Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids and other nutrients that help us to function at optimal levels. Our evolution as hunter-gatherers probably relied a lot more on gathering than hunting, as the technology required to capture a wild apple is far more reliable than that required to capture a rabbit. So our digestive systems evolved to make the best use of a wide range of vegetarian foods. Leafy green vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, lettuce and kale are a particularly good source of the mineral magnesium. A lack of magnesium weakens connective tissue and increases the risk of recurrent hernias and ruptures. Have you thought of going organic? Research consistently shows that organically grown vegetables have 50% and more higher levels of essential vitamins and minerals than vegetables grown with chemical fertilizers.
Because they provide so much nutrition in every mouthful, wholegrains help to prevent the food cravings that tend to be associated with eating refined cereals and white bread. The best type of bread is stone-ground, wholemeal bread. Wheatgerm bread is also good, but granary bread is mostly white bread with brown artificial colouring. Oats and oatmeal in particular are an excellent source of magnesium, so try to include these in your diet.
A regular daily consumption of fruit or fruit juice helps to ensure that you get the vitamin C which your body needs to maintain the integrity of connective tissue in your abdominal wall, and aid hernia repair. Remember that smoking rapidly uses up vitamin C, which is partly why smokers are more likely to get hernias (and recurrences of hernias after surgery).
Together with sunflower and sesame seeds, these are the best all-round sources of zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium and arginine–nutrients which your body needs to make collagen for strong connective tissue.
Live yoghurts and probiotic products such as Actimel and Yakult contain the so-called ‘friendly’ bacteria which help to keep your intestines healthy and prevent constipation.
These are among the best and healthiest sources of zinc, copper and other minerals which your body needs to make collagen.
This grain (available from health food stores) can be cooked and eaten like rice. It a concentrated source of complex carbohydrate, fibre-rich, and also contains rutin, a flavonoid which works with vitamin C to strengthen small blood vessels. This is important as the hernia repair process requires a good supply of blood to the hernia area.
Fennel bulbs (eaten as a vegetable) and fennel seeds have a carminative effect–they help to reduce gas in the digestive system. Gas takes up space and increases the outward pressure on the inguinal ring. Eat fresh fennel raw in salads, roasted or steamed, and boil fennel seeds for at least five minutes to obtain a strong-flavoured and naturally sweet tea. Other carminative seeds are dill, caraway, cumin and other umbelliferous seeds. They can also be used in cookery.
One dessert-spoon of psyllium husks whisked into a large glass of water will absorb 100 times their weight in water and help to make your intestinal contents very slippery so they move faster through your digestive system and prevent constipation. The whole, unpowdered husks are easiest to use. If not available in your local health food store, try the Phyto-Pharmaceuticals brand which can be obtained by mail order from the Nutri Centre in London (see Links).
Flax seeds are rich in mucilaginous fibre. Crack the seeds under a rolling pin, then pour boiling water over them and allow them to cool. The seeds will become sticky and can then be added to breads, soups, stews and salads. They are rich in essential polyunsaturated oils and help to prevent constipation.
Seaweed is also a good source of minerals, particularly iodine. Many people find that regular seaweed consumption helps to maintain a high level of energy and to reduce cravings for sugar and other quick carbohydrate foods. The nori seaweed used to make sushi is good, especially if you can get brown rice sushi. Hiziki is the finest seaweed of all, delicious if soaked, then cooked with ginger and garlic and lightly sweetened. Wakame seaweed can be bought dried from health food stores, broken into small pieces and added to soup. If eating seaweed lacks appeal, simply buy kelp granules at a health food shop and sprinkle them into soups or other foods. You won’t notice the taste, but you will notice the difference they make to your health. Caution: seaweed is very concentrated. You only need a small amount so don’t overdo it.
Made into tea, the real herbal root of liquorice (not the dyed corn starch candy, which is actually flavoured with aniseed) has a laxative, intestinal soothing effect. Natural liquorice has a tendency to raise blood pressure, so use with caution.
The Japanese pickle immature plums which are rich in sorbic acid, an anti-fungal that controls yeast and fungal populations in the intestines, thereby helping the ‘friendly’ bacteria to work better. Umeboshi plums are available from macrobiotic suppliers such as Clearspring (see Links. They are best eaten as a soup thickened with a Japanese root known as kuzu. De-seed four umeboshi plums and boil for five minutes in 500 ml water. Stir one tbsp kuzu into ½ cup water until all lumps are gone. Add the kuzu to the umeboshi water and bring back to the boil, stirring well. Eat a bowlful of this soup between meals to obtain maximum benefit.