, reduce physical signs of ageing, prevent disease and raise immunity. Rebecca Wadey gets the lowdown from two experts

Best-selling Australian author and nutritionist Lee Holmes is a gut health specialist. She explains how we can look after our microbiome and immune system all in one hit by incorporating some of her favourite foods and spices.

Should we be eating differently now than we do in summer?
During the cooler months remembering to keep your fluid intake up is important. Dehydration can compromise your digestion and immunity. If you find you drink less water in cooler weather, switch to soups and teas which will keep you warm and hydrated while nourishing your body. Soups are a wonderful winter version of salads.

What are your five favourite foods for boosting immunity?

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help keep colds and flus at bay by enhancing your immune system function and increasing your body’s production of necessary antibodies and white blood cells — a key component to warding off infections. To up your intake of Vitamin C, consume citrus fruits now, while they’re wildly abundant and inexpensive. Other well-known sources of vitamin C are berries, broccoli, parsley, cabbage, capsicum and dark leafy greens. A simple way to get a high-speed injection of C is to create a smoothie using oranges as a base, then throw in a handful of berries, leafy greens and a good squeeze of lime.

A low intake of zinc is increasingly common, particularly in women, children, vegetarians and vegans (it’s most commonly found and absorbed from animal products). Zinc is predominantly present in lean red meat, chicken, eggs, seafood, especially oysters, and shellfish and in smaller quantities in whole grains, nuts and seeds.

This mineral is incredibly important in the development and functioning of the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells. It’s vital to note that how well we absorb zinc depends heavily on the foods with which it is consumed. The amount of protein in the diet is a factor contributing to the efficiency of zinc absorption as zinc binds to protein.

There are plenty of ways to enjoy cruciferous vegetable cauliflower. Photo / Babiche Martens

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One clove of garlic contains more than 100 sulphuric compounds, powerful enough to wipe out bacteria and infection (it was used to prevent gangrene in both world wars). Raw garlic is most beneficial for health as heat and water inactivate sulphur enzymes, diminishing its antibiotic effects. In clinical trials, garlic’s toxin-fighting properties help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fight inflammation, and kill parasites in the body.

Studies have shown that ginger has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It helps boost immune function and combat cellular damage. This gut-friendly spice also stimulates digestion and bowel function, while helping to relieve bloating, cramping and nausea. This is especially important during winter when it’s common for digestion to be a little compromised from loading up on carbohydrate-heavy and rich meals. Ginger also promotes sweating, which detoxifies the body and helps prevent illness.

Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound that increases the level of immunity-boosting proteins in our bodies. These proteins help fight bacteria and viruses when they try to attack. Turmeric is also a natural anti-inflammatory and painkiller. During the cooler months I love to make immunity-boosting homemade fresh ginger and turmeric tea.

• Lee Holmes is guest-hosting a Winter Wellness 5-day retreat at the luxurious Aro Ha, in Queenstown, September 15-19. See or for more information.

Anti-inflammatory spice turmeric has a multitude of health benefits. Photo / Getty Images

Dr Kristi Funk is widely known as the surgeon who performed Angelina Jolie’s prophylactic double mastectomy in 2013. She’s also a much-researched scientist and advocate for preventative health through nutrition. Dr Funk speaks exclusively to Viva about the five foods all women should be eating to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Is it true that some breast cancer is preventable?
Research shows that a solid 50 per cent — perhaps as much or more than 80 per cent — of all breast cancer could be eliminated if women understood that daily choices like food, drink, exercise, weight, toxic exposures and mindset create the environment inside the very cells of our breasts that stay healthy or turn malignant.

What do you mean when you talk about phytonutrients?
Phyto means plant. You just chew and swallow a broccoli floret, but what you’ve unleashed inside your bloodstream is an arsenal of plant-based phytonutrients that run around and take away the very things cancer requires. These nutrients fight inflammation, squelch free radicals that damage DNA, stop growth hormones, block oestrogens that fuel 80 per cent of breast cancers, and halt angiogenesis, the ability for cancer to create new blood vessels to nourish and sustain itself.

Tell us the top five foods you’d have us eat every day as part of an anti-breast cancer phytonutrient-rich diet.

Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, arugula, collards. The high isothiocyanate content will seek out and destroy breast cancer cells. In order to get the most bang for your broc, eat it lightly steamed or raw, and chew it thoroughly to break down the cell walls. This allows the molecules to mix together, creating (yes, it was not there before) sulforaphane, the superstar of all isothiocyanates.

In decreasing order of antioxidant free-radical scavenging power; wild blueberry, cranberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, and cherry. Compounds like ellagic acid, anthocyanidins, and proanthocyanidins interfere with cancer cell signals, encourage cancer cell suicide (apoptosis), and inhibit angiogenesis. Frozen berries release these polyphenol heavyweights more rapidly than fresh, but either works; throw them into oatmeal, smoothies, and salads.

Lee Holmes. Photo / Supplied

READ: Cauliflower Recipes We Can't Get Enough Of

Flaxseeds offer the most concentrated source of healthy omega-3 fat on the planet, and over one hundred times the lignan phytonutrient content of most other foods. Lignans exhibit all kinds of anti-breast cancer virtues related to lowering oestrogen, decreasing inflammation, and stopping cancer cell growth. In one study, just one teaspoon of ground flaxseed a day for a year slowed precancerous cell division in 80 per cent of women, and precancerous tissue reverted to normal in 32 per cent. Toss a spoonful of ground flaxseed on your salad or porridge (whole flaxseeds go straight out the other end), or blend into a smoothie.

Of all the foods eaten in ‘Blue Zones’ (the places on Earth with the highest number of healthy people over 100), the one food they all have in common is beans. Packed with protein, fibre and complex carbohydrates beans are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world. Fibre binds oestrogen and toxins in your gastrointestinal tract (yes, you poop them out), and releases antioxidant vitamins and anti-cancer compounds.

White button mushrooms carry the highest oestrogen-blocking abilities of all the many varieties and inhibit an enzyme, aromatase, which normally converts precursors of oestrogen to its cancer-causing active form. A daily intake of 10 grams or more — half a button mushroom — dropped breast cancer rates in Chinese women by 64 per cent compared with age-matched “no mushroom” eaters, and by 89 per cent when they sipped a half cup of green tea.

Dr Kristi Funk. Photo / Supplied

• Dr Funk’s book Breasts: An Owner’s Manual. Every Woman’s Guide to Reducing Cancer Risk, Making Treatment Choices and Optimising Outcomes is out now through HarperCollins, for further information see

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