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From headaches to heart disease: How your diet can improve your health

Revolutionize your approach to healthy eating
WATCH: Desiree Nielsen explains how you can revolutionize your approach to healthy eating with one simple rule.

This is part of Canadian Health and Wellness, a series in which Corus radio stations nationwide dig into health issues facing Canadians with the help of some of today’s most respected diet and exercise practitioners.

Whether you suffer from heart disease or headaches, altering your diet may improve your health condition.

According to Dr. Sian Spacey, a clinical associate professor with the University of British Columbia’s Division of Neurology, there are more than 200 different types of headaches, some of which are impacted by what a person eats.

“Migraine is what we know the most about…we know that migraine headaches are the ones that are most certainly influenced by diet,” says Spacey, who is also the former president of the Canadian Headache Society.

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She notes that it’s not just unhealthy foods that can trigger a migraine.

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“Healthy food like citrus can trigger a migraine. Other triggers for people are sometimes dairy; aspartame can be a trigger, and that’s hidden in gum or mints,” she says. “It could be in the yogurt you have in the mornings. And, of course, it’s in pop.”

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Spacey suggests removing a specific food from your diet for at least three months if you suspect it may be triggering migraines.

“The expectation isn’t that the patient will become migraine-free because there isn’t any one thing that causes migraines. They tend to be additive,” she says. “But take citrus out for three months — are the migraines less frequent, and are they less intense? If they are, then that might be a trigger for some people.”

When it comes to heart disease, changing your diet can also lead to improvements and could be a matter of life and death. Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada.

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Karen Mornin, a registered dietitian with the Healthy Heart Program in Vancouver, says many prepared foods should be avoided to safeguard heart health.

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“These foods would include things like chicken nuggets … pizza, frozen instant meals. Those instant noodles…as well as commercially baked goods. Think of cookies, pies, muffins and the sugar-sweetened beverages — everything from sugary coffee drinks to pop to flavoured yogurts.”

She also recommended swapping white rice for brown rice and choosing whole grains over refined ones.

“[Add] colour to your plate,” she says. “Half your plate as vegetables is what the aim would be.”