Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.
THE adages "you are what you eat" and "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" have been used as health mantras for centuries.
But more than ever, people seem to be paying attention.
Whether it's quitting sugar, quitting oil, limiting dairy, caffeine or alcohol or eliminating gluten from our diets, a glance along the shelves of any department store book section suggests more and more of us are seeking solutions to our health problems via what we are putting into our mouths.
Hunter eateries too have embraced the "superfood" trend, with items such as sprouted quinoa, chia seed biscuits, date and cacao bliss balls and nutrient-rich salads sprinkled with "activated" nuts and seeds adorning specials boards across the region.
Hamilton naturopath Peter Mullen says more people are being educated about the health benefits of food.
"In the past, people have eaten food because it tasted good, not thinking about how much benefit it could be from a health or preventative point of view," he says.
"A lot of these products are coming out that taste fantastic, and can improve your health as well, which I think is making it easier for people to choose to have a healthier diet.
"For us, the healthy diet is the cornerstone of everything we teach our clients [at Mullen Health].
"People are recognising more and more how much the food they are eating is having an effect on their health.
"They will come in and say, 'every time I eat bread I feel bloated and tired and sluggish in the afternoon', or if people have too much coffee they feel anxious and jittery.
"I think people are starting to recognise that food is contributing to their symptoms and making life harder than what they were aware of when they were younger."
Mullen says about 75 per cent of his clients come in with some kind of digestive complaint.
"For us the digestive system is like the second brain. If someone is getting digestive symptoms, that means their whole immune system is going to be more inflammatory."
Mullen lives by the maxim that if it wasn't around 100 years ago, we shouldn't be eating it now.
"There has been such a big change in our diet over the past hundred years," he says.
Sugar consumption has sky rocketed, and rates of obesity and diabetes have followed.
"We recently did a two-week clean eating detox with our patients," he says.
"Everyone said how much more energy they had, how much calmer they were.
"When you're eating clean you really get a sense of where your whole health is up to, rather than self-medicating with coffee during the day to keep you stimulated, then alcohol in the evening to calm you down, and then constantly craving carbs and sugars.
"Going back to basics gives the body a chance to detox and repair."
Irritable bowel syndrome, eczema and psoriasis were common conditions he saw routinely curbed through diet.
"Us naturopaths get a reputation for wanting to take everyone off gluten and dairy, but it is the first line we approach for someone with irritable bowel, for example," he says.
"Some people will cut them out, then get clearer about which one actually is the problem.
"Other people have to go further - sometimes it's salicylates and amines, which can be high in some fruit and vegetables.
"Sometimes we have to go even further, it can be the sugars in certain foods.
"Then there are food intolerances.
"We promote getting back to basics so food is coming exactly as it's meant to - from nature rather than any man-made processing - because those foods seem to be less inflammatory."
It could be hard for people to get their heads around eating well to prevent ill health, because they never think it will happen to them.
"So instead we say, why not feel the best you possibly can now, and then at least whatever does happen down the track, you're going to be in a better position to process it or deal with it," he says.
"We can't always control what's going to happen to our health in the long term.
"But the more healthy and active and vital our lives are now, down the track if something happens, we'll be in a much better position to cope.
"One big difference between us and general medicine is that we want to help people understand how they've arrived in the situation they're in."
FOR Kotara's Anna and Andy Ward, changing their diet has changed their lives in more ways than one.
The couple became so passionate about it, they recently opened organic cafe and store, Goodness Me Organics, at Adamstown.
It is their first foray into the "brutal" world of hospitality.
Andy is an engineer, and Anna has worked in accounting and childcare.
"This is the shop we wanted someone else to open," Anna says.
"I'd had a history of chest infections, it was nothing for me to have a constant winter of chest infections - about eight a year," she says.
"I'd had issues with dairy since I was a baby.
"Our son [Harry] had been a bit the same. By the time he hit kindergarten, he and I were just sick, sick, sick.
"For most people there's a moment where you hit the wall, and for us that was the year of the Pasha Bulker. The Pasha beached and I beached as well."
The first change they made was to go organic.
"Harry and I also took the dairy out," she says.
