9 ~ Simple Health

Grant Wood


“The doctor of the future will be oneself.”
~ Albert Schweitzer


Whatever the life we choose to live, some things are not of our making; our time of being born, our birth-nationality, our birth-sex, our race, our sexual orientation, and a long list of other features. Some things are entirely under our control and other things are decided for us. You may ‘decide’ to become a consultant neurologist, but unless you have the right balance of intelligence, hard work and personality, then I’m afraid to tell you that it’s an unlikely outcome.
Health is one of those ‘in-between’ things; some aspects of our health are simply with us as a result of our genetic make-up, accident, illness or some other factor that has affected us without our consent or intervention. I would suggest that as we get older we become more aware of our own disabilities and frailties. Other aspects of our health are entirely up to us; we can decide to eat healthily, to take exercise, not to damage our bodies with alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances, we can keep ourselves clean and make certain that we get enough rest. It is with these things that we can do for ourselves that this chapter is concerned and, as with all things, we can seek out to do them in a practical and simple way.

Discovering yourself

That may not sound too simple, but it is the only starting point to gaining better health or maintaining the good health that you may enjoy at the moment. All of us are different and our bodies need different looking after. For instance, your own metabolic rate ~ basically the rate at which you burn up food ~ is a product of your genes, the state of your endocrine system (the hormonal control of your body), and your activity level. For some of us, eating food seems to have little effect on our weight and measurements. We can happily get through life without having to think twice about the consequences of the amount we eat.  Yet for others with a lower metabolic rate, any food over the required amount seems to result in weight gain and an increase in waist and thigh measurement. No easy answer to this, just be aware if you have to regulate your eating ~ and do so accordingly. Some of us may also have food allergies or, more commonly, food intolerances, which should make us restrict or eliminate altogether certain foods from our diet.

Some of us will react to certain foods in a particular way.  For example, chocolate, cheese and red wine are very commonly involved with headaches in susceptible people; it might be a regular ‘pain in the head’, but migraines may result for some. Once you have discovered this link, the only answer is to eliminate them from your diet.  This may mean your giving up a food that you like, but it is the best thing to do. You may discover that it is a certain combination of foods that cause you problems, again the solution is easy.

Sleep is another area in which individuals differ greatly, some of us need five hours sleep a night (even less in a few cases) and some of us need eight hours a night. While the amount we need will differ from season to season, and change with age, it is important to know ourselves and our requirements, and make sure that we get what we need. Napping in the day seems to be very important for some, while for others it just ruins their sleep at night. (More about this in Chapter 14.)
Getting to grips with this idea of knowing yourself and your body may take some time, in some cases, years, and just when you think that you have got it right, your body seems to demand some other change. It’s called life - cope with it!

Defining your Health

Your health is not just a matter of how well or ill you feel, or whether you have a particular disease; it is a much bigger concept that encompasses all areas of physical and mental wellbeing. Simple living means that you accept responsibility for your own health care; you are responsible for keeping fit and doing what you can to maintain good health. All of us have to come with the fact that our bodies are getting older and at some time we will find that some of the things that we want to do are no longer possible.  There is no alternative to accepting this, but a life of eating well, avoiding what harms us and taking enough exercise can extend our active life by many years.
We look after our bodies simply and carefully and, if we do need to take professional advice on any aspect of our health, we remember that it is our body and that our decisions are the chief concern. If you find yourself in a position where others are making the big decisions for you, however well meaning, it is good to remind them that you are the sole owner of your body and all that goes on in it!

Eating for Health


“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

~ Hippocrates


We all need to eat a full and balanced diet to maintain good health and we all know that some foods are not so good to include in this on a regular basis ~ foods with too much sugar, salt and saturated fats for example. We also know that healthy eating requires a good amount of fibre, best obtained from eating wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice, as well as plenty of fruit and fibre. There are also some foods which have a beneficial or even healing effect on the body. A wander through your supermarket may indicate some foods labelled as “superfoods” in an attempt to sell them to you, but eating foods to promote heath need not be expensive nor complicated.

