Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Sensible Eating

When it comes to tasting, everyone knows it's related to food, but you may be surprised to find out just how much the things you eat and supplements you take can have an impact on the other senses too.


Rainbow Salad

One of the most ancient of all written medical prescriptions was found in the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest known written record of medicines. It advises roasting an ox liver, crushing it to a paste and feeding it to those who have difficulty seeing in the dark. It may sound like old fashioned witchcraft, but in fact it would have worked as the major cause of night blindness is a lack of vitamin A in the diet. Surprise, surprise - ox liver is one of the richest of all known sources of vitamin A.

The old wives tale about carrots helping you see in the dark was not, as popular belief would have it, a rumour started by the government during the war to hide the fact that we had invented radar. Pilots were given lots of carrots to eat because they too are rich in betacarotene which the body converts to vitamin A.

Vitamin A and betacarotene are important for general eye health and normal functioning of the tear glands. Make sure that you eat plenty of apricots, broccoli, carrots, liver (not during pregnancy), pumpkin, spinach and sweet potatoes. These are amongst the best natural sources.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of failing eyesight and eventual blindness in elderly people, and it doesn't appear to be inherited. It's only in recent years that the link between nutrition and AMD has been discovered. The results of a six year study of more than 3,500 patients across America has shown that nutritional supplements can significantly slow down the progression. The best results were found with a combination of the antioxidants, vitamins C, E and betacarotene with zinc.

Since this study started it's been found that two other carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, are an even better protector against AMD and you'll find these especially in spinach, kale and spring greens. Eat lots of these plus the foods above. Nuts, seeds, kiwis, and citrus fruits will also provide all the zinc, vitamins E and C that you also need. Together they provide maximum protection for your eyes. And by the way, they also protect you against heart disease and many forms of cancer.


Fiery Fish

Chronic catarrh, sinus infections, ear infections, tinnitus and Meniere's disease are ear problems which may cause hearing loss but can be helped by diet.

For any of these problems eat more citrus fruits, peppers, kiwis, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables for vitamin C; olive oil, sunflower seed oil, avocados, whole grain cereals, fresh seeds and nuts for vitamin E; oily fish for the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids; ginger, garlic, leeks and onions for their decongesting properties.

For all catarrhal problems avoid dairy products for a few weeks, but if you need to do this for longer you must replace calcium and vitamin D with a supplement. For tinnitus and Meniere's disease you must avoid salt, caffeine and nicotine.

Vitamin C is important for the structure of blood vessels and E helps maintain their elasticity, so eat some of the relevant foods daily. The herb Ginkgo biloba can improve blood flow to the ears and may be extremely helpful.

An unusual but wonderful treatment, particularly for children, is the natural sweetener Xylitol. You'll find it in sugar-free chewing gums like Wrigleys Extra and it not only protects against tooth decay but kills the bugs that cause recurrent ear infections and hearing loss. Chew at least five pieces a day.



Most of the problems associated with loss of smell are linked to excessive mucus production and sinus infections like those that interfere with your hearing. Follow exactly the same dietary guidelines including the Xylitol chewing gum, but ginkgo biloba will not help. Garlic is one of the most important foods as it can help the body get rid of excessive mucus.

Allergies, and most importantly hay fever and perennial rhinitis (hay fever all year round), are another frequent cause of loss of smell. Eating honey which is produced in the area where you live or work can often produce a reduction in the symptoms. The honey will contain homoeopathic quantities of the pollens which are the most likely trigger of your hay fever.

The herb Butterbur is one of the most effective natural treatments for hay fever. A recent Swiss study compared it with a non-drowsy antihistamine and both medicines worked equally effectively at relieving the symptoms. Surprisingly, two thirds of the patients taking the conventional medication said they experienced drowsiness, but none of those taking Butterbur experienced similar problems. It's made by LinPharma, for stockists call 01506 848649.



Your sense of touch depends on the proper functioning of the tiny nerve endings in the skin and the equally small capillary blood vessels which carry nutrients to the skin itself. Sometimes loss of sensation may be due to problems higher up in the nervous system so lack of feeling in the foot may be caused by a low back problem, or in the hand by a neck problem. But for the most common causes the right food has a major part to play. Lack of B vitamins can affect the nerves, lack of iron leads to anaemia which affects your blood, and a high consumption of animal fats produces too much cholesterol which blocks the major blood vessels and restricts the blood flow. B vitamins are found in wholegrain cereals, yeast-based foods like Marmite, red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, peas and beans, so these should all be part of your regular food.

Oats, porridge or muesli are especially good because they're not only rich in B vitamins but also contain soluble fibre which helps the body get rid of cholesterol.