Then Andy discovered he was gluten sensitive.
"I can get a bit of a cold and bounce back now, whereas before I knew it'd be six to eight weeks that I'd be out," Anna says.
"But it has been a holistic thing.
"I go to a herbalist, a counsellor, an acupuncturist, and an osteo, as well as eat good food.
"I listen to my body now. If I feel I'm starting to get unwell, I realise it's time to stop and look after myself.
"I don't like to think of myself as a soap-boxer, and I never try to convert people, but the proof is in the pudding."
Albeit the organic, dairy-free, and gluten-free pudding.
While they could stick to their health goals at home, eating out proved tricky.
Hence the reason Goodness Me Organics was born.
After a year of planning and renovating, it was a relief to find a tangle of like-minded people waiting at the door on opening day.
"We're not super strict. We have aberrations," Andy says. "Especially while we were busy getting this place ready.
"You can find us going to Pizza Hut sometimes.
"But if people are feeling the same, they should give a change in diet a go, little by little."
CHANGING her lifestyle and diet wasn't a choice for Nicky Done.
"I got Ross River fever five years ago," she says. "My body completely shut down. For about two years I wasn't really able to get out of bed. I ended up getting a post-viral cocktail of auto-immune conditions - I've been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
"Western medicine didn't really have any answers for me, which is when I started to go 'OK, what are my options?' They were limited at the time, because to even have that thought process was too much for my body.
"So I just slowly and gently started to work with a naturopath, and it all started from there."
Done, who now lives in Forster, studied at Newcastle University before scoring a marketing role with Australian rugby union team, the Wallabies.
She also worked in marketing in London for three years.
"It was 10 years in a mad-paced life, which was amazing, but it was all kind of leading up to this," she says.
"I was a highly-strung perfectionist, I put so much pressure on myself, I expected the world of myself.
"I didn't know it at the time, though. I didn't have any demons. I was just a standard girl who was putting far too much on my body and life in general - it's what all of us do though.
"It's kind of the way modern day life is.
"My body gave me so many signs I needed to stop and take a step back. I didn't, and so it made the choice for us.
"So many 30-year-olds were doing exactly what I was doing, and not everyone ends up as sick.
"For a long time I couldn't understand why it had happened to me. I'd always been so healthy."
Done took a mind, body and spirit approach to her healing.
"I'm a bit of a hippy these days," she laughs.
Now Done is mostly grain free, gluten free and dairy free and is wary of foods containing fructose.
She practises yoga, qi gong, meditates, and has studied and benefited from Bowen therapy.
She is also completing studies in naturopathy, and plans to open a holistic healing business.
But her lifestyle and dietary changes have been a slow, gradual process.
"The best way to approach it is to do it gently, and not put too much pressure on yourself," she says.
"I'm still not 100 per cent recovered, but I'm close. I really believe that if I hadn't made these dietary changes I would be back at square one and I wouldn't be healing, my body wouldn't be getting stronger.
"None of us would ever put the wrong petrol into our cars, but we always put the wrong fuel in our bodies.
"You wouldn't drive around with a flat tyre and expect the rest of the vehicle not to suffer, yet we do that all the time to our bodies.
"We are constantly out of balance and we continue down that road, and we wonder why the next day we're not feeling well.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever gone through and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but I wouldn't give any of it back if I had to give back what I've learned and who I'm becoming and where my life is now headed."
FOLLOWING the success of her wellness blog and her I Quit Sugar books and e-books, media personality and columnist Sarah Wilson has become something of a poster girl for fructose-free living.
Wilson has Hashimoto's disease - a type of auto-immune disease that affects the thyroid.
Her illness - as well as mood swings, a weight issue and sleep problems - led to her making dietary changes, primarily cutting out gluten, as well as sugar - fructose in particular.
She blogged about the process, and the I Quit Sugar books and program followed.
"Poster girl? I feel the pressure of being a 'healthy role model', yes," she says.
"I will still eat a little dark chocolate - I'm not militant - in fact, I think it's good to dip back into sugar every now and then to be reminded of what it does to you.
"But I'm always scared I'll be 'sprung'. I also fear coming across as 'holier than thou'. That's not my aim.