Some foods are especially good at encouraging helpful bacteria to grow in your gut. These helpful bacteria help break down food and in doing so produce useful amounts of B vitamins. The foods that encourage the growth of microorganisms are onions, bananas and asparagus, but almost all raw leafy vegetables will also help improve your gut heath. In addition to these foods, there are those fermented foods which actually help to populate your gut with helpful organisms;  these include ‘live’ yoghurt, sauerkraut, products made from fermented soya, sourdough bread, naturally produced dill pickles and olives preserved in brine. Try to include as many of these as you can in your daily diet.

Another group of foods with good properties are those which contain antioxidants. These really are worth a special mention. The role of antioxidants in the body is to destroy harmful particles called free radicals. Free radicals, if they get into DNA, can cause damage and even start to produce cancer cells, so protecting your body by eating properly is a very good idea. Most antioxidants fall into the range of vitamins A, C and E; (often called ‘ACE’ vitamins), but some other substances are also good at the job. The best way to get your daily supply of antioxidants is to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables ~ uncooked! Choose a wide colour range to ensure a good mix of antioxidants, including greens, yellows, orange and very importantly, reds. Kiwi fruits, berries of all kinds, citrus fruits, tomatoes and peppers are all good, along with the dark green leaves of spinach, watercress, etc. Apples, especially those that have not been stored for too long, are outstanding in levels of antioxidants.

Tomatoes, be they fresh, cooked or in products like ketchup and paste, are good for maintaining good health in the male prostate gland. The substance involved is a lycopene and not destroyed by cooking, so tomatoes should be on the menu as often as possible ~ if you have boy children do your best to encourage them to develop a lifetime love of all things with tomatoes.

Little things that go wrong

Even with the best run bodies, things may give a little, and the simple way to deal with these things is to do something about them yourself. Don’t go running for patent medicines or use a doctor unless the need is great; for many symptoms, simple, well-used household remedies will bring you relief. In a family situation, having a small supply of simple treatments to hand is a good idea and you can still get medical advice if things don’t improve in a day or so. The table below gives some ‘tried and tested’ simple treatments and remedies.

Move slowly, but keep moving as much as you can, don’t spend too much time in one position. Apply a hot-water-bottle or a ‘hot’ rub. Have a good look at how you lift things, always try to bend your legs and not your back, use your arms to help you get out of chairs.
Bloating after eating
Try to find triggers in your eating pattern that cause bloating. Charcoal tablets or peppermint oil tablets/ peppermint tea after a meal may help and ginger is helpful about 20 minutes before eating. Live yogurt, eaten daily, will help reduce the incidence of bloating for many people.
Prune juice taken after eating. Senna pod tea (or capsules) for more persistent cases. A high fibre diet is the best treatment!
Rehydrate with water and a little salt. Feverfew may help. Try to decide if something is ‘triggering’ your headaches and avoid that thing!
A teaspoonful of ‘bicarbonate of soda’ (sodium hydrogen carbonate) in water. Peppermint oil tablets after meals will help.
Loose bowl movements or diarrhea
Rehydrate with water and a little salt. Avoid eating for a few hours.
Low mood or mild depression
St. John’s Wort may well help. Seasonal depression can be best helped by getting out into natural daylight as often as you can in the winter months. Try to find ‘triggers’ that cause you to develop a low mood and see what you can do to make things better.
Nasal congestion
Try keeping a ‘hop pillow’ with you in bed made from dried hops and dried lavender heads sewn into a small cotton sack (the sewn up arm of an old T-shirt is fine).
Period pains
Raspberry leaf tea helps many. (You should avoid raspberry leaf if in the early stages of pregnancy.)
Get plenty of fresh air and daylight in your day and avoid napping. At night avoid over-rich food, tea and coffee. A magnesium supplement at night might help, as may valerian.
Silence and calm, even taking five minutes out of your busy day will help. Avoid stimulants like coffee and tea and drink water instead.  Try taking a magnesium supplement or valerian at bedtime.