Apart from the obvious red meat and liver which are rich in iron, you'll also get this mineral from dark green leafy vegetables, raisins, dates, chickpeas and shellfish. But you'll absorb it better if you eat these foods together with those containing vitamin C.

Spices like ginger, chilli, coriander, horseradish and mustard are excellent circulatory stimulants so add them all. Also include ginkgo biloba if there is a major circulatory problem like Raynaud's disease. Women more commonly have poor circulation in their hands and feet than men and when your fingers go white and dead it's difficult to feel anything. All the above advice will help improve your sense of touch.


Everyone knows that when you get a cold you can't taste much and this is because taste and smell are closely linked. A blocked nose is probably the most usual cause of loss of taste and you can soon overcome this by following the advice above. There is one major nutrient which is essential to the normal working of your taste buds and that's the mineral zinc, which is frequently very deficient in the average diet, and even more so in people who have been following rigid weight loss regimes. Not surprisingly anorexics have little taste awareness and very low levels of zinc in their blood. Giving them extra zinc may help improve their sense of taste and their eating.

If your taste buds are not performing and you haven't got a nasal problem, then take one of the zinc and vitamin C preparations available in chemists and health stores, but also add pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, molasses, shellfish and eggs to your diet as these are all excellent sources.

The garlic helps to break down the congestion and horseradish stimulates the flow of mucus.

Artichoke hearts - 2 tins, drained.
Basil - 5 tbspns of leaves, snipped
Tomatoes - 3, large, plum
White wine - 500 ml (16 fl oz)
Parsley - 250g (8 oz)
Chives - 125g (4 oz)
Garlic - 6 cloves
Horseradish sauce - 2 tspns
Extra virgin olive oil - 125 ml (4 fl oz)

Boil wine for about 3 mins with chopped garlic and horseradish. Chop parsley and chives and add to pan. Add tomatoes, oil and artichokes and simmer until artichokes are soft - about 15 mins. Just before serving, stir in basil. Serve with good coarse bread for mopping up the sauce.

The combination of garlic, chilli, oregano and thyme will help to get rid of the catarrh which is such a common cause of poor hearing.

4 skinned steaks or slices of firm-fleshed white fish
olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

For the sauce:
2tbs olive oil
3 or 4 fat cloves garlic, chopped
425g/14oz can tomatoes, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
a pinch of dried oregano
a pinch of dried thyme
chilli powder or flakes
a little red/ white wine, or water

Wash the fish, pat dry, brush with oil and the juice of a lemon. Season with freshly ground pepper.

To make the sauce fry the garlic until just translucent. Add tomatoes and cook gently for a few minutes. Add wine, seasoning, herbs, and as much chilli as you like and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Grill the fish steaks till cooked and serve with hot sauce.

A fantastic mixture of foods which improve and stimulate the flow of blood to the extremities.

4 very large flat field mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 inch ginger root, grated
225 g / 8 oz shelled prawns
2 tsp soya sauce in 1 tbsp water
1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh chopped chervil
1 tbsp chopped brazil and pine nuts
1 large tin lentil dahl
1 tbsp toasted wheatgerm

Brush the mushrooms with olive oil and cook under medium grill 5 minutes each side. While dahl is heating put sesame oil into a wok or deep frying pan with the ginger. When the oil is hot add the prawns, soya sauce, chopped nuts and chervil, stir fry briskly for 3 minutes. Put a ladle of dahl in the centre of a plate, lay a mushroom flat on top and cover with the prawn mixture and sprinkle with wheatgerm.


All of the traditional eye nutrients plus the newly important carotenoids in spinach
Wash and chop:
1 red pepper,
1 yellow pepper
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
1 crisp apple
1 crunchy pear
2 handfuls of baby spinach
a handful of watercress
quarter of a raw red cabbage
6 dried apricots

Mix together in a large bowl and add a dressing of extra virgin olive oil, cider vinegar, finely chopped spring onion and quarter teaspoon of English mustard powder.

This recipe makes a great savoury dish at the end of a meal or in more generous portions a wonderful light supper, with zinc, iron and vitamin C .

100 g organic chicken liver per person
2 tbsp olive oil
25 g / 1 oz butter
2 small slices toasted wholemeal bread per person
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Walnut oil
Sun dried tomatoes
2 thinly sliced fresh tomatoes
Thin shavings of parmesan cheese

Pan fry the chicken livers in 2 tablespoon of olive oil and an ounce of butter. Saute for no more than 3 or 4 minutes, Remove onto a kitchen towel to drain excess oil. Arrange on the slices of wholemeal toast, cover with strips of sundried tomato, sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, drizzle with the walnut oil and cover with parmesan, and surround with tomato slices.


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