"My aim is to show how easy it is to get healthy by doing one thing only. I also try to inspire people to feel free to eat more fat, more meat, more cheese and so on."
Wilson's I Quit Sugar book has been sitting at the top of bestsellers' lists since its release, and she puts its popularity down to three main factors.
"It's not a bossy, draconian diet book. It's not full of should nots. It's very much about being kind and gentle to your body and learning to trust that it knows what to do. Humans don't like being told not to do something. See a 'wet paint' sign? All we want to do is touch it," she says.
"It's not a mean diet. The whole point - and this is actually what makes you lose weight - you replace sugar with other treats, mostly good healthy fat and protein-based treats. There's no missing out. No misery. In fact, it makes eating more fun.
"And I've done the program myself - and researched and trialled all the different ways to quit sugar - I was the human guinea pig, and I write not as a boring scientist but as someone who's gone through the pain. I think this makes things more approachable."
Wilson still has her bad days, but changing her diet has meant she is no longer on such an energy rollercoaster.
Ingredients such as coconut oil, rice malt syrup, pure cacao, and agave are much more readily available these days, and Wilson has helped drive that trend through the popularity of her program and recipes.
"Anecdotally, I know I've contributed to some products being stocked in the big supermarkets - brands have contacted me to tell me so," she says.
"More than 80,000 people have done my program, so that's a lot of people heading out to look for rice malt syrup."
IT has been 10 years since naturopath, nutritionist and television personality Janella Purcell released her first book, Elixir: How To Use Food As Medicine.
In that time, she has watched ingredients such as quinoa, chia, agave nectar and cacao nibs go from niche to mainstream.
"It has been going on for a long time, but it has been a slow burn," she says.
From her home in the Byron Bay hinterland, she says social media has contributed to the trend.
"Since social media has taken off, these ingredients and this way of thinking has really taken off, because people can communicate with each other," she says.
"Anything is going to get more popular, or not, faster. If something is good, people are going to share it, which is wonderful.
"Coles and Woolies have a great range of health foods now. Once it's in the major supermarkets you know it has gone mainstream."
Purcell has shared her knowledge on television programs such as Good Chef/Bad Chef, Kerri-Anne, What's Good For You and The Biggest Loser, and in many ways she was ahead of her time.
"I think people are now realising what I was teaching them," she says.
"People might have thought it was confronting at the time, but now they are ready.
"As every TV producer tells me - no one wants to hear 'no'. That's why Nigella is so popular, because she says, 'Yes you can get up in the middle of the night and eat a double chocolate forest cake.'
"Whereas I look at that and think, 'That's blood sugar deficiency'.
Purcell's interest in these alternative ingredients was born of her own health problems.
"I couldn't digest meat or dairy or wheat, so when you take those things out, your options are limited," she says.
"It took me a while to work out why I felt so sick all the time - why am I bloated? Why do I have diarrhoea? Why do I get fat really easily even when I exercise a lot? It was just weird.
"I had to figure out what else I could eat. Where am I going to get my iron from if I'm not eating meat? Where am I going to get my calcium if I'm not eating dairy? There wasn't as much choice as there is now, so I had to go and find it from different parts of the world.
"The Anglo diet was pretty limited in the '70s and '80s, but now we've got amazing food in Australia.
"I think I was one of the ones that helped make it happen because I went to health food stores and imported things and was teaching people how to use them, so I just read and read and read - there was no Google back then."
Purcell studied traditional Chinese medicine at a tertiary level, and she also uses kinesiology and iridology to help diagnose clients.
Her advice is to make any dietary changes gradually.
"If you can be sensible about it, do one thing and implement it, then do another thing and implement it - that's the way to go.
"Don't take out sugar and dairy and meat and wheat in one go, and coffee and alcohol, because it will really upset a lot of people and it's not good for your immune system.
"Just try and cut down on one thing each week."
Her key advice would be to go organic where possible.
"Then there is a whole lot of man-made carcinogenic chemicals that you're not getting any more," she says.
"You can't control environmental pollutants so much, but with things that are easier to control, like food, go organic.
"Or at least get your animal products organic."