The less sugar you eat the better. That’s it!  Avoid it where you can. Sugar not only causes weight gain, dental decay and type two diabetes, but it also elevates blood sugar very quickly; as this level falls, you start to feel hungry again! Our ancestors did well without sugar, until mass production started about 200 years ago.  Nowadays it has become a cheap added ingredient to many processed foods, even some that you would not expect. If you are cooking, always choose low sugar recipes or simply reduce the amount given. For children, foods that contain more than ten percent added sugar should be avoided at all costs. Jam and preserves, even those that you have made with a low sugar recipe, will still be very high in sugar, but when spread on wholemeal bread the overall sugar content of the dish is reduced to a reasonable level.

One alternative, which is not recommended, is to use sugar substitutes or sweeteners, but these will not reduce your taste for sweetness and are not a long term solution. The best way to avoid sugar is to do just that.  Don’t touch the stuff, and after a few difficult weeks you will find that your palate readjusts itself and you no longer find excessive sweetness pleasant. Substitute sugar for the sweetness of fresh fruits at your meal table whenever you can and do not be fooled into thinking that brown sugar or honey is any better for you.  It’s not. It’s still sugar! Angelica (which is easy to grow in a corner of your garden) cooked with fruit seems to fool your taste buds into thinking the food has been sweetened.


Unlike sugar, salt is an essential component of our diet and you should aim to consume a small amount each day.  However, most of us consume far too much salt and could easily cut down. The risks of a high sugar diet include increased blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. As with sugar, if you make a conscious effort to eat less for a week or so you will change your taste and find less salty foods more palatable. Sodium reduced ‘salt’, which replaces some of the sodium chloride with potassium salts, is available and can help you with your diet.  Another excellent idea is to put freshly chopped herbs on the meal table which can be used to flavour food and reduce the need for salt. Parsley is an essential ingredient for chopped table herbs, but you can add others as they are in season.

(C) K and R Lovegrove

Drinking, smoking and other substances

You don’t need me to tell you that alcohol, tobacco and all those substances termed ‘recreational drugs’ are not good for you; neither would you expect them to be part of a simple lifestyle. Of this list of ‘villains’, alcohol stands out as maybe being good for you in small amounts. However, we are talking about a glass of wine or a small beer a day; any more than this and the good effects are quickly outnumbered by medical, social and financial negative effects. Perhaps the true simple answer is not to use any of them, but if you do drink, keep it within strict boundaries and have one or two alcohol-free days each week.

Smoking kills, injures and pollutes, not to mention the burden that it places on family incomes.  The only advice that can be simply given is give it up ~ or if you do not smoke, don’t start! Use whatever is available to help you, but make your simple life one that is smoke free for you, your family and your home.

Drugs which are sold illegally are never a good idea.  If you bring them into your home, how long before your children want to try them? Ethical shopping allows for no part of illegal drug purchase.  In most cases the drugs will have been grown by poor farmers who would be better off involved in food production.  The drugs are then distributed around the world by gangs who are prepared to injure and kill in order to keep ahead in the market place and make money.  Do you want to be the customer at the end of that chain?  If you worry about what your food is sprayed with then, who do you think controls the pesticides sprayed on illegal drug crops?  Illegal drugs that are not based on plants are produced in unpleasant, often filthy, surroundings where ideas of purity and quality control are alien.  Is that what you want to put in your body?

Prescription drugs

Anyone can find themselves with a medical condition that requires the short or long term use of prescription drugs. If you find yourself in this position, do question your doctor fully about how necessary the drugs are, whether they will produce any unacceptable side effects, and how long you will need to take them for. If you don’t get straight answers then do research for yourself. Prescription drugs that help with sleep, pain reduction, anxiety and depression may be habit forming or even addictive, so you have a right to know about the risks before you start the treatment. If you are worried then ask your doctor whether any non-drug treatments are available and whether they would be a suitable alternative in your case. If you are already being prescribed drugs, do not stop taking them without fully consulting your doctor first. Most, if not all, medical practitioners are pleased if patients will willingly accept lifestyle changes that reduce or even eliminate the need for prescription drugs.

For those of you who have medical conditions that do require long term drug treatment, then it is more important than ever that you look after other aspects of your health as well as you can. Because you are taking a powerful drug for one condition, it does not mean that you cannot look at simpler remedies for other issues that need treatment.

Herbal Remedies

Herbs have been in use for thousands of years and have undergone a big revival in recent years; you can include herbal treatments in the range of options available to keep you and your family in a state of simple health. It is worth pointing out however, that just as a prescription drug can be ineffective, unsuitable and have unpleasant side effects, so can herbal remedies. The following points should help you make the most of these treatments:

·       Look for treatments that have not only been traditionally used, but also have some independent scientific research or study that confirms their effectiveness.
·       Research before you take and make sure that your source material is up to date and not just supplied by those wanting to sell you a product.
·       Buy prepared herbal remedies from trusted suppliers who give some measure of content and purity of their product (in the UK many herbal remedies are legally obliged to reach a certain standard).
·       Don’t use herbal remedies for longer than you need to and keep an eye on expiry dates.
·       If you are vegetarian, vegan or belong to a faith with constraints on your consumption of certain animals, then always check the ingredients for gelatin and other animal products.
·       If you prepare your own herbal remedies then you need to be very careful about the correct identification of plants and that you are getting the correct dosage.

Growing your own Herbs

Fresh herbs are nearly always preferable to dried products. If you buy dried herbs you have no real idea of how old they are, where they come from or whether they are what they say! One solution to this problem is to grow your own. You can easily produce many of the medicinal plants to treat minor ailments in your family with a small patch of garden or even a few pots and a window box. Your produce can be used as fresh product or dried for use in the winter; next year you have a fresh supply on hand! (See Chapter 5 ‘Simple Growing’.)

Vitamins and Minerals

A good healthy diet that contains a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need.  However, many of us can benefit from supplementing this with specific vitamin and mineral supplements. Remember that simple heath is about maintaining your health in a good state and not patching up when things go wrong; you may not see dramatic results from taking vitamins and minerals but the benefits are long term and significant. Below are listed some vitamin and mineral supplements that may be useful to you.

·       Iron may be an important supplement for vegetarians and vegans along with vitamin B12. It may also be important for women with heavy periods or others who have suffered blood loss. Pregnant women often need iron along with folic acid and should consult with the professional that looks after their well-being during pregnancy. Some cultures use iron cooking pots and pans and have a much lower incidence of iron deficiency so replace saucepans, when necessary, with cast iron, of even steel, pots and pans. Iron is often poorly absorbed so don’t make things worse by drinking tea with, or too soon after, your meal.  If you do, the iron in your food will not be available for your body to use.
·       Vitamin C may prove a useful supplement in the winter months when levels in the diet fall low. Regular doses of vitamin C will not stop you catching a cold, but you might like to take a course after an infection to give your immune system a boost.
·       Magnesium taken as a night time supplement may help you to sleep and improve your mood. Magnesium rarely causes problems, but magnesium oxide is not as easily absorbed as other magnesium compounds.
·       Zinc may be helpful to your immune system to help you avoid, and get over, minor infections. Do not take zinc supplements along with iron, as the absorption of one interferes with the other.
·       B vitamins, often described as B complex, can help your metabolism in a variety of ways. If you are eating a whole foods diet, you should be good for most of these vitamins, but following an infection is a good time for a boost. Those of you giving up tobacco or alcohol should find that taking a vitamin B complex supplement should help you win the fight.
·       Vitamin D has proven useful in boosting stamina and the immune system; it may well be worth supplementing your diet with tablets, but avoid those that come combined with calcium.

When buying vitamin and mineral supplements, take care to shop ethically and check the label for ingredients you are hoping to avoid. There is no benefit to buying expensive branded vitamins so do shop around.

Alternative Therapies

Many ways of treating illness that do not rely on conventional medicine come under the umbrella title of ‘alternative therapies’. There is little that links them and many may be grounded in good common sense and scientific rigour, whereas others can be considered as ‘quackery’ designed only to rid you of money for a unproven regime of treatment which at best will do nothing for you and at worst may aggravate your condition. If you plan to use alternative therapies, do plenty of research first and make certain that it is right for you. Most therapies have some degree of professional recognition and even run qualifications and registers of practitioners.  Think hard before parting with your money and don’t sign up for a long course of treatment before you are fully happy with the service you are given.
If your alternative therapy is linked to any philosophical or religious set of beliefs, then ask yourself how happy you are with these before starting treatment. Make sure that you are embarking on a course of treatment and not on a programe designed to draw you into a group or organization that you have little understanding of or sympathy with. Above all you should demand the highest degree of professionalism in anyone who treats you, report and unprofessional conduct at once and expect your treatment to be a confidential matter between you and the practitioner.


One of the most simple things you can do to maintain, or improve, your overall health is to take exercise. If you are attempting self-sufficiency on your land, or are even just a keen gardener, you can get all the exercise you need and get valuable work done at the same time. Even if you have no land, exercise is still free.  Walking and running, cycling and swimming are all free or relatively inexpensive ways of exercising your body, and most importantly, keep your heart muscles doing well. I don’t see why a simple lifestyle should require expensive gym bills, or membership of any club. (Sport is dealt with in Chapter 12.)

As far as possible get your exercise outdoors, particularly in the winter months when sunlight is at a premium. It should be possible to get your exercise built into your daily routine so it becomes part of your work, rather than anything that needs additional time. Walking and running can provide a wonderfully creative, peaceful time to think things through or just plan your day!
In addition to exercise, don’t forget to rest. Rest without the need for rest does not work, so get these things in the right order.


“Rest and be thankful.”

― William Wordsworth


·       Incorporate exercise and fresh air into your everyday life.
·       Eat well and avoid too much sugar and salt in your diet.
·       Include a range of coloured fruit and vegetables in your diet every day.
·       Include probiotic foods in your daily diet.
·       Use simple home remedies for minor family ailments.
·       Learn ways to deal with stress.
·       Use walking, running, cycling or swimming to improve your health.

·       Take control of your own health.
·       Consider growing your own herbs for family use.
·       Make herbal remedies for storage.
·       If some aspects of your life make you more stressed, then try to eliminate or reduce their impact.
·       Throw away your gym membership card and save the fee.

·       If you have a major illness or disability then rearrange your life to either alleviate the symptoms or make coping with them easier.
·       Develop long term plans for your life that have built-in strategies to cope with ageing, and possible disability and illness.
·       If you have a weight problem don’t go on a diet, but change your eating habits forever.

You may like to read

Andrew Chevallier ~ Herbal Remedies ~ Dorling Kindersley 2007
An excellent no-nonsense guide to the use of herbs, including assessment of research, traditional use and safety.

James Wong ~ Grow Your Own Drugs ~ Collins 2009
Despite the misleading title a good practical introduction to preparing your own herbal remedies.

Larkin, Walker, Cormack  ~ Guide to Natural Healthcare ~ Natures Best/Readers Digest 2007
A very comprehensive guide to vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements. Excellent.

Susannah Steel (ed) ~ Neal’s Yard Remedies ~ Dorling Kindersley 2011
‘Cook, brew and blend your own herbs’ just as it says on the cover!

Linda Grey ~ Herbs and Spices ~ New Holland 2011

A simple and basic guide to growing and preserving medicinal and culinary herbs.

(C) Ray Lovegrove (Aka 'Hay Quaker')

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to invest your knowledge and encourage others to live simply...your time and energy is appreciated.


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